This week, we are back to the west coast and highlighting one of my all-time favorite groups, Tha Alkaholiks. Comprised of J-Ro, Tash, and E-Swift, the Liks would first appear on King Tee’s Tha Trifflin’ Ablum release. On that album, it was just E-Swift and J-Ro appearing on a few tracks since Tash was locked up for a DUI charge when the tracks were recorded. Being the large King Tee fan I was at the time (and still am), the Liks assisted tracks would soon become my favorite. I was soon on the lookout for more of their music. The summer of ’93, right smack dab in my hardcore partying days, they would release the first of a string of three great albums, in the form of 21 & Over. We examine the three albums and try to decide, if possible, which of their first three albums deserves being called Tha Alakaholiks greatest piece of work.
21 & Over Vs. Coast II Coast
As any memorable album that I own, I remember the day I purchased 21 & Over. It was a Thursday, which was a couple days after the new releases dropped. Not sure why I didn’t check it on the day it was released. I was at a girlfriend’s place, chillin’ with her, watching the VMA’s on MTV. She was starting to annoy me, so I bounced out and stopped by the Hastings store that was right by her place. As I mentioned, I had been playing the King Tee album non stop since it dropped and quickly grew to like the vibe E-Swift and J-Ro were giving on the album. I was looking forward to the their own album. Then of course, “Make Room”, had dropped a bit before the album to build the buzz. I remember picking it up and quickly threw it in the CD player on the way home. The party/drinking lyrics over funky tracks all just sucked me into their music. 21 & Over would soon be the soundtrack to any Friday night while I was getting ready to head out.
Coming in at a quick ten tracks, it follows that classic rule that more hip hop artists AND people in general should abide by, quality over quantity. Give me ten strong tracks anytime over ten strong tracks out of eighteen total. It just makes for a more enjoyable listening experience and a more complete album. That’s exactly what Tha Liks intended to do on 21 & Over, with none of the ten tracks deserving of the fast forward button. As previously mentioned, “Make Room” was the first single. The single was successful enough to get airplay in New York City, which at that time wasn’t the easiest thing to accomplish for a west coast group. Musically, they had that west coast style of deliveries and some of the beats are definitely left coasted influence, with they funk samples and the such. But they weren’t rhyming about the typical things that west coast artists were rhyming about at the time. They were all about partying and having a good time, not to mention that Tash could lyrically hang with anyone coming from the east. This might have to do with the fact that both Tash and E-Swift are originally from Ohio, or as I’ve read in numerous interviews, they were influenced more by the east coast hip hop than than there gangsta rap influenced west coast compadres.
Their appeal to both segregated hip hop coasts is the main reason for the success of 21 & Over. Tracks like “Only When I’m Drunk”, which uses the familiar “7 Minutes of Funk” sample, were able to be played on both coasts. Of course this track also demonstrates the vibe that made them so popular to hip hop heads. J-Ro, who is often overshadowed by the vastly superior MC, Tash, drops a drunken style that had me singing along many a drunken nights with it:
And conjure up a bitch to bone when I’m alone
OHh shit, tow back, I need to take a piss
Only when I’m drunk I sing a song like this
My grandma and your grandma *urrp*
Sittin by the fire
Hold on, turn the beat off [nah, keep it goin
J-Ro can you make it?] I’m just not knowin
I get drunk and start talkin mo’ shit
And when I got a gun in my hand you better get, out
Cause my brain just ain’t what it used to be
Forget tryin to raionalize, cover your eyes
Ah d-*urrp*, damn I’m drunk
I need a chunk, no better yet a hunk of that funk
When I get drunk I might act uncouth
But when I get drunk I always tell the truth
Yeah I’m good, I’m bad, I’m dope, I’m freaky fresh
I make hip-hop fans say yes yes
The Liks comin through, you know we gonna blow upop
Hold up, hold up, I think I
*urrrrrrp* Damn, false alarm
Gettin all the ladies with my cool charm
When I get drunk I might even call my daddy a punk
Yeah, but only when I’m dr-*urp* drunk
Straight and precise but loaded with fun, it was tracks like this that made J-Ro one of my personal favorites on the mic, despite the fact he wasn’t looked upon as the second coming of Rakim. Of course, they didn’t need Ro to be a lyrical beast, they had that in Tash. Tash is a beast on the mic, some people don’t realize that. He lead off “Last Call” with the wickedness:
Another rough cut, from the crew that won’t ease up
The Alkaholik click, AKA the forty downers
Flips rhymes like Calvin flips fries and quarter pounders
I never drink and drive cuz I might spill my drink
I failed the breathalizer so they took me to the clink
Niggaz earlin in the sink cause they can’t fade the Cisco
I’m from the old school but I never rocked a disco
Loops from the group that, likes to smack the bitches
Tha Liks is hittin hookers like a gangsta hittin switches
Front, to the back, to the side, to the side
And make you dance with these bitches but, no electric slidin
And I’m about to flip, but first I’m bout to sip
Off the forty ounce of brew that I was savin for the trip
Back to the lab cuz all I do is bang cuts
That’s why I hang around my group like a dick hang with nuts
A true ode to drinking, and that’s exactly why 21 & Over is the classic that no one mentions. “Turn The Party Out” is the worlds introduction to the Loot Pack and more specifically, Madlib. The credits say it’s produced by the Loot Pack, but I’m willing to bet that means Madlib did it all himself. “Bullshit” is another old school sounding (meaning pre ’84) track with it’s Skull Snaps sample (you know which one)for the drum tracks and it’s call and response style chorus.
Some niggaz rock like the Liks… BULLSHIT!
Uhh, I hate big tits… BULLSHIT!
We’ll never make another hit… BULLSHIT!
I don’t drink cause I quit… BULLSHIT!
If you had to pick a weak link, you probably would have to go with “Soda Pop”, and even that is stretching it. The unheard of group, Field Trip, dominate the track, but it’s fits into the grand scheme of things. The only west coast influenced song would be “Who Dem Niggas”, which has Threat guest appearing. The track hipped me to Threat and put him on my radar. The track is great, but in some ways doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. Over all though 21 & Over is an album that I can still rap along with word for word. It’s an album that I can put on at anytime and just vibe with it. If I’m in a shitty mood, this album will put me in a better mood. It’s simply just fun music and a group not acting all hard and bad, something sorely missing in today’s music.
After the moderate success of 21 & Over found on both coasts, Tha Liks quickly figured out they were onto something. Much like that first album, Coast II Coast is very accessible to listeners in both locales. They even went as far as to bring on one of the dopest east coast producers at the time, Diamond D, for two tracks. The same vibe and the same flows along with some of the same topics were present for Coast II Coast and in some ways they were more precise. The album was another short one, coming in at 11 tracks this time. They did extend the songs as far as how long they went. On 21 & Over, every song except one was under the four minute mark, while only two tracks around under the four minute mark on Coast II Coast. Not that it was a significant change, it did make for a little longer album time wise, which gave you the feeling of more Liks music, which in this case isn’t a bad thing.
They followed a lot of the same formulas that were successful for them on the first album, including making sure the first single was one that grabbed the listeners attention. For 21 & Over, it was “Make Room”, for Coast II Coast, it was “Daaam”. “Daaam!” was armed with an infectious bass line and the party anthem themed lyrics, it did it’s job and got the masses ready for another Alkaholiks album. Myself, I was a HUGE Liks fan by this point in time. We all know what 1994-95 was like in terms of music, with classic albums dropping once a month if not more often, but in the spring of ’95 I was eagerly awaiting the release of Coast II Coast after seeing ads in “The Source” magazine. I remember picking it up the day it dropped after getting out of class. My then girlfriend had to listen to this CD everyday for the next month (at least until Sittin On Chrome dropped). We would car pool to our college classes together and I pumped it every morning. For her, it was better than the Biggie and Wu-Tang Clan that I had been playing previously, but she still wasn’t very fond of the whole hip hop thing.
After the Madlib produced “WLIX” which lead the album off, the Liks showed they were back with a vengence, concentrating more on the battle rhyme and quirky punchlines than the old style partying they displayed on the first album. “Read My Lips” is straight up beats and rhymes style as an improved J-Ro showcases his rhymes style over a funky E-Swift beat. Tash of course displays why after Kurupt, that he should be considered the best west coast MC:
Castin shadows over battles like a lunar eclipse
Cause the man that makes you jump like you the grand prize winner of a Lexus
I’m back again to test your reflexes
If you don’t think I can flow then you can ask E-Swift
If you don’t believe Swift then you can call Steve Griff
If you don’t believe Griff then step up to fuck with I
Call you up and send you as a gift to hieroglyph
Cause the Liks got lyric tricks datin back to eighty-six
While my thousand dollar system still busts the pause mix
So my style be comin at you more deadlin than a cobra
With these niggaz on my mind like is he drunk or is he sober
Mind your biz while I rhymes like Biz to the tent
I slam like a fifth that stays hidden
Not to be fucked with, under any circumstances
And I don’t have to sing to send these bitches into trances
The first of two Diamond D tracks is the next track in “Let It Out”. The DITC style horn samples and dusty bass line make this track in the running for my favorite track off of the album. As I mentioned, J-Ro is a sharper lyricist on Coast II Coast. He’s still not going to blow you away on the mic, but his 83 style makes for a perfect accompaniment on Tha Liks style of music:
I fold your clothes with your body still in em
The rhymes I got, hit like Ronnie Lott
The only way you take my spot is with a shot
I grab rappers by the hand and make sure they understand
That they can’t scrape J-Ro the man
A nigga who stays, in the old school ways
And just like Subways, I can make your days
We got more soul than James Brown and platform Adidas
The Likwit crew, comin new like a fetus
So run tell your granny, your pops and your girl
Niggaz like me gonna rule the world
So all aboard the J-Ro train to FunkyTown
Express from the West so it’s best that I clown
From there it’s the three tracks that define the album and make it a separate piece of work than just being a 21 & Over Part II album. “21 & Under” jumps off into a story as Tash talks about running into some young kids in a convince store and tries to steer them away from being rappers. The chorus is one of those choruses that get stuck in your mind and was a common favorite of mine back in day. The beat is a sure sign that E-Swift matured as a producer. Truthfully, while I loved the music found on 21 & Over, the beats were really simple. They worked wonderfully, but they weren’t that deep. On Coast II Coast, E-Swift comes into his own and “21 & Under” is a great example of that. The nearly flawless “All The Way Live” is a perfect track that demonstrates the bi-coastal appeal of the Liks, with both Q-Tip and King Tee grabbing the mic. The Abstract was on top his game in the mid 90′s and most definitely is on point on “All The Way Live”. King Tee busts his drunken style over a sparse piano loop that make this track sound like it could have been recorded in D&D Studios or something.
Some might say that Coast II Coast is most remembered for the second single, the Diamond produced “The Next Level”. Again, the beat is something that classics are remembered for, with a sick bass line and some noisy background horns. Diamond even jumps on the mic for the second verse. He adds more east coast flavor to the already heavily influenced east side track. The track is a classic in my book as everyone rips the mic, from J-Ro to a sick, sick Tash verse. Even E-Swift, who was more than a producer, jumped on the mic. While he’s not a great mic, he added his own brand of drunken flavor in the same way triple sec adds to a Long Island Ice Tea. You gotta have it.
The album appeased the Liks fans and gained them some critical acclaim from the same places that gave them props the first time around, but I think it failed to gain them any new fans, except for those that were Diamond D junkies. The album wasn’t flawless this time around either. “2014″ isn’t a bad joint, but it was a track that after about a month I would skip over it when it came on. It’s an interesting concept and the beat is nice, but it lacked replayablity (Yeah, I made that word up). “Flashback” was another track that I quickly grew tired of. The (true) old school influenced track was again alright the first few times, but I would quickly skip over it after a week or two. For all the Liks fans though, it was near classic. All in all, the group was more dialed in on Coast II Coast and might just be their career defining album.
In our past “This Or That” weeks during this series, I’ve been able to accurately predict the winners with very little trouble. This one though, I’m not really sure how it’s going to end up. I came very close to including Likwidation as well, but after listening to it, it was just wasn’t up to par as the other two. I do think if that album was trimmed down to 12 songs or so, we’d be discussing it as well. In some ways, I feel that musically, Coast II Coast is the better album. E-Swift, who is mad underrated, was on top of his game at this time and lyrically, the duo of J-Ro and Tash are at their best and even though E-Swift wasn’t on Coast II Coast as much as he was on 21 & Over, he still did his part lyrically. In the end though, I’m going to go with the nostalgic reasons and go with all the fun times that 21 & Over conjure up in my mind.
Trav’s Pick: 21 & Over
“Coast To Coast all day. 21 & Over had all the singles and party anthems but Coast To Coast was more diverse. They had some drunk party anthems but they also had concepts like 2014, Hit & Run and the title cut. All 3 MC’s killed it on this album, but Tash just went nuts. And E-Swift’s beats on Coast To Coast were his best ever and mad slept on. The way he was choppin mad samples from all over the place and just doin the wall of sound shit…it was very uncommon to hear that style in the mid-90′s. It was deceptively complex, cause you don’t realize all the layers he got in the beats. Listen to “Read My Lips” and “Bottoms Up” and tell me E-Swift ain’t one of the most underrated to do it. I tell him that to this day and its because of Coast To Coast. Even the beats on the skits were ill!”
J-Zone’s pick: Coast II Coast
21 & Over. I like the beats better. On Coast II Coast, the vibe was much darker and they had some stellar moments, like 2014, but 21 & Over was more fun.
Has’ pick: 21 & Over
CH Commish from “Slushy Gutter Summer“
When Tha Liks dropped their debut album, it was like they were talking to me. “Only When Im Drunk”, “Last Call”- come on, who hasn’t lived out real life versions of those songs? 10 tracks, no filler, no kitschsy skits, just precise lyrics and funny pop culture metaphors, and some of the banginest beats of the mid-90s. “Make Room” still gets the party going 16 years later.
Commish’s pick: 21 & Over
House from The Meaning of Dope
E-Swift and Tash are both from Ohio so I had a special interest in this group. Not only had they hooked up with King Tee one of the hardest and first pioneers of gangsta rap, but they had an entire album dedicated to guzzling brew. Oh My God these guys were speaking directly to me one on one! I rememeber being drunk, leaving the bar and hanging out the window with the radio bumping screaming “LAST CALL YA’LL!!”. This was a standout album when everything was G-Funk. I believe it is one of the most unique albums of the early 90′s, funny, witty, interesting rhymes, tight beats and impeccable production.
House’s pick: 21 & Over