1. “Stress: The Extinction Agenda”-Organized Konfusion
Released: 1994, Hollywood Basic
While it’s very arguable to state that O.K.’s (Prince Po(etry) & Pharoahe Monch) 1994 release, “Stress: The Extinction Agenda” is even considered remotely “overlooked”, there’s no denying that it’s often omitted when the discussion of “The Best of ’94″ topic arises. Rightfully so, as ’94 blessed us with “Illmatic”, “Ready To Die” (which is overrated, IMO), “The Sun Rises In The East”, etc. Christ, I can’t even front, I freakin’ HATED this album when it first dropped. So, here we are, nearly over a decade and a half later and aside from the obvious (“Illmatic”), very few albums have withstood the test of time from one of Hip Hop’s most memorable years.
Perhaps my young, 17 year old mind, couldn’t quite grasp the forward thinking lyrical tactics of Pharoahe and Prince Po back then. Not to be overlooked, Buckwild with his three contributions (“Why”, “Thirteen” and the album’s title cut) laced O.K. with production wizadry, which even today, comes off just as “advanced” as the album’s subject matter and content. Somewhat laughable, it’s crazy to think that the man who later laced Christina Aguilerra with some of the wackest, electro-bounce, is responsible for one of the funkiest cuts on “Stress” (Rockwilder, with “Maintain”). Last but not least, what’s most impressive is the production from O.K. as a duo, as tracks like “The Extinction Agenda” and “Stray Bullet” (which Monch absolutely MURDERS and Nas somewhat bit with “I Gave You Power”) seamlessly blend amongst heavy hitting backdrops from the aforementioned Buckwild, and without glancing at the album’s production credits, you’d think that these gems were indeed courtesy of the D.I.T.C. alumnus.
2. “Contemporary Jeep Music”-Da King & I
Released: 1993, Rowdy
One of the most underrated and overlooked albums of all time!!! The King & I came literally out of nowhere releasing “Contemporary Jeep Music” on Dallas Austin’s label Rowdy Records. Now, the Dallas Austin of 1993 was not any different than the Dallas Austin of today. He was largely known for mixing it up with TLC and Boyz II Men and although I’m not sure if he was offered sex for beats back then (I recently read an article where he claims Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone have offered him the art of lovemaking in exchange for beats), he wasn’t necessarily known for putting out Brooklyn-bred Hip Hop with a touch of jazz.
In the “nine trey” I considered this particular album to be more than perfect. The MC Izzy Ice and the DJ / Producer Majesty somehow followed the footsteps of Pete Rock and CL displaying clever, impeccable and to a certain degree complex lyrics over upbeat, engaging and gritty production. They didn’t reinvent the whole ish’ but they did sound quite refreshing. Songs like “Krak Da’ Weazel” (please check the Remix: It’s huge!!!), “Tears” (ugh, this sound is sooo dope!!), “What’s Up Doc” or the catchy “Represent” were unexpectedly flavorful. Yet, what made this a masterpiece was the simple fact that it was actually an album! You could put the record on and let it play from the beginning to the end and every time you felt slightly uneasy or grew a bit tired, an interlude would come to your rescue and steal the damn show. Now I know how the “Golden Age Of Hip Hop”- whenever that was- would produce classic material(s) and how intermissions or skits were widely cultivated at that time; but trust me on this one, those 4 interludes on this album were probably the most innovative and precisely-placed in the history of the Boom Bap.
3. “Da Dirty 30″-CRU
Released: 1997, Def Jam
When “Da Dirty 30″ was released in 1997, not a single soul, fans and industry-experts alike, could have imagined a better “package” to run with than the one CRU had to offer: They had sort of a hit with “Just Another Case”, Flex was pumping that ish like crazy, Def Jam was on top of their game, Chris Lighty’s Violator was the management and the inexplicably simple logo of the group was something you would never forget! Obviously, nothing could go wrong. But then again, if Def Jam releases an album in August (that’s when “Da Dirty 30″ came out), they’re probably paving the way for all their heavy-hitters who’re about to penetrate the “game” with their “fourth-quarter-madness” (see 2006) and you shouldn’t expect the usual promotional machinery, right? Right! So between the monthly Wu-Related-Releases, the Ja-Rules and DMXs barking back and forth and Jay having sunshine written all over his face, the CRU faded away to the no-man’s-land and by the beginning of the following year, the world forgot they had ever existed and so did I. The title referred to the 30 deep track-listing combining unique production with more than simplistic wordplay. The MCs Yogi (who was although responsible for the production) and the strange-looking Chadeeo had an unimaginable chemistry reminiscent of ATCQ. Matter of fact, a lot of things about the group and their music reminded me of Tribe and still do. I often heard and later read how the album is way too long with its ten interludes and twenty songs, how the content was mostly reluctant and damp and how you were never able to listen to the whole thing from the beginning to end. Well I strongly object!
THIS ALBUM reflected the spirit of New York, a city desperately searching for a forsaken identity after the loss of its king Frank White. If you’ve ever been to the notorious Tunnel, you would understand the legitimacy of “Live At The Tunnel”! “Nuthin‘ But”, “Straight From L.I.P.” and “Bubblin‘” captured the hardcore essence of all the five boroughs and could have easily been produced by The Beatminerz. Still, you could find more light-hearted compositions like the aforementioned “Just Another Case” (f. Slick Rick) or the mischievous “Wreckgonize” and “The Ebonic Plague” that gave you a mental break and to this day, I truly enjoy some of the hilarious ideas these guys have put together for their interludes. I’m not sure if this was a classic like most of my other propositions! All I know is that these guys made one of the best and by far overlooked albums for a many moons to come.
4. “This Is My First Album”-Kwest Tha Mad Ladd
Released: 1996, American
Kwest’s first and only “official” release “This Is My First Album” resonated with testosterone-fueled humor and equally bouncy beats that served as a fun-filled and cohesive listen. Splattered throughout with plenty of bodily fluids, Kwest’s “This Is….” came correct (pun intended) and was best summed up by the Pete Rock vocal sample “Got a setup so smooth, they should call me lubrication” on the song titled….what else but….”Lubrication”. The album’s first single “101 Things To Do While I’m With Your Girl” was a perfect representation of Kwest’s clever, sex-filled steelo, and the topics of lust occupied over half of the album. Making you double over in stitches from laughing so hard while forcing you to nod your head uncontrollably at the same time was Kwest forte, and he did it with the least amount of effort. Always proving that he “doesn’t give a F*ck, Kwest busted out tales of illicit escapades with an underage skimy that ended with him on lock down with the hilarious and politically incorrect “Butt A Few-Co”. But don’t be fooled, Kwest was all about styles upon styles, and he truly ripped iddish’ on the “Blase Blah” which was soo fat it had you shaking your head in amazement (at least, I know I did) as Kwest went line for line straight off the dome piece. Plus, Kwest got freaky or ill for the hell of it (see “Disk Or Dat” and “Damn”), as well telling visually stimulating stories that contain a fair amount of substance (see “Herman’s Head” or “Bludawnmeyesneekuhz” which was about killin’ over sneakers).
In my opinion, “This Is My First….” most blatant, comical highlight arrived in the form of “I Met My Baby At The VIM” which had the potential to do for the New York sports outlet as what Biz did for Albee Square Mall. On “VIM..” Kwest pulled off a sentimentally-sappy tune so corny that it was fly. The song kept you guessing as to whether to take Kwest seriously or not, which was a surefire sign of a talented emcee no doubt. Not bad for a “First Album” I’d say, and in celebration of this forgotten masterpiece I’ve recently received the compilation of Kwest’s “Unreleased” gems that I will accompany me on a few long road trips this week.
5. “Like It Should Be”-Extra Prolific
Released: 1994, Jive
In 1993 the flavor didn’t just stop with the release of Souls Of Mischief’s now classic “93 Till Infinity”. With tracks produced by Hiero’s seminal producer slash manager, Domino, Souls’ A-Plus & Casual, Extra Prolific’s “Like It Should Be” was a versatile combination of the phat Hiero-isms along with sick lyrics and “Oakland trunk-pump worthy” beats. The Hiero affiliated Extra Prolific was basically a solo act, the creation of MC Snupe along with studio cohorts Domino (not that Domino!) and A-Plus (of S.O.M.). “Like It Should Be” was released on Jive which boasted a solid, impressive roster in 94′ (do bad Jive’s sound quality was always soo shitty on cassette back in the day!). Despite the BOOMING first single “Brown Sugar”, Extra Pro was dropped from Jive shortly thereafter, and that is a damn shame….at least in my eyes!
Brace yourself, I actually favored “Like It Should Be” over anything Souls Of Mischief ever dropped…INITIALLY. It would also be safe to say that this is my favorite Hiero release..Period! Ok, you can breathe now and let me justify my stance. This album is just a feel good piece of work with an abundance of highlights and minimal to no wastage at all. Lets start with the opening lyrics to “Brown Sugar”, “I had bit**es, freaks and all that sh*t”… MC Snupe was just dope..I loved his swagger, bravado and voice. Plus, he was one of those cats that seemed to coast over the lovely backdrops provided with a near effortless swagger. And what about “One Motion”, if that cut ain’t funky I don’t know what is!
Man, I truly do love this effort from Extra Prolific and while they aren’t really a “One Album Wonder” (In 96′ Snupe returned with a record “2 for 15″ recorded from his own label, Security…if you got it, hook it up!) I just had to share this one with those cats who’ve never peeped this release. And of course for all you Hiero headz there’s guest spots in abundance. For instance, Casual positively steals the brief “Cash Money” and Opio may have gotten a head up on “Now What”. Regardless, even if Extra Prolific may have been second tier Hieroglyphics, “Like It Should Be” was one of the illest releases that ‘94 had to offer and IMO has a plethora of exceptional tracks with bass knocks that can be heard for blocks. You can hit me up on this one, to deprive yourself of Extra Pro’s unique flavor would be criminal!
6. “Boxcar Sessions”-Saafir
Released: 1994, Qwest
“Headz Ain’t Ready”, can you recall the classic Boot Camp Click cut released around ‘95? Truer words were never spoke, especially when it pertained to Saafir’s….”deep breath”…CLASSIC debut on Qwest Records, 1994’s “Boxcar Sessions”. Hailing from the Bay, Saafir was fortunate to have appeared on not only Casual’s “Fear Itself”, but he also played a huge role in the party that was Digital Underground’s “The Body Hat Syndrome”. With a fresh deal from Qwest, the Saucee Nomad was joined by his Hobo Junction production team (J Groove, Rational, Jay-Z..not that one, and Poke Marshall) to release a phenomenal debut that was stacked with endless freestyle rhymes. Unfortunately, probably the biggest exposure that Saafir ever received was from his appearance in “Menace II Society”, you may remember him as the dude that gets shot up while sittin’ at the red light.
During the mid-90’s the Bay was flooded with “gangsta” rappers and G-Funk, but not every rapper that came up in Oakland or the Bay Area was all about being “hard” 24/7/365. Saafir, for example, was the farthest thing from either of the “tags” that were usually placed upon acts such as Mac Mall, Spice 1 or Pooh-Man. “Boxcar Sessions” is an abstract, jazz influenced take on Hip Hop from the Left Coast. In terms of complexity and abstraction, Saafir’s rhymes and style (which was nothing but a bunch of freestyles) was right up there with more “well-known” acts such as A.T.C.Q., Digable Planets and The Pharcyde. Just as jazzy as the aforementioned emcees, Saafir’s lyrics are anything but “simplistic”. However, unlike Digable, De La or even The Pharcyde to a certain extent, Saafir never really embraced the whole neo-hippie vibe. Addressing the “sucker MC’s” and “player haters” in an angry, aggressive fashion, Saafir declared war on all phony, fake emcees with his venomous delivery. Tracks like the first single (see below) “Light Sleeper”, “Can You Feel Me” and “Worship The D (the di*ck, that is)” never seem to get old, and the Chubb Rock sampled “Real Circus” is in one word or less…..SICK!
I’ve grown to love this CD more and more over the years, even though I copped the tape back in ‘94 strictly on the strength of dude’s appearance in “Menace”. Yet, over the last year or so, my take on much of the new music that’s dropping has been halted, much in part to the constant rotation of albums such as “Boxcar Sessions”. While Saafir could have stood to trim down some of the meaningless skits on the album, it’s safe to say that there really isn’t one weak track on the album. Even though some may find Saafir’s rhymes to be on Keith Murray’s level of complexity, I feel that this is actually a more enjoyable listen than Mr. Murray’s debut. While, freestyling was nothin’ new in ‘94, Saafir found clever, interesting ways to boast about his rhyming skills and tore down emcees, head to toe. Whether t’s Saafir’s overall style or the jazzy, bass-heavy production, “Boxcar Sessions” was surprisingly refreshing, even today.
Released: 1997, Payday/FFRR
“Jewelz” ahead of “Word..Life?”…I’m not even gonna’ front, I really didn’t start listening to “Word..Life” in depth (by that, I mean not fast-forward through 7 of 15 tracks) until 2004. It’s kinda like Trav stating sometime when we first began this blogging ‘ish, that he “wanted nothing to do with the UMC’s “Fruits Of Nature” when it first dropped”..I can honestly empathize with the man! When “Time’s Up” first hit the airwaves on local college radio, my initial impression was “Man, what’s all the buzz about this song?”…ooohhhh, how foolish I was (late pass x 10)! I have definitely come to the realization what I missed out on in 1994, but on the flipside of the coin “Jewelz” became one of my favorites almost immediately.
I think Omar Credle’s first single released off of “Jewelz” was “Far From Yours” featuring Yvette Michelle (see my Funk Flex post) on the hook, and while “O” received more than a little “heat” for switching up his style a bit….I absolutely loved it! Or maybe it was just the R & B chick on the hook (I don’t know what it is about the R & B chick on the hook?..maybe it’s just an illness I have) which I’ve always been a big fan of, and it’s hard to front on Buckwild’s always legit production. If I ever release an album, I swear I’ma put an “R & B chick” on every hook of every song..that’s a promise!!
Back to the matter at hand, let’s give “Jewelz” the proper due it deserves! The album starts off with a banger right from the jump with the Primo laced “My World”, which has gotta’ be one of Primo’s best beats. Baaammm!, then O.C. along with a guest appearance from Price Po & P. Monch, (damn, I shoulda’ just typed Organized Konfusion…is it just me, or is Pharoahe Monch’s name a bitch to spell?) hits you once again with another Primo infused killer “War Games”. The only thing that I’m not really crazy about with “Jewelz” is the appearance of Bumpy Knuckles aka Freddie Foxx on “M.U.G.” & “Win The G”, sorry Freddie..I’ve just never been a big fan of yours. You can tell him that for me though..have you seen that dude box?? Now come to think of it, I have a hard time seeing how folks would state that “Word..Life” was a better album than “Jewelz”. Oh well, give a listen to “Jewelz” again and you be the judge.
8. “Between A Rock And A Hard Place”-The Artifacts
Released: 1994, Big Beat
After reading one of Dan Love’s old post (From Da Bricks) regarding the productions of beatmaker T-Ray (Double XX Posse, MC Serch), I couldn’t help but think “didn’t T-Ray do some beats on the Artifacts joint?”. Well, I finally did break down and revert to Discogs and yes indeed he did do 7 tracks believe it or not. For some reason, I’d always thought that “Between A Rock & A Hard Place” was a Buckwild helmed production…..not so. If someone approached me and said “Eric, give me an album that represents the East Coast sound in the mid-90′s” this would be one of a select few along with “Illmatic“, “Dah Shinin” & “Enta Da Stage”. Tame One & El Da Sensei proved to be more than deserving of all the hype and attention that they received in anticipation of their debut.
With more than competent lyrical content and an undeniable chemistry, Tame & MC El were destined to put New Jeruzalem (Jersey) on the map much like their predecessor fellow Brick City native Redman had done so admirably before them. With Classic singles like the graffiti laden “Wrong Side Of Da Tracks” and the Buckwild produced “neck snapper” “C’mon Wit Da Git Down” (and the Busta-injected remix), “Between A Rock & Hard Place” was filled to the rim with quality product. I’ve always wondered why this album is often overlooked when conjuring up a list of definitive East Coast albums. Maybe it was it’s untimely release, for some reason I want to believe that this came out slightly before Pete & CL dropped “The Main Ingredient” and Brand Nubian dropped “Everything Is Everything”. On the other hand a part of me thinks this came out around the time “Ready To Die” dropped. Whatever the case, with tracks such as the reminiscent “Whayback” and my favorite track.. the ode to the herbal “Lower The Boom” (damn, that beat is hard!!) fueling this release, it’s say to say that if you’ve never heard “Between A Rock & A Hard Place” you truly need a late pass. Do yourself a solid, pop this in the headphones and you’ll soon hear why I’m so big on this album. Sh*t, I’m just embarrassed I let it slide for many years, but over the last 5 or so, “Between A Rock…” gets bi-weekly burn, no question!
9. “Enta Da Stage”-Black Moon
Released: 1993, Nervous/Duck Down
Somebody call the moooooorgue/I just caught a D.O.A.”. Damn, all these years and I can’t believe that I have yet to write about one of my favorite albums of all-time, Black Moon’s seminal “Enta Da Stage”. “Enta Da Stage” is one of the darkest, most uncompromising albums I that I own. Never has an emcee painted such vivid pictures which actually made me feel as if I was in the heart of Bucktown U.S.A. Buckshot was realistic without being materialistic. His menacing flow and disturbingly surreal imagery send chills down my spine. You can feel the hunger in his voice. Da Beatminerz on the flip side create a template of dark lo-fi rhythmic basslines, haunting strings, and creepy bells and chimes which whistle in and out every 4-8 bars.
The lead single from “Enta Da Stage”, “Who Got The Props” sounds as hypnotizing today as it was when Headz weren’t ready for it in 1992. “How Many Emcees” displays the true chemistry of Black Moon with an unforgettable Krs-One sample on the chorus. Although “I Got Cha Opin” and “Buck ‘Em Down” would be revamped into stronger versions, they still hold their own as originals that were “trumped” by their remixes. Especially, the former whose bassline would be jacked a dozen times more. I could go on about the strength of each song. Everything is a banger (even “Powaful Impak” which was proclaimed a not so great track from a classic album by Ego Trips “Book of Rap Lists”).
Even though “Enta Da Stage” is a stone cold classic, you should enter at your own risk. Da Beatminerz shine behind the boards and lyrically (“Son Get Wrek” is an ILL overlooked solo) but some of their lyrics can make adults cringe. Check the Evil Dee verse on “Ack Like U Want It”. Lines like “Now I’m taking all you own/ Plus I’m f******’ your wife/After that my man’s, gonna hit your only daughter/ And leave her body floating in some bloody bath water/, (DAMN Evil, take it easy on ‘em)are NOT for the feint of heart. Still, that doesn’t justify not an absence of “Enta..” from your record collection.
In conclusion, the brave and strong at stomach will rejoice. Unfortunately, the Moon never got the props they really deserved from all audiences. Their debut received 4 Mics from the then credible Source which were the same ratings that the “Doggystyles” and “Midnight Marauders” (which also should have been coined as 5-Mic classics, and were a few years later) of the world was receiving at the time. Like so many videos at that time, Black Moon’s videos repped their street corners to the fullest making you feel like they came from the most poverty stricken, crime related projects in the world. After listening to this, don’t be surprised if you find yourself on the corner stompin’ out wack emcee troops with your big black timb bootz and Champion hoodie. The best album from one of the greatest crews in hip hop history. Boom!
10. “Uptown Saturday Night”-Camp Lo
Released: 1997, Profile
Hailing from the Bronx, Camp Lo successfully intertwined elements of Hip Hop while also incorporating elements of Jazz and Funk. After first appearing on the soundtrack for the Samuel L. Jackson thriller (insert sarcasm), “Great White Hype”, the duo of Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede scored a major ear-opener with the refreshing, unique sounds of “Coolie High”. The track was smooth and elegant yet street, much in part to the soulful production of Ski Beatz. In the early winter of ’97 the eclectic duo would release the highly underrated “Uptown Saturday Night” on Profile Records. Camp Lo effectively managed to avoid most jazz-rap cliches while also retaining their street cred and while the album didn’t necessarily break any barriers it was a nice venture away from the hoodie sporting, Timbo wearin’ Hip-Hop that ruled the airwaves from ’93-’96. With deft lyrics and a rhythmic touch both of the aforementioned emcees flowed effortlessly over the production laced by the man who gave Jay-Z’s debut album the “platinum touch”.
Ski’s production on “Uptown Saturday Night” is one of the album’s most desirable aspects. Ski is no doubt a skilled producer as he weaved funky sonic patterns that never seemed to sound too busy or overloaded. Ski’s production is very hard to categorize on this album, incorporating bits and pieces from Hip Hop, Jazz and even soul, the best words to describe his contributions are “rich” and “majestic”. As far as Sonny Cheeba and Geechi are concerned…you gotta’ give em’ style points, not only lyrically but with their unique, throwback garb as well. These cats definitely weren’t afraid to express themselves!
“Uptown Saturday Night” opens with “Krystal Karrington,” an upbeat track where Cheeba and Suede introduce themselves as lyricists with flair, thanks to their silky, smooth voices and deliveries. One of the best celebratory Hip Hop cuts soon follows, “Luchini, aka This Is It”. From the unforgetable chorus to the perfect horn-laden beat and joyfully. happy lyrics, this song is classic and nearly makes the album worth the purchase alone. “Park Joint” used a really catchy sample and I remember Pete Rock using this same sample in the past, I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. “B-Side to Hollywood” has jazzy horns as the duo steals the show on the mic and it doesn’t hurt that the track has a dope hook as well. “Killin’ `Em Softly” has a more down-tempo beat but some of album’s hardest verses can be found here. “Sparkle” just may very well be favorite track from the album, a jazzy and mystical “night-time” that is an absolute must have on your “chill” mixtapes or playlists. “Black Connection” has a moody and dramatic sample, once again the two rappers shine over even more great production, really bringing out the best in the music. “Swing” yet is another well-produced, catchy cut, and “Rockin’ It aka Spanish Harlem” sports an obvious Latin influence. “Say Word” and “Negro League” are two lyrical highlights. “Nicky Barnes aka It’s Alright” is loaded with style, and “Black Nostaljack aka Come On” is also one of my favorites on the disc. And, of course, “Coolie High” is gorgeous, slow, sultry and nostalgic all the same, b. The album closes with an interesting mix of “Sparkle,” it has no noticeable drumbeat and sounds like spoken whispered poetry.