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“Beyond Flavor” – Original Flavor

Dropped: March ’94 Via Atlantic

Purchase “Beyond Flavor” HERE

Led by producer/former MC, Ski, Original Flavor dropped their debut, “This Is How It Is” to very little fanfare, in 1992.  Although Ski paired himself with legendary New York DJ, Clark Kent for the project, the LP fizzled out very quickly.  Honestly, it’s even surprising that Atlantic even bit on a second effort from Original Flavor.  However, on their second effort, “Beyond Flavor”, Ski enlisted the help of MCs T-Strong, Chubby Chub and someone named Jay-Z.  Having worked with fellow Brooklynite Big Jaz on “Hawaiian Sophie”, Original Flavor’s sophomore LP truly served as a catapult for Jay’s future projects.

Formed in the Mecca of Hip Hop, New York, in 1991, Original Flavor set out to compete with the best of ‘em on their sophomore effort. However, after listening to “Beyond Flavor”, you are left with the feeling that the missing key that Original Flavor lacked on this album was complexity,  which may have kept the beats and rhymes locked together tightly. Most of the album, which at times flowed as smoothly as the Pharcyde’s debut over hard, “Bacdafucup-like” production, featured braggadocio lyrics that only reiterated Original Flavor’s supposed “originality”…but, it’s nothing that you haven’t heard before, allow me to expound..

“Beyond Flavor” wasn’t completely wack.  The production and melodies on cuts like “Hit”, “Blowin’ Up Da Spot” and the title cut really had the potential to move assess by the masses.  The infamous Ski and DJ Chubby Chubb blend piano loops and femme vocals  that all possessed grooves to hit hard enough to curve your spine.  “All That’s” silky, anti-ego chorus has always been one of my favorite tracks from “Beyond Flavor”, it’s just too bad that most of the other tracks on the album didn’t quite hit as hard in the head or the feet.

One of the album’s highlights was the addition of the crew’s newest member for “Beyond Flavor”, T-Strong.  I gotta’ admit the dude could flip a lofty rhyme between his teeth better than most during this album’s heyday.  The main beef I had with “Beyond Flavor” was that while the rhymes were far from average, “Beyond Flavor” wasn’t necessarily comprised of complete songs, and while Original Flavor did have all the skills (as a group) to take it to the next level (Ski already has) “Beyond Flavor” would be the last we’d hear from Original Flavor as a trio.

aaaannnnnnnd in this corner……..

“React Like Ya’ Knew”-Private Investigators

Dropped: August ’94 via Virgin

Purchase “React Like Ya’ Knew” HERE

Losing the “new jack” image and picking up an ideology that was better known as the Nation of Gods and Earths, Redhead Kingpin reappeared in 1993 (along with a few of his homies) with hopes of rejuvenating his career.

As far as I’m concerned, he did a pretty fair job of doing so judging from the quality displayed between “React Like Ya’ Knew” and his solo outings. The improvement with the beats and lyrics is drastic. The beats bump, the hooks are catchy and the album re-worked a few old-school samples that provided just the right vintage atmosphere to a dope effort that was widely “passed-up” due to the perception of Redhead from his previous two efforts. So let’s get down to business.

To set sh*t off nicely, “That’s What It Is”, a track that sampled a bit of the Jungle Brothers’ “Jimbrowski” along with the bass line that made Masta Ace’s “Music Man” a New York anthem, established a nice identity to the Private Investigators as they proved that this album was not to be mistaken for another “New Jack Swing”.Next up is “She’s Not My G”, and for all you youngsters out there, “G” was a widespread phrase that basically stood for “girlfriend”, popularized by Flavor Flav on “Meet The G That Killed Me” (from “Fear Of A Black Planet”). Then you have “Walk On”, which to me, sounded eerily reminiscent of the Pharcyde classic, “Passing Me By” (topic-wise anyway) and “Damn It Feels Good”, which is appropriately titled due to it’s heavy drum kick and deep bass line along with horns sampled from the Tenor Saw classic, “Ring The Alarm”. Also of note is “On The Rise” which is centered around the same loop that propelled Black Moon to underground stardom.

Honestly, the album works largely due to it’s dope production, which was mostly handled by Redhead. The catchy hooks, and the fact that Red had definitely spent a little extra time in the both between the release of his solo albums and “React Like Ya’ Knew” is very noticeable. For cats that favor the lyrical aspect of Hip Hop, this album may not be up your alley because the lyrics…at times….seem monotone and redundant. At any rate this album is definitely listenable anywhere a dope sound system can be found.

Eric’s Take:

I can’t tell you just how annoying the Original Flavor LP has grown to be.  I don’t know man, “Beyond Flavor” just didn’t age well…at all!  While Kingpin’s LP is just OK, it definitely left “Beyond Flavor” in the dust!

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Tracklist

1. Freaky Flow-Special Ed
2. Betta’ Off Dead-Onyx
3. Cradle To The Grave-Mobb Deep
4. Eastbound-Masta Ace Inc.
5. Shaolin Soldiers-King Just
6. Kick Down The Fuckin’ Door-8-Off
7. Check The Bitch-Kool G Rap
8. Kids On The Ave-Miilkbone
9. Trust Nobody-KAM
10. Neva’ Goin’ Out-Kid Sensation
11. No Complex-Chino XL
12. Protect Ya’ Neck II: The Zoo-O.D.B.
13. Respect Due-Naughty By Nature
14. 1st Of Tha Month-Bone Thugs N Harmony
15. Funkhouse (Redman & Rockwilder Remix)-Champ MC (THIS joint is so ill, first time I ever heard it was compiling this)
16. What Goes Up-Mack Da Maniak
17. G-Groove-5th Ward Juvenilez
18. The Points-Various (From “Panther” O.S.T.)

DOWNLOAD

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“The Untold Truth” – Illegal

Dropped: August 1993 via Rowdy Records

Purchase “The Untold Truth” HERE

Comprised of lil’ MC’s Jamal & Malik, Illegal dropped what was one of the more hardcore albums during what was considered the “kiddie craze” (about 92′-94). Hoping to capitalize on the massive success of Kriss Kross, major labels were putting up large amounts of dough to put out younger acts such as QUO, Da Youngstas, Shyheim, The FamLee,etc. Released on the Rowdy Records imprint, “The Untold Truth” hit the streets during the summer heatwave of 1993 with the lead single “Head Or Gut”, which was produced by “The Green-Eyed Bandit” himself, Erick Sermon.  However, the Sermon-injected, murky funk of “We Getz Buzy” was right up my alley.   I really wasn’t that impressed with “Head Or Gut” being that the production sounded like it was a leftover track from Sermon’s first solo outing “No Pressure”, and hearing a couple of 14 year olds boast about how they’ll do this and that to basically fu*k up your life…wasn’t something I was tryin’ to hear at the time. Although, “The Untold Truth” does boast some decent production which is attributed to the almost “All Star” lineup of producers i.e, Diamond D, Biz Markie, Dallas Austin, Lord Finesse and the previously mentioned Erick Sermon.  The album’s highlight “On Da M.I.C.” features D.I.T.C. alumni, A.G. & Lord Finesse as Illegal, surprisingly, hold their own aside the lyrical and production heavyweights.

I liked Jamal and Malik better as solo MC’sm as they would mature much more as artists over the years. Jamal’s first solo effort “Last Chance, No Breaks” has some real BANGERS and Malik almost stole the spotlight from Snoop on “Pump Pump” off of Snoop’s classic “DoggyStyle”. I don’t think that Malik ever put out a solo joint, which is unfortunate as I always felt he was the more prolific of the duo.   Still, you can’t front on both of the emcees lyrically, as they came off more seasoned than their actual age.

annnnnd in this corner…..

“The Aftermath”-Da Youngsta’s

Dropped: Late April 1993 via Atlantic

Purchase “The Aftermath” HERE

Would I be jumping the gun if I said this is the best youthful album ever put out?? Probably not, as I know more than a handful of folks who share my sentiments as well. And let’s be real here, your lying to yourself if you think that Mobb Deep’s “Juvenile Hell” was a better album than “The Aftermath”. I’ve never really peeped Qu’ran, Taji & Tarik’s debut album “Somethin’ 4 Da Youngstas” and I do think it’s probably in my best interest that I don’t.

Da Youngstas actually put together a pretty decent three album stretch with “The Aftermath”, “No Mercy” & “Da Illy Funkstaz”. Once Again, I first saw Da Youngstas performing “Crewz Pop” (which was produced by Naughty’s Kay Gee..actually, it’s 118th St. Productions, but you know what’s up) as the ending act on “In Living Color”. I was impressed enough to pick this album up based on the overall sound and production of “Crewz Pop”. Of course, my decision was only solidified when I saw the production lineup for “The Aftermath” in an issue of The Source.

Are you kiddin’ me?? Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Kay Gee, The Beatnuts & DJ Premier all contributed beats for Da Youngta’s sophomore success. Tell me somebody didn’t have the hookup!!! Jesus, that’s quite an impressive production assembly for a few teenagers…SH*T! It is what it is, and that’s what makes this album so special..because honestly I couldn’t recite one line from any song on this album but the beats are incredible. I don’t know if an instrumental of “The Aftermath” was ever released but it needs to be, because this is some of the best production on an LP from what many of us have deemed “The Golden Era”.

Don’t be mistaken, Da Youngstas are decent MC’s (albeit the moments in which they try to sound like a young Onyx..but who wasn’t at the time?? i.e, The Hoodratz), but the production is almost flawless on each and every cut. If you’re looking to indentify a “sound” for mid-90′s production, it’s very easy to put your finger on it with “The Aftermath”.

 annnnnnnd, wait!  Who’s this walking up to the ring?

“AKA The Rugged Child”-Shyheim

Dropped: April 1994, via Virgin

Purchase “AKA The Rugged Child” HERE

“On & On”…dum,dum,dum,dum,… “On & On”…Virgin Records couldn’t have picked a better time to drop “AKA The Rugged Child” for the masses. Hot off the heels of the now-classic Wu Tang Debut, Wu affiliate “young un” Shyheim surprised a lot of folks with his lyrical skill and prowness as a then 14 year old MC.

With much of the production handled by RNS (RZA does produce “Little Rascals”) “AKA The Rugged Child” flows together quite nicely. “On & On” is the obvious selection for “best song on the album”, but I kinda’ liked the boom-bap bounce on “The Rugged Onez” as well. Admitingly, RZA’s aforementioned production “Little Rascals” is really nothing to write home about…it’s actually un-characteristicly “average” for usual RZA standards.

I rembember when this album came out, The Source gave it 4 mics and had hyped it up like…”Make way for Shyheim, he’s the next generation of MC’in”. I wasn’t seein’ it then and it obviously never came to fruition. I must say, the difference between this album and Da Youngstas “The Aftermath” is that other then “On & On” this album struggled to keep my “16 year old A.D.D. ass” awake…even today it’s a borderline boring listen. Give me Shyheim’s follow-up “The Lost Generation” any day and I’ll be much more attentive!…

Eric’s Take

Ahhhhh….over the years the gap has actually closed b/w “The Aftermath” and “The Untold Truth”, sadly Shyheim’s debut really does sound fairly outdated, even if his lyrical skill far surpassed that of Illegal and Da Youngsta’s.  However, the beats found on “The Aftermath” are still to this day, absolutely stellar!!  What would have been really interesting, is to have heard the more seasoned version of Da Youngsta’s…say, the ’96 version atop this production!?

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“Lyfe N Tyme”-The B.U.M.S a.k.a Brothers Unda Madness

Dropped: May, 1995 via Priority 

Purchase “Lyfe & Tyme” HERE

Often likened to their West Coast counterparts, the Pharcyde, the duo of Evocalist & D. Wyze a.k.a. the B.U.M.S. a.k.a. Brothers Unda Madness carried on the tradition of quality Hip Hop emerging from the West’s underground scene in the mid-90′s with the release of their one and only LP release, “Lyfe N Tyme”.  With a healthy “push” from a few well-known California “Wake Up Show”  hosts, noticeably the Bay’s Baka Boyz and L.A.’s King Tech, the B.U.M.S. were able to to stake their claim in the West Coast “pool of underground” emcees not named Souls of Mischief or Freestyle Fellowship (see: Anotha Level or even better, just scroll down, lol).

The first single from the B.U.M.S., “Elevation” jerked the Teddy P anthem “Close The Door” for it’s backdrop and paved the way for the release of “Lyfe N Tyme”, which finally dropped in the early summer months of 1995.  On the LP, the B.U.M.S. display an intellectual hood point of view which combined street philosophy with L.A. B-Boy street sense.  The duo’s straight forward, no punches pulled, delivery and rhymes mirrored the laid-back flows from most of the West’s more lyrical field of the era.  With the bulk of the LP’s production handled by Joe Quixx, “Lyfe & Tyme” is bouncy long player that has aged surprisingly well and has proved to be a timeless listen.

Highlights from the LP include “Take A Look Around” and the backpacker favorite “6 Figures & Up”, which is arguably the duo’s most notable track.  However, it’s the xylophone and sleigh bells that hold the LP’s title cut close to my soul (the track also features a very smooth appearance from Mystic.  Speaking of guest slots, the author of one of my favorite slept-on LP’s of all-time, “Boxcar Sessions”, Saafir damn near steals the show on a B-Side cut that didn’t appear on the album, “Rain” (see below).

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In the end, the B.U.M.S. definitely showed promise, but the production was pretty “safe” to say the least and some of the album’s tracks do fall flat, yet the duo’s charisma was not quite enough to not make the album’s flaws noticeable.

annnnnnnd in this corner……

“World Ultimate”-The Nonce

Dropped: Late February 1995 via Warner Bros.

Purchase “World Ultimate” HERE

Combining old school B-Boy “isms” with easy going if not “experimental” production, The Nonce managed to recall a pinch of early LL coupled with the mannerisms and lyrical dexterity of the Pharcyde and production techniques of the Tribe on their stellar debut album “World Ultimate”. Yet the kicker, and ultimately what impeded on the album’s sales and overall notoriety, is poor promotion and bad timing.  I mean, really, think about what “World Ultimate” was in the mix with?  ”The Main Ingredient”, “Everything Is Everything”, “The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World”…needless to say, “World Ultimate” was one of those Tuesday purchases when the new, more noteworthy releases were slim and none.

However, the Nonce’s debut was crazy refreshing, and still is!  I totally forgot how dope this album is, I bet it’s been damn near half a decade since I enjoyed “World Ultimate”, prior to this week.  Yet, tracks like “Good To Go”, with it’s “buzzing” hook and “World Ultimate” often take a backseat to the duo’s most productive singles, “Mix Tapes” and “Bus Stops”, but it’s the two aforementioned tracks that are astounding and feature the duo’s true production talents.  Oh, by the way, the “duo” being Nouka Basetype and Yusef Afloat, sorry for the oversight two paragraphs in, lol.

The Nonce tapped into a new era with this celestial debut dripping with syrupy, bass-heavy, jazz-trimmed tracks and simplistic, tongue in cheek, often playful lyrics.  Aside from the aforementioned highlights there’s “On The Road Again”, a easy going cut that chronicles the stresses of life on tour and defines the term “breezy”.  And hell, what’s an album without a good posse cut?  ”West Is..” is a funky bell ringer and big up to all West Coast emcees carving out their craft alongside the Nonce during their heyday, as guest emcees Suggah Bear (of Urban Prop) and Meen Green provide lyrical wreck.

 

Eric’s Take

Ultimately, serving up raw Hip-Hop, the Nonce proved that you don’t have to be crazy, otherworldly lyrical gymnast to stand to be meaningful, you just have to mean well. And even though times change, it’s safe to say that “World Ultimate”, while criminally overlooked, stretched musical boundaries and pushed this LP into another atmosphere.  It’s a shame how I’ve slept-on The Nonce, this album is pure “Bobbito” butters!  ”World Ultimate” is the victor, all day and surprisingly, note even close….

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TRACKLIST

1. Supa Star-Group Home

2. All Alone-Slick Rick

3. Straight Off Da Head-Brand Nubian

4. Meth vs. Chef-Method Man & Rae

5. Niggas & Bitches-Jayo Felony

6. In The Flesh-Pete & CL

7. Hellbound (Remix)-Almighty RSO

8. Nuthin’ To Do-Common Sense

9. Tha ? Remainz-Gang Starr

10. Neva Faded – L.O.T.U.G.

11. Constables-O.C.

12. Shade Business (Beatnuts Remix)-PMD

13. Nigga Sings The Blues-Spice 1

14. Geez Make..(Hood Remix)-MC Eiht

15. C’mon Wit Da Git Down-Artifacts

16. Cocktales-Too Short

17. Can’t Stop The Prophet (Pete Rock Remix)-Jeru

18. Front, Back…-UGK

Download

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“Trendz”-Trends of Culture

Dropped: (August 1993, via Motown)

Purchase “Trendz” HERE

Tell me that this doesn’t make for an odd equation, Motown Records + Hip Hop = A quality album? Wow! In a valiant attempt to stake their claim in Hip Hop, Motown Records (”Trendz” was actually released on “Mad Sounds”, a subsidiary of the parent label,Motown) jumped back into the rap game with an impressive debut from a Harlem trio that were all equal parts of style, substance and skill. Members M.O.L., Grapevine and Nastee were a pleasing combination of Old School delivery, jazzy loops and hardcore drums, but just like many of their peers feel short in the end due to lack of originality (i.e, to much of a L.O.N.S. “vibe”).

While Trendz Of Culture may have caused a little stir with their debut single, the “Blind Alley”-sampled “Off & On” (which also sounded VERY similar to the “Scenario” remix), it was their second release “Valley Of The Skinz” that really established this trio in the Hip Hop underground. Nothing short of “breezy”, “Skinz..” had the potential to be one of ’93’s true summer, jeep anthems. Dedicated to everyone’s favorite pastime….sex, the emcees proved that raunchy lyrics could be delivered with class, skill and distinction. With solid drums, soft piano keys and a weird synth effect “Skinz” was a winner just as a “strictly” instrumental joint.

The album itself is “self-produced” and the end result was very impressive. Again, following in the ‘93 spirit the majority of the loops are jazzy and the drums are knockin’. However, as an added “bonus” the Lord Finesse remixes of the two aforementioned singles (”Valley Of The Skinz” & “Off & On”) were tweaked to include Finesse’s trademark booming bass and distorted horns.

Overall, “Trendz…” was a really, really good album that anyone who professes to be an educated “golden age” listener should have within arm’s length (or at least own). Surprisingly, the album has withstood the test of time, even though it doesn’t light a match to say….”Enta Da Stage” or “93 Til’ Infinity”. However, part of me wishes that this trio could have dropped another album which would have truly proved if Trendz Of Culture had “what it takes” to have fruitful careers in Hip Hop. Sadly, “Trendz” would fall victim to whatever knocked so many East Coast artists off the map between ‘93-’95. Damn, who was signing all these cats like “hotcakes” anyway?

Annnnnnnnd, in this corner:

 

“Ism & Blues” – Hard 2 Obtain

Dropped: July 1994, via Atlantic

Purchase “Ism & Blues” HERE

By now, I’m sure that the majority of you devout Hip-Hop fanatics have either heard the first single released from “Ism and Blues”, “L.I. Groove” or can at least remember the video from back in the nine-quad. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t extremely impressed with the debut track from the album, especially when you considered that the trio of Taste, DL and Six Seven all hailed from Strong Island, which at the time was home to the likes of De La Soul, Leaders Of The New School and Public Enemy,to name a few. So any crew that emerged from Long Island had to be on some ol’ next iddish.  Sadly, Hard 2 Obtain were well above average lyricists, but not exactly “ground-breakers” by any means.

However, at least they had good taste in production-the Stimulated Dummies or “SD50’s) were eminently on “some ol’ next sh*t” for sure! Unfortunately, the majority of the album’s cuts all sounded distinctly similar, due to the repetitive choruses, production and gravel-voiced flows. Yet, throughout the LP, there are a few tracks that are sure to reach out and pull you in, namely “Heels Without Souls” which was an eloquent diss aimed at the proverbial “bad seed”, the dude who always acted out of place until he was locked up or killed. Be sure to peep the Monk Higgin’s “Black Fox” loop on the track as well. The DJ Nastee produced banger, “Ghetto Diamond” was another sure-fire standout cut about all the dips who inhabited the “12 Block” (H20’s dwelling). Bouncing lyrics back and forth, the emcees even stole a page from the Minnie Ripperton classic, “Lovin You”. Plus, the strictly freestyle joint, “Babble On”, added a much needed sugary dessert to your ears. But, in the end, the album just contained a bit much “filler”.

It seemed historically unusual that talented lyricists, who sold their souls to a major label, would deliver an LP with mediocre tracks that outweighed the “good stuff”, even when representing the Strong Isle. I guess it’s like Rakim stated best, “It ain’t where you’re from/it’s where you’re at”.

 

Eric’s Take

The whole “premise” of this post was to create some distance between a lot of releases that tend to “blend” together, at least in my mind.  The idea of sorts, was birthed in a week in which I listened to the two albums included in this post, along with the debut album from the Nonce and the B.U.M.S. “Lyfe & Tyme”,  four albums that are extremely similar, in both substance and structure.  However, let’s just stick to these two albums first.  I gotta’ give the nod to Hard 2 Obtain’s “Ism & Blues”.  The SD50 production influence and contributions are just too much for “Trendz”.  While “Ism & Blues” is a longer LP and some tracks do seemingly favor one another, the bouncy production and lyrical chemistry is too overpowering for the brief output from Trends of Culture.  Hit the comments to offer up your take on the two LPs.

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Tracklist

1. Headbanger-EPMD
2. Breaker 1/9 – Common Sense
3. It’s Alright-Classic Example
4. Hard Like A Criminal-Das Efx
5. Peace Treaty-KAM
6. Lord Have Mercy-Da Lench Mob
7. Watch Yo’ Nuggets-Redman
8. Hoodrat-CMW
9. How The Fuck Would You Know?-Positive K
10. A Day In The Life-Diamond D
11. Fat Pockets (Remix)-Showbiz & AG
12. Pass The Gat-Brand Nubian
13. Similak Child (Remix)-Black Sheep
14. Not Gonna’ Be Able To Do It-Double XX Posse
15. Gangsta Bitch-Apache
16. Halftime-NAS
17. Rebirth Of Slick-Digable Planets
18. Ak Ha Ha, Ak Hoo Hoo?-Akinyele

DOWNLOAD/MEDIAFIRE

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It’s amazing how simple yet effective, the “older” Source issues were. The writing/wording/editing left plenty to be desired, but when gazing at back issues like this one from July of 1992, write-ups on “newbies” Das Efx and Redman can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Hit the jump for the tracklist and yet another…… drum-roll please….”Sure Shot Single” selection from Almighty RSO (*gasp*)

Read More…

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