You could tell from the intro that you’re in for a one of a kind experience like nothing else you’ve ever heard in your life. We were blessed to be in the midst of the height of the Wu-Tang fervor and fanaticism because we were accepting of almost ANYTHING Wu related. I say this because I fear that if not for that fact…let’s say if, Russell Jones was just random Joe rapper from random place U.S.A., we wouldn’t have gave him the time of day and wrote him off as some crazy novelty act instead of as a misunderstood genius. Sure, if he had come out alone in this digital age where crazy wins for the moment, he’d be a viral sensation just because of word of mouth and maybe that would translate into success. I could see the Youtube frenzy now. But in the 90’s, rest assured he’d end up in the same bin of hip-hop obscurity as Akinyele, and Dr. Octagon, Maybe Tech N9Ne if he was lucky.
Fortunately for us, we never have to find that out.
We’ve all been marked with an indelible O.D.B. moment. The sanity question surrounding the man was his allure. You’d see the charm, the raunch, and turmoil all in one setting if you heard him speak. You’d see, much like another hip-hop outcast and performer better known for his legal woes, clownish antics and drug use, Flava Flav, that there was a keen sense of self awareness, perceptiveness and waning intellect under the ultra-ghetto exterior. But comparing Russell Jones to William Drayton may be unfair. Ol’ Dirty was far from just a hypeman, or merely a character. While both are equally charismatic, Dirty had a method to his madness. He would freestyle songs and punch the best parts until music was made. He always made sure his projects displayed and incorporated all of his musical influences, from blues, to hardcore Hip-Hop, to a little pop/rock. He has given Wu albums some of the most memorable lines, full of poor man’s profundity. And he was totally in control of his voice and mastered the ideology of it being the final and most key instrument on a track. He also embraced the power of shock value. In both song and interviews, Dirty had the knack for perfectly timing rants and saying things in ways designed to raise eyebrows. Sometimes it’s just him on his Scorpio shit. Or coke. What can you expect??
The tragedy of his life, gave us the artistry of his career. In the intro to his album, (which sounds like 5 different ideas that he couldn’t decide on so he put them all together into one long-ass intro), he compares himself to James Brown. I don’t think anyone who has listened to a substantial amount of Big Baby Jesus will contest that notion.
And that intro prepares you for what you’re going to get on this album; all of the facets of Ol’ Dirty’s personality/(personalities?) clear and present. It goes from him assuming some kind of Redneck impersonation, to him attempting to speak sincerely, to him going into a comedic anecdote that turns into mock-melodrama which finds him singing a humorous yet crass rendition of a Burt Bacharach classic, then finally, the standard Wu-Tang trademark Kung-Fu flick clip, which I’m sure RZA insisted on. This all leads us into the song that O.D.B. may arguably be best known for, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. I don’t need to say much about this track, because if you’ve never heard this song before, where the fuck have you been? But I will point out that MC Eiht is in the video for this. Have you ever noticed that?
Now it could’ve been Dirty’s attempt to diffuse the tension stirring amidst the whole supposed East Coast – West Coast beef at the time and make a show of solidarity. Then again, it could also be Dirty being so high that he didn’t even realize that there was a beef at all and these were just some of the kinds of rappers that he was just genuinely cool with because he was always on some other shit.
This album can kinda be broken down into some kinds of pockets of Dirty’s style. I assume it depends on exactly how high he was during the recording of each track. There’s the drunken rants that are beligerent non-sequitters that make up the majority of the project, usually taking place over the more grimey boom bap beats. Then you have the playful stuff where it seems like even Dirty is laughing at himself as he’s in session. But then, there’s those brief moments of steady focus where his rhymes have some lyrical value and it’s not just amusement. You actually get a glimpse of what a young Russell Jones may have been like when he first embarked on his quest to grab the mic. Or maybe he was always a little touched.
“Shimmy Shimmy Ya” falls into that category of playful Dirty, where he just has full command of the show, but just wants you to party with him and feel him. But the gritty stuff is what dominates this album, thanks to Dirt’s constant daze and RZA’s sway to the darkside and ability to get away with it due to that Wu Mania that I mentioned earlier. Tracks like “Snakes” and “Raw Hide” (which is one of my favorites on the album) find Dirty doing just what I said; going off on half angry tangents and sometimes yelling his bars if not just yelling! (no, seriously…listen to the end of “Snakes” where he screams for about 10 seconds )
This isn’t more present than on “Brooklyn Zoo pt.2 – Tiger Crane” where he rehashes a verse from the earlier portion of the tape (yeah, I had it on tape, not bought – but borrowed), from the song “Damage” which I’m sure, The GZA, who’s featured on it wrote most of. Anyway, in this regurgitated version which sounds just like that; regurgitation, Dirty skips, backtracks, stumbles and slurs his way through what sounded almost pristine 6 tracks prior. The thing that saves this song from being the low point on the album is a good verse by fellow Clan member Ghostface Killah, and a random ass montage of pieces of songs from the album that leads into some audio clip of a live performance over a hypnotic loop where Dirty engages the crowd and displays what an intriguing presence he has as a performer. This is one of those moments on a record where you revisit after an artist has died and feel like it was foreshadowing, or like you were personally there to experience them. Sort of like when Pac would talk to you at the end or beginning of his songs. Or those Death threat skits on Big‘s second album. Or when Pun said he just lost weight and he ain’t “goin nowhere!” This doesn’t mean that there aren’t bright points in the crevises of these dim spots, like where Dirty spits alongside Raekwon and Meth, “See Murder which is caused, when you fuck with the negative and positive charge, then I came up out my garage, with the hit that’s gonna be laargee! I’m tired of sittin’ on my Fuckin’ ass..Niggas I know, you walk around with mad fuckin cash! Who the Fuck wanna be an MC – if you can’t get paaaaiiid, to be a fuckin’ MC!!”
It gets even rawer on the Posse cut “Protect Ya Neck 2 – The Zoo” where Ol’ Dirty assembles a Motley Crew of C-List Wu Affiliates – most of who would become apart of Sunz Of Man – over a haunting demonic boom bap beat. I’m almost afraid to listen to it. It’s not far from listening to a Marilyn Manson, Goth-rock cut, but it’s undeniably Hip-Hop.
It’s not all Hardcore dizziness tho. The playful moments balance the album out. Moments like “Don’t U know” segue the listener out of the bash n crash mode, into lighter stuff because it still incorporates the grit, but moves the subject elsewhere to Dirty’s favorite subject; The Ladies. This is my least favorite joint on the album. It’s just too murky and crass for me. And I’m sorry, there’s just too much Killah Priest on this album for me. However, it’s when he full out releases and lets loose, like on “Baby C’mon” or the other female joint “Sweet Sugar Pie” where we get a smile from Dirty. On the latter, he croons over some kind of Casio ballad template and sings an interpolation of…something, in a half-drunken stuper as he shouts out classic female eungenues and gorups of yesteryear and then concludes in a mock female and male(?) orgasm. That’s also a little too much for me! But then, to top it off, he yells at the top of his lungs as the instrumental fades “NOOO! I’m the Baddest! Hip-Hop Maaaan! Across the World!!! I don’t care, what you care! I just give, What you receiveeee!!” If ever you needed proof that Osirus was off his rocker…Exhibit A
On the aforementioned “Damage“, there is a prime example of those moments when he’s tamed and somewhat refined. I still have my suspicions about why tho. Just like on The RZA assisted “Cuttin Heads”, I think that these 2 tracks were either old recordings from a less indulged version of Dirty, or penned largely by his two cousins with Z‘s in the middle of their names.
The best songs, in my opinion, are the ones where there is a meeting of both his playful side and his focused side. Songs like “Goin Down”, and “Stomp” and my personal Favorites “Hippa to Da Hoppa” & the original “Brooklyn Zoo” . You just gotta listen to them in order to see the best version of the man known as the O.D.B. The beats are even the most different on these tracks.
So that makes 4 favorite tracks for me; “Baby C’Mon”, “Hippa To Da Hoppa”, “RawHide” and “Brooklyn Zoo”.
Overall, this is not an album that I’m sure the kids now would enjoy if they weren’t apart of the Wu era, but Iam confident that Dirty’s personality would prevail and make this a timeless piece of work just because he’s irreplaceable. It’s one of those rare projects where the Artist themselves outshines the material and the lack of subject matter is not a fault. It’s almost secondary as this album is more a character study of a turmoiled man. A rough genius, something similar to those stories we’ve come to know about down-on-their-luck winos who were virtuosos in their glory days. Except we witnessed Dirty’s glory days during his wino phase.
because of this, I give this album 12 Candles out of a possible,
4, 8, 12 or 16.
4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)
8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)
12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)
16(Classic all around)