Sometimes a little organized ignorance is needed to balance things out. I like Dipset by default of my location, but their ignorance is far from organized. I like 50 Cent, but his ignorance is overwhelming.
When it’s carefully orchestrated, a sprinkle of niggerdom can be entertaining and thought-provoking. What the debut album from East Oakland’s premiere duo presents is just that. The Luniz came out busting with something to prove in 1995, putting their area on the national map in a way that hadn’t been done before…While the flamboyant characters of their Bay Area predecessors like Digital Underground, Dru Down and E-40 had amassed regional Icon status, The Luniz represented a more down-to-Earth look at the Yay and came with relatable personality types that the hip-hop audience outside of North Cali could identify with. This was highly important considering the Hip-Hop climate at the time, which was just beginning to rumble and bubble with the media-hyped East Coast/West Coast frenzy.
When “I Got 5 On It” dropped, most listeners weren’t fixated on where the Luniz resided as they were more interested in the subject matter of the track itself, being that it’s a universal topic in the rap world, and the song was so damn catchy!
The delivery they employed, tho definitely Yay area rooted, was in line with the multi -syllabled yet even-paced style that was prominent in the mid-90’s. Everyone from NorthEasterners like Redman to MidWesterners like Doe or Die and Southerners like OutKast were using this kind of flow, so it all fell into a hodgepodge of simply good music in those quiet radio moments between the polarized coastal giants like Snoop and Wu-Tang whose sounds were almost branded with where they were from undeniably.
Having that said, somewhere between the styles of Def Squad and Bone Thugs, came a flow from this up-til-then unknown group from a land that had been kind of closed off to the rest of the world outside of the West. The Luniz wrote the song that had the whole world singing…at least most of the country. Maybe an unwittingly genius move, seeing how their album is one big tribute to the hoods of Oakland and their entire mission is to introduce you to the mentality of themselves and the niggas you’re bound to meet on those very streets who are just like them. I think they may have succeeded, giving the rest of us a glimpse into a section where the other rappers couldn’t entice us enough to go to musically.
And this is where marketing and perception come into play. Somehow I think the Luniz got a bad deal. Often you hear them referenced as clowns or Comedic rappers. I take it that part of this comes from their logo being a cartoon condom or from their cadences, but Yukmouth and Knumskull are far from The Fat Boys or The Pharcyde. Maybe some of that stigma can be blamed on their choices in visuals when it came to videos. Or maybe it was the fact that this album is littered with silly skit-like preludes in the beginning and endings of tracks – but that was the popular norm on mid-90’s rap albums. Or maybe it’s because people weren’t so keen on what exactly punch lines were back then before the mixtape “freestyle” boom and took them as simply jokes. Or maybe it’s because, much like another duo that saw itself plagued by the comedic label, Field Mob, their use of animated adlibs brought down the seriousness of the skill and content they brought to the table.
Whatever the case, however, by the same token…like Field Mob, The Luniz’ chemistry on the mic together is super complimentary and unmatched by any other duo out of the West Coast yet. They represent that tried and true tested formula of light and dark (flow-wise and literally) that has worked for every other historic tag-team,with Yuk’s nasal rapid-fire delivery and knum’s cool, casual flow balancing each other out. The flows are distinct, but similar to Heltah Skeltah on their first album, are close enough that they almost blend into each other. It was clear that the 2 spent a good amount of time around each other. Their synergy is their strength here. Although Yukmouth has gone on to have a highly visible solo career independently, you almost don’t want to hear one without the other. Ironically,they stand out more when they stand together.
Much to the contrary of the aforementioned Comedic reputation, Operation Stackola is a an album based around the theme of getting rich through a series of scams, thefts and larceny. Mix that in with the occasional pit-stop to put a hating fool or a trifling hoe in check, or to dabble into creative territory or make an ode to getting high, and you have a Classic. Not since Spice-1 has Bay Area gangster rap been so mainstream. Then there comes the question, how gangster is this particular gangster rap? The Luniz aren’t your typical street spitters. What I appreciate about them is that they always implement a sense of where they’re coming from – and you can tell it’s just natural. They take the time (maybe without even thinking) to explain why they may be speaking how they speak or involved in what they’re involved in. You never leave the song wondering ‘well, damn, why did they say that??!’ So if it’s a song like “Yellow Brick Road” where they describe their exploits as your friendly neighborhood drug dealer, or even one like the title track, there’s an open door into their motivation and mind state that’s more understandable than the average rapper who glorifies. This is where the organization of the ignorance is exhibited. Make no mistake – it is still most certainly ignorance…But there’s a reason to the rhyme.
Besides the street aspect of the album, the other sides even things out by bringing in r&b elements that break things up with humor and Melodiousness. It’s actually pretty well sequenced, not giving you too much dark or too much smooth at one time, switching gears right when necessary. Capitalizing on the cryptic synthesized funk sound coming out the Bay at the time, the album is full of some of the best production of that era. It starts off gangster, from the intro going into one of the best songs on the album, “Put The Lead On Ya” featuring Dru Down, who introduced the Luniz. If ever you doubted these kids were niiiiiice with it, this track should clear things up for you. Violence aside, they go in!
However, not too far after that, it gets real groovy with joints like “Pimps Playas & Hustlas” featuring Dru Down again, and Richmond representative Richie Rich, and “So Much Drama”. While both tracks contain street content as much as the harder songs do, the music behind them allow the boys to approach things less aggressively and have more fun with the tones and choruses. These moments separate the group from all of their peers and make them stand out as who they are. They have a knack for whiny sing-songy chants that are usually parodies of popular ditties or things that are easy to find yourself singing along to to – no matter how ignorant.
This leaves space for some redundancy tho. As quintessential Oakland dudes, you are going to hear tons upon tons of local slang from that time period. And with the theme soaking throughout the album, it’s not uncommon to hear words like “Lick” and “Greenery/Creamery” circulating countless times amongst the hundreds of “playas”, “Ballas” and “Scrillas” thrown around. Also, the focus on being on the lower side of the economic spectrum is prominent as evidenced by repetitive titles like “Broke Niggaz” and “Broke Hos”. While both songs are 2 of the doper songs on the album, they add to that feeling of the group being a little limited in subject matter. The former is like a gangster rap credo with one of the most profound choruses in history, “Broke Niggaz make the best crooks/ya best look…over ya shoulder, if you’s a high roller!/”. The latter, on another note, is a more focused taste of the misogyny that you’ll experience later on during the album on the song “She’s Just A Freak”. These are the kinds of songs that incorporate the language that made C. Delores Tucker raise hell, but even there, the group explains the type of female they are talking about. In this case, it’s not women per se, but Scheming chics out for monetary gain, and then all around whores. Too bad they didn’t have a regular female-friendly song to level the playing field. But this isn’t the album for that.
The gems here are the conceptual ones where the duo really flex their skills and show you how they can tell stories in creative situations that pertain to their lifestyles. On “5150” featuring Shock-G, they weave a tale where they die for being dirty on Earth, and wind up in the afterlife contemplating and then ultimately carrying out a mission from “Shock Jesus” to kill the Devil and earn their way back up. Nuff said.
On “900 Blame A Nigga”, they get about as political as they’re ever going to get as they sound off on haters, racists and the powers that be who aim to blame rappers, niggas from the hood, or just Black folk in general and use them as scapegoats and examples. It’s pretty damn creative stuff – especially with the redneck voice impersonations between verses.
And finally, toward the end of the album, “Plead Guilty” finds the group facing prison time and voicing their thoughts on that.
My absolute Favorite song on here is the single, “Playa Hata” which borrows the beat from the Bobby Caldwell classic “What You Won’t Do For Love”, and borrows it’s hook from the early 90’s Chucky Booker song “Games”. It just rapes both songs and makes it its own, doubling as a dis track to fellow East Oakland rep and pioneer, Too Short. It goes down in infamy, but for me, it’s one of my favorite rap songs with some of the best explanatory verses towards haters and gossipers ever. Also the delivery and intro are impeccable.
Overall, the Luniz made 1 of the best albums in 90’s Hip-Hop history, and while they may have lost a lot of the chemistry that they had on this album in their subsequent efforts, they knocked it out the park here. It was a perfect look into their world; a great intro to the Bay area for New Yorkers like myself and other outside regions, and lyrically and flow-wise it’s what great rap is made of. Besides the repetitive words and dated sounds on some tracks (which should be expected by now from anything that I review before the new millennium), the only other fault that I can think of is an obvious lack of deep, meaningful content. As Ol’ Dirty proved, not all classic albums have to have some weighty social commentary included, but based on where the duo ventured on their conceptual songs and their potential, perhaps they could have afforded to squeeze something on there. If there was a rating between 12 and 16, I would be giving Operation Stackola a 14, whereas E.1999 Eternal would’ve gotten a 13. But for the sake of this site’s scale, 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)