(19) Classic Sounds….

Like…

15 Years.

Dude, I wasn’t even 15 years old when my favorite rapper of all time was pronounced dead. I remember hearing the news from the television in my father’s room. I ran in to hear that 2Pac was indeed dead. I immediately felt a weird sort of gravity. A week before, I was joking about him surviving and probably rapping with an iron lung. This time tho, I sincerely realized the impact of death from a distant place. It was a significant year; 1996 had marked the passing of my father’s mother – my Granny. It was my first real and close death, so coming of age as a 13 year old going on 14, the absorption of what loss feels like hit me unforgettably. My Aunt Charlene called me to see if I had heard. I don’t even know how she knew that I liked Pac, or if it was just an assumption based on my music love, but I wasn’t nearly the 2Pac fan that Iam now. I wouldn’t call myself a fan back then. I just liked a good amount of his singles and held fond memories of watching his videos with my big sister Veen. But like most every other hip-hop fan and listener in New York City at that period in time, I had read the VIBE and Source articles and recently heard “Hit ‘Em Up” and I thought the nigga was crazy!

So when we come to a point like this, and the handful of you who consistently visit this blog notice that this is my second review of a classic 2Pac album within a span of 3 months, or if you’re a random visitor and notice that, then the latter of you wonder why I started this post off this way, and the former of you understand that I would not let this month go by without properly acknowledging the anniversary of the death of the most prolific and poetic rapper ever. I mentioned in the prior Pac post that I’d come back this month and pay respect properly, and especially as I prepare to deactivate my blogger status, it makes the most sense that I wrap up this year in significant ways.

It’s this album, that made me the fan that Iam today. I picked a great point to become a Pac historian because had I re-acquainted myself with his music with the All Eyez On Me LP, I think I would have had an underwhelming assessment of him as an artist. While an intended triumph and celebratory effort, that album did more to invoke West Coast hip-hop unity and pride and re-introduce Pac as a retaliatory and party-friendly force in rap than exhibit his skills and personality. It was surface stuff. And tho it can be argued that since The 7 Day Theory is a posthumous work that it may not be Pac’s final vision – especially considering that there are hundreds of songs that he recorded in that year and a slew of Makaveli sequels that hit the mixtape circuit immediately after it’s release, these are still his thoughts and expected execution of such. I began seeing the posters for this album in October. It was releasing on election day of ’96. I didn’t like the cover. I thought it was too much. I heard pieces and bits of it on blocks as cars rolled by and so on. I didn’t really hear it until months later when I was chilling in a pool hall downstairs from my building, which ironically, had a huge airbrushed poster of Pac from his All Eyez On Me cover with the quote, “even thugz cry, but do the lord care?”. I thought it was amazing how a bunch of street dudes from Harlem, my hometown… shooting pool, rolling dice and playing video games, who 4 months ago would otherwise be blasting “Who Shot Ya??” by Biggie, all were just in full out Pac mode, blasting The 7 Day Theory from the jukebox and reciting the lines. I just stood there and soaked it all in.

The first song that made an impression on me was the actual first song off the album. “Bomb First (My Second Reply)” is like no other 2Pac song; It booms, has incredibly aggressive energy without sounding crazy amped, and is full of organized confusion. For those who were not previously familiar with Pac’s Outlawz crew, this song was a great introduction. A tamer follow-up to “Hit ‘Em Up”, this track is still laced with venom but more calculated and stemming less from the mind of a scorned troublemaker and more from the mind of someone fully ready to go to war and taunting his enemies to come out of hiding. It was definitely a battlecry, complete with a dramatic introduction and conclusive explosion and even little clever jabs at Bad Boy and Xzibit (who I was a fan of at the time). What moved me the most however, was that the beat was decidedly east coast. I was used to Pac rapping over the whiny, bouncy and r&bish sounds that had defined California hip-hop. This dark beat with it’s bassline that uses the same sample as a dozen of Hip-Hop songs from the 90, including Naughty By Nature‘s “Uptown Anthem” (who I also knew Pac was cool with) was a change of pace, and to me a sign of where Pac was going before his life got cut short. The outlawz’ Jersey-brewed voices and wordy delivery also helped foster this vibe and added an East Coast co-sign that showed that Pac was not leftist, just beefing with most of the popular rappers along the Atlantic. My ears were wide open from this point.

To hear a song like “Hail Mary” follow such a dynamic lead off is almost overwhelming. What these two songs placed next to each other did for street dudes is indelible. The message is remarkably stark. It’s a sequence of get-back, promises, exposition of plans and credos that lead to quotables that have been repeated time and again. Tho I never fully understood every line of this song (like “mama told me never stop until I bust a nut” – huh?? Why would your mother tell you that?), everybody else seems to, so whatever. Besides, Not understanding Pac is a great departure from the usual route of being able to predict every other damn word that he was about to say (see, “hennessy” and “enemies”). This was also a departure from his one line chorus style and saw him using full out sentences and refrains for hooks on most of the songs on this LP, even chanting – dare I say singing? on this one. The cryptic and gothic feel of this song became the thugs’ anthem and the perfect single to really drive the whole I-just-died-but-I-may-still-be-alive-somewhere-and-outsmarting-you-all feeling that came around his death. This beat too was not typical West-coast fare, and tho it sounds non coast specific, it just resonates with the spirit of hardcore, melodious Hip-Hop. It was the ultimate posthumous song and declaration. The irony in the biblical reference on such a grim track just tied into the whole Christianity play of the album.

Speaking of which, by the time I got to the 5th track, “Blasphemy”, I had faithfully owned this album on tape and was amazed when I heard this. It has a weird beat that is more atmosphere and background for Pac’s vocals than a production. It sounds like everybody was high and producer Hurt-M-Badd was playing with modulated or distorted oboe sounds and Pac said ‘yeah, lets keep that!’ On this under-appreciated song, Pac toys with lots of Christian imagery, incorporating dogma into his verses and making comparisons while questioning texts from Biblical scriptures. It’s a testament to where he was spiritually at the time, in light of his other contemporary tracks like “Black Jesus” and references to Jehovah. He seemed to be at a crossroads but enlightened somewhat, making peace with not accepting the traditional practices handed down, but forming his own definition of God for thugs and Black people overall. Profound lines like “We probably in Hell already, our dumb assess not knowing/everybody kissing ass to go to heaven ain’t goin!” and “brothers getting shot, coming back ressurrected/is this that raw shit? – nigga check it!” will have anybody thinking…

A song that took a bit more time to grow on me however, is “Just Like Daddy”. It’s a little creepy of a concept, but it became a saying after this album became popular. This was more or less a vehicle for Pac to let the Outlawz get a little shine on the female demographic, tho they don’t quite pass as believable in the ladies man department like Pac naturally does. The song fits right in time in a much needed slot right after the darker songs that came before and the heavier songs that follow. It represents the essence of this album, a very honest mix of Pac’s thoughts and feelings at this point; some lighthearted material full of love and calm, to juxtapose with his most angst-ridden and burdensome sentiments and questions. The “Impeach The President” sample underneath once again added to the east coast feel and helped the even flow of west-meets east that seemed to be the formula in production for this project. The samples were all subtle and nicely soaked in other sounds. Besides, no Pac album would be complete without a good song “for the ladies” or 2.

This album may be remembered more for songs like “Hail Mary” and “Me And My Girlfriend”, yet in all honesty, it should be revered for the deeper songs like “Blasphemy” and the 2 in the middle of the album; “Krazy” & “White Man’z World”. While “Krazy” may sound like a return to the usual Pac rhetoric about getting high, being in jail, questioning the fate of a thug, this finds Pac coming from a more mature and contemplative perspective. It’s more sedate, and less hopeless than previous songs of the same vain like “Life Goes On” or “It Ain’t Easy”. When he says simple lines like “I came a long way, but still I got so far to go”, you believe him and almost feel him wanting change. On a less optimistic note, on “White Man’z World”, he kind of accepts the reality of being in a disadvantaged predicament, but calls for a social revolution of Black people not embracing second class status. While he does so with fervor, this is accomplished more through his adlibs, as his verses are less focused on any particular subject and are more 1st and 2nd-person recitations that feel like something that he just needed to get off of his chest. Interestingly enough, it’s the jail talk on this song, that sounds more appropriate for the song “Hold Ya Head” which is a loose dedication to those on lockdown making it through bids, but sees Pac doing more of that 1st person diatribe that he did on “White Man’z World” with a little bit of bragging. It’s the sounds chosen in the production of these songs tho, that is truly the glue. The smooth and rich feeling of replayed samples and real instrumentation in ways that weren’t ever really explored or prominent in rap music coupled with hard hip-hop snares and great use of dramatic segues into each song delivered a  mix that allowed 2Pac to be the final and most powerful instrument on the songs. They evoke definite moods that deliver Pac’s message clearly. This is not Pac rapping hardcore over r&b, or getting deep and conscious over crunk funk, this was the perfect mix…And most of it displayed a thinking Pac who was reflective and strategic.

That doesn’t mean that all strategized Pac was calm. On the aforementioned “Me And My Girlfriend”, he made a cult classic out of a used concept. He pretty much killed it for everybody else after unfortunately, tho he sparked everyone’s desire to follow the trend. On a cinematic and thumping beat (on which Pac gets production credit) that sounds very mafia movie inspired and works for both coasts, Pac rips through this song on an extended metaphor about his lady being his gun. It took alot of us a minute to digest. The whole woman-as-a-metaphor-for-an-object thing was still relatively fresh and new to Hip-Hop fans. We were easily impressed when it was applied to something very dynamic and tangible like guns. Nevermind the fact that  2 years earlier, Organized Konfusion did verses as a stray bullet, or that Common addressed the whole state of Rap music and Hip-Hop culture as if it were a woman, Most of the rap listening public at large hadn’t heard this technique used until Nas‘ personification as a gun on that summer’s “I Gave You Power”. It was mind-blowing. My personal theory is that most of 2Pac’s beef with Nas was rooted from a place of true fandom. I think Pac listened to Nas heavily and respected him, until he started listening a tad too closely. In all honesty, to take offense to any of the lines from Nas’ second album, you’d A) have to understand the bullshit he was talking about, or B) really be rewinding his songs and reading along with the lyrics sheet included with his LP. 2Pac seemed to be rubbed the wrong way by Nas’ brief line in the first track off his album where he claims to have got shot and stitched up and left the hospital in the same night. Something Nas just said for dramatic effect, but something that Pac actually lived. But to catch that line, you’d have to be listening quite intently. I think Pac was listening hella hard, as a fan first, and then felt some way. And even through all of this, especially given the timeframe of when the album came out in relation to his album, and how huge the response was to “I Gave You Power”, I think Pac Loved that song, and in the spirit of competition and ego, felt the need to outdo and 1-up Nas by going the only next place that one could go after turning themselves into a gun...Loving one. So If “I Gave You Power” was the classic rap song of that summer of 1996, then “Me And My Girlfriend” was undoubtedly the classic rap song of that fall. BTW, this song should have never been remade by Jay-Z and Beyonce. Never…

The videos alone for this album should tell you that this is close enough to the version of this album that Pac would have made had he been alive long enough to see it to the release date. Before my visit to the pool hall, I saw the clip for “Toss It Up” late one night on Rap City and thought, ‘what??! I thought all the media outlets said that “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” was the last video he ever made?’ It was weird. I was kind of mad thinking that his final video would be of him parading around LisaRaye and cars with c-list singers instead of the meaningful one with him getting shot and going to heaven with the great musical legends. So you could imagine how flabbergasted I was when I saw the video for “To Live And Die In L.A.” just come out of nowhere months later. I was more shocked that it was being played on NYC radio stations. But this brought a sense of peace back. Whereas “Toss It Up” is the only song on this album that is reminiscent of the reckless and flamboyant vibe of All Eyez, “To Live And Die..” brought more of that calm, reflective but radio friendly spirit that made this album evenly measured.  I was more relieved to think that this was indeed Pac’s final video, a laid back but raw and lamentable ode to the city that made him the man that he became. And even tho he’s not an L.A. native, you can tell that he was directing it towards those who grew up in Los Angeles and the natives. He described the lifestlye and hood culture there so vividly and passionately that it made me want to go there just to see why he and all these other west coast dudes seemed to love it so much. If you watch the video, you see how it makes sense that this was the video where he literally rides out into the sunset. He looks like he was having a genuinely good time, if only for the moment. I even find amusement in the fact that even in the midst of the feel good aura he keeps the pace and balance of the album alive by making time to throw a dart at Dr. Dre at the end and remind us all that he’s still in war mode, just taking a break to love life. 

“Toss It Up” is not a bad song at all, nor does it change or ruin the mood, it’s just a song that I never listen to on here. Maybe because Iam a New Yorker, and this is the only track on here that has that 90’s West coast style of production that I mentioned earlier and expected the album to sound like, or maybe because I absolutely hate the singing, but I’m just never in the mood to hear that shit. Along with “Life Of An Outlaw”, these are the only tracks that I skip on the album. But by definition, a classic album is not so much about whether or not you only choose to listen to your favorite songs on the album, but whether or not you can play it from beginning to end. And since the flow and theme of this album aren’t disturbed at all and every last song has it’s own independent value, this is indeed a classic. And I can attest to listening to this from front to back a zillion times.

“Life Of An Outlaw” is actually one of 3 songs on which 2Pac recieves co-production credit, making this the first and only album where that happens. It’s just telling of the direction that he might have been headed. It also marks an important place in his rap history where he flexes the widest vocabulary of his career and doesn’t rely on his go-to sentences and phrases. He steps it up lyrically and flow wise, using different patterns, more syllables and compounds adding to the effect of that west meets east influence sprinkled across the album. One can only imagine where he was about to go as an artist from this point. Whoever did the sequencing on this LP had the ear to present Pac in the most honest and balanced way possible and closest to his own intent.  With production from 3 unknown beatsmiths (including an up and coming QD3) this seemed to be an ideal marriage of sound for Pac’s new strategic mindstate and a perfect comedown from the party that was All Eyez. Moreso than any other of his albums where he appears to be preoccupied with a particular angle (Death on Me Against The World, Police Brutality and injustice on 2Pacalypse Now, etc.), this was the most well rounded – even with the slant of him being in wartime mode. This album changed the way I looked at 2Pac as an artist, and subsequently changed my life. It’s apart of the top 5 albums that influenced me as a rapper.

With that, my favorite songs on here are “Krazy”, “To Live And Die In L.A.”, “Bomb First”, “Blasphemy” and the super classic “Against All Odds” which is arguably the best closing song on a rap album ever, right next to “Suicidal Thoughts” and “Regrets”. To understand this song is to understand exactly where Pac’s mind was at in that time. He named names of non-rappers, real street dudes with sketchy stories who were all somehow tied together, he talked to the rap figures who were saying slick shit in interviews, he told you why he was mad, and asked you what would you do if you were him? The effects in the background and the talking were the perfect compliment to mark the tone of this track. It’s climactic and impactful. If “Bomb First” was the taunting, this was the declaration. He got it off of his chest. If you don’t like this song, you just don’t like 2Pac and you probably stopped reading this review 8 paragraphs ago.

Yet and still, this album is undeniably a complete classic. And for that it gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 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)

R.I.P. Homie. Thanks for the music…

Advertisements

New Chris Classic x Brandon Carter visuals + Chris Classic Mixtape!!

Young Carter hit me with these clips in an e-mail about a week ago in support of the 3rd installment of the homie Chris Classic‘s mixtape series Summer Classic.

This first one is footage of the 2 recording one of the tracks on the mixtape  in quite frankly, one of the swankiest studios I’ve ever seen an unsigned artist work out of. Nevermind the fact that it all looks like one big Coca Cola endorsement, pay attention to the process…

The second video is a commercial for the mixtape itself, featuring the wild homie Chicago Gee. It’s a take off of an original song by Brandon that he performed acoustic guitar at a show last year, only to have punk-ass Amanda Diva try to play him on stage. The most IMPORTANT thing in this commercial however, is the fact that Chris is changing the game by dropping his mixtape in true technologically advanced fashion, by making it directly uploadable to your smartphone, for free. DOPENESS

We’re probably all gonna be doing this soon…

Check out the link to download Chris’ Mixtape by clicking on the image of the cover below

(16) Classic Sounds…

Like…

What, you thought I wasn’t gonna do a Classic Sounds review of a 2Pac album?? Yeah, why would I do a review of an album by my favorite rapper of all time, on what would be his 40th birthday, coming up on the 15th anniversary of his death??

Let alone his debut album.

Pac represents so many things to hip-hop culture. His career is a study in itself. Often criticized for the duality of his stances and expression, that was the very thing that made Pac so compelling. It was anger and anti-establishment, then it was gentle and compassionate. It was poetic and then it was brazen and brash. It was California-centric, but at the same time it was universally pro-Black.

I remember being in my sister Veen‘s room and seeing that she had this album on tape, and thinking to myself 2Pacalypse Now?? ‘What kind of title is that?’ It was on the arrival on the movie Juice, and I had just saw the video for his lead single “Trapped”. I was in 4th grade, but I wasn’t impressed. I just knew I had heard his name here and there, usually in the vein of something controversial. I remember thinking, ‘oh, he’s that trouble-making rapper that’s playing a bad guy in that movie’. Boy, was that a foreshadowing understatement…

Who would have known that this would turn out to be the rapper who I’d identify with the most 6 years later, and carry my tangled up, anxious and brooding self through my teenage years? somehow, despite any concrete similarities, in a world of glorified stick-up kids making get money anthems, backpackers, hot boys and Diddyisms, I related to the outspoken, borderline paranoid, son of an ex crack-addict, ex- militant single parent who championed “thug life” and the pursuit of fucking and getting fucked up, with oh-so-poetic sensibilities. Pac was many things…But the magic is in how all of these equally strong components of his character boiled within the same pot. This means whatever image 2Pac brings to mind may very well be true. But the bigger truth is that he has always been so much more.

As one of the rare Hip-Hop artists who’s work got progressively better with each release, if not the best example of it, Pac is a great research subject in that you can see where his division of  focus was and what parts of that pervaded through the bulk of his career. While most rappers release their most groundbreaking and provacative work at the beginning of their careers, anyone familiar with Pac’s catalogue knows that 2Pacalypse Now was just the tip of the iceberg.

Here, Pac seems to embrace a role of being the outspoken, more street-oriented off -shoot of the classic Cali group Digital Underground, which he was an unofficial member of. The “Rebel” in his own words. Much like Kool G. Rap was to the Juice crew, this album would serve to affirm Pac’s loyalty to the peeps that put him on, but also as the platform that would catapult him to eclipse them right afterward.

Taking this angle, this is the most civil yet aggressive version of Pac. Still very much so from the ‘I’m an emcee’ school of thought, this is the period where you’ll hear Pac using the wordiest and quickest flow of his career. He puts force in every syllable as opposed to dramatic emphasis that would later become his signature style. He vacillates between a measured delivery and a loose flow, even implementing elements of stacking and compound twisting, ala Bone Thugs.

Nowhere else is Pac’s early 90’s personality captured on track so completely.Even though the beats here mirror the times and contain alot of what helped lay the framework for what would become the West Coast sound, this album really is made up of instrumentals that really don’t fit any kind of niche. The overly dramatic bassline and cheesy keys on “Brenda’s Got A Baby” scream PSA, and some of the tracks where Pac just spits his version of bravado sound like they were borrowed from the east coast, back when people weren’t distinguishing rappers by region. Take for instance, the reverse distortion, repetetive hard piano loop and scratches accompanying the Ed O.G. vocal sample on the introductory track “Young Black Male”. In one verse, 2Pac makes his statement and  shows a lyrical dexterity that he rarely displays. He also presents the recklessness that compliments the social awareness that makes this album complete.

And that’s explicitly what 2Pacalypse Now gives you. As noted before, Pac had many sides and felt passionate on a multitude of issues that he split up within his body of work. One thing that remains constant is that throughout the span of his life, though some issues became more dominant than others, there was a dedication to the causes that he felt near and dear to. In other words, Pac stayed true to what he believed. Whatever he was fighting for on this album, was the same thing that he died fighting for. It’s here, on this debut, that we get a more Black and White version of Pac, with his concentration fixed on inciting riotous self-defense against crooked establishments – particularly police, painting vivid scenarios about social ills through storytelling, and making a name for himself as the young hot head doing things his own way. The tying together of these focuses is evident from the first transition of “Young Black Male” into “Trapped”. While the former is a boastful first shot in the air, the latter is less so and incorporates more of a narrative from a victimized angle.

The ebb and flow of the LP basically follows that lead, swinging back and forth from the kind of overconfidant and foreboding rap that we’ve come to know Pac for, to social commentary. Pac seems extremely entrenched in the world of police brutality and the injustices that are associated with the long arm of the law. All thru the album, cops are characterized as vicious, racists overseers who live to profile Blacks and keep law enforcement and judicial processes a numbers game. It becomes Pac’s one man rallying cry for inner city Black men to take action against such trespasses. This is clearly from a sentiment in which Pac felt that he was speaking not only for himself, but for every young Black male like himself that he knew. An interesting point, considering that this album came out the year right before the now infamous Los Angeles riots and even more ironically so, before Pac caught a serious charged of allegedly opening fire on two officers in Georgia. This fervor is captured in angry songs like “I Don’t Give A Fuck”, but none more stark and musically gripping as on “Violent”. Over an old distorted reggae dub beat that was souped up to build intensity, this is one of the rare tracks where you’ll hear Pac spit over an unconventional sound but marry it perfectly. The now outdated synths work against the speaker rattling bassline to give a cinematic quality to the song as Pac descriptively engulfs you in his increasing disdain for cops that elevates to a fictional me-against-them shoot-out at the end. With lines that are hard to forget like “So here I go/I gotta make my mind up/pick my 9 up/or hit the line up”, and “If I die tonight/I’m dying in a gunfight”, Pac’s strength rested in not clever wordplay, but in the simple poetry and believability of what he was saying. Even in fictional instances, these were still situations that Pac would probably act out if he found himself in them in real life.

Speaking of which, he takes a second to redirect his angst into a more cerebral outcry when he delves into his actual poetry roots and drops science while maintaining the hardcore vibe on “Words Of Wisdom” Even over an uptempo acid-jazz like breakdown, that was not something uncommon of that era…Where hip -hop was still playing with it’s jazz experimentation phase. Like I said, this album tapped into a little bit of every sound that was going on at the moment.

Another recurring theme goin on thru the album was loyalty to the hood and like-minded niggas (defined by Pac as meaning Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished). He addresses the benefits of it on songs like the soulful and more organically produced “If My Homie Calls”, and the deviation from it on songs like “Crooked Ass Nigga”. Featuring a guest verse from frequent early 90’s Pac collaborator Stretch, the man Pac would later accuse of abandoning him and alligning with his enemies, his presence on this song just serves as cruel irony…

It’s when Pac takes a pause from letting anger be the fuel behind his verses, that he leaves you with some of the most impactful songs that will leave you in thought and reflection and overall appreciation of his creative mind. He does this through the medium of storytelling. In a calm voice, he lays out the entire tale of Brenda, who has come to represent anyBlackgirl USA in innercity america who experiences a teen pregnancy that she can’t handle, completely in third person, but never from a detached sentiment. You can almost feel his empathy through the song, as if he’s talking about his little sister or someone that close. It’s so powerful that it makes you overlook the horribly overly melodramatic singing in the background and the bad beat.

The same goes for “Part Time Mutha” where he semi-autobiographically takes the role of a son, in strife from growing up witnessing a drug-addicted mother. It’s revealing in light of finding out what we now know about 2Pac, but the following 2 verses take it beyond just him aand speaks to the larger social epidemic of hard drug addiction that was rampant in the era. He enlists a random female to rap the second verse (in his cadence), and then he assumes the character of a struggling single mother himself on the last verse.

The most sharply executed of these stories is “Soulja’s Story”. Over a looming sample that is open enough to allow the listener to feel every word, but encroaching enough to set the ominous tone, Pac weaves a sequence of 2 brothers who become incarcerated and spark a prison break, again playing both characters.

The rest of the album is standard 2Pac rap that evens out his agenda and overall statement. As a complete project, it’s definitely the seminal effort where Pac’s early impact was established. Tho lacking the personal exposition and extrovertive vulnerability that lead fans to love him that his subsequent albums contained, this was Pac’s most easily digestable work until he dropped All Eyez On Me, which spared emotional complexity for mass appeal and more party emphasis. 2Pacalypse was clear, concise, and bold. He was so focused, that besides references to sex, Pac didn’t save himself any space to exhibit his female-directed material – which is just as vital and significant to the 2Pac mythos as his beef songs and conscious songs. This is the only album where that is the case. He was just too focused on getting his points across on retaliation, respect and rebellion. Besides an overbearing tone of anger that propels it, and the now, ages-old sound of the beats coupled against Pac’s rapping (which could have worked in the late part of his career as well), the album is pretty well balanced.

My favorite songs here are “Young Black Male”, “Violent”, “Soulja’s Story”,

“Rebel Of The Underground”  & “If My Homie Calls”

This album gets 12 Candles out of a possible

4812 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)

It’s more like a 13. Which is a fitting number.

This comes on the heels of an alleged confession by a former Jimmy Henchmen associate of being the shooter behind the infamous 1994 incident at NY’s Quad studio that sparked the paranoia and vengeful spirit that Pac would become most known for in the late 90’s.

Happy Birthday Homie…

(15) Classic Sounds

Like…

Do you even remember what you were doing in 1991?? I was 8 going on 9. And whatever I was doing, I was certainly doing a variation of the wop and reciting parts of “Hip-Hop Junkies” that I did not understand. I didn’t even know that this was the same group that made the other song that I liked, “Funky For You” a year before that. I just knew that I was now a fan of Nice & Smooth. Welcome to the year that I became an active music listener.

I remember my boy Eric, who was one of my best friends in High School always talking about this album. I didn’t fully respect it until he went out and re-bought it on CD and made me listen to it when I was in summer school my Junior year. I saw what he meant. When you hear jaded older hip-hop heads going on about what rap used to be, this is what they’re talking about. It’s that combination of real and street relevant and relative, while care-free and light hearted…Not taking itself too seriously to have fun and party and be rhythmic. Nice & Smooth have always represented balance, down to their monikers – which they embody and live up to the tee!

Nowhere is this more evident than on this album, which is hands down their most memorable and most successful. Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed is the LP that made these guys a top-tier rap act in the early to mid 90’s. Especially when you consider that right at the height of this album’s buzz and dominance, the group appeared on the perfectly timed and instantly classic “DWYCK” with Gangstarr (that song will never get old). Spawning the most singles, this album really played up the duo’s individual strengths. The selection of releases also showed their versatility, with some tracks being whole r&bish ditties, to others being lyrical rap rides and some evening out as rap/harmonized hybrids.

Speaking of “Harmonize”, the album starts off with a hyped up track of the same name with the duo doing just that. One of their standards and part of their calling card, they don’t really sing in 2 part harmony as much as they just synch their very different voices to deliver rap chants ala The Cold Crush Brothers or T.J. Swan from the Biz Markie era. Granted, Smooth B can hold a note and he exhibits this plentifully throughout the album with bridges and breaks in rhyme scheme, but crooners these 2 are not. And I don’t think they were trying to be or even cared. It more or less seems to be truly the natural way that the group chose to express another facet of their creative process. The fact that this happens over some of the most irresistibly catchy and most clever uses of samples from popular breakbeats and funk songs into midtempo rap grooves only makes it feel more free-spirited and authentic.

“Cake & Eat It Too” is a prime example of this. The single that loosely tells a story of an unsatisfied girl is a full-out song in the conventional sense of the word. It’s so early 90’s that it’s not even New Jack Swing. It’s just Smooth B singing off-key while Greg Nice delivers the rap verses over one of the few original beats on the album, but what comes off more like a track you’d hear on a demo. It’s almost not full enough to sound done because it’s not the cleanest vocalizing and the beat consists of a 3 note piano bass melody. Yet it thrives in its simplicity.  It’s one of those songs that was so memorable because it was sooo different from what was going on at the time. Rap was going through a sort of puberty at the time…Discovering that it had a multitude of avenues that it could choose. It was still rolling off of it’s afrocentric phase, reveling in it’s house and jazz experimentation that contrasted mellow, more heady rhymes coupled with more subdued deliveries against the booming uptempo dance scene littered with big pants, big hair and polka dots. And the lure of gangster rap was fresh on the rise, about to make everyone drop a hardcore album in the following 3 years…Including this group. But for this exact period when this song was a hit, it was perfect. A summer song that broke the rules by being more of a sing-songy sap fest, yet reflected the overall tone in hip-hop. The 2 guys were so confident in what they were doing that you had to respect it. Plus, by the time they dropped this, they had already given you more than enough hits to not have their credibility as rappers in question.

If Balance was the group’s main theme, then songs like “How To Flow” showcased this impeccably and made it clear as to why they could get away with joints like “Cake & Eat It Too”. One of the more hardcore tracks on the album, and yet another great single (my second favorite track off the album from back in the day), it actually starts out with a melodious riff by the 2 going back and forth in an old school cadence. Immediately after that, Greg Nice – who usually sets all the songs off, rips into the bass guitar lead track as it thumps with lines like “Massive meltdown, bring the red tape/bag up victims who caught the vapes”.

The real bread and butter here is on their more straightforward rap tracks tho. Songs like “One, Two And One More Makes Three”. As well as the requisite posse cut (which was mandatory back then), “Down The Line” where the first bond with Gangstarr was made as Premo reinterpreted the same “Night In Tunisia” sample that he used on Gangstarr’s debut single “I Manifest”, and Guru lent a verse. Nothing is more Killer than on “Pump It Up” where the 2 show just why they each were a force to be reckoned with then. On both solo verses, both rappers ride the same beat that would go on to become famous as Biggie‘s “One More Chance Remix”. Yet this beat is delivered in fashion with that of the whole album, as it breaks down on the chorus to a lighter, chimey sample, only to go back into the pounding and scratching. Both bring their A game, and their individuality attacks in a way that reinforces their solidarity as a duo. It’s like seeing something split apart to strike from 2 different angles just to join back together and enjoy the victory. Listen as Smooth B drops lines like “my brain contains memory info…/Protons, Neutrons, cells and membranes/molecules are the tools that I in-frame/so you can get a vision – a visual picture/1,2,3, a consecutive mixture/Solids, liquids, gas creates matter/you bite my rhymes, well I’m flattered………………..bite-able cause even the best did/but you can’t check me, cause this ain’t Chess kid!/”.

This beat, this cohesion and distinction at the same time, are explicitly what the group is made of. The juxtaposition of hard parts next to soft sample breaks in the beats was the backdrop for you to take in the matching of Greg Nice’s high energy, simplistic, call-and-response flow with Smooth B’s paced, soft-spoken encyclopedia-laden (sometimes made-up) wordy flow. Despite these conflicting energies, they work cooperatively and never change the vibe or tempo of the songs themselves. Both rappers use their differences to marry whatever beat their on top of and not collide with one another, but simply compliment. The party part of party songs never mellows out just because a guy named Smooth B rhymes after a guy named Greg Nice who practically just finished yelling his verse.

And the party songs are there. While every song is pretty much a party song because Nice & Smooth are from that class of rappers that were out to entertain primarily, some are more deliberate in their mission. Those songs, like “Medley; Step By Step”,  “Sex, Sex, Sex” and their claim to fame, “Hip-Hop Junkies” are littered at different points of the album, but unless you’re doing a critical review of the album like Iam here, you probably won’t notice the difference, because like I said, every song has a catchy vibe to it that can rock in some kind of party.

Even on the melancholy and topical “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow”. It’s just the breed of rapper these guys are. They understood that even a song with semi-heavy subject matter shouldn’t kill the jam. Over a sped up sample of folk star Tracy Chapman‘s “Fast Car”, the group plays off of the title and makes it a poetic one of their own, having nothing to do with the actual conversation in the verses. This song is however, their second most popular single. Another song that became memorable because once again, it was so different from everything else out there. There were alot of different styles of music being sampled in Hip-Hop at the time, but nothing resulting in something so unapologetically as non-hip-hop as this. And it worked. It was also a nice deviation in the album sequence from the funk and thump. 

And that’s the group in a nutshell. This album was the 2 Bronx Golden Era rap legends at their best; Not under or over doing it. They were truly just being themselves and you could hear them having fun. Even the bragging seemed realistic and from a thought out point of view. It was less about demeaning others or making outlandish claims. It also helps that the 2 have some of the most distinctive voices in Hip-Hop history. Greg Nice may well be one of the best performance style rappers. Smooth B was one of the best who attempted the I’m-gonna-use-big-words style. Besides the unnecessary “Billy Gene” skit and the wack and unfocused “Paranoia”, every track on here is great and serves it’s purpose.

Having that said, my favorite songs are “Pump It Up”, “How To Flow”, “Down The Line” and of course, “Hip-Hop Junkies”. 

This album gets 12 Candles out of a possible

4812 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)

It’s more like a 10, but you know…

(14) Classic Sounds…

Like

“Here’s an oldie but Goodie!”

That opening line from “Treat ‘Em Like A Prostitute”, the first track off of Slick Rick’s Magnum Opus is so appropriate at this time.

This classic LP  is the source of so many references, borrowed lines, borrowed swag, and is apart of that top ten of Golden Era releases whose songs litter the sound scape of 80’s themed stuff from movies to parties. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much pertaining to the urban lifestyle in the 1980’s without some Slick Rick song playing in the background or being mentioned. And it would more than likely be from this particular album.

Reason being is that Slick is of that oh-so-rare cluster of artists who only made 1 memorable album. However, that’s all that he ever had to do. This one album made an indelible and irreversible impact on the culture and music history period, to the point that it’s hit songs still get played in the contemporary party scene today…Re-looping it’s lifespan for each generation since it’s inception. It helped revolutionize and redefine Hip-Hop with new slang, new approaches to social situations, and a new voice most importantly.

This debut had been highly anticipated since the great alley-oop introduction lent to him by his partner in rhyme and then mega rap star Doug E. Fresh. His guest features and solo spotlights on the eternal hits, “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” helped cement him as a force to be reckoned with, but no one could have anticipated the bomb that he was about to drop.

As an outsider in more than one way, it almost appears as tho Rick’s immigrant status as a Brit and unmistakable King’s English has always been overlooked. When I was growing up in the 80’s I don’t ever recall hearing anyone trip off the fact that this guy was str8 up London rapping like he’d been in Brooklyn his whole life. As if he didn’t sound like a cartoon character. There was no masking his speech. Unlike other English performers – even fellow British rappers like Monie Love, his accent didn’t fade and slip out as he recited. It was here to stay. Now add to that a penchant for breaking out into random melodious riffs and interpolations of other popular songs, and Slick Rick was never intended to be the norm. He was far from conventional, but he wasn’t weird. He was just giving the Hip-Hop audience something that they didn’t hear before. And not because he was trying. But this was genuinely his interpretation of bragging, establishing identity and being stylish. This was his vision of cool. And we knew it was. Maybe the foreign thing played a huge part in his confidence, or maybe I was just too young to remember, but everything this guy did was accepted. Eye-patch and all.

This may explain his brazenness as well. Although many a rapper had dedicated their fair share of time to odes about the opposite sex and being the best, Slick took things from a different angle and delved more into situational relations. He demeaned his competition by not aggressively denouncing them, but by using witty jabs and sharp comparisons. Listening to him amongst his peers now can be likened to being in school and seeing how the other kids would settle conflicts with fist fights and then seeing that one kid who was the best snapper and would send other kids away in tears just with his words. This is also the case for how he approached female scenarios. Noted in rap as quite possibly the best storyteller, this was Rick’s chosen approach. It was always linear, yet easily digestible chronicling, full of characterizations and punch lines. Everything was and is a story for him. Yet what made him so bold was that at the time, the only rappers painting such vivid depictions of day-to-day life were the “gangsta” rappers. Slick was so appealing because he brought elements from each existing field of Hip-Hop at the time. He was topical, creative, a known party rapper with a talent for crafting the most compelling parts in a song to sing and rap along with, but he dealt with mostly street based issues and spoke about them like the hardcore rappers would. A good amount of curse words, which was not too prominent in the average rap recordings of the time. Even Rakim would use like 1 swear word per album. Around then, only Rick and maybe Big Daddy Kane were mixing that playboy image with the raw delivery and bravado, while still making time to speak on social issues.

Apart of that playboy image would be addressing male-female situations. And that boldness that Rick exudes is present from the moment the aforementioned “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” comes on. Just the idea to title the song in such a way, and furthermore, to start his debut album off with, speaks volumes to the balls this man had. And balls this man had indeed. So much so that he taunted his competitors to “lick” them on the closing track. The titles of his introductory and ending songs let you know the manner of hubris you are dealing with. Yet there’s a humble undertone in Slick’s ‘I-just-like-being-fly’ ethos, so consider these 2 songs to be the bread of a sandwich full of adventure and humor. On the former, Slick provides a cynical commentary on female infidelity based on crude accounts from stories that sound like something out of a Richard Pryor routine. On the Latter, Rick proves my point about his brash nature on this late 80’s braggadocio fest “Lick The Balls” with crazy sentences like “act trife, I’ll let my dog cold fuck your wife!”

Of course this was in the scope of a story. The tale being Slick at a show along with some less than comparable comp. This is also one of the only straightforward songs on here. In a similar but way more creative and intricate plot, on the song “KIT What’s The Scoop”, Rick and co. find themselves on the trail of a group of imitating rappers. Enlisting the aid of the high-tech talking sports car from the 80’s hit series Knight Rider, Rick catches the biters in the act, confronts and reprimands them, recapturing his style just in time to rock a show. This is rap as art to the highest level. The dialogue between he and the car (K.I.T.) is pure genius. 

Another interesting point in the Slick Rick profile is that he voices different characters in his rhymes. Most of the times this simply means that he softens his cadence to indicate that it’s another speaker or another pattern of thought, but sometimes this extends to include full on different personalities – even in adlibs. This is exhibited in songs like “The Moment I feared”, that finds him in a series of unfortunate mishaps where Murphy’s Law takes the wheel.  It’s when he characterizes female characters however, like on the über classic party hit “Mona Lisa”, or “Indian Girl” that he has gained the most notoriety. Where most males are unwilling to portray a woman or less than masculine roles, Slick presents full on conversational exchanges between his assumed characters. On “Indian Girl”, Rick uses all of the gross Native American stereotypes to tell an “adult story” that’s set to be a crassly humorous cautionary tale. Yet it’s exactly this kind of unabashed bluntness that separated him from the other rappers at the time. Only the super underground street rappers were reciting lines about having sex until “the pussy started yawning”, but by the same token this was a song that at its underlying core was about safe sex.

Blame it on the Libra balance, but Slick hits all of the angles on this album. He even willingly lets his cooler-than-thou guard down at times to play the victim in his stories. He also plays the grown man, but not the preacher on “Hey Young World”. For all of his finger waving and commentary, the song avoids that cheesy quality that lots of rappers like say a Run-DMC would display when speaking on social issues. It seemed to come from a place of experience and warning. Yet what set him apart from being a one-note rapper is that his songs with deeper content became as popular as his party songs. So much so that they get played in the same space. Anyone who knows the Slick Rick catalogue or anyone who has breathed air within the last 3 decades knows that “Children’s Story” is as popular as “Mona Lisa”. “Children’s Story” is hands down a lesson in Hip-Hop that I’m surprised not too many other rappers have taken a cue from. It’s an example from the Golden Era that was set early on for the rap generation of the future to learn that any song with any kind of subject matter can be made into a banger. It meant that you could be conscious and dance too. You would think this would catch on, but alas, we’ve had to endure 2 subsequent decades of deep-sounding, soul sample laden and gothic slow songs to get our thought-provoking rap fix. It wasn’t until “Jesus Walks” that another rap song tackling such hefty material got the same regard as a club hit and even still, that doesn’t get party play like “Children’s Story” does. By all accounts, it broke the rules. This is a song with no chorus, about a kid who sticks innocent people up, goes on the run from the police, has a shootout with them using an assortment of firearms (one borrowed from a dope-fiend), commits grand theft auto, grabs a pregnant woman as a hostage and ultimately ends up in prison by the end of the song at the age of 17. It’s dark and against 80’s format, but it worked because it was perfectly coupled with a thumping beat. It was the ultimate marriage of concise storytelling and great instrumentation. 

Speaking of beats, this LP encapsulated the entire 1980’s Hip-Hop sound. Using the popular synths and drums of that age, everything hits where it’s intended to. The party songs hit like party songs designed to rock any house jam. And the more subtle tracks are melodious. Just as the rhymes are evenly varied, so are the beat selections. So on a 12 track LP, this has the effect of a diverse spread of sounds, albeit of the Casio variety, but diverse nevertheless. From the twinkling on “HeyYoung World”, to the Blaring horns on “The Ruler’s Back” and constant scratches from the DJ all throughout, every song has its own lead sound, but nothing deviates too far to stand out-of-place.

With the exception of the sub par “Let’s Get Crazy”, which sounds like a song that was meant for somebody else, all the songs here are tightly knit. And even that is forgivable, because lyrically Rick doesn’t necessarily falter. This is a classic album that serves as both a great debut and a pivot piece for a new wave of rap styling. It’s well-rounded and crisp, full of wit and creativity. The most important thing about it being that it has proved to stand the test of time as a bona fide classic.

My favorite songs on here are “The Ruler’s Back” , “Hey Young World” and the ever-so-Dope “Teenage Love”

One of my favorite rap songs and videos of all time.

Overall, The Great Adventures Of… gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 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)

(13) Classic Sounds…

Like

Somewhere I got it horribly wrong. I reviewed Salt N Pepa‘s classic album Very Necessary in January. It’s officially Women’s History Month, and somehow I’m reviewing the most misogynistic and exaggerated piece of crap in the history of classic Hip-Hop.

Nevertheless, a classic album it is. And it’s undeniably Hip-Hop. So we rate it and review it, because that’s what we do here.

This album is super significant because of its place in the N.W.A. timeline. It marks the solidification and full bloom of the group as an indelible and influential force in Hip-Hop, but it also marks their demise. As their second full length studio album, following the EP 100 Miles And Runnin’, the group already suffered internal setbacks and aimed at reforming themselves and affirming their position. While it didn’t produce as many memorable individual songs and singles as their first album, this is where they step up musically and lyrically. Dr Dre‘s production here introduced us to what would become his signature sound and define west-coast hip-hop and g-funk. The bombastic kicks and rich drum patterns and bass lines mixed with clever 70’s funk samples and dj scratches make gangsta rap wet dreams.

My first time hearing this album was in 2006 when I ran thru my brother’s stash of cassettes and figured I ‘d see what it sounded like since I’d already heard Straight Outta Compton. It couldn’t have happened at a better time in my opinion because I felt better equipped to understand the evil genius of Eric Eazy E Wright after being exposed to such controversy-mongers as the 50 Cent‘s of my generation. Everything down to the title of this album is a reflection of Eazy’s strategy and a study in pushing the envelope.

As most of us with knowledge within the Hip-Hop world have come to discover after all this time, none of the members of N.W.A. have any significant documented criminal history and their backgrounds are actually quite tame in comparison to the lure surrounding their rap personas. That makes it all the more interesting how Eazy manipulated this wave of California streetlife- based rap and took it to crazy proportions. Back in the early 90’s, you would’ve sworn N.W.A. was a gang.

The affirmation begins with “Prelude” where the group decidedly approaches from the rap group angle, ironically taking shots at lesser groups who fall off and fail to show staying power.  From there, it becomes all about them being simply “Niggas”.

Hearing this album in later years for the first time also has the effect of holding more weight musically due to the ability to point out how much of it has been sampled by more recent rap songs, and by the same token how much of it actually consists of samples. Dj Yella incorporates cuts from famous comedy albums from the Soul era as well as pivotal spoken word excerpts from the likes of The last Poets. All of the incendiary vocal snippets add to the fervor of the songs and the underlying theme of anarchist niggerhood. Coupled with Dre’s dissecting of notorious parts of classic funk jams and splicing them together in menacing arrangements, the production is perhaps the most clever part of this album.

Yet and still, it suffers from 2 things that I absolutely hate in sequencing. It’s clear that with bringing in the 90’s, the group fully embraced the rising trend of incorporating skits, which makes the album longer and more reckless. The skits, full of moments of extreme sociopathic humor and hyperbole including shooting prostitutes and cameramen, serve to contrast the otherwise dark sonicbed that the songs provide. However, this ridiculous comedic element adds to the overall tragic reality that this album takes no responsibility for. The other horrible move in the track listing is the bunching of all of the songs dealing with female-related subject matter. Between the “To Kill A Hooker” skit to Eazy E’s obnoxious solo “I’d Rather Fuck You”, there’s 4 other tracks that do more damage to the depiction of women in rap than Hip-Hop has done in the last 15 years collectively. To hear these songs back to back is like hearing all of those Mel Gibson recorded phone arguments with his ex-wife.

Unfortunately, besides the silly parody song “Automobile”, (that laid the groundwork for hardcore rappers to allow themselves to break character and let loose a la Biggie in “Playa Hata”, and may have actually been funny in 1991) most of these songs sound Dope! These songs are detestable, but the raps go over so smoothly between the pairings of Eazy’s voice with Dre and MC Ren’s deep, creepy snarls with the beats that lend themselves to trunk rattling fullness on the choruses and open allure for storytelling during the verses. I particularly wrastle with myself over the song “She Swallowed It”, which has one of the best beats in rap history and catchy parts that you might find yourself singing if you don’t use your personal filter. I remember hearing kids singing this song when I was a preteen, knowing it was super inappropriate. Hearing it takes me back to that time in my head, almost making me want to cover my ears due to the abrasive nature. As an adult however, I understand the comedy in it, tho I can’t get around how extreme it is. 

The other 2 songs “Findum Fuckem and Flee” and “One Less Bitch” are the ones that make me want to go back in time and join the Rev. Calvin Butts in steamrolling over those gangsta raps CDs in the street. Shit like this was all designed to live up to the hype the group first created by being sought after the FBI for their breakout songs like “Fuck Tha Police”. They chose to direct their shock value towards the female angle this time around by going as far as they possibly could. If you listen with scrutinizing ears, you can hear that literally almost every other word is a curse word with the intent to sensationalize the impact of what’s being said. If you don’t think this was apart of their M.O. purposely, then you must also believe that punch lines are coincidental. On “Findum…” although its pass-the-mic ethos is clever, you get a barrage of sentences like “…there ain’t no joking, when the pussyholes are open/Ready to fuck until my dick is raw/yo, the muthafuckin’ Devil’s son-in-law/ (Peter-Peter, the pussy eater)/ no it’s the E, the muthafuckin’ pussy beater/ and I’m the quicker picker upper – quick ta pick up a bitch/ so come here bitch!, and lick up the – lick up the – lick up the dick!”. And on the loathsome “One Less Bitch” with a deplorable plot about killing women to avoid drama, everyone’s favorite west coast legend – Dr. Dre, goes too far with rhymes forever sealed in recorded history about rape.

But it’s not like Dre wrote any of this stuff anyway. With Ren and ghostwriter The D.O.C. penning most of the bars on this album, the stepping up of Ren and Dre to the forefront of the group compares boldly to the first LP where Eazy and Ice Cube were the dominant presence and Cube was the man with the magic words. Cube’s overly publicized departure from the group was yet another focal point for the group to eschew their controversial stance and ruffle feathers. Where they had already made their point clear about having no love for Cube on 100 Miles and Runnin’, as a group with limited subject matter, they felt the need to rub this sentiment in. Once again they harped on this topic for several tracks, and of course, lumped them together back to back. So from the single “Alwayz Into Somethin” to the skit “Message to B.A. (Benedict Arnold)” and the revisit of “Real Niggaz”, they spend an adequate amount of time dedicated to berating their one-time lead man and what some consider to be the heart of the group. 

What makes this album an album, however, and not just a collection of tracks is the strength of it’s first 2 real songs and it’s last 2 real songs. This is the only part of the album where you will receive any semblance of depth from the group. The heaviness and rebelliousness of what they speak of on these tracks is memorable enough that where reflection and contemplation is not present, so much can be taken from their words alone and used as food for thought. Their social commentary came from an inwards-out perspective, whereas most other artists make statements about the world around them and their place in it. Songs like “Real Niggaz Don’t Die” and “Approach To Danger” precede yet predict the atmosphere of L.A. life both during and soon after the infamous riots that would happen a year after this album dropped. 

In a way, N.W.A. had to exist. If they were truly an outfit designed to alert the rest of the world to how crazy life was on the inner-city streets of Los Angeles and represent a microcosm of what poverty was really doing to young Black Men around America, then mission accomplished. I just wish that their arrival didn’t also signify the start of the glorification of that very violence that they were making everyone aware of. Perhaps it’s only poetic justice that the group fell apart after this record and they were meant to exist for only that short time and leave one hell of an impression.

A contrived group with contrived tactics that succeeded somehow in bringing us some of the realest shit ever. Although I cannot tolerate too many of the songs and I NEVER play or will give this album any other play, I always judge music objectively first. Especially when Iam reviewing it. Therefore, my favorite songs on this LP are “Real Niggaz Don’t Die”  and “Niggaz 4 Life”  both for their social relevance and politically incorrect credos that are evidently timeless. I like the latter so much so, that I remade it for my West-Coast themed mixtape, Westside Til I Die with a more in-depth and conscious spin. My other favorites (and I hesitate to say favorites) include the eerie “Approach To Danger” and “The Dayz of Wayback”.

Overall, against my personal opinion and better judgement, this album gets 8 Candles out of a possible

4812 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)

My alternate rating for this album is 1 fucking Candle but you know…

 

(12) Classic Sounds…

Like…

The Hip-Hop purists (and no, I’m not one of those), well at least the 90’s-centric ones, all may seem to be in agreement that his best album is Resurrection, and the neo-purists rave about Like Water For Chocolate. I challenge both notions with the assertion and dissection of the sinfully overlooked third album as the best. With a long running track record of each album coming in 2 year intervals, One Day It’ll All Make Sense rests smack dab in the middle of both critical darlings mentioned above. Due to its positioning before the first of his dramatic transformations, and the place where Com was as an artist, this album delivers the most balance of his whole career. Resurrection exhibited the height of his sophomoric wit and slippery early 90’s flow and showed the first glimmerings of potential for depth and introspection. Like Water found us with a new, calm voiced – almost monotone, veggie eating Com who wanted to light incense and rhyme over hipster grooves while contemplating on the nuances and ironies of life. This album was the meeting of both of those sensibilities; The Epilogue of one, the Prelude to another, without giving way to one side more than the other. It’s quite a linear transition. A natural artistic growth that unfortunately has brought him to a point that has stained everyone’s mind with only the image of him from the Like Water album on (mostly because that album spawned his very first and biggest radio hit, “The Light”), and pigeonholed him as the poster-boy and go-to-guy for conscious, heartfelt and poetic rap. This is something that he helped foster by his choices, but also something that he’s been trying so hard to shake because no artist likes to be boxed in. So consequently, One Day It’ll All Make Sense is the first album without the word Sense in the moniker, but also the last album where we see Common for what he really has always been; just a regular dude finding his way….A real man, a Chicago-ass nigga from the burbs and the hood who rapped his ass off and wanted you to know it! One of the most prolific and creative rappers of all time who survived the changes of the 90’s without smash hits and wanted to show you just how much he loved his city and wordplay. This album is where he tagged his name all over the shit and did it the most honestly and effortlessly.

Never really the one to be  accused of chasing the commercial wave, Com seemed to always accept his place as a non-mainstream fixture in Hip-Hop as long as it was known that he’s a fixture. So he’s never given the appearance that he makes albums with concern over what’s going to be the single. When listening to Resurrection, I don’t think anyone can tell you what the possible singles could have been. Even the famed “I Used To Love H.E.R.” is not a conventional single. It’s an A&R’s nightmare, even for a 1994/95 recording. That album felt like he got all of the stuff that he had on his mind at the time out in the open unabashedly. Maybe it was the youth in him, or the progression from his concern with being a style-over-substance entertainer that was evident on his first album, but it was certainly not with any commercial vision. With an open-book quality in his music and in his approach to it, getting all of the stuff that he has on his mind at the time out is pretty much the feel of all of his albums dating from Resurrection, but on One Day it becomes apparent that he learned the value of a little mass appeal along the way. And by little, I mean little. Common is an organic emcee. He’s not going to jump on a Timbaland track just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. He’s going to reach a broader audience on his own terms, when he feels it won’t hurt the process of his growth or the feel of his project. So there may be a track with a more uptempo pace and a choppy hook, or a track with Mary J. Blige or a nice, easy to rock to sample, but that’s the extent of Com’s reaching. He knows his fan base and he knows what would look just ridiculous on him.

So here, he met the masses halfway…His first single off of this album, and interestingly, the closing song (which is rare for lead singles to be placed sequentially) is “Reminding Me Of Sef” – a reflective single that borrows from a 70’s soul groove and features Chantay Savage on the chorus singing an interpolation of another old-school song, but a popular one. But ahh…Here it goes…Com plays it his way. He gave you all of those oh-so predictable and crucial elements to a hit Hip-Hop song in 1997, but he still gives the industry a slap in the face. When I saw this video debut on Rap City and Yo!MtvRaps, I was surprised myself that this was the first song to set the stage for the release of the album. Whether having Chantay Savage, a fellow Chicagoan, but D-list R&B singer (with the only claim to fame being a neo-soul remake of Gloria Gaynor‘s Disco classic “I Will Survive”) featured was a deliberate choice to middle finger the industry and keep it Chi instead of commissioning whoever was the it girl in R&B at the moment ( I’m guessing Mya??) or if her presence was a reflection of Com’s limited pull in the game and the wackness of his label, Relativity not being able to afford someone bigger like Monica or Brandy, is a good question. But even if he did go big with the guest feature, it doesn’t change the fact that Com slaps the biz in the face again by turning a sample that most rappers would have turned into the girl single into a platform to reminisce on his carefree days as a youth on Chicago’s Southside, and eulogize over a fallen homey. It’s quite autobiographical and potent in a way that makes the listener vicariously nostalgic. He takes advantage of the feel of the soul sample so well that he paints the picture vividly and relatable for a listener who has never even been to the midwest or lived through the 70’s and 80’s. It’s a great pairing, and Savage’s singing conjures up the emotions that are both triumphant and lamenting at the same time. Her voice adds power to the mellow of it all. 

If this was the lead single, and this was an example of him meeting the industry and the masses halfway while maintaining integrity, then he only met them a third of the way when he made “Retrospect For Life”. Another sample – this time from a lesser-known Stevie Wonder classic, is a super melancholy track that actually boosted the recognition of the original Stevie song afterwards. This is largely due to the appearance of the then, infallible Lauryn Hill, and her tear-jerking rendition of the hook. I’m almost moved to take back my earlier comments about Common’s pull and his label being wack and unable to foot the bill for big features when I consider all of the guests that were present on this album. But then, I have to remember that while they have moved on to be titans, icons and legends in our minds now, all of these guests, from Erykah Badu, Cee-Lo, The Roots, Canibus and even Lauryn were JUST becoming who we know them as now. This was 1997/98. Cee-Lo wasn’t a Gnarls Barkley pop-darling with Grammies yet. He was still the fat singing one from Goodie Mob, struggling to go gold. Erykah was still wearing the Headwrap and putting out singles from her first album, The Roots weren’t household names yet because their biggest single “I got you” was 2 years away, and Canibus and Lauryn’s solo debuts had not dropped yet. Canibus was still just the hottest mixtape commodity and Lauryn was a star, but not a superstar yet. Safe to say, Lauryn and Q-Tip were probably the most expensive features on this album then. And due to Tip’s minimal presence and the whole reinstated Native Tongues connection, much like De La‘s appearance, I’m sure the charge was skimmed down considerably, if not done for the love. But getting back to the song…This was the second single, A profound and instantly classic tome on the strain and reality of child-bearing, the state of modern Black male-female relationships and most notably and importantly, abortion. As 2 new parents, the connection between Lauryn and Com on this song just seemed meant to be. It made sense to both of their fanbases. It made sense in Life. The beat went perfect with Common’s tone, and in the era of slam poetry’s rise to popularity, it read like something straight off of Def Poets. His words are indelible. This is one of those hip-hop classics that carved itself as the 1 for this topic. Much like Method Man set the standard for Hip-Hop love songs with “All I Need”. Almost every woman references this song for deep hip-hop. With lines like “there’s too many Black women who can say that they’re mothers but not wives”, what you get here is a Common that wasn’t present on the previous 2 albums. It’s a maturity that made you feel like you grew with him if you were a day-1 fan. It became his first true radio hit with regular airplay, although it’s so atypical in sound and subject matter. This was groundbreaking in itself that Common defied the norm and won, even if the win was mild and didn’t translate to sales. It speaks to the power of words. It also speaks to the incredible amount of respect that Lauryn garnered from her fellow artist community. Once again, where alot of rappers may have taken the opportunity to have her featured on a song to make a smash hit love song or something, based off the few who have gotten her on record- mainly Nas and Common, most rappers feel compelled to ask her to be on songs with substance. And this is one of several moments on the album where Com’s newfound love of such substantial fare gets brandished almost to a point where he seems like an adolescent who just finished puberty and wants to bone. He approached his more topical songs with full speed, going all the way to church and wanting to share his enlightenment eagerly with his audience. This was the dawn of the metamorphosis of Mr. Lynn into the Common that everyone thinks of now; soft-spoken, contemplative, philosophical and conscious. Ironically, there’s only 2 songs on this album like that – Retrospect being one, but they were soooo heavy and drenched in tone that they leave that much of an impact. I’m not sure if it’s all for the best.

The other of those 2 would be “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition)” featuring Cee-Lo. This is what I mean when I said Com takes you all the way to Church with it. Yeah, the song is about looking into spirituality and defining yourself by what works for you and the moral codes that appear universal, but he takes it a step further with a dreary piano that feels like sunday morning. Cee-Lo’s southern church-boy crooning adds to that feel. On one hand, it’s mission accomplished because a feel is established, on the other hand, it’s very Spike Lee “message!” in your face with the blatant overdoing of a point that you probably could’ve gotten on your own over any beat just by listening to the verses. This was still a signifier of Common’s newness to sharing depth with his listeners. It almost sounded like he had spent the previous year speaking to spiritual advisers and having deep convos with his friends and he came to the studio saying ‘yeah man, I wanna put all these new thoughts into a deep song’. Similar to how you can tell when Erykah’s influence had taken over between Like Water and his experimental Electric Circus phases. It’s just an annoying thing, not anything that ruins the album per se. It’s slow, and it definitely augments the flow of things a little, but “G.O.D.” is still one of the deepest and lyrical hip-hop joints from the 90’s. There’s something to be appreciated by the naiveté that comes with being deliberate with a topic. It wasn’t sneaky or metaphoric. Com said, ‘hey I’m gonna make a song about religion, and here it go…’

Speaking of Erykah tho,

on “All Night Long”, the bubbling chemistry is there. You can tell Com moved on from the midwest hoodrats that he would often lambast on his prior albums and set his sights on the more coffee-shop variety. Over this beat that sounded like something straight from a jam session, Com describes his ideal mate. It’s neo-soul matrimony. 

But let’s focus on that irony that I mentioned earlier that makes this album a classic in the first place. Simply because this album is not about 2 prolific songs and a slew of guest appearances, it’s about the fact that Com is a beast and here he made it clear. The majority of songs on this album are songs where Com just lets loose and shows off his lyrical dexterity. Com is not often credited with crafting a rhyme style, but if Hip-Hop was a university, he’d definitely be a professor of 2 classes. In a way, he should be given the trophy for helping to pioneer emo-rap, along with Ghostface and a few others, but he should also be given his props for mastering wordplay. Com plays with synonyms and double entendres like none other, he was making pop culture references for punch lines before it became standard and reverses phrases and sentences til it’s Shakespearian. For examples of each, take on “Real Nigga Quotes” where he lays in “it’s gon’ be some drama – you try to Sit-Com down, this ain’t comedy!”, or on “Food For Funk” where he states “I got my mind made up like Foxy Brown’s Face”. Or on “Making A Name For Ourselves” where he rips “I make my Living off of Singles like Latifah/in-between sheets like Reefer/with, blunted senses/you couldn’t make a statement if you were from a sentence/I’m cold with numb intentions”.

Whoever accused Com of selling out at any point hasn’t paid attention. He’s always been a spitter. He’s always loved pussy but respected real women. He’s always incorporated jazz and funk into his music and that’s never changed. The defining factor on this album however, is that this is where you’ll hear the most boom-bap beats of his whole catalogue paired with dope verses. On the subsequent albums, you won’t hear anything like the attacking horns heard on “Real nigga Quotes” (you won’t even get titles like that from Com anymore), or the stutter of “1,2 many” or the rumbling of “Making A Name For Ourselves”. The samples were well-chosen here. There’s a menace to the funky “Gettin Down At The Amphitheater” that doesn’t compromise Com’s sense of hardcore, nor De La Soul’s presence on there. And with the scratches and old school bells, it feels like these guys were on the set of Krush Groove, battling.   The same can be said of “Making A Name…” Where most rappers may have felt the need to rap Canibus-esque and step their game up with him on the track, Com just seems to be comfortable being himself. And while he ups the aggression, he doesn’t change his flow or cadence to match up with the Canadian/east coaster who had other rappers on their toes back in the late 90’s. Most albums that are dominated by braggadocio tracks seemed drowned and tiring, but the sounds of every track where Common spits Southside Bravado are so different and varying from each other that it just makes it feel alive. It also helps that the placement of those songs is so good that just when you need to hear Com spit after a more mellow song, there you have it! Besides double albums and Raekwon‘s Only Built for Cuban Linx, It’s truly one of the few rap albums with more than 14 tracks that’s easy to listen to because of its variety and it’s sequencing.

Something that seems to get lost in the timestream is also the dopeness of Com’s storytelling. The lack of recognition of that seems to have shied Com away from doing it as much these days, but he’s really creative with it… Almost on a Nas level when he goes in on linear, continuous narratives. The one featured on this album is a 3 part tale entitled “Stolen Moments…” It’s simply art at it’s finest. You realize what rap is about when it’s used for this kind of thing. Complete with a skit to set things off that dramatizes the scenario, Com dedicates a long verse to each scene as he arrives home from a trip to find that his place has been robbed over a beat that lends itself to mystery. The beat switches to something more looming and creeping as he moves to the next phase, which is deducing who could be responsible and he’s angered by the fact that he lost a prized Donny Hathaway tape (yeah, I said tape). The last movement sees the pace pick up over a midtempo sample that plays like 70’s Blaxploitaion film chase music. It’s just dope to hear the story unravel and see how Com brings everything full circle with the tape and the skit and the pondering.

I’m not even sure if Common himself knew what he wanted to accomplish with this album besides just sharing his new wisdom and showing off the full extent of his skills. The opening track perhaps sums it up best when he says he wants to ‘open his mental window, hoping you climb in’ and comments how he’s been “doin’ it for a while”. But even more so, the theme of the album is set from the following track, “Invocation” where the jazzy beat is balanced with hard scratches and even harder lyrics by Com that straddle between bragging and life lessons. That there is what this album is about. It was sincere. It was against the tide of Hip-hop in it’s lost era post- Biggie and 2Pac, but it was undeniably Hip-Hop. With the exception of his zeal to be deep on those few tracks, and a slight sloppy slurring quality to his voice on his harder songs, every moment on here is pretty bright. Even the dope spoken word break by Malik Yusef.

My favorite tracks are “Reminding Me Of Sef”, “Stolen Moments..”, “Real Nigga Quotes” , the second and best ever of the  “Pop’s Rap” outros, “All Night Long” and the super Hip-Hop “Hungry”

This album gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 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)

If you don’t see why, One Day It’ll All Make Sense