Tuesday, January 22, 2019

20th Anniversary Salute: Things Fall Apart

What's the deal peoples?! This salute highlights a group that can go down in history as one of the greatest acts in all of hip-hop.  Their level of consistency matches other legendary acts such as Outkast or Public Enemy or EPMD.  From the moment we got introduced to these guys with their underground album, Organix, we knew this was something different.  Then came their major label debut, Do You Want More?!!?!!, which brought forth live instrumentation and solid lyricism from an actual hip-hop band, much like Stetsasonic only completely next level.  Their singles of "Proceed" and "Distortion To Static" were experimental with jazz much like earlier albums from Tribe and Digable Planets, and they worked.  From there, they reached an even higher plateau with the simple amazing spectacle that was Illadelph Halflife, a underappreciated classic that remains as one of hip-hop's true gems and truly showed the level of exquisite talent everybody in this group played.  They would elevate their name from here, as they delivered an album that has been argued to be every bit as exceptional as Illadelph Halflife, and officially put them into mainstream's consciousness by earning Grammy wins and nominations.  We knew the brilliance of this group has legitimately been noticed by the world.  We salute The Roots and their fourth album, Things Fall Apart.

It had to be an uphill battle trying to outdo the prodigious nature of Do You Want More and the legit brilliance of Illadelph Halflife, but the attempt resulted in them delivering their breakout album, their first platinum plaque, and as was mentioned earlier, Grammy nominations and awards.  The album's first single, the melancholy-sounding yet heavily refreshing "You Got Me" features a guest lyrical appearance from fellow Philly native Eve and the divine Erykah Badu on the hook.  This alone made fans and critics turn their ears up in anticipation for a new Roots album.  From there, the next single was just incredible.  The DJ Jazzy Jeff (another Philly native) scratched "The Next Movement".  Here is where we see the great Black Thought exercise his lyrical muscles even more than we saw on prior projects.  This was one of the major stories throughout this album.  If Thought had arrived on Illadelph, he set up shop and placed his foot in the ground of superior hip-hop lyricists on Things Fall Apart.  This highly infectious cut is one of an album's worth of spectacular tracks that was the perfect album for those who wanted to hear The Roots for the first time in their ascent to mainstream stardom.

The sounds and production on this album is of magic, as this still continued the jazzy stylings of previous work and their ever noted live instrumentation, but added even more slick grooves and more overall cohesiveness.  On cuts like "Double Trouble" with Mos Def and "Act Too (Love Of My Life)" with Common, they resonate their obsession with hip-hop with old school images that made them fall in love with the culture and artform in the first place.  When they're not conjuring eighties-type raw passion with other sizzlers like "100% Dundee", the Beanie Sigel-assisted "Adrenaline", and the Dilla-crafted "Dynamite", their getting stuff of their chest (by 'they' I mean Thought mostly) and start letting you into their thought process with cuts like "Ain't Saying Nothing New" and "Don't See Us".  Of course the closer with famed spoken word artist Ursela Rucker "Return To Innocence Lost" is just an amazing closeout.

What The Roots accomplished with Things Fall Apart is a portrayal of a group coming into their own without sacrificing any inkling of what got them their acclaim in the first place.  This is an album that somewhat still stands as that certified album to truly get to know The Roots better, whereas Illadelph and Do You Want More were more introductions lyrically and artistically from them, with astounding results.  It goes without saying that other subsequent efforts such as Phrenology, Game Theory, The Tipping Point, Rising Down, the awe-inspiring How I Got Over, and Undun all walk within the same class of constant greatness and legitimizes them as the most consistently acclaimed act (not named Outkast) in hip-hop.  With Things Fall Apart, they gave us a project that let us all know once and for all, The legendary Roots crew wasn't going anywhere.  Happy twentieth to this scintillating album.

20th Anniversary Salute: Blackout

What's happening kind folks?!  This salute goes to one of the most anticipated albums of its era.  Two of the most recognized names in hip-hop came together for an album that met all expectations and created some sure fire club and car speaker classics.  Both men were members of prominent crews within the game and since their breakout collab hit "How High", they had been considered one of hip-hop's best tag team duos.  The result was an album fill with bangers, and an album that will still malfunction any speaker it resonates from.  We salute Method Man & Redman and their debut album, Blackout.

Admit it, from the moment you heard either version of "How High", you heard a chemistry that was palpable.  Almost like this should've been an idea for years prior.  Meth was riding high off his crossover success from the Wu.  His debut album, Tical, was a platinum smash and showed he had the star power to elevate his own name apart from his Wu brothers.  Redman was part of Def Squad with Erick Sermon and Keith Murray.  Redman had been the breakout star of the three and most recognizable name with prior dope albums like Whut? Thee Album, Dare Iz A Darkside, and Muddy Waters, in spite of Erick being formerly one half of the legendary duo EPMD.  It's been said that Meth was at odds with various members of the Wu and began to grow closer to Red than his Wu brethren to the point where they were damn like real brothers.  After the buzz of "How High", our hip-hop dreams were realized when he heard "Tear Da Roof Off", which was the first server from their debut collabo album, Blackout. The Erick Sermon-produced track was filled with everything you would expect from them: high energy, fun, and a chemistry very reminiscent of other iconic duos like the aforementioned EPMD or Run-DMC.  The album finally got released, and it was met with platinum-plus acclaim.  These two kindred spirits delivered a very formidable album and it was very fluid.  Every cut sounded like it was very effective in blending into the next damn near flawlessly.  Their next single "Da Rockwilder" to this day is THAT certified club smash that immediately brings everybody to the floor.  It's not a long single, as it's only about two and a half minutes long, but in that duration, it's heavy sweat and a feel good vibe that unites everybody into getting on that good foot.  Pretty much, the entire album is this way, with other cuts like "Y.O.U.", "Checka" (their DOPE tribute to Das EFX and their cut 'Mic Checka'), and the LL Cool J and Ja-Rule-assisted "4 Seasons" helping in the flames department of this effort.

The only somewhat out of place cuts here are the RZA-produced cuts here of "Cereal Killer" and the Ghostface-assisted "Run 4 Cover", as they're slightly darker to no surprise and tend to speed bump the overall fluidity of the album when this was all mid to high fever the majority of this album.  These cuts aren't subpar folks, so don't confuse this.  However, with the energy of the album, they feel out of place.  In any event, this album is impossible not to feel good about and get neck cramps while listening.  Their follow-up, Blackout 2, was almost as seamless, although the energy wasn't as consistently high as before.  Nevertheless, Red & Meth showed with Blackout, that infectious personalities such as there's can produce star making results without being pop-sounding, generic, or forced. They commanded the streets, suburbs, and clubs all at the same time.  That's appeal.  We salute Reggie and Meth-Tical for this searing album on their twentieth anniversary.

Friday, January 18, 2019

20th Anniversary Salute: Internal Affairs

What's great my folks?!  This salute goes to an album that was one of the most acclaimed debut albums of the late nineties.  The emcee that delivered this piece of work was half of one of the most underrated lyrical duos in all of the game, Organized Konfusion.  Their albums of their self-titled debut, Stress: The Extinction Agenda, and The Equinox were all heavily acclaimed albums that put them among the most revered throughout the underground, but still largely overlooked beyond the sub-terrain.  When the announcement came this emcee was going solo, the intrigue quickly came, much less his deal was through red hot underground label Rawkus Records at the time.  The result was a flames gold album and an emcee finally getting his just due among the elite of spitters that still continues to this day.  This salute goes to Pharoahe Monch and his debut, Internal Affairs.

The Queens emcee has always been among the most cleverly witted, yet insane, lyricists out there on the low during his days with Prince Po as Organized Konfusion, but with their split, the spotlight was on him to deliver, and with the highly charged and anthemic, "Simon Says (Get The Fuck Up)", he was on his way to becoming a more visible star.  The Godzilla-sampled banger was on radio and television a lot during its peak and turned this relatively underappreciaed emcee into a growing household name.  When Internal Affairs hit, the album was met with immediate high praise.  The album started with an ominous sounding cut, "Behind Closed Doors", and from there got the party started and the energy up with cuts like "The Next Shit" with Busta (his flow on that cut was so nuts particularly), "Official", and the all-star remix of "Simon Says" with Busta returning, Redman, Meth, underground lyrical swordsman Shabaam Sahdeeq, and then-newcomer Lady Luck.  There weren't too many glitches with this album, especially by this point.

Monch wasn't just a battler, he was also a reflective dude on this album on cuts like the ghetto love story "The Light", "The Truth" with fellow legendary lyricists Common and Talib Kweli, and the reunion cut with Prince Po "God Send".  This album was quite the blend of consciousness, soul, and going straight for the throat, all in one dynamite album.  He varied with different, but very effective, flows throughout the album and highlighted his knack for putting together typically complex rhyme structures and made them sound flawless.  While cuts like "The Ass" weren't necessarily needed for this release and "Rape", although dope, can come off in not the best view (especially in today's age), they don't weigh down how crazy this album is and how hard it overall goes.

With Internal Affairs, Monch establishes himself as an emcee to no longer sleep on or overlook within the mainstream.  Subsequent albums like Desire, P.T.S.D., and W.A.R. were all greatly received and further exhibited his phenomenal lyrical and storytelling talent, it will always go back to his debut as arguably his most acclaimed effort across the board and it became his magnum opus and career benchmark.  We salute Internal Affairs and look forward to rotating this another twenty years.

20th Anniversary Salute: I Am...

What's good my folks?!  This salute goes to one of the legit greatest emcees of all-time.  He delivered, in the eyes of many, the single greatest hip-hop of all-time in Illmatic and established himself as a star with his triple platinum follow-up, It Was Written.  With his third album, any criticisms he dealt with initially with It Was Written was somewhat tackled and managed to construct a project that critics have referred to as perhaps his most underrated effort to this day.  Filled with vivid storytelling, engaging production, brilliant lyricism, and a need to shut critics up for unfairly bashing It Was Written because it wasn't Illmatic 2, this album struck back and delivered a damn solid project.  Not to mention the album went on to double platinum status and once and for all set his place among the elite of mainstream/commercial hip-hop.  We salute Nas and his third album, I Am...

Originally, this was slated to be a double album entitled I Am...The Autobiography.  Due to an excessive bootlegging problem, the double album concept was scrapped.  Cuts like "Fetus (Belly Button Window)", "My Worst Enemy", "Amongst Kings", "Sometimes I Wonder", "Blaze A 50", and "U Gotta Love It" were taken off, among several others, and put on other projects and mixtapes such as his follow up to I Am, Nastradamus, his QB's Finest compilation, and his highly heralded Lost Tapes.  With the concept being his life from beginning to end, the thought of how monumental this could've been boggles the mind.  Not to fret, the new cuts he brought forth were, for the most part, incredible.  One of them being the monster hit with Puffy, "Hate Me Now". along with others like the R. Kelly-sampled "K-I-SS-I-N-G", "I Want To Talk To You", the Scarface-assisted "Favor For A Favor", and the addictive "Money Is My Bitch".  The lead-off single, "Nas Is Like" had him returning to his Illmatic roots with a classic Premo beat, only to be rivaled by the SICK sequel to Illmatic's "NY State Of Mind" as overall best boom bap production on the album.

To nobody's surprise, Nasir Jones went left quite a few times on the album in terms of forward thinking and genius concepts.  With the somber "Undying Love", he plays a cat who's love for some chick ends up in a murder/suicide in one of the cinematic cuts we've ever heard Nas deliver.  Very much up there with another lost I Am...The Autobiography cut, "Drunk By Myself".  Also, on "Money Is My Bitch", he compares money to his girlfriend and how his lust for "her" plays him in several different ways.  Of course on the haunting "We Will Survive", he speaks to the souls of Pac and Biggie individually in what was a magnificent track.  Are there any subpar cuts here? Yeah, maybe.  While many didn't particularly care a great deal for the duet with the late Aaliyah "You Won't See Me Tonight", his attempt at double timing on "Big Things", or the overly tacky "Dr. Knockboots", his overall efforts on this album were to recapture any fans he had lost with it Was Written and reminding them just who he was.  There were far more highlights and standouts than duds, and his efforts weren't in vain.

By this time, people were still clamoring for Illmatic 2, but he had clearly moved on artistically and lyrically.  What he did bring was a somewhat mash up of It Was Written and Illmatic, plus new flavor and new direction.  While his follow-up, Nastradamus, was overall seen as his lowest point, he returned in ridiculously grand fashion with the hugely triumphant Stillmatic, as it marked the closest thing to Illmatic as we had heard from him.  Other releases like God's Son, Street's Disciple, Hip-Hop Is Dead, his untitled album, and Life Is Good were all met with mixed to positive general reviews and further established Nas as the new god emcee.  With I Am, while we sometimes marvel at what could've been had the double album been released as planned, what we got was still an impressive array of songs from a true hip-hop legend and one of the brilliant lyricists and storytellers to ever exist in hip-hop.  We salute I Am.Happy twentieth anniversary. Lift your glasses!

20th Anniversary Salute: Black On Both Sides

What's the haps folks?! We continue our twentieth anniversary salutes with an album that encompasses the artistic value and merit of hip-hop as a sum of all its parts. This emcee from Brooklyn has the heart of a b-boy and the astute intelligence of Langston Hughes put on wax.  Known throughout the underground with appearances on albums such as Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1, Soundbombing, De La Soul's Stakes Is High, and Da Bush Babees' Gravity on the hypnotic track, "The Love Song", he later collaborated with frequent partner in rhyme Talib Kweli to become Black Star and they delivered their undisputed classic self titled debut album in '98.  This left the door wide open for speculation, and anticipation for a solo debut.  The debut he delivered was instantly loved by critics and even more so by heads that knew that this album was special and would officially mark him as a star, and both got accomplished.  We salute Mos Def (pre Yasiin Bey) and his debut offering, Black On Both Sides.

The album was lead off with the instant classic single, "Ms. Fat Booty", which had him lusting, and eventually falling, for a woman that doesn't want a future with him over an infectious Ayatollah production.  It was an intriguing, yet playful, first single and set the tone for what would be a mixed bag of greatness within the confines of this release.  While he kept it fundamentally hip-hop with such blazers as "Got", "Fear Not Of Man", "Mathematics", and "Hip Hop", he also expands his musical influences and taste with cuts like "Rock & Roll" and the jazzy stylings of "Climb" and the much heralded "Umi Says".  Mos brought forth intelligent lyricism mixed with socio-political themes, Black awareness, and just straight out spitting.  You can find all this throughout the entire album, and done with precision and a gifted craft of poetry, especially on cuts like the aforementioned "Umi Says" and "Habitat".

While diverse in overall sounds, the production here was still a refreshing blend of live instrumentation and boom bap that reflects the Brooklyn environment he bleeds all throughout BOBS.  From Premo's crazy contribution on "Mathematics" to 88 Keys on "Love" and Ali Shaheed Muhammed on "Got", this was draped in soothing, yet at times, thumping, production and enough diverse musicality to have legitimately something for even the hardest of hard rocks on here. Subsequent albums such as Tru3 Magic, The New Danger, and The Ecstatic would provide mixed to solid reviews and acclaim, but Black On Both Sides stands as his magnum opus, and one that will remain celebrated for another twenty years, as it can still stand the test of time against anything current today.  Mos Def arrived fully with this album, and his legacy only grew.  With that said, here's a toast to a truly incredible debut.  Happy twentieth!

20th Anniversary Salute: The Slim Shady LP

What's happening people!  With this twentieth anniversary salute, we honor one of the most polarizing, yet commercially successful, debut albums in modern hip-hop history.  This blond-haired, blue eyed emcee from the D was making a lot of noise in their underground scene with efforts like Infinite and The Slim Shady EP.  Widely regarded as a lyrical monster, this guy had cosigns from several notable acts including Jersey's The Outsidaz.  It was this noise that was made that prompted him to be a part of the Rap Olympics, and from there he caught the ear of the almighty good Doctor himself, Dr. Dre.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Signed to Aftermath, we knew this would be a changing of the guard, but we didn't know to what capacity.  Gottdamn we had no idea the impact would be to where it has become.  It all started from this controversial album.  Ladies and gentlemen, we salute Eminem and his debut major label album, The Slim Shady LP.

In '99, we saw this video from this young guy from Detroit named Eminem called "My Name Is".  It was a goofy video, plus clearly you saw some talent.  Furthermore we all know Dre doesn't associate with just "good" emcees.  While we saw and heard goofiness and somewhat childish rhymes, some were throwing him away, already labeling him as the next Vanilla Ice or another novelty white boy act.  However, underground heads peeped a cut called "Just Don't Give A Fuck" and those notions were taken back, quickly.  The cut was raw, in-your-face, and filled with rewindable lyrical swordsmanship.  This is what heads wanted, and needed, to hear from him.  Alas, The Slim Shady LP was among us.  Commercially, it did well within its first week, selling around 225,000 units, but later went platinum within a two month period.  Could the rest of the album hold up lyrically, and less of the zaniness we got from "My Name Is"?  Let's see, shall we?

Lyrically, we knew this kid was somewhere else.  We had never heard any Caucasian rhyme with this much wit, clarity, and razor sharpness, much less with imagination and sick wordplay.  Truly this dude was a diamond in the rough.  Thematically, we heard a guy who's life was drugs, dreams of killing his daughter's mother, homophobia, and misogyny, but made it all sound borderline comical.  It's like this Slim Shady persona was a sophomoric, juvenile version of himself turned all the way up.  On cuts like "Role Model" and "Brain Damage", he excuses himself from being someone one would ever want to be like, but instead learn from.  Is he angry on here? Damn right he is, and on tracks like the aforementioned "Just Don't Give A Fuck", or others like "If I Had" and "My Fault" where he gives the middle finger to seemingly everyone and everything.

He explores a humorous, yet dark, side of him with the Dre-assisted "Guilty Conscience", where he plays the bad half of every situation, and does so in such tickling fashion, you almost forget his lyrics are pretty dark and violent-natured.  However, it hits another level on the ominous "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" that has him and his then very young daughter Hallie Jade riding around with her mother presumably stuffed in a bag in the trunk about to get dumped over a bridge.  It's perverse, twisted, and maniacal, but it also got you talking.  It was a fantasy he had of his daughter's mother, Kim, when they were going through some highly tumultuous times.  The track provided shock and awe, and if anyone can relate to shock and awe, it's the almighty Doctor.  When he gets up with his tag team partner, a then relatively unknown named Royce Da 5'9", they obliterate the cut "Bad Meets Evil", and in this moment where we see how animalistic not just Em can be, the two of them together can be, as Royce proved he can be a deadly as Shady can be.

This was a drug-infested ride that marked the beginning of a legendary career for Marshall.  His follow-up album, The Marshall Mathers LP, became one of the most commercially successful albums in modern music, and labeled as a classic among hip-hop aficionados, and the follow-up The Eminem Show, was almost as hard.  From there, Em would have good and not so good moments from albums like Relapse, Encore, Recovery, Marshall Mathers LP 2, and the most recent Kamakazi.  However, this was the album that started it all for the man that would refer to himself as the "rap god", and there are many that echo those sentiments.  For The Slim Shady LP, we salute Em for twenty years of its relevancy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

20th Anniversary Salute: Murda Muzik

What's happening folks, and happy 2019 to everyone.  We made it y'all, and it's time to look forward to incredible new music this year.  This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of a number of unforgettable albums, and this is where we come in.  As we approached a new millennium, artists such as DMX, Snoop Dogg, The Roots, Nas, and Jay-Z were delivering tremendous music for our ears, while new artists such as MF DOOM, Pharoahe Monch (as a solo artist), Mos Def, and some bleached blonde, blue-eyed phenom from Detroit made his debut as well.  This was a memorable year, but first we will salute a duo who's penchant for vivid rhymes of street lore and visceral production made them be among the most in-demand duos in all of hip-hop.  Their '95 effort, The Infamous, is forever regarded as a hip-hop monument and tried and true classic.  Their follow-up, Hell On Earth, was even more macabre and even more venomous.  With two near platinum albums on deck, and their name consistently bubbling in the streets, as well as the mainstream, it was only a matter of time before they hit that one million, but they needed the album to accomplish it, and MAN did they!  This salute goes to the legendary, but Infamous, Mobb Deep and their fourth album, Murda Muzik.

It had been three years since they dropped the simply awesome Hell On Earth album, and with Havoc getting more and more production duties on various efforts and the late, great Prodigy KILLING guest spots all over the place, the anticipation was mounting.  Finally the announcement was made that Murda Muzik was coming, and the streets were nuts with the coming of a new Hav and P effort.  Would they go three for three in terms of classics?  All it took was one hit of "Quiet Storm" to answer that one.  Over a sampling of "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, P ripped a hole in this cut with Hav providing the anthemic hook.  If that wasn't enough, they dropped a remix with new verses from P, Hav and a guest spot from Lil' Kim (I challenge anybody to tell me P didn't have a verse of the year candidate with his sixteen).  However, the anticipation was so hot, the bootleggers went bananas with it and leaked the original pressing to the streets.  While discouraging, P and Hav took some cuts off such as "Nobody Likes Me", the P solo cut "Pile Raps", the Onyx-collab "QB Meets South Suicide", "Perfect Plot" and "Thrill Me", and added cuts like the second single, the Scarface-sampled collab with Nas, "It's Mine", "Spread Love", and "Can't Fuck Wit" with Raekwon so if you have the original pressing, consider yourself fortunate.  The new tracks were fire, however, as they still kept the hard-nosed gun raps that help emphasize the Mobb's notorious artistic aura.

From the jump, we got the melodic "Streets Raised Me" and from there cuts like "I'm Going Out" with Lil' Cease and the Cormega-assisted "What's Your Poison" sound like a slightly new direction for the Mobb, albeit still dope.  Then, here comes the haunting and classic Mobb cut "Allustrious", complete with a chilling organ loop and enough thump to make your neck cramp, as well the following cut, "Adrenaline", which was equally as ferocious.  Clearly by mid-album, you realize they did it again.  The nihilism wasn't over, as other cuts like the title track, "Thug Muzik" and the blistering Kool G. Rap-assisted "The Realest" were consistent rotators and perfectly fitting for an album of this magnitude.  We even got a bit of vulnerability from the otherwise sadistic Hav and  P with "Where Ya Heart At" (especially Hav in his dedication to his late brother Killa Black).

This was another example of how remarkable of a duo these two QB kids were in the late nineties.  This album was not only another insane release from them, this marked their first platinum album.  The Mobb had officially arrived, and with Murda Muzik, it was clear their star power had officially risen to power.  While the original pressing was possibly even better, this version was super strong and excellently showed the chemistry that Hav and P naturally had.  In much the same respects as the likes of EPMD, Mobb Deep hit legendary status with this monster of an album, and once and for all shut down any talk of any concerns of a fall off for this album.  While subsequent albums such as Infamy, Amerika'z Nightmare and Blood Money didn't quite live up to the Mobb standard we had expected from them, The Infamous Mobb Deep was a return to what we had known from them.  Still, this album was a certifiably head-cracker. We salute the god Bandana P (rest in power man) and the mighty Havoc for this epic piece of music.  Happy twentieth!