Can’t Go Wrong? O.C.
February 24, 2007, 6:04 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Living just across the street from Pharoah Monch in Queens, O.C. began his career in hip hop as a friend and collaborator of Organized Konfusion. Contributing a verse to the O.K. classic ‘Fudge Pudge’, Omar Credle ultimately landed himself a deal with Wild Pitch and this led to his certified classic ‘Word…Life’ being released in ’94. This is one of my favourite albums of the era with banger after banger, not least the incredible ‘Time’s Up’ produced by none other than Buckwild.
However, today’s post is focussed on his sophomore release ‘Jewelz’. Understandably I couldn’t wait to check this after O.C.’s debut and the production roster promises much: Premier, Ogee, Buckwild and Da Beatminerz. This is an impressive team to say the least, and it should should mean that this release is every bit as good as ‘Word…Life’. Unfortunately I have always felt that this album lacks something, despite solid beatmaking and O.C.’s intelligent and well delivered rhymes; ultimately ‘Jewelz’ leaves me feeling a little disappointed.

Of course, this is not to say that the album doesn’t have some highlights. ‘M.U.G.’ sees O.C. team up with Freddie Foxxx and the pair rip through their verses with style over my favourite Premier beat on the album. I like the rolling pianos of ‘You And Yours’ which are paired with a crisp snare hit that give the track a pleasingly eerie feel. Despite it’s cheesy chorus hook, I do also like ‘Can’t Go Wrong’ although I would expect that this may just be one of those instances of personal preference that is not matched by popular opinion. Generally the beats are good but they just aren’t great, which is a disappointment given the pedigree of beatmaker on this album.

O.C.’s rhyming ability is formidable matching a measured and fluid delivery with content that is engaging and intelligent. He sounds best on the more laid back cuts such as ‘The Chosen One’ where his eloquent verse feels like it floats above the beat below. You can hear a definite link between O.C.’s style and his old rhyming buddies Prince Po and Pharoah Monch: the lines weave around each other in complex rhythmical patterns and there are phrases like ‘the ancient ruins of rap’ that give his rhymes a vaguely mystical feeling that is entrancing.

Ultimately it is a shame that Credle was not able to duplicate the sheer quality of his debut with ‘Jewelz’. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good album, but I think that the benchmark had simply been set so high by ‘Word…Life’ that this was always going to be a disappointment. It’s still one of the better releases from ’97, but if you’re expecting another dose of classic material then be warned: you may not find it here.

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Funky Like A Monkey – Intelligent Hoodlum
February 20, 2007, 6:03 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

As we all know, making your mark on hip hop and staying relevant as times inevitably change is no mean feat. I’ve spoken before of the comings and goings of those involved in hip hop and as we all know, the genre has had its fair share of casualties along the way who were unable to build sustainable careers from the music. The Intelligent Hoodlum, now better known as Tragedy Khadafi or simply Tragedy, is one of the lucky few who has managed to go against this trend, going back as far as the Juice Crew days in his home of Queensbridge to build a career in hip hop that has spanned seventeen years and six full length albums.

Tragedy’s ‘Intelligent Hoodlum’ moniker back in the day clearly hinted at his personal history of crime and violence. Indeed, his first album was released after he had completed a sentence on Riker’s Island for robbery in 1988 (I saw this go up recently over at Biff Hop in Alley’s massive 300th post). Whilst doing his time, he immersed himself in literature concerning the teachings of Islam and African-American culture (hence the ‘Intelligent’). This is clearly reflected in the rhyme content throughout ‘Saga Of A Hoodlum’ which comments on life on the streets with eloquence, insight and intelligence but whilst steering clear of being overly preachy: these are the words of a man who has been there and done that, simply stating his experiences of his time on this planet without ramming it down your throat or falling into self-loathing or glamourisation. This is matched with an engaging flow that means the Queensbridge MC manages the near impossible feat of combining both content and style.

The beats don’t disappoint either, with K-Def assuming responsibility for the majority of the production here with Marley pitching in from time to time as well. Given that this was released in 1993, I’m sure that you can hazard a guess at the type of sound we’re looking at here: straight up NYC boom bap. Samples are well chosen and beautifully simple, the drum tracks are heavy and have real momentum and basically speaking the production is flawless. Having said this, I would argue that K-Def has produced better work (check for a full discography with samples that you can listen to), but given his pedigree this should not be seen as a criticism of ‘Saga Of A Hoodlum’: this is still bangin’ from front to back.

Apart from this and his debut, I haven’t really checked out much of Tragedy’s other releases as I suspect that they will only serve to be a disappointment. Still, you have to admire a man who has built such a successful career in hip hop and however you feel about his later work, his first two albums are fine examples of early-mid ’90s hip hop and should be regarded as essential material for any discerning fan of the genre.

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London’s Finest – Blak Twang
February 18, 2007, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Blak Twang has been involved in the UK hip hop scene for well over a decade now, and like so many artists in the game has had his fair share of trouble and strife. ‘Dettwork South East’ was pencilled in for a ’96 release, but issues with the label meant that it never saw a proper release. Unfortunately, his sophomore album fell victim to a similar fate although seemed to gain some level of distibution. All in all, you have to admire the determination of any artist who manages to come out of an experience like this still intact as surprisingly Blak Twang has gone on to see some crossover success on the UK scene whilst still staying relatively true to the music. His first album is gritty, well produced and demonstrates his skills on the mic; in my opinion it is a fine example of how good UK hip hop can be.

I know very little about the production credits on the album although I think that much of it was self-produced along with involvement from DJ Rumple. Whoever is responsible, the beats here are top notch: big heavy basslines, crisp drum tracks and dark, brooding samples. The title track is one of the highlights as well as ‘Fearless’ but generally speaking the consistency here is exceptional, with only a couple of tracks potentially leading you towards the skip button.

Lyrically, Blak Twang’s verses are steeped in London culture. Although I no longer live in the nation’s capital, listening to ‘Dettwork South East’ makes me feel proud to be a Londoner, and has me bowling around town with swagger (this is of course a highly romanticised vision that is pretty far removed from the suburban Finchley where I grew up). Numerous references to London hotspots and Twang’s cockney/patois slang mean that this is unmistakably from these shores, and it is delivered with an easy and confident style. There is also a guestspot with Roots Manuva on ‘Queenshead’ which is worth checking particularly due to Manuva’s subsequent career successes.

Overall, this comes highly recommended. Although I have my gripes about the UK scene there are some records that have me questionning my feelings towards British hip hop: this is one of them. Both production and the rhymes come correct and this really is a release that oozes quality from start to finish. Cop it, get your London attitude firmly fixed in place and appreciate British hip hop at its best.

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Knowledge Of Self – Poor Righteous Teachers
February 15, 2007, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Although Poor Righteous Teachers’ influence within the genre of hip hop is undeniable, I am the first to admit that I have slept on their material somewhat. They are one of those groups that I know are great, like almost everything I hear and yet have never been lucky enough to come across their albums on used CD hunts and am unwilling to pay the often extortionate prices that they go for on Amazon/EBay. I did have the good fortune of stumbling across their fourth album ‘The New World Order’ though, and in response to a request from Vlandro over at Underrated Hip Hop, I’m throwing it up.

The group’s roots lie in the teachings of The Nations of Gods and Earths, more commonly known as the Five Percent, and this conscious outlook permeates the majority of their material. ‘The New World Order’ is no exception, with lyrical content often surrounding the progress of the ignorant, the semi-enlightened and those that have true knowledge of self. Wise Intelligent is definitely the strongest of the group’s two MC team, and in fact, Culture Freedom contributes relatively little to the album other than joining in for chorus hooks and the odd verse here and there. There are some pleasing guest spots on here as well, with Nine, Brother J, The Fugees and KRS all making appearances.

What I like about this album is that the production still comes off relatively hard; there are enough kicks and snares to satisfy any fan of the mid ’90s era. There is also a strong reggae influence on some of the cuts with appearances from reggae legend Jr. Reid and Sluggy Ranks which are generally successful (I find ‘Dreadful Day’ a little bit cringe-worthy). The rap/reggae standout for me is ‘They Turned Gangsta’, which is about as good as any cut that I have heard that has combined elements of the two genres.

Very few hip hop artists have managed to make the turbulent transition between eras within the genre without coming off as behind the times, overly try-hard or in the worst of cases, straight wack. Considering that this was the group’s fourth album, it is remarkably consistent and feels uncontrived. There is a sense that PRT were still following their own musical course here without feeling the pressure to adhere too closely to contemporary trends within the genre. For this reason, ‘The New World Order’ is a success, and it is a demonstration of the talent and longevity of the crew. Just writing this has made me realise that I need to wake my sleepy arse up and get a hold of their earlier material: any links and comments greatly appreciated.

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Oh My God – Blahzay Blahzay
February 13, 2007, 5:58 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life, Album Reviews

Although DJ P.F. Cuttin and MC Outloud initially formed their alliance as far back as 1985, it was not until ’96 that they realised the full potential of their union, releasing one of the finest albums in the latter stages of hip hop’s second golden era: ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’. It is rare that I unequivocably recommend an album on From Da Bricks, but if you have a penchant for big bangin’ beats and dope rhymes then you would be hard pushed to find anything better within the genre that is not already widely known. This is pure hip hop in its undiluted state: a DJ/MC team that paid their dues, threw together some choice snares and samples and recorded a straight up banger at D&D Studios, one of the homes of the genre. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that this means the group are simply the purist’s choice: this is high quality material that will appeal to anybody who holds an interest in the genre. Can you tell that I’m a fan of the album yet?

If you are new to the group then your most likely point of reference will be their breakthrough single ‘Danger’, the Jeru sampling banger that recently cropped up on Jazzy Jeff’s ‘Hip Hop Forever II’ mix. This cut epitomises hip hop of the era and is a worthy representative of the album as a whole, which consistently delivers with crisp snares, big bass kicks and well chosen samples. There really isn’t a bad cut on ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ and it is definitely an album that is best enjoyed in its entirety. If I had to offer a criticism, it would simply be to state that the crew are better off on the slightly more upbeat cuts; the slower songs lack the immediacy of the more uptempo numbers.

Outloud’s mic skills work well with the production, although the lyrical content is nothing revolutionary. Still, his delivery carries the subject material well: it is a confident and engaging flow that complements the beats rather than detracting from them. To be perfectly honest, given my tendency to focus on the production as opposed to the rhymes, Outloud’s flow almost constitutes another instrument for me in these songs, merging into the overall sonic effect. Bottom line, it’s dope.

Whilst having a look for some video material to add to this post, I stumbled across a recent interview with P.F. Cuttin that highlighted the strife that hip hop is currently facing. Speaking in the back room of a club where he’s put on a set, he explains his selections in relation to the industry today.

Although I can understand that the man deserves to get paid, it may well be this defeatest attitude which is now holding the culture back. I mean, if you are going to state that ‘85% of the records I play in the clubs, I hate them shits’, you can’t exactly hope to re-engage the audience that he is explaining are no longer present in the club scene. Perhaps hip hop may be dead after all. Anyway, if you’re interested, there are another two sections to this interview that you can catch on YouTube.

Don’t let P.F.’s negativity get you down. If hip hop is struggling today, there are still plenty of fine examples from the past to savour and enjoy: ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ is most definitely one of them. Cop it, forget about the crisis of the culture and remember what quality mid ’90s hip hop was all about.

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Who’s On The Microphone – Heavy D
February 12, 2007, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Heavy D is a little bit of an oddity to me. On the one hand he is the incredibly well connected and, if we go by liner note shouts, highly respected cousin of Pete Rock whose recording career started as early as 1987. On the other, he has produced some of the fluffy nonsense that any serious hip hop fan would instantly condemn as garbage. Indeed, when I think of Heavy D, I am transported back to being thirteen years old standing beside a fairground round with ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’ pumping out of a sound system and feeling rather out of place at the carnival that used to come to my part of London every year. To be fair, I don’t know his first two albums at all despite some Marley Marl work on his sophomore effort, but it does seem strange that an artist who crossed over with such vigour was able to maintain credibility throughout a career that spanned two decades.

‘Blue Funk’ was an obvious attempt to re-engage a more street level audience, pulling together the production work of DJ Premier, Tony Dofat and of course Pete Rock: a highly impressive array of producers. In general the beats are pretty bangin’ and if you’re up on this era of hip hop you will recognise a lot of the drum breaks and samples as they crop up elsewhere on other recordings regularly. The title track is perhaps my favourite, although apart from ‘Girl’ the album really is pretty consistent. Having said this, I would not expect ‘Blue Funk’ to blow you away. There is no doubt that it is an enjoyable album but it is by no means classic material.

Perhaps most surprising are the Overweight Lover’s skills on the mic, which are remarkably competent. At times, and I say this with caution, he could almost pass as Biggie (who turns up on the posse cut ‘A Buncha Niggas’ along with Rob-O, Guru and Busta… weird eh?). Temporarily dropping his usual fluffy image for a decidedly more hardcore edge, he boasts and brags his way through the album with efficiency. The only real gripe with his presence on the microphone for me are the pseudo-therapeutic sessions that precede each of the tracks where Heavy tends to ponder his role in the game and the legacy he may leave. These are at best cringe-worthy and at times laughable; you can’t help but wish he’d kept these musings to himself.

Ultimately, ‘Blue Funk’ is a pleasing discovery for any fan who may have dismissed his music due to his more obvious commercial successes. If you didn’t know it was Heavy D, you would be easily excused for the mistake as this sounds very similar to other works of the era particularly albums like the Rough House Survivors ‘Straight From The Soul’. Cop it and pay your respects to one of the largest (literally) figures in hip hop of the ’90s.

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Hip Hop With a Cause – America Is Dying Slowly
February 10, 2007, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Hip hop is not generally considered to be the most socially conscious of musical artforms, particularly in the mass media. Guns, drugs, bitches… these would probably be the type of subject matter that the majority of people would associate most closely with the genre. Of course, those of us in the know realise that although these may be undeniable symbols associated with the music, it would be ridiculous to state that hip hop does not engage in serious social issues and in this case, charity. Part of the Red Hot Organisation’s series of releases that cover a wide range of genres, all of the proceeds from this release went directly to the struggle against AIDS in the US. Judging by the statistics listed in the liner notes, there is no getting away from the powerful grasp that the disease has taken in America: in 1996, ‘AIDS was the leading cause of death for young black men and the number one cause of death for all Americans aged 25-44’. Alarming stuff.

Given that the primary reason for this release was to raise money and awareness of HIV and AIDS, you would not necessarily expect that much from it musically, but this is an enjoyable if somewhat uneven album that features some of underground hip hop’s true heroes. Providing a cross-section of the genre at this time, the album joins together artists from east, west and the south and avoids being overly preachy, with Biz and Chubb Rock informing us that without a rubber, you won’t get a ‘backstage pass’ and Domino reminding us to ‘sport that raincoat’. The fact that these songs can make you dance, laugh and be reminded of a serious issue all at the same time is testament to the power of hip hop and the the artists involved in this project.

Highlights for me are the Prince Paul produced ‘No Rubber, No Backstage Pass’, Wu Tang’s ‘America’ which delivers the message of the album with an intelligent and thought-provoking eloquence and ‘What I Represent’ which sees both OC and Buckwild make a thoroughly enjoyable contribution. Despite a few skips here and there, this is pretty consistent over its sixteen track selection: I was suprised by its overall quality when I got a hold of it recently. Click the link and enjoy.

I had intended to put some decent hours into the blog over the weekend but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Hopefully within the next week I will be dropping the ‘FDB Guitar Mix’ as well as an Alley Al inspired post on the issues surrounding the infamous crossover from underground artist to mass media darling. These to come and more in the future: stay locked and drop some feedback if you’re feeling it.

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Money, Sex, Finesse – AZ
February 9, 2007, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

This album always seems to get a lot of good press amongst the ‘real’ hip hop community, and on paper it deserves it. It’s 1995, you’ve got Pete Rock, Buckwild and L.E.S. on the boards and an MC coming off the back of one of the most well-known guest spots in the history of the genre (‘Life’s a Bitch’, ‘Illmatic’: enough said). Despite this, I am not a major fan of this release and find both the production and AZ’s mafioso persona a little bit too corny for my tastes.

There is no doubt that AZ has skills on the mic. He has a distinctive and laid back flow that features lots of internal rhyming patterns and I do like his delivery, but I do not feel that he carries the content particularly well. If you take ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’ as the benchmarks for this particular strand of the genre then in my opinion ‘Doe Or Die’ falls way short. What the aforementioned releases achieve is a dark and harrowing portrayal of a mafioso lifestyle that is matched perfectly with the beats on both albums, and I do not feel that AZ’s debut manages it with the same consistent quality or style. Even the cover art feels a little weak, acting almost as a precursor to the bling era, with AZ flashing some dollars and sipping on some champagne. In basic terms, it doesn’t feel as real as either Jay Z or Raekwon’s first solo efforts.

Of course, this is not to say that this album is garbage by any stretch of the imagination and there are a few choice cuts that make it worthwhile. I like both Pete Rock produced contributions namely ‘Gimme Your’s’ and ‘Rather Unique’, although they are by no means amongst his best work. ‘Mo Money, Mo Murder…’ features a great string loop and Nas returning a guest spot in lieu of AZ’s appearance on ‘Illmatic’. I think that this is perhaps the most successful cut on the album with the two MCs weaving a moody narrative in which they explore the downfall of a powerful crime lord whilst discussing the hold that money has over modern day society. Finally, I like the ‘Sugar Hill Remix’ and feel that it is a significant improvement over its original incarnation with its corny vocal chorus hook and uninspiring beat. Other than that, I don’t think that much of the production elsewhere and find myself particularly disappointed by Buckwild’s contribution that lacks his trademark gritty, dusty sample vibe.

I know that many of you out in blogland have been professing the quality of AZ’s latest release recently, and given that he’s been in the game this long he is doing pretty well to still maintain credibility amongst the discerning online community. The bottom line is that I have slept on his later releases because of my lukewarm feelings about ‘Doe Or Die’. Maybe I’m wrong, but this goes down as one of those albums that whilst widely regarded as classic material, I have never felt it really deserves the high acclaim that it so often receives.

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The Sample Is Tight, Right? Show & AG
February 8, 2007, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Thanks once again to everyone who dropped a comment on the ‘Right Or Wrong’ debate; felt like we had a really good discussion going there (still a chance to comment though!) that really made me think about the issues involved. One thing is for sure about the world of hip hop blogs: they are a forum for discussion of both the music, history, culture and the issues that have arisen as a result of the dawning of the digital age. Let’s keep this level of thought involved in blogging and it can only lead to good things.

Although I always try to keep my posts fresh in terms of whether I have seen albums elsewhere, the reality is that this is a virtual impossibilty given the sheer number of blogs online. I realise that perhaps my strengh lies in my comments on albums that I post up and not on exclusives or exceptionally rare joints, so although I will try to always provide links to stuff that I haven’t seen elsewhere, I will still persist in commenting on albums that I enjoy and feel are valuable to the culture despite their presence elsewhere in the past. I also assume that many readers of this blog may be new to this online community and so doubling up in places isn’t necessarily that much of a crime, and I hope experienced bloggers will still value a discussion on these releases. Having said this, I haven’t seen ‘Goodfellas’ up recently as far as I can remember, so I’m going for it.

‘Runaway Slave’ is of course an undisputed classic within the genre, spawning great hits like ‘Soul Clap’ and ‘Fat Pockets’ as well as being a consistent LP for its entire duration. Their follow up effort was by no means as refreshing as their debut, falling victim somewhat to the prevailing attitude at the time that you needed to come off harder on the sophomore album, but it still does this better than most and contains some of the best work that the duo ever produced. In fact, if I had to name my favourite Show & A.G. cuts then I reckon there would be an even spread between the two albums.

The most commercially viable single here was the Premier produced remix of ‘Next Level’ which seems to have gained much more exposure than any other song on the album. Of course, it’s a banger (although I prefer the original mix that will feature on the upcoming ‘FDB Guitar Mix’ as well as on this album).

One of the other highlights for me is ‘You Want It’ with Party Arty providing a seriously gritty chorus hook backed by a great bassline and quality horn loop. I also like ‘Add On’ which features a very tasty horn sample, characteristic sleighbells and heavy snares courtesy of Lord Finesse production and ‘Got Ya Back’ which professes the strength of brotherhood amongst friends on the mean streets of the ghettos in the big city. Occasionally, the album goes overboard with its street level approach: ‘Got The Flava’ and ‘Neighbahood Sickness’ are almost too dark for my tastes, and I am by no means faint-hearted when it comes to harder-edged hip hop.

I know that at one time, Roc Raida was the tour DJ for Show & A.G. and in fact provides some of the scratching on the album. I would have loved to have seen the duo during this time; pure and unadulterated hip hop. Alas, I was still barely pubescent and living in London, so the chance most definitely passed me by. To have been ten years older… (not to wish my life away).

In light of the discussion over the last couple of days and given that this goes for up to $150 on Amazon due to its out of print status, I have few qualms in throwing this up. If you’re a fan of their first album then do expect something different, but embrace the sound and enjoy.

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The Morality Of Blogging
February 6, 2007, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Just this evening I’ve read a few comments/posts where the issue of whether providing access to whole albums is a good thing or not. This is something that I have thought about a lot and would be interested to know what people feel about it.

On the one hand, posting these albums provides exposure to an artist and may encourage people to buy their records, go to see a live performance or spread the word amongst their friends. Word of mouth is a powerful force and it could be argued that bloggers provide a kind of advertisement for recording artists that ultimately provides them with financial rewards. Many of these albums have been long forgotten about by the masses (if they knew that they existed at all) and blogging provides them with a fanbase that perhaps they may not have had. Recently, one of the members of Yaggfu Front dropped a comment after I had posted the album showing love for the exposure of his music, so it is clear that some artists are more than happy for this behaviour to continue.

On the other hand, it is of course providing people with decent quality copies of music that they may not subsequently buy. It could be said that blogs harm an artist’s financial growth and limit them in the future. Perhaps online file sharing IS killing music, and we should not shoot ourselves in the foot by harming the genre by sharing it so freely.

What are the rules exactly? Does something have to be out of print to be ‘postable’? Should it be more than ten years old? Does posting new/old albums work in or against the favour of the artists in question? Should record companies step their game up and make their products more desirable? Is file sharing going to bring down the record industry and destroy music? I would be very interested to know people’s thoughts on this one: you know what to do.

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