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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This Could Be Big – Pudgee The Phat Bastard
February 6, 2007, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Before starting today’s post I just wanted to give a quick shout to everybody who has been leaving comments recently. It it always highly satisfying to get some feedback on the work that I put into the blog and it has been particularly great recently with a debate or two kicking off (props to Alley Al for stoking the fire on the Large Pro post… not sure how well you came off mate!). In all seriousness though, it really is appreciated when people leave their thoughts and feelings on the albums and reviews, keep it up if you’re already on it or get involved if you ain’t there yet.

‘Give ‘Em The Finger’ was one of those albums that I felt genuinely excited about when I stumbled across it on Amazon. I can’t explain exactly what this hunch was based upon as I had never heard any of his music, but I just had a feeling that it would be dope. When I get this feeling it goes one of two ways: I’m either right and elated or I’m wrong and end up somewhat disappointed. I think that my response to this album falls into the second category despite the fact that this is a decent release that is well worth a listen.

Everything is in place if you’re feelin’ that mid ’90s vibe: boasts and brags, a shouty chorus here and there, big snares and some horn loops… there are also some highlights on here as well. ‘Checkin’ Out The Avenue’ has an almost Naughty By Nature feel about it and would work well in a club and both ‘This Is How We…’ (featuring a verse from Kool G Rap) and ‘How You Feel About That’ will get your head nodding. Much of the album’s production is handled by the Trakmasterz and I would be grateful to anyone who could fill me in on their full discography as the internet is a little sparse on detail apart from their more mainstream production for Will Smith, Mariah Carey and a few other bits and pieces.

Despite these standouts and a relatively consistent quality throughout (ignore the horrendously corny ‘Lady In My Life’), this is not an album I listen to particularly frequently and would argue that there is something a little bit lacklustre about ‘Give ‘Em The Finger’. Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid enough release but there is something about it that doesn’t quite do it for me. This also goes for some of the cuts he released later on in the ’90s that I felt also lacked that edge that makes something great as opposed to being just good. You may not feel the same: cop it and find out.

Request Alert!

I mentioned the shelved Freddie Foxxx LP in my Large Pro post as I feel that it is a another example of an industry oversight, particularly given his prominent position in the genre for over 15 years. The version I have of this is of a relatively poor quality with a hiss over all of the tunes. If you have a version of this that is of decent quality then please hit me with a link: I want to here ‘Can’t Break Away’ in all its glory as well as a couple of other choice cuts from the album. Thanks in advance…

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The Puerto Rican Wonder – Kurious
February 5, 2007, 5:41 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Kurious goes down as yet another one of those hip hop artists who showed much promise but who also never managed to translate this into a career of any longevity. Hailing from Spanish Harlem in Uptown Manhattan, Kurious originally appeared on Pete Nice and Daddy Rich’s album ‘Dust II Dust’ before releasing his debut ‘A Constipated Monkey’. Apart from a few appearances on other albums of the era (most notably KMD’s ‘Black Bastards’ and Gravediggaz’s ‘Six Feet Deep’) this is basically the only record where you get a decent flava for the Puerto Rican MC. This is a pity as the album is a strong release that should have at least propelled him onto a sophomore effort.

Particularly note-worthy is the production roster which features work from the Beatnuts, the SD50s (check Jaz’s post at ColdRockDaSpot for more info on the crew) and one track by the Prime Minister himself Pete Nice. This line-up should speak for itself and the end product is by no means a disappointment. Jazzy loops, slammin’ drums… you know the deal. ‘Walk Like A Duck’ was the first 12” to see a release which I find slightly surprising due to its slow pace although it is still a choice cut from the album. ‘Uptown Shit’ followed and for me would have been the better choice of lead off single due to its upbeat party vibe.

His verses over the course of the album are also enjoyable, featuring a relaxed delivery and a sense of wit to boot. This is not to say that he is the most gifted of MCs but he can certainly hold his own alongside some guest spots by Casual and Psycho Les. In all honesty, there really isn’t a bad cut on the album which makes Kurious’ disappearance from the scene all the stranger.

There was a ‘comeback’ single that surfaced in 2001 called ‘All Great’ that I picked up when it was released but it clearly made little impact and there has been nothing heard of him since. For this reason he goes down as yet another casualty of the genre who you can’t help but feel should have been bigger than he was. Still, this is a solid and enjoyable album that definitely qualifies as slept on, although I feel that labelling this as classic material would be a step too far. Let me know what you think.

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Who The What?! Jamal
February 2, 2007, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Although I have seen this around relatively recently, it has been requested and it provides me with the opportunity to voice my opinion on the album and my somewhat controversial views about Def Squad. Originally paying his dues in kiddy rap outfit Illegal, Jamal is one of the few MCs of this ilk to have gone on to solo success. I think that ‘Last Chance, No Breaks’ is a solid effort, but there is something about it that means I rarely listen to it. Surprisingly, this is also the case for me with other albums from the Def Squad camp: more of that later.

The most notable single on the album is of course ‘Fades Em All’ which is perhaps more widely known in its ‘Pete Rock Remix’ format (I’ve included this in the zip). Both of these selections are excellent, with a different feel to them that works well in both contexts. This is matched by Jamal’s verses that demonstrate an obvious maturity that was understandibly a little lacking in his Illegal days; the flow is more comfortable and accomplished. There are other choice cuts here as well. I like the laid back feeling of ‘Keep It Real’ with its smooth piano sample and I also like the darker ‘The Game’ that has a slow but seriously head noddy vibe. If you are into Def Squad then I imagine that you will appreciate the majorty of the production on this album as it is instantly recognisable as Erick Sermon or Redman’s work behind the boards.

Now for the controversy. Although I own some of the seminal Def Squad releases, they have never really done that much for me. I wonder if this is perhaps because I did not have the opportunity to hear this music in the context in which it was originally released, but there has always been something about Sermon’s production style that hasn’t really connected with me. I want to stress that this is not an entirely educated position: I do not know this facet of hip hop music in perhaps the depth that I should. However, this in itself is indicative of the fact that I have not made the conscious effort to do so, and reflects my position on the crew’s output. I think the issue lies in the sample choices and vocoder effects that just don’t really do it for me. I am happy to be proven wrong and as I say this is perhaps simply due to a lack of consolidated knowledge of the crew, but still…

I’m sure that I’m going to get ripped to pieces for this… hit me up.

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