Kick ‘Em In The Grill – MC Serch
March 31, 2007, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

‘Return Of The Product’ is one of those albums that has been on my hit list for a long time, and which I finally acquired a couple of months ago. Having read a bit of negative press regarding the album on the net, I wondered if my ‘this is going to be great’ hunch would be wrong, but I am glad to say that although this is by no means a sensational album, it is still a quality release that I would argue should be held in the same regard as his former bandmates’ joint venture ‘Dust To Dust’, which also seems to get largely ignored by even the more educated of hip hop fans (I’m no exception, having slept on these until only recently).

In some ways, you can see how ‘Return Of The Product’ was doomed to failure. With the success of 3rd Bass (both of their full length studio albums went gold) and the critics behind them, it is no surprise that the slightly more hardcore aesthetic on Serch’s first solo outing would be resented by those that had held the group in such high esteem. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m no expert on 3rd Bass and so don’t want to get too heavily into drawing comparisons between Serch’s earlier work as a member of that group and his own solo work: let’s get down to a discussion of the album.

The lead single here was of course the excellent ‘Back To The Grill’ featuring Nas, Chubb Rock and Red Hot Lover Tone which essentially acts as a sequel to the undisputed classic ‘Live at the BBQ’. I remember first hearing the former cut on a J Smoke mixtape around 2001 and was instantly taken by its bangin’ drum track and upbeat party vibe. I also love the album opener ‘Here It Comes’ which features some creative and interesting layers (check the African chants in the verse section and the bell during the chorus… quality) and the funky drum track means that this cut easily gets your head nodding. The remix that appears at the end of the album is also excellent, with an aggressive and seriously upbeat flava. ‘Can You Dig It’ is another favourite, with live drums and a multi-layered chorus hook that works very well. Serch handles co-production on the majority of the tracks, with T-Ray and Wolf & Epic chipping in, and the result is a pretty consistent album that successfully utilises live instrumentation whilst maintaining a relatively gritty vibe.

Match the beats with Serch’s unquestionable skills on the mic and you’ve got a winning formula. I have always liked his flow which feels relaxed and fluid, and his voice has a powerful quality that means he resonates over the music below. The content is also pleasingly varied with comments on society, bragging verses and I think he even kicks a little bit of 5% wisdom at one stage (!) although I can’t remember what track this appears on.
If you’ve been sleepin’ on this album like me then I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Although it is by no means an exceptional album, it deserves far more props than it has ever garnered, slipping off the hip hop map for all but the most dedicated of fans. Right this wrong: hit the link.

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I Hate To Brag…
March 27, 2007, 6:34 pm
Filed under: 12" Reviews, A DJ Saved My Life

My computer knowledge has increased tenfold since starting this blog. I’m no wiz yet, but I can handle a little HTML now, and more importantly, yesterday I worked out how to rip 12”s to my computer. This can only be a good thing, and now allows me to get some of my rarer singles uploaded in addition to the CD albums… damn I’m good! I’m probably not going to make a regular habit of it as it did take me a while, but in response to a ‘conversation’ I had with Alley Al over at Biff Hop recently, I’m throwing up a couple of 12”s that may tickle your fancy.

Ninety9 – Willow 12”

I remember copping this when it came out in 2000 after it received some pretty heavy rotation on MTV. I know very little about Ninety9, but judging by Alley’s comments, she was a feature on the New York hip hop/spoken word scene around the mid to late ’90s and this ultimately resulted in the release of this pleasing, summery single. The lead track is ‘Willow’, a beautiful string and piano laced beat with sung chorus hook that feels great when the sun is shining and has the effect of making the world around you seem sweet. With lyrical references to an SP1200, you can also be assured that Ninety9 is representing the real hip hop. The b-sides aren’t too shabby either, my favourite being ‘Last Minute’ which has a seriously chilled, late night vibe. All in all, this is a pretty decent 12” from an artist who I would have liked to see a lot more of but who has sadly disappeared from the scene.

DJ JS-1 – Beyond ft. O.C. b/w Arrogant ft. Substantial, Tonedeff, PackFM & Rise

I remember seeing Rahzel in my first year of university and being absolutely blown away by him and his DJ sidekick JS-1, so when this 12” dropped in 2002 I grabbed it without hesitation. ‘Beyond’ is an almost Premieresque (the man deserves his own adjective) beat with melodic piano loop and crispy drums that will get your head nodding, and O.C. comes correct on the vocal side of things. The two elements combined make for a quality, upbeat track that seems to have barely registered on the hip hop map. I’m not a great fan of the b-side, although there is no doubting that JS-1 can work his way around the boards. Ultimately, whenever I used to buy 12” singles, one side would always predominate and leave the other in the shade and in this case, ‘Arrogant’ takes the fall.

The 12” also includes a DJ track featuring DJ ODY-ROC, who I have never heard of before, but the pair perform some seriously tight scratching over a relatively aggressive beat that makes several transitions over its five and a half minute duration. Overall, a quality 12” that demands you hit the link.

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Spreading Like Infection – Xzibit
March 26, 2007, 6:32 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Although my sensibilities lie firmly in the east, I’m trying to open my mind a little bit to stuff from the other side of the US in an attempt to expand my hip hop palette. Despite ‘At The Speed Of Life’ being a relatively high profile release, I only got a hold of it the other day and have been so impressed with it that I thought I’d throw it up almost immediately. To be fair, I feel like I’m cheating a little on the ‘broadening my horizons’ front here, as although Xzibit hails from California, there is no denying that this album is musically closer to counterparts from the five boroughs than from the so-called ‘City of Angels’. Still, it’s a step towards branching out a little bit, and I’m happy to be so pleasantly rewarded. Who knows, I may be bumping some low-riding, gun-toting G Funk before the year is out…

As an affiliate of the Likwit Crew with King Tee and The Alkaholiks, the east coast influence found in this album is hardly surprising as both of the aforementioned artists also lean towards a more New York oriented sound. Indeed, it also seems significant that this was released by Loud, who traditionally had always handled the business of those representing those on the Atlantic coastline. Favourite cuts for me at this stage are ‘Eyes May Shine’ which incorporates some sweeping strings with heavy drums to produce a serious banger, and this is followed by ‘Positively Negative’ which continues in the same rugged vein with a verse from King Tee to add to the lyrical side of the track. Diamond D’s contribution ‘Bird’s Eye View’ is also solid and as with ‘Positively Negative’ benefits from guestspots, this time from J-Ro and Tash of The Liks. Although I don’t feel like I know the album inside out yet, the overall impression I am left with is that the production is pretty consistent from start to finish, and I had no problem in giving the album a full listen through straight out the blocks.

I also enjoy Xzibit’s work on the mic, which is characterised by his deep voice and raw delivery. The content of his verses is relatively standard, but there is an intelligence here that means his street narratives work well (perhaps ‘The Foundation’ is one of the best examples where he details the struggles of street life by relaying the information to his son). It seems like ‘Paparazzi’ is often cited as the standout cut, but X’s brutal dismantling of those artists in it for the money feels a little ridiculous now given his current profile in the game: ‘Pimp My Ride’ ain’t exactly street level.

All in, I have been genuinely impressed with this release and I regret sleeping on it due to my irrational prejudices against the west. This is gritty, rugged hip hop that easily stands up against east coast releases of the era, and it goes down as another quality release from the Likwit Crew that is opening my eyes to the west in more depth. If you’re sleeping like I have been then who knows, it may do the same for you.

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Eliminating Lies – Boogiemonsters
March 24, 2007, 6:30 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Although the vast scale of hip hop means that the music is inevitably broken down into numerous sub-genres, the category of ‘Christian Hip Hop’ has always filled me with a vague sense of dread. The thought of somebody ramming their religious ideologies down my throat is not exactly desirable, and as such, the tag often has the effect of putting me off a work. The Boogiemonsters do fall into this sub-genre, and the religious aspect is more present on their second release ‘God Sound’ than on their classic debut, but it avoids being overly preachy and although it is not an astonishing album, it is well worth a listen.

The group are perhaps best well known for their single ‘Recognized Thresholds of Negative Stress’ and deservedly so. This is a fine example of mid ’90s hip hop at its best, and although it was the clear album highlight, the rest of the release kept pace with a chilled, summery vibe and well delivered verses.

Their sophomore release is definitely not as strong, losing the sense of fun that categorised the first album in favour of a darker, more monochrome sound, but in places this does work well. ‘The Beginning Of The End’ has some tight rolling drums and brooding samples that make for an effective album opener. ‘Whoever You Are’ has a spacious feel and some atmospheric strings, and ‘Whistles In The Wind’ has a seriously laid back flava with echoing rim hits and, you guessed it, some whistling. These tracks are the highlights for me, and I rarely delve much deeper into the album. The beats lack impact overall and I do not feel that there is enough to keep a listener engaged properly over the album in its entirety.

MCs Vex and Mondo are effective on the mic, with nice flows and intelligent lyrics, but as with some of the beats, there is something lacking here that means my attention is not completely held. Don’t get me wrong, their deliveries are accomplished, but if you asked me to detail their work content-wise, I would struggle to tell you as the verses do not demand that you take notice. There are of course references to their religious beliefs, but thankfully these do not feel overly preachy and avoid detracting from the quality of the album in some places, although as already mentioned, this is rather spasmodic.

If you are expecting something as good as ‘The Underwater Album’ then you will be inevitably disappointed, but there are moments on ‘God Sound’ that warrant a good listen. This is intelligent hip hop that despite its shortcomings will reward you in small doses. Enjoy.

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White Man’s Burden – Miilkbone
March 20, 2007, 6:29 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

When I was thinking about a name for this blog back in December, I didn’t really labour over the task too heavily. I knew I wanted to reference the first LOTUG album in some way as it holds a special place in my heart, and I also wanted something that sounded good. Whether I achieved the latter or not is down to personal opinion, but I still like it and I enjoy the fact that it hints towards the urban nature of the genre (bricks = buildings, get it?!). What I didn’t really consider was the reference to Jersey (Newark is ‘The Brick City’), and it is only really as a by-product of writing this blog that I have fully realised the significance of ‘Da Bricks’ within the culture as a whole. Redman, Naughty, Artifacts… the list goes on. Of course, I wasn’t unaware of its role in hip hop, but I just hadn’t really thought about it that much and given it the full credit that it deserves.

With this in mind, today’s post focuses on Miilkbone, a Jersey resident whose debut release ‘Da Miilkrate’ seems to get overlooked despite a satisfying combination of beats and rhymes. A Naughty By Nature affiliate, it is no surprise to see Kay Gee popping up on the production credits a number of times, and generally speaking, the beats are solid with a classic mid ’90s flava: big drums and well chosen samples. Mufi is the lead producer on the album, putting together no less than seven of the cuts here, and this surprises me as he is a relatively unknown entity whose only other major production credit is on Queen Latifah’s Grammy winning track ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’. Highlights for me are ‘Keep It Real’ with its jazzy piano sample (the remix is also excellent), ‘Move Wit’ Da Groove’ which has a real ‘party in the summer’ vibe and ‘Check Me Out’ that features some classic sleigh bells and an enjoyably broody soundscape. This is not to say that the production is exceptional as there is some filler here, and I do find myself reaching for the skip button on a number of occasions when listening to the whole album: they’re not awful, but some of the beats lack punch and are easily forgotten.

Miilkbone can handle his business on the mic, with a flow reminiscent of his Naughty By Nature affiliates but without the finesse that make Treach and Vinnie so engaging. The lyrical content essentially falls back on the staple diet of boasts, brags and parties, but he carries the style off well enough over the course of the album. What really grates for me is his relatively consistent reference to the colour of his skin, and many of the skits revolve around the idea of his rejection of the ‘traditional roles of the white male’ as a result of growing up ‘next to the projects… with just flat out hoods’. If Miilk was so keen to prove that the colour of his skin was irrelevant to his music, then why the hell did he choose to bang on about it all the time? The irritatingly simplistic vision that he puts forward with regards to notions of race and identity in hip hop end up coming off as superficial at best, and at their worst, highly ignorant. Perhaps this is overly harsh given that this was released in ’96 when issues of colour in relation to hip hop had not been addressed in the same depth that they have been in more recent times, but there is no doubt that these overly earnest ‘justifications’ of his place within the genre feel heavily played out over the album in its entirety.

However, putting this issue to one side is worthwhile, as ‘Da Miilkrate’ is a solid release that contains enough highlights to keep the majority of heads happy. Don’t expect to be blown away, but in places this will have your head nodding and feet tapping: show Jersey some props and hit the link.

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At Long Last… FDB Guitar Mix
March 19, 2007, 6:27 pm
Filed under: FDB Mixes

For those of you new to FDB, I did start a series of instrument themed compilations back in January that I intended to keep up relatively regularly. However, what with work and other commitments, the ‘FDB Guitar Mix’ has been on the back-burner for a while and is only now seeing the light of day. I’ve had a tracklist planned for ages, but I’ve scrawled it down on various bits of paper that have inevitably ended up going astray and as such it has been through a number of different incarnations. Anyway, here it is:

1. Prince Ali – Incistroduction
2. UMCs – Woman B Out
3. Red Hot Lover Tone – Lil’ Boy Blu
4. Main Source – Atom
5. Ultimate Force – C’mon
6. Brand Nubian – Slow Down
7. Show & A.G. – Next Level (Original Mix)
8. Q-Tip – Let’s Ride
9. Mad Skillz – The Nod Factor
10. PUTS – Plunken ‘Em
11. Oktober – NYC
12. Danger Mouse & Gemini – The Only One
13. Ed O.G. – Love Comes And Goes
14. INI – What You Say
15. Lord Finesse – Bud Mutha
16. The Roots – What They Do
17. Common – I Used To Love H.E.R.

What I love about a good guitar sample is that it clearly harks back to hip hop’s foundations in funk, and as a result, tunes that utilise them often have an upbeat and positive vibe that feels fitting as we head into Spring (finger’s crossed) in the UK. Although I’m not going to break this down song by song, there are a few cuts here that deserve a special mention. I’ve already commented on P.A.’s ‘I Miss 1994’ release on FDB, but given that I have been killing the intro so regularly of late, I felt it fitting to kick off the compilation with the album opener, ‘Incistroduction’. Although the release as a whole is not mind-blowing, I think this beat is excellent and does a good job of incorporating a mellow guitar loop into a heavy beat. Oktober’s ‘NYC’ is a straight up banger off his ‘Projekt: Building’ release which in all honesty I was a little disappointed with, but there is no question that this joint has that infectious head nodding factor that should appeal to the majority of readers here at FDB. Finally, Ultimate Force’s ‘C’mon’ is off their shelved album ‘I’m Not Playin” that sees an official release at the end of this month: 1990, Diamond D production… need I say more? Get it when it drops.

All in, I’m pretty happy with this compilation and indeed the series as a whole (I’ve included the links for all four in case you missed them first time around), and I hope to continue with this idea in the future, time-permitting. If you’re feeling it, drop a comment and I may just set aside a bit of time to do the series justice over the coming months… it’s in your hands.

FDB Guitar Mix
FDB Piano Mix
FDB Strings Mix
FDB Horn Mix

Nick Drake

As with the other FDB compilations, I’m taking the opportunity to throw up something a little different that falls in line with the theme of the mix. Nick Drake has garnered a massive cult following here in the UK, perhaps in part due to his tragic and untimely death, but also because his music is of such beauty that it still holds resonance close to 40 years after its initial composition. I remember seeing ‘Pink Moon’ at the top of numerous music press lists of ‘great albums that never make the top 100 albums lists’ and as a result I bought it in my third year of university. Drake suffered from depression, and it is said that he recorded this album facing a wall during late-night solitary sessions only to walk into Island records one day and dump it on their desk. This is reflected in the album’s stripped down purity: this is largely Drake’s voice, his guitar and little else. I’m not usually a massive fan of folk, but this is undeniably beautiful music that I strongly recommend. It’s pretty far removed from hip hop and may not be your bag: give it a try and let me know.

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Reppin’ Canada – Sconeboy’s 12″ Selection
March 16, 2007, 6:22 pm
Filed under: 12" Reviews

Next up from myself, we have three 12”s featuring purely Canadian artists. Canadian hip hop is as good, and sometimes better, than stuff from the neighbouring USA, and can easily live up to the hype. The 12”s I have picked are representative of the scene here, at least of when the music featured was produced. As with the genre in general nowadays, jiggy club music is preferred, but these 12”s are far from that.

Rascalz – Northern Touch

Firstly, we have a posse cut. This 12″ has been a favourite of mine since I heard it here on TV a few years back when I was visiting. It features The Rascalz, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust, Choclair and Checkmate. After reading some background on the release, it seems it is much more than just a record. It came at a time when black-Canadian artists were not recognised in the Canadian music scene, and the collaboration of some of the most prominent artists in Canada was a way of showcasing the fact that there was good music coming out of Canada at that time. Sampling a B.T. express tune (also used by DMX), each MC comes correct over the beat – it’s nothing more than a rhymefest put to wax, and it works really well. This 12″ touched heads all over the world, featuring in none of other than DJ Premier’s DJ box at the time it was released too – if he likes it, you’ve gotta be doing something right! Just have a listen, it will not disappoint…

Ghetto Concept – Deifitrec b/w Certified

Second up, a great 12″ by a crew out of Toronto called ‘Ghetto Concept’. Ghetto Concept are Kwajo and Dolo, who met in 1989 and went on to release 12”s and albums under this guise. This 12” was released in 1992. Deifitrec b/w Certified is one of those 12”s that never leaves rotation: timeless! You can hear the 1992 vibe in this record, the beats are jazz-sampling simple creations, with the two MCs trading bars back and forth. They have a great vibe to them and it fits right in with the era: call and response, rapping and singing the hooks, and always sounding like they are having fun. The ‘Certified’ remix is my favourite. Deifitrec is also a good cut, but i prefer the other side. I actually featured this 12” in one of my mixes so check out their other stuff if you like this, it’s sure to be of the same standard.

Saukrates/Choclair – Father Time/21 Years

Lastly, a great 12″ featuring two different artists and tracks: Saukrates with ‘Father Time’ and Choclair with ’21 years’. The two cuts make for a a solid 12″ from the days of indie hip hop. Saukrates represents Toronto, and this piano laced beat works perfectly with his rhymes. Saukrates is probably one of the most widely known rappers from Canada; his ‘Brick House’ EP features artists like Common which deomnstrates how respected he is as an MC. The best cut on this 12″, however, is from Choclair. Featured on DJ Premier’s ‘New York Reality Check 101’, it is an understated piece of work – a simple, bassline driven beat with Choclair and the pianos working well together to produce a great indie masterpiece; as mentioned previously, if DJ Premier likes it, you’re onto a winner. Choclair had an album come out a few years back but it wasn’t to my liking. I know that a few 12”s earlier were good, so check those out. For now, this is the 12″ for me!

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Chocolate Boy Wonder – Pete’s Jazz
March 13, 2007, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Beat Deconstructions, Producers

Although the one-track blogs of old are now in the minority, I’d thought I’d tip my hat to the old school this evening and hit you with just one joint. The reasons for this are numerous. Partly, ‘Petestrumentals’ is still in print and easily accessible (pick it up here) and so I do have some qualms about posting the album in its entirety (although I am aware that this has not been a consistent feature of the albums that I have posted). More importantly, this is my favourite Pete Rock beat of all time, and as such, it deserves its own post.

For most die-hard music fans, there will be a large number of songs that have the capability to transport them to another time and place. It may not be your favourite track of all time, but for whatever reason it reeks of a certain moment in your life. ‘Ms Fat Booty’ transports me to a summer spent with mates whilst my parents were on holiday, whereas Rahzel’s ‘If Your Mother Only Knew’ will always take me back to my first year in university: the list goes on… What’s extraordinary about ‘Pete’s Jazz’ for me personally is that it reminds me of innumerable moments over the last five years: it has brought me so much pleasure, so often, that it is impossible to distinguish one single moment in time that it encapsulates beyond all others.

In all honesty, I probably listen to the intro section, first ‘verse’ and chorus more often than I do the song in its entirety before I find myself reaching for the rewind button. There is something incredibly captivating about this first 32 bars or so that gets me every time. The initial drop into drums and bass, the subtle sax loop, the breakdown and then onwards into a stripped down percussion section before all of the samples weave in and out of the beat collectively on their way to the chorus. When it drops, the song opens out into a spacious sonic landscape that raises the hairs on the back of my neck every single time.

There is a remarkable complexity to this tune and it would be nothing short of criminal to have someone spit over the top of it. Although I generally try to mime various instruments when I am listening to songs that I really love (much to the potential disdain of those around me), the bass kick on ‘Pete’s Jazz’ is beyond my amateur mime act. And yet at the same time, it by no means dominates the music, and instead slips in perfectly alongside the other layers involved in the composition. This ‘complex simplicity’ is indicative of the track as a whole: the subtlety with which it is constructed is staggering.

Bottom line, I’m never disappointed when I listen to ‘Pete’s Jazz’. In a discography that has such consistency and quality, favourites will always come down to personal preference, with each head able to argue the case for their particular choice. Whichever Pete Rock track is yours, I hope that it brings you as much joy as ‘Pete’s Jazz’ does for me: this song is one of the reasons that I love hip hop.

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Bomb With The Boom Bap – Prince Ali
March 10, 2007, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Producers

Just a quick heads up today rather than a full length post, and mad props go out to Kazeiro over at Rap Dungeon for putting me onto this. I would usually try to avoid posting something that I had seen elsewhere recently, but this is slightly different as this is another album that is being released for free on the internet, a growing trend that has seen some quality releases this year.

Prince Ali’s ‘I Miss 1994’ is one of the best records that I have heard this year, and as the title suggests, it harks back to days gone by in the rap game. All the information you need to know is on Prince Ali’s myspace page as well as the link to download the album. I have been heavily into this today, particularly the album opener that features one of the best beats that I have heard on any album that I have bought recently, new or old. The mellow guitar loop has had me reaching for the rewind button countless times today. Don’t sleep on this: grab it while you can.

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Here Come The Hicks – Down South
March 9, 2007, 6:18 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

I’ve said before that there is always a satisfaction in finding early works by artists who have subsequently made a big impression on the genre. ‘Lost In Brooklyn’ is not only a slept on and enjoyable release from ’94, but it is also the album on which we find Shawn J. Period’s first production credits (highlighted in the picture). If you don’t know Shawn J. by name, then you will inevitably know the tracks from the late ’90s that saw him become a major player in the Rawkus boom, providing beats for Mos Def, Blackstar, and a host of other artists at a time when hip hop was still in the wake of the golden era.

Featuring production from Shawn J. himself as well as T-Ray, The Beatnuts and Stretch Armstrong, the beats here are what you would expect: horn loops/stabs, big drums and funky basslines. The album is in fact split between a ‘south’ side (the first six tracks) and the ‘north’ side (the rest of the album) but to be honest this split is rather arbitrary as the sound throughout the album is relatively consistent. Beat-wise, this is clearly oriented in the east, although there are some nice ‘southern’ touches with the odd country and western guitar appearing that provide a little twist on the stock New York sound. Favourite joints for me are ‘Southern Comfort’ (which interestingly features the same sample utilised by Da King & I on the ‘Crak Da Weazel’ chorus hook) which has a nice summery vibe to it and a slightly cheesy chorus vocal; ‘Lost In Brooklyn’ is a straight up banger with infectious horns and tight snares; and I also like the album closer ‘Open Sesame’ which features classic Beatnuts production and verses that revolve around cracking open a brew and indulging in some fine liquor (content that the Beatnuts are no strangers to).

MC Soda Pop does a good job on the mic, although I think it would be fair to say that his verses are nothing sensational. The southern influences in production carry over into the rapping with multiple references to their roots in the lands of ‘tractors, rakes and hoes’, and Soda’s flow is capable enough to be carried by the quality of the production work underneath him. The presence of DJ Myorr is also felt on the record, handling all scratch duties and even scoring himself a DJ only cut, ‘Oh My’. Ultimately, the trio work well together, and any weaknesses in specific areas of the work are easily forgotten by the cohesiveness of the record overall.

‘Lost In Brooklyn’ is unlikely to blow your mind, but it is a solid effort that stands up relatively well amongst the plethora of quality releases that ’94 witnessed. From my Google searching for images and a bit of info, it also seems like this may have gone pretty much unnoticed, as the pickings were slim. This is a shame, as this album deserves to be dusted off and given a little bit more recognition than it seems to have done since its release: give it a listen and help it along its way.

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