I'm pretty sure I've already pimped Nocturnal on this blog before and given bits of background information on Heltah Skeltah, but for the purpose of this review, I'll do it again.
Of course, Heltah Skeltah, made up of the duo of Ruck (now known as Sean Price) and Rock, were a part of the loose Boot Camp Clik collective, along with groups such as Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, and Originoo Gunn Clappaz. While most people would probably say that Black Moon's Enta Da Stage was the best album any branch of B.C.C. ever released, I beg to differ, as I think Nocturnal tops them all.
The good majority of the project was produced by Da Beatminerz, so, obviously, the beats on Nocturnal are grimy to the max. However, Da Beatminerz show considerable growth on this album, as their beats display much more variability and substance than on Enta Da Stage or Smif-N-Wessun's Dah Shinin'. I think that is what separates Nocturnal from the rest of the Clik's albums. That, and the fact that Ruck is clearly the best MC in the entire group, and Rock follows.
For some reason, Heltah Skeltah's debut has always been incredibly slept on, but then again, so has most of the Boot Camp Clik's work.
1. Intro (Here We Come)
At first, this sounds like your typical album intro, which obviously disappointed me. However, that changes at the 1:11 mark, as Rock jumps on the mic and kills a solid beat that was co-produced by Buckshot and Lord Jamar. What's clever about Rock's verse, though, is that he incorporates the names of nearly each and every song on the album throughout. Some were understandably left out (it's kind of hard to work "Letha Brainz Blow" and, especially, "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka" in to a verse), but I don't see what was so hard about trying to fit "Undastand" in there. Whatever. I like the way this album is starting.
2. Letha Brainz Blow
Baby Paul of Da Beatminerz drops a smooth, sick beat (I love those dusty kicks) for Ruck and Rock here, and the two MCs trade verses throughout. Really nice record.
This might be my favorite song off of Nocturnal, but I like the album so much that it's hard to pick. "Undastand" is another Baby Paul beat (he gets most of the production credits on the project), and, unlike most Boot Camp Clik productions, it's actually pretty soulful. The hook on this is especially sick, with Ruck and Rock rapping, "Undastand, Heltah Skeltah only means war, undastand, the war's with everything outside your door, undastand." Also, for the first time on the album, Ruck demonstrates his lyrical prowess: "Heltah Skeltah start stormin', your life's a dream and it's morning, I'm warnin', people who jail my name ring bells like a doorman, a warrant, for the arrest of a militant menace, who serve heads like tennis with words that diminish."
4. Who Dat?
I guess this one-minute, forty-four second cut is a song. Whatever it is, I don't like it. It seems out of place and throws the album out of its rhythm.
5. Sean Price
As I'm sure you can guess, Ruck is the only Heltah Skeltah member present on this track. I bet you didn't guess, though, that Ruck is not alone on this cut, as Illa Noyz, a B.C.C. affiliate, jumps in and drops a verse. Illa Noyz certainly holds his own (his verse is actually very impressive), but this cut was built for Ruck: "Word is Bon Jovi, niggas don't know me, hoes blow me, show me affection for constant erection, my direction of pistols pointed at niggas on Bristol, who thought it was fun to pull guns and issue my dismissal." The beat, produced by Shaleek, is extremely dark and fits the subject matter perfectly. Sick record.
6. Clan's, Posse's, Crew's, & Clik's
You'd figure that because this song is five minutes and twenty-three seconds long, there would be some guest appearances. There aren't, though, and that's a good thing. I haven't really talked about Rock too much yet, but he rips this cut: "I, be the drama bringer, wringer of a nigga's neck, wrecker of a set, I buck shots with a steel tec." DJ Evil Dee of Da Beatminerz produced the cut, laying down a number typical of Da Beatminerz.
This was Nocturnal's third and final single, and judging from its sound, it was a pretty good choice. The hook, done by Vinia Mojica, is pretty lame, but the Baby Paul beat is very smooth and relaxing (which is appropriate considering the title), and the track's content is surprisingly introspective (I say "surprising" because, generally, B.C.C. cuts are nothing short of hardcore). The only problem that I have with "Therapy" is that Ruck plays the therapist and Rock plays the patient. I think it would have been better had a guest played the former role and Ruck and Rock both played patients on separate verses, but whatever; this is still a good song.
8. Place To Be
"Place To Be" contains one of the most simplistic beats on the album, but also one of the best. Shawn J. Period lays down the cut for Heltah Skeltah, a production heavily reliant on hats and snares much like was prevalent throughout Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin'. "Yo and if you think that’s hectic, it gets worse when Rock’s up in it, so somebody tell the fat lady she’s up in five minutes, shit is almost finished right after I take care of witnesses, roamin' the premises not mindin' they businesses," spits Rock.
9. Soldiers Gone Psycho
Back to Baby Paul for this beat, and it's ill. Unorthodox, but ill. "My parabellum means swelling cerebellums when we dwelling with caucasoids, you void, my niggas rebellin'," raps an unrelenting Ruck. This track epitomizes the head-nodder.
10. The Square (Triple R)
For some reason, I always forget what this track sounds like until I go back and listen to it. I really don't know why, though, because Heltah Skeltah's delivery on this is out of control. The Representativz, B.C.C. affiliates, drop guest verses, but they're essentially negligible because Ruck and Rock demolish this Supreme beat: "Yo, who’s the square there squared with the back bender? I beat blood out of ya number one contender, The Representativz are, sent to ya drama, while I sneak up behind ya to put space in your back like a comma," spits Rock. Ruck later comes through and raps these sick bars: "Aiyyo, we equal emcee squared, dare tempt me, empty shells, now ya layin' where playas and pimps be, on microphones with hyper tones, that’s when I swipe ya bones with knife and chrome."
11. Da Wiggy
Two things really stand out on this track, and they both collide with one another: 1.) The drums are sick. 2.) Those stupid chipmunk-sounding vocals on the hook are just plain annoying. Still, as a whole, this cut is really good, as both Heltah Skeltah members rip it. "I serve, justice, must this be the answer? For my gun to click, terminal like cancer," raps Ruck. Rock and Ruck then each trade three bars, with Rock rapping: "Send that guy to Rockness Monsta, stomp ya, split him in half, divide and conquer, I want ya," and Ruck continuing with: "To test the irrational inflictor, Rock pounds the ground, while Ruck shakes the Richter."
12. Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka
This was Nocturnal's first single and, without a doubt, its most popular song. The Originoo Gunn Clappaz are featured on this cut, and Starang Wondah gets the first verse, spitting: "Ay caramba, Starang, Gunn Clappa numba, one on the set man, I'll cut ya like lumber." Ruck then drops a colossal verse later, rapping: "I control the masses, with metaphors that's massive, don’t ask if the nigga Rucker bash shit like Cassius, I’m drastic, when it comes to verbs I be flippin', 'cause herbs just be shittin' off the words I be kickin'." Baby Paul is on the boards once again, and he drops a simple, ultra-relaxing production that may very well be the best beat on the album. "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka" is the reason why I said "Undastand" might be my favorite song earlier; this one is right there with it.
This one is just okay. Louieville Sluggah of O.G.C. drops a guest verse and does a solid job, but the entire song itself is kind of bland. It just sounds far too ordinary and doesn't stand out at all. That's not to say it's a bad song, though, because it really isn't. Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz produced it, by the way.
14. Grate Unknown
Outside of some adlibs from Ruck, Rock is by himself on this track, and as much as I love Rock, this is one of the album's weaker efforts. Shaleek's beat is just alright (it pales in comparison to the "Sean Price" joint he laid down for Ruck earlier), and a Heltah Skeltah song without Ruck is like the 90s Bulls without Jordan. It just isn't right.
15. Operation Lock Down
There was a bit of a lull on the past two tracks, but, thank God, "Operation Lock Down," Nocturnal's second single, saves the album from a less-than-stellar conclusion. E-Swift lays down an absolutely mesmerizing beat for Heltah Skeltah and guest artist Buckshot (don't get too excited about Buckshot; he only mumbles barely audible adlibs in the background), and Ruck and Rock change up their vocal styles a bit to match the beat, adapting a much more subdued delivery. Great, great way to end the album.
Nocturnal is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked albums in hip-hop history. The production throughout, mostly done by Da Beatminerz, is pretty spot on, and it suits Ruck and Rock to a tee. The subject matter is pretty steadfast for the duration of the project, with Heltah Skeltah spitting their best "I'm tougher than you" rhymes on all 15 tracks.
The beats on Nocturnal are clearly more advanced than they are on Nocturnal's cousins, Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin', making the album, in my opinion, the most enjoyable of all of the Boot Camp Clik projects. I think the key difference however, lies within the actual performances of Ruck and Rock, who are undoubtedly the best two rappers in the B.C.C. collective (even though some are partial to Buckshot).
This isn't the kind of album to listen to if you're looking for club bangers or even a good record to bump in your ride, as not many of these cuts make for good rider music. However, it is a great record to throw on while you're chilling at the crib. I understand that statement may come off as surprising given the aggressive content on Nocturnal, but the production will relax you beyond belief (see: "Operation Lock Down").
For some reason, Nocturnal was always considered to be a step behind Enta Da Stage, which is generally always on top 100 lists, and Dah Shinin', which also makes occasional appearances on such lists. I personally do not understand why it doesn't get more love; I figured it would show up on someone's top 100 rankings at some point, but it never has (unless you're counting me).
All of that said, you need to go and cop this.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
2. Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka
3. Sean Price
4. Operation Lock Down
5. Da Wiggy