Thursday, March 31, 2011

Album Review: "Cloud 9: The 3 Day High" - Skyzoo & 9th Wonder (2006)


I've written about Skyzoo here before, as I reviewed his debut solo album, The Salvation (released in 2009), a few months ago. I have always been a big fan of the Justus Leaguer, as he possesses outstanding lyrical ability, great storytelling skills, and has access to some of the best producers in the business. For Cloud 9: The 3 Day High, his debut record period (not solo), Skyzoo teamed up with 9th Wonder.

Cloud 9: The 3 Day High
is a 12-track collaboration effort that was completed in three days, hence the "3 Day High" part of the album's title. The project was recorded somewhat early on in 9th Wonder's career, as he was yet to really break out as a beatmaker in 2006. However, that does not mean that the record sounds at all amateurish, as it contains arguably some of 9th's best production work.

Obviously, Cloud 9: The 3 Day High was released very early in Skyzoo's career, as well, but you would never know it from listening to the Brooklyn area rapper on the album. Although his pure rapping ability may not have been at the same level it was on The Salvation, it was still pretty damn impressive, as Skyzoo immediately gained a cult following after he and 9th dropped this effort.

With good reason, too.


1. Bare Witness

Okay; so this is essentially an album intro disguised as an actual song, but nevertheless, it's three minutes long and Skyzoo actually does rap over it (even if it is only to talk about what to expect on the album), not to mention that 9th Wonder's instrumental is pretty dope. This was certainly a very, very fresh way to open things up, as one can instantly hear the talent that 'Zoo is blessed with on this cut. I dig it.

2. Way To Go
This track bangs, as 9th Wonder uses the same sample that was used on Killah Priest's song, "Black August (Daylight)," off of Black August. The production is ridiculously soulful, and Skyzoo rides it fluidly, matching the uptempo nature of the beat and spitting a pretty solid and in-depth hook, as well. Oh, and his "never learned swag, I inherit the recipe" line is just plain sick. "Way To Go" is definitely one of my favorite records on Cloud 9: The 3 Day High.

3. A Day In The Life
And 9th does it again. The instrumental on this track is ill, containing a booming bassline and an unsurprisingly soulful sample that cuts deep for the listener. You should also realize by this point that Skyzoo has a propensity for creating great hooks that aren't merely made up of a few words. Great record.

4. Stop Fooling Yourself
This is a typical track about a rapper trying to get himself out of the gutter, and Skyzoo adopts the topic extremely well and really makes you stop and think in the process. 9th Wonder's beat is solid and suits the mood, and S.K. closes out the track by reciting "I solemnly swear, what I perform in the booth, all of it is truth" three times.

5. Comeback
Skyzoo crafts a song for the ladies here, and unlike most rappers, he's able to do it classy, rapping how he wants to make sure he finds the right girl and promising that one that no matter what happens, he'll return. 9th's instrumental is incredible, consisting of banging drums, a vocal sample, and simply beautiful guitar strums. Definitely one of the album's strongest cuts.

6. I'm On It
"I'm On It" is one of the most uptempo tracks on Cloud 9: The 3 Day High, and it works wonderfully. 9th Wonder's production is ill, and Skyzoo sounds fantastic over it. Also, even if 'Zoo abandons his "complicated hook" theme on this one, the hook is still very catchy.

7. The Bodega
Skyzoo describes the life of a hustler on this song, which I'm sure you expected given the track's title. 9th's beat is solid, although it does seem like it isn't pronounced enough. All in all, "The Bodega" isn't exactly one of my favorite records off of the project, but that doesn't mean it's bad, because it isn't. I just think there are much, much stronger cuts on here.

8. You & Me
Although this seems like another love rap by Skyzoo, I have a feeling he was actually using a woman as a euphemism for hip-hop, given the commonality that type of metaphor has gained in the rap game (thanks to Common's "I Used To Love H.E.R."). Then again, if he were, would he really say, "even outside the sheets, we was kinda complete"? Maybe not, so maybe my feelings were wrong. Anyway, this track is decent, although, like "The Bodega," it isn't one of my favorites on the album, as I felt like 9th Wonder's production was a bit lazy.

9. Live & Direct
Ahh, back on track. Similar to "I'm On It," "Live & Direct" possesses a very upbeat vibe, but even moreso than the aforementioned song. This is the best song on Cloud 9: The 3 Day High, as 9th's instrumental, relying on fast-paced drums and some blaring horns, is phenomenal, and Skyzoo absolutely tears it to pieces. If this cut doesn't put you in a good mood, then it might be time to start consulting a doctor about some anti-depressants (no offense to anyone; just saying).

10. The Spirit
Man; 9th Wonder certainly made up for that short snooze he took on tracks seven and eight in a big way on "The Spirit" and its preceding track, as the beat on this knocks. Skyzoo rips it, too (his delivery is just tremendous), and he lays down yet another spectacular hook. Sick, sick record.

11. Extreme Measures
Keep those bangers coming, 9th. "Extreme Measures" is just another example of how sick 9th Wonder can be when he is at the top of his game, as the instrumental is outstanding. Skyzoo rises to the occasion, as well. There is no hook on this cut; just S.K. spitting his as off about the struggles of life for nearly four minutes. I love it.

12. Mirror Mirror
You may have noticed that Skyzoo hasn't really engaged in much braggadocio rap on Cloud 9: The 3 Day High. Well, that's about to change, as he does nothing but boast on "Mirror Mirror." That said, this track is actually somewhat boring, as 9th's beat crawls (not in a good way), and it seems like 'Zoo's voice overpowers the production. It probably would have been a good idea for Skyzoo and 9th Wonder to use one of the uptempo beats for this record, but oh well.


There aren't many rappers out there who can tell a story like Skyzoo, and he demonstrates that on Cloud 9: The 3 Day High. And to think this was S.K.'s first LP. Even if the beat was somewhat underwhelming (and that didn't happen often, mind you), he was still able to kill it on the mic and essentially carry the track, a quality that not many artists possess.

For the most part, 9th Wonder's production on this album is pretty damn great. As expected when dealing with 9th beats, every instrumental retains some kind of soulful feel, and the drums that he uses on some of the tracks are nothing short of incredible. His style also fits Skyzoo like a glove, allowing 'Zoo to flow effortlessly over each and every song.

While I feel that The Salvation certainly flashes Skyzoo at his lyrical best, Cloud 9: The 3 Day High is actually my favorite project by him. I really dig how the direction of the album changes multiple times throughout, both in terms of S.K.'s subject matter and 9th's production.

Cloud 9: The 3 Day High is one of those records you can listen to whenever and wherever. It is simply an extraordinarily impressive freshman effort by Skyzoo on all fronts, and it also marked a period in 9th Wonder's career where he was just about to hit it big. This was just a great collaboration. Let's hope they have another one in the works.


1. Live & Direct
2. Comeback
3. Way To Go
4. The Spirit
5. Extreme Measures



Monday, March 28, 2011

Album Review: "Criminal" - Scientifik (1994)


Not much is known about Scientifik other than the fact that he put out two projects and is no longer with us (R.I.P.). According to an article I recently read, he was involved in a murder-suicide with his girlfriend (he shot his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself). Whatever the case, it was just another instance of a promising career being cut short.

The funny thing about Scientifik is that he recorded his first album (or at least it is believed to be his first album [it may have also been a demo tape]), The Most Blunted, in 1992, and it wasn't released until December of 2006. He then recorded his second LP, Criminal, in '94, and it wasn't released until April of '06. It's also funny that for a rapper who garnered almost no recognition in the game, Scientifik was able to secure production from the likes of renowned producers such as Buckwild, Diamond D, and even RZA on Criminal.

Let me say before I even begin my track-for-track review of this project that Criminal is flat-out dope, probably one of the most well-produced albums I've ever heard. Each and every beat comes with its own brand of freshness, and Scientifik displays he is more than capable on the mic, spitting seamlessly over the banging production.

Criminal is only 10 tracks long, but it is easily one of the most enjoyable listens I have ever experienced. Because I don't have much else to add about Scientifik (because, well, not much else is actually known about him), I think it's about time I jump right into the review.


1. Lawtown

The album kicks off with a smooth, jazzy beat by Edo G (a.k.a. Ed O.G.), sounding like something that could very well have been on Black Moon's classic Enta Da Stage (the more I think about it, a lot of Criminal sounds similar to that record). Scientifik sounds absolutely perfect over the instrumental, and the hook is pretty damn catchy. Great start.

2. I Got Planz
Diamond D produces this cut and also makes an appearance as a feature artist, and he comes through on both accounts. The drums on "I Got Planz" are a bit subdued as opposed to the rest of the album, but they still work very well. The instrumental is simple, but good. However, I did find the vocal sample on the hook to be a bit annoying. Scientifik sounds more than adequate here.

3. Jungles Of Da East
Scientifik actually co-produced this joint with Shame, and the duo did a hell of a job, as the beat on this is just terrific. The drums are great, and the subtle organ sample adds a beautiful element. Also, Scientifik's effortless flow remains remarkably consistent. This actually sounds like some old Gang Starr, and that's always a good thing.

4. Overnite Gangsta
The first Buckwild production on Criminal is a damn good one. "Overnite Gangsta" is quite noticeably the most fast-paced record on the album thus far, containing some upbeat kicks and shakers, and Scientifik sounds fantastic over the instrumental. It's some typical tough-guy talk, but, like Guru (there's that Gang Starr comparison again), it's effective.

5. Yeah Daddy
Diamond D is on the boards again here, crafting a beat that, like "Lawtown," sounds like it belonged on Enta Da Stage. Dusty drums and horns abound, and you've gotta love how the instrumental changes up a bit during the hook (that's actually my favorite part of the song). "Yeah Daddy" is just another sick track on an album full of them.

6. Still an Herb Dealer
Rhythm Nigga Joe, who exclusively produced The Most Blunted, gets an opportunity to shine here, and shine he does, as the beat on this cut knocks. It seems like Joe combined every element of mid 90s hip-hop beats and made it into one beautiful symphony on "Still an Herb Dealer." I'm sure I don't need to tell you what Scientifik raps about on here.

7. As Long As You Know
The RZA beat, and it bangs. If you listen closely (actually, you probably don't even really have to, as any Wu-Tang fan should be able to distinguish it immediately), you'll hear the sample sample that RZA used on Method Man's song "All I Need." Edo G stops by to aid Scientifik (both sound great over this), and RZA drops some additional vocals. Phenomenal cut.

8. Fallen Star
This Buckwild instrumental sounds exactly like something DJ Premier would have laid out for Guru over one of Gang Starr's earlier albums, and, in case you forgot, that's a very, very good thing. It also helps that Scientifik beasts on this cut, making "Fallen Star" my second-favorite song on Criminal. My favorite? Stay tuned.

9. Downlo Ho
Are you still tuned in? Good, because this is my favorite track on the album; by far. I mean, Buckwild's production on "Downlo Ho" is absolutely crazy (quite arguably the best thing Buckwild has ever done, and that's saying a mouthful), and Scientifik absolutely rips it to shreds, both in terms of his verses and the hook. This cut instantly became one of my all-time favorite songs the first time I listened to it; it's that good.

10. Criminal
The final record on Criminal was produced by Edo G, and it relies heavily on its banging drums. This is probably the simplest beat on the LP, but that's okay, because it sounds outstanding anyway. Scientifik goes out in a blaze, too, thoroughly killing the instrumental and proving to the hip-hop world that he could bring it.


It's such a shame we didn't get to see Scientifik's clearly blossoming career come to fruition, because the dude obviously knew how to get things done. Criminal is a phenomenal album through-and-through, containing ridiculously spectacular production from Buckwild, Diamond D, RZA, and the like and terrific mic presence from Scientifik.

Criminal exemplifies the concept that less is more, as, although the album is short, it packs an unbelievably powerful punch from start-to-finish. It maintains a level of consistency that was never commonplace, not in the 90s nor today, while also exhibiting a type of originality and freshness that is also a rarity.

It is clear as day that Scientifik knew exactly how to construct an album. He assembled an outstanding group of producers and obviously had it in his mind not to try and do too much, as one of the things that makes Criminal such a great piece of work is its simplicity. There is no drastic change of direction at any point of the project, making it a very steady listen all the way through.

Whether or not Scientifik would have stamped his name among rap's all-time greats had he been around to do so will never be known for sure, but if Criminal is any indication, I would say he certainly would have accomplished such a feat.


1. Downlo Ho
2. Fallen Star
3. As Long As You Know
4. Yeah Daddy
5. Overnite Gangsta



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Album Review: "At The Speed Of Life" - Xzibit (1996)


Xzibit is a man of many talents. The casual individual knows him as the host of MTV's show, Pimp My Ride. The individual with great taste in music knows him as the man who can absolutely rip it on the mic and as one of the best rappers that has ever graced the west coast.

For some reason, Xzibit's debut album, At The Speed Of Life, tends to fly under the radar when discussing the west's greatest records. Of course, you have the usual mentions of 2Pac's All Eyez On Me (or Me Against The World), Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food, any of N.W.A.'s or Ice Cube's work, etc., etc., etc., but conspicuously absent from such discussions is At The Speed Of Life. Let me be clear about this: such an omission is blasphemy.

At The Speed Of Life, led by the hit single, "Paparazzi," is full of outstanding rhymes from Xzibit and banging beats from a myriad of producers, including E-Swift (of The Alkaholiks, a group that Xzibit was once a member of) and Diamond D. Perhaps the reason it is so criminally overlooked is because it dropped the same year 2Pac released All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory? I don't know, but whatever the reason may be, I'll never be able to comprehend it.

The great thing about X's first project is the lack of any "filler" material. The album is not very long at all, containing only 11 actual songs (there are four interludes), so that obviously limited the potential for error that Xzibit could have encountered. One really has to commend Xzibit for not trying to do too much on his debut disc, because that is a disease that too many artists fall victim to.


1. At The Speed Of Life

The first song on At The Speed Of Life also happens to be its best. You would think that would only be setting you up for disappointment the rest of the way, but that is not the case here. Anyway, the beat by Thayod Ausar (who produces numerous tracks on this project) bangs like you wouldn't believe, and Xzibit just sounds fantastic over it, coming across as a menacing specimen that no one in the industry would want to cross. What a start.

2. Just Maintain
There is a significant dropoff in energy from the title track to "Just Maintain," but that does not at all mean that this is a bad track; it's just a lot more laid back than its predecessor. E-Swift's instrumental is exceedingly chill, and Xzibit doesn't skip a beat, going in on this with the same ferocity that he did on "At The Speed Of Life." Also, J-Ro (of The Alkaholiks) makes one of two guest appearances on the cut and comes strong. The same cannot be said for the other featured artist, though, as female rapper Hurricane G is also present and just sounds awful.

3. Eyes May Shine
This record was also produced by E-Swift, and as effective as the dark, eerie beat is, it is Xzibit himself who carries this track. He sounds incredible over this. I don't have much else to add, but just know that "Eyes May Shine" is a sick song. It was also the album's third single.

4. Positively Negative
The production by Craig Sherrad on this is extraordinary, and Xzibit and guest artist King Tee (an Alkaholiks' affiliate who sounds so much like 2Pac that it borders on creepy) rip it to shreds. Seriously, though, I can't say enough about how ill the beat on this track is. "Positively Negative" rivals the title track for the title of "best song on the album."

5. Paparazzi
The song that put Xzibit on the map. The beat, by Thayod Ausar, actually feels very introspective (if that makes sense), and it matches the mood of the artist, as Xzibit gets pretty deep in terms of his lyrical content on this, rapping about how artists in the industry only do it for the money and notoriety. To put it plainly, "Paparazzi" is a great, great record.

6. The Foundation
I've heard people say this is the best song on At The Speed Of Life, and while I certainly don't agree, it still is a nice cut, as Xzibit dedicates it to his son and warns him about all of the strife he will experience in his life and explains to him how he should handle it. The piano-driven beat by DJ Muggs is pretty solid, but it is X who really makes this track, which was also the album's second single, worth listening to.

7. Bird's Eye View
Honestly, what is with the Hurricane G features? Doesn't Xzibit realize that she sucks? I didn't let her presence ruin this track for me, though, because Diamond D's beat knocks, and Tash (another Alkaholiks' member [who actually refers to himself as "Catastrophe" on here]) and J-Ro kill it along with Xzibit.

8. Hit & Run (Part II)
Did I miss something, because, um, where's part one? Whatever. It's no matter, because this song is sick. Craig Sherrad's instrumental couldn't possibly be any more chill, and Xzibit rides it effortlessly. Even if the content is pretty damn sleazy (it's a sex rap, in case you were wondering), "Hit & Run (Part II)" works. If you're not nodding your head to this, then I don't know what to tell you.

9. Carry The Weight
The final Thayod Ausar beat on the album, and while it does sound a bit too much like "Paparazzi" for its own good, it's still pretty damn nice. Xzibit's subject matter on this record reminds me a lot of that of Ras Kass' on "The Evil That Men Do" off of Soul On Ice, as he goes back in time and explains the perils of his early life. And to think people think of Pimp My Ride when they hear Xzibit's name. What a damn shame...

10. Plastic Surgery
Ras Kass and Saafir drop by to aid Xzibit on this E-Swift-laced cut, and while "Plastic Surgery" is probably my least favorite song on At The Speed Of Life, the collaboration certainly works (I just wish that Xzibit would have saved the Ras Kass collabo for a track that possessed a darker beat and was more serious in tone, but I guess I'm just trying to have my cake and eat it too, which is probably the dumbest expression in the history of mankind because it makes absolutely zero sense, but whatever; based on the meaning it has attained, it applies here), particularly in the case of Ras, as this was when the dude was in his prime.

11. Enemies & Friends
This is just phenomenal. DJ Pen One comes through with an appropriately dark instrumental that contains some banging drums, and Xzibit legitimately sounds angry when he raps over it. I honestly couldn't think of a better way to end the masterpiece that is At The Speed Of Life.


At The Speed Of Life is an underrated classic. There is not a single song that I skip when I listen to this album. I may have said that "Plastic Surgery" was my least favorite cut on the record, but I still listen to it every time through. Xzibit's debut is seriously one of the most consistent projects I have ever heard, from the sick beats to the incredible rhymes.

I hear At The Speed Of Life, and I wonder why the hell Xzibit doesn't get the kind of recognition he deserves in the rap game. This LP is just oozing with his talent from front-to-back, as X shows he can adjust to any type of instrumental and sound equally adept at killing a street banger as he does at rapping a dedication to his son. He is just an outstanding emcee.

Two years after his first album, Xzibit would proceed to release 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz, a record that many feel is actually better than At The Speed Of Life (it isn't), and two years after that, he dropped his most commercially successful effort, Restless. Both projects, while not at the same level as his debut, were very, very good, further confirming my notion that X is one of the most underappreciated artists to ever do it.

Of course, as Xzibit himself says in "Enemies & Friends," all good things come to an end, as after Restless, X fell off the face of the earth, as he abandoned his hardcore roots and started trying to appease the mainstream junkies by releasing singles and albums that were clearly geared toward commercial radio. Oh well. It was certainly a hell of a ride for Xzibit early in his career, and hey; how many artists can say that their first three albums were the ish?


1. At The Speed Of Life
2. Positively Negative
3. Enemies & Friends
4. Paparazzi
5. Hit & Run (Part II)



Monday, March 14, 2011

Album Review: "W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)" - Pharoahe Monch (2011)


I have been gushing about the upcoming release of Pharoahe Monch's third album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (which I will be referring to as "W.A.R." from here on out), for quite a while now. As I pointed out in my review of Monch's debut solo effort, Internal Affairs, he has always been one of my favorite artists, as he brings forth a brand of lyricism that is not common in any area of hip-hop.

Well, after three singles ("Shine," "Clap [One Day]," and "Black Hand Side"), W.A.R. is finally here, and with producers such as Diamond D, Exile, and Marco Polo on tap, I fully expected a banger going in, especially given how much I liked the singles. Pharoahe Monch has always been one of the more creative people in the industry, and although that creativity has actually hurt him at times (see his second release, Desire), it still forces me to look forward to anything the man puts out.

I certainly anticipated that W.A.R. would be better than Desire, and I even thought that it could very well end up being superior to Internal Affairs. However, I decided to take it one step at a time going in, because replicating an album as good as Monch's debut is not a simple task, and that if W.A.R. was anything close to Internal Affairs, I would be satisfied.

Overall, my attitude before I listened to W.A.R. was essentially the same frame of mind I had before I listened to Raekwon's Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang: expect a good product, but don't be too surprised if you come out feeling disappointed when the final seconds tick off of the album.

All of that said, let's get to this review, huh?


1. Calculated Amalgamation

Interestingly enough, the first song on W.A.R. was produced by Lion's Share Music Group (who?). The beat is pretty solid and almost has a Black Milk feel to it, as the drums are clearly the focal point of the instrumental. Pharoahe Monch's flow on it is unusually subdued, though, and that doesn't mesh well with the production. I've gotta say that this album could have started out better.

2. Evolve
The Exile-produced cut, but it does not sound like an Exile beat at all. Quite frankly, it's pretty boring, and once again, Monch is not his usual self on the mic, as it sounds like he's just going through the motions. What the hell is going on here?

3. W.A.R.
Okay; getting better. Marco Polo is on the boards for this one, and he lays out a good (but not great) beat for Monch and guest artists Immortal Technique and Vernon Reid. I've never been a huge Immortal Technique fan, but he sounds great on the hook. By far the best track so far, but I'm certainly hoping that changes, because if the title track is the best cut on W.A.R., we're in trouble.

4. Clap (One Day)
This was the album's second single, and it's also one of the album's best songs. The beat by M-Phazes knocks, and Pharoahe Monch sounds like he was genetically built for it with the way he flows over it. Showtyme, who helped to form one of the only good songs on Desire ("Desire," and it was actually fantastic), is on the hook. Also, the short freestyle by Pharoahe at the end was sick. Fortunately, "W.A.R." is no longer the best song on this project.

5. Black Hand Side
Damn; W.A.R. has really taken a spectacular turn for the better, as each of the past three songs has eclipsed the previous in terms of overall sickness. A dude named Mike Loe crafts the instrumental here, and he does an incredible job, incorporating violins and numerous other instruments to go along with some great drums. Styles P drops a guest verse and just rips it, and Phonte channels his Percy Miracles persona and croons the hook. To put the cherry on top, Pharoahe Monch sounds phenomenal on this. "Black Hand Side," W.A.R.'s third single, is the best track on the album; easily.

6. Let My People Go
I feel like this track could have been so much better if Fatin "10" Horton (who produced this) just altered the beat ever so slightly where he would omit the part of the instrumental that surfaces at the end of each bar. I also thought Pharoahe Monch's hook on this was pretty lame, and the way he changes up his voice and flow on the second verse does not work.

7. Shine
This was the first single, dropping all the way back in July. It is the lone Diamond D production on the album, and it was a pretty solid effort. I loved Monch's flow over it, and I thought the contribution from female R&B artist Mela Machinko on the chorus brought "Shine" to another level. The momentum that "Let My People Go" killed just came back.

8. Haile Selassie Karate
Whatever that means. Anyway, Samiyam's beat on this is fairly effective, as I like the choppiness (you know, the kind of choppiness that Exile's beats are supposed to have). Ultimately, this cut is very short, featuring one verse from Monch and a hook that Mr. Porter sings twice. Meh.

9. The Hitman
Now this sounds like something that would have been on Internal Affairs. The M-Phazes beat, consisting of guitar strums and a harp, definitely hits home, and it complements Pharoahe Monch's style extraordinarily well. Because of that, Monch ends up sounding like a beast over this, making "The Hitman" one of the better songs on W.A.R..

10. Assassins
I've gotta ask one question before I actually review this track: why the hell is Jean Grae on this? I might be wrong, and I apologize to Jean Grae if I am, but it seems painfully obvious to me that Monch wrote her verse, so why the hell is she rapping it? Well, at least the beat by M-Phazes knocks, and Pharoahe tears it to pieces. Royce da 5'9" also makes an appearance, and he comes strong, as if M-Phazes created the beat for him and Pharoahe Monch took it and used it for his own album. good could "Assassins" have been without Jean Grae?

11. The Grand Illusion (Circa 1973)
And then we're presented with this garbage. First of all, what in the living hell is Citizen Cope doing on a rap album? Second of all, what was going through the minds of the production team of Adam Deitch & Eric Krasno when they made this beat? This is really the same duo that made that banger of a beat for 50 Cent's "My Gun Go Off" on Curtis? Finally, what was Pharoahe Monch thinking period? It also figures that this song is over five minutes long. Ugh.

12. Still Standing
This is the weakest of the four M-Phazes beats on W.A.R., but it isn't horrible. The latter part of that statement notwithstanding, I expected a much better end to what turned out to be a disappointing album. Actually, that doesn't make any sense, because, in that case, I shouldn't have been expecting such a fine conclusion.


Remember earlier when I said that if W.A.R. was anything close to Internal Affairs, I would have been satisfied? Well, it isn't, so I'm not. It's a step up from Desire, but let's be honest; Pharoahe Monch would have really had to crap the bed not to come up with a better project than that.

I'm not saying there aren't any bright moments on this album, because there are. All three singles were very good, and songs like "The Hitman" and "Assassins" were thoroughly enjoyable, but some of the other stuff Monch included on here was just flat out garbage. I mean, what the hell was going through his mind when he decided on the Citizen Cope feature? Not only that, but you're telling me that he couldn't score a single beat from The Alchemist?

Maybe it's because I'm such a huge Pharoahe Monch fan, but I expected much, much better from him, especially when you take into account that he had almost four years to perfect W.A.R.. This is the absolute best he could come up with? I'm beginning to wonder whether or not Monch is actually capable of crafting a consistent album anymore, because both this and Desire are light years away from the level he reached on his debut.

W.A.R. is definitely my biggest disappointment of 2011 so far (even moreso than Talib Kweli's Gutter Rainbows), and this was one of the albums I was most anticipating. It's not even that the production and features were the only low points of the record, either; Pharoahe Monch just sounds downright lazy on some of these tracks. What happened to that mind-boggling flow that he had perfected to a science over the years? It surfaces every now and then, but, for the most part, it's conspicuously absent.

I really hope Monch goes back to the drawing board and comes back with a fourth album quickly, because I am slowly beginning to lose faith in him as an artist. The dude still clearly has talent, but he is not utilizing it. Sigh.


1. Black Hand Side
2. Clap (One Day)
3. Assassins
4. The Hitman
5. Shine


The Grand Illusion (Circa 1973)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Album Review: "Dedication" - Rashid Hadee (2007)


I'd be willing to bet that not a single one of you readers actually knows who Rashid Hadee is. If you do, kudos to you. If not, it's no big deal, because you're about to receive your introduction to one of the game's best producers. Actually, if you're a Little Brother fan, you probably have heard a Rashid Hadee beat. You know "Dreams," that absolute banger of a song off of Little Brother's Getback album? Yeah; he produced that. Starting to warm up to him a little bit?

Rashid Hadee is a member of the duo Chapter 13, the other member being Young Valentine. Together, they released a heck of an album in Nevermore's Asylum back in 2005. It garnered almost no recognition, not even from the underground, and it's sad, because it really was a great effort. However, that album pales in comparison to Hadee's solo debut, Dedication.

Rashid is very similar to 9th Wonder in terms of his production style, as he indulges in heavy sampling of soul records and uses similar drums to 9th to create that classic boom-bap sound. Because I have always been a sucker for boom-bap, I fell in love with Dedication immediately.

Dedication spans a total of 14 tracks, 12 of them produced by Rashid Hadee himself (the other two were done by Young Valentine and Melatone, respectively). Rashid does not limit himself to only making beats, though. He is also a very solid rapper, and he displays his lyrical prowess and steady flow on each of the songs on his debut solo record.

Keep in mind that Rashid Hadee also released a mixtape of the same name in 2005, but the tracklisting is significantly different. While it contains some of the same cuts from the actual Dedication album, the good majority of it differs tremendously. That said, you should check that out, too.


1. Dedication (Intro)

Yes, this is an actual song, and a damn good one at that. The beat is incredible, utilizing a continuous vocal sample surrounded by some banging drums. Also, Rashid Hadee demonstrates that he can spit, as well. This was just a tremendous way to set the tone for the album.

2. You Can't Hide
The first thing I noticed (and probably the first thing you will notice, too) about this track is that the kick drums bang, and I mean that in every sense of the word. If you listen to "You Can't Hide" in your ride, your whip will vibrate. A guest rapper named Augustine aids Rashid on the cut and certainly comes correct, but it's Rashid that kills this. Dedication is off to an outstanding start.

3. The Remembrance
Somehow, this album keeps getting better. Rashid Hadee's instrumental on this cut is nothing short of spectacular, as the drums are subtle enough to flawlessly complement the sample. As per the title, Hadee reminisces and wonders about his past and whether or not he could have done things differently. Great record.

4. Let Go
The hook on this record is infectious, and Rashid's beat definitely contains a club-banger feel, and his flow only adds to that notion. To be honest, "Let Go" is the weakest song on here so far, but that does not in any way mean it is bad, because, well, it's actually pretty good.

5. Surrender
Alright; this is the best song on here thus far. Rashid once again does his thing on the boards, as the instrumental on "Surrender" is heavenly (and I think that's the first time on this blog that I used that word to describe a beat); the drums knock, the female vocal sample is just terrific, and you've also gotta love the Method Man sample on the hook. A rapper named Manov War is featured on this, and he holds his own.

6. Pushers
I can see a lot of hip-hop heads gravitating toward this track, and while it's definitely nothing to scoff at, I just don't think it's on the same level as some of the best songs on Dedication. There is a slew of guest artists on this, as Augustine makes his second appearance on the album and Sincere and Skinny Kenny jump in with Rashid Hadee's Chapter 13 partner, Young Valentine. Hadee's beat doesn't really move me all that much, and the fact that "Pushers" is five-and-a-half-minutes long doesn't remedy anything. Again, though, I think it's the fact that the rest of this album is so good that makes this cut sound a bit inferior, because it really isn't that bad.

7. Six To Seven
The beat on this track sounds like something that could have been on Little Brother's The Listening album. It is extremely laid back, possessing a relaxed sample and some chill drums, making for some good bedtime music. The message on this cut is also great, as Rashid raps, "you've gotta, go through six to get to seven, you've gotta, go through hell to get to heaven" on the hook. I really dug this one.

8. Get U Outta My Head
"Get U Outta My Head" is one of two tracks on Dedication that was not produced by Rashid Hadee, as Young Valentine is behind the boards here (he drops a verse, too). Fortunately, there is no dropoff in quality at all, as the instrumental on this is pretty damn good (those drums are sick). As a matter of fact, this turned out to be one of my favorite records on the album. By now, it's pretty obvious that Hadee enjoys rapping about women, as he spends this cut talking about an ex-girlfriend that still haunts his mind.

9. All I Need You 2 Do
Drums, drums, drums. That's the best way to describe this banger. Rashid Hadee is back to make the beat here, and, as I'm sure you guessed from the first two sentences, he does not disappoint. He also goes in on the mic and rips up the instrumental along with Augustine and Khallee (who sounds a lot like my boy Skyzoo), all three of whom adjust their delivery to match the production, and it works wonders.

10. Addiction
This is the best song on the album. Once again, Rashid Hadee turns his attention to a female and raps about how he is, um, addicted to her even though he knows she is wrong for him. His production is outstanding and matches the mood of the content perfectly, and the hook is exceedingly catchy. Love this.

11. Missing Pieces
Remember when I said that "Six To Seven" sounded like it belonged on The Listening? Well, "Missing Pieces" takes that to another level. You would think 9th Wonder himself was on the boards for this one. On the track, Rashid pays homage to those whom he's lost and how they are now the missing pieces in the puzzle that represents his life. Nice record.

12. The Xpressway
Now this sounds like something that would have been on The Minstrel Show, Little Brother's second album, and the funny thing is Rashid Hadee didn't even produce this; Melatone did. Anyway, this song is really good. The instrumental is as smooth as an instrumental could possibly get, and Rashid is able to go in on it without restraint. The outstanding tracks continue.

13. Plannin' For Tomorrow
For the first time on this album, I'm gonna come with a meh. I just wasn't feeling this track one bit.

14. Mercury Retrograde
Now this was just phenomenal and erased any loss of momentum that "Plannin' For Tomorow" may have caused. Also, sorry for bringing this up again, but I have to state that "Mercury Retrograde" is yet another song off of Dedication that sounded like it could have been on The Listening. Rashid Hadee uses the vocal sample perfectly, and the light piano hits and drums complement it unbelievably well. What a way to close out what was an incredible album.


I'm sure you can already tell how much I love Dedication, but if not, I'll tell you right now: it's ill. Rashid Hadee is a tremendously talented producer and is also a heck of an emcee to boot. His debut album epitomizes what boom-bap should sound like and legitimately rivals anything 9th Wonder has done, and that is coming from a huge 9th fan.

Clearly, the best part about Dedication is its lack of weak tracks. There is only one song on here that I skip ("Plannin' For Tomorrow"), and I'm sure a very sizeable portion of other listeners will actually enjoy that cut. The rest of the project is simply amazing in every aspect, from the hypnotizing production to the great rapping to the consistent theme.

If you are a big 9th Wonder or Khrysis fan, then you will love Dedication. Also, if you gave The Left's Gas Mask a listen and enjoyed it, then I don't see any reason why you won't like this album, either. It's just an incredible effort on all fronts, as Rashid Hadee essentially created a 14-headed monster.

I really don't know how this album flew under the radar, especially when there is a significantly large faction that really digs the whole boom-bap scene. I'm going to assume that Rashid did not promote his debut at all, as I'm almost positive that one single from Dedication would have sent 9th Wonder fans flocking to pick it up. It's that good.

So, if you're a fan of, oh, I don't know, Little Brother, and you want to broaden your boom-bap horizons a little bit, give Dedication a listen. It will be well-worth your while and will likely end up in your rotation for the long run.


1. Addiction
2. Surrender
3. Dedication (Intro)
4. Mercury Retrograde
5. All I Need You 2 Do



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Album Review: "Ready To Die" - The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)


Given that the anniversary of his death was just a few days ago (March 9th), I figured it would only be appropriate to review The Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album, Ready To Die, widely considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop records of all-time from an artist who is widely considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all-time.

Along with rappers such as Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie helped revive the east coast rap scene in the mid 90s. Ready To Die's first single, "Juicy," took the hip-hop world by storm when it dropped in 1994, and from that point on, no one could wait to see what B.I.G. would do next. He did not disappoint, either, as his first LP was full of hit songs and flat-out sick tracks.

The Notorious B.I.G. began his rapping career after being released from prison in 1990. He put out a demo tape that garnered significant attention from notable people in the industry, and shortly after, he would hook up with Sean Combs, more popularly known (at that time, anyway) as Puff Daddy. Puffy then invented Bad Boy Records, and the blueprint for Ready To Die was laid out.

The anticipated album dropped in September of '94 to critical acclaim and exorbitant sales. Backed by "Juicy" and other singles such as "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," Ready To Die was a smashing success on all fronts, and a long, promising career for Biggie looked imminent.

Of course, B.I.G. would proceed to complete only one more album (Life After Death) before his tragic murder in 1997. However, what he gave to hip-hop still resonates today, and it will never fail to keep doing so.


1. Intro

The fact that it's three-and-a-half minutes long might trick you into thinking this is an actual song, but it isn't. Next.

2. Things Done Changed
The first actual song features a heavily jazz-influenced beat by Fabian Hamilton, and The Notorious B.I.G. sounds very comfortable rapping over it. This track isn't anything spectacular, but make no mistake; it's still pretty solid, and a nice way to kick things off.

3. Gimme The Loot
I love the way Biggie goes back and forth in terms of the pitch of his voice on this cut, and the instrumental by Easy Mo Bee bangs something unbelievable. You will also see on this track why many feel that B.I.G. has the best flow of all-time. "Gimme The Loot" is certainly one of Ready To Die's strongest records.

4. Machine Gun Funk
"Machine Gun Funk" represents the second of four consecutive Easy Mo Bee-produced cuts, and much like "Gimme The Loot," it knocks, particularly when the sample of "Chief Rocka" by Lords Of The Underground surfaces on the hook. What is most impressive about this song, though, is how effortlessly Biggie flows over it. His line about getting "up in that ass like a wedgie" was pretty damn funny, too.

5. Warning
Easy Mo Bee's instrumental on "Warning" is extremely relaxed when compared to his beats on the previous two tracks, and it embodies a nice change of pace. That doesn't mean The Notorious B.I.G.'s content is exactly laid back, though, as he goes in on this with some of his more violent lyrics on the album. By now, you should notice that Biggie sounds equally good over slow instrumentals as he does over those of the fast-paced variety.

6. Ready To Die
I've gotta admit that I found the title track to be pretty boring. Sorry, but Easy Mo Bee's beat just puts me to sleep (and not in a good way).

7. One More Chance
There are two remixes of this cut, and both are more well-known than the original. There is "Stay With Me" R&B remix, which I think sucks, and then the "Hip-Hop Remix" which I think is dope as all hell. As far as this original version? It's solid, but I prefer the "Hip-Hop Remix."

8. The What
"The What" is the only song on Ready To Die that features a credited guest artist: Method Man. What made this collaboration so interesting was that The Notorious B.I.G. had beef with the Wu-Tang Clan at the time, although most state that his problems were only with two-ninths of the Clan (Ghostface Killah and Raekwon). Anyway, Meth kills a simple but sick Easy Mo Bee beat. Biggie does his thing, too, but it's Johnny Blaze who steals the show and makes this cut the best song on the album.

9. Juicy
The hit single that put B.I.G. on the map. The liner notes say that the beat was produced by Puff Daddy and Jean Oliver, but it was later discovered that Pete Rock also played a role in crafting the instrumental, and that's no surprise, as the soulful instrumental definitely possesses a Pete Rock feel. The funny thing is I didn't like "Juicy" the first time I heard it, but it grew on me relatively quickly. This isn't the best song on the album or anything, but it's certainly an impressive piece of material, as Biggie's storytelling on this is just spectacular.

10. Everyday Struggle
The Bluez Brothers' instrumental is pretty damn good, and I particularly like the hard-hitting snares. The Notorious B.I.G.'s delivery on this is impeccable as he engages in some of the same type of vivid storytelling that he did on "Juicy."

11. Me & My Bitch
The only beat on the album that does not feature a sample. The Bluez Brothers produced this one, as well, and even with the lack of a sample, they do an adequate job, especially on the drums, as I just love the kicks on this. That said, the instrumental does become a bit boring after a while. I'm sure you can accurately guess what Biggie actually raps about on this song, too, so I don't really feel the need to explain it.

12. Big Poppa
Probably the second most well-known song on the album and one of the most well-known songs in The Notorious B.I.G.'s catalog, period. It's for good reason, too, as, even if the subject matter is tried, it comes at a good point in the album, and the ridiculously chill beat by Chucky Thompson and Puff Daddy is just great. It actually has a west coast feel to it, but it still matches B.I.G. perfectly. The hook on "Big Poppa" is also one of my favorite hooks ever. This record is just phenomenal on all accounts.

13. Respect
I know a lot of people (even Biggie's die-hard fans) don't really like this reggae-tinged song, but I really dug it. I enjoyed the simple (if repetitive) production by Jean Oliver and Puffy, and I liked the vocals on the hook by the uncredited female reggae artist. Also, I thought B.I.G. just sounded very good over it.

14. Friend Of Mine
I guess The Notorious B.I.G. decided to wait until the second half of the album to bombard us with songs about the ladies (notice that I said "about" and not "for"). That's okay, though, because "Friend Of Mine" doesn't sound bad at all. Easy Mo Bee's beat is pretty nice, sounding completely different from anything else on Ready To Die.

15. Unbelievable
As soon as the beat kicks in, you'll know that DJ Premier produced this, and for the record, it's damn impressive. It's not as good as B.I.G. and Premo's future collaboration "Kick In The Door" would be, but it's still damn impressive. You wanna know what the most interesting thing about this record is, though? It actually samples "The What," which we just heard seven tracks ago. How often do you see something like that happen?

16. Suicidal Thoughts
The fact that a lot of people gravitate toward this song is kind of sad (for obvious reasons), and I've gotta say; "Suicidal Thoughts" definitely gives off a creepy vibe. Lord Finesse's somber beat is fantastic, but honestly, Biggie's lyrical content is just too depressing for me to really get into this track. The fact that B.I.G. kills himself in the song doesn't help matters much, either.

17. Who Shot Ya?
"Who Shot Ya?" (and the song that follows it, "Just Playing [Dreams]") wasn't on the original version of Ready To Die, but it appeared on the remastered edition, so why not review it? If you have followed hip-hop at all throughout your life, I'm sure you know the controversy surrounding this song. Being that it was released around two months after 2Pac was robbed and shot in Manhattan, it was interpreted by some (2Pac included) as a diss toward Pac, even though it couldn't have been, as The Notorious B.I.G. recorded the song long before Pac's shooting. That little nugget notwithstanding, "Who Shot Ya?" ultimately resulted in 2Pac's infamous diss track, "Hit 'Em Up." Oh, you wanna know about the song itself? It's ill. The instrumental by Puff Daddy and Nashiem Myrick is nothing short of brilliant, and the same can be said for Biggie's performance.

18. Just Playing (Dreams)
Let me start by saying that the beat on this cut (by Rashad Smith) is fantastic. The kick drums bang, and the guitar strums are catchy as hell. You can tell this wasn't meant to be on the actual album, though, because the sound quality of B.I.G.'s vocals is a little off. That being said, who cares? This song knocks no matter what.


I don't think it needs to be said that Ready To Die is a classic. The best part about the album is the large variety of instrumentals, making Ready To Die unpredictable and a thoroughly enjoyable listen from front-to-back. Of course, it also doesn't hurt to have one of the best rappers to ever do it actually rapping over the instrumentals.

It's a crying shame that The Notorious B.I.G. did not get a chance to do some more work with Pete Rock and DJ Premier or some of the other fantastic producers of our time, as one can only imagine what a Biggie album with more production from those beatmakers and then some instrumentals from the likes of Hi-Tek, Da Beatminerz, Havoc, J Dilla, etc. would have sounded like. That's not to take anything away from Easy Mo Bee, though, as his beats on Ready To Die were, for the most part, very effective.

As blasphemous as this may sound, I will admit that Ready To Die does not get a ton of rotation on my iPod for the simple fact that some of it does sound a bit dated, and despite the fact that I know Biggie is one of the best to ever do it, he was never one of my all-time favorite artists. That said, I will also be the first to admit that Ready To Die is better than most of the stuff I listen to regularly, even if I don't enjoy it as much.

Don't take that last paragraph as a criticism toward B.I.G.'s debut at all. It is, without a doubt, a work of art, and, as I stated earlier, is an album that changed the hip-hop landscape forever. The Notorious B.I.G.'s influence in the game is still alive and well, and you can plainly see that many artists in today's game modeled their styles after him.

Think about this for a second: Biggie only released one album during his lifetime. He completed Life After Death before his untimely demise, but it was not released until March 25th, 16 days after his shooting. The dude only saw one of his albums put out, and yet, he is dubbed by many as the best rapper of all-time. That right there should tell you how good The Notorious B.I.G. really was. Rest in peace.


1. The What
2. Gimme The Loot
3. Who Shot Ya?
4. Unbelievable
5. Just Playing (Dreams)


I could put the title track here, but that would just be disrespectful.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Album Review: "Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang" - Raekwon (2011)


Raekwon is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved and respected figures in hip-hop. He has a classic solo album under his belt (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., which I reviewed here), not to mention his involvement in the Wu-Tang Clan's ground-breaking 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Throw in the fact that he released another critically acclaimed record, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, in 2009, and you can see why The Chef is so well-renowned in the game.

Now we're in 2011, and, apparently, Raekwon is not done. He has now completed his fifth solo album, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, to the delight of Wu fans everywhere. Although there is not a single RZA production on the project, Rae was still able to compile a who's who list of producers including Erick Sermon, The Alchemist, Evidence, Mathematics, DJ Khalil, Scram Jones, and even Khrysis.
Raekwon also corralled an All-Star list of guest artists for the album, names like Nas, Lloyd Banks, and Black Thought (among his Wu-Tang brethren, of course) among them.

So, judging by that cast and The Chef's raw talent, how can you not expect great things from this album? I went in anticipating a sure-fire banger that would top what he did on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II and a project that would undoubtedly be one of the best to be released in the year 2011. I think essentially any rap fan would think the same.

Of course, there was also the possibility that Raekwon, like many of his other hip-hop comrades, was past his prime and simply could not dole out any more prize-worthy material, the saliva-inducing tracklisting aside. Which Rae would show up on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang? Let's find out.


1. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang

The album kicks things off with the title track, which also happened to be the project's second single. You can feel the Wu-Tang atmosphere instantly, as a kung-fu sample is present at the beginning of the song, even if said sample runs a bit too long. As for the cut itself, it knocks. Scram Jones comes through with a ridiculously eerie and hard-hitting beat that could not suit Raekwon, who rips it, any better. What a way to get things going and establish the tempo.

2. Every Soldier In The Hood
Erick Sermon is on the boards for this record, producing a beat that doesn't really sound like anything he has made in the past. In this case, that's not necessarily a good thing, as the instrumental doesn't seem to have any kind of flow that would allow me to get into it. Method Man certainly makes a nice contribution as a guest artist, but E's beat is too meh for me to truly enjoy this track.

3. Silver Rings
Cilvaringz, a Wu-Tang affiliate, laces the beat for Rae and Ghostface Killah here, and while it is very short (spanning one minute and forty-eight seconds), it bangs and is the best instrumental I've heard on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang thus far. Why in the world The Chef decided to make this one of the album's shorter cuts is beyond me, because this sounds really, really good.

4. Chop Chop Ninja
I'm going to ignore the utter stupidity of the song's title (and the fact that it was produced by some guy named Bluerocks) and try to listen to this objectively. After an intro that lasts for about a minute, a hard, drum-driven beat kicks in, and a very relaxed Raekwon raps monotonously over it. Estelle, probably the last person you would ever expect to hear on a Wu-Tang cut, croons the hook, and, as I'm sure will not take you by surprise, does not fit in well with Rae and Inspectah Deck on this. Honestly, this is probably one of the worst songs I have ever heard The Chef do. Not only does Estelle sound out of place, but I completely forgot anything Deck had to say after listening to this. Plus, the production sucks.

5. Butter Knives
This was Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang's first single, and it was a solid choice, as Bronze Nazareth, a frequent Wu collaborator, lays down a decent beat for Raekwon, who sounds fantastic over it and actually draws your attention away from the instrumental; that's how good he sounds. This isn't one of my favorite songs on the project because I don't think the production is anything better than above average, but I certainly appreciated Rae's performance.

6. Snake Pond
Someone named Selasi produces the beat for Raekwon here, and he did a hell of a job, as the spooky instrumental fits The Chef's style very well. That's all I've got.

7. Crane Style
I don't know whether or not it's true, but I've heard that "Crane Style" is going to be released as a single. I don't see why it would be, as, regardless of the fact that it features Busta Rhymes, it is under two minutes long, and, to put it plainly, it just doesn't sound very good. The Scram Jones beat sounds like a knockoff of Sean Price's cut "Monkey Barz" off of, um, Monkey Barz, but, unlike Sean P's record, this just doesn't work.

8. Rock N Roll
This was the official third single, and it friggin bangs unbelievably. I never in my life thought I would like a song that includes both autotune and Jim Jones, but here I am. DJ Khalil's beat is so ill that it should be tested for swine flu (yeah; I know that was incredibly lame, but whatever), and Raekwon and Ghostface kill it. Oh, and Jim Jones actually doesn't ruin this. Great, great track.

9. Rich & Black
That brings us to the Nas feature. The beat was produced by Sean C and LV (another name for Diddy's "Hitmen"), and while it isn't spectacular, it's good enough where The Chef and Nas can do their thing over it. I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed in the track overall, as I expected much more from a Rae/Nasty Nas collaboration, but whatever; it's decent enough.

10. From The Hills
Kenny Dope (don't worry; I've never heard of him either) puts down a salsa-flavored beat for Raekwon and guest artists Method Man and Raheem DeVaughn here, and while it may sound out of place at first, it actually somewhat works. Both Rae and Meth sound solid, and Raheem's adlibs in the background add a nice touch (although his hook leaves much to be desired).

11. Last Trip To Scotland
Everything about this track is sick, from Scram Jones' street banger of a beat to the scintillating verses from Raekwon and Lloyd Banks. Rae outshined Banks on their collaboration on "Sooner or Later (Die 1 Day)" off of Banks' album, H.F.M. 2, but Banks returns the favor here, as he simply steals the show. Outstanding cut. I just wish it were a little longer.

12. Ferry Boat Killaz
The Alchemist gets the production credit on this, lacing a smooth, crawling instrumental for The Chef to do work on. The song is only two minutes in length, but it's certainly an impressive piece of material.

13. Dart School
I really, really dig this one. Mathematics' beat is actually pretty damn soulful (I love those harps), and it works wonders as Raekwon just tears it to shreds. "Dart School" is easily one of the best songs on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. It sounds different from anything Rae has done in the past, and the change is welcomed.

14. Molasses
Xtreme's beat on this knocks (how sick are those kick drums?) and both The Chef and Ghostface (especially the latter) come correct. Also, Rick Ross, who I've never been a fan of, actually sounds pretty solid on this, too (the instrumental fits him like a glove). "Molasses" is a damn good cut.

15. The Scroll
Okay; this is the best song on the album; period. The beat, produced by Evidence and Khrysis, is absolutely phenomenal, possessing both soulful and street banger qualities at the same time (and how often can you say something like that?), and Rae just goes in on it. The combination of the sick production and The Chef's performance made for what turned out to be one of my favorite Raekwon joints ever, and that is saying a whole lot. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang has certainly taken a hell of a turn for the better over these past several tracks.

16. Masters Of Our Fate
And the momentum continues. A dude named Tommy Nova lays down an incredible beat for Raekwon and Black Thought, and both of them oblige with admirable performances. "Masters Of Our Fate," along with "Rich & Black," was the song most hip-hop heads were looking forward to when the album's tracklisting first dropped, and it doesn't disappoint. This is a hell of a cut
, and a hell of a way to close out Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang.


The second half of Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang saved it, and because of that second half, the album lived up to its lofty expectations. I was beginning to get very concerned after listening to the album early on, especially when "Rich & Black" did not even impress me all that much, but my interest in the project was re-lit as soon as Raekwon's collaboration with Lloyd Banks turned up.

Clearly, Rae has not even lost a step as a rapper. He has remained the same consistent, outstanding storyteller and grimy lyricist ever since he first stepped into the rap game, and his delivery never fails to catch the listener's ear. If anything was going to drag Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang down, it would have been the production, and, for a while, it looked like that was going to happen, but thankfully, some of the best instrumentals were yet to come at that point.

That isn't to say the entire first half of Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang bombed altogether, though. I liked the title track, and both "Silver Rings" and "Rock N Roll" sounded damn good. I guess I just expected "Rich & Black" to blow me away, and it didn't, hence my so-so feelings on the first 10 songs (and let's face it; "Chop Chop Ninja" was just atrocious).

Because the latter part of this album was so strong, I am going to go out on a limb and say that I enjoyed it a bit more than Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II. While I do think the preceding project was more consistent as a whole, I think Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang had the strongest tracks, as cuts like "The Scroll" and "Dart School" are still resonating in my mind as I write this. I guess the one major criticism I would have of the album was that a lot of the songs were too short, but meh.

I think we should definitely chalk Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang up as another success story of 2011. First, we had Saigon's The Greatest Story Never Told. Now, this. What's the next project to look at? Probably Pharoahe Monch's W.A.R., which is scheduled to drop in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.


1. The Scroll
2. Dart School
3. Last Trip To Scotland
4. Rock N Roll
5. Masters Of Our Fate


Chop Chop Ninja

Friday, March 4, 2011

Album Review: "To The Death" - M.O.P. (1994)


I already gave you the background shpeel on M.O.P. in my review of the duo's fourth album, Warriorz, so I'll save you (and myself) the trouble of introducing you to the hardcore entity of Billy Danze and Lil' Fame that is Mash Out Posse and just talk about To The Death, M.O.P.'s debut album.

To The Death contributed to the massive onslaught of critically acclaimed hip-hop records released in 1994 that led many to dub '94 the best year in rap history. Produced almost exclusively by DR Period (one track was produced by Silver D), M.O.P.'s first record immediately helped the duo establish itself a niche in the rap game, that niche being of the tough-as-nails, don't-give-a-damn variety.

To The Death is relatively short, spanning only 10 full tracks (there is an intro and there are four skits), and that is certainly a good thing for a group like M.O.P., because Billy Danze and Lil' Fame's rough style can become tiresome after a while.

Given the fact that M.O.P. was not well-known at the time of its release, To The Death is hardly ever mentioned. Does that mean it is an overlooked classic?

Let's find out.


1. Crimetime 1-718

The album intro, and I only chose to include this in the review because DR Period's beat bangs.

2. Rugged Neva Smoove
This cut is pretty damn good. The title essentially describes M.O.P. in a nutshell, as, let's face it; Billy Danze and Lil' Fame are rugged and never smooth. DR Period's instrumental crawls, but in a good way, as it suits the duo perfectly. The only complaint I might have with "Rugged Neva Smoove" is that it does run a bit too long for its own good, as the track clocks in at just over five minutes. Other than that, I have no qualms about the first real song on To The Death.

3. Ring Ding
And I said the beat on "Rugged Neva Smoove" was good? The instrumental on "Ring Ding" is certainly better (if not for the simple fact that it's nearly a full minute-and-a-half shorter), as the drums are dusty as hell (that's a good thing) and the sound effects that abound in the background add some substance to it. Both M.O.P. members ride DR Period's production seamlessly, helping make "Ring Ding" (the stupid title aside) one of To The Death's best.

4. Heistmasters
While DR Period's drums on this record are fairly subdued (especially when compared to the preceding track), the upbeat nature of his beat on "Heistmasters" makes it one of To The Death's standout cuts. This track is definitely one of the ones that listeners of commercial radio will gravitate toward after listening to the album in its entirety. I also found it interesting that M.O.P. uses the term "ante up" on here. A little foreshadowing, perhaps?

5. Blue Steel
So far, DR Period has not disappointed me once on To The Death, as the kick drums on this cut absolutely bang. I'm not saying the overall product on "Blue Steel" is anything spectacular (nor will I say that about any record in this album), but it's certainly worth listening to multiple times. The horns add a nice element to the beat, too, and the hook, although extremely simple, is pretty damn catchy. Solid cut.

6. To The Death
Okay; remember when I said that DR Period was yet to disappoint me on this project? Well, it happens for the first time here. His production on the album's title track is just flat out boring, and it's even a bit annoying (referring to the relatively high-pitched nature of the instrumental). This takes the title of "worst song on the album" in a runaway.

7. Top Of The Line
I wasn't too enamored with this one, either, but it was certainly better than "To The Death." DR Period's drums are just dusty enough to at least keep my attention a little bit, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be bumping this song consistently. Am I sensing a bit of a lull on this album?

8. Drama Lord
Ahh, back on track. I love everything about this cut, from the knocking drums to the faint horns that surface in the background every other bar to Billy Danze and Lil' Fame's actual rapping (especially Lil' Fame). If you're looking for a song off of To The Death to bang in your ride, "Drama Lord" is it.

9. F.A.G. (Fake Ass Gangsta)
"F.A.G. (Fake Ass Gangsta)" suffers a similar fate to "Rugged Neva Smoove": it's too long (four minutes and fifty-one seconds to be exact). However, unlike "Rugged Neva Smoove," this track wouldn't be all that even if it were quite a bit shorter. DR Period's instrumental just comes across as awkward, and it doesn't seem like either Mash Out Posse member sounds all too comfortable over it.

10. How About Some Hardcore
This was the first single off of To The Death and the first song that gained M.O.P. some recognition. That's with good reason, too, as "How About Some Hardcore" is a damn good record. DR Period incorporates a deep piano riff into some light drums and blaring horns, and Billy Danze and Lil' Fame are able to capitalize on the beat that, at first listen, does not really seem too conducive toward their style. The elementary hook on this is pretty addictive, too. I guarantee you that you will find yourself nodding your head to this.

11. Guns N Roses
"Guns N Roses" is the only song on the album that wasn't produced by DR Period. Instead, it was made by Silver D. The result? A beat that sounds an awful lot like Heltah Skeltah's "Place To Be," (although not as good) and that is a damn good thing. The instrumental is extremely simple, consisting of a fairly common drum pattern and various other subtle instruments sprinkled in throughout, and it works very well.


While there isn't anything exceedingly special about To The Death, I will use a word to describe it that I have used countless times in critiquing good albums on this blog: consistency. M.O.P.'s debut album is, for the most part, very, very consistent (something that wasn't the case with their succeeding works), as DR Period's production keeps to a certain theme throughout the duration of the project, and Billy Danze and Lil' Fame come through with admirable performances on each and every track.

I will admit that To The Death does not exactly have a home in my rotation, but I am not the biggest M.O.P. fan as it is, so that obviously plays a factor in that. However, I have listened to enough Mash Out Posse to confidently say that To The Death is the duo's most consistent--not best, but consistent--effort in their long career. Once again, nothing about it really stands out, but as a whole, it's just a very nice album. Think of it as the 2004 Detroit Pistons (although not as good in comparison).

Another positive about M.O.P.'s debut record was the length. I feel like if the group decided to make To The Death any longer, the overall product would have suffered. To me, M.O.P. is good in doses, so a short album is exactly what the doctor ordered. I found the biggest problem with Warriorz, the group's most popular album, was that there was way too much filler. Filler was never even given a chance to rear its ugly head on To The Death.

So, is To The Death a work of art? Not really, but it is good for what it is and is a great way to introduce yourself to M.O.P.. If you're new to Billy Danze and Lil' Fame, start here.


1. Drama Lord
2. Heistmasters
3. Blue Steel
4. Ring Ding
5. How About Some Hardcore


To The Death