Saturday, August 31, 2013

Album Review: "Heavy Mental" - Killah Priest (1998)


I'm sure most Wu-Tang fans know the story of Killah Priest. Back when the Wu-Tang Clan was recording Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, he and Masta Killa were in competition for a verse on "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'." While Killah Priest fell asleep, Masta Killa stayed up all night writing, and Priest woke up to Masta's verse the following morning.

As a result, Killah Priest was left off one of the most influential albums in hip-hop history, and he also likely cost himself an official spot in the Clan.

You would think something like that would have been incredibly detrimental to Priest's career, but things kind of worked out for him. He ended dropping a famous verse (well, famous to hardcore hip-hop fans, anyway) on the Gravediggaz song "Diary of a Madman," made guest appearances on a couple of Wu-Tang solo projects and closed out Liquid Swords with his trademark record, "B.I.B.L.E." 

Plus, Priest became a member of the Wu-affiliated group, Sunz of Man, which was always my favorite of the Wu-Tang offshoots.

Thanks to all of his hard work, a solo career was born, and in 1998, Killah Priest released his debut album, Heavy Mental.

Based on the fact that he was very closely tied to the Wu, you would expect a whole lot of production from The RZA, right? Wrong.

There are 20 tracks on Heavy Mental, and not one of them is laced by Prince Rakeem. Instead, Priest enlisted 4th Disciple as his go-to beatmaker, much like many of the other Clan affiliates.

Although many bemoaned RZA's absence, Heavy Mental still managed to achieve gold status, making Killah Priest's first solo venture a profitable one.

Nowadays, this album is considered a classic by many, some labeling it one of the best lyrical performances in hip-hop history.

Does Heavy Mental hold up to its lofty praise?

Let's find out.


1. Intro
You just had to do it, Priest...

2. One Step
This is one of four singles off of Heavy Mental (the others being "Tai Chi," "Cross My Heart" and "If You Don't Know"), and it is probably the most well-known song of the batch. True Master is actually on the boards here, and he utilizes a William Bell sample that would eventually become rather commonplace in hip-hop. "One Step" was always my favorite track that used the sample, though. Killah Priest sounds built for this beat, and he throws in his Sunz of Man brother Hell Razah (who sounds an awful lot like Priest on the hook) and one of the Wu's go-to female R&B artists, Tekitha, in for good measure. This track is great.

3. Blessed are Those
Y-Kim The Illfigure, he of the Wu-affiliated group Royal Fam, laces this cut for Killah Priest, but it's basically just a drumbeat with a faint vocal sample that's not exactly going to break your neck. Perhaps appropriately, Priest sounds a bit disinterested. The record isn't that long though, so at least there's that.

4. From Then Till Now
Y-Kim is here again (4th Disciple is coming; I promise), and he lays down an instrumental that is somewhat similar in style to "Blessed are Those" in that it is a drumbeat placed over an eerie vocal sample. However, this time, it works. The hook is kind of corny, but overall, this song is pretty good.

5. Cross My Heart
This is a Wu posse cut, and it knocks. Inspectah Deck and GZA stop by to drop guest verses over the banging True Master production, and all three rappers wreck it. "Cross My Heart" is the best track here so far.

6. Fake MCs
4th Disciple provides his first of 11 beats for Killah Priest on "Fake MCs," this one being of the minimalistic, piano-laden variety that sounds really freaking good. This is one of those records that has that quiet dignity quality about it, almost like it could be Tim Duncan's theme music. Oh, you wanted to know how the instrumental fit Priest? Very well.

7. It's Over
Killah Priest spits with such continuity and stamina on "It's Over" that I actually had to take a few deep breaths for him throughout. You'll find yourself so mesmerized by his performance on the mic that you won't even really notice the 4th Disciple backdrop, which, by the way, is nothing more than decent. Priest shows he can carry a song here, and that's an awesome quality for an MC to possess.

8. Tai Chi
Killah Priest's Sunz of Man brethren Hell Razah and 60 Second Assassin join him on this 4th Disciple-laced cut, which sounds pretty damn terrific. All three dudes rip it, and Priest proves here that he thought of using the term "pineal gland" in a rap long before Ab-Soul.

9. Heavy Mental
This was basically spoken word, and the musical backdrop Killah Priest himself laid out is kind of creepy. Pass.

10. If You Don't Know
That brings us to the best song on the album. This absolutely bangs, from True Master's tremendous beat to Killah Priest's incredibly intimidating raps to Ol' Dirty Bastard's almost coherent hook. Plus, hearing ODB saying he is "the insect to your pie" is freaking hilarious. "If You Don't Know" is not only the best track on Heavy Mental, but I firmly believe that it is one of the most impressive pieces of work in the entire Wu-Tang catalog. It's that good.

11. Atoms To Adam
This cut is incredibly boring, so naturally, it carries the distinction of being the longest record on Heavy Mental.

12. High Explosives
The beat here (by Arabian Knight) sounds like something any bedroom producer could whip up on Garage Band. Obviously, that is not a good thing. The silver lining is that "High Explosives" lasts for just over three minutes, but these last two songs have absolutely killed the momentum.

13. Wisdom
Fortunately, the drought only lasts for the two preceding tracks, as "Wisdom" is really freaking good. 4th Disciple's instrumental is awesome, and Killah Priest seems extraordinarily comfortable with it. I actually wish this was considerably longer, as it runs for only two minutes and five seconds.

14. B.I.B.L.E.
Ah; good old "B.I.B.L.E." Even the most casual Wu-Tang fans know this song, as, like I mentioned earlier, it was the cut that closed out Liquid Swords. That's how good this is. GZA felt it was great enough to end one of the best albums of all-time. Plenty of other producers have tried to use the "Our Love Has Died" sample from the Ohio Players since "B.I.B.L.E." dropped, but they have all failed miserably in trying to top what 4th Disciple did here.

15. Mystic City
Shanghai The Messenger is present on two tracks on Heavy Mental: "Atoms To Adam" and this one. Both of them turned out to be two of the weakest records on the project. Coincidence? Maybe, because 4th Disciple's beats on both songs suck, too.

16. Information
Things get back on the right path here, as 4th Disciple's production blows what he did on "Mystic City" out of the freaking water. Actually, that is an insult to the job 4th Disciple did on "Information." This certifiably bangs, and Killah Priest's energy matches the instrumental for most of the cut. I could have done without the one minute, 15 second skit at the end, though.

17. Science Project
4th Disciple gets his RZA on here. That is a good thing. I could picture each and every one of the official Wu-Tang members on "Science Project," and that is definitely a good thing. That being said, the way Priest and Hell Razah continuously repeat their lines throughout is really annoying. They both wasted a damn good beat.

18. Almost There
This is another RZA-like instrumental by 4th Disciple, but this time, Killah Priest wastes absolutely nothing; he goes in like his life depended on it. I particularly love the snare drum here.

19. The Professional
John The Baptist steps behind the boards for the final song on Heavy Mental, and he crafts a pretty damn awesome beat for Priest to rip. Closing out an album is frequently a major problem for hip-hop artists, but it certainly wasn't an issue for Killah Priest. This was a perfectly fine way to end the project, the minute-long skit at the back-end of the track notwithstanding.


Heavy Mental is truly an outstanding debut album from a damn good rapper. Killah Priest certainly took plenty of risks here, as he did not track down a single RZA production and placed 18 full tracks on the project, but he still managed to hit this one out of the park, and that is extremely impressive.

Killah Priest is clearly an exceedingly intelligent dude, and he is able to take that intelligence and utilize it to devise awesome songs. Yes, a lot of the subject matter here is deep, as Priest definitely likes to discuss religion and topics that the average human being would be absolutely clueless about, but he makes it work.

The production on Heavy Mental remains entertaining for the good majority of the album, too. Save for a couple of stinkers here and there, 4th Disciple and company do an incredible job of providing Killah Priest with appropriate backdrops to drop his knowledge. Surprisingly, most of the beats hold up well today, and that is saying an awful lot for a guy not many people outside of hardcore Wu fans know about.

Heavy Mental is the crown jewel of Killah Priest's extensive discography, one that I actually began exploring way back when when I wrote about Black August (that was back when I wasn't doing things in chronological order). Believe it or not, that was the first Priest album I heard, so I have kind of worked my way backward. The rest of his material is consistently solid, as well, so I will likely get to a good portion of it eventually.

If you're a fan of hip-hop that is a bit rough around the edges (or, in other words, raw), then you will probably like Heavy Mental. I think you should give this a listen regardless, though. Killah Priest certainly has plenty to say, and it's not like he's just spitting intellectual babble over crappy production.

In my mind, Heavy Mental is an underrated classic.


1. If You Don't Know
2. B.I.B.L.E.
3. Cross My Heart
4. Information
5. One Step

Friday, August 30, 2013

Album Review: "People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm" - A Tribe Called Quest (1990)


If you don't know of A Tribe Called Quest, you probably don't know much about hip-hop. That's okay, though, because that's what this blog is for: to inform you. Still, I don't think this group needs much of an introduction.

In case you don't know, A Tribe Called Quest is a three-man group composed of rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Of course, Q-Tip went on to become a pretty dope producer himself ("One Love," anyone?), but the main man behind Tribe's earlier work was Ali.

The trio formed in 1985, and five years later, they put out their debut album, People's Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm, which, from this point on, I will be referring to as People's Instinctive Travels for obvious reasons.

Tribe would go on to release five albums as a group, the last behind The Love Movement in 1998. They then disbanded and never released any group material again. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg went on to pursue solo careers, however, and both of them have been successful.

Q-Tip, Phife and Ali were not like the typical hip-hop groups of that day (or any day, for that matter). Their content was very playful and peaceful in nature, very much unlike the more violent, misogynistic raps that have permeated the genre for decades now.

Not surprisingly, People's Instinctive Travels did not garner much radio airplay, but it was given five mics in The Source (you know, back when The Source actually mattered) and was certified gold in 1996.

The album spawned three minor "hits": "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo," "Bonita Applebum" and "Can I Kick It?".

Now that's enough background information about a group that you are probably already very familiar with anyway.

Let's review their first album.


1. Push It Along
After a rather creepy 40-second intro featuring what I can only hope is some sort of baby's birth, a smooth beat with some pretty awesome drums kicks in. The song features four verses, three of them from Q-Tip. Then, for the last two-and-a-half minutes or so, Jarobi White decides to introduce A Tribe Called Quest. Um, far be it from me to recommend an album intro, but isn't that something that should have been done before the first actual track?

2. Luck of Lucien
The instrumental here has a buoyant, upbeat feel, and Q-Tip handles it all by himself (that actually happens quite a bit on this album). You can probably already see why Tribe did not have much mainstream appeal: they just weren't flashy enough, but that is not a condemnation from my end at all.

3. After Hours
This is the second of three straight Q-Tip solos. While "After Hours" is hardly a poor record, the production on "After Hours" lacks the punch that the first two cuts had. It just comes across as slightly mundane.

4. Footprints
Now this is not mundane. As a matter of fact, this is freaking awesome. The jazzy beat contains some banging drums (just wait until they kick in), and Q-Tip sounds thrilled to rhyme over it. "Footprints" instills an energy that had been missing from People's Instinctive Travels up until now.

5. I Left My Wallet In El Segundo
The aforementioned first single, and it is just great. The drums knock, and the Spanish guitar licks add a beautiful element to the instrumental. It sounds nothing like you would expect out of a lead single, though. Oh, and remember before when I said tracks 2 through 4 were Q-Tip solos? Well, Phife Dawg drops ad-libs throughout this song, so this is technically not a Q-Tip solo. That being said, Phife does not drop a verse, so maybe I'm just being nitpicky.

6. Pubic Enemy
No; that title is not a misprint. That really is the name of the track, which really isn't all that good, even though the content is pretty funny. The production is just way too busy. Fortunately, this was the shortest record on the album.

7. Bonita Applebum
The second single, and it was a pretty damn good choice by Tribe. The relaxing beat is outstanding, and even though Q-Tip basically "talks" through is verses rather than actually spit them, "Bonita Applebum" is pretty great. That's all I have to say.

8. Can I Kick It?
The last (and possibly the most well-known) single off of People's Instinctive Travels. The instrumental here is alright, although the way it changes on the hook is fairly obnoxious. Also, there is kind of an awkward balance of music and rapping here. The beat just goes on for too long without Tribe spitting for much of the song. Phife Dawg is finally back to drop a verse though, so that's good.

9. Youthful Expression
"Youthful Expression" is another fast-paced production, and Q-Tip is back to going in on it all by his lonesome. Honestly, this was kind of dull and unnecessarily long (the beat runs for about an extra minute-and-a-half after Tip is done rapping).

10. Rhythm (Devoted To The Art of Moving Butts)
Things kind of get back on the right track here. This is a solid cut, even if the chopped vocal that appears throughout is just weird. My ultimate conclusion? I don't really see how this will start moving butts. Whatever, though.

11. Mr. Muhammad
I can't believe I'm saying this about a Tribe record, but this song sucks. The instrumental is actually irritating. This album is really starting to lose momentum.

12. Ham 'n' Eggs
This was better than "Mr. Muhammad," but I'm wondering where all of the energy that "Bonita Applebum" built has gone. While the production on "Ham 'n' Eggs" is okay, it's hardly memorable, and the track as a whole is just far too long (five-and-a-half minutes). Plus, the way the hook keeps repeating as the record comes to a close is just annoying.

13. Go Ahead In The Rain
Ah; and the album's vigor has returned. This cut is pretty damn good, from the cheerful, addictive beat to Q-Tip's verses. "Go Ahead In The Rain" probably should have been the song named "Rhythm (Devoted To The Art of Moving Butts)," but whatever. I really liked this track.

14. Description of a Fool
Funny story about "Description of a Fool." This was actually the first record A Tribe Called Quest ever released (they dropped it in 1989), but it received virtually no attention and was therefore not marketed as a single for People's Instinctive Travels. It's actually pretty solid, but I have to say that the instrumental carries on for an exasperatingly long while after Q-Tip finishes spitting. There is absolutely no reason why this had to be nearly six minutes in length.


You can tell that A Tribe Called Quest had not yet concocted their magic formula on their debut album, as People's Instinctive Travels is all over the place. Some of the songs on here are really, really good, but others are just extremely boring and, sometimes, annoying.

I don't want to be too harsh, though, because you could absolutely see the group's potential in this project. Tribe touches on plenty of interesting (and occasionally humorous) subjects, and young Q-Tip sounds pretty capable on the mic, even if his demeanor could be characterized as rather bland. 

As for young Phife Dawg, there isn't enough of a sample size here to judge him. He only raps on four songs, and that is just stupid.

The main problem on People's Instinctive Travels is the beats. Ali Shaheed Muhammad was still on the come-up then, so he definitely deserves a pass, especially considering what the man was able to do on Tribe's subsequent albums. That being said, Ali's production on the group's first LP was very inconsistent and, sometimes, a bit infantile.

People's Instinctive Travels isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and it was actually a bit ahead of its time. There wasn't a lot of hip-hop that sounded like this back in 1990. Still, this project simply pales in comparison to the trio's later work. It may be a bit unfair to hold it to that type of standard, but hey; that's the way things go.


1. Bonita Applebum
2. Footprints
3. Go Ahead In The Rain
4. I Left My Wallet In El Segundo
5. Push It Along

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Album Review: "Da' Miilkrate" - Miilkbone (1995)


Miilkbone is a rapper from Perth Amboy, New Jersey who was one of the first popular white artists on the scene. Yes, he was around before Eminem, and you know what? He briefly beefed with him, too. I won't be discussing that, though.

Miilkbone released his debut album, Da' Miilkrate, in 1995 to critical acclaim. Full of beats from mostly unknown producers, Miilkbone's first LP gained popularity off of the strength of its two singles, "Keep It Real" (the instrumental on which Big L and Jay-Z famously freestyled over) and "Where'z Da' Party At."

Miilkbone was also fairly tight with Naughty By Nature, and for that reason, Kay Gee contributed a couple of productions to Da' Miilkrate. Nick Wiz also chipped in four beats, but other than that, the rest of the instrumentals on the album were from guys that no one ever heard from again. That's strange, too, considering many have lauded the production on this project.

Anyway, Miilkbone released one more album called U Got Miilk? in 2001, but then he fell off the face of the earth due to problems with his record label. He has since resurfaced and is attempting to make a comeback, but it's probably too little too late for the Jersey native.

Still, he was relevant in the game during the 90s, and many still bump "Keep It Real" to this day.

So, without further ado, let's review his debut record, Da' Miilkrate.


1. No Gimmicks
I find it pretty ironic how the title of this track is "No Gimmicks," and yet it's an album intro. I thought you said no gimmicks, Miilk?

2. Ghettobiz
The album gets off to a dark start, as Nick Wiz lays down a somber beat for Miilkbone to spit over. You can immediately tell that Miilkbone intends to be taken seriously even though he was a white rapper in an African American-dominated genre, and you know what? He comes across as very legitimate. "Ghettobiz" is pretty cliché, as its premise is how rich men will never be able to understand the, um, ghetto business, but it worked, even if it isn't necessarily true (aren't all popular rappers rich?). This was not a bad way for Miilk to introduce himself.

3. Keep It Real
This is one of the best songs of all-time. No; seriously. It is. Mufi's piano-sample-laden instrumental is a thing of beauty, and Miilkbone raps with a hunger that you rarely hear anymore. After all of these years, the sample of the piano loop that Mufi used to lace this banger is still unknown, and that little mystery makes "Keep It Real" even greater. Say what you want about Eminem, but he never came with anything as hard as this, and you are not going to change my mind.

4. Mindgamez
The second of four Nick Wiz productions on Da' Miilkrate. The energy level dips a little bit here, but let's be honest; it's nearly impossible to follow a track as good as "Keep It Real." The beat is pretty solid, and Miilkbone saying how he loves no one so "fuck what Barney told ya" was pretty funny. Definitely a nice cut overall.

5. Traffic Jam

6. Move Wit' Da' Groove
Mufi is back here, and he gets co-production credits with some dude named Twig. Maybe Twig was the problem, because "Move Wit' Da' Groove" sounds like garbage compared to "Keep It Real." Actually, this record kind of has a West Coast feel, and I could have sworn that I heard that trademark G-funk synthesizer on the hook (or at least a cheap knockoff of it). Perhaps that's why Miilkbone didn't sound entirely comfortable spitting on this.

7. Freestyle
A 49-second freestyle by two guests that I couldn't care less about? Next.

8. How Ya Like It?
This Nick Wiz-laced instrumental sounds like something one of the groups from the Boot Camp Clik collective would have rapped over back in the day (albeit, this was a bit more upbeat than Da Beatminerz productions, but still), and yes; that is a good thing. Miilkbone is no Sean Price, but he sounds just fine on this. All things considered, "How Ya Like It?" is a solid cut, even if the Method Man-sampled hook is kind of cheesy.

9. Set It Off
There are three guests on this song, only two of which I have been able to identify. One goes by the name of Triplebeam, and the female MC is Kandy Kane. The third one? Who the hell knows, and I wasn't able to find it online. Anyway, this song is alright. Kay Gee is on the boards for the beat, but he doesn't put together anything extraordinary. "Set It Off" isn't bad, but I could have done without it.

10. Where'z Da Party At
There was a time when hip-hop party records were still tasteful even though they were aimed at a mainstream audience. "Where'z Da Party At" is a perfect example of one of those records. This track is freaking terrific. Kay Gee's instrumental is great, as he creates an upbeat number and seamlessly works in a Notorious B.I.G. sample, and Miilkbone demonstrates that he has a surprisingly good voice when he sings the hook. I loved everything about this cut. There were a couple of remixes of this song, but neither of them compare to the original.

11. Murder Verbs
There are 85 guests on here (okay; only four), and I was only able to identify one of them: some guy named K. Banger. Not that it matters, anyway. Mufi's production is way too repetitive (it's hard to believe this is the same guy who produced "Keep It Real," and it's becoming apparent that that Twig guy was not the problem on "Move Wit' Da' Groove"), and it's not like the beat is solid enough where its monotony isn't as detrimental. Plain and simply, "Murder Verbs" sucks.

12. Fast Cash
Another skit.

13. Kids On The Ave
Another stinker by Mufi. The instrumental on "Kids On The Ave" is just as off-putting as the one on "Murder Verbs," if not moreso. I found it difficult to focus on Miilkbone's verses for that reason. Da' Miilkrate is really starting to lose some momentum here.

14. Check Me Out
Mufi is on the boards again for this one, but this time, he splits production credits with Butch Whip. The result is considerably better than "Murder Verbs" and "Kids On The Ave," but it's not like that's some kind of incredible feat. The production here isn't any less repetitious, but at least the beat in and of itself is superior. I actually really liked the hook on "Check Me Out," too, regardless of how simplistic it was. This was definitely a step back in the right direction.

15. Bamma Fam

16. Ketchrek
The team of Mufi and Butch Whip strikes again on "Ketchrek," and they lay down another winner for Miilkbone. Again, the instrumental lacks any sort of variety, but it's still pretty solid regardless (I just wish they would have used stronger drums). Sorry though, Miilk; when I see the title of this cut, I think of "Ketchup" before I think of it as a different, more gangsta (I guess?) way of spelling "catch wreck."

17. It Ain't The Same
A producer who goes by the moniker of Steve White (maybe that's his actual government name? Who knows) laces this track, and while he doesn't exactly craft a banger, his beat comes off well enough. Miilkbone sounds comfortable, too, and that's important. This was okay overall (I found the chorus particularly enjoyable), and the fact that it is the longest song on Da' Miilkrate doesn't irk me all that much.

18. 2 All Y'all
This is one of those half song/half outro deals. Mufi utilizes a Confunkshun sample that he doesn't really do much with, and Miilkbone raps for about a minute, goes into shoutout mode and then starts spitting again before an unidentified guest basically tells him to shut up. I appreciate the effort, but "2 All Y'all" wasn't anything better than average.

19. Keep It Real (Remix)
Under normal circumstances, I would say that it would be a crime to remix a song as good as "Keep It Real," but this Nick Wiz remix was really freaking good. This wasn't just a different instrumental, either. Miilkbone spits completely different lyrics, and in terms of his performance on the mic, he actually outdoes himself. That's why this record is another one of my all-time favorites, and this gives the original a serious run for its money.


Da' Miilkrate was an effective--if not fairly inconsistent--debut from a rapper who had promise. Miilkbone is definitely a good MC, and he displays that thoroughly throughout his first album. The best songs on here are freaking awesome, and Miilk manages to make some of the more lackluster beats come to life with his prowess on the mic.

It really is a damn shame that Miilkbone had so many issues with record labels. I fully believe that he could have secured instrumentals some high-profile producers had he released his second album earlier, and the result probably would have been satisfactory.

Miilkbone is just another one of the many examples of rappers whose careers never took off like they should have. He certainly had talent and charisma, and he knew how to flow over almost any type of production. Also, based on the fact that Nas and Sticky Fingaz made cameos in the "Where'z Da Party At?" music video, he must have had the respect of some of the better rappers out there, too (which makes me question his choice of guest artists on Da' Miilkrate; I guess he just wanted to bring some of his friends along for the ride).

The main gripe I have about Da' Miilkrate is the drums. They were on point some of the time (particularly on "Keep It Real" and its remix), but otherwise, they felt too computerized, mainly in the case of Mufi's beats. Drums weren't supposed to sound that way in the 90s.

Anyway, taking everything into account, this was a solid debut from Miilkbone. Again, a few of the songs on here are just phenomenal, and those make up for the missteps.

If you're a fan of the 90s golden era, you should probably give Da' Miilkrate a spin. It'll likely be worth your while.


1. Keep It Real
2. Keep It Real (Remix)
3. Where'z Da Party At?
4. Check Me Out
5. Ketchrek 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Album Review: "Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's" - Da Youngsta's (1992)


Da Youngsta's were a trio consisting of brothers Taji and Qu'ran Goodman and their cousin Tarik Dawson. Hailing from Philadelphia, these three dudes were a prominent force in hip-hop in the early 90s, putting out four albums between the years 1992 and 1995.

After releasing their fourth LP, I'll Make U Famous, Da Youngsta's mysteriously vanished and never dropped anything ever again. Qu'ran is an occasional producer nowadays, but as far as Da Youngsta's as a group is concerned, they are defunct.

The trio released its first album, Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's, in 1992. While it is not known exactly how old they were (you'd figure information like that would be readily available, but it isn't), it is estimated that the three of them were between the ages of 11 and 13.

The thing about Da Youngsta's is that they were not a gimmicky group of kids like Kris Kross, the duo of "Jump" fame. These three had legitimate talent on the mic, and they ended up having a very impressive body of work when it was all said and done.

Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's was produced entirely by Taji and Qu'ran's father, who went by the name "L.G. The Teacher." Spanning 11 tracks long, this project was an extremely (and expectedly) light-hearted effort by a trio of youngsters (no pun intended) who just wanted to have fun.

The album spawned two singles, one being the title track and the other being the more successful "Pass Da Mic," a record that would later be remixed by the great Pete Rock. 

So, for the sake of getting their discography started, let's review Da Youngsta's' first LP.


1. Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's
This was a really nice way for Da Youngsta's to introduce themselves to the rap world. L.G.'s beat knocks, and Da Youngsta's spit about how mom knows best. No; seriously. That's what they do. You might think that's corny, but it's pretty refreshing to know that there were kids in the hip-hop industry that actually had good heads on their shoulders. They could surely teach some of the youngsters in the game today a thing or two. Oh, and for what it's worth, it seems that Tarik went through puberty much earlier than his two groupmates. His voice is easily the deepest of the trio. Or maybe he was just the oldest one in the group. I don't know.

2. Street Smart
I'm not exactly sure what a bunch of 11-year olds would know about being "street smart," and I'm actually disconcerted by the mere thought of it. The title is somewhat misleading, though. Contrary to what you're probably thinking (and what I was thinking before listening), this is not about jacking dudes for their chains in alleyways. This record is basically about how you have to watch your back at all times, and you know what? That's true. L.G.'s instrumental was merely okay on this, though.

3. Rated PG
This was a pretty appropriate title given the content of the album. L.G.'s production sounds like something Chuck D would have spit over for Public Enemy, and the Flavor Flav sample on the hook kind of verifies that. Overall, though, I wasn't really feeling this all that much.

4. Cartoons
The title isn't a metaphor for anything. This song really is about Da Youngsta's' favorite cartoons. The beat is nothing more than average, but the way it changes up into an interpolation of "The Muffin Man" on the hook is pretty funny, as is Tarik's line about "watching cartoons before Oprah."

5. Tuff Cookie
L.G. laces his best instrumental since the opening track here, but "Tuff Cookie" is really more disturbing than anything else, particularly when Taji asks if they should let their "triggers go" and states that their "jimmies are getting bigger." Uhhhhh...

6. Y-Ya-Tryin' To Play Me
If Da Youngsta's were pissed off about girls playing them at the age of 11, I can only imagine what happened during their teenage years. The production by L.G. is alright, if not a bit bland, making this cut fairly forgettable.

7. I Didn't Mean 2 Break Your Heart
Wait...weren't you guys just venting about girls playing you? Now you're breaking girls' hearts? And being unfaithful at that age? Really? I didn't like much of anything about this record, from L.G.'s dull beat to the fact that Da Youngsta's are basically whispering throughout the entire thing. There is absolutely no reason this had to be over five minutes long, either.

8. Reminiss
The kids get back on the right path here, rocking over a playful L.G. instrumental about how fast time flies. Hopefully, Da Youngsta's soon realized that they were called "Da Youngsta's" for a reason. There was plenty of time for them to chill and have fun. Actually, I find it hard to believe that these dudes weren't still doing the stuff they were "reminiscing" about when they recorded this song.

9. Neighborhood Bully
You've gotta give Da Youngsta's credit for covering virtually every topic that 11-year-olds could possibly deal with. "Neighborhood Bully" is about exactly what you'd expect; a bully that picks on kids who aren't as big as him. Not great, but not bad, either.

10. Pass Da Mic
The aforementioned second single. Da Youngsta's rock over a much more mature beat here, and when you listen to Qu'ran's verse, you'll hear the "money's growin' like grass with the mass appeal" line that Gang Starr soon made famous. So, if it weren't for "Pass Da Mic," "Mass Appeal" may have never even existed. That alone makes this a profoundly important song in hip-hop. There is a guest by the name of Mentally Gifted on here, too, and he comes across as decent.

11. Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's (Remix)
The remix of the best record on the album happens to be the second-best record on the album. The lyrics are exactly the same, but the new beat that L.G. lays down is pretty nice.


Not surprisingly, I wasn't all that into Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's, as it's exceedingly difficult to get into music that pre-teen kids created. Plus, outside of a couple of highlights, particularly on the title track and its remix, the production by L.G. The Teacher was predominantly bland.

That being said, it was very clear that, even at the approximate ages of 11-13, Da Youngsta's had talent, and that talent would manifest itself on the three albums that followed. 

Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's was merely three kids testing the waters of hip-hop and having fun doing so, so it would be silly to seriously criticize this album. Taji, Qu'ran and Tarik merely rapped about things that were going on in the lives of most 11-year-olds (Taji's awkward lyrics on "Tuff Cookie" aside) and for that, you have to give them (and probably moreso L.G. The Teacher, because I'm sure he supervised the project) credit.

This was only the beginning of a very impressive career for Da Youngsta's, one that was ultimately cut far too short for reasons that still aren't really known to this day. Despite the fact that they did put out four LPs, not much is known about these dudes other than their names, so the fact that the information concerning the basis for their disbandment isn't available isn't the least bit surprising.

If you have children or younger siblings (or younger cousins, whatever) and you want to introduce them to clean hip-hop that sticks to its roots, Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's is a great place to start. It's not really a great album, but it's a project that embodies the name of its song, "Rated PG."


1. Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's
2. Somethin' 4 Da Youngsta's (Remix)
3. Reminiss
4. Pass Da Mic
5. Street Smart  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Album Review: "Ironman" - Ghostface Killah (1996)


Although Ghostface Killah is arguably the most successful Wu member, he was the last to put out a solo album before the group's second collective effort, Wu-Tang Forever.

After Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and GZA all released their first LPs, Ghostface Killah came with his debut record, Ironman.

Possibly the least heralded of all of the "Big Five" Wu-Tang solo albums (probably because of its lack of a hit song like the other four records), Ghostface enlisted both Raekwon and Cappadonna to be "featured" on the cover, much like The Chef put Ghost on the cover of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... I'm not sure I understand Cappadonna's inclusion, as he was never even an official Wu member, but whatever.

Anyway, Ironman is 17 tracks long, 16 of those tracks being produced by RZA. True Master laced the only one that RZA's fingerprints were not on.

Ironman is a peculiar "solo" effort to say the least, as there are two songs that Ghostface Killah isn't even on. Crazy, huh?

Perhaps that's why Ironman isn't looked at in the same vein as Liquid Swords or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... Some feel it was more of a Wu-Tang album than a Ghostface album, and I guess that conclusion has some validity to it.

Regardless, this was still a project that was released during the prime of RZA's career, and therefore, Ironman is considered a classic by many.

Time to tell you which side of the fence I am on.


1. Iron Maiden
After an intro that lasts nearly a minute, RZA's fast-paced beat kicks in. Who does the first verse go to? Raekwon. It probably isn't a good idea to have someone else rap the first verse on your album, Ghostface, but in the end, "Iron Maiden" ends up sounding pretty solid. Cappadonna makes his first of numerous appearances on Ironman here, and he seems incredibly energized.

2. Wildflower
Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" set the bar for misogyny in hip-hop, and Ghostface's "Wildflower" raised it. Seriously. This is one of the few Ghostface solos on this album, and the lyrics are so morally reprehensible that I found myself not even being able to concentrate on RZA's extremely dope instrumental. As much as I love Prince Rakeem's production, saying I like this song and feeling like a jackass are mutually inclusive. Therefore, I digress.

3. The Faster Blade
One of the aforementioned two cuts that Tony Starks isn't on. This is a Raekwon solo, and it's really freaking good. RZA's production is awesome, and The Chef spits like it was Only Built 4 Cuban Linx....Ghost sure picked a pretty bad time to take a bathroom break.

4. 260
This is pretty nice. RZA's beat consists of an Al Green sample and subtle drums, and Ghostface Killah and Raekwon ride it effortlessly. I've gotta give this round to The Chef.

5. Assassination Day
There are four rappers on here, and not one of them goes by the name of Ghostface Killah. So, on his own damn album, Tony Starks misses two out of the last three tracks, and both are two of the better songs on Ironman. Knowing all of this, it's hard to believe that Ghost was able to carve out such a successful career for himself, but hey; stranger things have happened. Anyway, "Assassination Day" is awesome, containing an appropriately brooding RZA instrumental that Inspectah Deck, RZA himself, Raekwon and Masta Killa all rip. After a while, you'll find yourself not caring that Tony Starks decided to run out to Walmart while this was cut being recorded.

6. Poisonous Darts
The second of three Ghostface Killah solos on Ironman. "Poisonous Darts" is very short, spanning two minutes and 15 seconds, but it's pretty damn good. Even if RZA's beat is repetitive, it's still nice, and the song doesn't last long enough for it to have a chance to get on your nerves.

7. Winter Warz
"Winter Warz" is to Cappadonna what "Triumph" is to Inspectah Deck. Cappadonna absolutely tears this track to shreds, putting together what is now considered one of the most legendary verses in the Wu-Tang catalog (or possibly in all of hip-hop period). I do find it funny, though, that despite the fact that 'Donna is on the album cover, he doesn't appear until the seventh song. Maybe that was a good thing, because, judging from his verse, it appears to have pissed him off.

8. Box In The Hand
"Box In The Hand" marks the only Method Man appearance on Ironman, but even though he lays down a really awesome verse, he doesn't stop this song from being incredibly average. RZA should have stuck with the instrumental that played at the beginning of the track, because the one that takes over when Raekwon's verse starts just isn't very good.

9. Fish
The True Master production. He was clearly doing his best to outshine Prince Rakeem, because this bangs. Utilizing a recognizable Otis Redding sample, True Master laces a beat that is both soulful and assertive at the same time. Ghostface, Raekwon and Cappadonna all do the honors.

10. Camay
Like the previous track, Ghost, The Chef, and 'Donna all rhyme together. Unlike the previous track, this is just boring.

11. Daytona 500
Sampling Bob James' "Nautilus" is like a rite of passage for hip-hop producers, and RZA completes that step on "Daytona 500." Even though many of you are probably tired of hearing that sample, the instrumental here is pretty engaging, and for the third consecutive song, Tony Starks, Raekwon and Cappadonna drop verses. All of them were impressive, but I enjoyed The Chef's performance the most.

12. Motherless Child
You've probably noticed by now that the "dustiness" that RZA's productions became so well-known for on the first several Wu albums is not nearly as prevalent on Ironman, and "Motherless Child" is a pretty good example of that. Prince Rakeem's drums are very clean here. That doesn't mean this beat was all that good, though. It just seemed kind of slipshod.

13. Black Jesus
The vocal sample on this is just irritating. That's all I've got.

14. After The Smoke Is Clear
The Delfonics provide some haunting background vocals over a rather bland RZA beat, and Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and RZA himself all lay down verses. The mixing of this cut definitely could have been better, and I found it kind of annoying that the rapping stops abruptly with around 40 seconds left.

15. All That I Got Is You
The Jackson 5 sample that RZA used for this record is pretty good, but the beat would have been nicer if it actually had drums. This was a truly heartfelt song from Ghostface, something he has surprisingly mastered over the course of his career. Other than the fact that Prince Rakeem kind of half-assed the instrumental, I don't have any complaints about this one. Mary J. Blige is on here too, by the way, and she croons the hook and even puts in a "verse" of her own.

16. The Soul Controller
RZA's production on this bangs, and Ghost goes in over it on his own for the third and final time on Ironman. The Force M.D.s provide some background vocals in the way of interpolating Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come," and they add a fairly nice touch. After a bit of a lull on the album, "The Soul Controller" was much-needed. The only thing that bothers me is that there was no need for this track to be nearly seven minutes long, as Tony Starks stops rapping well before the conclusion.

17. Marvel
This was kind of boring. The RZA instrumental is pretty dull, and the energy level takes a fairly big dip after the preceding song. I also don't understand why the beat continues to run for three minutes after Ghostface and RZA are done spitting. Definitely a strange (and poor) way to close out Ironman.  


Ironman is a tale of two halves. The first half of the album is very, very good, consisting of dope beats from RZA that Ghostface Killah and company sound enthralled to rap over. Once you get past True Master's "Fish," however, the project starts treading water.

Of the final eight songs, most of them lack the type of energy that was present earlier on Ironman, and you may find that many of the tracks toward the end sound very similar (and not in a good way). For that reason, I actually grew tired of the album as the second half continued to progress, and if it weren't for "Daytona 500" and "The Soul Controller," I don't even know if I would have been able to make it through.

That being said, just about all of the first nine songs on Ironman are so good that I can understand why some label this LP a classic. As I noted earlier, Prince Rakeem's production style is much cleaner on this album, and that helped make the early half a success.

One other question needs to be posed, though. Where the hell is GZA? Ironman is absolutely loaded with guest appearances, mostly by Raekwon and Cappadonna, but not one GZA feature? I'm sure Ghostface could have found a way to squeeze him in somewhere, and who knows? He may have been able to rescue one of the blander cuts. The fact that there was only one Method Man appearance did not help matters much, either.

I also find it bothersome that Ghost wasn't even on two of the album's stronger records ("The Faster Blade" and "Assassination Day"). I seriously wonder what was going through Tony Starks' mind when he decided to let his Wu-Tang brethren handle those songs on their own.

I understand that all of my quibbles make it sound like I don't like Ironman, but that is not true. This is a good album. It's just not even close to what the Wu was capable of during their peak. Look no further than the brilliance of Liquid Swords or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... to see that.


1. Assassination Day
2. Fish
3. Winter Warz
4. The Faster Blade
5. Daytona 500   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Album Review: "Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version" - Ol' Dirty Bastard (1995)


The late Ol' Dirty Bastard (he passed away in 2004) was certainly an interesting character; that's for sure.

Whether it was his slurred, often indecipherable raps, interrupting the 1998 Grammys to proclaim that "Wu-Tang is for the children" or saving a four-year old girl who was trapped underneath a car, you can never say that ODB was not a fascinating individual.

The man whose government name was Russell Jones parlayed his effervescent personality into numerous hit songs, most notably the catchy "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," the second single off of his debut solo album, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.

Despite the fact that Ol' Dirty Bastard was clearly the least lyrically inclined in the Wu-Tang Clan, he was actually the second member to put out a solo LP, as Return To The 36 Chambers dropped on the heels of Method Man's Tical.

Considered a classic by some and an acquired taste by others, ODB's first release was undoubtedly an intriguing piece of work that has no equal (in terms of style) in the annals of hip-hop history. I'll let you decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

Return To The 36 Chambers features 17 tracks, 14 of them produced by RZA (yep; RZA surprisingly did not produce the entire album).

Let's sink our teeth into this one now.


1. Intro
A nearly five-minute long intro kicks things off. Not a good way to start, Mr. Jones.

2. Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Ol' Dirty Bastard wastes no time in letting his audience hear his most popular song, and why would he? To be perfectly honest, I've always found this track to be more silly than anything else, but isn't that essentially ODB in a nutshell? The thing about "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" is that no one else was doing anything like this in 1995, and that remains the case in 2013. It's rare you can say that about music. RZA's piano-sampled beat is pretty compelling, and Ol' Dirty Bastard spits mostly entertaining gibberish. The funny thing is, ODB's gibberish actually accommodates the instrumental pretty well.

3. Baby C'mon
The production by RZA is pretty nice here, particularly the drums which are extra dusty, but did Ol' Dirty Bastard seriously say that he has the "gift of gab?" Because, I mean, If there's one thing ODB isn't, it's fluent and understandable. Then again, I was able to discern the "gift of gab" line. Weird. Oh, and the way the vocals intentionally skip after Ol' Dirty says "baby" shortly after the two-minute mark is just annoying, and, actually, kind of creepy.

4. Brooklyn Zoo
I've always found it rather interesting that "Brooklyn Zoo" was the album's first single, as this is one of three songs on Return To The 36 Chambers that wasn't laced by RZA. Instead, True Master is the main man behind the boards, and ODB gets co-production credits. That being said, if liner notes didn't exist, I never would have guessed that RZA didn't do this beat. True Master certainly did a good imitation. Anyway, this sounds pretty freaking good.

5. Hippa To Da Hoppa
I get a kick out of Ol' Dirty Bastard saying "my beats are slammin'" at the beginning of this record. Did ODB not realize that this wasn't one of the three instrumentals that he had a hand in crafting? This beat does slam, though, as RZA definitely did his thing on this one. Also, Ol' Dirty is unusually perceivable on "Hippa To Da Hoppa." One thing I do wish, though: that the smooth piano was present throughout the entire song.

6. Raw Hide
For the first time on Return To The 36 Chambers, we get guest verses, as Method Man and Raekwon stop by to aid their Wu-Tang brother on "Raw Hide." RZA's beat sounds like something that could have been on Tical (and the way Meth knocks his verse out of the park lends credence to that thought), but it's a bit too repetitive for my taste. Method Man's contribution aside, this was just alright.

7. Damage
Both RZA and 4th Disciple were on the boards for this one, and the result is pretty damn nice, sounding fairly Liquid Swords-like. Appropriately, GZA drops guest rhymes on "Damage," and he adjusts his delivery to suit Ol' Dirty Bastard's style. Not only that, but ODB actually puts forth a pretty strong lyrical showing of his own on this cut. Perhaps it was GZA's presence elevating Ol' Dirty's own performance. Whatever it was, it made "Damage" a pretty awesome track.

8. Don't U Know
After a really awkward intro that lasts about 50 seconds, Mr. Jones starts rocking over a decent RZA instrumental. Those comprehensible rhymes that Ol' Dirty Bastard spit just a minute ago on "Damage" fundamentally go out the window here, though, as I honestly had no idea what the hell I was listening to for the majority of ODB's bars. The craziest thing about "Don't U Know" is that Killah Priest, one of the most lyrical dudes around, lays down a guest verse. Perhaps RZA should have just given this beat to Priest, because he rips it.

9. The Stomp
Ol' Dirty Bastard gets co-production credits with RZA here, but one would assume that he didn't exactly have much input. Maybe he just picked the hi-hat. Anyway, the instrumental is solid, but God only knows what ODB was talking about when he asked if you had ever "had a bald-headed bitch for your bald-headed wife."

10. Goin' Down
After 55 seconds of rather disturbing mouth noises from Ol' Dirty Bastard, a freaking sick RZA beat kicks in, but you know what? ODB effing wastes it by using it as a skit/interlude. Come on, man. You're really going to squander one of the best instrumentals RZA has ever done? Dirt McGirt does spit for a bit during the second half of the track, but it wasn't enough. RZA absolutely should have given this beat to someone else.

11. Drunk Game (Sugar Sweet Pie)
This is the second of three beats on the project that wasn't produced by Prince Rakeem (Ethan Ryman and Ol' Dirty Bastard himself were on the boards here), and my God can you tell right from the get-go. Every time I hear this song, I come away thinking the same thing: what the hell did I just listen to? I honestly couldn't even get through the whole cut for this review.

12. Snakes
"Snakes" is the best record on Return To The 36 Chambers. Period. Killah Priest hops on and drops some pretty awesome storytelling rhymes on his verse, and Masta Killa, RZA and Buddha Monk are also present on this posse track. RZA's instrumental bangs, and even if I was never crazy about his flow on the mic, he laces a nice verse of his own. Masta Killa's rhymes were great, too. The only beef I have is that you can hardly hear half of Buddha Monk's brief verse because of the skit playing in the background. Not that any of you actually care about Buddah Monk, anyway.

13. Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane)
Ghostface Killah finally makes an appearance on the album here, but he picked a pretty bad song to hop on. RZA's beat is sloppy, and for some reason, ODB decides to rehash lyrics from "Damage." Are you sure "Brooklyn Zoo II" was the right name, McGirt? Oh, and the medley of different Ol' Dirty Bastard verses that surfaces in the middle of this record is just stupid, as was the incredibly long and unnecessary skit at the end. I really see no reason for the inclusion of "Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane)" on Return To The 36 Chambers, but whatever.

14. Protect Ya Neck II
Another posse cut, this time consisting of ODB and the Wu-affiliated groups Sunz of Man and Brooklyn Zu, the latter of which probably would have been better-served appearing on one of the "Brooklyn Zoo" tracks (right?). RZA's beat sounds pretty good out of the gate, but it gets repetitive rather quickly. Perhaps this album is running a bit too long...

15. Cuttin' Headz
...Or maybe not. This song is really good, and if you listen carefully, you'll be able to hear that RZA's instrumental is actually "Clan In Da Front" played backward. Awesome. Ol' Dirty Bastard's rhymes are actually very coherent on this, and RZA joins in to drop some fine lines of his own. "Cuttin' Headz" is short, too, and that's always nice after five straight tracks that run at least four minutes long apiece.

16. Dirty Dancin'
Really? This was produced by RZA? It's definitely not one of his better instrumentals; that's for damn sure. Thankfully, Method Man swoops in and saves this record from eternal obscurity with a terrific performance.

17. Harlem World
Closing out the album with a track that wasn't blessed by Prince Rakeem just has disaster written all over it, especially when said track is over six minutes long. After about one minute and 15 seconds of bullcrap, Dirt McGirt finally starts to "rap," but once he does, he makes you wish he didn't. Actually, he makes you wish that "Harlem World" never existed to begin with.


Because of Ol' Dirty Bastard's lack of skill on the mic, I cannot endorse Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version as a classic. I can say with confidence, however, that this is certainly something that Wu-Tang fans will forever enjoy, and it's also 10 times better than most of the garbage out there today, regardless of ODB's relative ineptitude as a rapper.

While this album isn't RZA's finest hour, it absolutely contains some interesting production by him, and a couple of the joints on here really knock. Obviously, RZA had to craft beats that suited Ol' Dirty Bastard's style, and that was no easy task. As a matter of fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of instrumentals on Return To The 36 Chambers that other members of the Wu would have used on their own solo albums.

Accept ODB's debut for what it is: a project where the host was, for lack of a better phrase, just trying to wild out. I'm sure Mr. Jones knows that he is not exactly the most gifted rapper out there, although some of the boasts that he spits on Return To The 36 Chambers leave you wondering.

If you're a Wu-Tang enthusiast, you probably bump this religiously. If not but you just can't get enough of that golden era, then you may listen occasionally like I do. There is also a faction that more than likely find this unlistenable. That's cool, though. Not all hip-hop has to be serious, and not every good album has to be like Illmatic.

Rest in peace, ODB.


1. Snakes
2. Damage
3. Cuttin' Headz
4. Hippa To Da Hoppa
5. Brooklyn Zoo 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Album Review: "Monkey Barz" - Sean Price (2005)


The first album I ever reviewed on this blog was Sean Price's second album, Jesus Price Supastar, so I figured it was about time I started completing the rest of his solo discography.

I already supplied you with some background information in the Jesus Price Supastar writeup, so I'll try to keep this introduction short and sweet.

After releasing two albums with Heltah Skeltah (a duo comprised of himself [where he is known as "Ruck"] and his partner-in-crime Rock), Sean P went seven years without putting out any solo material. He worked with his Boot Camp Clik crew on the 2002 album The Chosen Few and dropped a few guest verses on other projects, but for the most part, P was silent.

Then, in 2005, Sean Price released his debut album, Monkey Barz, to critical acclaim. It was named Independent Album of the Year by, and many other hip-hop aficionados and fans dubbed it one of the best projects of the 2000s.

Is Monkey Barz as good as everyone hypes it up to be?

There's only one way to find out, and that's by reviewing it.


1. Peep My Words
Well, Sean Price is already off to a good start, as he forgoes and album intro for an actual song. The late Kleph Dollaz of the group Ill Biskits laces a soulful beat for P to spit his boasts over, and he comes with some hilarious rhymes that have become so typical of himself right off the bat. Solid way to kick off Monkey Barz.

2. One Two Yall
This is pretty freaking good. Moss is on the boards here, putting together a grimy instrumental consisting of a piano riff and some dusty drums. In his second verse, Sean P says "plain lame, acting ignorant." That's a fairly accurate way to describe Sean Price's rhymes, which generally never make any sort of sense but still somehow sound great.

3. Onion Head
This is where things really start to get good. Khrysis crafts a banger for P, who threatens to "smack off half your smile" and then smack off the other half "after trial." Awesome. Tek from Smif-N-Wessun is here, as well, and he drops the hook. "Onion Head" is one of the best pump-up songs I've ever heard. It's pretty much guaranteed to get your blood boiling.

4. Fake Neptune
Sean Price isn't exactly enthralled with mainstream rap, and he lets you know that in the title of this track alone. Clearly, P is poking fun at The Neptunes and radio records of that ilk. And come on; you know you laughed when Sean P said "how you gon' shit on me after I let you shit on me, freaky deaky." Everything from the instrumental by Phat Babyz to P's raps to the guest verses by Steele (the other half of Smif-N-Wessun) and Louieville Sluggah (from Originoo Gunn Clappaz) is on point. Louieville's verse is especially dope. Oh, and Buckshot does the hook. Yeah; "Fake Neptune" is pretty much sick.

5. Heartburn
9th Wonder lays down the smooth production for Sean P on "Heartburn," where our host talks about everything he "loves," ranging from his wife to "fist fights with brass knuckles" and, um, wallabies. Yes; wallabies. Another winner for Sean Price on Monkey Barz.

6. Shake Down
Over a pretty hard beat by and Justice (who?), P, Starang Wondah (of Originoo Gunn Clappaz) and Steele rap generically about how they can't be messed with. I know that last sentence may have seemed like a subtle criticism, but it really wasn't. This is pretty good. It's not on the same level as the preceding three cuts, but it was still good, nonetheless.

7. Mad Mann
The first true misfire on Monkey Barz. P.F. Cuttin's drums are way too busy, and the sample just sounds messy. P definitely could have done without this one.

8. Brokest Rapper You Know
Even Sean Price himself would tell you this isn't true anymore, but back in 2005, I guess this was kind of appropriate (although still not really). Regardless, this song is obviously not to be taken literally. It's Sean Price, after all, and hey; this short record is still pretty solid, anyway.

9. Boom Bye Yeah
You know how I've said how sometimes rappers "rap like nothing and it sounds like something" on this blog before? Well, this is where it came from, as Sean P says that line in "Boom Bye Yeah," which is undoubtedly one of the best tracks on Monkey Barz. Tone Mason's fast-paced beat is crazy, and P obliges with a brilliant three-verse performance. This is another one of those good pump-up songs that seem to permeate this album.

10. I Love You (Bitch)
The title of this song is obviously in conflict with itself, but that's Sean Price for you. The Luther Vandross-sampling production by Dub Z is decent, and P drops some pretty damn misogynistic rhymes about how even though he can't stand certain things about his girl, he wants to stay with her. In his defense, though, he says "I ain't shit and you ain't shit, we belong together." So, at the very least, he was also self-deprecating.

11. Bye Bye
That leads us to the crown jewel of Monkey Barz. Khrysis laces the best beat he has ever done here, utilizing an Aretha Franklin sample and throwing on some banging drums. Buckshot is here to actually drop verses this time, and although Sean P clearly walks away the winner, Buck does very well. "Bye Bye" is actually a misogynistic record itself (maybe even moreso than the song prior), but Khrysis' instrumental is so damn good, and the performances by both Sean Price and Buckshot were more than impressive, objectionable lyrics aside. The record is basically about how P and Buck no longer want to deal with their girls' bullcrap anymore, and I'm sure a lot of guys out there will relate to that subject matter regardless of the way it is being presented.

12. Spliff N Wessun
You would think Smif-N-Wessun would be the guest artists on this track, but you would be wrong, as Ruste Juxx hops on (and rips it, I might add). The Ayatollah beat is really freaking good, and Sean P comfortably spits some fire. Good cut.

13. Jail Shit
This was solid. Agallah lays down the instrumental, and Rock is on the hook. I'm not sure why P wouldn't ask his Heltah Skeltah brother to drop a verse here, and I'm really curious as to how Rock would have sounded on this if he did so. Oh well. Sean Price does well enough on his own.

14. Monkey Barz
Ty Deals' production seriously consists of a bunch of jungle noises--especially monkeys, surprise, surprise--and Sean P somehow manages to make it work. This is actually one of P's best lyrical outputs on the album, as the Brownsville rapper proves that he can spit over any beat. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

15. Slap Boxing
Rock is here again, and this time, he actually drops a verse. Ruste Juxx comes through for another verse of his own, too. Unfortunately, the instrumental by Edward Maximillion III isn't engaging enough to make "Slap Boxing" that worthwhile, a pretty freaking dope performance from Rock notwithstanding. It doesn't help that Sean Price sounds like he phoned in his verse, either.

16. Rising To The Top
You may remember this song from the Grand Theft Auto III soundtrack. Agallah is on the boards again, and he offers up two verses and the chorus, as well. The production is just alright, if not a bit bland. This was a fairly boring way to close out Monkey Barz, and to make matters worse, this is the longest song on the album.


The verdict on Monkey Barz is in, and it's that it deserves every ounce of praise that has been heaped upon it since its release in 2005. This is a great album, containing numerous bangers and consistently dope performances by Sean Price (and his guests) on the mic.

Monkey Barz does not stick to any one particular theme, but that's the type of artist Sean P is. He is not a concept rapper. He just spits, and sometimes, that's for the best. P's debut record is a prime example of that. The large variety of producers on this project also adds to the unpredictability, and a little bit of volatility often makes a hip-hop album that much more interesting.

The only criticism I would have is that Monkey Barz is an album that probably should have come out five years earlier. I'm not sure what took so long for Sean Price to release his debut record, as Heltah Skeltah put out Magnum Force in 1998 and then didn't put out another project for 10 years. Perhaps Sean P was very busy during that time period; I don't know, but an earlier release would have certainly lengthened his solo career.

It was also a bit disappointing that there was no production from Da Beatminerz on here, but the beats were good enough as a whole where P's former go-to beatmaking team wasn't sorely missed.

Another aspect about Monkey Barz that you have to admire is how Sean Price kept the features in-house. Outside of Agallah, every guest on the album is a member of the Boot Camp Clik or, at the very least, is affiliated with the collective (Ruste Juxx).

Monkey Barz was a very impressive debut effort from a rapper that wasn't expected to be this dope as a solo artist. If you don't have this in your collection yet, then I suggest that you get moving.


1. Bye Bye
2. Onion Head
3. Boom Bye Yeah
4. Fake Neptune
5. Heartburn

Friday, August 23, 2013

Album Review: "Reloaded" - Roc Marciano (2012)


Roc Marciano has been very busy since dropping his debut album, Marcberg (which I reviewed here), in 2010.

After garnering massive critical acclaim for his first project, Roc Marciano has been heavily sought out for features by some of the dopest artists in the game. 

In 2011, for example, he did an EP with Gangrene (a duo consisting of Alchemist and Oh No) called Greneberg. Shortly before that, he dropped a guest verse on Random Axe's song "Chewbacca."

Roc's popularity in the game has only grown since then, with rappers such as Action Bronson, Crooked I, Ka and Prodigy asking him to grace some of their records in 2012 and 2013.

He has also started his own label called Man Bites Dog Records, and he is in the process of recording his third LP, Marci Beaucoup.

In between all of that, Roc Marci released his second album, Reloaded.

While Marcberg was produced entirely by Roc Marciano himself, the Hempstead native enlisted beatmakers such as Alchemist and Q-Tip (among others) to assist him this time around, seven of the beats on Reloaded being laced by guest producers.

Many feel that sophomore projects often define a rapper's career and determine which route he is going to take. Will he be able to match--or improve upon--his first album, or will the pressure of success overwhelm him and result in him laying an egg?

Let's see how Roc Marciano approached that fork in the road on Reloaded.


1. Tek To a Mack
Roc kicks things off in a similar fashion to the way he started Marcberg, lacing an eerie--if not a bit unorthodox--loop that is perfectly suited for his style. If you hadn't listened to Roc Marciano's features in between Marcberg and Reloaded, you'll likely notice that his voice has changed slightly, and for the better, too. Very solid way to begin the album.

2. Flash Gordon
The first of three Alchemist beats on the project (three on the deluxe version, anyway), and it is a colossal success. The piano-sample-driven instrumental possesses a dark and introspective feeling, and Roc Marci drops some of the best lines he's ever spit. No; seriously. You need to listen to this song quite a few times to catch the punchlines, metaphors and double entendres and truly comprehend what Roc is saying. As a matter of fact, I suggest you check out the annotations at Rapgenius (love that site) to help you out. "Flash Gordon" is proof that Roc Marciano can rap about anything and make it sound elegant. This is not only the best track on Reloaded, but it was the best record of 2012. Period.

3. Not Told
Roc Marci is back on the boards for this one, and you'll likely be able to denote that the second the beat begins. This is one of two cuts on the album with guest appearances, as Knowledge The Pirate and Ka jump on "Not Told" to drop verses of their own. Knowledge dazzles with his performance, and Ka comes through with his trademark lazy, half-asleep flow that can only work for him. Roc Marciano's production is pretty repetitive and isn't all that engaging, though.

4. Pistolier
Think of "Pistolier" as the "Pop" of Reloaded, but twice as grimy. This is the second Alchemist instrumental, and it is a banger. I highly recommend that you play this in your whip and turn up the volume. Trust me. Also, Roc's "the fish scale, color Kevin McHale" line is both hilarious and genius.

5. Thug's Prayer Pt. 2
The interesting thing about "Thug's Prayer Pt. 2" is how Roc Marci's beat builds throughout. Once it finally kicks in toward the end (it's only one minute and 36 seconds long), you'll probably realize that it's the same instrumental that was used on the original "Thug's Prayer" off of Marcberg.

6. 76
This was Reloaded's second single. The production is more involved than something you would expect laced by Roc Marciano would be, and it works pretty well. Like usual, Roc's raps are smooth as butter.

7. We Ill
A lot of people gravitated toward this song when the album first dropped, but I wasn't one of them. I know Roc Marci likes minimalistic beats, but this one was a little too minimalistic, with no drums even remotely in sight. Not just that, but the sample kind of grates on the ears, which is the main problem with "We Ill."

8. Deeper
And we're back on track. This cut is awesome, containing one of the most relaxing beats your ears will ever have the pleasure of hearing. Roc Marciano sounds extremely energized as if this were his favorite song on Reloaded.

9. Death Parade
Sometimes, songs sound actually nothing like their titles suggest. This is not one of those types of songs, as Roc's piano-laced instrumental couldn't possibly be any more ghastly. "Death Parade" is freaking great, even if the "niggas don't want it like the HIV virus" line on the hook is kind of corny for a gifted wordsmith like Roc Marciano.

10. 20 Guns
After a creepier first 18 seconds than I needed to hear, Roc Marci drops one verse over an extremely refined production. This was under two minutes long, and it's a good thing, because I didn't like "20 Guns" that much at all.

11. Peru
Roc lays down what is probably the most non-confrontational beat imaginable, and it sounds pretty freaking good. Roc Marciano gets his Sean Price on, throwing a bunch of rhymes together that are completely independent of one another, and like Sean P, he manages to make it work.

12. Thread Count
Q-Tip is on the boards for "Thread Count," and he laces one of the best cuts on Reloaded. The sample is gritty, complementing Roc Marci's style very well as he glides over the instrumental like he was born for the sole purpose of spitting on "Thread Count." This is impeccable rider music. The fact that Roc says "ride to this" as he is ad-libbing toward the end only further proves my point. 

13. Nine Spray
This is the only other track on Reloaded with a guest appearance, and it's Ka again. While "Nine Spray" may have fit better on Ka's album, this is still pretty solid. Ray West's beat (Roc Marci did not produce this one) is appropriately reticent, and both Roc Marciano and Ka ride it seamlessly.

14. Emeralds
"Emeralds" was the first single. Plain and simply, this knocks. The Arch Druids crafted the banging, dusty instrumental for Roc, who immediately raps about how he has "Lamborghini dreams and Nissan nightmares." Only "Flash Gordon" can top "Emeralds" on Reloaded.

15. The Man
Roc Marci lays down a soulful production for himself to rip, and he does just that. The rhymes don't actually make sense when you try to piece them together, but who cares? That's Roc Marciano's style, and he does it damn well.

*16. I Shot The King
If you have the deluxe version of Reloaded, then you'll be treated to three bonus tracks, and "I Shot The King" is the first of the three. Roc does his best to get his Twista on here (okay, not really, but this is as close as Roc Marci is going to get to doing that), and it actually ends up sounding alright. Not one of my favorite songs on Reloaded, but it's not half-bad. I could have done without the sampled hook, though.

*17. Sweet Nothings
This is awesome. The Arch Druids laced the beat for "Sweet Nothings," and they produced a joint that is ideal rider music. Possibly even moreso than "Thread Count." The instrumental is very stately, and Roc Marciano spits on it gracefully.

*18. Paradise For Pimps
The final record on Reloaded goes to Alchemist, and it sounds exactly like the title entails. Alchemist has really changed up his style over the past couple of years, and it has been for the better. His productions just sound that much grimier now. I would really like to hear an entire project from Alc and Roc.

* = deluxe edition bonus track


There was certainly no sophomore slump for Roc Marciano. As a matter of fact, he managed to surpass Marcberg with Reloaded.

As dope as Roc Marci's debut was, his second effort was that much better. He displayed obvious musical growth, from his choice of samples to his overall performance on the mic. The fact that Roc also collected a batch of beats from other producers proves that he was doing all he could to make sure that Reloaded was superior to Marcberg.

The best songs on this album are absolutely phenomenal, representing some of the best that the year 2012 had to offer. Also, while there were a couple of tracks that I wasn't really feeling, they did nothing to interrupt the consistent flow of the project, as each record transitions seamlessly into the next.

What's most impressive about Roc Marciano is the scarce features. Too many times, artists will lump together countless guests on their albums to try and make a hit, but what they fail to realize is that they are taking the spotlight off of themselves (actually, maybe that's their intention). 

Roc Marci does not do that. Instead, he showcases his own lyrical talents and only permits guest verses to his own crew, and of the 18 cuts on Reloaded, there are only three such verses, two of them occurring on one song ("Not Told"). 

Reloaded was easily one of the best albums of 2012, and I'll even go as far to say that it is one of the top hip-hop records of the 2000s. It's that good. 


1. Flash Gordon
2. Emeralds
3. Thread Count
4. Pistolier
5. Sweet Nothings