Monday, September 30, 2013

Album Review: "The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World" - Keith Murray (1994)


Keith Murray is your favorite rapper's favorite rapper. He is the guy who can take a bunch of utter nonsense and turn it into a few lines that will make you have to go and get a dictionary. He is also arguably the best member of Def Squad, a group that includes Redman and Erick Sermon.

Basically, Keith Murray is pretty freaking awesome.

Murray (that is also his government name, by the way) started his career by battling the legendary Big Daddy Kane under the alias MC Do Damage (good thing he decided to stick with his actual name). Shortly thereafter, he was introduced to Erick Sermon by K-Solo.

That was when Keith Murray made his actual debut, as Sermon included Keith on his first solo album, No Pressure. Murray appeared on the song "Hostile," and an extremely successful career was born.

Just over a year after Keith Murray's cameo on No Pressure, he released his first LP, The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World. Featuring production almost exclusively by E-Dub, the project would proceed to achieve gold status by 1995.

During this time period, Murray also guest starred on several other tracks of prominent artists, most notably LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya" remix which caused a bit of a stir due to the East Coast-West Coast feud that was going on at the time. 2Pac assumed the record was about him (even though it wasn't), and it actually led to an altercation between Pac and Keith. No fisticuffs were thrown, but it's still worth mentioning regardless.

Even though most people gravitate toward Redman (who is obviously pretty freaking awesome in his own right), it should be understood that Keith Murray is actually the most talented rapper in Def Squad. When it comes to lyrics, punchlines and metaphors, not many artists are seeing Keith.

So, without further ado, let's get to Keith Murray's debut album.


1. Live From New York
Your standard album intro. At least the background music was pretty cool.

2. Sychosymatic
You can tell right off the bat that The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World was made during sort of a transition period for Erick Sermon. His beats had advanced past the old-school EPMD stage, but they were caught in between Redman's Whut? Thee Album and the style E-Dub would soon become most known for. Anyway, this song is pretty damn good. Sermon's instrumental knocks, and Keith Murray impresses immediately on the mic, even if the hook was fairly lame.

3. Dip Dip Di
One of three tracks on the album that isn't produced by Erick Sermon, but to be perfectly honest, the producer extraordinaire isn't missed. "Dip Dip Di" bangs. Rod "KP" Kirkpatrick's production is awesome (those claps in particular are ill), and Keith rips it to shreds. Once again, though, the chorus stinks. That's not too big of a deal, though. This is pretty great regardless.

4. The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World
This is probably Keith Murray's most well-known record, possibly due to the fact that Erick Sermon's beat utilizes the same Isley Brothers sample that was used for The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa." For what it's worth, "The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World" blows Biggie's cut out of the water (and let's face it: "Big Poppa" wasn't exactly one of the best songs on Ready To Die, anyway). You've gotta love Murray's "the astronomical is comin' through like the flu bombin' you" line, a bar that he would later regurgitate on the hook of my favorite track in his catalog, "What a Feelin'." Anyway, this title track freaking knocks.

5. Herb Is Pumpin'
One of the best parts about The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World is the length of the records. All of them are short, sweet and to the point, and "Herb Is Pumpin'" is no exception. If you don't nod your head to this, you're probably a robot...or just devoid of any emotion whatsoever, which would basically make you a robot...right? Anyway, E-Dub's instrumental bangs, and Keith Murray comes through with his usual impeccable flow to tear it to pieces.

6. Sychoward

7. Straight Loonie
One of the other three cuts on the project that wasn't laced by Erick Sermon. Rod Kirkpatrick and Busta Rhymes (of all people) are actually on the boards for this one. I'm not exactly sure how much input Busta had in crafting this production, but he's credited, so that's that. E-Dub drops a verse on here, though, and if you didn't look at the liner notes, you would think Onyx had stopped by, as Sermon gets his best Sticky Fingaz impression on. Actually, Keith Murray gets his Onyx on, too. I guess Jamal, another one of Murray's Def Squad brethren who is also featured here, didn't get the memo, as he sounds pretty, well, normal. Oh, this song is really freaking good, by the way.

8. Danger
This is decent. It's not as good as every other track leading up to it, and Keith actually sounds slightly disinterested, but it's still solid regardless and would be the best record on just about any album in 2013.

9. Get Lifted
Keith Murray talking about getting high? Never. That little snide remark aside, this is pretty damn good, but what's with Erick Sermon using the same samples that were present on Ready To Die? "Get Lifted" contains the same sample as B.I.G.'s "Respect." Once again, though, Keith Murray's cut obliterates Biggie's, even if his "weed is knowledge because it makes me think" line was kind of...well, okay; it was funny.

10. How's That
This is another one of those songs that sounds like it could have been on Whut? Thee Album, especially considering that Redman is on this track. E-Dub drops a verse of his own. This was just alright, though.

11. The Chase

12. Take It To The Streetz
Guests 50 Grand (who would appear again on Keith Murray's second album Enigma) and Ron Jay appear on this record, which is really kind of boring. Ron Jay sounds a bit like Keith, so I guess that's something.

13. Bom Bom Zee
The actual sound quality of this cut is terrible, and the fact that Hurricane G is here doesn't help matters much. Seriously; why does Def Squad insist on including her on their albums? Well, at least this is short, but this album is experiencing quite a significant lull at this point.

14. Countdown

15. Escapism
This is the final song on The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World that wasn't laced by Erick Sermon. Instead, Redman hops behind the boards to craft the beat here, and that was probably a bad idea, unless you want a sleep-inducing instrumental to help cure your insomnia. As a result of the bland production, Keith Murray isn't able to really go off. It kind of sucks that this is the longest track on the album, too.

16. The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (Green-Eyed Remix)
This actually sounds strikingly similar to the original, but that's not a bad thing. We could all use a bit more of this record in our lives, and it helps to somewhat offset what was a pretty piss-poor second-half of the album.


The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World gets off to an incredible start, but halfway through, it falls flat on its face and never gets up. Still, the first half of the album is so damn good that you can easily see why many feel this project deserves a mention among the classics.

You'll likely come away with one definitive thought after listening to The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World, and it's that Keith Murray is an incredible MC. He is consistently entertaining, spitting rhymes that are both hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time. It would help if more of the beats on this LP were more engaging, but enough of them work to highlight Murray's skills.

The good news is, Erick Sermon only got better as a producer from this point on. As a matter of fact, two years later in 1996, E-Dub crafted what I think are the two best works of his career: Redman's Muddy Waters and Keith Murray's Enigma. Think of the first half of The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World as sort of a preview of what was to come.

So, what's the final verdict on Keith's first album? Well, it's certainly a good release that absolutely deserves a listen. Again, the first five full songs on this LP are so phenomenal that you'll find yourself not caring too much about the fact that the latter portion of the project is fairly lackluster.

If you're a fan of either of Redman's first two albums, then you'll likely be fond of The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World. My advice is to listen to this at least once, and if nothing else, track down "Herb Is Pumpin'" and put it in your playlist.


1. Herb Is Pumpin'
2. The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World
3. Dip Dip Di
4. Straight Loonie
5. Sychosymatic 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Album Review: "Capital Punishment" - Big Punisher (1998)


This is another one of those reviews that I've taken too long to get to, but I wanted to do this right because, in my opinion, Big Pun is the best pure rapper to ever grace the mic. When you talk about lyrics, punchlines, metaphors, flow and mic presence, Pun had it all. His life was just taken away far too soon (what's with rappers with the word "Big" in their name all dying young?).

Big Pun was discovered by Fat Joe, the man everybody loves to hate. Pun brought Cuban Link and Triple Seis with him, both of whom would go on to become members of Terror Squad along with Joe and Pun. At that time, Big Pun was going by the name Big Moon Dawg. Thank God he changed it.

After spending a couple of years jumping on Fat Joe songs and lyrically murdering everybody on any track he rapped over, Pun came out with his first record entitled "I'm Not a Player." No; not "Still Not a Player"; "I'm Not a Player."

Knobody, who produced Jay-Z's "Can't Knock The Hustle," heard Big Pun's cut and was thoroughly impressed. That was when "Still Not a Player" was born, as Knobody laid down the beat and Pun and Joe (the R&B singer; not Fat Joe) killed it, marking Big Pun's mainstream breakthrough.

Shortly after, in 1998, Pun dropped his debut album, Capital Punishment. The effort became the first LP by a Latino rapper to go platinum, and it holds a place in the annals of hip-hop lore.

Nearly two years later, Big Pun died of a heart attack at the age of 28. So, like The Notorious B.I.G. and Big L before him, his first album was the only one that was released during Pun's lifetime. Yeeeah Baby hit the shelves almost exactly two months after his passing, and it went on to achieve gold status.

If only Big Pun would have taken better care of himself...


1. Intro
You know the deal by now.

2. Beware
After the intro, we get treated to one of the best album openers in history. In any genre. This freaking bangs like an anvil dropping on Wiley Coyote on Looney Toons. The beat by Juju (of The Beatnuts) knocks, and Big Pun comes through with one of the most impressive, most vicious, most thoroughly verbally abusive performances ever known to man. I'm sure you all know this line: "Flawless victory, you niggas can't do shit to me, physically, lyrically, hypothetically, realistically." Good Lord. The Prodigy vocal sample (from "Shook Ones Pt. I," by the way) is dope as hell, too. If "Beware" isn't on your pump-up playlist, then I don't know what the hell you are doing with your life.

3. Super Lyrical
The energy level takes a massive nosedive here, but that isn't really a criticism of "Super Lyrical." It's just pretty much understood after "Beware," you know? Rockwilder lays down a laid-back instrumental for Pun to rock over here, and the big Latino does it dirty. Black Thought is here, too, but Big Pun is so outstanding that you'll end up overlooking The Roots member's contribution when it's all said and done.

4. Taster's Choice (Skit)
Well, at least Pun took time out to name his skits.

5. Still Not a Player
"Still Not a Player" is another perfect example of when radio hits used to be dope and tasteful. You'll never hear anything like this on the airwaves again. This is actually the song that got me into hip-hop, and I'll always remember it for that. The music video is also freaking hilarious, and I was never one to give a crap about visuals. Another interesting note is that "Still Not a Player" is one of the few songs where the clean version is actually superior to the explicit version. Big Pun must have even known that, because the clean version is the one that appears on Capital Punishment. Finally, not enough is said for Joe's performance here. The dude rips it, particularly when he repeats "boricua, morena" as the track nears its conclusion. This song rocks and always will rock.

6. Intermission
Remember when I said at least Pun took time out to name his skits? Well, I stand corrected.

7. The Dream Shatterer
A lot of people go back and forth between this and "Beware" in determining Pun's best lyrical outing on this album. Personally, I'm torn, but I prefer the beat on "Beware," so I guess that settles which record I like better. Make no mistake, though; "The Dream Shatterer" still knocks. Domingo's production will break your neck, and Big Pun obviously tears it to shreds. One thing, though: this is not the original version of this cut. That one was produced by Buckwild, and I am actually a bit partial to that version. It's that good.

8. Punish Me
This is by far the weakest song here so far, and it may very well be the weakest track on Capital Punishment. It's not that Pun doesn't do his job here; he actually puts together a very impressive lyrical performance. It's just that "Punish Me" sounds sort of out of place on this project.

9. Pakinamac Pt. 1 (Skit)
You're telling me there is a part two? Great.

10. You Ain't a Killer
And we're back on track. Younglord utilizes a Michael Jackson sample and combines it with Kool & The Gang's "Summertime Madness" to lace a pretty awesome beat for Big Pun, and he does what he always does in ripping it to pieces. I don't care what anyone says: Pun has the best flow of all-time, and it's not even close. It's also great how all of Pun's threats are legitimately menacing.

11. Pakinamac Pt. 2 (Skit)
And there it is.

12. Caribbean Connection
Wyclef hops on this Younglord-produced song, and not only does he kind of sound like Canibus here, but it also sounds like 'Bis wrote his verse. It makes sense, too, as Capital Punishment came out around the same time as Canibus' debut album, Can-I-Bus, which 'Clef played a big hand in creating. I also could swear that I once read that Canibus was supposed to be on "Caribbean Connection," but maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, when you look past the fact that Wyclef's verse may very well have been ghostwritten, you're treated to a pretty great track. The beat is engaging and is very suitable given the title of the record, and Wyclef sounds terrific on this.

13. Glamour Life
L.E.S. steps behind the boards for this posse cut, and it freaking bangs. Big Pun and his Terror Squad brethren (including Fat Joe) bless the raw instrumental, and to no one's surprise, it's Pun who walks away the winner, from his hook to his scintillating verse, the gigantic breaths he takes throughout notwithstanding. I'm running out of good things to say about this album by now, so I'll just say that "Glamour Life" knocks

14. Capital Punishment Medley
This is just alright. The Infinite Arkatechz production kind of sells Big Pun short, as he is not able to fully launch his legendary flow on this track. As a matter of fact, Pun sounds somewhat disinterested.

15. Uncensored (Skit)
Featuring Funkmaster Flex. What's that? You don't care? Yeah; me neither

16. I'm Not a Player
The aforementioned first song that Big Pun did on his own, and also the reason why "Still Not a Player" exists. Much like that "remix," "I'm Not a Player" is pretty damn great. Minnesota's beat, which utilizes an O'Jays sample, is really freaking good, and while Pun's sexual lyrics are much more graphic than they need to be, he still sounds great over this.

17. Twinz (Deep Cover 98)
Big Pun and Fat Joe cover Dr. Dre's debut single that was ironically named "Deep Cover," and Pun drops some of the sickest lines of his career, particularly "Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know that we riddled some middlemen who didn't do diddly." Fat Joe holds his own, as well.

18. The Rain and The Sun (Interlude)
There are far too many skits on Capital Punishment.

19. Boomerang
Pun's impeccable flow is on display once again on "Boomerang," and the instrumental provided by V.I.C. suits him perfectly. I don't really have much else to add. This track is just flat-out good.

20. You Came Up
This Rockwilder-laced record was actually the album's third single. Noreaga is here, but if you're a N.O.R.E. fan, don't get too excited; he only does the hook. The production here is solid, and Big Pun tones down his content a bit to suit the laid-back nature of the beat. Decent cut overall.

21. Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)
That brings us to what is easily one of the best songs on Capital Punishment. Big Pun brings Prodigy and Inspectah Deck along for this track, a track that was actually produced by RZA. It doesn't really sound anything like you'd expect a RZA beat to sound like, but who cares? This bangs. It is literally one of the most intimidating records your ears will ever have the pleasure of hearing. The winner of this cut is the guy you'd probably least expect: Prodigy. P rips this to shreds, although both Deck and Pun also do their thing with impunity.

22. Charlie Rock Shout (Skit)
The last skit on the album. Thank the good Lord.

23. Fast Money
While the instrumental by Danny O and EQ is nothing more than pedestrian, but it doesn't matter; Big Pun takes the production and elevates it to another level with a brilliant performance. The trademark of a good rapper is the ability to do your thing without the benefit of a great beat, and Pun is able to do that seamlessly.

24. Parental Discretion
Showbiz is on the beat here, but it isn't one of this better ones. Also, Busta Rhymes' hook sounds incredibly sloppy. Big Pun was good as usual, but this isn't exactly a great way to close out the album.


Some may say that Capital Punishment was the swan song of the golden era. That's not a bad argument, but, in my opinion, the golden era came to a close two years earlier. That's what makes Big Pun's debut album all the more special.

Pun put out Capital Punishment during a time when the genre of hip-hop had come to a standstill. Classics were not being released with regularity anymore. Instead, mediocrity saturated the market, and records like Big Pun's were few and far between.

What makes Capital Punishment so incredible is that, even if it was released during that period from 1992-96 where everything that dropped seemed to be dope, it still would have been one of the best projects of its time. That's how good this LP is.

Big Pun establishes himself as one of the best rappers to ever do it here, and, in my opinion, in terms of pure rapping ability, he is the greatest of all-time, period. No one possesses his impeccable combination of skills, and absolutely no one can even come close to touching his masterful flow.

Pun is one of those artists who doesn't even need a beat to sound good. He can put out an acapella album, and the result would still be enthralling. That is what separates the great rappers from the merely good ones, and that is what separates Big Pun from just about every other hip-hop artist in history.

Capital Punishment is a classic through and through, and if you disagree with that, then I suggest you start listening to a different genre of music, because hip-hop isn't for you.


1. Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)
2. Beware
3. Still Not a Player
4. Glamour Life
5. The Dream Shatterer  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Album Review: "Juvenile Hell" - Mobb Deep (1993)


When I started this blog a few years ago, I wanted to make sure that The Infamous was one of the first albums I reviewed. That was back when I showed absolutely no regard for any sort of chronological order. Then, I also reviewed Hell On Earth and Blood Money, fully displaying the disorganized chaos that was my blog at that point.

Now, I figured it was time to make amends, and that's why today's review will be of Mobb Deep's first album, Juvenile Hell.

Those of you who are relatively new to golden age hip-hop (or those of you who don't pay that much attention) may have been under the assumption that The Infamous was Mobb Deep's first LP (let's be real; you probably were under that assumption). Well, you'd be wrong. It wouldn't entirely be your fault, though, as "Shook Ones Pt. II" has been shoved down our throats so much over the past two decades that you'd have almost no reason to believe there was an album before the one that housed that classic.

Both Prodigy and Havoc were 19 years old at the time of Juvenile Hell's release, and, interestingly enough, the project hardly featured any production from Havoc. As a matter of fact, the one beat that Havoc did have a hand in crafting is credited to "Mobb Deep," and Prodigy is actually the one who laced a couple of cuts without the assistance of Hav. Weird, huh?

Also notable is the fact that DJ Premier and Large Professor contributed instrumentals to Juvenile Hell.

As you can see, this was not a prototypical Mobb Deep album, even though it was their first one. 

Juvenile Hell hardly moved any copies, and as a result, Mobb Deep was dropped from the 4th & Broadway record label. That was a smart move by the label, huh? (That was sarcasm, just in case you couldn't tell.)

So, is Juvenile Hell an impressive debut effort from the Mobb, or is it merely a formality in what would become a star-studded career for P and Havoc? 

Let's find out.


1. Intro
The background music was decent.

2. Me & My Crew
Mobb Deep sounds like a much more hardcore version of Da Youngsta's on this lead song, and that's pretty funny because of how ridiculous of a comparison that would be just two years later. Anyway, this track is alright. The problem is that the hook is so playful-sounding that I have a hard time believing that this is a Mobb Deep record...even though it is. Also, spanning nearly five minutes in length, "Me & My Crew" runs a bit too long for its own good.

3. Locked In Spofford
The fact that Spofford was a juvenile detention center in the Bronx (it was closed in 2011) should tell you a little something about just how young Havoc and Prodigy were when they recorded this album. This is pretty solid, containing a pretty hard beat by Kerwin Young and Paul Shabazz, and both of the Mobb Deep boys drop awesome verses.

4. Peer Pressure
This was the first single off of Juvenile Hell, and it is the cut that DJ Premier produced. "Peer Pressure" is one of Premo's most overlooked productions, in my opinion. Seriously; did you know that Premo made a beat for Mobb Deep? This is pretty freaking awesome, consisting of a simple piano loop and some great drums. Havoc markedly outshines Prodigy here. He rips this, although hearing P say how he wanted to be an architect before becoming a rapper was pretty intriguing to say the least.

5. Skit #1

6. Hold Down The Fort
This is the only beat on Juvenile Hell that is credited to Mobb Deep. I'm not exactly sure just how much input Prodigy had into making this beat, but considering that he and not Havoc is credited as a producer on a couple of other songs, you have to think he had some sort of influence. "Hold Down The Fort" is decent, even if the instrumental is a bit repetitive.

7. Bitch Ass Nigga
I'm not sure if you can come up with a more generic title for a hip-hop song than this, but I digress. The track itself isn't anything special, either. The beat just isn't engaging enough.

8. Hit It From The Back
This was the second and final single from the album, and it freaking bangs. The production, credited to Prodigy and Method Max, knocks so hard that you'll be left wondering why P didn't pursue more of a career in beatmaking in the future. I especially like the horns. The hook is also ridiculously infectious, even if it basically exemplifies why you should never play this record with your girl around (although the title is pretty much a warning sign in and of itself).

9. Skit #2
I like how Mobb Deep actually labeled their skits with numbers. It's as if even they knew that including them was pretty annoying.

10. Stomp 'Em Out
Prodigy is the lone producer credited for "Stomp 'Em Out," and while this isn't exactly "Hit It From The Back," it's still pretty freaking good. The chorus is pretty addictive here, as well, reminding us all of a time when hooks on rap songs were both simple and effective and didn't have to consist of a popular R&B artist crooning about something he probably has no business crooning about. Plus, Big Noyd makes his debut here, and he sounds great.

11. Skit #3
And we're finally done with those.

12. Peer Pressure (Large Professor Remix)
Take a guess who produced this one. This remix isn't nearly as good as the DJ Premier-laced original, although the beat does fit the lyrics very well.

13. Project Hallways
"Project Hallways" is another one of those "decent" tracks on this album. I really liked some elements of this beat (namely the organ, or whatever the hell instrument that is that surfaces several times throughout), but those elements are too few and far between for me to label this a great record.

14. Flavor For The Non-Believes
I'm not sure why Mobb Deep couldn't just include the "r" in non-believers, but whatever. This cut is pretty damn great. The Kerwin Young instrumental is a real head-nodder, and Havoc rides it like Buckshot (Hav did appear on Enta Da Stage, after all). P was also awesome on this. Great way to close out the album.


Juvenile Hell is a very solid debut album from two teenagers who had no idea what type of impact they were about to make on the genre of hip-hop. There are no truly bad songs on here, and quite a few of the tracks are really, really good, even with limited production from Havoc.

What you'll probably notice is how similar Prodigy and Havoc sounded at this age. It can become a bit hard to differentiate between them at times, but it just serves as more proof that they mesh with each other incredibly well. They also demonstrated their propensity for street-flavored topics right off the bat, hinting at what was to come.

The beats on this project are, for the most part, thoroughly entertaining, even if some of them do get a bit redundant. While there isn't much diversity, the instrumentals blend together very effectively, and that (along with the short length) makes Juvenile Hell an easy, straightforward listen, something that is always an important quality with an album.

All of that being said, Juvenile Hell is not The Infamous or Hell On Earth. Not even close, actually, but that is not a slight. After all, Mobb Deep's second and third albums may be the best one-two punch in hip-hop history, and Juvenile Hell was just the precursor to that.

If only 4th & Broadway would have seen the potential. I can only imagine how stupid they all feel now seeing what Mobb Deep was able to accomplish after their debut.


1. Hit It From The Back
2. Peer Pressure
3. Flavor For The Non-Believes
4. Stomp 'Em Out
5. Hold Down The Fort

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Album Review: "World Ultimate" - The Nonce (1995)


One of the main purposes of this blog is to introduce you to artists/albums you may not have heard of, and that's why I will be reviewing The Nonce's World Ultimate in this writeup.

Perhaps some of you are familiar with The Nonce, but for those of you who are like "who?" (and I am assuming that is most of you), they were a West Coast duo comprised of rappers Nouka Basetype (a.k.a. Sach) and Yusef Afloat that was active during the '90s. In 2000, Yusef was found dead alongside of Freeway 10 in Los Angeles (the cause remains a mystery), thus marking the end of the group.

During their short time in the game, The Nonce, whose style could probably be lumped in the same category as groups like The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest, dropped one full-length album. While it was not exactly a commercial success, it achieved sort of a cult following over time, and now, if you Google search for the most underrated rap albums of the '90s, there is a good chance you will find World Ultimate mentioned (that's how I originally came across it).

World Ultimate is entirely self-produced. It's funny, because it possesses a laid-back sound that was synonymous with the West Coast at that time, but on that same token, it sounds very different from the G-funk that dominated L.A. back then. 

The lead single "Mixtapes" is the most well-known song off of the project (well-known by The Nonce's standards, anyway), and a remix of the track is also featured at the end.

Disturbingly enough, the word "nonce" is actually a slang term used in British and Australian prisons to identify sex offenders, but we'll just ignore that and assume (or hope) that that is not where Nouka and Yusef got their group name from.

Anyway, let's review an album that some consider to be a West Coast classic. 


1. On The Air
The Nonce decide to forgo an album intro for an actual song here, so they're already in my good graces. As for "On The Air," imagine the chillest, most easygoing track you can think of. Even if you do that, you still won't be able to capture the relaxing mood of this record. Nice job, fellas.

2. Keep It On
The instrumental here is considerably more energetic than the preceding cut, and it's better, too. I have to say that the hook on "Keep It On" is pretty damn awesome in particular. Also, if you're listening along, does anyone else think Yusef occasionally sounds a little like a young, toned-down Havoc with a touch of Q-Tip?

3. Bus Stops
Aceyalone, one of the greatest lyricists to ever come out of the West Coast, marks the first of three total guest appearances on World Ultimate here. Don't get too excited, though; he only drops a few "ad-libs" in the middle of the song. Overall, "Bus Stops" was not very engaging. While the beat is smooth, it lacks diversity. You might want to track down the "Token & a Transfer" remix. It's better than this version.

4. The West Is...
Now this freaking bangs. The instrumental absolutely knocks, and both Yusef and Nouka kill it. There are also two guests on "The West Is...," a female rapper named Butta B and a dude who goes by the name of Meen Green. Not that this track needed any features, but, fortunately, they don't drag the product down one bit.

5. Mix Tapes
The aforementioned first single. This is just awesome. The production is terrific, and the way both Nonce rappers flow over it makes it sound that much better. The hook is a little cheesy, but it doesn't do much to diminish how good of a record "Mix Tapes" is.

6. Testing
Interlude. The beat is pretty cool, though.

7. World Ultimate 
The title track contains a really playful--and effective--instrumental, and both Nouka and Yusef (who are very evenly matched as far as ability is concerned) do it justice. By this point of the album, you should be able to tell how these dudes are essentially a West Coast version of A Tribe Called Quest. The only complaint I might have about this record is that it ran just a bit too long.

8. Good To Go
This is quite easily the darkest cut on World Ultimate, and by now, you should know how much I love dark productions. This is great. The ominous horns and piano keys are hypnotizing, and a subtle bassline accompanies them. Also, I'm not sure how no one has sampled this hook yet. It just sounds like one of those "types" of hooks.

9. On The Road Again
This is decent, but it doesn't sound different from anything else we've already heard on this project, and the fact that "Good To Go" is the preceding song doesn't do "On The Road Again" any favors. Plus, this is much longer than it needs to be. Figures of Speech make a guest appearance here, marking the final guest spot on World Ultimate.

10. Hoods Like To Play
And we're back on the right track in a big way. This freaking knocks, as the beat combines both dark and playful elements to make "Hoods Like To Play" one of the best tracks on the album. Also, Nouka saying how he'll "diss your whore" is both funny and somewhat intimidating at the same time.

11. J To The I
The first thing I noticed about this record was that the snare was one of the grimiest drums I've ever heard. Then, the smooth, soulful sample kicked in, and my head started nodding that much more compulsively.

12. Eighty-Five
I don't have much of an opinion one way or the other on this cut, which lasts for about a minute-and-a-half until the instrumental rides out for the final minute and change.

13. Mix Tapes (1926 Sunday Night Remix)
You'll probably recognize that Moments sample right away, because it's been used what seems like one million and five times. Anyway, the lyrics for this remix are the same as the original. The production is just different, and quite frankly, the beat sucks. There is another remix of "Mix Tapes" called the "81st Street Subliminal Remix." Go listen to that one instead. It's much better.


I can easily see why many consider World Ultimate to be an overlooked classic. It is a very relaxing listen all the way through, and it is also relatively consistent. Plus, I'm sure plenty of the fans who love this album are also A Tribe Called Quest fanatics, and they obviously love this type of sound.

This is no doubt a very good album. Just about every song on here is listenable, and some of them are really freaking good. Both Nouka and Yusef are very talented on the mic, and perhaps the best part about The Nonce as a duo is that neither rapper outshines the other.

The fact that World Ultimate is entirely self-produced is pretty impressive, as well. The beats on here are, for the most part, very solid, and while there isn't too much variety from one instrumental to another, they all blend in seamlessly. The subject matter is predominantly nonchalant to match the mood of the production, too.

If you're a fan of groups like A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, or De La Soul, you should definitely give World Ultimate a listen. You will absolutely find something to like, and, chances are, you will be pretty enthralled with the overall product.

Everyone else should give this a spin, as well. I can't guarantee you'll be as entertained, though, especially considering this isn't your typical mid 90s West Coast album (there is not even a hint of G-funk on here).


1. Good To Go
2. The West Is...
3. Hoods Like To Play
4. Mix Tapes
5. Keep It On         

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Album Review: "No More Mr. Nice Guy" - Gang Starr (1989)


The Gang Starr story is certainly an interesting one.

The group was originally formed in 1985 by Massachusetts native Guru (rest in peace) and two artists named DJ 1 and 2-B Down (that's right; DJ Premier was not part of the group's initial proceedings). They also received help from various producers.

From what I understand, Gang Starr was not a rap group from the start. I think I remember DJ Premier saying in an interview one time that Guru and his boys were actually singing at the beginning. Intriguing stuff, huh?

Well, after a few singles, the original Gang Starr disbanded, and Guru found himself the only member willing to remain. That was when he got in touch with Premo, and thus, the Gang Starr that we have come to know and love today was born.

The duo had an illustrious career together, releasing six full-length albums from 1989 to 2003. Sadly, they had a bit of a falling out at the end, but the two thankfully patched things up before Guru's grim, untimely death in 2010.

When most people think of Gang Starr, they think of the four albums they released during the '90s. Some may not even know that the first project they actually dropped was No More Mr. Nice Guy in 1989.

Now, before getting into the review, I will warn you that the duo's debut was almost nothing like their later work. The choppy, hard-hitting production that DJ Premier is now known for was not yet there on this LP. Instead, No More Mr. Nice Guy is a jazzy effort, one that could possibly be referred to as the cousin of Step In The Arena (it wasn't really until Daily Operation that Gang Starr really hit their formula).

So, without further ado, let's begin the discography of one of the best groups to ever grace hip-hop.


1. Premier & The Guru
You can already tell how dated No More Mr. Nice Guy is going to sound the second "Premier & The Guru" kicks off. Unlike many other rappers who change up their deliveries as their careers progress, you'll realize here that Guru's flow remained exactly the same from Gang Starr's first album all the way through to their last. That's cool. As far as this song goes, it's decent. Again, very dated (as expected), but decent.

2. Jazz Music
If the title of this track doesn't tell you the type of samples DJ Premier used to produce this album (in this case, a Ramsey Lewis sample), then you're lost. Very lost. Anyway, this record is pretty boring overall.

3. Gotch U
Now that's more like it. This sounds a step closer to the type of instrumentals that Premo laced for Guru on Step In The Arena, consisting of an energetic drum loop, a pretty addicting guitar riff and some solid horns. Guru blesses the production with an upbeat performance of his own.

4. Manifest
This is alright. A little long and repetitive, but alright. That's all I've got.

5. Gusto
"Gusto" was actually not blessed by DJ Premier. This was laced by DJ Mark The 45 King, one of the producers who used to step behind the boards for the original Gang Starr. You should be able to tell from the first few seconds of the cut that this is not a Premo joint, but with the way he produced back then, you're forgiven if you didn't realize it. Anyway, this song isn't bad, but Guru sounds like he was rapping over the telephone. Then again, hip-hop equipment wasn't exactly state of the art back then, so I guess he's forgiven, too.

6. DJ Premier In Deep Concentration
DJ Premier was so pissed that Guru rolled without him on the previous track that he decided to drop a beat here without Guru's raps. Actually, that probably isn't what happened, but this is a Premo solo instrumental, with a sample of Kool & The Gang's classic "Summer Madness" as the centerpiece. You never see this type of thing in hip-hop anymore.

7. Positivity (Remix)
I'm not really sure why the remix comes before the original, but who am I to judge DJ Premier and Guru? This was pretty nice, consisting of a really smooth horn sample and some pretty cool drums. Guru's delivery sounds extremely natural on here, and that's not much of a surprise considering "Positivity" is another one of those tracks on No More Mr. Nice Guy that bears similarities to the records on Step In The Arena.

8. Manifest (Remix)
This remix is more well-known than the original version, and with good reason: it's better. Premo's production possesses considerably more energy than most of the rest of the album (even though he utilizes the same sample as the parent version), and while Guru's lyrics are the same as on the original, they simply sound stronger over the beat. Here and there, we get little tastes of Gang Starr's later work on this project, and the "Manifest" remix is one of those examples.

9. Conscience Be Free
DJ Premier's laid-back beat on here is pretty freaking awesome, and Guru indulges with a fine performance of his own. Definitely one of the best songs on No More Mr. Nice Guy.

10. Cause and Effect
I don't like how Guru's voice echoes throughout, and I wasn't all that impressed with Premo's instrumental, either. Oh well.

11. 2 Steps Ahead
You know how I said some of the tracks on here parallel the Step In The Arena formula? Well, "2 Steps Ahead" sounds like it could have been on Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. A classic album? Yes. Incredibly dated? Also yes. Completely irrelevant to this review? Yes as well.

12. No More Mr. Nice Guy
I really like the piano sample that DJ Premier used for this; it reminds me of some of his later, more renowned work. Guru seems to ramp up his intensity a bit on this title record, making this an all-around winner.

13. Knowledge
The other cut on No More Mr. Nice Guy that wasn't crafted by Premo. DJ Mark The 45 King is here again, and he lays down a beat that fits right into the rest of the album. That doesn't mean "Knowledge" is all that great, though, because this is pretty boring, and the vocal sample on the hook borders on creepy. The most notable aspect of this song is that it houses the only guest appearance, one that comes in the form of Damo D-Ski.

14. Positivity
I'm gonna be honest: I'm not seeing any difference between this and the remix (did we really need a remix, guys?)


No More Mr. Nice Guy sounds pretty much exactly what you would expect a 1980s hip-hop album to sound like: dated, jazzy and full of braggadocio raps. Not that that's a bad thing, and you know what? Gang Starr's debut was a bit ahead of its time.

While no one will confuse this album for any of Gang Starr's best work, there are bits and pieces of it that foreshadow what the duo's career would ultimately become. Yes, it may be a relatively boring listen overall, but don't you want to know about the roots of one of the most legendary groups in hip-hop history?

What I really appreciate about No More Mr. Nice Guy is the fact that DJ Premier and Guru do not try to do too much. For the most part, the project is a short listen, as 10 of the 14 songs fall under the four-minute mark. Plus, there are no annoying skits that too many rappers feel necessary to include on their albums.

Clearly, Premo had not fully hit his stride yet, and how could you have expected him to at this point? These were some of the first beats of his career, a career that would eventually become one of the most respected ones in rap lore. Guru, on the other hand, is the Guru we know. He never changed up his style, and that just makes him all the more endearing as an artist. Rest in peace, my man.

I wouldn't recommend that you go out of your way to listen to No More Mr. Nice Guy, as it is hardly anything groundbreaking. However, again, if you are interested in the history of hip-hop and, particularly, the legacy of Gang Starr, then I suggest you track this down and give it a listen.

You may even find yourself pleasantly surprised by what you hear.


1. Conscience Be Free
2. No More Mr. Nice Guy
2. Gotch U
3. Manifest (Remix)
4. Positivity (Remix)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Album Review: "Once Upon a Time In America" - Smoothe Da Hustler (1996)


Smoothe Da Hustler is another one of those rappers whom I admittedly do not know too much about, and I'd be surprised if anyone really knows too many details about his life. 

I'll tell you what I do know. He broke in to the rap game with his debut single, "Broken Language," in 1995. The song features his brother, Trigger Tha Gambler, who also makes numerous appearance on Smoothe's debut album, Once Upon a Time In America.

The aforementioned first LP dropped in '96, and it was the only album Smoothe Da Hustler would release until 2008. It was produced almost exclusively by DR Period, a fairly well-known beatmaker who has also worked with M.O.P.

After Once Upon a Time In America, Smoothe appeared on tracks by Blahzay Blahzay, Shyheim, Public Enemy, Nine and, unexpectedly, SWV (how the hell did that collaboration come about?). He was also featured on The Nutty Professor soundtrack. (For someone who has released limited material over the course of his career, Smoothe Da Hustler is oddly well-traveled.)

Smoothe then went into hiding for over a decade, which may have something to do with me knowing virtually nothing about the man.

Regardless, many feel that Once Upon a Time In America is one of the more overlooked hip-hop albums of the '90s.

Are they right?


1. Once Upon a Time...
Once upon a time, a rapper decided to start things off without an intro...ha. That almost never happens.

2. Fuck Whatcha Heard
Despite having one of the most generic song titles possible, "Fuck Whatcha Heard" gets Once Upon a Time In America off to a really good start. DR Period's beat bangs, perfectly suiting Smoothe Da Hustler's aggressive, Canibus-like voice and delivery. Trigger Tha Gambler makes his first of several appearances on the album here and does the hook, a pretty poor hook that was the only downside to this track.

3. Dollar Bill
Is it just me, or does "Dollar Bill" sound an awful lot like "Fuck Whatcha Heard"? It's a better version, though. This freaking knocks to high heaven, a phrase I don't think I've ever used on this blog before. The instrumental by DR Period is awesome, and D.V. Alias Khrist absolutely kills the chorus and the verses that he chips in throughout. Smoothe does his thing, as well. This is just fantastic.

4. Glocks On Cock
And then we get hit with this crap. This is the only record on Once Upon a Time In America that DR Period didn't produce, and it really makes you wonder what Smoothe Da Hustler thought was so special about this beat (which was laced by Kenny Gee) to give it that distinction. "Glocks On Cock" is just boring, and it sounds especially bland coming after those first two cuts. Thankfully, it's not nearly as long as either of them.

5. Broken Language
The single that I mentioned earlier. I've gotta be honest: DR Period's instrumental here isn't much better than the snorefest that Kenny Gee produced on "Glocks On Cock." The beat for "Broken Language" lacks any sort of variety, and while brothers Smoothe and Trigger do a solid job trading raps, their performances aren't enough to overcome the flat production.

6. Speak My Peace
How about speaking your peace in an actual song?

7. Neva Die Alone
Back on the right track. DR Period's beat is engaging, ending the small drought we endured since "Dollar Bill," and Smoothe Da Hustler basically tells his life story and the lessons he has learned throughout. "Neva Die Alone" is a pretty good track overall, even if I'm not exactly sure what the title has to do with the subject matter.

8. Food For Thoughts
You know Jadakiss' song "Why"? Well, this is essentially Smoothe Da Hustler's version eight years earlier. The result? A fairly mediocre one, although I did like when he said "don't take the name Smoothe wrong."

9. Family Conflicts
Another skit. Thankfully, it's the last one.

10. Only Human
I've never liked beats composed of '80s samples, and "Only Human" is no exception. Plain and simply, this track sucks.

11. Hustler's Theme
This was a bit better than the previous record, but it still isn't very good. My interest in this album is withering rather quickly.

12. Murdafest
Smoothe sounds good enough on this, and Trigger Tha Gambler provides a decent hook with D.V. Alias Khrist crooning in the background, but, once again, DR Period lets us all down with the instrumental. Dull, monotonous production has become an all-too-common theme on Once Upon a Time In America.

13. Hustlin'
So, two cuts after "Hustler's Theme," we get "Hustlin'"? It seems safe to say that, at this point, Smoothe Da Hustler was running out of ideas. The fact that this song really isn't any good adds further credence to that notion. Oh, and you know how two songs ago, I said my interest in this album was withering? Well, it's now on life support.

14. My Brother My Ace
Okay; this is easily the best track since "Neva Die Alone." This actually kept my attention all the way through, as the DR Period production is pretty freaking good and Smoothe and Trigger (hence the title) go back and forth with some awesome raps throughout. Where the hell was this type of energy before?

15. Dedication
Remember how I said how I don't like beats composed of '80s samples and how "Only Human" was no exception? Well, "Dedication" is no exception, either. Smoothe Da Hustler should have just stopped at "My Brother My Ace," because this was a really crappy way to end the album.


After a very impressive start, Once Upon a Time In America absolutely falls apart. Some of you readers will probably disagree with this, but I think this album is, for the most part, really freaking boring. There are some good songs on here, but they are few and far between, and most of that onus falls on the shoulders of DR Period.

Period's production on this project is exceedingly bland, and as a result, the LP lacks the type of energy needed to birth a classic. I guess part of the blame has to be placed on Smoothe Da Hustler, as well, as he was the one who was picking these beats, after all.

That's what makes this all the more disappointing. Smoothe is a good rapper, possessing a unique voice and delivery that is capable of entertaining the listener. However, he doesn't seem to understand which instrumentals suit him best. You hear him on something like "Dollar Bill," and then he goes and raps on beats such as the ones for "Only Human" and "Dedication." What were you thinking, Smoothe?

I would have certainly liked to have seen what Smoothe Da Hustler would have come up with for his encore, but, unfortunately, that encore came a decade too late. I'm not sure what happened that made Smoothe wait 12 years to drop his second album, but it is what it is.

Again, there are some tracks on here that are worth throwing on to your iPod (or whatever device you use to listen to music), particularly the banging "Dollar Bill." As a whole, though, Once Upon a Time In America just does not hold up. It just isn't interesting enough.


1. Dollar Bill
2. Fuck Whatcha Heard
3. My Brother My Ace
4. Neva Die Alone
5. Food For Thoughts

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Album Review: "Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous" - Big L (1995)


I'm sure many of you were waiting for me to finally get to Big L's debut album, and the time has finally come.

Even if you don't know too much about Big L, real name Lamont Coleman, you probably know that he was from Harlem and was shot and killed in 1999. It was a career--and a life--that was cut far too short. Even though he released just one LP during his lifetime (The Big Picture was a posthumous album), Big L, known for his vivid storytelling over dark beats, is considered one of the best rappers of all-time.

Big L started out his rap career in 1991, forming the group Children of The Corn with Killa Cam (whom you now know as Cam'ron), Murda Mase (who is obviously Ma$e) and Bloodshed (who sadly died in a car accident in 1997). At this time, L was also fairly tight with Lord Finesse (hence his inclusion in Diggin' In The Crates crew), and his first appearance on an actual song came on Finesse's "Yes You May" remix in '92.

Then, in 1993, Big L released his first promotional single, "Devil's Son," claiming it to be the first ever horrorcore song. After dropping another promo single by the name of "Clinic," he came with his biggest hit, "Put It On." Shortly thereafter, Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous was born.

Big L's first full-length effort, also featuring the singles "No Endz, No Skinz" and "M.V.P.," was met with critical acclaim, and to this day, it is considered a staple in the collections of hip-hop fans everywhere.

Time to review what most have dubbed an undisputed classic.


1. Put It On
There are no album intros here. Just an absolute banger of a song produced by Buckwild. Even the most casual old-school hip-hop fans know "Put It On," and for good reason: this freaking knocks. The beat is actually a bit playful compared to the rest of the album, and Big L flashes his insane punchline ability throughout the duration of the track. Kid Capri also adds a really nice touch on the hook, even if it is as simple as a hook can possibly be.

2. M.V.P.
The first thing you'll notice about "M.V.P." (which stands for "Most Valuable Poet" in this instance) is that Lord Finesse used the same sample as The Notorious B.I.G.'s "One More Chance" remix to make the instrumental. Let the record show that "M.V.P." came out before the Biggie record. Let the record also show that I never liked either cut. I just don't dig that DeBarge sample at all. Big L saying his crime record is longer than Manute Bol was pretty funny, though.

3. No Endz, No Skinz
This was actually one of the first records I gravitated toward upon hearing Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous, and it's probably due to the fact that the Showbiz production is more lively than most of the rest of the project. This song basically says that the more money you have, the more girls you'll get. Not exactly a triumph of analysis by Big L, but who cares? "No Endz, No Skinz" is pretty solid, particularly the chorus. This isn't one of my favorite tracks on the LP anymore, though.

4. 8 Iz Enuff
One of two posse cuts on the album. The difference between the two is that on "8 Iz Enuff," Killa Cam is the only guy on here outside of Big L that most of us have ever heard of (except for maybe McGruff, but I'd bet on most people not knowing who he is). Buckwild is on the boards here, and he crafts a decent beat for the 589 rappers that are present to spit on. Overall, this was merely alright.

5. All Black
This is the best song on Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous. This absolutely bangs in every way possible. Lord Finesse's instrumental is incredibly ominous, and Big L tears it to bits. The hook on here is especially great. To me, "All Black" is the crown jewel on L's short career.

6. Danger Zone
I've gotta say that I am more than a little perturbed about Big L's obsession with the whole "devil's son" bit, but Buckwild's production here is dope enough (actually, it knocks) to make you overlook that...a little.

7. Street Struck
The third of five Lord Finesse beats on on the album is a winner. This isn't "All Black," but it's still really good. The horns add a great element, and Big L drops some serious raps for a change. It's kind of spooky, too, because L warns against the very thing that ultimately ended his life. Very nice record overall.

8. Da Graveyard
The second posse cut. This one is actually very notable, as it features a young Jay-Z. Buckwild's instrumental is appropriately aggressive, and Big L eats it alive and then proceeds to spit it out with authority. Sorry, Jay, but L murked you on here. As a matter of fact, knowing what type of style Jay would ultimately adopt, he sounds awkwardly out of place on "Da Graveyard." Lord Finesse drops a verse, too, as well as Microphone Nut, Party Arty (known for his contributions to Show & A.G.'s albums) and Grand Daddy I.U. All things considered, Big L's performance was so scintillating that you'll find yourself wishing this was an L solo.

9. Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous
Lord Finesse is back on the boards for the title track, and he puts together a beat that sounds like a cross between "All Black" and "Danger Zone." In case you weren't sure, that is a very good thing. The most awesome thing about this song is that it is just one long verse by Big L, and he maintains his usual level of excellence throughout.

10. I Don't Understand It
Showbiz laces his second instrumental to Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous here, and this contribution is certainly stronger than his first. This is a certified head-nodder, and Big L broaches the same kind of topic that O.C. did on "Time's Up." Big L's version isn't as scathing, but it still reverberates today; that's for damn sure. L raps, "some rappers are mad nice, and don't even go gold." That line certainly applies to Lifestyles ov Da Poor & Dangerous, but it's a shame Big L wasn't around to see The Big Picture move enough copies to do just that.

11. Fed Up With The Bullshit
This is Finesse's final go on the album, and he went out with a bang. This is freaking awesome. He throws in some of his trademark horns and his typical dusty drums, and Big L fundamentally covers the topic of racism and how he's fed up with it, hence the title. This record is concrete evidence that L wasn't solely about punchlines.

12. Let 'Em Have It L
This is the only cut on the album that wasn't produced by a D.I.T.C. member, but you wouldn't know it unless you looked at the liner notes. Craig Boogie's beat sounds exactly like something one of those dudes would produce, and that's obviously good news. This sounds really good, and Big L drops punchlines galore on here. How else would you expect him to go out?


Yep; Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous is definitely an indisputable classic. Big L demonstrates that he was one of the most gifted MCs to ever do it here, and the beats provided by Diggin' In The Crates crew suit him perfectly. This album truly is a masterpiece, one that is, in my opinion, superior to The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die.

Here is a fair warning, though: those of you who enjoy radio-friendly hip-hop will not like this album. The only song on here that could be classified as somewhat radio-friendly is "Put It On," and even on that track, Big L does not compromise himself for the possibility of airplay.

The instrumentals on Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous are, in a word, raw, and they paint a perfect picture of what New York hip-hop sounded like back in 1995 and what it should sound like right now. The music is very dark and dreary, and I mean that in the best way possible. It does well to complement L's frequently bleak rhymes, and that's what make this project such an enjoyable listen, along with Big L's brilliant punchlines and masterful flow.

It's gravely unfortunate that we did not get to see what Big L would have been capable of had his life not been taken away at the age of 24. He is someone who likely never would have sold out and would have continued to drop classic material for the remainder of his existence in the rap game.

As an ode to Big L and to classic hip-hop in general, you need to make sure you have Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous in your collection. It's a very refreshing listen, particularly in the current space this genre finds itself in today.


1. All Black
2. I Don't Understand It
3. Put It On
4. Street Struck
5. Fed Up With The Bullshit   

Monday, September 9, 2013

Album Review: "The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil" - Tragic Allies (2011)


Confession time: I just came across Tragic Allies the other day, so, obviously I know virtually nothing about them other than the fact that they were discovered by Killah Priest, dropped a couple (maybe?) of mixtapes and released their debut album, The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, in 2011.

They are a three-man group consisting of Purpose, Estee Nack and Codenine. Purpose not only raps, but he also produces, and he steps behind the boards for a bunch of tracks on The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, an album that  features guest appearances from Killah Priest, Bronze Nazareth and Planet Asia.

Tragic Allies are an old-school type group, bringing a 90s feel to hip-hop similar to what some of the Wu-Tang offshoots offer/offered (which makes sense, because Killah Priest did discover them). 

For that reason, I can already see the more devout hip-hop heads gravitating toward this trio, if not only for that, but also because of the fact that they sound nothing like the bullcrap that saturates the radio today.

Again, I literally just found these dudes this week, so let's just jump right into the review.


1. Intro

2. A.L.L.I.E.S.
Things don't exactly get off to a good start here. The beat, laced by Crucial The Guillotine (doesn't that name just sound so Wu-Tangish?), grates on the eardrums, as the vocal sample (something I am usually rather fond of) is just overkill. This also crawls a bit too much for my liking.

3. God Gifted
This is better. Purpose pulls a page out of Bronze Nazareth's book here and crafts a slow-paced instrumental consisting of some deliberate horns and a vocal sample. The production does does get a bit repetitive after a while, but the music is solid. Also, Planet Asia makes a guest appearance, and he does "God Gifted" justice.

4. War Melody
DJ Woool (doesn't that name just sound so not Wu-Tangish?) is on the boards for "War Melody," and the result is a really freaking boring beat. This really could have used heavier drums (only Roc Marciano and The Alchemist can pull off the sparse drum-type instrumentals). The raps are good, but the production is just not nearly engaging enough to keep my interest.

5. Fallin' Starz
A dude named Kevalowski puts together this beat, and like Purpose two songs ago, he does his best Bronze Nazareth impression. This was pretty good, possessing a grimy feel thanks to the instrumental and the subject matter of the rhymes by all three MCs. "Fallin' Starz" is the best track here so far, but I'm still hoping the energy picks up a little bit more as the album progresses.

6. Words From The Most High  
This time, Street Science steps behind the boards for the production, and the finished product is pretty solid. The beat consists of an ominous piano riff and some semi-hard drums (they could have been harder, though), and Tragic Allies are able to match its dreary atmosphere. Six tracks in on The Tree of Knowledge, I know one thing for sure: these dudes are raw.

7. Street Narrative
Alright; now I'm positively sure that this album is headed in the right direction. This DJ Kryptonite-produced record freaking knocks. The instrumental is the best one on the project thus far, containing what sounds like a really dope Spanish sample and some banging drums to boot. Not only that, but the lyrics are really great, too. "Street Narrative" is just very dope overall.

8. Revival of The Fittest
This cut has a pretty cool name, as it is obviously a play on Mobb Deep's classic "Survival of The Fittest" (it also works in a vocal sample from it at the end). This song isn't nearly as good as Mobb Deep's, but it's still good, nonetheless. While Purpose's production isn't anything mind-blowing, it is extremely hard, and it suits the group perfectly. I really liked the hook on here, too.

9. In The Air
Crucial The Guillotine gets another chance here after that debacle of a first beat, and although his work on "In The Air" is not what I would call spectacular, it's much better than what he did on "A.L.L.I.E.S." Plus, Tragic Allies rip this instrumental so thoroughly that you'll eventually find yourself focusing on their raps rather than the production. That's always a good thing. The only complaint I would have is that the beat plays on for far too long at the end.

10. The Thought of Dying
I'm gonna be blunt with you: this song was so morbid that I couldn't even get through the whole thing.

11. Interlude
60 Second Assassin makes a guest appearance here, and you know what? It was a waste, but what did you expect from an interlude?

12. Drown
I give Tragic Allies credit for touching on very delicate subjects and doing so very elegantly, but man...this album is just getting depressing. Also, an R&B hook on a project like this? Really?

13. Picture Perfect
The second the vocal sample kicks in at the beginning, you're bound to go crazy. This is freaking awesome. A producer named Bug (I know, but who cares what his name is with an instrumental like this?) creates the beat for "Picture Perfect," and good Lord did he make a head-nodder. Killah Priest drops by to lay down a verse, and his appearance was definitely refreshing.

14. Riots In The Streets
Mr. Morals (who probably has no morals) laces the production for "Riots In The Streets," and he kills it with that Thelma Houston sample. I would have liked to hear some drums on this, as Mr. Morals decides to just let the sample ride, but this was still good regardless, even if the song's title kind of insinuates that this is supposed to contain a much more aggressive beat. It also helps that Tragic Allies freaking rip this.

15. Rap Quotables
This is the best song on the album. No freaking question. Crucial The Guillotine puts down the instrumental here, and upon hearing his production on "Rap Quotables," you'll wonder just what was going through his mind when he made the beat for "A.L.L.I.E.S.," because this beat is absolutely outstanding. I could seriously listen to this on a loop all day. It's that great.

16. Time We Never Had
Decent, but coming after "Rap Quotables," I wasn't overly impressed.

17. Story of Sadness
Bronze Nazareth stops in to drop a verse on this cut, and he does a very fine job. This is solid, and while it wasn't the best way to close out the album, it certainly wasn't the worst.

18. Outro
And we're done.


Overall, I was impressed by Tragic Allies. The three of them are incredibly gifted rappers cut right from the Wu-Tang cloth, and their collective persona is grimy to a T (that's a good thing just in case you didn't know).

I won't lie and say that The Tree of Knowledge is a thoroughly consistent listen, because it isn't. Some of the production on here is just okay, and including two songs about grim death ("The Thought of Dying" and "Drown," with "Drown" being about suicide) is a bit unpleasant to say the least, even if the records were straight from the heart (and they were).

Still, even taking those little critiques into account, this is a good album. A few of the songs on here have incredible replay value, and sometimes, Purpose, Estee Nack and Codenine are so exceptional on the mic that they significantly elevate tracks with otherwise average production.

I would definitely recommend giving The Tree of Knowledge a spin, as I'm sure most of you will find something to like (especially the Wu-Tang fans). I've also been convinced to check out some of their other work myself. They don't have a very extensive discography, either, so it won't take too long.

Hopefully, these guys stick around, as there is obvious talent and potential here.


1. Rap Quotables
2. Street Narrative
3. Riots In The Streets
4. Picture Perfect
5. Revival of The Fittest