I remember the first time I heard Lords of The Underground, a trio hailing from Newark, New Jersey. I was 13 years old and I was playing NBA Street Vol. 2. I remember going through the soundtrack and hearing songs like Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You" and Erick Sermon and Redman's "React."
At that point of my life, I was absolutely clueless about hip-hop and didn't actively seek out any type of music. To be perfectly honest, most of the music I heard came from soundtracks of video games like NBA Street, Madden, NBA Live/NBA 2K, etc.
So, getting back on track, "Chief Rocka," the most famous record by Lords of The Underground, was on NBA Street Vol. 2. I remember loving it the second I heard it and having it play in the background constantly. As I sit here writing this review 10 years later, I still love it, and it always takes me back to my childhood.
Anyway, 20 years ago, Lords of The Underground dropped their debut album, Here Come The Lords. While it was not that commercially successful, it still moved some units, and "Chief Rocka" was a fairly big hit.
The group is composed of two rappers (Mr. Funke and DoItAll) and DJ Lord Jazz. Mr. Funke and DoItAll are known for their hard, gruff delivery that was perfectly suited for the beats of Marley Marl and K-Def, both of whom laid down the instrumentals for Lords of The Underground on Here Come The Lords.
When there are discussions about classic hip-hop albums, Here Come The Lords is rarely mentioned. Is that a grave injustice, or is the debut of Lords of The Underground merely a good album that was released during a time of great albums?
Let's find out.
1. Here Come The Lords
K-Def laces the opening song on the album, and it's a certified banger. You'll notice right off the bat that Mr. Funke's voice is extremely unique, and it's the voice you'll immediately picture when you think of Lords of The Underground (at least I do, anyway). That's not a knock to DoItAll; it's just that Mr. Funke is that raw. Anyway, this was a great way to start things off.
2. From Da Bricks
This is a dedication to the city of Newark, as the track's title is a play on Newark's nickname "Brick City." K-Def is on the boards again, and he lays down a more laid-back, jazzier beat than his previous effort. It's still nice, though. Mr. Funke's cousin Jam-C drops a guest verse here, and he fits right in.
3. Funky Child
I wasn't really feeling this one at all. K-Def's instrumental is fairly dull, and it overpowers the voices of Mr. Funke and DoItAll at times.
4. Keep It Underground
The first Marley Marl production is pretty solid, and the Lords sound much more engaged than they did on the previous record. Mr. Funke in particular absolutely rips this. Also, obviously, this cut was released during a time (a much better time) when keeping it underground was actually respected.
5. Check It (Remix)
This is where the "Chief Rocka" sample came from. How often do you see artists sample songs from the same album anymore? Pretty much never. One thing in particular that stands out about this song is Marley Marl's bassline. While the beat itself isn't all that spectacular, the bassline makes it passable. The original version of "Check It" can easily be found on the Internet, but it doesn't sound all that different from this remix.
6. Grave Digga
This isn't great, but it's definitely better than average. Marley's instrumental is decent, and the Lords sound comfortable on it. All things considered, I'm still waiting to be wowed on Here Come The Lords, and it hasn't happened yet.
7. Lords Prayer
Marley Marl gets primary production credits here, with K-Def being listed as a co-producer. Again, though, this is merely solid and not great. Maybe this is why this album isn't lauded as a classic.
8. Flow On (New Symphony)
If Marley Marl would have just stuck to The Floaters sample throughout, this would have been great, but he doesn't and keeps on changing the beat back and forth throughout, making "Flow On (New Symphony)" sound very messy. Plus, the chanting of "flow, flow" on the hook is just too loud. What the hell, man?
9. Madd Skillz
That reminds me; I have to review the rapper Mad Skillz's album From Where??? soon. Oh; this track? Once again, it's nothing more than adequate, which is becoming a rather bothersome theme on Here Come The Lords.
Finally. This record absolutely knocks, consisting of a very appealing instrumental from Marley Marl that Mr. Funke and DoItAll appropriately tear to pieces. The aggressive nature of this cut suits the Lords incredibly well, making me wonder why they didn't try to go that route more often on this project.
11. Chief Rocka
This is the best song on the freaking album. Bar none. Not only that, but this is one of the hardest, grittiest songs to ever be released period. The K-Def production undeniably bangs, and the hook (that everyone and their mother knows) will get definitely your blood flowing. Plus, this is probably Mr. Funke's best performance. If you don't like "Chief Rocka," then I hate you.
12. Sleep For Dinner (Remix)
This album has really taken a turn for the better, as "Sleep For Dinner" is also pretty freaking awesome. Marley Marl's beat is great, and the Lords come with some hilarious rhymes, especially when DoItAll talks about fighting a pizza man. This is the longest record on Here Come The Lords, and I have absolutely no qualms about that at all because, well, it's really freaking good.
Where the hell was this kind of energy in the first half of the album? This K-Def-laced cut absolutely bangs, containing a fantastic, hard-hitting instrumental and some spirited raps from Mr. Funke and DoItAll. "L.O.T.U.G." is the only song on Here Come The Lords that can rival "Chief Rocka." It's not as good, but you know what? It's pretty damn impressive.
14. Lord Jazz Hit Me One Time (Make It Funky)
This is really great, too. It's pretty clear to me that the Lords were coasting for the first nine songs, because the momentum on this project has completely turned. The Gil Scott-Heron-sampling production by K-Def knocks. It's a shame that this was the shortest track on the album, and by quite a lot, too.
15. What's Goin' On
Great, great way to close out the project. Marley Marl's bassline on here is absolutely unreal, and Mr. Funke and DoItAll ride it as if they wanted to do everything they could to go out with a bang, questioning why basically everyone has a hip-hop song. These dudes must have seizures when they listen to the radio nowadays, then.
Here Come The Lords is a tale of two halves. The first part of the album is predominantly bland, consisting of rather dull beats from K-Def and Marley Marl and lacking the type of energy that makes great hip-hop albums, well, great. Then, things pick up in a big way once "Psycho" hits, and the last six songs are all winners.
All things considered, I can see why most people don't put Here Come The Lords on their list of classics: it's just not a complete listen. While it has several great tracks, there are too many clunkers that drag the overall product down. Some of the records in the first half of the project are pretty damn boring, and it isn't until the ninth cut that the LP becomes invigorated.
Still, there is no denying that Mr. Funke and DoItAll are enjoyable MCs. Neither are top-line lyricists, but they both have great, booming voices and can certainly flow. Plus, they know how to vary their subject matter while simultaneously remaining light-hearted and humorous, a quality that too few rappers actually possess, especially these days.
As far as who won the battle of the producers on Here Come The Lords, the answer is definitely K-Def. After all, he was the man behind "Chief Rocka," and he also crafted the more lively instrumentals on the former half of the project. That's not to say Marley Marl didn't do his part, though, as a couple of the beats he laced later on (particularly "What's Goin' On") were awesome.
Unfortunately, the verdict on Here Come The Lords is that it was merely a good album released during a time of great albums. It didn't have to be that way, as the Lords clearly had it in them to drop a classic, but there are too many missteps on this for me to give it that label.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't still give this a spin, though. Oh, and you need "Chief Rocka" in your life now if it isn't already.
1. Chief Rocka
3. What's Goin' On
4. Lord Jazz Hit Me One Time (Make It Funky)
5. Here Come The Lords