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

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