Few rappers in history have flown under the radar as much as O.C., real name Omar Credle (see? No gimmicks. Just abbreviations).
A part of the Diggin' In The Crates crew movement in the 1990s, O.C. released two albums to critical acclaim (not to mention a couple of others that are also worthy of praise), one being his debut, Word...Life, and the other being his sophomore effort, Jewelz. The project we will be discussing today is Word...Life.
The casual fan of '90s hip-hop may not have even heard of O.C., let alone his first album. However, those who are truly in tune with the genre and know a thing or two about its history tend to rank Word...Life among the best albums to ever grace rap.
O.C. learned from some of the best. He made his first appearance in 1991 on Organized Konfusion's song "Fudge Pudge," and soon after, he met Buckwild and Lord Finesse. That was when he became enlisted in D.I.T.C., and from that point on, his career took off.
O.C. released Word...Life in 1994. Featuring production from D.I.T.C. producers Buckwild and Lord Finesse (I guess Showbiz was busy) and a few joints laced by Organized Konfusion, Word...Life spawned two hit singles: "Born 2 Live" and "Time's Up." Still, the LP didn't sell incredibly well as a whole, reaching only as high as No. 34 on the Top R&B and Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Not that record sales actually matter.
Outside of appearances from Organized Konfusion members Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po (who appear briefly on separate tracks), there are no guests on Word...Life. Fun fact, though: Nas was supposed to be featured, but he didn't show up to the studio for the recording session. Too bad, because that would have been an incredibly dope collaboration.
So, let's get to that review.
1. Creative Control
Although "Creative Control" is under two minutes long, it is an actual song. The Organized Konfusion duo lays down the beat for O.C., who raps briefly about a very important topic: making the music he actually wants to make rather than selling out to appease the record label. If only artists today followed that mantra.
Very few producers can match a prime Buckwild's prowess on the boards, and this entire album is a perfect example of that. The title track consists of a soothing piano sample with some appropriately dusty drums, and O.C.'s delivery is just flawless. You'd better get used to it; the dude is like that all the time.
Buckwild's drums are extra hard on this, and O.C. raps extra hard to match them. While the sample Buck used wasn't all that special, "O-Zone" was solid as a whole. It also samples Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Pt. I." Keep in mind that the much more well-known "Shook Ones Pt. II" wasn't even recorded yet, so it's not like Buckwild was just sampling the vocals of a popular group. That little nugget of information alone makes this a dope cut.
4. Born 2 Live
One of the aforementioned two singles that Word...Life churned out, and it is the best record on the album. "Born 2 Live" contains one of the best beats Buckwild has ever done, and that is saying a lot. Also, O.C.'s raps are genuine and from the heart and possess a great message about how life tends to start out so simple but then often turns into something tragic. In my personal opinion, this is one of the greatest songs in hip-hop history.
5. Time's Up
That brings us to what is probably O.C.'s most well-known record. This track absolute personifies what the game is like now, as O.C. is basically dissing whack MCs everywhere and saying how their "time is up." The funny thing is, this cut was released in a year (1994) that many consider to be the best in hip-hop history. Knowing that, imagine how O.C. feels about the state of rap now? The instrumental by Buckwild is justly aggressive, and even though the raw sample actually overpowers the drums, it's still hard. Oh, and there is a "Time's Up" remix that was also blessed by Buckwild. The lyrics are the same, but it's worth hearing because of the beat.
6. Point o' Viewz
Buckwild (along with Prestige, who receives co-production credits) crafts a light-hearted, feel-good production for O.C. on "Point o' Viewz." This was merely alright, though, and it doesn't help that it follows the two-headed monster that was "Born 2 Live" and "Time's Up."
Buckwild takes a short vacation at this point of Word...Life, as he had no hand in the following three cuts. For "Constables," Organized Konfusion contribute another beat, and they make it so that Buck is not sorely missed. This freaking bangs and exemplifies what pump-up music should sound like. O.C. tears the combative instrumental to shreds (his second verse is particularly crazy), and the KRS-One sample on the hook makes this track that much greater.
8. Ga Head
Lord Finesse gets on the boards for the first and only time on Word...Life, and he helps give life to one of the best songs on the album here. "Ga Head" is about a girl who does O.C. dirty by cheating on him with, get this, another woman. You know a man is secure in his masculinity when he publicizes his girl messing around with one of her own kind. Props, O.C. Major props, especially considering you made a dope effing record out of it.
9. No Main Topic
This time, DJ Ogee (who contributes two beats to the project and worked with O.C. in the years after Word...Life was released) drops the instrumental, and he does his best Buckwild impression. Too bad he's not nearly as good. This is just one long verse by O.C., and while that can never be a bad thing, it sounds like he recorded this through a telephone (maybe that was the angle he was going for considering there is a phone conversation at the beginning; I don't know). Also, Prince Po makes an appearance at the very end to drop a short verse of his own. All things considered, "No Main Topic" is not one of the best cuts on the album.
10. Let It Slide
Buckwild returns for "Let It Slide," a track that features Pharoahe Monch on the hook. It's not like he was really needed, though, because he only says like two words. I would have liked to hear him lay down a verse, but whatever; "Let It Slide" is still really freaking good as is. Buck's beat is pretty awesome, and O.C. is as energized as he is ever going to be.
11. Ma Dukes
Yes; that is O.C.'s mom singing background vocals throughout this record. I'm not sure a rapper has ever done that before or since "Ma Dukes." As far as the rest of the song goes, Buckwild's production is not nearly as engaging as most of his other instrumentals on Word...Life, but it's effective enough. Overall, this was decent.
Did I mention that O.C. was a great storyteller? The funny thing is, O.C. is basically telling you that in this track's title. Well-played, Omar. Anyway, let me warn everyone right now: if you are squeamish, I'd recommend passing on this cut. O.C. raps in graphic detail about the family of a drug dealer that is tortured and killed. I'm a bit squeamish myself, so even I have a hard time getting through this record, especially the third verse. The DJ Ogee beat is fittingly dark, and O.C. tells the tale with a truly remarkable attention to detail.
13. Outtro (Sabotage)
This is a pretty standard outro.
14. Born 2 Live (Remix)
Organized Konfusion laid down the remix instrumental, but it can't even touch the original. The production really does not fit the content at all. This should have been left alone.
There is absolutely no doubt that Word...Life is a timeless classic that should be a part of any true hip-hop head's collection. O.C. is a wordsmith, proving on this album that he is one of the most underrated rappers to ever do it.
The impressive thing about O.C. is his versatility. He is not just a lyricist. He also possesses the ability to flow seamlessly over any type of beat, and on top of that, he is a pretty amazing storyteller. Plus, he has a great ear for production. Essentially, O.C. has all of the bases covered. He is just a phenomenal all-around artist.
And I mean, let's face it: "Time's Up" is basically the anthem for everyone who feels that today's hip-hop market is oversaturated. How much good rap music do you actually hear on the radio in 2013? Virtually none. Say what you want about how "great" Kendrick Lamar is (king of New York my freaking ass), but he would have been a mere afterthought during the '90s golden era, and he almost certainly would have been one of the artists that O.C. was targeting on "Time's Up."
Let's give some credit to Buckwild, too. The dude is simply an awesome producer, arguably a top five beatmaker of all-time. He always comes correct with his drums, and he always manages to pick out great samples. The entire Diggin' In The Crates crew is disgustingly underrated. Seriously.
If you haven't given Word...Life a listen, I don't know what the hell you are waiting for. You really need to put everything down and hear this right now if you haven't done so yet. If not, then you are missing out on one of the finest pieces of work hip-hop has to offer.
1. Born 2 Live
2. Ga Head
3. Time's Up