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.
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.
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