The Artifacts are a hip-hop group from Newark that released two critically acclaimed albums in the '90s, the first being the subject of this review, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
There are three members: El Da Sensei, Tame One (Redman's cousin) and DJ Kaos. Due to some internal differences within the group, the trio broke up after their 1997 release, That's Them, but they resurfaced in 2010 and apparently have a third album in the works. God only knows whether they will actually complete it, though.
Artifacts first gained popularity with their single, "Wrong Side of Da Tracks," which is one of the more well-known graffiti songs in hip-hop. In case you were wondering, yes; Artifacts are graffiti artists themselves.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place is considered an underground classic, consisting of some production by Buckwild, Rockwilder and Redman (no surprise there). However, most of the beats are predominantly handled by T-Ray, who also did some work with Cypress Hill.
I don't really know much else about the Artifacts, so let's just jump into the review, shall we?
1. Drama (Mortal Combat Facility)
Artifacts sure wasted a pretty dope beat (not to mention a pretty dope song title) on an album intro.
2. C'mon Wit Da Git Down
Buckwild is on the boards here, and like I've said numerous times on this blog: not many producers are seeing a prime Buckwild. This freaking knocks and was a great choice for a single. Well, back in '94, anyway. If this song were to be released as a single today, it wouldn't even see the light of day on even the grimiest of grimy underground radio stations.
3. Wrong Side of Da Tracks
The aforementioned "breakthrough" single for the Artifacts. You've gotta love the melody of T-Ray's beat, and it's cool to hear this type of content considering you absolutely never hear it anymore. Between a Rock and a Hard Place is certainly off to a great start; that's for damn sure.
4. Heavy Ammunition
This may very well be the best track here so far. This bangs, right from the T-Ray instrumental to the choice of vocal samples on the hook. It also helps that Tame One and El Da Sensei rip this. El Da Sensei's performance was particularly impressive.
5. Attack of New Jeruzalem
Another Buckwild production. Not surprisingly, it's engaging as hell. Both Artifacts rappers tear it to shreds, but it's guest rapper Jay Burnz who steals the show and absolutely, positively demolishes this. Also, for those of you who may not know, "New Jerusalem" is a nickname for the state of New Jersey. I'm not necessarily sure how Jersey relates to Jerusalem, but hey; I didn't invent the moniker.
6. Notty Headed Nigguhz
The only aspect of 2013 hip-hop that is superior to golden era hip-hop is spelling. I'm not sure why just about every '90s artist felt it was necessary to butcher 90 percent of their song titles, but whatever; this knocks regardless, which is becoming a rather common theme on this album.
This is the first track on Between a Rock and a Hard Place that doesn't truly "knock." That's not to say this isn't solid, though, because T-Ray's beat is decent enough and both El Da Sensei and Tame One do well for themselves. Still, this ultimately ends up running a bit too long.
8. Flexi Wit Da Tech (Nique)
Well, this record is proof that the Artifacts aren't invincible. This is really boring and actually ends up sounding more something like a West Coast group such as Hieroglyphics would do. That's not to say that Hieroglyphics are boring, because they are certainly not, but this is East Coast hip-hop.
9. Cummin' Through Ya Block
Why in the world the Artifacts had to spell the word "coming" like that, I have no idea. Anyway, this is the cut that Redman produced. He makes an appearance here, too, but don't get too excited: it's just on the hook. Lame; I know. Also, Reggie's bassline is far too overwhelming, as it simply overpowers the instrumental and the rappers. Perhaps this song would have been better if Redman dropped an actual verse. Probably not, though, because the production just isn't all that good.
10. Lower Da Boom
This is a weed track, which is kind of weird, because I don't see how the title has anything to do with smoking, but whatever. This record is okay, but I am actually starting to lose some interest in this album thanks to the sheer mediocrity of these last four cuts. There is absolutely no reason why "Lower Da Boom" needed to be over five minutes long, either.
11. What Goes On?
Yet another song that has very little replay value, and this was actually produced by my boy Buckwild. Seriously; what the heck happened to this album after track No. 6?
12. Dynamite Soul
And we're finally back on the right track. This is pretty freaking good, especially the vocal sample on the hook. The horns that are scattered throughout the record add a nice touch, too. T-Ray's drums could have been a tad stronger, though.
13. Whassup Now Muthafucka?
This absolutely bangs and was a great way for Artifacts to close out Between a Rock and a Hard Place. It was too short, though. Seriously guys; of all songs to make under three minutes long, you chose this one?
Thanks to the start of the album (and, to a lesser extent, its conclusion), I can safely say that Between a Rock and a Hard Place is somewhat deserving of the "classic" label that has been thrown upon it by some. It's not one of the best albums of all-time or anything, but as a whole, it's still pretty damn good.
What I like about the Artifacts is that El Da Sensei and Tame One are equally skilled as rappers; neither one outshines the other like in just about every other duo or group known to mankind. Both are extremely effective on the mic, bringing great energy, infinitely listenable voices and solid lyricism and delivery.
I also think it's pretty interesting how both rappers can kind of pass for West Coast guys. Like I said in "Flexi Wit Da Tech (Nique)"; they do have a Hieroglyphics-like cadence at times. That probably means that fans of that type of West Coast hip-hop will gravitate toward these dudes, and that's great, because it means that the Artifacts' fanbase is potentially nationwide.
As far as the beats, save for that four-track lull in the middle of the project, most of them freaking bang, making me wonder why T-Ray didn't really blow up as a producer and get any calls elsewhere. Seriously; Redman couldn't hit this dude up for a couple of beats? Maybe he did. If I am wrong, let me know, but I don't recall ever seeing T-Ray's name in the liner notes of any of Reggie's albums.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend Between a Rock and a Hard Place no matter what type of hip-hop you prefer. Yes, there are a few songs on here that are pretty skippable, but the album holds up well as a whole.
1. Heavy Ammunition
2. C'mon Wit Da Git Down
3. Attack of New Jeruzalem
4. Whassup Now Muthafuckas?
5. Wrong Side of Da Tracks