March 3, 2012
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, BTNHResurrection (February 29, 2000)
On BTNHResurrection, Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony’s penchant for grotesquely violent lyrics is matched by its unique ability to distort words through harmonizing. Baldfaced choruses like “We’re souljahs marching in for war” are channeled into repetitive chants, as if the group were modern-day monks. Weed smoke seems to emanate from their lazy, bleedy-eyed music. The beats, mostly done by DJ U-Neek and Jimmy “JT” Thomas, are oddly appropriate; the terminally slow BPM’s heightening the overall weirdness. One made by LT Hutton, “Can’t Give It Up,” is a fuzzy electro banger; another that accompanies Bone’s “Ecstasy” weds a guitar, softly plucking at the strings, to a thumping bass drum. Highly idiosyncratic, Bone’s music is an original synthesis. But upon close inspection, their lyrics are relatively standard shoot-‘em-up rhymes, simplistic odes to the thug life. “I’m gonna find my bitch and fuck her ass to death,” Flesh yells during a paean to the new trendy drug for rappers, “Ecstasy”; one of that song’s choruses, “Feel so violent/Fucking with that ecstasy,” reveals that even the strongest of sedatives can’t dampen a thug’s thirst for bloodshed. Underneath the blunted creativity stand five individuals obsessed with their own demons, unable to exorcise them through the power of music. Ruthless Records.
March 3, 2012
The Madd Rapper, Tell Em Why U Madd (January 2000)
“The Madd Rapper is not a hater. He’s just upset. He’s upset because nobody’s giving him a chance to do what he do,” Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie says of his infamous character during an interview on the Madd Rapper’s new album Tell Em Why U Madd. But judging by the lyrical styles he flexes on this album, the Madd Rapper wasn’t put on for a good reason. Some of the music on Tell Em Why U Madd is sublime, from the old 70’s loop girding “Ghetto” (produced by a then-unknown Kanye West) to the electric guitar wafting through “Dot vs. TMR’s” wicked bass lines. As befits his reputation as a member of Puff Daddy’s famed Hitmen, who are responsible for several of the Bad Boy label’s biggest hits, D-Dot laces his joint with several beats that occasionally overshadow his verses. His penchant for delivering rhymes as if they were a flurry of hooks may be in keeping with the trend of the day, but, as KRS-One so eloquently once put it, “Bad, mad, glad, bad/Sad!” Released on D-Dot’s Crazy Cat Catalogue imprint, with distribution from Columbia Records.
March 2, 2012
Jungle Brothers, V.I.P. (January 4, 2000)
Thanks to producer Alex Gifford, a member of the Propellerheads, the Jungle Brothers have been effectively neutered. Their routines, placed over backing tracks that bear an uncanny resemblance to Sublime and Third Eye Blind, sound anachronistic. What would lead the Afrika “Baby Bam” and Mike G to work with Gifford? Perhaps Urban Takeover’s successful remix of their single “Jungle Brother,” one of several Jungle Brothers’ reconstructions to flood the dance market, led them to embrace bland approximations of swing, ska, and other misbegotten pop genres. Or perhaps they hope to become the next Lou Bega. Whatever the case, V.I.P. is a hackneyed attempt at crossover success, whether it be the corny “I Remember” or “The Brothers.” Even “Get Down,” one of the few attempts at house found here, is plodding and awkward. The duo’s rap performances are solid enough, but the Jungle Brothers were never known for exceptional MC’ing. As a charismatic, forward-thinking group, they fathered the epochal Native Tongues clique with De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. On past albums like Straight Out The Jungle they syncopated African drums with bizarre funk samples into Afrocentric gloriousness. V.I.P. is a pale imitation of those achievements. Gee Street/V2 Records.
February 25, 2012
M.O.P., Warriorz (August 29, 2000)
Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame represent hip-hop at its most obnoxious, its most isolationist; their music is for people who don’t listen to anything but rap music and its various connective tissues (old school funk and soul, jungle, bebop). True to their name – Mash Out Posse – Warriorz stomps the competition with tracks so ridiculously infectious even a wallflower can pump his fist to it. Under the pseudonym Fizzy Womack, Lil’ Fame loops a guitar lick from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” on “G Building”; on “Cold as Ice,” he speeds up Foreigner’s corporate rock classic and raps over it with Billy Danze, bragging “I perform lyrical heat waves that will keep your brain warm.” As terrorizing as M.O.P. aims to be, Warriorz is full of swaggering energy, thanks to production by Womack/Fame, the ubiquitous DJ Premier, and Nottz, the latter of whom patches together a swinging “Home Sweet Home” that would make Lester Young proud. The net result is a deranged version of Fight Club. M.O.P. aren’t the most articulate rappers, and at their best they replicate two polar opposites in a bloody beatdown, the high-pitched, ear-bursting shriek (Lil’ Fame) and the thick grunts of two fists being heaved and thrown (Billy Danze). At one point, Danze chants on “Home Sweet Home” “Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka,” his vocal gat squeezing out aural bullets. Eventually, though, M.O.P.’s mean mugging grows tiresome, and the end of Warriorz whopping 70-plus minutes sounds less like a triumphant victory dance than a wheezing last call full of bruised and bloody stragglers, even as the duo hollers on, oblivious to the dwindling crowd. Heed DJ Premier’s warning: “The time is now, yeah, for all real niggas to step up. Fake niggas, step the fuck back. This is not for you.” D.R. Period produced Warriorz’ breakout hit, the rowdy classic “Ante Up.” Loud.
February 25, 2012
Freddie Foxxx, Industry Shakedown (June 20, 2000)
“If you can’t rob me in the motherfuckin’ streets, you not gonna rob me in no pussy-ass record industry!” Freddie Foxxx claims on his debut, Industry Shakedown, under the pseudonym Bumpy Knuckles. Ironically, the album details his decade-long travails in the rap game, from getting dropped from record labels to watching his inimitable, high-powered rap style bitten by better-known thugs like DMX. “I’m sick and tired of Nore and his ‘What, What, ‘What’/Write some rhymes, nigga, or give the shit up, up, up,” Foxx taunts on “Inside Your Head,” flipping metaphorical threats faster than the Soup Nazi; on the title track, he slurs, “I need to run some dick up in Sylvia Rhone/So she can hear Bumpy rock on this microphone.” Backed by top beatminers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier, Industry Shakedown is akin to being punched in the face. Other producers include the Alchemist, Diamond D and Foxxx himself. KJAC Music, with distribution by Landspeed Records.
February 25, 2012
Afu-Ra, Body of the Life Force (October 10, 2000)
On Body of the Life Force, super-scientifical MC Afu-Ra takes a back seat to the stellar team of producers he’s assembled for the project, including DJ Muggs, True Master, and DJ Premier, who delivers a standout track in “Defeat.” In addition, Afu-Ra gets vocal help from Wu-Tang’s GZA and Masta Killa, the Cocoa Brovaz, Barrington Levy, Krumb Snatcha, M.O.P., and Kymani Marley, who blesses “Mortal Kombat” with a sly raggamauffin hook. Unfortunately, Body of the Life Force’s star power overwhelms Afu-Ra himself. Though a talented lyricist — “Stun like stun guns/Son, I’ll hit your fulcrum” he claims on “Defeat” — he doesn’t have the vocal cadences, stylistic flourishes, or distinctive personality to stand out amidst the cacophony. Koch.
February 25, 2012
KRS-One, A Retrospective (August 22, 2000)
How can you sum up the recording career of one of the greatest MCs in rap history on a single disc? A Retrospective makes a solid attempt by reminiscing on fourteen years in the life of KRS-One and his hardcore anthems (“Black Cop”), undisputed hip-hop classics (“South Bronx,” “My Philosophy”), and perfect singles (“Love’s Gonna Get’cha”). His music during the late 80s and early 90s as leader of Boogie Down Productions (his partner, Scott La Rock, was killed in 1987 shortly after making “Essays on BDPism”) had a timeless quality, with its deceptively direct lyrics, and a hard-hitting drum machine beat dressed up with the skimpiest of melodies. Though some of the songs sound dated (especially “I’m Still #1,” which nevertheless is still sampled prodigiously by today’s rap producers), they’re still impressive for their economy, their communication of complex ideas with basic concepts, whether philosophical (“Why Is That?”) or political (“You Must Learn”). But at some point in the mid-90s, KRS-One transformed from a socio-political leader, a Teacher through music, into just another overvalued Hip-Hop God. A Retrospective charts his evolution from recording potent, visceral tracks (“Criminal Minded”) to making scorching, if slightly calculated, rap hits (“Step Into a World”). Jive.