January 14, 2021

Shyheim - A.K.A. The Rugged Child (1994)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: 7243 8 39385 2 0

© 1994 Virgin Records America, Inc.
Shyheim's age of 14 can be easily recognized in his voice on this, his debut album, but lyrically it's difficult to believe this young rapper is already so skilled. What really makes him different than other young rappers is that he's where he is, not just because of his youth. The sound works well, with funky, lively beats, and Shyheim's hardcore violence-heavy lyrics combining for some great tracks. Only time will tell how this artist will develop, but if this is any indication of what we can expect from him in the years to come, the Rugged Child will surely not disappoint.

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tags: shyheim, aka the rugged child, 1994, flac,

Yo-Yo - Black Pearl (1992)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
Label Number: 7 92120-2

© 1992 EastWest Records America
Yo-Yo's positive (but not simplistic or naïve) messages regarding female sexuality, self-esteem and achievement were grounded in hard raps and thudding beats on this album, still her most complete, and effective production. Unfortunately, it seemed that only cutesy material like "You Can't Play with My Yo-Yo" from her first release could get the widespread support and attention necessary for a hit.

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tags: yo yo, yo-yo, black pearl, 1992, flac,

Questionmark Asylum - The Album (1995)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: 07863 66560-2

© 1995 RCA Records
Nine out of ten rap fans surveyed could not tell Questionmark Asylum from the Pharcyde in a blind taste test. After all, the D.C.-based quartet possesses mad dance skills, has a uniquely tripped-out rhyme style, and sticks to a primarily positive alt-rap approach. Thankfully, all four MCs have their own unique lyrical flows, and The Album ultimately defies easy comparisons. On "Curse of the Q," which laments the loss of their original major-label record deal, they reveal distinct personalities that make the catchy hook and freaky vocal melody even more memorable, with Mistafiss and Digge Dom assuming drum and keyboard duties, respectively, as sidemen Kevin "KC" Campbell and Jesse "Twin" Blanks add guitar and bass to the ultra-funky mix. On "Love, Peace, Soul," go-go music legend Chuck Brown adds distinctive flavor to the acid jazzy mix, while "Get With You" samples Bootsy Collins' classic "I'd Rather Be With You" for a funky reinvention. An impressive debut from unfairly overlooked hip-hop shoulda-beens.

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tags: questionmark asylum, the album, question mark, 1995, flac,

Down South - Lost In Brooklyn (1994)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: 92329-2

© 1994 Big Beat, Atlantic Records
Rap records are often very typical of their time (and anything but 'timeless'). It's hard to imagine Down South's "Lost in Brooklyn" being released after 1994. Here we have a group embracing everything southern, and where are they from? VA. Virginia may be 'down south' from a New Yorker perspective and it may be below the Mason-Dixon line, but it finds itself 'up north' relative to the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. States that in the years to come would produce national rap stars such as JT Money, Petey Pablo, Pastor Troy, Juvenile, Bubba Sparxxx, etc. Their way was paved by a number of labels and artists, many of whom would also be part of the growing southern scene that rendered a concept act like Down South obsolete by 1995.

Still in '94 Down South had every right to exist as they presented a rural, southern alternative to the urban, northern way of life, both on a social and a musical level. To stress that Arrested Development beat them to it by two years would be failing to realize that Down South solely exist within that dichotomy. They purposely hit their heads against the New York city walls, in place of every out-of-towner who ever tried to make it there. "Lost in Brooklyn" is not only a symbol of the hegemony of the birthplace of hip-hop, it also implicitly represents the adventurous journey of generations of southern migrants/refugees/runaways who settled in the northern and eastern cities. Down South directly address those with family in the south, plus allude to having family further down south themselves (although no geographical denominations are given).

Down South's most prominent member is Shawn J-Period (not to be confused with DJ J.Period or with Shawn J of Field Mob), who would go on to produce for Mad Skillz, Bush Babees, Artifacts and become one of the architects of the Rawkus sound. Since him and partner Soda Pop share the same family name, we can assume they were blood-related (AllMusic says cousins). They could also originate from the same place (Richmond), including Myorr the DJ, whose family apparently accomodated the trio during its stay(s) in New York.

Although the tape and vinyl versions of the album are divided into a South and a North Side, there is no sudden change of the narrative point of view. Things kick off with the self-titled "Down South," produced by South Carolina transplant T-Ray, the opening steel guitar sample soon making way for a dense Soul Assassins-type track. "Here come the hicks!" they chant, before staging some sort of barbarian invasion with violent imagery straight out of a backwoods horror movie. When Soda Pop argues, "Because the vibe down here is real / Take you five miles out, you'll forget that from-the-hood deal," he also throws down the gauntlet to the urban warrior who usually characterizes rap music. "Now you know country [niggas] ain't all about pickin' cotton," he concludes.

Nevertheless they have to employ stereotypes, and they go all the way on "Southern Comfort." A perfect J-Period/Stretch Armstrong co-production, the track paints a landscape of pure bliss over which a siren saxophone beckons you home. Shawn J-Period heeds the call:

"It's time for me to go just below the Mason-Dixon
I heard through the grapevine my grandmother's fixin'
some vittles, for me to come down for a little
if I take up some of these sweet candied yams
Damn, remember how the grass starts itchin'
and itchin', you fall into your grandma's kitchen
Had to wash your hands before you ate some
Stove Top stuffing and collard greens on your plate
Oh what about the buttered cornbread?
She wouldn't sit down to eat till the whole neighborhood was fed
The hospitality that I savour
Wanna make some Kool-Aid? Kid, get a cup of sugar from your neighbor
No quibbles and qualms, ring the alarm
In the evening relaxin' in my grandma's arms
Just a boy, but now I'm a man on the run
Step off bro, I'm baskin' in the sun
of the southern comfort"

T-Ray returns to the boards for "Tractors, Rakes, and Hoes" (the title inspired by Black Sheep, another group with an affinity for the country life), which continues Soda Pop's allegorical language from "Southern Comfort" while making digs at the fair sex. The lyrical approach gets out of hand on "Jimi Crack Korn," a pop culture-laden back-and-forth that ignores the historical context of the original song. "Spin Da Boddle" is the same thing in cypher form.
And then it's finally time for the title track. The Beatnuts provide a tongue-in-cheek jeep beat while Myorr digs up an old piece of wax from Bed-Stuy's own DisMasters for scratched in vocals. Shawn and Soda star as the gullible hayseeds who get taken advantage of in the big city. After nothing but mishaps it seems they are in a hurry to get back to the south, or more poetically put by Shawn - "It's the Down South flock flyin' south for the winter." "Sitting Here" catches these migratory birds resting, and as they fall asleep, their dreams take them back to their childhood once again on "Big Wheels."

The Beatnuts and Stretch Armstrong again blend in nicely with "Around the Clock" and "Open Sesame" and the Soda Pop solo "The Carbonated One," respectively. Mainly because they observe the number one house rule of this album - there's gotta be at least one horn in every track. When it comes to horns and hip-hop, "Lost in Brooklyn" is the album to beat, and while they're not all mind-blowing, they shape the sound of the album and edge out any other musical regional pointers such as 'East Coast' or 'Down South.'

Still Down South prove that Virginia possesses a little bit of both. While they weren't the only VA representatives trying to be a part of East Coast hip-hop in the '90s (Mad Skillz and Ill Biskits come to mind), it wasn't long before Missy Elliott and Timbaland put the state on the map for good with their highly original combination of urban and rural. Meanwhile Down South struggle to compete with similar groups like The Beatnuts or Tha Alkaholiks. But as a historical document of rap exploring black people's southern roots, "Lost in Brooklyn" is certainly an interesting item. As Shawn J-Period puts it: "We'll never forget the southern folks are the source that raised us and provided us - with just a hint of southern twang in my vocal thang."

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10

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tags: down south, lost in brooklyn. 1994, flac,

Cypress Hill - Unreleased & Revamped: E.P. (1996)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Language: English, Spanish (Español)
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
Label Number: CK 67780

© 1996 Ruffhouse/Columbia
On Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom, Cypress Hill sounded a little tired, clinging to their slow, druggy beat a bit too much. The Unreleased & Revamped EP was released a few months after the album, which signals that the EP is an attempt to salvage their reputation. That suspicion is confirmed by the list of remixers and collaborators. None of the guest musicians -- from the Fugees and A Tribe Called Quest to Redman, MC Eiht, and Erick Sermon -- are traditional West Coast rappers. They are musicians who are pushing the boundaries of hip-hop in 1996. In another attempt to restore their street credibility, Cypress Hill have distanced themselves from the alternative rock audience they cultivated through an appearance at Lollapalooza and with Temples of Boom. So, the group has clearly tried to make a break from its trademark sound, and its attempts are marginally successful. "Boom Biddy Bye Bye," which features a remix from the Fugees, is particularly successful, but most of the EP contains the germs of an idea, not the fruition of one. Still, the EP is encouraging to long-term fans who may have thought that Cypress Hill had lost the plot with Temples of Boom. Unreleased & Revamped suggests they are about to get back on track.

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tags: cypress hill, unreleased and revamped, ep, 1996, flac,

Ali Dee - Bring It On (1993)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number:: 0777-7-80668-2 2

© 1993 EMI Records USA
Add Ali Dee to the list of rappers successfully exploiting rap/jazz fusion. His cut "Dee Swings Jazz" expertly demonstrates the genres' shared qualities, and his whole release has both a loose, improvisational air and an edgy, combative street vibe. The single "Who's Da Flava" attracted the most attention, but there are other, equally sharp tunes like "Styles Upon Styles" and "Got 2 B Real." Sometimes he does overdo it on the violence and distasteful language, but even then he doesn't just depend on predictable obscenities, injecting some clever retort or taking another direction.

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tags: ali dee, bring it on, 1993, flac,

50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003) ☠

*U.S first pressing. Contains 19 tracks total. 
A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap, Pop Rap
Label Number: 0694935442
☠: Selected by Lass
© 2003 Shady/Aftermath/Interscope Records
Probably the most hyped debut album by a rap artist in about a decade, most likely since Snoop's Doggystyle (1993) or perhaps Nas' Illmatic (1994), 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' certainly arrived amid massive expectations. In fact, the expectations were so massive that they overshadowed the music itself -- 50 becoming more of a phenomenon than simply a rapper -- so massive that you had to be skeptical, particularly given the marketing-savvy nature of the rap world. Even so, Get Rich is indeed an impressive debut, not quite on the level of such landmark debuts as the aforementioned ones by Snoop or Nas -- or those by Biggie, Wu-Tang, or DMX either -- but impressive nonetheless, definitely ushering in 50 as one of the truly eminent rappers of his era. The thing, though, is that 50 isn't exactly a rookie, and it's debatable as to whether or not Get Rich can be considered a true debut (see the unreleased Power of the Dollar [1999] and the Guess Who's Back? compilation [2002]). That debate aside, however, Get Rich plays like a blueprint rap debut should: there's a tense, suspenseful intro ("What Up Gangsta"), an ethos-establishing tag-team spar with Eminem ("Patiently Waiting"), a street-cred appeal ("Many Men [Wish Death]"), a tailor-made mass-market good-time single ("In da Club"), a multifaceted tread through somber ghetto drama (from "High All the Time" to "Gotta Make It to Heaven"), and finally three bonus tracks that reprise 50's previously released hits ("Wanksta," "U Not Like Me," "Life's on the Line") -- in that precise order. In sum, Get Rich is an incredibly calculated album, albeit an amazing one. After all, when co-executive producer Eminem raps, "Take some Big and some Pac/And you mix them up in a pot/Sprinkle a little Big L on top/What the f*ck do you got?" you know the answer. Give Em (who produces two tracks) and Dr. Dre (who does four) credit for laying out the red carpet here, and also give 50 credit for reveling brilliantly in his much-documented mystique -- from his gun fetish to his witty swagger, 50 has the makings of a street legend, and it's no secret. And though he very well could be the rightful successor to the Biggie-Jigga-Nas triptych, Get Rich isn't quite the masterpiece 50 seems capable of, impressive or not. But until he drops that truly jaw-dropping album -- or falls victim to his own hubris -- this will certainly do.

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tags: 50 cent, get rich or die tryin, trying, 2003, flac,

January 05, 2021

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)

*European first pressing.
This pressing contains the song "Hot Sex" as a bonus track. 
15 tracks total
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Conscious Rap, Jazz Rap
Label Number: 7243 8 42614 2 9

© 1993 Jive Records
Though the abstract rappers finally betrayed a few commercial ambitions for Midnight Marauders, the happy result was a smart, hooky record that may not have furthered the jazz-rap fusions of The Low End Theory, but did merge Tribe-style intelligence and reflection with some of the most inviting grooves heard on any early-'90s rap record. The productions, more funky than jazzy, were tighter overall -- but the big improvement, four years after their debut, came with Q-Tip's and Phife Dawg's raps. Focused yet funky, polished but raw, the duo was practically telepathic on "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)" and "The Chase, Pt. 2," though the mammoth track here was the pop hit "Award Tour." A worldwide call-out record with a killer riff and a great pair of individual raps from the pair, it assured that Midnight Marauders would become A Tribe Called Quest's biggest seller. The album didn't feature as many topical tracks as Tribe was known for, though the group did include an excellent, sympathetic commentary on the question of that word ("Sucka Nigga," with a key phrase: "being as we use it as a term of endearment"). Most of the time, A Tribe Called Quest was indulging in impeccably produced, next-generation games of the dozens ("We Can Get Down," "Oh My God," "Lyrics to Go"), but also took the time to illustrate sensitivity and spirituality ("God Lives Through"). A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders was commercially successful, artistically adept, and lyrically inventive; the album cemented their status as alternative rap's prime sound merchants, authors of the most original style since the Bomb Squad first exploded on wax.

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tags: a tribe called quest, midnight marauders, 1993, flac,