Monday, April 23, 2007

MF Doom

Patterning his persona and logo after the Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom, the man behind MF (Metal Face) Doom's iron mask is actually Daniel Dumile, aka Zev Love X, a member of former Big Apple hip-hoppers KMD. First featured on the 3rd Bass single "The Gas Face," the London-born, Long Island-raised Zev made his debut with KMD a couple of years later, along with his younger brother and musical partner DJ Subroc. The 1991 album Mr. Hood, released on Elektra Records, was part of a short-lived trend of Islamic Five Percent Nation hip-hop outings, along with efforts by groups like Poor Righteous Teachers and KMD's labelmates Brand Nubian. However, Subroc was fatally injured in 1993 when he was struck by a car, and when Zev and KMD returned the next year, it was with the even more serious and miltant Bl_ck B_st_rds, an album whose cover art alone (featuring a Little Black Sambo-ish cartoon character being hanged) spelled the end of the group's contract with Elektra. With the album in limbo, Zev went underground for five years, "recovering from his wounds" and swearing revenge "against the industry that so badly deformed him," according to his official bio, a reworking of Dr. Doom's origin. Meanwhile, Bl_ck B_st_rds was heavily bootlegged and Zev Love's legend grew, but few knew at first that the rapper who began showing up at the Nuyorican Poets Café in 1998, freestyling with a stocking covering his face, was actually Zev. The imaginative MC finally ended the mystery in 1999, resurfacing in his new identity as MF Doom and making up for lost time with a critically praised new album, Operation: Doomsday, on indie label Fondle 'Em Records. The following year saw the long-awaited official release of Bl_ck B_st_rds (complete with Sambo-style cover art), as well as several singles and an EP with fellow rhymer MF Grimm. In 2001, SubVerse re-released Operation: Doomsday and Bl_ck B_st_rds. A wealth of bootlegs, compilation appearances, mixtapes, and instrumental albums (the beloved by DJ's Special Herbs series) surfaced over the years but no follow-up full-length until Doom introduced his alter ego, Viktor Vaughan, in 2003 with Vaudeville Villain. His team-up with the multi-talented Madlib became Madvillain and their April 2004 release, Madvillainy drew rave reviews. Four months later Venomous Villain marked the return of Viktor Vaughan with the second MF Doom album, MM… Food?, appearing in November the same year. The formerly promo-only Live From Planet X got its aboveground release in March of 2005 with Special Herbs, Vol. 9-10 following in July.

MF Doom - Operation: Doomsday (1999: Fondle Em)
Simultaneously hailed as an underground classic and cast aside as poorly produced backpack rap, Operation: Doomsday inaugurated the reign of MF Doom in underground rap from the early to mid-2000s. The pretext for the album is very similar to that of Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom; after MF Doom, then known as Zevlove X, had been devastated by the death of his brother and K.M.D. accomplice, DJ Sub-Roc, in the early '90s, Elektra dropped his group and stopped the release of its second album, Black Bastards, due to its political message and, more specifically, its cover art. Doom was left scarred with a lingering pain that didn't manifest until the late '90s as hip-hop's only masked supervillain on Bobbito Garcia's Fondle 'Em Records. Carrying the weight of the past on his shoulders, Doom opens and closes Operation: Doomsday with frank and sincere lyrics. In between, however, many of the villain's rhymes are rather hard and piercing. On his subsequent material, he developed a more steady and refined delivery, but on this debut, Doom was at his rawest and, lyrically, most dexterous. The out-of-left-field edge of Doom's production — which features '80s soul and smooth jazz mixed with classic drum breaks — is indeed abstract at times, but his off-kilter rhymes are palatable and absent any pretentiousness. In fact, the album arguably contains some of the freshest rhymes one might have heard around the time of its release. There are more than enough obscure but fun references (i.e. "quick to whip up a script like Rod Serling" on "Go with the Flow" or "MCs, ya style needs Velamints" on "Dead Bent") and quotable jewels from the "on-the-mike Rain Man" to feed on. Nevertheless, one would be hard-pressed to overlook the low-budget mixing that mars some of the LP's presentation. For the hardcore Doom fans, the recorded-in-the-basement quality is appealing and representative of his persona as the underdog who "came to destroy rap." In contrast, given his contributions to hip-hop during the 2000s, the masked villain offers this explanation on "Doomsday": "Definition: supervillain/A killer who loves children/One who is well-skilled in destruction as well as buildin'." Even though this album is certainly not for everyone, you can easily respect from where the man is coming.

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 1 & 2 (Nov 12, 2002: High Times)
Containing instrumental versions of previously released vocal tracks (everything from MF Doom's Operation: Doomsday to his work with K.M.D. and Monster Island Czars is represented here), a handful of previously vinyl-only cuts and some borrowed guest tracks from the likes of DJ Spinna, DJ Cucumber Slice, and Doom's long-lamented little brother DJ Sub-Roc, Special Herbs, Vol. 1 & 2 is a mish-mash of prog-inflected beats and crackpot schematics that wavers between being a little overlong and flirting with divine inspiration. Longtime fans shouldn't be fooled by the seemingly fresh track titles, though — in keeping with the album's theme, even the most familiar beats have been renamed. In spite of MF Doom's signature production, which casts prog music's liquid tones on a variety of organic instruments, a few of these recycled cuts ("Arrow Root," "Mullein") suffer from repetition when unveiled in instrumental form. Sandwiched between some of the more trying loops, however, are some dazzlingly inventive offerings, namely the '70s cop-drama squeal of "Coriander," the rolling crush of "Fenugreek," the wiffly flutes of "Nettle Leaves," and the plush, liquid soul of "Monosodium Glutamate." Even the much-maligned low-budget game show cheese of "Zatar" deserves a nod, if nothing else than for its sheer imagination.

Victor Vaughn (aka MF Doom) - Vaudeville Villain (Sep 16, 2003: Sound-Ink)
Daniel Dumile (aka MF Doom) concluded a prolific 2003 with this paranoiac collection of warped city tales, released under the alter ego Viktor Vaughn. Having relegated production duties to a committee consisting of RJD2 and relative unknowns King Honey, Heat Sensor, and Max Bill, Dumile's full attention is left for the mike. With his mush-mouthed delivery as currency, the charismatic MC delivers a phone book of impressionistic rhyme trails, barmy anecdotes, and twisted punchlines that siphon humor into the grayest scenarios. Vaudeville Villain's story-raps are just as brilliantly spun — the immaculate "Let Me Watch" features Apani B Fly guesting as Vaughn's vestal romantic foil and ends on a note that strikes just the right balance between Vaughn's comedic and sordid qualities. Grubby and excitable, the album's production is no less superb, with RJD2's "Saliva," Heat Sensor's "Never Dead," and King Honey's title track standing out as high points. Dense, bright, and packed with ideas, Vaudeville Villain is Dumile at his absolute best.

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 3 & 4 (Sep 23, 2003: Nature Sounds)

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 5 & 6 (Mar 23, 2004: Nature Sounds)

MF Doom/MF Grimm - Special Herbs + Spices, Vol. 1 (May 11, 2004: Day By Day Entertainment)
MF Grimm shines on these previously used MF Doom beats. The Metal Fingered Villain aka Viktor Vaughn aka King Geedorah produces beats that flow perfectly with Grimm's style. Fatman Scoop introduces the record with gusto, and Grimm and Doom match styles like peanut butter and jelly, alt-rock chicks and lunch boxes, and very definitely head-nodding and jazz tobacco. MF Doom uses some of his best productions to showcase another rapper's style. Potentially, the record could have ended up stale and sounding like a re-run, but Grimm and Doom are too good to be denied. Assembled in a kind of mixtape style, the free flow suits Special Herbs + Spices perfectly. Even though MF Doom is retracing ground, in regard to production, it's MF Grimm who makes the record worthwhile even for MF Doom's legion of devoted fans. The beats are out there and the rhymes have that uniqueness that gives the collaboration added freshness. MF Doom continues to bring the goods to his backpack-wearing fans, giving them one more thing to buy besides trees and snacks.

Victor Vaughn (aka MF Doom) - Venomous Villain (Aug 3, 2004: Insomniac, Inc.)
Kicking out the moody, quirky jams, MF Doom returns with his crafty alias Viktor Vaughan (Victor Von Doom was the birth name of Marvel comics character Dr. Doom, true believers). If you're following the Dr. Doom legend, this would be MF Doom before the evildoers got to him, or maybe a more personal Doom, mask off. It's both with some tracks coming off as hungry K.M.D. material and the rest being introspective tales of darkness. Despite his hectic release schedule, Doom keeps the quality high on the album. Lyrics are tight, clever, and darkly humorous, but it's the production that hits you first. Digital errors and glitches pop out the murk, and it's jarring. Vocals fold up and disappear while cell-phone voices emerge out of the dark before you go under the bridge and they also vanish. Doom often creates his own beats and he's come off as a mad scientist before, but never has the producer/rapper one-two punch worked so well, creating an album that's fully thought out. Doom has also been this dense before, but not so subterranean. Being so shadowy means the album needs time to linger in your player for full effect, but there are two out-of-the-box classics to add to Doom's repertoire. The busy "R.A.P. G.A.M.E." is the first, with an unavoidable, hooky chorus and sweet beats from Session 31. Doom's view of the state of rap, Kool Keith's skewed comments on the same, plus doper-than-dope scratching from DJ Sure Shot should keep "Doper Skiller" in every freak's MP3 player for at least a year or two. The rest of the album is hard to separate, which is a compliment to this noir-flavored journey. Too much roam and wander for some, but Doom-heads looking for the perfect downer couldn't ask for much more. Hoody, headphones, Venomous Villain — now you're ready for a long walk in the rain.

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 7 & 8 (Sep 21, 2004: Shaman Works)

MF Doom - MM..Food? (Nov 16, 2004: Rhymesayers)
You could call the proper follow-up to 1999's heralded Operation: Doomsday highly anticipated if it weren't for the wealth of side projects, pseudonyms, bootlegs, and mixtapes MF Doom unleashed afterward. Still, every bit of Doom output has the underground's tongue wagging, and as usual, the metal-fingered villain doesn't disappoint. Part of the reason for this is that MM..Food? is unconcerned with the hype and doesn't try too hard. It's actually one of Doom's least ambitious releases and a lot more fun than his previous ones, especially anything released under his dark Viktor Vaughn moniker. Food references and a ton of samples and scratches from old Fantastic Four read-along records keep the album light as Doom takes tired hip-hop topics like "keeping your hoes in check" and turncoat friends and screws with them. Backstabbers get their due on the Whodini-sampling "Deep Fried Frenz" while guest Mr. Fantastik gives fakes a proper whooping on the excellent "Rapp Snitch Knishes." Doom's behind every beat here, whipping up a busy brew of screw-loose samples and late-'90s beats. The mostly instrumental middle of the album is a fantastic, playful ride and more fresh evidence the man is never swayed by fads. Fans looking for his next big statement might be let down at first listen, but MM..Food? is as vital as anything he's done before and entirely untouched or stymied by the hype.

MF Doom - Live from Planet X (Mar 8, 2005: Nature Sounds)
Originally titled Live at the DNA Lounge and given away with pre-orders for the instrumental collection Special Herbs, Vol. 5-6, Live from Planet X isn't the most vital release from MF Doom but it will satisfy both the faithful and familiar. Doom has added some "space sound effects" to this new version that fit perfectly with the album's feel since this isn't your usual live release. There's little room ambience and crowd participation is fairly absent on this straight-from-the-soundboard recording, but Doom himself is all the way live, rattling off two studio albums' worth of rhymes without ever sounding spent. It's an underground lyric lover's dream, and there are early-era hits aplenty with the best of Operation: Doomsday and some assorted singles getting righteous workouts. The flow is from the street to outer space as the rapper gets looser as he goes and the show ends in a trippy cacophony of melting sound effects and turntables grinding to a halt. Bummer that it's all on one track on the CD, but if Doom's making a point, point taken. Live from Planet X has its highlights, but if the listener has the time, it is better taken as a 40-minute journey. Doom's relentless verbal attack is overwhelming this way and while any of his more mind-altering studio albums are better introductions to the artist, Live from Planet X works just fine as Doom purchase number two, especially if you're all about the venomous verse.

Metal Fingers - Special Herbs, Vols. 9 & 0 (Jul 12, 2005: Shaman Works)
The villainous one returns with another set of instrumentals and backing tracks used previously on his proper releases. While it's a great way to study the groovy loops and the perfect edits MF Doom creates, newcomers should know that tracks are untouched for the most part, not mind-blowing turntable workouts or grand remixes. That's cool for Doom fans, since his lyric-filled albums require mucho attention to really work their magic. Instead, the Special Herbs series provides those cool Doom grooves as background music, perfect for practicing your pimp walk, your MC skills, or your ability to adhere to the "puff, puff, give" policy. In fact, Special Herbs, Vols. 9 & 0 is less manipulated than usual; arguably the most dryly presented volume in the series. This works just fine for Doom's breezier beats as of late, with the loosest and most languid given extra time to stretch. The first half of the album rolls along nicely till the Laibach-meets-human-beatbox "'Untitled' (Meditation)" mashes things up. The second half ducks and weaves a bit more along with being funkier and firmly '70s. The risky bits come at the end with the frantic "Coca Leaf" hiccupping up a wailing diva, while "Peach Extract" brings the show to a close with a campy, Brazilian tickle. It adds up to the best flow the Special Herbs series has ever displayed and a great way to introduce Doom's unique production style to the groove-friendly.
Enjoy! till the next posts ;) As Salaam Aleikum...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Eric B

1. I Can't Let You
2. Love Trap
3. You're My Painted Picture
4. Louis Burrel - Theme Song
5. Love
6. Inside Out
7. Good Bye!
8. Like Candy
9. Get It On
10. Why Oh Why

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Although he never became a household name, Rakim is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs — perhaps the greatest — of all time within the hip-hop community. It isn't necessarily the substance of what he says that's helped him win numerous polls among rap fans in the know; the majority of his lyrics concern his own skills and his Islamic faith. But in terms of how he says it, Rakim is virtually unparalleled. His flow is smooth and liquid, inflected with jazz rhythms and carried off with an effortless cool that makes it sound as though he's not even breaking a sweat. He raised the bar for MC technique higher than it had ever been, helping to pioneer the use of internal rhymes — i.e., rhymes that occurred in the middle of lines, rather than just at the end. Where many MCs of the time developed their technique through improvisational battles, Rakim was among the first to demonstrate the possibilities of sitting down and writing intricately crafted lyrics packed with clever word choices and metaphors (of course, he also had the delivery to articulate them). Even after his innovations were worshipfully absorbed and expanded upon by countless MCs who followed, Rakim's early work still sounds startlingly fresh, and his comeback recordings (beginning in the late '90s) only added to his legend.Rakim was born William Griffin, Jr. on January 28, 1968, in the Long Island suburb of Wyandanch. The nephew of '50s R&B legend Ruth Brown, Griffin was surrounded by music from day one, and was interested in rap almost from its inception. At age 16, he converted to Islam, adopting the Muslim name Rakim Allah. In 1985, he met Queens DJ Eric B., whose intricately constructed soundscapes made an excellent match for Rakim's more cerebral presence on the mic. With the release of their debut single, "Eric B. Is President," in 1986, Eric B. & Rakim became a sensation in the hip-hop community, and their reputation kept growing as they issued classic tracks like "I Ain't No Joke" and "Paid in Full." Their first two full-length albums, 1987's Paid in Full and 1988's Follow the Leader, are still regarded as all-time hip-hop classics; Rakim's work set out a blueprint for other, similarly progressive-minded MCs to follow, and helped ensure that even after the rise of other fertile scenes around the country, East Coast rap would maintain a reputation as the center of innovative lyrical technique. The last two Eric B. & Rakim albums, 1990's Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em and 1992's Don't Sweat the Technique, weren't quite as consistent as their predecessors, but still had plenty of fine moments.Unfortunately, their legacy stopped at four albums. Both Eric B. and Rakim expressed interest in recording solo albums to one another, but the former, fearful of being abandoned by his partner when their contract was up, refused to sign the release. That led to their breakup in 1992, and Rakim spent a substantial amount of time in the courts, handling the legal fallout between himself, his ex-partner, and their ex-label, MCA. His only solo output for a number of years was the track "Heat It Up," featured on the 1993 soundtrack to the Mario Van Peebles film Gunmen. Moreover, a reshuffling at MCA effectively shut down production on Rakim's solo debut, after he'd recorded some preliminary demos. Finally, Rakim got a new contract with Universal, and toward the end of 1997 he released his first solo record, The 18th Letter (early editions contained the bonus disc Book of Life, a fine Eric B. & Rakim retrospective). Anticipation for The 18th Letter turned out to be surprisingly high, especially for a veteran rapper whose roots extended so far back into hip-hop history; yet thanks to Rakim's legendary reputation, it entered the album charts at number four, and received mostly complimentary reviews. His follow-up, The Master, was released in 1999 and failed to duplicate its predecessor's commercial success, barely debuting in the Top 75. Moreover, while The Master received positive reviews in some quarters, others seemed disappointed that Rakim's comeback material wasn't reinventing the wheel the way his early work had, and bemoaned the lack of unity among his array of different producers. Seeking to rectify the latter situation, Rakim signed with Dr. Dre's Aftermath label in 2001, and the two began recording a new album early the next year, to be titled Oh My God. In the meantime, to help heighten anticipation for the summit between two legends, Rakim guested on the single "Addictive" by female R&B singer and Aftermath labelmate Truth Hurts; "Addictive" hit the Top Ten in the summer of 2002, marking the first time Rakim had visited that territory since he and Eric B. appeared on Jody Watley's "Friends" in 1989.

Rakim - The 18th Letter / The Book of Life (Nov 4, 1997: Uptown/Universal)
It took Rakim five years to begin his solo career, but the wait was worth it — The 18th Letter is one of the strongest records a veteran rapper released in the late '90s. Working with a variety of producers (Pete Rock, Clark Kent, Father Shaheed, DJ Premier), Rakim sounds sharp, focused, and strong, rapping with a force unheard of on his classic albums with Eric B. He still retains his knack for rolling, laid-back rhymes, but what's impressive is how he can switch between that style and a more aggressive technique. There are a few slow spots on the record, but in general, few latter-day albums by '80s rappers sound as powerful and vital as The 18th Letter.

Rakim - The Master (Nov 30, 1999: Universal)
When you've been named the best rapper ever in countless readers' and critics' polls, it must be easy to get a bit complacent. And as a veteran who's been on the mic since 1985 (yes, there are several rappers who weren't even on the earth back then), it also must be easy to make a few concessions to all the rappers and delivery styles that have come since Kangols were all the rage — the first time, that is. Thankfully, Rakim's second solo album shows hip-hop's best rapper outdoing himself yet again, and not conceding a whit to '90s rap. Rakim has always been known for his laid-back flow and, accordingly, he never pushes himself here; his flow is smooth as syrup, and will undoubtedly make hip-hop fans realize just what rhythm is after merely a few tracks. He plays with internal rhymes (one of his trademarks) and constructs the most dense lyrics heard in hip-hop for years. The Master also benefits from its stellar cast of producers — Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence, the 45 King, and even Rakim himself. The productions are tough and catchy (no strings here, thankfully), but they never outshine the rhymes. Rakim praises himself on quite a few tracks ("Flow Forever," "When I B on the Mic," "I Know," "It's the R"), but after a listen or two, listeners will likely agree with every boast he makes. After one album (The 18th Letter) to get back into things, Rakim is arguably doing the best work of his career.

Rakim - Guess Whos Back (CDM 1997)

2 be continued...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Eric B & Rakim

They never had a mainstream hit of their own, but during rap's so-called golden age in the late '80s, Eric B. & Rakim were almost universally recognized as the premier DJ/MC team in all of hip-hop. Not only was their chemistry superb, but individually, each represented the absolute state of the art in their respective skills. Eric B. was a hugely influential DJ and beatmaker whose taste for hard-hitting James Brown samples touched off a stampede through the Godfather of Soul's back catalog that continues up to the present day. Rakim, meanwhile, still tops fan polls as the greatest MC of all time. He crafted his rhymes like poetry, filling his lines with elaborate metaphors and complex internal rhymes, and he played with the beat like a jazzman, earning a reputation as the smoothest-flowing MC ever to pick up a mic. His articulation was clear, his delivery seemingly effortless, and his influence on subsequent MCs incalculable. Together, their peerless technique on the microphone and turntables upped the ante for all who followed them, and their advancement of hip-hop as an art form has been acknowledged by everyone from Gang Starr to the Wu-Tang Clan to Eminem. While certain elements of their sound might come off as slightly dated today, it's also immediately clear how much of a hand Eric B. & Rakim had in leading hip-hop into the modern age.Eric B. was born Eric Barrier in 1965 in Elmhurst, Queens; his future partner, William Griffin, Jr., was born in 1968 and also hailed from the suburbs of New York, specifically Wyandanch, Long Island. At age 16, Griffin converted to Islam and adopted the name Rakim Allah. Barrier played trumpet and guitar early on, but switched to the turntables in high school, and eventually landed a job as the mobile DJ for radio station WBLS. It was there that he met Rakim, and the two officially formed a partnership in 1985. Their first single — "Eric B. Is President" (an ode to Barrier's DJ skills) b/w "My Melody" — was released on the tiny Harlem-based indie label Zakia. It was a street-level sensation during the summer of 1986, and the duo was picked up by the larger 4th & Broadway imprint. The equally monumental singles "I Ain't No Joke" and "I Know You Got Soul" sampled James Brown and his cohort Bobby Byrd, respectively, and their utter funkiness began to revolutionize the sound of hip-hop. Moreover, Rakim's line "pump up the volume" on the latter track was in turn sampled itself, becoming the basis for M/A/R/R/S' hit of the same name.In 1987, 4th & Broadway issued the duo's full-length debut, Paid in Full; accompanied by a mighty underground buzz, the record climbed into the Top Ten on the R&B LP charts (as would all of their subsequent albums). Additionally, the British DJ duo Coldcut remixed the title cut into a bona fide U.K. smash. The exposure helped make "Paid in Full"'s drum track one of the most sampled beats this side of James Brown's "Funky Drummer"; it provided the foundation for Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True," among many other, more credible hits. On the heels of Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim signed with MCA subsidiary Uni and consolidated their reputation with another landmark hip-hop album, 1988's Follow the Leader. The title cut took its place among the classic singles already in their canon, and Jody Watley soon tapped the duo for a guest spot on her 1989 single "Friends," which brought them into the pop Top Ten for the first and only time.The 1990 follow-up Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em proved relatively disappointing from a creative standpoint, although 1992's slightly jazzier Don't Sweat the Technique was a more consistent affair that bolstered their legacy. As it turned out, the record also completed that legacy. The duo's contract with MCA was almost up, and they had discussed the possibility of each recording a solo album. Unfortunately, the resulting tension over the future of their partnership ultimately destroyed it. In the aftermath of the breakup, various legal issues prevented both parties from starting their solo careers for quite some time. The only recording to appear was Rakim's first solo cut, "Heat It Up," which was featured on the soundtrack of the 1993 film Gunmen. Finally, in 1995, Eric B. issued his self-titled solo debut on his own 95th Street label. Rakim, meanwhile, signed with Universal and delivered a pair of acclaimed comeback albums, 1997's The 18th Letter and 1999's The Master.

Eric B & Rakim - Paid in Full (1987: 4th & Broadway)
One of the most influential rap albums of all time, Eric B. & Rakim's Paid in Full only continues to grow in stature as the record that ushered in hip-hop's modern era. The stripped-down production might seem a little bare to modern ears, but Rakim's technique on the mic still sounds utterly contemporary, even state-of-the-art — and that from a record released in 1987, just one year after Run-D.M.C. hit the mainstream. Rakim basically invents modern lyrical technique over the course of Paid in Full, with his complex internal rhymes, literate imagery, velvet-smooth flow, and unpredictable, off-the-beat rhythms. The key cuts here are some of the most legendary rap singles ever released, starting with the duo's debut sides, "Eric B. Is President" and "My Melody." "I Know You Got Soul" single-handedly kicked off hip-hop's infatuation with James Brown samples, and Eric B. & Rakim topped it with the similarly inclined "I Ain't No Joke," a stunning display of lyrical virtuosity. The title cut, meanwhile, planted the seeds of hip-hop's material obsessions over a monumental beat. There are also three DJ showcases for Eric B., who like Rakim was among the technical leaders in his field. If sampling is the sincerest form of admiration in hip-hop, Paid in Full is positively worshipped. Just to name a few: Rakim's tossed-off "pump up the volume," from "I Know You Got Soul," became the basis for M/A/R/R/S' groundbreaking dance track; Eminem, a devoted Rakim student, lifted lines from "As the Rhyme Goes On" for the chorus of his own "The Way I Am"; and the percussion track of "Paid in Full" has been sampled so many times it's almost impossible to believe it had a point of origin. Paid in Full is essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in the basic musical foundations of hip-hop — this is the form in its purest essence.

Eric B & Rakim - Follow the Leader (1988: UNI)
Having already revolutionized hip-hop, Eric B. & Rakim came up with a second straight classic in their sophomore album, Follow the Leader, which basically follows the same blueprint for greatness, albeit with subtle refinements. Most noticeably, Eric B.'s production is already moving beyond the minimalism of Paid in Full. Follow the Leader finds him changing things up more often: dropping in more samples, adding instruments from musician Stevie Blass Griffin, and generally creating a fuller sound over his rock-solid beats. It's still relatively spare, but the extra sonic weight helps keep things fresh. For his part, Rakim wasn't crowned the greatest MC of all time for the variety of his lyrical content, and Follow the Leader is no different. Yet even if he rarely deviates from boasting about his microphone prowess (and frankly, he's entitled), he employs uncommonly vivid and elaborate metaphors in doing so. A case in point is "Microphone Fiend," which weaves references to substance addiction throughout in explaining why Rakim can't keep away from the mic. The album-opening title cut is one of his most agile, up-tempo lyrical showcases, demonstrating why he's such a poetic inspiration for so many MCs even today. "Lyrics of Fury" manages to top it in terms of sheer force, using the break from James Brown's "Funky Drummer" before it saturated the airwaves. And, of course, there are several more turntable features for Eric B. Follow the Leader may not have broken much new ground, but it captures one of the greatest pure hip-hop acts at the top of its form, and that's enough to make the album a classic.

Eric B & Rakim - Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em (May 1990: MCA)
One thing the rap audience will never be accused of is having the world's longest attention span. Even some of the most celebrated hip-hoppers can fade in popularity after only a few albums. Eric B. & Rakim were extremely popular in the mid- to late '80s, but by 1990, rap buyers were starting to lose interest in them. Not much different from Paid in Full or Follow the Leader, Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em makes rapping technique its number one priority. At time when West Coast MCs like Ice-T and Ice Cube were mainly interested in getting a political message across, Rakim's goal was showing how much technique he had. Rakim may rap in a deadpan tone, but "Step Back," "No Omega," and other tunes leave no doubt that he had sizable chops. There are a few message raps (including "In the Ghetto"), although Rakim spends most of his time finding tongue-twisting ways to boast and brag about his microphone skills. The overall result is a CD that is enjoyable, yet limited.

Eric B & Rakim - Don't Sweat the Technique (1992: MCA)
Starting with their 1986 debut, Paid in Full, Eric B. and Rakim earned raves for Eric B.'s often flawless, judicious productions and Rakim's serious yet relentlessly rhythmic rhyming style. This 1992 album finds the duo picking up from where they left off of 1990's Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em. "What's on Your Mind" has Rakim with intents to woo under a bubbling track with an adroit interpolation of D Train's 1983 hit of the same name. That track aside, Don't Sweat the Technique has Rakim in bleak spirits as thoughts of combat, revenge, and unfortunate "accidents" are not far from his mind. "Casualties of War" has Rakim as an all-purpose psycho with the unsettling hook, "I get a rush when I see blood and dead bodies on the floor." Although it's supposed to be gripping, the thought of a war-ravaged Rakim with his pistols blazing after hearing a truck backfiring is hilarious. All of Don't Sweat the Technique would be more disturbing if it wasn't for the brilliant ear of Eric B. who can cut the tension and exact magic out of a going-nowhere track. Although the lyrics and premise of "What's Going On" aren't extremely sharp, the cracking snare drums and low bass riffs are a perfect compliment to Rakim's delivery. The title track is also jazz influenced, but not as potent as the Simon Law and Mr. Lee's Funky Ginger remixes that don't appear here. Like many albums of this type, Don't Sweat the Technique ends on tracks of little distinction but it is another strong effort from one of rap's most respected acts.

Stay on tune...As Salaam Aleikum

Thursday, April 05, 2007


After Erick Sermon (of the seminal rap group EPMD) spotted Redman freestyling in a New York nightclub, Sermon added him to the Hit Squad crew of aspiring MCs (along with K-Solo and Das EFX). Redman made his rapping debut on the EPMD songs "Hardcore" and "Brothers On My Jock" off their third album Business As Usual (Def Jam 1990). Redman's 1992 Def Jam debut Whut? Thee Album broke into the US Top 50, achieved gold status in the United States. Prominent hip hop magazine The Source subsequently named Redman the Rap Artist of the Year for 1993. Redman's solo career continued throughout the remainder of the decade, with each of his albums selling at least half a million copies. His musical style has remained very consistent, rarely deviating from a combination of Redman's unique braggadocious wit and hard, P-funk-influenced beats. In addition to releasing albums under his own name, he is part of the group Def Squad (along with Keith Murray and Erick Sermon) with whom he released the 1998 album El Niño, and also has formed a close partnership with labelmate Method Man (of the Wu-Tang Clan) with whom he released the 1999 album Blackout!. New Jersey rapper Redman made his initial impact with Whut? Thee Album in 1992. He blended reggae and funk influences with topical commentary and displayed a terse, though fluid rap style that was sometimes satirical, sometimes tough, and sometimes silly. Redman returned in 1994 with his second album, Dare Iz a Darkside, which was a harder album than his debut. Muddy Waters, Redman's third album, followed in 1996; he returned two years later with Doc's da Name. The 1999 album Blackout! was a collaboration with Method Man while 2001's Malpractice was another solo effort. Soundtrack appearances, acting (most notably a starring role in the film How High), and collaborations (including an appearance on Christina Aguilera's hit single "Dirrty") kept Redman away from his solo career until 2007, when Red Gone Wild arrived.

Whut? Thee Album is a terrific debut that established Redman as one of the top MCs on the East Coast. His aggressive delivery is more than hardcore enough for the streets, but Whut? is first and foremost a party record. Redman's subject matter centers around his love of funk and his equal love of pot, with some sex and violence thrown in for good measure. He's able to carry it all off with a singular sense of style, thanks to a wild sense of humor that results in some outlandish boasts, surreal threats, and hilarious left-field jokes. In "Blow Your Mind," for example, he announces, "watch me freak it in Korean!," stumbles through part of a verse, and mutters "ah, forget it"; another great moment is "Redman Meets Reggie Noble," a brief duet between himself and his own alter ego in the great Slick Rick tradition. Other offbeat highlights include the genuinely useful instructional track "How to Roll a Blunt" and the hilarious sexcapade story song "A Day With Sooperman Lover." Credit for the album's infectious vibe also has to go to producer Erick Sermon, who fills Whut? with deep, loose-limbed beats cribbed from P-Funk and Zapp. Slamming party jams like "Time 4 Sum Aksion," "Rated R," and "Watch Yo Nuggets" are the real meat and potatoes of the record, and Redman's driving, forceful rhyme style makes them all the more invigorating. Still the strongest, most consistent outing in his catalog, Whut? Thee Album clearly heralds the arrival of a major talent.

Redman - Dare Iz a Darkside (Nov 22, 1994: Def Jam)
Redman may have become a household name among the rap community by the end of the '90s, but there was a time when he garnered little more than a cult following. Why? Well, Dare Iz a Darkside illustrates this better than any of his other '90s albums — nowhere else has Redman ever been this odd, to be quite frank. It's fairly evident here that he'd been listening to his George Clinton records and that he wasn't fronting when he alluded to "A Million and 1 Buddah Spots" that he'd visited. In fact, this album often divides his fans. Many admire it for its eccentricities, while others deride it for being quite simply too inaccessible. It's almost as if Redman is trying to puzzle listeners on Dare Iz a Darkside with his continually morphing persona. In fact, there's actually little questioning his motives — it's a matter of fact that Redman's trying to be as crazy as he can without alienating too many of those who first knew him for his affiliation with EPMD. And while that affiliation does aid this album, since Erick Sermon plays a large role in production, it's not quite enough. If this album has one unforgivable flaw besides the debatable quirks in Redman's persona, it's the production. Sermon isn't up to his usual standards here, unfortunately, and the album could really use some of his trademark funk. But the reason most fans either feel devotion or disdain for this album isn't the beats, but rather Redman's antics. If you appreciate his wacky sense of insane humor, this album is a gold mine. If you're more into his latter-day Method Man-style rhymes, then this album probably isn't one you want to bother with. After all, though Redman became a household name by the end of the '90s, it surely wasn't because of albums like this.

Redman - Muddy Waters (Dec 10, 1996: Def Jam)
Despite a heavy dose of Redman's eccentric humor, Dare Iz a Darkside often threatened to disappear in a haze of blunt smoke, so for his third album, he and producer Erick Sermon backed off the muddled sonics of Darkside and returned to the hard funk of his debut set. There isn't as blatant a P-Funk/Zapp influence on Muddy Waters; the beats are more indebted to the new New York hardcore movement, and the tracks themselves are sparer and more bass-driven. Lyrically, Redman is as strong as ever, and if his subject matter hasn't changed all that much, he's still coming up with clever metaphors and loose, elastic rhyme flows. He projects more energy than Method Man (who appears on "Do What Ya Feel"), but isn't quite at the madman level of Busta Rhymes. The numerous skits tend to drag the album's momentum down a little, but overall, Muddy Waters solidifies Redman's growing reputation as one of the most consistent rappers of the '90s — even when the music is unspectacular, he manages to deliver the goods on the microphone.

Redman - Doc's Da Name 2000 (Nov 24, 1998: Def Jam)
In 1998, rap music experienced a high level of commercial acceptance and exploitation, the magnitude of which had scarcely been seen before. Most major record labels embraced artists whose images and portrayals revolved around financial decadence, violence, and substance abuse. These are issues that have always been somewhere in the mix of hip-hop culture, but in the late '90s such subjects took total precedence over previously, at least equally, appreciated subjects such as lyrical agility, humor, positivity, and self-awareness. Redman represents a few of these attributes — humor and lyrical agility in particular — on Doc's da Name 2000. The sound Redman achieves on this album is characteristic of his previous albums. With production credits going mostly to Erick Sermon, the bass-intensive and melodic beats on Doc's da Name 2000 allow Redman to deliver the raw Newark, NJ, flow for which he's known and liked. Redman produced a few of the songs on this album, including "Jersey Yo!." A mildly funny skit that describes the attitude of a certain "Little Bricks" resident precedes this selection. There are actually five skits on the album, which, like most skits on an often-played album, become very unfunny after a few repetitions. On "Jersey Yo!" Redman uses a slow and funky guitar sound over tight drums and a fluid bassline. Redman is also responsible for the production of "Da Goodness," a song that features Busta Rhymes. The instrumentation in this song has a futuristic, almost minimal, sound that mimics the music Busta Rhymes frequently flows over. Not stopping there, Redman spits lyrics in "Da Goodness" with what could be identified as Busta's lyrical style — and he does it well. The result is an entertaining song that exemplifies Redman's skill as a talented lyricist and producer. "Beet Drop," another cut produced by Redman, is a brief but funny cover of the Beastie Boys' "It's the New Style." Other MCs that join Redman here include Method Man on "Well All Rite Cha"; Double O, Tame, Diezzel Don, Gov-Mattic, and Young Z (of the Outsiders) on "Close Ya Doorz"; Markie and Shooga Bear on "My Zone!"; and Erick Sermon and Keith Murray on "Down South Funk." Fans should note that the latest episode of "Sooperman Lova (IV)" is witness to "sooperman lova switching to sooperman villain." The last selection on this album is a gem — a rhyme delivered over a jungle (aka drum'n'bass) rhythm track that was produced by the well-known Roni Size. A close look at the liner notes reveals an additional unique item on Doc's da Name 2000: Redman had A&R, marketing, and project coordination responsibilities on this album — a scenario not often seen in the music industry.

Redman - Malpractice (May 22, 2001: Def Jam)
During the three-year gap separating Redman's previous album, Doc's da Name 2000 (1998), from Malpractice, the crazed New Jersey rapper became a bona fide superstar thanks to his collaboration with the ubiquitous and ridiculously recognized Method Man. It now seems that the same sort of excessively brash attitude that somewhat burdens Method Man's superstar ego has become a staple of Redman's as well. That sort of lazy overconfidence often leads to effortless redundancy — this is a problem that creeps into Malpractice. After nearly a decade, Redman's countless skits and his ever-wacky but still-the-same antics just don't seem as fresh and amusing as they once were. Furthermore, with his newfound Method Man-like arrogance, his old tricks seem even tougher to stomach. It'd be different if Redman took a Missy Elliott-like approach to Malpractice and made an effort to continually flip styles and keep things fresh with each album. That's not the case, though. Rather, he turns in a repeat performance of his last few solo albums. Erick Sermon again crafts a number of the beats, and Redman returns to many of the same lyrical motifs that fueled his past work. So, in a sense, you can commend Redman for his consistency; after all, his rhymes are always a grin and he even produces a good chunk of Malpractice. Unfortunately, if you've heard his previous albums, this is going to feel very familiar. It's guests like George Clinton and the aforementioned Missy Elliott who keep things fresh, and there's no shortage of guests here, but even they can't salvage the record's déjà vu feeling. It's not easy criticizing Malpractice, since it is a relatively strong album with some nice moments such as the lead single, "Let's Get Dirty." But being Redman's fifth solo album, you expect a little more growth; instead you get what feels like a repeat performance.

Redman - Red Gone Wild: Thee Album (March 27, 2007: Def Jam Recordings)
Back once again with the ill behavior, Redman's Red Gone Wild: Thee Album is the kind of bumpy ice cream van ride through the ghetto that fans crave. The wit is there and as strong as ever with lines Kool Keith would salivate over like "I'm in my underwear like Damon Wayans in Colors" ("Pimp Nutz") or "My bitch be like 'damn, baby, wash your feet'/She say the hair on my chest look like taco meat" ("Sumtn 4 Urrbody") or a whole bunch of others that are way too nasty to repeat. Old friends like Def Squad kingpins Keith Murray and Erick Sermon are on the guest list along with a whole honor roll of old-schoolers who all feel as vital as ever. Producer Pete Rock brings a piano and horn banger to the album ("Gimme One"), Timbaland is more aggressive than usual with his beat ("Put It Down"), and Scott Storch mashes the Neptunes and Kraftwerk sounds with his inspired loops ("Freestyle Freestyle"), but as big and as diverse as the guest list is, the album hangs and flows effortlessly. It has everything to do with Red's bottomless bag of punch lines and his uplifting spirit, which could make you smile even as he's verbally cutting you to pieces. You could argue that the blaxploitation-flavored "Soopaman Luva" suite would be a better ending than the raw party starter "Suicide," but that's about it, unless you think party song followed by smoking song is redundant, which probably means you wouldn't enjoy any Redman album. That he's able to throw it back to the good old days after all this time, fame, and his ventures into other media just speaks to how much natural talent lives inside the man. How he makes it look so easy and backs up every outrageous claim of domination with whip-smart proof is nothing short of stunning.

Mixtapes & EP