The Roots & “UnDun”

The Album Undun, in so many words is “in many ways much like a screenplay or novel”. Those are the words from Black Thought one of the founding architects of The Legendary Roots Crew in a recent Vibe Magazine interview. In many ways that’s exactly what this album was organically was created to be. After almost 20 years since their debut album The Roots have crafted a concept album based on a fictitious character named Redford Stephens, a man torn between the harsh realities of the street life, and the trials and tribulations that come along with it. Along with the life-like narratives of this young mans life, comes a story of the course of the album told in reverse order, beginning with Redford Stephens demise on the haunting opening track “Sleep”, where Black Thought raps…

To catch a thief, who stole the soul I prayed to keep
Insomniac, bad dreams got me losin sleep
I’m dead tired, my mind playin tricks, deceit
A face in the glass, unable to admit defeat
All that I am all that I was is history
The past unraveled addin, insult to this injury
I’m, fightin the battle for the soul of the century
Destiny is everything that I pretend to be
Look, and what I did came back to me eventually
The music, played on and told me I was meant to be awake
It’s unresolved like everything I had at stake
Illegal activity controls my black symphony
Orchestrated like it happened oncidentally
Oh.. there I go from a man to memory
Damn, I wonder if my fam will remember me”

On the track “One Time” the Roots stand in member Dice Raw raps from the tragic perspective of Redford Stephens….

“I wonder when you die, do you hear harps and bagpipes
if you born on the other side of the crack pipe?
N****z learn math just to understand the crack price
Then dive in, head first like the jack knife
Cause out here, yo you niggaz cant belly flop
If you wanna make the noise, inside your belly stop
On time means, bein on the front line
Being on the front means duckin one time
The pendulum swingin my way, couldn’t be more blind
N****z talk to the cops? Not even one time
’cause we all goin down, just like the subprime
or a cheap-ass half gallon of Ballantine
But, hoppin over gates to escape is sublime
Been through the alley way and down to the sub line
Tales from the streets, life of high crime
to make it to the bottom, such a high climb”

On the Bilal assisted track “TheOtherSide” Black Thought  and Greg Porn contribute to the song continuing the albums dark vibes of the inner workings of what a life of crime can do to your frame of mind……

[Black Thought]t
“You might say I could be doing somethin positive
Humbled head down low and broke like promises
Soakin and broken in a joke like comics is
Not enough paper to be payin folks compliments
But when that paper got low, so did my tolerance
And it ain’t no TRUTH in a dare, without the consequence”

[Greg Porn]
“Every night I’m crossin a line that ain’t the finish
Every thought is dark as a glass of fuckin Guinness
To far gone to come back to my senses
Now I’m on the edge of my bed makin love to my meds
Every moments like a pistol to my head when I’m gettin mine”

If there was one song that captures the essence of the mental and physical obstacles of Redford Stephens its the last song on the album “Tip The Scale”. On the track Black Thought and Dice Raw’s verses and hook delve into essence of Redford’s troubles on the song they rap….

[Black Thought]

“Yo, I’m always early, I never take off
’cause I got a job: rob Peter to pay Paul
Now I realize it’s the winner that takes all
Do what I gotta do, because I can’t take loss
Picture me livin life as if I’m some animal
that consumes its own dreams like I’m a cannibal
I won’t accept failure, unless it’s mechanical
But still the alcohol, mixed with the botanical
I guess I be referred to the owner’s manual full of loaners
Full of all the homeless throwaways and the stoners
Soldiers of the streets with 8th grade diplomas
and the world awaitin their shoulders as a bonus
Look, let he without sin live without sin
Until then, I’ll be doing dirty jobs like Swamp Men
Countin the faces of those that might have been
It’s like, livin that life but I won’t live that life again”

[Dice Raw]

“Lotta n****z go to prison, how many come out Malcolm X?
I know I’m not… shit, can’t even talk about the rest
Famous last words: You under arrest
Will I get popped tonight? It’s anybody’s guess
I guess, a nigga need to stay cunning
I guess when the cops coming need to start runnin
I won’t make the same mistakes from my last run-in
You either done doin crime now or you done in
I got a brother on the run and one in
Wrote me a letter he said, “When you comin?”
Shit, man, I thought the goal’s to stay out
Back against the wall, then shoot your way out
Gettin money’s a style that never plays out
’til you in a box and your stash money’s paid out
The scales of justice ain’t equally weighed out
Only two ways out: diggin tunnels or diggin graves out”

What makes the “UnDun” album so special is not only the creativity or the conceptualised story in reverse, without giving you a feeling of unnecessary gangster banter, its simply the fact that the album is enjoyable. Even in its somber and dark tone the work behind the boards done by Questlove and his crew keep the album at a head nodding tempo throughout. However the only misstep to a very small degree may be “Make My” Featuring K.R.I.T., the songs vibe has too much of sleppyness to it, and lacks the kick production wise to keep up with the rest of the album. Now while each track in its own way has high replay value and dopeness to it, the entire record still stays true to the theme, painting the missteps of Redfords life. Unlike the last few Roots albums which although overall were high quality, this album more so is a notch above because of its focused effort packaged in a concise 9 Song offering. So whether it’s on the hustlers flossy dream on the track, “Kool On”, or the Just Blaze-ess banger “Stomp” or the groovy “Lighthouse” the Album barely never misses a beat towards being one of the top albums of 2011.   #HaitianJack

 Scores:  UnDun  (Released Dec 2011)

  Bars:  XL    Beats:  XL    Music:  XXL     Report Card: A-

Jayz & “Reasonable Doubt”

“THROWBACK REWIND SERIES”

When i think of Jayz’ s 1996 album “Reasonable Doubt”,  i think of a soundtrack to the ultimate street hustler movie. What “Reasonable Doubt” is to hiphop music is similar to the creative brilliance of its movie conterpart, i.e a “Scarface”, “Goodfellas” or the “The Godfather”. Although unappreciated by certain sectors of society in relation to these movies in american culture, hiphop music has continued to gain popularity among the masses. However to many of these same sectors of society hiphop and/or rap music is nothing more than a collection of youth glorifying themes of violence, ignorance, misogyny, disrespect and drug use among others.

However to the untrained eye and ear the hiphop culture, specifically the actual music is nothing more than cultural expression, art and of course entertainment. If the movie “Scarface” and the award winning actors and producers of that movie can recieve critical and commercial accliam which they should, for their depiction of mafia life, then hiphop artist who craft quality narration of that same life style in musical form should to. And Yes!, Reasonable Doubt is one of those albums.

On Sean Carter’s 14 track offering the Brooklyn mc puts on display his witty flows weaving in out and around the hustlers mentality. Right from the jump, the opening track “Cant Knock the Hustle” Jayz shows hes going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. On the track S. Carter raps…

I gotta, let you niggaz know the time like Movado
My motto, stack rocks like Colorado
Auto off the champagne, Cristal’s by the bottle
It’s a damn shame what you’re not though (who?) Me
Slick like a gato, fuckin Jay-Z
My pops knew exactly what he did when he made me
Tried to get a nut and he got a nut and what
Straight bananas; can a nigga, see me?
Got the US Open, advantage Jigga
Serve like Sampras, play fake a rappers like a campus
Le Tigre, son you’re too eager
You ain’t havin it?  Good, me either
Let’s, get together and make this whole world believe us huh?
At my arraignment, screamin
all us blacks got is sports and entertainment, until we even
Thievin, as long as I’m breathin
Can’t knock the way a nigga eatin – fuck you even!”

Mary J Blige’s contribution to the track is just icing on the cake. the album keeps the momentum going on the next 4 tracks, “Politics as Usual”, then the late great B.I.G featured verse for verse dopeness of “Brooklyns finest”, “Dead Presidents”, and “Feelin It”. One of the standout cuts from “Reasonable Doubt” is the follow up song “D’Evils”. On the track Jayz depicts in HD clarity the mentality of a man deep in the game faced with the ills of that lifestyle. On “D’Evils” Jay raps…

This shit is wicked on these mean streets
None of my friends speak
We’re all trying to win, but then again
Maybe it’s for the best though, cause when they’re seeing too much
You know they’re trying to get you touched
Whoever said illegal was the easy way out couldn’t understand the mechanics
And the workings of the underworld, granted
Nine to five is how to survive, I ain’t trying to survive
I’m trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot
Life ills, poison my body
I used to say ‘fuck mic skills’
And never prayed to God, I prayed to Gotti
That’s right it’s wicked, that’s life I live it
Ain’t asking for forgiveness for my sins, ends
I break bread with the late heads, picking their brains for angles on
all the evils that the game’ll do
It gets dangerous, money and power is changing us
And now we’re lethal, infected with D’Evils”

On the next track “22 Two’s” spits a freestyle-ess assault on a stripped down Ski produced track, followed by the banger “Can I Live”. On the latter Sean Carter continues his commentary of the hustler thought process, on his final verse he raps…

My mind is infested, with sick thoughts that circle
like a Lexus, if driven wrong it’s sure to hurt you
Dual level like duplexes, in unity, my crew and me
commit atrocities like we got immunity
You guessed it, manifest it in tangible goods
Platinum Rolexed it, we don’t lease
we buy the whole car, as you should
My confederation, dead a nation, EXPLODE
on detonation, overload the mind of a said patient
When it balls to steam, it comes to it
we all fiends gotta do it, even righteous minds go through this
True this, the streets school us to spend our money foolish
Bond with jewellers and, watch for intruders
I stepped it up another level, meditated like a buddhist
Recruited lieutenants with ludicrous, dreams of
gettin cream let’s do this, it gets te-di-ous
So I keep one eye open like, C-B-S, ya see me
stressed right?  Can I live?” 

As good as Jayz’s debut album is, the second half of the album does lose a little steam. However not enough from keeping this album from being a certified classic album overall. The record comes to a fitting end on the closeout track, “Regrets”, where Jayz breaks down in different aspects of his earlier years how he felt the negative pull of poor judgement and the feeling being boxed to the circumstances that attributed to Sean Carter the hustler. On the closeout track he raps…

As sure as this, Earth is turning souls burning
in search of higher learning turning in every direction seeking direction
My moms cryin cause her insides are dyin
her son tryin her patience, keep her heart racin
A million beats a minute, I know I push you to your limit
but it’s this game love, I’m caught up all in it
They make it so you can’t prevent it, never give it
you gotta take it, can’t fake it I keep it authentic
My hand got this pistol shakin, cause I sense danger
like Camp Crystal Lake and
don’t wanna shoot him, but I got him, trapped
within this infrared dot, bout to hot him and, hit rock bottom
No answers to these trick questions, no time shit stressin
My life found I got ta live for the right now
Time waits for no man, can’t turn back the hands
once it’s too late, gotta learn to live with regrets”

After over 15 years since jayz’s debut “Reasonable Doubt” the self proclaimed greatest of all-time has gone on to have a slew of hits, critical acclaim and commerical success. Although Jayz is over 10 albums deep in his career it was his debut album that endeared him the most to his loyal fans because of the albums first class production from the likes of Ski Beats, DJ Premier, Clark Kent among others, and a lyrical dissertation of sorts into the mind of the Marcy Projects hustler. Just like a great Mob Film that grips the movie goer into the lives of its characters and their subsequent plots, Jayz does the same on this album bringing to life the good and the bad of the hustler. Now thats a film that deserves an oscar…   #HaitianJack

Score:  Reasonable Doubt (Released June 1996)

Bars: XXL    Beats: XXL    Music: XXL     Report Card: A+(Classic)

Nas & iLLmatic

“THROWBACK REWIND SERIES”

Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones aka Nasir, Aka Nas Escobar, aka Esco, Aka Gods Son, aka Streets Disciple, aka Nasty Nas, or simply Nas is an artist that has stood the test of time. Since his arrival on the rap scene in 1991 on Main Source’s debut album “Breaking Atoms” lead track “Live At the Barbeque”,  Nas has built a collection of classic tracks with top-notch lyricism and a music discography that few artist can match. Nasir’s 1994 debut album iLLmatic was an anomaly of sorts to many rap fans. Looking back during that era many hip hop fans wondered how a baby-faced 20-year-old could craft such vivid rhymes, while lyrically painting Vincent Van Gogh like pictures of New York Street Life with such detail. At an early age Nas lyrical dexterity drew comparisons to artists to Legends like Queens Bridge’s Kool G Rap and NY City Rakim.

In Nas’s magnum opus iLLMatic, the mc shows in a dense 9 song album offering enough quotables to fill 2-3 albums of most artist today. On the albums 1st song  “N.Y State of Mind” Nas creates a vivid narrative of his street environment. On the menacing DJ Premier produced track, Nas raps…

I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane
Life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain
and be prosperous, though we live dangerous
cops could just arrest me, blamin us, we’re held like hostages
It’s only right that I was born to use mics
and the stuff that I write, is even tougher than dykes
I’m takin rappers to a new plateau, through rap slow
My rhymin is a vitamin, held without a capsule
The smooth criminal on beat breaks
Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes
The city never sleeps, full of villians and creeps
That’s where I learned to do my hustle had to scuffle with freaks
I’ma addict for sneakers, twenties of buddah and bitches with beepers
In the streets I can greet ya, about blunts I teach ya
Inhale deep like the words of my breath
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death
I lay puzzle as I backtrack to earlier times
Nothing’s equivalent, to the new york state of mind

On the follow-up track “Life’s a B***” Nas shows his prowess as an mc when he takes a simple thought and uses his verses to enhance his message with quality bars, versus the lazy simple rhymes used by many of todays mainstream artist. Some might think its unnecessary or showing off a bit, but that’s just Nas; as he raps….

“I woke up early on my born day, I’m twenty years of blessing
The essence of adolescent leaves my body now I’m fresh in
My physical frame is celebrated cause I made it
One quarter through life some God-ly like thing created
Got rhymes 365 days annual plus some
Load up the mic and bust one, cuss while I puffs from
my skull cause it’s pain in my brain vein money maintain
Don’t go against the grain simple and plain
When I was young at this I used to do my thing hard
Robbin foreigners take they wallets they jewels and rip they green cards
Dipped to the projects flashin my quick cash
and got my first piece of ass smokin blunts with hash
Now it’s all about cash in abundance, niggaz I used to run with
is rich or doin years in the hundreds
I switched my motto — instead of sayin fuck tomorrow
That buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto
Once I stood on the block, loose cracks produce stacks
I cooked up and cut small pieces to get my loot back
Time is Illmatic keep static like wool fabric
Pack a four-matic that crack your whole cabbage

One of the top tracks on the album is the Pete Rock produced “The World Is Yours”, where Nas raps….

Dwellin in the Rotten Apple, you get tackled
Or caught by the devil’s lasso, shit is a hassle
There’s no days, for broke days, we sell it, smoke pays
While all the old folks pray, to Je-sus’ soakin they sins in trays
of holy water, odds against Nas are slaughter
Thinkin a word best describin my life, to name my daughter
My strength, my son, the star, will be my resurrection
Born in correction all the wrong shit I did, he’ll lead a right direction”

As your starting to tell Nasir holds nothing back as he delves deep into the mental state of his NY State of Mind, using his dense lyrics to depict the roller coaster lifestyle of the inner city. Track for track it’s almost as if the chemistry between Nas and his hand full of iLLmatic’s producers were meant to come together for this occasion. In 2012 some of the backdrops may sound a little dated however compared to iLLmatics hiphop peers of the early 90’s and prior, the roll call of DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, among others were the A-List producers in hiphop during that period.

There was a time in rap when you couldn’t get any real respect  among the people and your peers if you didn’t take your craft seriously. As far as your rep as an mc It was always more about who was more lyrical inclined and could out do the next man bar for bar. Nas doesnt hesitate to impress in that regard on another standout track produced by DJ Premier “Memory Lane”, Nas raps…

My pen taps the paper then my brain’s blank
I see dark streets, hustlin brothers who keep the same rank
Pumpin for somethin, some uprise, plus some fail
Judges hangin niggaz, uncorrect bails, for direct sales
My intellect prevails from a hangin cross with nails
I reinforce the frail, with lyrics that’s real
Word to Christ, a disciple of streets, trifle on beats
I decifer prophecies through a mic and say peace.
I hung around the older crews while they sling smack to dingbats
They spoke of Fat Cat, that nigga’s name made bell rings, black
Some fiends scream, about Supreme Team, a Jamaica Queens thing
Uptown was Alpo, son, heard he was kingpin, yo
Fuck ‘rap is real’, watch the herbs stand still
Never talkin to snakes cause the words of man kill
True in the game, as long as blood is blue in my veins
I pour my Heineken brew to my deceased crew on memory lane”

The albums closeout track ends this classic album where it began, with a 20 yr old Nasir Jones flexing his lyrical muscles over a head nodding beat, this time over the Large Professor produced “It Aint Hard To Tell”. On the three verse verbal exercise Nas raps…

“This rhythmatic explosion, is what your frame of mind has chosen
I’ll leave your brain stimulated, niggaz is frozen
Speak with criminal slang, begin like a violin
End like Leviathan, it’s deep well let me try again
Wisdom be leakin out my grapefruit troop
I dominate break loops, givin mics men-e-straul cycles
Street’s disciple, I rock beats that’s mega trifle
And groovy but smoother than moves by Villanova
You’re still a soldier, I’m like Sly Stone in Cobra
Packin like a rasta in the weed spot
Vocals’ll squeeze glocks, MC’s eavesdrop
Though they need not to sneak
My poetry’s deep, I never fell
Nas’s raps should be locked in a cell
It ain’t hard to tell

In many ways Nas’s 1994 debut album iLLmatic was a landmark album in hiphop and specifically gritty New york rap. During the years of 1988-1992 the West Coast was picking up steam and arguably becoming the front runner of popular urban rap music nationwide. The impact of the West Coast during that time was mainly due to a string of hits from Dr. Dre and affiliates. Illmatic’s release re-ignited a spark among east coast rap and one could arguably say that iLLmatic was among the leaders in a string of classic hip hop music released between 1994-1996. Although iLLmatic didn’t sell well initially, since its release the album has lyrically stood the test of time and from top to bottom is on par or greater than many of the greatest rap albums of all time.  #HaitianJack

Score:  iLLmatic  (Released 1994)

Bars:XXL    Beats:XXL   Music: XXL    Report Card: A+(classic)

The Notorious B.I.G. & “Ready To Die”

“THROWBACK REWIND SERIES”

On March 9, 1997 The Notorious B.I.G. left the world with 2 children, an ex-wife, friends, family and a millions of fans after a fatal shooting in California. Roughly three years prior on September 13, 1994 Biggie Smalls debut album “Ready To Die” hit stores and he instantly gained a following worldwide. Some call him the greatest of all-time, some have him as one of the top 5 mc’s dead or Live, some even feel he is overrated. However regardless of your thoughts about Biggie’s legacy, “Ready To Die” is an album that plays out like a classic gangster flick with melodramatic themes sprinkled throughout.

Ready To Die isn’t all dark, there are a few light-hearted tracks throughout the album, one being the classic track “Juicy”. For some the high dosage of an overall gloomy overcast on the album may be a turn off, however just like we can enjoy a good comedy, we can enjoy a gritty rags to riches story with vivid lyricism. The Notorious B.I.G.’s many lyrical talents include his knack for playing the role so to speak to perfection. By playing the role i mean in each song regardless of the subject matter you felt like you were seeing what he saw, feeling what he felt, and experiencing what he may have experienced. He had sort of a Jekyll and Hyde type ability in his raps where you would say to yourself did the same guy that just rapped xyz in this track, REALLY say abc in the next track.

Two perfect examples of Biggie showing his jekyll & Hyde type persona and his ability to go from the over weight lover to the robbery expert are on the track “Gimmie the Loot” and “Big Poppa”. On the latter the Brooklyn mc raps…

“Straight up honey really I’m askin
Most of these n*****z think they be mackin but they be actin
Who they attractin with that line, “What’s your name what’s your sign?”
Soon as he buy that wine I just creep up from behind
And ask what your interests are, who you be with
Things to make you smile, what numbers to dial
You gon’ be here for a while, I’m gon’ go call my crew
You go call your crew
We can rendezvous at the bar around two”

Then Biggie flips the script into the ruthless robbery expert on “Gimmie The Loot” where he raps…

“I wouldn’t give fuck if you’re pregnant
Give me the baby rings and a #1 MOM pendant
  I’m slamming n****z like Shaquille, shit is real
  When it’s time to eat a meal I rob and steal
  cause Mom Duke ain’t giving me shit
  so for the bread and butter I leave n****z in the gutter
  Huh, word to mother, I’m dangerous
  Crazier than a bag of fucking Angel Dust
  When I bust my gat mother*******s take dirt naps
  I’m all that and a dime sack, where the paper at?”

On the Easy Mo Bee produced “Warning” Biggie puts on full display his story telling ability; one of his many strengths as an mc. Biggie Smalls ability to draw you into the visuals of his raps and make you see what he’s rhyming about brings life the story.

On of the underlining themes of the entire album becomes apparent on the title track “Ready To Die”. On the track Biggie raps…

My shit is deep, deeper than my grave G
I’m ready to die and nobody can save me
Fuck the world, fuck my moms and my girl
My life is played out like a jheri curl, I’m ready to die

On the albums closeout track “Suicidal Thought” Biggie raps…

“All my life I been considered as the worst
Lyin’ to my mother, even stealin’ out her purse
Crime after crime, from drugs to extortion
I know my mother wished she got a fuckin’ abortion
She don’t even love me like she did when I was younger
Suckin’ on her chest just to stop my fuckin’ hunger
I wonder if I died, would tears come to her eyes?
Forgive me for my disrespect, forgive me for my lies
My babies’ mothers 8 months, her little sister’s 2
Who’s to blame for both of them (naw n****, not you)
I swear to God I just want to slit my wrists and end this bullshit
Throw the Magnum to my head, threaten to pull shit
And squeeze, until the bed’s, completely red
I’m glad I’m dead, a worthless fuckin’ buddah head
The stress is buildin’ up, I can’t,
I can’t believe suicide’s on my fuckin’ mind”

One the biggest reasons why Biggie had such a following is because he is one of those rare artist that excels at the extremes and all the in-betweens. Biggie could scare you like a classic Steven King novel or flip to the other extreme by romancing a women with smooth rhymes on a song. It was his ability to jump from song to song and give you the impression that he wasnt forcing the issue, It always seemed like the role he played on that particular song was what he was, like a great artist should be able to do. Not to say that he was portraying a false image to fool you on purpose, but more so that he used his talents and creative lyrical ability to not only entertain, but also make you feel and see the movie on beats. Now i dont want to make “Ready To Die” out to be a perfect album without flaws, i.e the track “friend of mine”, however what the album and Biggie Smalls represented was an artist that crafted a hiphop classic with flair, cleverness, wit, humor and a dark aura that allowed you into the mind of a man ready to die.  #HaitianJack

Score:  Ready To Die   (Released Sept 1994)

Bars: XXL  Beats:XXL   Music:XXL  Report Card :A+(Classic)