Category Archives: Golden Era

Golden Era: Life After Death, 20 Years Later….

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest albums in Hip Hop history. On March 25, 1997, about two weeks after The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, Bad Boy Records released the Life After Death double album. This album went on to cement Biggie’s status as one of the (if not the) greatest rappers in the history of its genre, with classic singles, being able to cover all areas & satisfy all listeners from the streets to the clubs. As we celebrate the anniversary of Life After Death, we’ll break down the top songs from the album, The Butterfly Effect, and if this album precedes Ready To Die or not. My crew run, run, run, my crew run, run…..

Where were you when….

I’ll never forget where I was when Biggie Smalls passed. It was after the heinous East Coast – West Coast battle between Biggie & Tupac that dominated the landscape of hip hop music back in ’96. For those that don’t remember, it pretty much all started back at the 1995 Source Awards, when Suge Knight delivered his infamous Come to Death Row acceptance speech. Even back then, you got the impression things were going to escalate quicker than the News crew fight in Anchorman. It lead to Suge bailing out, and then signing Tupac out of jail, who at that point, was as rabid with anger and revenge as I’ve ever seen as a rapper. Or anyone really. He went after Biggie, Puffy, Bad Boy, and any East Coast artist that seemed cool with them.  In songs and interviews, he went after them like the Hulk. (One of the most classic interviews, was the last interview he did with Toronto’s own Master T. I’m not even sure Master T got a word in after his first question). You know how everything snowballed after that: multiple rappers from both sides chose their allegiance to each coast sending out shots in almost every way possible. From videos of rappers kicking down buildings, to MC’s kidnapping LA-fitted wearing brothas, and throwing them over the bridge. As fans of Hip Hop, you felt forced to choose a side. I won’t lie to you, musically between the beef, Nas dropping, It Was Written, The Fugees running wild, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest dropping new material, LL making his second of 15 comebacks into the game……it was an incredible time. Overall though, it was getting to a dark place. Then in September ’96, things turned pitch black when Tupac was shot 9 times after the Tyson fight in Las Vegas, ultimately dying about a week later. Hip Hop lost one of its biggest and greatest stars just as he entered the sweet spot of his prime years. The speculations were wild and rampant as to who killed Tupac.  Of course, one speculation was that Biggie and Bad Boy had something to do with it (which I never believed). Darkness was looming…..

…..and on March 9th, I was woken out of bed by my brother-in-law’s phone call asking if I’d heard the news about Biggie Smalls being shot and killed the previous night. I still remember brushing him off nonchalantly, basically telling him, “Get outta here, & stop believing the crazy rumours out there”. Once the phone call was done, I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, went to the couch and put on the TV. As soon as the TV came on, I saw Christopher Wallace’s face appear on CNN. I didn’t need to turn up the volume to know what I just heard wasn’t a lie. I was floored. At the time, this was my favourite rapper, with Nas being the only other rapper I put on that pedestal. All I kept thinking about was, I’ll never get to hear him rhyme again. I just couldn’t shake that fact out of my mind. I loved Tupac’s music and his talents, but his death didn’t hit me like Biggie’s did. Even when people were coming after him for essentially starting the “Name Brand/Playa” era that plagued hip hop for a while, or the content of some of his lyrics, I stood right by him. I mean shit, you heard him rap, right? Every song he dropped, every feature he was on, from 112 & Total, to Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard & Tracey Lee, it didn’t matter. You never caught him slipping. Best combination of flows, lyrics, and delivery that I’ve seen. So when I got my hands on a copy of Life After Death, it was bittersweet. On one hand, I couldn’t wait to see what he left behind, but you knew whatever it was, you had to really take it in. If Ready to Die was the launch pad to super-stardom, Life After Death was the album that put him into an orbit separate from any other rapper alive. The album not only went on to be one of the only Hip Hop albums to go Diamond (10M+ records sold in the US alone), it cemented his legacy as the greatest rapper of all time, even if he only had two albums in his catalogue. Can it be debated that his death elevated his status for the title? I mean, I guess so, if you want to argue it. However, before you start setting up your supporting arguments like a defence team, do yourselves a favour: pull that album out (either from your CD stash, iTunes, Spotify, etc.) and listen to it again. Twenty years later, if that album comes out right now, where does it stand lyrically? Even if you don’t like every single song on the album, how can you argue with the level of lyricism, or the attention to detail in every bar? How? I think this album was so big (for lack of a better word), that I don’t think the success of it mattered whether he was alive or not. In fact, I think it might have been even bigger had he had the chance to tour, or follow some of the songs with videos and marketing. Did his death affect the game in other ways? Absolutely, and we’ll get into that right after these messages…. This is The Ave Podc….. f**k, my bad. Haven’t written for a while now, gimme some time to shake the rust off. I’m on podcast autopilot. My damn wrists are fucking sore!

 

Top Tracks from Life After Death

** DISCLAIMER – This is strictly a collection of my favorite songs from the album. I’m not ranking them here, it’s just too hard. Honestly. **

Honorable Mentions

Mo Money, Mo Problems ft. Puff Daddy & Mase

Even though I was a fan of the song, and Biggie did his thing (“B-I-G-P-O-P-P-A / No info for the D-E-A…”); I always felt like this song belonged more on Puffy’s album or the Mase album. As far as the video was concerned, it would have been better if Biggie was alive to make it. The golfing tournament/NASA alternative idea was weird at best.

Sky’s The Limit

If memory serves me correctly, this was the last video released for album. It was a cute touch using the kids to play the roles of the Bad Boy Family, but the reminder that he was no longer here made the video feel depressing nonetheless, much like the first time I watched I Ain’t Mad At Cha after Tupac died.

Notorious Thugs ft. Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony

One of my underrated favourites that almost made the cut. Wanna know why it didn’t? After Biggie did his spin off of Bone Thugs’ flow (and did it better than they did you can argue), do you even listen to what the rest of the Bone members say, or do you immediately skip to the next record like I do? Can’t make the cut if I can’t tell you one lyric of what anyone else says for the remaining 75% of the song. Can’t do it.

…… and now, the Top Tracks….

Hypnotize

“Ha, sicka than your average / Poppa twist cabbage off instinct / ni**as don’t think shit stink, pink gators / my Detroit players / Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn”

It was the aforementioned first single off Life After Death. Even in the midst of the Jiggy Era that some people hated with a passion, this was one of the best songs that came from it. The beat was cool (sampling Herb Alpert’s “Rise), and it made you dance, but the way Big maneuvered through the track was almost too easy. The mentality of it almost seemed cocky. Meaning, he knew everyone from Jeru The Damaja, to The Roots, was coming after him for all the “named brand, living the rich life” style, like his lyrics were sponsored by Robin Leach. With that said, he went and made the song bigger than life, and it was celebrated almost immediately by the radio, the clubs, and the streets. In fact, the Vibe Magazine industry party that Big, Puff, and the Bad Boy family attended the night Big was murdered, dropped “Hypnotize” at the party…. and the reception from the fans and the celebrities was so huge, they played the song at least 8-10 times in a row that night. And this occurred in a city that apparently hated him. The song was destined to take off no matter what happened.

Did the video perpetuate the Jiggy Stereotype? With women swimming like mermaids in pools, to the tiger, to the car chase scene, to the boat chase? I’m going to lean towards yes. I can’t lie, the video didn’t make me hate the song, it kinda/sorta lived up to the lyrics, but it didn’t make me feel much better about the song like some of the other Biggie videos I watched up until that point like, “Warning“, or “Big Poppa“. Another thing, where the f**k was Puffy going in that car scene, when he climbs into the back of the convertible coupe?? It’s been 20 years, I still haven’t heard a reasonable explanation for that yet.

Interesting Fact:Hyponotize” hit #1 on the charts two weeks after it was released, was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and was one of the biggest songs in music in 1997. It was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance the following year….. where it lost to Will Smith’s, “Men In Black“, who later went on to drop, “Getting’ Jiggy With It” a few months later. Go figure.

F***ing You Tonight ft. R. Kelly

“You must be used to me spending / and all that sweet wining & dining / well I’m f***in’ you tonight” – R. Kelly, chorus

“So no, caviar, Shark Bar, uh-uh / Strictly sex that’s sweaty and leftover spaghetti” – Biggie Smalls, 2nd verse

So let’s get to the obvious thing that sticks out first: The title. You figured with that name, it would only be made for your car or the clubs, but after you listened to it a few times, you realized the record label was gonna have to bleep out “F***ing” cuz everyone will have to hear it. Everything about the song was smooth, from the production, to Big’s verses, to R. Kelly’s vocals. It was a great marriage between all parties involved. It’s essentially the smooth version of Akinyele’s, “Put It In Your Mouth”. They’re both vulgar, both take the direction of the song in different ways, but the end game is the same.

Now, I can only speak from a man’s POV, but strictly looking at the lyrical content, this is a great song. As you get into adulthood, and you start getting on the dating scene, you may start hooking up. Some more than others.  Once you’re in the situation with someone where you get comfortable enough, you can ask for what you want, and sometimes…. you just want ass. You don’t want to have to go to a restaurant, or fancy show, or go out for drinks, or have a deep conversation, or even talk, and all the ancillary stuff. Sometimes, you just want direct action. No lovemaking, just strictly back-breaking action. Am I wrong for saying that? You know I’m not. Any man or woman can agree, which is partly why it was a popular song. Once you get past the vulgarity of it, it’s relatable. You listen to this song, and you’re not just nodding your head because you love the flow, you’re also nodding in agreement.

Sidenote: It’s funny, because at the time, R. Kelly was entering the heights of his prime, especially when “I Believe I Can Fly” was released the year before. Quite frankly, it made him a superduperstar with everyone who loved music. Maybe you thought for a split second he might go down that route, and stay making that nice, uplifting kind of music in the same vein. Nope! A few months later he was in the booth recording, “f**king you toniiiiiiite……f******king you toniiiiite….. said I’m f****ckin you toniiiiiiite” ad-libs. You gotta love Kells….. musically.

Long Kiss Goodnight

“Laugh now, cry later / I rhyme greater / Than the average playa hater, and spectators / Buy my CD twice / they see me in the street they be like, ‘Yo he nice’ / but that’s on the low though / Be the cats with no dough, tried to play me at my shows”

Towards the end of the second CD of the album, the last 3-4 songs start to take a darker turn. Starting with, “My Downfall“, where he gives us insight on what his life was like, from the death threats at the beginning of the song, to exploring the haters trying to bring him down (with DMC doing the chorus, one of my underrated Biggie tracks). Why I selected “Long Kiss” in this spot instead is due to the fact that the lyrics are just that much tighter. This was also the unofficial diss track to “Hit Em Up” that Tupac released the summer before. Such a violent record as a whole. Even if I don’t support that part of it, I can’t help but love the artistry of the wordplay.

Interesting Fact: The first two verses he did as a freestyle on his last interview before his death on The Wake Up Show with Sway & Tech.

You’re Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You)

“So don’t you get suspicious / I’m Big Dangerous you’re just a little vicious / As I leave my competition, respirator style / Climb the ladder to success escalator style”

“Some Creole C-O bitches I met on tour / Push a peach Legend Coupe, gold teeth galore / Told me meet ’em in the future later, they’ll take me shoppin’ / Buy me lavender and fuschia Gators / Introduce me to playa haters and heavy weighters…”

Underrated gem, plain and simple. But at the same time, it’s eerie that the end of the album the titles was so obsessed with death, but like a reoccurring theme, the bars are fire, especially the first two verses. So you kind of ignore the other stuff, even though the title of this track seems like some sort of premonition.

3. I Got A Story To Tell

“We don’t get down like that, lay my game down quite flat / Sweetness, where you parked at? / Petiteness but that ass fat / She got a body make a nigga want to eat that / I’m f**kin’ wit chu”

Ok, I know I said earlier I wasn’t going to rank these songs, but f**k it, I got rank these last three at least, being that they’re my favorite songs on this album. The greatness of this record comes at you in a couple of ways. 1) It was storytelling at its finest, it literally played out like you were sitting on the couch with him while he was replaying it back. You can picture the story in your mind as he was telling it, and to wrap up the last half of the song retelling it to his boys was something I’ve never heard done before; & 2) the fact that the legend grew and grew as to who the Knick in the story was. I’m not gonna lie….. I didn’t even fathom this being true until John Starks admitted it on Highly Questionable a couple of years ago. Then all the rumours came out as to which Knick it was. Then you find out later on the same show a couple of years later when Fat Joe spilled the beans and stated it was Anthony Mason (which was later confirmed by Puffy himself). I would have never fathomed in a millions years that one of the bouncer-sized Knick power forwards would have been caught out there like that. And I really liked Mason too. I hope he at least had a triple-double that night. #RIPMason

2. Ten Crack Commandments

“I’ve been in this game for years, it made me an animal / It’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual / A step-by-step booklet for you to get / Your game on track, not your wig pushed back”

So morally, this song is wrong. Just all wrong. Here’s a guy giving you the success guide on how to be a great drug dealer, sort of like a Thug Tony Robbins. It’s definitely not a song that was going to get him beside Big Bird on a Sesame Street episode, unless Big Bird was going to ship keys with him. Any detractors that had an issue with the content, I get it. Which is why Chuck D sued Biggie’s Estate and DJ Premier, and had them in court for years or it, he didn’t want his voice (The ‘1,2,3,4,5…’ voice is his, in case you missed it) associated with the promotion of drugs or drug sales of any kind. I totally get it, and he has the right to feel that way…… you hear that…….. yup…… it’s that “But” coming…. and it’s clapping louder than a King of Diamonds “athlete”….

……the song is genius. You know it, I know it. The way Biggie flipped those rules about the drug game was something very few rappers could do, much less even think about doing or pulling off. In fact, can you even think of another rapper that could have done this? On top of that, he spit this on the landscape of one of DJ Premier’s most recognizable beats he ever made. The way these guys meshed together on the boards and the mic, it was like prime Shaq & Kobe, without the beef. It’s a shame they only got together three times total……

1. Kick In The Door

“Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns / As I crush so-called willies, thugs, and rapper-dons / Get in that ass, quick fast, like Ramadan / Its that rap phenomenon Don-Dadda”

“This goes out for those that choose to use / Disrespectful views on the King of N-Y / Fuck that, why try, throw bleach in your eye / Now you’re brailling it”

……….and out of those three collaborations, it’s an honest toss-up between Unbelievable and this track as to which one’s my favorite. The beat alone for this is legendary enough. If I needed my own theme music, I’ve have this instrumental playing behind me while I do my George Jefferson walk. On top of that, this was Biggie taking care of all business went it comes to MCs trying to reach for the King of NY crown. Each verse was like a trapeze artist flipping through the air, doing on insane stunt after another. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier, they pull out the bowling pins to juggle while somersaulting backwards. I can’t even tell you which verse I liked more honestly. Just know when I played this album in doing my research for this post, this was the one song I played back-to-back at least 3-4 times in a row before I skipped to the next track. This track wasn’t meant for the clubs or radio, it’s meant for the streets and the Hip Hop heads only. It’s the best of Biggie’s lyrical talents, along with the other two I just mentioned, with a knocking beat to match. Can’t get any better, at least in my eyes.

Sidenote: It was also the introduction of The Mad Rapper. #Thisismyfourthalbum

 

The Butterfly Effect

As we all know, the Hip Hop world was forever affected when it lost 2 of its major stars being Tupac & Biggie. To take it further, when Biggie died, it left a gaping hole in the game, which left Hip Hop in a very weird place in 1997. The East Coast – West Coast beef was dissolving. Death Row Records was pretty much decimated, not only with Tupac’s death, but Dr. Dre leaving the label to start Aftermath, and Suge Knight going to jail for a few years. Then Bad Boy lost their biggest star with no one to replace him, no matter how popular Mase got during that time. His loss affected the career trajectories of many in the game, but especially the New York City landscape. And how could it not? Some careers for better or for worse went a different direction, and you have to wonder how big they would have gotten had Biggie still been alive. While I won’t focus in on every single rapper/artist who’s career got affected by the Biggie void (that list will take too long), let’s focus on three guys who were for the most part.

Puff Daddy

First off, let me give credit to Puffy, who is probably one of the biggest and best businessmen the music industry has ever seen, much less Hip Hop. He’s essentially an Icon, if not a superstar. His career was affected the hardest in a negative and a positive way. He lost his biggest artist to his business in a drive-by shooting, that was the result of an insane beef between two bi-coastal record labels, as well as a friend. We all know he is not a rapper, and his musical career was built off his swagger, which is fine. The label was so huge & he was so popular in ‘96, that he could take a chance and put out records himself. A lot of people loved “Can’t Nobody Hold me Down” (myself included), but no one was pinning him down as the biggest artist in hip hop during that time.

What happened post-Life After Death? The L.A.D. album blew through the roof, due to the superiority of it from his peers, and the love from fans that felt even deeper for it once he passed. Then Bad Boy put out two Biggie tribute tracks almost immediately afterwards, starting with, “We’ll Always Love Big Poppa” by the Lox, which people seemed to like. The second one though, “I’ll Be Missing You”, which was done by Puffy (ft. Faith Evans & 112, and sampled The Police) blew through the moon. And I mean through the moon. It launched Puffy into superf**kingduperstardom, which nobody saw coming. Between this song, Puffy releasing Puff Daddy & the Family’s No Way Out album, L.A.D still running the radio/clubs/streets with all its singles, and Mase’s album dropping, Bad Boy reigned on the industry. They were the biggest wave, and filled the void for a while. I was in New York City most of that summer of ’97, and trust me…. it was the summer of Puffy. The Jiggy era was in full swing, and the Shiny Suits were out. Not even Wu-Tang’s Forever album could knock the momentum down a peg.

Would his career have been as big had Biggie been alive? Hard to say, because as a businessman, I’m really not sure if there’s anyone that would have stopped him from doing what he wanted. But musically….. No. I think he would have been huge, and his album still would have sold millions, but without that tribute song, I don’t think he would have taken off the way he did. It’s a bittersweet thing. His music career as an artist was never bigger than the time he filled that void. Even with all the remix albums, and the reinventions thereafter.

DMX

Listen, Bad Boy changed the game in 1997. To the point where other rappers starting sounding like them, and a lot of artist’s videos look like a baller’s wet dream, with the glamour and the fish-eye lens POV that was popular as hell back then. That Jiggy era was a real thing, and as much fans as that they got from that, oh boy did they have their detractors. There was a lot of people tired of seeing Puffy & the rest of the family, whether it was from rappers being jealous, or others feeling the shiny suit/baller life wasn’t representing the genre properly. It even bled into the Soca scene during Toronto’s Caribana parade, that summer when Puffy performed his hits on one of the Hip Hop floats, which pissed off a lot of the Soca community, and led to the banishment of Hip Hop floats on the parade route (there was even a song made taking shots at him for it).

How did the Jiggy Era start slowing down? DMX happened. Well, he wasn’t solely responsible, but his energy gave people a hot, new option to mess with. When he dropped, “Get At Me Dog”, it was one of the first signs that Hip Hop started breaking away from the Jiggy Era. Between DMX, Big Pun, and Canibus, they repped a new generation of rappers that made it cool to be street and/or lyrical again on a major level. When DMX came out, he blew up large & fast. He was street, gritty, passionate, fiery, and he was such a change from what we were exposed to the previous year…. that you just felt him. “How It’s Going Down”, “Stop Being Greedy”, and especially “Ruff Ryders Anthem”.  Tell me any one of those records weren’t hot?! On top of that, he had a Tupac spirit, between the high energy and recording material at breakneck speed. The man dropped two smash #1 charting albums in the same damn year (“It’s Dark & Hell is Hot” & “Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of My Blood“)! AND they both debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts selling 6 million units combined.

Would his career have been as big had Biggie been alive? Yes. For this reason: his energy was so much different from where Hip Hop was going at the time. Even though Wu-Tang was there, and The Fugees were still riding high from “The Score“, Hip Hop was missing some of its aggressiveness. X tapped into that something fierce, and it resonated with people. Had Biggie been alive, he would have been touring all over for L.A.D, blowing the album up even more, and as much as people would have been rolling with it, I feel they would have been open to a new, changing voice too. X was so street & gutter though, I could’ve honestly seen Biggie doing a couple of songs with him.

Jay-Z

Jay-Z has become the most successful rapper in history, between all his album sales, business ventures, and game changing moments. However, everyone has a beginning. It’s almost hard to remember this, but there was a time when Hov wasn’t on the top of the mountain. During the mid-90’s, it was hard to get through in the Golden Era. In ’96, he released his debut album “Reasonable Doubt“, which many people had a lot of love for, and claimed as a classic. However, some of the greatest albums in Hip Hop history were dropping almost on a regular basis (i.e. “Illmatic“, “Ready to Die“, “Only Built For Cuban Linx“…., “Doggystyle“, “The Score“, “The Infamous“, “All Eyez On Me“….. pick one). By the time he went to release “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1**, Bad Boy was on top of the world, putting their influence on everything, Hov included. Any of you remember the “Always Be My Sunshine” video? Or “I Know What Girls Like“? He tried to make a reach for radio, but it didn’t quite work, something he later regretted.

How did Jay fill the void? Jay-Z then went out on the Puffy & the Family tour, opening up for Bad Boy, but ended up leaving the tour part way through. He then released a movie based on his songs from his 1st two albums called “Streets is Watching”, which garnered a lot of success on the streets and the underground. Then a few months later, his life forever changed when he dropped the “Hard Knock Life” single. Again, I was in New York stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn bridge when they dropped the world premiere on Hot 97. Once the track ended, I knew right there he was about to take over, like….it was a wrap. Not only that, but it came at a perfect time too. The Jiggy era was ending. Snoop was putting out a mediocre album on No Limit Records. Lauryn Hill was at her apex, but most of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was her singing. Nas had only done “The Firm” album in two years (which was cool, but not legendary), and was busy making “Belly“. Big Pun was major, but not major enough to fill that void. X was major too, and a superstar, but with all his success, he still wasn’t King of New York caliber. Enter Shawn Carter. He had the streets, radio, and the clubs buzzing with that record. He had the lyrical content, flows, swagger and style. Most importantly, he had the BIG co-sign based on the songs they did together, and The Commissions group they were putting together before Big died. He fit the description, and claimed the crown as the best rapper. Of course, that lead to him wanting to stomp out Nas as his only major threat to the throne, which lead to the epic Takeover/Ether beef (thank you guys), but that’s another story for another day.

Would his career have been as big had Biggie been alive? This is a hard question….but No. Jay has reached a mythical level in Hip Hop at this point, with generations of rappers being forever influenced by him. However, had Biggie been alive, I’m not 100% sure how big Jay would become. I think Big would have been the guy for at least a little while longer, and I’m not sure how that would have influenced Hov being in the lower position. Would he have gone for the throne after doing the Commissions collaboration? Would Nas have stepped up after L.A.D. with another huge album, stoking his competitive juices? Would Canibus have found better producers to produce his 1st album, and keep up with the competition? It’s all theory and we don’t know for sure what would have happened, and listen, Jay was nothing to sneeze at when Big was around. He was really, really, really nice. With that said, I never felt at the time he was a threat to Big, or even Nas until “Hard Knock Life” dropped. As much as I am a fan of his music (I own every one of his albums on CD, and have seen him in concert about 3 times), it’s hard to say his career path would have been the same had March 9,1997, had just been a normal day like any other.

** For what it’s worth, I actually became an official Jay-Z fan after the “In My Lifetime” album. I was hooked on “A Million and One Questions“, “Friend or Foe ’98“, and “Where I’m From” among others. I didn’t care for the radio-type records including, “The City is Mine“, which tributes Biggie by saying he was essentially going for the throne in his honor. One thing I gotta ask: On “Where I’m From“, when drops the line, “People argue all day about who’s the best MC’s / Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas”, was that really an argument back then? I remember hearing that line and saying to myself, “They are???” all confused. Maybe other circles were really arguing that back then & I was just oblivious like Mr. Magoo.

Is “Life After Death” better than “Ready To Die”?

Now, this is a really tough question, much tougher when you break both classic albums down. To answer this question, I’ve recruited some past contributors to the site, and guests from previous Ave Podcast shows to get their thoughts on which album is preferable to them.

Kevin W. –  Past contributor, South Shore Ave; Previous Podcast Episodes: 2016 Year of The Reaper

Ready to Die” is better. Here’s why: 1) There’s 5 bonafied classics including “One More Chance“, “Juicy“, “Big Poppa” & “Unbelievable“. 2) It’s a game changer in terms of impact on the rap game 3) It’s a pre-Jiggy era masterpiece. Life After Death seemed tailored for a more commercial market 4) The album didn’t need as many guest appearances (only had one); and 5) It’s an indisputable must-have for any Hip Hop head.

Randall Walter – Etobicoke Thunder AAU Basketball Coach, Founder of CIS Sports Group, Previous Podcast Episode: State of The Raptors Address

“They are both great bodies of work. It’s like choosing between your children. I think it all depends on preference as I prefer “Ready to Die“. In my opinion during its release time, it had less “filler” radio party anthem tracks (if any at all) with more of an overall street sound. It was a start-to-finish classic album. Not discrediting “Life After Death“, but Big just came off more hungry (no pun intended) on his 1st album. I’m living everyday like a hustle, another drug to juggle. Another day, another struggle.”

Julian aka Jules Da Commish – Guest on The Ave Podcast; Previous Podcast Episode: The NBA Western Conference Preview

Ready to Die“. Reasons? 1) Production was more of my liking. It’s underground, harder, and grittier. 2) Related more to my younger, thuggish mentality; 3) More bangers!”

DJ G Sharp – 95.5FM WPGC Mixshow DJ, Washington DC; Guest on The Ave Podcast; Previous Podcast Episode: 25th Anniversary of Juice #Juice25

“If I had to choose between the two my heart (and mind) go with “Ready to Die“…

To this day I close my eyes and let Biggie tell his stories in a way only he can. Let’s take “Warning” as an example. It was if you were in the room with him at 5:46 in the morning mad as f*ck that the phone was ringing. You knew exactly what was going on with every verse.

As much as I love “Life After Death“, the sheer impact of “Ready To Die” had when it wad released cannot be matched. Biggie’s first album was half of Bad Boy Records’ big splash into the Music Industry. Together with Craig Mack’s “Project: funk The World” Bad Boy blessed us with the genius of “Big Mack“, which was a promotional campaign that revolutionized how urban music was marketed in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

The impact Ready to Die both musically and from a marketing standpoint was unparalleled.”

Shawn A. – Past contributor, South Shore Ave; Previous Podcast Episodes: The MVP’s of 2016, Power Recap Episode

“While celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Life After Death“, Biggie’s final musical offering before his untimely death, I reflect and ask myself if this album was better than his introductory album, “Ready to Die“.  My answer to this question is a very uncertain and unconvincing ‘Not Reallllly…. ish’.  It’s hard to actually pinpoint exactly why I feel this way, especially when you look at tracks that can still rival any present day song 20 years later with a perfect balance of lyrics and beats; i.e. “Kick in the Door“, “Ten Crack Commandments“, and “Long Kiss Goodnight“.  The album even included the necessary commercial songs, that were dope without compromising his lyrical integrity; i.e. “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems“.

I guess if I were forced at gunpoint, being interrogated by Jack Bauer threatening to shoot out my kneecaps unless I gave him a definitive answer, I would tearfully blurt out “There were just too many songs, and way too many of them were fillers!”  I mean almost all the tracks on the album were lyrically solid, but for some reason, I never felt like listening to them, some of the beats and hooks were forgettable, and others like “Notorious Thugs” just hurt my ears, yes I can appreciate that Big showed his ability to switch up his flow and hang with the Bone Thugs boys…. I get it…. but my ear drums still told me it was just flat out a bad song.  I think if they had taken out some of those filler tracks, it would have made the album more solid in its entirety, and more on par with how I felt about “Ready to Die“.

Me: All I’ll say is this: “Ready to Die” is one of the best Hip Hop albums ever made, but on L.A.D, he was lyrically superior as an artist. By that point he really came into his own, he could literally rap any way, style, or flow, and knock it out the park. In ’97, no one was on his level. The album was literally a movie……a movie that went maybe 10-15 mins too long in retrospect. Disc 1 is better than Disc Two, and if they had kept the album to one disc, maybe transfer a few songs over to Disc One, this might have been Top 5 all-time. It’s still an undisputed classic to me, but because of length, I’ll take “Ready to Die“…. barely. His untimely death leaves his legacy as the greatest, missing the chance to put out a wack album, or people getting tired of him, or Biggie having to reinvent himself in some way, etc. It’s like if Michael Jackson died right before Thriller was released, how much greater would we remember his career? Mind you, he’s still the greatest now, even with a full career intact. It sucks that we don’t have a lengthy catalogue from Biggie to choose from. With that said, as fans of Hip Hop music, let’s hope someone in the future comes along and blows us away with their talent again.

 

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to South Shore Ave, click onto the Follow button, and enter your email address, or click onto the RSS Feed. Very special thanks to DJ G-Sharp, Shawn Adonis, Randall Walter, Kevin W., and Julian Da Commish for their contributions to this posting.

The Ave Podcast – The 25th Anniversary of Juice #Juice25

The Ave Podcast with Cal Cee. Episode 18: The 25th Anniversary of Juice #Juice25

In the spirit of #FlashbackFriday, we take you back to 1992 where we celebrate one of the most influential movies of the Golden era. Twenty five years ago (originally released Jan 17, 1992), Paramount Pictures and Director Ernest Dickerson released Juice. A groundbreaking movie that not only tells the coming-of-age story of four teenagers from Harlem whose lives were forever changed by one fateful night, but it went on to launch the career of Omar Epps, and sent Tupac Shakur into superstardom.

During this two-part podcast series, I invited DJ Chris Nice (Grooves & Rhythms Mixshow, Fridays from 2 – 4PM on MyLime Radio), DJ G-Sharp (Sunday Night Old School Classics, Sun 7 – 9PM; & WTF Throwback Mix, Fridays 8 – 8:30AM on WPGC’s 95.5FM in Washington, D.C.), past contributor to South Shore Ave Shawn Adonis (The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, The MVPs of 2016), and producer Andrew Mambo (ESPN 30 for 30 Podcast), as we discuss the movie, the Soundtrack, the rise of Tupac Shakur, the days of the Soundtrack era for black movies in the 90s, the Power/Respect/Peer Pressure dynamic, plus more.

*** Thanks for tuning in, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and the blog below. The podcasts are now available for download. ***

The Ave Podcast with Cal Cee // Episode 18

 The Soundtrack

 The Movie

 

To Download The Podcast, click below:

Soundtrack: https://app.box.com/s/63mgtuyj5zt6uaz3v6pzwqbjs8vibod3

Movie: https://app.box.com/s/rk78pyw7mgwngc9yy5diznalos5tgn86

 

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to South Shore Ave, click onto the Follow button, and enter your email address, or click onto the RSS Feed. Very special thanks to DJ Chris Nice, DJ G-Sharp, Shawn Adonis, and Andrew Mambo for their guest appearances on this podcast.

The Low End Marauders Movement: The Best of A Tribe Called Quest #SouthShoreAveRadio

South Shore Ave Radio presents…. The Low End Marauders Movement: The Best of A Tribe Called Quest Podcast.

Today on South Shore Ave Radio, we bring an all-Tribe Mixshow Podcast for your enjoyment, and to celebrate one of the greatest Hip Hop Groups of all time. With DJ Chris Nice (Grooves & Rhythms Mixshow Fridays 2-4P on MyLime Radio) on the turntables, we take you through a journey of the best ATCQ songs ever made. All we ask is for you to kick back, and enjoy the ride,

*** Thanks for tuning in, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and the blog below. ***

The Low End Marauders Movement: The Best of A Tribe Called Quest

 

To download the podcast, feel free to click the link:

https://app.box.com/s/jh2ct5owvdwkpimnsci1ty9xslhsf0u3

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to South Shore Ave, click onto the Follow button, and enter your email address, or click onto the RSS Feed. Very special thanks to DJ Chris Nice for his guest appearances on this podcast.

The Ave Podcast with Cal Cee – The 20th Anniversary of Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt

Welcome once again to The Ave Podcast. In the spirit of #FlashbackFriday, we take you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate one of the Greatest albums in Hip Hop history. Twenty years ago tomorrow (June 25, 1996), smack in the middle of a East Coast – West Coast Beef led by Bad Boy and Death Row Records, Shawn Carter otherwise known as Jay-Z, dropped his debut album “Reasonable Doubt”. At the time, it was highly viewed as a critically acclaimed album. As time went along, it’s now regarded as a masterpiece and one of the best Hip Hop Albums that has even been made.

Today we welcome back our guest & past contributor to South Shore Ave Shawn Adonis (The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, Episode 3 of The Ave), as we discuss our favorite songs from the album (what’s said about one song in particular may shock you), if this truly qualifies as Jay-Z’s greatest album, and how it ranks among our all-time Hip Hop albums.

*** Thanks for tuning in, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and the blog below, and also, the podcasts are now available for download. ***

Roc-A-Fella y’all, Ha Haaa……

The Ave Podcast with Cal Cee // Episode 6

 

To download the podcast, feel free to click the link below:

https://app.box.com/s/yx8oeupgp9b9txy4hsnc3kupl4n5bni4

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button or by entering your email address. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his guest appearance on this podcast.

Golden Era: Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx… (20th Anniversary-Ish)

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate one of the Greatest albums in Hip Hop history. While this isn’t quite the Twentieth anniversary date of Raekwon’s solo album “Only Built For Cuban Linx…” (initial release date was Aug 1, 1995), we simply couldn’t let 2015 pass us by without discussing one of the greatest Hip Hop Albums of the Golden Age era. So without further ado, me & my friend Shawn Adonis, break down four tracks off the legendary album. The Ice Cream Man is coming…..

**DISCLAIMER — this is not a Top 4 list. You could make an argument for 10 songs from this album being in the Top 4. This is strictly a review, a collection of songs from the album.** 

 

Ice Cream

Yo honey dip / summertime fine, jewelry dripping / Seen you on Pickens with a bunch of chickens how you’re clicking / I keep shooting strong notes as we got close / She rocked rope, honey throat smelling like impulse.”  – Ghostface Killah

Cee: Lemme give you my personal experience of this Ice Cream track, one that still stings somewhat years later. Twenty years ago, right after Labor Day weekend, I went down to New York City to visit my family for about a week or so in the Bronx. While listening to Hot 97, they announced that they’d be shooting the Ice Cream video in Staten Island that day, & get this…… EVERYONE and ANYONE were invited. They gave the address to the area where they’d be shooting the video and everything. Now, considering at the time that I damn near had this song & the album on repeat for weeks on end, this might have been the best thing I had ever heard in my life at that moment. What are the chances I’d be in New York City, the same time they’d be filming this video that I could actually be a part of??? Now, one thing about New York that I’ve come to realize over the years, a lot of people don’t know much outside of their borough. For example, you could live in Brooklyn your whole life, & have absolutely no idea how to get to or around the Bronx, or Queens, or sadly, even parts of Brooklyn. This brings me to my cousin Rob…

Now I shouldn’t knock him because he usually has a good sense of where he’s going for the most part when it comes to navigating through those NY streets. However, when I suggested to him that we should go down to Staten Island to check out the video, dude had no idea how to get there. I was so confused & annoyed at the same time. I was basically like, “What the f*** you mean you don’t know how to get to Staten Island?!?!?” I’m sure it was a logical choice to him, but to me, I wasn’t happy at all. Now mind you, I never expected to be in the video. I did not think I’d be on top of the Ice Cream truck swinging a cane alongside Meth, or scooping up the Butter Pecan Ricans, or trying to cop gold fronts at the swap meet where Ghostface was trying to get at the thick chick. I just wanted to experience the hype around it live and in person. So seeing that video for the first time & seeing how hype it was, maaaan……….. it still stings. To make matters worse, there’s Cappadonna popping up in the video with a Canadiens jersey on. The road colors & everything. I’m not gonna lie, it felt like he sent a subliminal shot towards me for not attending the shoot.

With that said, this song/video always represented the absolute peak of Wu-Tang’s powers to me. They already changed the game by staying as a group while each individual was allowed to put out solo albums. As a unit, they were on fire, but this was one of the hypest videos that ever came out of the Wu camp. Method Man by this time was almost like a fu**ing superhero. So much so that when he dropped that legendary hook (that became legendary the second it came out by the way)….

“Watch these rap ni**as get all up in your guts / French Vanilla, Butter Pecan, Chocolate Deluxe….”

……. I’m not entirely sure people remember what anyone else said. It didn’t matter if Ghost’s verse stole the show, or that Rae & Cappadonna kept the level high. This was a perfect storm for Wu: right production from The Rza, right characters to rhyme over the beat, right rapper with the right flow/delivery to make the hook incredibly memorable, and then capped off with the right video to marry the song. Even if this was Raekwon’s song, this was the Wu’s version of perfection. 

Shawn: If it makes you feel any better Cee, Robert’s inability to navigate beyond his own neighborhood might not have ruined such a potentially “epic moment” in your youth as you may think.  Did you miss the opportunity to be in the vicinity of a video shoot for one of hip hop’s most legendary groups at the height of their careers?? Quite frankly, yes.  But you know who I’ll bet didn’t miss it?  Every other young New York hip hop head sporting clothing with the signature Wu Tang “W”, with hopes and dreams of making a cameo appearance in the video. Which would of course in their minds, launch their own rap careers….. only to realize once they got to the video shoot that their lack of having a vagina & a pair of breasts made them pretty much irrelevant, watching from a distance where they could see no Wu member, French Vanilla, Butter Pecan Rican, or Chocolate Deluxe shaking their ice cream scoops.  So you’d be in NY in the mid-90s era, surrounded by a pack of angry & disappointed dudes, just looking for someone to take their frustrations out on.  So, you and good ol’ Rob might have ended up in the remix as the newest ice cream flavor…. Blood Pudding.

Now, allow me to take a walk down memory lane of my youth.  I was a certified Wu fanatic around the time the purple tape came out. So much so, that I convinced myself that anything affiliated with the Wu was automatically great (ie. Killa Army, Sons of Man, and Gravediggaz, all groups that I can now admit fell somewhere between garbage and mediocre in the talent spectrum).  So while listening to Rae’s first solo project, I was pretty much in a state of euphoria by the time Ice Cream came on.  After the beat dropped, I decided 3 seconds into the song that this was probably going to be my favorite track on the album.  By the time Method Man came in with the hook, I was looking around for a brown paper bag to breathe into so that I wouldn’t pass out before the song was over.  To this day, I’m pretty sure that respectable women everywhere fell into a trance with an uncontrollable urge to let dudes get “all up in their guts” whenever this song was played.  I can just imagine a business woman in the board room meeting hearing the hypnotic hook from a car stereo playing it outside, suddenly ripping open her blouse, hiking up her skirt, and daring her colleagues to take turns in them “guts”, until the car drives away, and she suddenly realizes what’s happening, and runs out the room screaming in shame straight toward HR.

Wu-Gambinos

“Who come to get you, none, they want guns / I be the first to set off shit, last to run / Wu roll together as one / I call my brother ‘Son’ cause he shine like one….” – Chorus by Method Man

Cee: Remember that time in hip hop when every rapper was adopting the persona that they were part of an Italian crime family? Well, you can thank this song for being the originators of that era. Back in 1993, Wu-Tang was able to change the slang culture with C.R.E.A.M., five percenter philosophies, martial arts teachings and sound bites. This time, they went all in with the Gambino a.k.a’s. Or should I say Rae, because it’s known that he was the one that made sure all members of the Wu had an alias similar to the movie “Once Upon A Time in America”, in order to be a part of this album. Something that I’m sure was a small detail at the time, ended up not only being one of the sickest records, but changed the way artists presented themselves to the public.

After that album came out & particularly this song, some of the biggest artists in hip hop changed their style up. Nas went from Nasty Nas to Nas Escobar off of his 2nd album, “It Was Written”. You remember the pink suit off the Casino-inspired “Street Dreams” video, right? Mobb Deep flipped up their style a bit & became more menacing on their “Hell on Earth” album. I used to have their poster where their whole team was sitting at the big table with coke residue on some of the crew member’s noses, as well as a big pile of coke laid out on the table (can you imagine the shitstorm that would hover over Havoc & Prodigy if that poster was handed to kids today??? Twitter alone would lose its collective minds). The Notorious B.I.G added the Frank White alias to his name (borrowed from the character of the King of New York flick + also using alias to subliminally declare himself as the King of New York Hip-Hop wise), & played the part of a crime boss until he was murdered in 1997. Even Tupac had the Makaveli name added to his brand, even creating a whole album around that character right before he lost his life. Check out Jay-Z’s debut album. For those that actually have his album & not the bootlegged version, check out the photos in the packaging. Hov, Dame Dash, and Kareem Biggs all looked like either they were part of a Mobster conglomerate, or they were headed to an Al Capone-themed Wine & Dine function right after the photo shoot. What about AZ? That Doe or Die album was not only dope, but was presented in a big boss way too.

The record played a major part in how East Coast rappers portrayed themselves, pretty much everyone from the ones I mentioned to Kool G Rap (Fast Life) & others acted as if they were in Goodfellas. Everyone was touching their inner Scarface. Pretty soon, it morphed into the whole Versace/Named brand clothing; which was championed by Biggie & Junior Mafia; which then graduated to the shiny suit era that Puffy led with his chest out. Even Hov did a video with the shiny threads on & the fish-eye-lens-supported “My Sunshine” record.

Moral of the rant: Blame Raekwon for the Shiny Suit era.

Shawn: Ok, can we start by agreeing that the intro to this song was entirely too long & uninteresting to have been eating up an entire minute and 10 seconds of my yellow Sony Sport Walkman’s fast forwarding time? Back when I used to have to damned near beg, borrow or steal to find a pair of mismatched AA batteries to be able to use my Walkman in the first place.  I think we need to file a class action lawsuit against Rae to get some of that battery money back, I’m sure there were many out there that shares my plight.

You bring up a good point though Cee, about Wu being the alias trailblazers, it never occurred to me but you’re right.  Before Wu, every rapper and crew had one name, it was pretty simple.  But after Wu, everyone had aliases, alter egos, different personas, crew nicknames, hell even country singer Garth Brooks caught the bug and became a darker “Chris Gaines” for a minute (which he abandoned with the quickness, I don’t think country fans were ready for the small taste of hip hop).  But can we take a moment to make note of the fact that other than Tony Starks, Johnny Blaze, and Lou Diamonds, that every other Wu Gambino name was pretty much garbage?  With the worst being Master Killa’s confusingly bizarre alias: Noodles (Rollie Fingers gets an honorable mention for sounding pretty uncool as well).

As for the song itself, is it me, or does the beat start to get a bit redundant after a while?  The track starts strong, Meth and Rae both captivated you as they did in every track back then, but I could have done without RZA or Masta Killah’s submissions, and jumped right to Ghost’s verse to close it out.  Speaking of Masta Killah, was he an official member of the Wu or not? Sometimes he’d be around, but most of the time he was nowhere to be found.  I never missed him mind you, because he was consistently boring, but where the hell was he? Did he have better things to do at the time then to be part of hip hop’s biggest super group? Did he have another job that he just couldn’t get the time off from? Were there not enough sick days?  That never made much sense to me; he was the allusive mysterious Wu member that always seemed to be away doing other things.  I mean, U-God probably had 3 verses over the entire Wu Tang reign (for good reason), but at least he was around for the ride.  I’m not sure Masta Killah made enough of an impact that he is even recognizable to the casual hip hop fan, then or now.

Incarcerated Scarfaces

“Thug related style attract millions / Fans, they understand my plan / Who’s the kid up in the green Land? / Me and the RZA connect, blow a fuse, you lose / Half-ass crews get demolished and bruised”

Cee: There are some pros and cons to the argument about Raekwon’s stake of the mythical King of New York crown back in the mid-90s. Did he have some say in that title with Cuban Linx? Absolutely! For those that don’t remember, that album played in every car, house, Walkman, CD Discman (if you could afford one back then), anything that had a speaker or earphones connected to it. That trip I made to New York that I was telling you about earlier? I’m not lying when I say almost every car in New York was blasting some album cut of Cuban Linx. It was almost like a unified understanding. The knock on his stake is that you can’t be called “King of…” anything when you have so many guest appearances. Outside of two songs, every song featured Ghostface (who played more co-pilot than sidekick to Rae) or a Wu member. Even with that said, out of those two, Incarcerated Scarfaces was a certified classic.

Keeping with the grimy, drug game theme of the overall project, Raekwon takes you through to the life of being a big star, the “Avon Barksdale” of the block. At least I think that’s what it’s about. Let’s face it, as much as I love Rae & his swagger, style, and slang……. his slang even for me was over my head sometimes. There were times I needed that Wu-Tang Manual to decipher some of those lyrics because it was so rich in slang and double entendres that you couldn’t possibly keep up with everything. Much like Biggie & Nas, you may have rewinded this track over and over. Unlike those two, it was less him spitting bars that made your head spin and more of his ability of making anything he says make complete & total sense over RZA’s production. It’s a little low key compared to some of the other records (i.e. Guillotine, Glaciers of Ice), but it’s probably the cleanest/smoothest song that veers a little left from the rugged style of the songs.

As for the video now, it seems like the budget wasn’t a whole lot, and why would it be? Take a look at the above paragraphs. You know this was shot in Staten Island or some sort of hood equivalent, which is completely fine. It goes perfect with the song itself, from the slam dancing and rapping behind the fences, to the rooftop shots, etc. But of course Shawn, I have a couple of questions about the video:

1) Seeing that they were in the hood recording the video, do you really think that they had “that white” blurred on the table? I mean, why do that if it isn’t, right?

2) Was Dave Chappelle right after all in saying that Slo-Mo really does make everything cooler?

3) What was that girl really doing underneath that couch cushion while sitting alongside Ghostface?

Your thoughts…..

Shawn: Very good questions you ask there Calvin mi hermano (which means “my brother” in Spanish). I’ve been binge watching that Netflix show Narcos, which is a series documenting the life of the notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, so you’re going to have to deal with me acting like I’m a member of the Medellin Cartel for the next little while.  Anyhow, here’s my take on your questions:

Question #1: If that was really La Cocaina that they were blurring out on the table?  

After a heated back and forth debate in my own mind, that may or may not have ended in violence, I’ve concluded that it’s not really that “white girl” (I had to throw in a bit of present day slang, to fool any young readers into thinking that I’m…..how do kids say “cool” these days? Turned? Lit? I can’t keep track anymore).

Let me elaborate.  I was torn about this until I realized at what point in Rae’s career this video was shot in.  If this video was shot during the 36 Chambers album, when the Wu were still a bunch a grimy, hood Staten Island boys, to the point that Ghostface used to wear a mask in videos and public appearances because he had warrants and didn’t want to jeopardize his freedom; not only would I have said that would have definitely been coke on the table, but also that there were most probably numerous fire-arms tucked in waist bands across the room, ready to be pulled out on the video director & crew if the coke wasn’t all accounted for by the end of the video shoot. But seeing that by the time Cuban Linx dropped, a shitload of money had been made, and the Wu members were a bit (and I stress the word “bit”) more refined at this point, I’m assuming it was a video director’s attempt to make an edgy hood video with a pile of baking soda on the table.

Question# 2: Does slow motion make everything look cooler?

Yes, Yes, Yes, and Si (the Narco effect continues).

I’ll be honest, before I saw this video, I pretty much slept on this song, and I would only listen to it long enough to allow my hand to press fast forward.  Then “Rainy Days” would come on and I would start “the wave” with my left hand and finish the dance off by pressing fast forward with my right, until I got to Guillotine (where Inspectah Deck absolutely bodied that sickening beat with his “Poisonous paragraphs / smash the phonograph in half / it be the Inspectah Deck on the warpath” intro, at which point I was trembling due to sensory overload, but I digress.  Back to me sleeping on Incarcerated Scarfaces, this stopped happening as soon as I saw the video, and a large part of my new found appreciation for the track had to do with the slo-mo scenes.  Between Rae walking through the hood, looking around and grilling dudes he had no business grilling (they were pretty intimidating figures), to the large mob of brothas hurtling the project fences in unison (what were they running from, you didn’t know and you didn’t care, cause they were doing it with visually pleasing slow motion wizardry). Every time I heard this song, I was inspired to stop whatever I was doing in normal speed, and switch to slow motion, which probably made me look mentally ill, but it made me feel cool, so it was worth the sacrifice.

Question# 3: What was that chick doing with her hand under the couch cushion?

The reasonable and mature person in me thinks that after a long day of shooting, she was pretty much just sitting there bored simply resting her hand on her thigh, & therefore incidentally creating a coincidental illusion there was some hanky-panky going on under there.  But the dreamer in me that would like to believe porno story-lines are in some way possible, and that one day I’ll order a pizza, and a sexy half naked delivery girl will feel compelled to “teach me a lesson” for giving her a bad tip (providing me with pleasure as punishment while chastising & belittling me may not make sense in the real world, but in the land of porn it makes perfect sense), likes to imagine that the young lady in the video didn’t mind the fact that there was a room full of brothas, and just had to treat her vagina like a turntable.  So, let’s just agree for my perverted mind, that she was being an amazingly filthy, naughty girl, who couldn’t fight the urge to defile herself in a room full of dudes, with only a pillow to cover her shameful act.  A pillow that some dude undoubtedly sniffed as soon as she left the room.

Verbal Intercourse

“It’s like a cycle, ni**as come home, some’ll go in / Do a bullet, come back, do the same shit again / From the womb to the tomb, presume the unpredictable / Guns salute life rapidly, that’s the ritual”. – Nas

“Perhaps bullets bust ni**as discuss mad money / True lies and White guys, we can see it through the eyes”. – Raekwon

Cee: Now before Cuban Linx, no Wu-Tang group or member ever featured an artist outside of their world. You can’t really blame them. When you’re one of the biggest entities in the genre altogether that go nine deep, and are also helping to change the landscape of hip hop, do you really need to? You want a banger of a beat? Call RZA. You want someone to wild out & act crazy on your track? Speed dial Old Dirty Bastard. You want a guest feature that will swing your song through the radio & the streets with the same impact of a bulldozer? Tap Method Man on his shoulder. You want your guest to slang & swag out our record? Hit up Raekwon and Ghostface easily. The list goes on & on. Wu Tang was like going to that friend’s house that had all the best toys & video games, and their fridge & cupboard was always stocked with everything. Right down to the different kinds of cereals, from Fruit Loops to Cocoa Puffs. You never needed to leave the house for anything. Which was why opening the doors for Nas to appear on a Wu-affiliated album was such a major deal at the time.

All Nas did once he entered the doors and took off his shoes was spit out one of the greatest lyrics he may have ever recorded. It was beyond being “Rewind-worthy” & it set the tone for the rest of the song. Both Rae & Ghost followed suit to destroy the record bar after bar. It remains the most underrated and overlooked song on this album, which seems crazy when you listen to this song again. You made a good point Shawn, on the Ready To Die profile, guest features between superstar artists were almost unprecedented, & when it actually happened, you couldn’t wait to hear it. So the fact that this song doesn’t get put on the same level as, “The What” for example, is almost blasphemous. I think only real hip hop heads with a great memory really appreciate this song for what it is.

Imagine if the three of them came together a few months after this album dropped and before It Was Written was released, and dropped a mixtape that was done by DJ Clue at the time. How seismic would that have been?

Shawn: No doubt Cee, a Nas, Rae & Ghost mixtape wouldn’t only have been ground breaking; it would’ve completely obliterated the rules of that era.  We’ve grown to get used to the collaborative albums from major artists to the point that we hardly bat an eyelash anymore; from the most recent merging of the two super powers Drake & Future, to R-Kelly & Jay, Hov & Kanye, the Lil Wayne & Juelz Santana mixtape, and the trailblazers Red and Meth, we pretty much meet these types of collaborative albums with a shrug. Although some of them are dope, others feel like a cash grab meant to capitalize off of two major fan bases that would want to purchase the same album.  But a Nas, Rae & Ghost album would have had hip hop purists at the time thinking the apocalypse was upon us. It would have sparked mass hysteria, looting, governments overthrown and national anthems being replaced by tracks from the album, it wouldn’t have been pretty. With all that said, I have to admit something that may affect our relationship my dear sir.  I have to plead guilty to being one of those dudes that you mentioned that slept on this track when listening to this album.  But it wasn’t one of those accidental “sleeps” where you doze off on the couch watching TV after a long day; it was more like as soon as I heard the song start playing, I downed an entire bottle of sleeping pills intentionally.  Now, I know what I’m about to say is going to be considered blasphemous and incredibly unpopular, and if I were to say this in certain barbershops it would earn me a punch square in my freshly lined up face.  But, how can I put this as delicately as possible; I kinda sorta find Nas……. boring.

Now before you start sharpening your cutlass, and setting your Google maps app for my address, hear me out.  I can fully appreciate that Nas is one of, if not the dopest lyricist we’ve ever heard, I get that.  But after I listen to a Nas track once, and take in the dope intricacies of his lyrics, I’m pretty much satisfied, forever.  I don’t really have the urge to hear it again.  I just feel satisfied that I’ve heard his verse that one time.  I’ll kind of compare him to Tim Duncan, or even the entire Spurs organization, you know they’re great, but I have more fun watching those teams lose than I do watching them dismantle their competition.  It’s like, my brain knows I should be excited, and I try Calvin, I really do. I try to fit in whenever I find myself in one of those best rappers alive convos, but I’m tired of the lies Calvin, they’re weighing heavy on my soul.  So there you go, the cat’s out the bag, I find Nas boring.  I said it.  This is why I never really appreciated this song.  Mind you, Rae dropped his usual bars filled with cool words, and the way Ghost broke down prison life in a few short bars was better than some dudes that dedicate whole albums to it.  But unfortunately, this track does not rank as one of my favorites on the album. I hope we can still be friends Cee.

Cee: I…….. I don’t even know what to say. Actually, what did you say??? Seeing that 2015 is drawing to a close, I’ll express myself the way pop culture dictates me to: Through gifs & memes….

I feel so disillusioned, so misled, so hoodwinked by what you just said. I feel like Steve Austin after he teamed up with The Rock to beat up the villain wrestlers together, and while raising my fists & middle fingers in the air towards the crowd in my trademark fashion, you hit me across the back of my head with a 2 X 4, leaving me unconscious in a fake pool of blood. I don’t even know if I should sever our friendship, or if I should just pay some goons to run at your house Sosa-style, crash through your kitchen, tie you down & force you to listen to all 10 of Nas’ albums. Even the Lost Tapes. You bastard.

If there’s a lasting memory regarding this album, it was the hype leading up to it. I’ve discussed the theory before of the pre-promotion of albums in the 90s that made each major album release from your favorite artists feel like it descended down from the skies. The example I have of this theory and how well it works is almost specific to this album. Prior to its ’95 summer release, with some of the songs that we heard from the album, it was getting major, major buzz, “5 Mics in The Source” buzz. Hip hop fans were foaming at the mouth for this album, myself and my crew of friends included. The day the album was released, was an event. My friends and I headed downtown about ten deep to the one record store that were selling copies of the album. Of course, out of the ten, only about 3-4 of us bought it, and the rest was armed with blank 90 min Maxwell tapes ready to dub the albums off. If you’re wondering, wonder no more…….. I was in the “Blank Tape” group. You got to understand, I was fresh off of finishing high school in Montreal, with no money. Basically, I never purchased a CD unless it came with 10 more CDs for a penny, and it came from a Columbia House purchase list. I’m not ashamed…. I’m not…. I swear?

Anyway, we went back to our friend’s house & basically digested everything about the album, from the beats & lyrics, to the linear notes & thank you shout outs. It’s the only time in my life I ever went to a store with all my friends, & then bought watch them buy (& dub off) an album….but it was 110% worth it. Within a few months it was a solidified classic that you played for about a year straight before you could put it down. Looking back now, it remains the greatest solo album ever released by The Wu, one of the best Hip Hop moments ever from the Golden Era, and it’s not debatable. For you Wu heads, the only solo Wu albums that come close to it was GZA’s Liquid Swords (which was GREAT), and Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele (his greatest album personally), both classics…… and yet still, it was a tier down from Cuban Linx. It changed the game as much as the aforementioned Golden Era albums that I wrote about. It was dark, gritty, and cinematic, it changed slang vocabulary, it was completely swagged out (the makers of Clark’s Wallabee’s are forever thankful). The RZA was like a cross between Charles Barkley & Wilt Chamberlain on the boards, and it represented the absolute peak of the Wu Era musically. When Nas re-released his Illmatic album last year & celebrated the anniversary like nothing we’ve even seen, I was a little surprised Raekwon didn’t go down the same route this year. There should have been concerts across the world celebrating the anniversary of this album. Here’s to hoping Rae does a delayed go-round with this album like we did this post.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting, as usual.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of Friday the Movie

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to 1995 where we bore witness to one of the best comedic movies of that era. Twenty years ago this week Ice Cube, DJ Pooh, director F. Gary Gray, and New Line Cinemas released Friday, a movie based on an adventurous day in the lives of two friends. What was expected to be a modest, underground type of movie based on the budget, turned into one of the most popular movies of its generation, and has given Friday a cult-like status that has lasted to this day. We will break down the best secondary characters of the classic flick, the mind of O’Shea Jackson (better known as Ice Cube), and the genius of Chris Tucker. I would love for you to continue reading this. Because it’s Friday. You’re either at work, or you’re on the couch, and you know you ain’t got shit to do…..

The Mind of Ice Cube

Ice Cube is known at this point as one of the most respected individuals in hip hop history. Someone that helped usher the genre to new places, especially when you look at his whole career. However, one of the most underrated aspects of his talents is his mindset. Think about how far Cube has come. From the streets of Compton, he became a skilled songwriter and joined with N.W.A., one of the most feared rap (& music) groups in music history. After writing the lyrics to approximately 1/2 of the group’s Straight Outta Compton classic album as well as Eazy E’s Eazy-Duz-It debut, at the young age of 19, he understood his worth enough to  leave the group at the height of their success. Way before hip hop artists (as well as his own group members) understood the importance of publishing, Cube not only took up legal action against NWA’s manager Jerry Heller, but embarked on a solo career that his group members…. well, let’s just say they didn’t think he would succeed without them at the time.

Within three years, Cube went on to become a successful rapper post-N.W.A., by releasing some classic albums such as “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted“, “Death Certificate“, and “Predator” (there’s some good songs off that album, and then there’s, “It Was A Good Day”). He also responded to NWA’s shots with, “No Vaseline“, which became less “diss track” and more a “Hammer on the nail in the coffin” blow, seeing as the group disbanded shortly afterwards. He also put out “It Was A Good Day”, and yes I’m completely aware I mentioned it two sentences ago. It just bears mentioning again. If that wasn’t enough, he created his own record label and produced Yo-Yo’s debut album, “Make Way for the Motherlode. If THAT wasn’t enough, he played the role of Doughboy in “Boyz In The Hood”, that was as legendary as some of the songs he released. Even though his career was rooted in gangsterism, it was also built off of intelligence & outside-of-the-box thinking, which was different from the average rapper.

Which leads us to Friday. To take this analysis further, sitting down and writing the script (along with DJ Pooh) for this movie further proved that Cube wasn’t afraid to expand himself. This was a movie that shifted away from his persona. It wasn’t violent or aggressive, it was a comedy based in South Central, Los Angeles. Cube wasn’t angry, pissed off, or going against the man, he was just…… a regular, laid back dude. His character (“Craig”) may have owned a gun, but that was a product of living in a rough area, not him being in any gangs or worse. The script was written densely with jokes, it was incredibly casted, the characters were realistically portrayed no matter how crazy they all seemed to be at times, to the point that you almost felt like you knew them (or people like them). More importantly, it didn’t view the hood as a war zone everyone imagined it to be, but a working class neighborhood with everyday people, involved in their daily routines. It’s part of the reason why it resonated so much with my generation, regardless of race or even class. You didn’t have to be from the hood to love and appreciate Friday. Cube was able to pull you into his world regardless of who you were. It was unexpected, but judging from his fearless ability to create, I don’t think we should have been surprised.

The Rise of Chris Tucker

Chris Tucker’s impact from this movie is quite honestly pretty consistent with what my generation was witnessing, if you compare Tucker’s start to what we were seeing in hip hop during that time. Between 1992 – 1996, we were not only listening to some of the next new stars of Hip Hop dropping debut albums, but these new stars helped to forever change the landscape of the genre altogether. Think about some of the groups that came out during this period, I can go on & on about a bunch of artists that came out during this period including some of the acts I’ve previously written about like: Nas, Snoop, A Tribe Called Quest, The Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, etc. The one common denominator aside from all of those artists releasing classic albums, or classic debut albums during this time, was that they were all so very young. Now, with Chris Tucker, I wouldn’t say his career turned out as legendary as the other musical acts I just mentioned, but he shared some of the same traits that they did at the beginning of their careers. He was a young (age 23 at the time of film release), but extremely gifted artist, whose talents may have superseded his much older peers in his profession. He was on Def Comedy Jam back in the early nineties, but he landed the perfect role, at the perfect time of his life.

While playing the role forever known as Smokey, he turned that character into a generational icon. Tucker was such a forceful personality, that even with all the talent that was in the movie, his talents still dominated over everyone else. You couldn’t wait for him to come back on screen. The first time I saw this movie in theatres (it was the day after my Grad night with some friends), I never even heard of Tucker. I caught episodes of Def Comedy Jam (via the VHS express from my friend’s sister), but never seen him on any episodes. In Friday, he acted like it was his 100th movie, not his second (he had a role in House Party 3, the one no one watches ever in life). He was a wave of sharp wit, straight up ignorance, quirky, with comical facial expressions and mannerisms, and a high pitched voice that was just hilarious every time he opened his mouth….. and it was all mixed up in a big haze of weed clouds. If you want to compare this role to any of those classic hip hop albums during that time, feel free and go ahead. Smokey is as timeless as Illmatic, Doggystyle, etc. Watch this movie again, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Tucker never ceases to make you laugh even 20 years later, all his jokes still hold up. It’s also part of the reason why legions of fans are still praying for Tucker to come back and do one more Friday. Even if the premise of watching two forty-something year old weed heads running through the hood might not work out so well, the more thought you put into it.

I’ll add two more points here:

1) If you watched this movie & didn’t laugh at Tucker right away, I don’t know how you don’t laugh through the Angel Dust scene. That might be the perfect example of all his talents in that one scene alone.

2) Apparently Chris Rock and Tommy Davidson were also thought of to play the role of Smokey at the time. I love both of those guys, but no one — & I mean NO ONE– could have pulled that role off quite like Tucker.

The Best Friday Characters

While I won’t include Craig and Smokey for obvious reasons (they’re the main players of the movie), you can’t have a team without the supporting role players. While all of them make the movie as cohesive as they do, some are more important than others. So let’s rank the best characters from Friday, down to the #1 spot.

Honorable Mention

Felicia

“Can I borrow your VCR right quick?”

For the social media participants, the whole “Bye Felicia” movement is overrated. However, because it seems to have taken on a life of its own on the internet in the past 12 months, I’ll throw her on here as an honorable mention for the sake of the movement. As long as everyone knows that the “Bye Felicia” phrase is actually more memorable than Felicia herself.

Best Friday Role Players

  1. Lil’ Chris

“Ahhhhh! Quit Playing! Quit Playing! Ahhhhh!”

Do you have any little cousins that would get on your nerves? The one that would make you hide your toys and anything you valued if they came over to your house? To me, that’s Lil Chris. Those annoying cousins I had would kick over people’s trash cans too when they was young, just like him. If my parents, Aunts, or Uncles would catch them doing that in the act, they would have whupped their behinds just like Craig & Smokey did to Lil’ Chris. One of the funnier & real moments of the movie.

  1. Pastor Clever

“The Lord is my Shepherd, he know what I want!”

Very short role for the late Bernie Mac, but very memorable. He plays the pastor who’s willing to preach the good word and/or backslide at a moment’s notice. He goes from trying to share the faith to asking for a hit of some weed to adultery in a span of five minutes. Yup, pretty much on point with a crooked pastor’s portfolio.

  1. Debbie

“Hi, you guys.”

The girl next door. The dime piece. The one Craig would shut it all down for. In the 90s, Nia Long mastered the short hair look, to the point that she and Halle Berry needed to get that look trademarked and copyrighted. Between her stint on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and this movie, Nia’s probably one of the reasons why I was weak-kneed for any sweet looking sistas with short hair in high school and college that came my way. Not everyone can pull that look off, but the ones that do, it’s a thing of beauty. Outside of that, she doesn’t have any memorable lines or anything, but her beauty speaks volumes.

  1. Joi (Craig’s Girlfriend)

“You ain’t got to lie Craig! You ain’t got to liiiiie!”

Joi is THE definition of a hoodrat chick. Can’t you see her picture in Webster’s or Urban’s dictionary on the phone with her long ass nails, blonde extensions, chewing on some gum all obnoxiously, ripping into her man like he violated her trust even though there’s a man sleeping right behind her? She nailed all the characteristics of a crazy chick. She flies off the handle at the drop of a hat (ie. “Who is that bitch?!?!”), she calls and hangs up the phone for no reason a million times at least; she flips out if her man is in the vicinity of another woman; much less talking to one. She is also one of a few people to have their own theme music in Friday. That should probably count for something.

  1. Ms. Parker

“Hi Boys.”

The Hot older woman. The former “Cougar” of the block that still shows her goodies off even past the age where other women would start covering it up by now. The “Milf” before the term “Milf” was coined, which is ironic seeing that she didn’t have any kids. Basically, she’s bad as mawfu**in’ shit! Some of the best lines of the movie came from her watering her lawn with her daisy dukes on. My favorite part with Mrs. Parker (other than her watering the grass of course) has nothing to do her getting caught with Pastor Clever, and having her husband (played in stark contrast to her physical specifications by Tony Cox) toss out all of her clothes. It has everything to do with the short “Fake B.S. Woman Convo” that women all around the world have with each other from time to time. Ladies, you know…. the one where you talk bad about the woman only to treat her like your sister 5 seconds later? Craig’s Mom (Mrs. Jones) is so disgusted by what Mrs. Parker is wearing, but then hails her up like their best friends. Which then leads to this exchange….

Mrs. Jones: “Hey girl!”

Mrs. Parker: “How you doing?”

Mrs. Jones: “Good, I’m on my way to work.”

Mrs: Parker: “Call when you get home.”

Mrs. Jones: (Long Pause)….. “Oh-kaaaaay.”

You know Mrs. Jones wants absolutely nothing to do with her, but still has to engage in a fake conversation. You just have to love “Fake B.S. Woman Convos”.

Sidenote: Here’s a situation where “Fake B.S. Woman Convos” goes too far. When I was in college years ago, I went to a wedding. I was actually invited by one of the bridesmaids who I was pretty close with at the time. I got seated with about 3-4 of the bride’s girlfriends. Sitting at the table with a bunch of single females at a wedding? That couldn’t be bad for me, right? Well, from the time the appetizers got served until the dancing started, they ripped this poor girl’s wedding apart. They shitted on her dress, the decorations, the layout of the hall, the floral arrangements, the balloons, why the sun was so bright, EVERYTHING. It was astonishing how far they were going in on their friend, considering this was supposed to be one of the most important days of her life. When she was making the rounds and came by the table to see how everyone was doing, of course they told her they were having a great time & that they loved her dress. It’s was like they all had a split personality that each flicked on and off like a light switch at the same damn time. As soon as she left, they went right back to taking shots. Man, if these were the type of friends that were invited to this wedding, I want to see just who the hell wasn’t invited. These ladies had their Fake B.S. Convo fundamental skills down to a science, to the point that I’ll forever believe they could have hosted seminars on the subject. Okay, let’s keep it going…..

  1. Red

“Ah Man, that’s fu**ed up….” 

Deebo’s official whipping boy. Can’t catch a break in the movie. One of the most popular scenes is the story Smokey tells Craig when Red gets knocked out by Deebo for wanting to get his bike back. Otherwise known as the “You got knocked the fu** out!” scene. Red’s an understated, but underrated character. Not entirely sure who’s idea it was for him to run back to his car while sobbing with his hands down, but I salute you, because that was comedic genius. Bonus points for giving him a car alarm that he disarms on his jalopy that further adds to the hilarity.

  1. Ezail

“My neck! My back! My neck and my back!”

Everybody’s favorite crackhead. He steals anything not nailed down, and will do anything for a buck. He’s also annoying as hell and pops up around Craig & especially Smokey at the worst possible times. His funniest moments are a tie between: 1) finding Smokey at the side of his house taking a shit; and 2) him jumping in the alley after Smokey’s car backfires when they’re all leaving the convenient store. There is never a time in life when I don’t laugh out loud at that part.

  1. Big Worm

“It’s the principle of the whole thing. It’s principalities in this.”

Big Worm is a accurate representation of what we would think a dope dealer in Los Angeles would be like.  And when I say that, I mean just like any other dope dealer in the world, but with a perm. He sets the tone about how the rest of the day is going to go for Craig and Smokey, considering his monies is being messed with. Outside of Smokey and Red, Big Worm is one of my favorite characters. Even though he is a big time drug dealer and the potential for violence is always looming, he would still get personally insulted and disappointed by Smokey’s empty promises. Factor in the scene where he rolls up in front of Craig’s house in an Ice Cream truck as the Ice cream man, threatens Smokey & Craig’s life (being guilty by association) & yet still manages to give the little kids no treats of any kind (even taking one kid’s change while calling him “Fatboy”). The level of disrespect they show the kids is funny, including Smokey who treats them like annoying props (including a young Meagan Good), but that scene would probably not work so well in today’s climate. In 2015, there would probably be low-level protests & twitter hashtag campaigns against how the kids were being treated (including Lil’ Chris), but twenty years ago, we held our stomachs and laughed our asses off.

  1. Mr. Jones

“Every tiiime I come in the kitchen, you in the kitchen…. in the goddamn refrigerator, eating all the food. All the chicken, all the pigs feet, all the collard greens, all the hog maws. I wanna eat some chit’lins. I love pig feet!!”

At one point and time, John Witherspoon was considered one of the funniest older black comedic actors. Since his star turn as the nosy neighbor in House Party, and as David Alan Grier’s Dad in Boomerang, the rest of the 90s was set for him to be type-casted as that crazy-ass Pops. Playing the role as Mr. Jones only added to the resume. The ignorant, feisty, set-in-his-ways, yet lovable old man, is something he’s perfected very well. The only difference is that he was able to provide fatherly guidance to Craig from time to time in this movie, as opposed to just being 100% belligerent in all the other roles he plays. From the time he enters the kitchen sucking on his fingers and his teeth; to when he’s chastising Craig for losing his job while he’s taking a shit; to the very end when he’s rooting for Craig to beat up Deebo, his personality carries as presence as large as anyone in Friday with the exception of Smokey. Just seeing his face alone is comic relief enough.

  1. Deebo

“That’s my bike punk!”

*** Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form do I support bullying. ****

Listen, once you get your own theme music every time you enter a scene, and the theme music is from Jaws, isn’t it automatic that you get the #1 spot? Deebo is the movie’s villian, the ultimate bully. The one person the whole neighborhood is afraid of. He’ll knock you out, your boy, your woman, your mother, your father, your grandparents, basically anyone that doesn’t give him what he wants, when he wants it. He played that role so well, you could almost replace the word “Bully” with the word “Deebo”.

For example, in the NBA, Zach Randolph’s nickname is Z-Bo, because on the court & sometimes off the court (just ask Kendrick Perkins), he’ll bully his opponents. Another example: I have a friend who I won’t mention by name, but let’s just say he has a reputation of causing extensive trauma to bathrooms and toilet bowls. Whenever friends of mine have a get together at their house and there’s food involved, people get nervous because they know their bathroom’s in trouble. It’s something he’s weirdly proud of actually. He almost wears the reputation like a purple heart. For that reason, I call him Shit Deebo because, well, he’s a toilet bully. He may as well ride a BMX to your powder room with a plaid shirt on. You see how this Deebo nickname works? Also, if you’re thinking I made this last segment longer than the others just to share that story & shit-shame my friend subliminally, you are getting to know me very well. But that’s the impact Deebo’s had on the movie. He was the scary guy that had the Jaws theme as his own music, in a classic movie that you could barely stop laughing through. Like most bullies, he also got what was coming to him in the end. For the purposes of this segment, he watches over all at the top spot.


 

Now the normal way to wrap up a blog like this, is to do a little wrap up on the greatness of Friday, mention all the stars that had a part in the movie (including Meagan Good and the late Michael Clarke Duncan who was shooting dice with Deebo, Smokey & Lil Chris when Red got knocked out), throw in the fact that the movie made about $28M in the box office against a $3.5M budget; that it only took 20 days to make; that it was shot in a Crip-infested gang neighborhood; & that no one on set could wear red if they valued their lives. Then tie everything into a nice bow and end off the post saying, “….. and you know this….. MAN!” Ideally, yes, that would work and normally, I would have done that. However, with all the lines and moments in the movie, let’s wrap things off by running off some of the funniest lines from in the movie. Cool? Ok, it’s over…. Biiiiii**h! #IceCubevoice

“Boy, bring yo ass in here, what chu mean ‘you’ll wait ’till I get out?’ I smelled your shit for 22 years, you can’t smell mine for 5 minutes?”

– Mr. Jones brings Craig into his bathroom confessional.

“I don’t wanna have to fu** you up Smokey. Playing with my money is like playing with my emotions.”

– Big Worm, giving Smokey his 1st warning for the day.

“Her mama got ass too. Just give me 3 1/2 minutes, maybe even 4. She’ll be wanting to marry a ni**er.”

“Who? Her Mama?”

“Yeah. Older the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

“It’s the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

“Yeah, well… yeah. She blacker than a mawfu**a too.”

– Smoke and Craig’s commentary after Debbie’s morning jog.

“Mrs. Parker finer than a motherfu**er. I’ll knock the dust off that pu***!”

– Smokey, his views on Mrs. Parker while tending to her lawn.

“Don’t nobody go in the bathroom for about 35, 45 minutes. Somebody open a window.”

– Mr. Jones, self explanatory.

“Don’t you ever…. ever….. everevereverevereverever….come back here! Okay?!”

– Smokey, talking to Rita the Janet Jackson impersonator.

“I got mind control over Deebo. He be like, ‘Shut the fu** up,’ I be quiet… but when he leaves, I be talkin’ again.”

– Smokey, venting after a Deebo shakedown attempt.

“You know he gon’ cry in the car.”

– Smokey, after Red’s infamous sob-n-run.

“Excuse me brother. What we call drugs at 74th Street Baptist Church, we call a sinny-sin-sin.”

“Well, around here, between Normandie and Western, we call this here a little twenty-twen-twen (Well)… NI**AH!

– Pastor Clever and Smokey, debating weed and sins.

 


Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of Mary J. Blige’s My Life

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest albums in R&B history. Twenty years from tomorrow, coming off the success of What’s the 411?, Mary J Blige gave us the gift that was My Life, an album that solidified her as the R&B voice for her generation. As we celebrate My Life, we’ll review some of our favorite songs from the classic LP. I know you can hear me now…..

**DISCLAIMER — This is not a Top 5 list. You could make a honest argument for 10 songs from this album being in the Top 5. This is strictly a review a collection of songs from the album.**  

I Love You 

“All those pretty memories / I know you can hear me now / For the record / I love you / I love you 

I shine…… you shine (shine)…….. I shine……. you shine (shine)……. I shine…….. you shine (shine)…….. I shine……. you shine (shine)…….. I shine…….. you shine……. and this day and time / we maintain / the same frame of mind / elevation / spark it up / Yo Start the circulation / 360 degrees of rotation……

…… so I can’t just recite the whole first verse of the remix? Would this be considered as a crime of laziness? Ok, fine. So I won’t do that, but I will say this: you’ll be hard pressed to find another album with so much legendary remixes off the singles. This is no knock whatsoever on the original version of the record.  If there weren’t a remix, this song would be incredible anyway with the piano loops & that hard bass line that came from the mind of Chucky Thompson (well, sort of).  It’s a beautiful record in every which way.  BUT when they threw in Smif-N-Wessun (who were an hot up & coming duo from the Boot Camp Click, that was about to release their own debut album Dah Shinin’) on the beginning of the remix, it metamorphosed into the perfect marriage between R&B and Hip Hop. It’s something that Mary J mastered throughout her entire career, singing over hip hop beats & working with rappers so seamlessly.  You couldn’t find anyone who didn’t love that record. Even the hardcore hip hop heads who never listened to R&B unless their sister was playing it in the house, had to add this single to the collection. 

When I’m 80 years old, and this song comes over whatever speaker device will be around by then, I will get up & do the Puffy dance until I pop my hip out of place. I can’t stress this enough, play this remix to any Montrealer between the ages of 30 – 45 years old, & they’ll lose themselves in that “I Shine, You shine” call-and-response. This is arguably one of the best remixes she was ever a part of, & she had a whole damn album specifically for remixes. It’s hard to separate the remix from the original because they both use the same beat, but you can’t discuss the original without discussing the remix. It’s impossible.

I’m Goin‘ Down

Singing cover songs for artists are tricky. Depending on the kind of song that’s being selected by the artists as well as their vocal range, they can either do a song justice, or just ruin the record to shit. When I was younger, I didn’t have a problem with Michael Bolton, I really didn’t. Then again, I thought those were his songs. Once I heard the originals to them, it made me wanna shave a bald spot into his curls. On the flip side, Luther Vandross did a lot of cover songs & more often that not, killed the original to the point where you pretended he created it himself. In the 90’s, Jodeci annihilated Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” in one of the more memorable cover performances & for this album, Mary J made Rose Royce’sI’m Going Down into her own song. If she were a gymnast, her artistry on this track would be equivalent to a quadruple cartwheel, where she does a crazy flip & sticks the landing on the corner of the mat. Not only did you feel the talent in the song, you felt her pain so much so that, if she started sobbing towards the end of the song, you wouldn’t have been surprised.

This song was probably the best representation of her life at the time & not just because of the song title. As reported at the time, she was going through depression and battling with drugs and alcohol. I have this depressing theory about some musicians that the more chaotic their lives are, the better their art form. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I’ve seen this example too many times in history. The best example was Marvin Gaye back in the 70s when he made the, I Want You album. He was high most of the time. Gaye then made, Hear, My Dear after going through his divorce with his first wife. It’s like their pain becomes our listening pleasure through their work. It’s not a surprise that for all the accolades & the career she’s built, her albums after this were never better than My Life, because My Life was made during her darkest moments; which is completely unfortunate for her….. as a person. However, as an artist, with her pain channeled through her work, My Life became a gift to us as her fans and R&B in general.

Sidenote: Was there a remix for this? You bet your ass there was! Change up the lyrics, jack The What beat from Biggie Smalls, sprinkle in some Mr. Cheeks, and voila! You got a sweet remix that serves everyone well.

You Bring Me Joy

To keep with the theme of jacking beats and songs, we follow Sean “Puffy” Combs & the Hitmen in the getaway car while they load up the shotguns and prepare to jack poor Barry White for his production. I’m telling you, there wasn’t a more blatant beat stealer in the mid 90’s than Puffy. And unlike some producers who may take a piece here or there of a song, Puffy would just take every damn thing. If the original production was a chicken thigh, he ate everything off the bone, sucked out the bone marrow, & then chewed on the bone until the bone was collected into a small pile in the corner of his plate. He never shied away from that fact either. His theory was that once you heard those beats, it would automatically grab your attention. Plus, the original production worked before, so why wouldn’t it work again, right?  It was a smart way to market his artists, it was almost admirable. To me, 90’s Puffy will always be a cross between Robin Hood and Omar from the Wire. He came around in a trenchcoat & jacked 70’s & 80’s beats to provide musical pleasure to the masses. The only thing that was missing was the whistling before the start of every song.

To throw credit back to Puffy though, this particular beat and some of the other ones chosen for this album helped to make the songs timeless. When it comes to Mary, as depressed as she may have been during these times, she was also able to swing the emotion pendulum in the opposite direction. You may feel her pain in some of these songs, but you also felt her happiness, which is a hard thing to convey as a singer. Really hard. But you felt her joy in this song, and you can’t help but feel upbeat. On top of that, it was a staple on radio mixshows back then, and you can still play this song in the club right now to get the ladies feeling great. 

K. Murray Interlude

Interludes & skits are a 90’s thing that everyone used on their albums. Usually it’s a space filler to get enough material to make an album. Most are forgettable, others like Redman and Wu-Tang were classics. Bad Boy took it to another level by introducing the world to Biggie’s stroke game, Biggie’s sex stories (about how he um, “drops waste” on a chick), and the legendary Mad Rapper. Even though Mary wasn’t a part of Bad Boy, Puffy still provided the interlude influence anyway. No one remembers what the hell Keith Murray was saying, but most people I know wonder, what the hell beat is that?!?!? A few months later, we found out with “Who Shot Ya?, which at the time might have been one of the most ridiculous hip hop beats we ever heard. Who the hell would have thought that this beat eventually would be the start of one of the worst beefs in the history of music, a beef that led two A-level rappers (Biggie & Tupac) to die right before they reached the prime of their careers & altered many others? And again, this beat came from a R&B album?? That’s one hell of a 24-second warning shot. 

Be Happy    

Quick story: I’ll take you back to the summer of 2006. Mary J was performing at the Molson Amphitheatre here in Toronto. I was meeting some family members at the concert & was flying down the highway trying to get to the start of the concert so I wouldn’t miss out on her Be Happy performance. I ran into a crazy amount of traffic near the Lake Shore area due to construction. I started getting annoyed because even though I had no idea what the listings of her songs were gonna be, I just knew she was gonna perform that song early. After doing enough things on the road that would have gotten me pistol-whipped by police, I finally made it into the parking lot. As I met up with my family members who had my tickets, and we’re walking up the steps to the outdoor arena, I hear the long intro coming in, “DUH-DUH Dun-Nuh-Duh” over the speakers as the crowd starts going apeshit. SMH. I’m stuck in line waiting for security to tear my tickets, praying that Mary feels like a Reggae DJ at a soundclash & rewinds the song back ten times with the air horns. Nope. By the time I walked into the place, she was on to another song. Even though I enjoyed the rest of the concert, it still burns me that I missed her perform that song, especially considering that I’ve seen her live again since then & she didn’t perform Be Happy. F***.

I also wanted to see her perform that song because to be honest, it’s my favorite Mary song ever. Considering how many songs you can choose from her catalogue, that’s saying a lot. Some others on this list (“My Life” for starters) I put almost as high. Almost. You remember that old episode of Seinfeld where the guy Elaine’s dating goes into a trance and he can’t be disturbed by anyone (not even her) until his favorite song is finished? Well… okay, it’s not nearly that bad but it’s probably within the ballpark. If I’m by myself & that song comes on, there’s a pretty good chance I just zone out until the first chorus is over, I won’t even lie to you. The video itself was memorable only because of Mary standing on that rock overlooking the mountains. Unless it really was her stunt double doing it all this time and if so….. it’s understandable. What R&B singer is risking their lives for the sake of that song?

Sidenote: Was their a remix for this song? Why hell yes of course. New beat, same lyrics, throw Keith Murray in there to rap his 16 bars, and another hot remix is created. What artist is even dedicating this many remixes to their albums anymore??? Seriously? I’m asking. 

My Life

“Life can be only what you make it / When you’re feelin down you should never fake it / Say what’s on your mind / And you’ll find in time / That all the negative energy / It would all cease”

The album title track is the realest song on the album. It’s relateable to every and anyone going through hard times. To keep fighting, to keep believing in yourself, and to keep believing in God to get yourself through it. When you’re younger, sometimes you don’t appreciate the positive messages as much as you would when you get older, and as an adult, it rings truer to you. I never paid as much attention to it as I probably should have admittedly, just because I was lost in the melodic production of Roy Ayers…. I mean Puffy and Chucky Thompson. However, appreciating the song now, it stands as a stance against your obstacles taking you under. In 2014, we are still fighting against the mental issues as a society, although I think there is a better awareness about it now, as opposed to the mentality we had 20 years ago in terms of sweeping those problems under the  rug. On this record, you can see that advice Mary was giving to others and even herself, to basically keep fighting. In fact, I’ll let her tell it…

“I was ready to just check out,” she says now. “It was a moment—I can’t get into it—but I saw my life going and I was grabbing for it. I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ That’s when I realized that I don’t want to die. And I switched, and I started praying and crying, and my life shifted right there.”

Mary J to Billboard Magazine

The scary part of her situation is, not only do millions of people suffer through those same demons, but sometimes it’s the person right beside you that’s spiraling out of control and you have no idea. This is why it’s always important to communicate and to discuss your problems with someone when things are rocky. You never want to wait until it’s too late because when it gets too far, it’s almost impossible to come back from it. In some cases, you don’t. Which is why 20 years later a song like this can still register and resonate with many people.

Closing Thoughts

In my last post about TLC’s CrazySexyCool, I stated that they were the most relevant group of the 90s. Well, let’s just say that Mary is the most relevant R&B artist of an entire generation. I mean, Mary J is still selling out concerts & putting out quality music right now (see Think Like a Man Too Soundtrack). She may not go triple platinum whenever her album drops anymore like she did with My Life, but she has a loyal and huge fanbase that still allows her to put out material that they will respect. My Life wasn’t just an album that helped Mary J really break out as an artist, but as a listener, you literally felt it. It’s the greatest LP she ever made. Most great artists always have that one album that is their Picasso. Marvin Gaye had it with, What’s Going On?” and I Want You; Stevie Wonder had, “Songs In The Key of Life”; Michael Jackson had, Thriller; his sister Janet had, Rhythm Nation; and Janet, the list goes on and on. Some of those artists have that “It” album a few years into the game after they find their voice. Some others like Mary find that classic early into their careers. It’s scary to think she was only 23 when My Life was made. However, it never matters what age or at what point of your career it happens. Once it comes, you have to embrace it because very few artists ever achieve classic album status. It’s even harder to create another classic album once you get one under your belt.

Part of Mary’s legacy will be how she successfully connected Hip Hop & R&B together. The perfect example of this is when she hooked up with Method Man on the Ill Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By remixes in the Spring of ’95. Both versions of that remix were instant classics, and it catapulted Method Man further into the superstar stratosphere. After that, it has become a “Mama, I made it!” moment when rappers had a chance to not only work with her, but get a feature from her on their album. This My Life period was probably the highest peak of great R&B music as a whole. As the Hip Hop & R&B worlds blended together more and more since that album, the R&B industry became a little harder, and more edgier in some ways. It lost a lot of its soul and because of it, the R&B game overall has suffered. In no way does Mary carry any blame. Even if her production had a Hip Hop feel to it (especially early in her career), you always felt her soul no matter what. If the Golden Era of R&B was a mountain, My Life was the flag that was planted at its peak. We should celebrate that feat and then realize that we could only have come down from there. My question is, When is that renaissance period of R&B coming back? Two years from now? Five? Ten? Will I even like R&B anymore by then? I’ll say this: If more artists can capture the magic that this album had, I think you’ll know what my answer will be….

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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