Album Reviews

Album Review – Ashanti Christmas albums.

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ashanti-a-wonderful-christmas-with-ashanti-ep-download

Years of Release: 2003 ; 2013/2014

Record Labels: The Inc Records (Ashanti’s Christmas); Written Entertainment/Entertainment One (A Wonderful Christmas With Ashanti)

Here I am doing something that I haven’t done before prior to this. Okay, maybe I have done something similar, as in the past I had done a double review for my college newspaper when I reviewed Grand Theft Auto V and Saints Row IV as a comparison review. However, this is the first time that I have done one on music albums and being that it’s Christmas time, I wanted to do something like this especially if these two albums are from the same artist. I have also noted in the past that I am not opposed to doing R&B albums for this website. I also must add that I am a fan of Ashanti and in some ways, one of these two albums could qualify for this site as Murder Inc was (or is, as it still sort of exists) a rap label. So R&B was never out of the question for me to review on this site.

I will go over these two albums chronologically, which means that I will talk about Ashanti’s Christmas first.

Before I critique the album, I remember that I had contemplated getting this for years but I mainly listened to some reviewers on Amazon, which had given this a low score. Some had compared it to Whitney Houston’s (RIP) Christmas album that came out around the same time as this one did, but you can’t really compare to the two, especially considering how different their vocal styles were. But sometime later I bought her second Christmas album, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to give the other one a go. I have to say that I went going with my own instincts and I came out actually enjoying it more than I thought I would, but there were some flaws on this album.

I won’t deny that she had limitations in her vocals, and her singing voice is rather high, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t try her best. She did well in some songs like “Christmas Time Again” and “Hey Santa,” which I initially expected to be a cover of the Carnie and Wendy Wilson song of the same name. I also enjoyed her version “The Christmas Song,” as well as “This Christmas,” but then you had her versions of “Silent Night,” “Joy To The World,” and “Winter Wonderland,” all of which could have been a lot better than they actually were. Also, some of the production had some jazzy feel to it, but some of the other tracks could have better work done to the beats and instrumentals. One of other song that I liked, however, was “Time of Year.”

This wasn’t a terrible album by any means, but in some ways, it is a good to play during the holiday season, but some of the tracks could have been better. In fairness, it was during a busy time for her as this came out the same year as Chapter II, her second album, and I am sure that there was not a lot of time to try to perfect the songs. Still, it’s decent enough to play during Christmas time, as some of the good outweighs the bad slightly.

As for A Wonderful Christmas With Ashanti, it could be said that over time that things probably had improved vocally and the production was a little different this time around. I must note that I also bought this during the holiday season of 2014 at Target, which had a version that had two exclusive extra tracks. It was previously released in 2013 as an EP, before another version had come out with more tracks the following year.

What is noticeable is that this album does have the feel for the holidays, even with some songs having an R&B-lite beat for the background in some songs, like “Christmas Love” for example, as well as “It’s Christmas.” But what’s also noticeable is that even the uses of the bell sounds added to the beats to give it a Christmas-like feel. Her vocals had also matured over time. It HAD been a decade since her previous Christmas album.

I liked how the production was done for “Sleigh Ride” and “Let It Snow,” as they were rather upbeat for this album. The song, “Christmas is the Time,” was actually a re-worked version of “Time of Year” from the previous Xmas album. I liked both versions, but if you were to listen to both versions back-to-back, you can see the differences, as well as the comparisons. She also did a good job in other songs like “The First Noel” and “Santa Baby,” the latter of which I am not a huge fan of, but I’ll listen to her version (Along with Gwen Stefani’s version, as heard in her Christmas album).

The album closed off with “White Christmas,” and it was quite a family affair on this one, as her parents, her cousin, and her younger sister, Chi Chi, all sang on this one. Though the relatives were mainly backup singers in it, it was still a nice track to listen to and I have to give them all credit because it seemed that Ashanti wanted to do a song with her family and I can’t help but respect that.

Out of the two albums, I preferred A Wonderful Christmas With Ashanti more than Ashanti’s Christmas, but I really don’t think that her first Christmas album was as terrible as people said it was. She was rather big during the time that album had come out and haters did hate on her during that time (Not to mention that she collaborated with Ja Rule, who was the biggest laughingstock in the rap world in 2003). It could be said that she had improved within that time, as well as more time was put into the second Xmas album, so that is why it was the better album of the two. But I know I will play the first one during the holiday season as well in the future.

Ashanti’s Christmas – 3.5/5

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Time of Year
  2. Hey Santa
  3. Christmas Time Again
  4. Sharing Christmas
  5. The Christmas Song

A Wonderful Christmas With Ashanti – 4.5/5

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Christmas is the Time
  2. The First Noel
  3. Can’t Wait For Christmas
  4. Sleigh Ride
  5. White Christmas

 

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Jim Jones – A Dipset Xmas

Year of Release: 2006

Record Label: Diplomats/Koch Records

It seems that after having done my reviews of Christmas on Death Row, High Fo’ Xmas, and Christmas in Tha Dogghouse, I found that sometimes mixing the holiday spirit with hip-hop can sometimes be a good and bad thing. Okay, maybe “bad” is pushing it, but sometimes you have the good, like the Death Row Christmas album (Believe it or not, it was actually good), then you have the ones that you can joke about like High Fo’ Xmas (Though the Eazy-E Christmas song isn’t far behind), and then you have the ones that left a lot more to be desired, like Christmas in Tha Dogghouse (Though there WERE some good tracks on it).

First off, I can’t say that I was ever a big fan of Jim Jones. I don’t dislike the guy, I just never really heard much of his stuff outside of “We Fly High,” and just thinking about that song took me back to 2006/2007 when that was all over the airwaves. Then again, I can’t say that I got into the Diplomats, either, though I don’t mind Cam’ron or Juelz Santana, as I do enjoy some of their material. The first time I found out about this album was when I read a review about Christmas on Death Row and this was mentioned in the first paragraph. I thought it was a joke until I looked it up on Amazon. I figured that this would be perfect for me to write a review on it.

The main thing that should be said is this album kind of falls in the middle depending on how you look at it. Before I get into the album, the album insert that had a photo of the Capo himself with a snowy backdrop and a quote that said “I wanted to make a Christmas album for kids in the hood and shit like that.” I can’t fault him for that, as the Christmas-related tracks did sort of capture the spirit of the holidays. For example, I liked how “Dipset Xmas Time” had its own spin on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time.” I personally am not a fan that song, but “Dipset Christmas Time” was actually a decent track. Also, “Ballin’ on Xmas” was a good hip-hop song with a Christmas theme. It was also good to hear the beat to “Christmas in Hollis” from Run-DMC, whom sampled “Back Door Santa” from Clarence Carter. “Wish List” is actually standout track with mentions of how life in the ghetto was like in the holiday season.

However, the biggest problem that this album has is that only the first five tracks are related to Christmas as the other half isn’t. Hell, I got the Best Buy version in the mail with contained additional three songs and they weren’t related to Christmas. Not to say that those other cuts are bad, though some could have been better, but I wondered if Jim Jones wanted to have some songs that didn’t make the cut on Hustler’s P.O.M.E. (Product of My Environment), which came out a month prior to this one. Out of all of the tracks that weren’t related to Christmas, the only one that stood out was the remix to “We Fly High.”

This album isn’t terrible. At first, I thought that it would be kind of a joke Christmas hip-hop album, but the first five tracks are actually pretty good because it did follow the Christmas theme. But seriously, this album COULD be listened to outside of the holiday season, just as long as you don’t listen to the first five songs. Hell, it would be better if the other five (Or eight, depending on which version you have) was burned onto a separate CD so that you could listen to it during the other parts of the year, while the first five songs can be put onto its own disc (Or playlist depending on how people do it these days).

It’s a soft recommend from me.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Ballin’ On Xmas
  2. Dipset Xmas Time
  3. If Everyday Was Xmas
  4. Wish List
  5. Have a Happy Xmas

Honorable Mention: We Fly High (Remix)

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Gravediggaz – Nightmare in A-Minor

Year of Release: 2001/2002

Record Label: Empire Musicwerks/BMG Music

Here I am in my final Gravediggaz album review, which is of their third and final album, and also as part of my horrorcore special (That doesn’t I can’t do horrorcore album reviews outside of Halloween-time).

Before I get into the review of the album, it must be noted about the background of this album. By the time this album was already in production, the two main producers, RZA and Prince Paul, respectively known by their aliases “The RZArector” and “The Undertaker,” (I often wonder if there was copyright infringement on the name because it was shared with the well-known pro wrestler, despite the title being an actual profession) had left the group. It was even noted in the liner notes in the CD booklet that RZA had other obligations to attend to (During that time, he was likely working on his solo second album, “Digital Bullet,” along with the two Wu-Tang Clan albums, “The W” and “Iron Flag,” and likely also working on production on solo albums from Wu members).

Also, during the time this album was being produced, Too Poetic, also known as Grym Reaper, was suffering from cancer and in spite of it, he still gave it his all in his contribution to the album. He passed away not long before the release of this album. So it was fitting that this was released as a posthumous album. It also should be noted that with the absence of Prince Paul and RZA, this album was produced by Frukwan (Gatekeeper), Poetic, True Master (who had contributed to “The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel”), Diamond J, and LG. So with or without RZA and Prince Paul, it had no effect on the quality of the album.

Anyway, how does this album compare to “6 Feet Deep” or “The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel”? Well, credit is given where credit is due. Some of the instrumentals in some of the tracks were a little weaker than its predecessors, though the lyrical content is still really sharp. The instrumental used for the skit, “Last Man Standing,” was eerie, as it was not only produced by Frukwan and Poetic, but also True Master, Diamond J, and LG.

The first actual song on the album, “Bloodshed,” actually kicked the album off on a high note. Frukwan and Poetic delivered some great rhymes mixed in with a dope beat.

Also, it seemed that there were some appearances from Wu affiliates once again. “False Things Must Perish” had an appearance from Prodigal Sunn, of Sunz of Man, which is funny because Killah Priest and Shabazz appeared on the previous album. Yet, another member appeared on this one. There was also an appearance from Shogun The Assasson, of Killarmy, another group affiliated with Wu-Tang. He appeared on the song, “Man Only Fears.” Both rappers did a good job in their respective appearances.

I can’t think of a lot of negative things to say about this album, except for maybe a couple of tracks, which were “Running Game On Real” and “Wanna Break,” but their flaws were mainly the beats. The beats sounded rather messy and too bassy for my tastes.

Frukwan and Poetic did a great job in the lyrics in all of the songs, but I have to give a lot of credit to Poetic for even going so far as to rap about his illness in “Burn Baby Burn.”

Yo, pain builds my character
Deranged cancer cell begin to damage my shell
Tissues begin to swell
A human pin-cushion needles begin pushin’
Through my, melanin color, blood begins gushin’
Hunger, pain is, fed through my veins
Tryin’ to maintain body and brain under strain
Belly bein’ drained from my nose through a catheter
To maintain my stamina, game is high caliber
Flashback my dossier file before the hospital
Lots’ll pay a pile of cheddar to see me rock my style
Got lots of smiles from man woman and child
A grave digga here runnin’ wild like the Nile
Ghetto, X-File, the horoscope bringers
City morgue singers, new rap era beginners
Four years out of seven I remember tourin’
And this year I’m measurin’ my urine

I didn’t know this when I bought this album, but it appeared that there was an original version of this album. There was actually an original release that had come out a few months after Poetic’s death and according to a review on Amazon.com, it said that there were a couple of extra tracks on it. Also, what was noted was that there were different beats used on certain tracks, for example, “Bloodshed” had a different beat on the 2001 release. I am now curious about getting my hands on this version so that I can hear the differences, though I COULD listen to them on YouTube, but still.

Overall, issues with the production aside, being that it was slightly weak (But by no means bad), this album was actually a good swan song for this group. It is a shame what happened to Poetic because he had the skills and talent to really shine as a solo artist. Frukwan later released his own album after that, which I may check out down the road one day. I might even check out his work with Stetsasonic. This was actually a decent album.

3.5/5

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Bloodshed
  2. False Things Must Perish
  3. Burn Baby Burn
  4. Man Only Fears
  5. Nightmare in A-Minor
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Album Review: Gravediggaz – The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel

Year of Release: 1997

Record Label: Gee Street Records

Round 2 for my Gravediggaz marathon is now on. Here we go. This album was a total contrast to “6 Feet Deep” as it had more of a socially conscious sound to it with a lot of the content sounding more calm than before. However, that is not to say that there weren’t any horror elements to the tracks.

Another thing that differs from its predecessor was that Prince Paul was barely involved in this album, as RZA had more of a hand in the production this time around, as well as Wu-Tang producers, 4th Disciple and True Master. In fact, 4th Disciple and RZA both co-produced the album’s lead single, “Dangerous Mindz.” Not to mention that was one of the very few songs on the album that RZA rapped on. Too Poetic and Frukwan (or should I say Grym Reaper and Gatekeeper, their alternate names, respectively?) actually provided more of the lyrical content on this one. A couple of examples that had those two rapping on them were “Da Bomb” and “Unexplained.”

RZA shined on his lone solo track, “Twelve Jewelz.” While he may excel as a producer more than as a rapper, he has shown a lot of talent as a rapper himself and this song is proof. He has done some good solo work, too, but that is a topic for another day.

Now that I think about it, there is a little more Wu-Tang influence on this album as opposed to its predecessor. As mentioned before, there were tracks that RZA produced, along with the aforementioned producers, 4th Disciple and True Master, but then there were two tracks that were produced by Goldfinghaz and one from Darkim Be Allah. Let’s not forget that there were appearances by Killah Priest, Shabazz The Disciple and Hell Razah. So most of the Sunz of Man appeared on here. I am surprised that Prodigal Sunn and 60 Second Assassin didn’t appear. There could have been the whole group on there. Hell, I am surprised that some other Wu affiliates didn’t appear, or even the Wu-Tang Clan members. It would have been interesting to hear ODB, Meth, Rae, or Ghostface on this. Yes, I am aware that Gravediggaz was a side thing that RZA was involved in, but this album had the feel of a Wu-Tang album, whether it’s of the main group or even other members of the Wu empire. Either way, their involvement in the album did it justice. The three members of Sunz of Man did a good job on their appearances, especially in “Repentance Day.”

What about the horrorcore style on this album? As noted before, this album had a different feel in comparison to the first album, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there. There were some songs that had somewhat of that feel. “Repentance Day,” “Pit of Snakes,” “Da Bomb,” and “Unexplained” were among the primary examples. Then you had the conscious songs. One of the standout tracks of that example was “The Night The Earth Cried.” There were such deep lyrics and a nice somber beat to go with it.

It seemed that this album was given average ratings when it came out. In my personal opinion, I really don’t think that this album is average, per se, and it’s definitely far from bad. While I won’t say that it’s as great as “6 Feet Deep,” it still stands on its own as an above-average album and it’s worthy of listening to. I wish that Prince Paul had more involvement in this one, though the production from RZA and his fellow Wu producers was still good.

4/5

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Dangerous Mindz
  2. The Night The Earth Cried
  3. Repentance Day
  4. Fairytalz
  5. Elimination Process
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Album Reviews

Album Review: Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep

Year of Release: 1994

Record Label: Gee Street Records

It must be said: Horrorcore rap may seem like something that is rarely heard of, but it is not as uncommon as one would think. While I may have covered some of the bases in my review of the Flatlinerz album, one must know that while that album may have been rather infamous for some subject matter, that one actually came out AFTER the debut album of the Gravediggaz.

The Gravediggaz was a horrorcore supergroup that consisted of RZA (As the Rzarector), Prince Paul (As The Undertaker, not to be confused of the professional wrestler of the same name), and two rappers named Frukwan and Too Poetic, who respectively went by the aliases of The Gatekeeper and The Grym Reaper. According to some sources, the album was initially supposed to be titled “N***amortis,” but was changed to help appeal to the American audience.

When you actually listen to the tracks of this album, the songs really had that horror vibe to them. Prince Paul had a hand at most of the production of this album, if not almost all of it. A lot of the beats sounded rather unsettling. The verses from each of the rappers who provided the vocals each did a good job with it. RZA’s verse from “1-800 Suicide” was REALLY unsettling. Shabazz The Disciple of the Sunz of Man, a group that is affiliated with Wu-Tang, provided a dope verse in “Diary of a Madman,” one of the album’s best tracks:

Bear witness, as I exercise my exorcism
The evil that lurks within the sin, the terrorism
Possessed by evil spirits, voices from the dead
I come forth with Gravediggaz in a head full of dread
I’ve been examined ever since I was semen
They took a sonogram and seen the image of a demon
At birth, nurses surrounded me with needles
and drugged me all up with the diseases of evil
Grew up in hell, now I dwell in an Islamic Temple
I’m fighting a holy war in the mental
Look deep into my eyes, you’ll see visions of death
Possessed by homicide is what I’m obsessed
Giving niggaz brain dimples
Dragging they asses on my hook by they temples
The cause of death is unknown to the cops
Cause when I kill them, I’m not leavin one element to autopse
First I’ll assassinate em
And them I’ll cremate them
and take all of his fucking ashes and evaporate em
Or creep through the graveyard and hunt down your tombstone
Dig up your skeleton and stomp all your fucking bones
You try to haunt me nigga, I ain’t trying to hear it
Buck Buck Buck, I’ll give your ass a holy spirit.

Speaking of that song, that was one of the few tracks on this album that RZA had his hand in the production, though Prince Paul had produced some of it, too. Not to mention that it was probably the only track that had some Wu affiliates on it, Shabazz and Killah Priest. Also, according to a review that I read about this album, RZA provided a sample of an unused Wu-Tang demo, and then you have a sample from a Johnny Mathis song that sounds like it came straight from an old horror film.

Every song on here had a vibe of rage. “Bang Your Head” is a great example, as well as “Graveyard Chamber.” Then you have some songs that just sound really creepy, like the title track. It wasn’t just the beats that gave an unsettling vibe, it was also the delivery of the verses, one example being “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide.”

It’s been 23 years since this album had come out and it still holds up. It may be a horrorcore album (Not that it’s a bad thing), but you can listen to it like any other hip-hop album and just try to look past the violent and hateful lyrics. It is top-to-bottom a great album, even the interludes are worth listening to.

One more thing, it appeared that the European release of this album had a song called “Pass The Shovel.” Why this didn’t appear on the Western release is beyond me. It is off da chain!

5/5

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Diary of a Madman
  2. Detective Trip (Trippin’)
  3. 1-800 Suicide
  4. Blood Brothers
  5. Graveyard Chamber
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Album Review: Flatlinerz – U.S.A. (Under Satan’s Authority)

Year of Release: 1994

Record Label: Def Jam Recordings

It has been three months since I have done anything for this site. I haven’t been up on my stuff lately. I even had plans not too long ago, and they are still on the table, too, but I have not gotten around to it. Also, I must note that I had planned on writing about this subject around this time last year, in honor of Halloween, even though I am sure that the sub-genre for this album has quite a catalog that it isn’t necessary (More on this later), but I still wanted to do it during this time of year.

Why would I have to do this album around this time, especially with horrorcore being a somewhat common sub-genre in rap? Well, the main reason is that I wanted to, and another is that this album sort of kicked off the genre to some degree. Yes, I know that there were other horrorcore rappers that existed before this album came out, like Brotha Lynch Hung (Sacramento represent!) and Esham, but it could be argued that this album was an attempt at making it mainstream. I will also note that I remember watching some special on MTV in 2001 (Yes, even in that time, there were still programs related to music, even though reality shows were also common on that channel then) about hip-hop and mentioned the genre of horrorcore rap and mention the Flatlinerz. Months later, I read a review of the Bones soundtrack and the writer made a reference to this album, as well as the Gravediggaz.

Years ago, I went and bought this album, and I have to say that it was a definitely worthy of my money. But why is another question. After listening to a lot of the tracks on this album, some of them reminded me of songs from Onyx. Truth be told, a lot of this album may have the feel of your basic hip-hop album, at least when hearing the beats. The lyrics, on the other hand, had more of horror-like feel. For example, when hearing “Good Day To Die,” “718,” and “Flatline,” the beat seemed reminiscent to some songs from Redman or EPMD. Then you had tracks like “Sonic Boom,” which sounded like an Onyx track with some of the background yelling. Funny notes on that song, I kind of liked the minor reference to the Number 12 song from Sesame Street and if you listen closely to the end of the song, you can hear a sample “Sonic Boom” from “Street Fighter II.” The producers did a good job on that bit.

For the most part, the album felt like a street-style rap album with the musical production, but the lyrical content had more of the horror elements to it, at least in some ways. There was some violent content in the lyrics, but it’s really not that much different than hearing some violent lyrics in gangsta rap. If you want to talk which songs had more of a horror-like vibe, look no further than the album’s three singles, “Satanic Verses,” “Live Evil,” and “Rivaz of Red.” Actually, it was more in the second half of the album when the horror-like elements as a whole started to really kick off. “Takin’ ‘Em Underground” is a good example of a horrorcore song. The rappers’ verses combined both lyrics related to the subject matter, along with the delivery to make it sound a little scary. The beat even sounded like it came from a horror film. The rest of the album had a similar feel, that is also including the interludes along the way.

Now that I think about it, being that this was released during the days when cassettes were still relevant, I wonder if the songs were split into halves to depict what to expect on one side and what to expect on the other side. Then again, I wonder about “Scary Us,” which was one of the first songs on this album. That one had a horror vibe, but it was also mixed with street-like hip-hop beats used for it.

I read in the liner notes for “Rivaz of Red” that the song had a sample of “Tonight’s Da Night” from Redman, as well as “Thriller” from Michael Jackson, but I swear that I hear the intro bit to “Don’t Be Cruel” from Bobby Brown in the sample. It sounds just like it that it has to be the bit in the intro to that album.

I read how that was some controversy about this album. Apparently, there was some speculation how these guys were Satan worshippers and it really put a damper in the sales for this album. It’s a shame, really, because this album kind of mixed styles of East Coast NY hip-hop with the horrorcore genre, when talking about some graphic violent depictions of murder, as well as some references to the occult. It really isn’t that much different from anything from the east coast at that time, and it was nice touch in adding horrorcore elements to it.

If you want to read the article on how this group and album was “misunderstood,” click here.

Before I close out this review, check out the music videos for the three singles. I also must note that the intro of the “Satanic Verses” video was the intro to “Live Evil.”

I highly recommend this album.

4/5

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Satanic Verses
  2. Live Evil
  3. Rivaz of Red
  4. Takin’ ‘Em Underground
  5. Good Day To Die

Honorable Mentions: “Scary-Us” and “Flatline.”

 

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