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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Rap Movie Reviews

Rap Movie Review – State Property

Year of Release: 2002

Film Studio: Lionsgate Films

*Sigh*  I know that I haven’t keeping up with this lately. On one hand, I have been contemplating writing about the rest of my Fast & Furious soundtracks. Another part of me wants to write about Death Row albums, particularly post-Tupac death and also when Dre and Snoop departed the label (Probably because I have been on a Death Row kick lately, especially having written the Death Row Records documentary). Then I have remembered that I also wanted to review the State Property films.

I know that there are plenty of rap movies out there to talk about. The State Property films fall into the same category as when I wrote about Thicker Than Water and Hot Boyz. For all the shit that I had talked about with those two, I think I have found a film that kind of blows them out of the water in terms of badness. I am sure that in some areas I still get a little nostalgic for Thicker Than Water and while I have spoken ill about Hot Boyz (Note to self: Watch other No Limit films), I think I may have found a film that I can put above it in terms of some of the worst rap movies that I have seen.

State Property is basically a movie that stars Beanie Sigel as a character named Beans who is trying to make a name for himself in the crime world. He wants to be feared and known by everyone and has a bunch of guys working for him. Of course, there are a bunch of gangster movie cliches of “one guy messing up and getting killed for it” or “someone pissed off the wrong guy, so he has to get tortured.” Not to mention drug deals gone wrong and women getting kidnapped, as well as random shootouts taking place. You get the picture.

Usually with these types of films, I don’t expect great acting from them. Also, the story has every cliche there is. It’s no secret that this film sucks. Although I will admit that there were moments when I laughed AT certain parts. But when these rappers on screen are only good at playing certain personas, that just showed how they needed to take acting lessons prior to it. It didn’t help that there was not a single likeable character in this film. Though Beans was the protagonist, there was nothing about to make me want to root for him.

It also was of no help how this film was loaded with misogyny. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like looking at scantily-clad women just as much as the next guy, but there was no purpose in some of the scenes with closeups of a woman’s body. Also, a minor spoiler, but in one scene when a deal took place, the camera turned and closed in on a couple of women sharing a rather gratuitous kiss. There was absolutely no reason for that part to even be in the movie other than fanservice.

While the poster said had Jay-Z billed, he was only in it for about five seconds max. The other Roc-A-Fella guys had bigger roles than Jigga himself. Damon Dash had a bigger role than Jay-Z, for crying out loud. Hell, I didn’t even expect to see Amil (Remember her? As in the woman in “Can I Get A…”?) in the film. It seemed like this was a film project for Roc-A-Fella.

I really don’t know what else to say about this film except that this was a bad film, though I think you may have already gotten the picture after reading all of this. I will admit that I remember flipping through channels and coming across it on HBO a long time ago and seeing how bad the acting was from the two minutes I saw of it. However, only one positive I can say about it was that it had a good soundtrack, which I may write about in the future.

Of course, I am aware of the sequel, which I will do next.

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Compilation Review – Irv Gotti Presents: The Inc

Year of Release: 2002

Label: Murder Inc Records/Murda Management

Continuing with my special on Murder Inc compilations, the second one that The Inc had put out had seen the roster expanding a lot more than before. One could argue that the Murderers compilation had a lot more content considering there were more tracks on that one, but during the time this album had come out the roster had gotten new talent, and also had some selling albums in the process. Ja Rule had come out with “Pain is Love” the year prior, as well as “The Last Temptation” on the way later that year. Ashanti had come out with her self-titled debut album earlier that year, which had hit songs in “Foolish,” “Baby” and “Happy.” So The Inc had found its mark in the hip-hop and R&B industry at that point, which had the label put out another compilation album which showcased the talents and skills of the performers of that label.

While a few familiar faces had returned such as Ja, Vita, Ronnie Bumps, Black Child, 0-1, and Caddillac Tah (Formerly known as Tah Murdah), this compilation included the likes of new talent such as Chink Santana, Jody Mack, D.O. Cannon, and Young Merc (Pronounced “merce,” not “merk” like how it is often pronounced) as well as Ashanti, who had quite a presence up to the point of the release of this album, and Charli Baltimore, who was known before signing to The Inc and had an album that was shelved (I will try to hear “Cold as Ice” one day if I find a way). So she was a veteran in the game up to that point.

So with a lineup like this, it would seem that the best way to let the world hear what they are made of is through a compilation or mixtape. So did The Inc offer some good talent and songs to go with it? Well, let’s see.

Like the previous compilation before this, most of the songs were collaborations between different artists. However, unlike The Murderers album, there were less solo songs. In fact, there were only two this time around. In fact, the only solo tracks on here were from Black Child and Chink Santana. “O.G.” from Black Child has a laid-back beat to it but the content from the lyrics and the chorus left more to be desired than the beat. While “Hold On” from Chink Santana was actually a deeper track. He sang about struggles in the ghetto and also life in general. He also a good job in the production of this track.

When I said that there were a lot of collaborative songs on here, I meant that. Many of the songs have the subject matter of being thugs and gangsters and anything of that nature. Even the intro to this album was more of a song than an interlude with some of the rappers providing some verses here and there. “Gangstafied” is a definite example about living the gangster life with a good beat and chorus to go with it. The only part that seemed to be the one flaw of this song was Ronnie Bumps’s verse. It was not terrible, but it felt a little out of place. It was still a good song, though.

Every time I hear “Down 4 U,” it reminds me of the summer of 2002 because that song was everywhere during that time. People can say what they want about how Ja did a lot of R&B and love songs during that time, but there is no denying that he had a lot of hits that charted, including those lovey-dovey songs that he did. This was one of them, by the way. Ja had assistance from Vita, Ashanti, and Charli Baltimore in this song. Ashanti provided a good chorus with her vocals as well as a good verse. Vita and Charli Baltimore did a good job in their verses, too. Plus, the beat was nice, too. I have to hand it to 7 Aurelius for providing some influence in the production.

Speaking of 7 Aurelius, he also did some production for a couple of other songs on this compilation, which are “No One Does It Better” and “The Pledge.” The former is a collaboration between Charli Baltimore and Ashanti. It is really more Chuck’s track as she actually had verses while Ashanti mostly did the chorus of the song. Charli has a good flow and I have always thought that she was an underrated female rapper. While “The Pledge” is basically the closest to a solo Ashanti track on there. Bear this in mind, this is the original version as the more known version is the remix with Nas and Ja. Anyway, this song also had Caddillac Tah providing the rap on this song. I have always thought that this version was more underrated as it’s a good R&B track and it seems to be overshadowed by the remix. Ashanti did a good job on this song, with both the verses and the chorus, while Tah’s verse was actually pretty good.

Many of the other tracks are mostly songs with a lot of the then-new artists from the label showing the world what they have. Some of them stood out in some areas, others didn’t exactly measure up. One thing that I had noticed is that the song “Tha Nexx N****z” is a collaboration with a couple of Death Row artists from that time, Crooked I and Eastwood. I remember reading about how Death Row and Murder Inc were sort of collaborating at that point, which was the reason why there were appearances from those two. I am more familiar with Crooked I (This was way before Slaughterhouse, by the way) than I am with Eastwood, although I remember reading about him way back when. I think that this song is the only appearance from Dave Bing, who had a few more tracks on The Murderers compilation than he did here. Still a decent track, though.

One standout track in particular is the song “We Still Don’t Give A Fuck,” which is obviously a follow-up to “We Don’t Give A Fuck” from the previous compilation. One exception is that there is no sample of a Rocky song (Well, it’s actually Bill Conti’s score, but you probably would know what I mean) and that there are more people this time around. Also, Ja was not on this track at all, neither was Vita. However, it gave some of the other artists a chance to shine. This was song was also among the very few appearances of 0-1.

Although “Down 4 U” was the main single from this album, there was another song that was a single on this album, but it had existed before it came out. That song is “Ain’t It Funny,” the Murder Remix from Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule, and Caddillac Tah. When I first heard this, I was a bit surprised to find it on here as J-Lo’s remix album had already been out before this one was released, but I guess because there was a Murder Inc influence to it that it was inevitable that it would be on this one. I am not complaining as it had a good beat, even though it was a direct sample of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear.”

In the end, this album was not bad. It was decent, if good in some areas, but my main issue is that it felt like there was more focus on the newer artists on this. Also, being that Charli Baltimore was a seasoned veteran, there could have been a lot more songs that she could have rapped on. I have read that she even had an album on Murder Inc that was set to be released, but it didn’t happen. I wonder if there is a way to listen to it. Irv Gotti did a good job with the production. Of course, this compilation was mainly to give music fans a taste of what the label had to offer at the time.

3.5/5

Next Up: Irv Gotti Presents: The Remixes

Top 5 Tracks:

  1. Down 4 U
  2. Gangstafied
  3. We Still Don’t Give A Fuck
  4. The Pledge
  5. Hold On
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Rap Movie Reviews

Rap Movie Review – Half Past Dead

half_past_dead

Year of Release: 2002

Film Studio: Sony Pictures/Screen Gems/Franchise Pictures

I have not really been keeping up with this lately, but because I have plans to write about the Murder Inc compilations in February, I figured that this would be a good place to start. It is not just because Ja Rule is in this film, and also Kurupt, but also because there is a good amount of songs from The Inc on the soundtrack, and also other stuff from non-Murder Inc performers.

I will add that I have also been on a Steven Seagal kick lately, probably thanks to a YouTuber who I follow named Ramboraph4life as not too long ago he had done a Seagal marathon where he reviewed and ranted on films that he starred in. I still have Exit Wounds to do, and I will cover that one in the near future along with its soundtrack, but that will be for my Andrzej Bartowiak’s martial arts hip-hop trilogy marathon which also consists of Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 The Grave, along with the soundtracks to those films.

Anyway, I am here to talk about Half Past Dead, the last movie that Steven Seagal starred in that was given a theatrical release, which also has Ja Rule in a starring role. This movie came out nearly two years after Exit Wounds, which was a surprise hit and that was also another movie that Seagal had done with a rapper, who was DMX. For many years I had heard that this film was the last straw for Steven Seagal as a leading man in theatrical movies because afterwards he had starred in a slew of direct-to-video films. I think another reason was that this film was a critical and box office flop. A lot of people disliked the film and it did not make a lot of money. Of course, I decided to see it for myself.

Some of my synopsis may contain spoilers.

The film’s story in a nutshell is about this undercover FBI who is infiltrating a prison because a criminal plotted to interrogate a prisoner about stolen gold and where to find it. The film’s title has to do with how Seagal’s character was declared dead at the beginning of the film, only to be revived. Seagal played Sasha, the FBI agent who was undercover in a criminal operation with his friend, Nicholas, played Ja Rule. Of course, Ja’s character did not know that he was undercover at first. The opening sequence was more of a prologue as Sasha was shot and the main plot takes place eight months after those events. The villain, who is called 49er One (don’t ask), played by Morris Chestnut, leads a team of criminals, also codenamed 49ers with a number after that. For example, the second-in-command, played by Nia Peeples, is named 49er Six. My only guess is because the film took place on Alcatraz and being that they are after gold, it is rather clear as to why they are named that. In some ways this feels like The Rock, with Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, but with elements from The Matrix thrown in.

In regards to whether this film was bad is entirely subjective, but I personally didn’t mind it. Would I call it good? No, but there was some fun to be had. The thing that really got me were the acting from parts of the cast. I can’t really say much about Seagal’s acting considering how he has admitted that he is not much of an actor and how in a lot of movies he basically plays the same type of character, or is he playing himself? I can never tell. Ja didn’t do a bad job in his role but I have not seen enough roles of his to really say if he is playing himself. I know he was in a movie with Pras (From The Fugees) called Turn It Up, but I have never seen it. He was only in The Fast and The Furious for a few minutes and the only other film that I have seen with him was The Cookout, but that was a long time ago and I mostly remember that being a cheesy comedy. As for Morris Chestnut, his performance as the villain felt like he went through the motions. I couldn’t buy him as a bad guy. I felt that he was more convincing as a criminal-type in the movie Confidence, which came out sometime after this one. He didn’t really convince as a bad guy in this film and he is usually such a good actor. Nia Peeples didn’t have much to work with except be the femme fatale who wore tight leather and did martial arts. Also she reminded me too much of Trinity from The Matrix in this. She even wore a trenchcoat in some fight scenes.

As for others, Kurupt basically played the comic relief in this film. He was actually pretty funny in some scenes, one of which included comedienne, Mo’Nique. I can’t say he acted much before this except for one small scene in The Wash, but that was it.

As for action scenes, this movie was chock full of explosions and pyrotechnics that I think it would make Michael Bay blush. The film was already over-the-top, but it just felt like firework show in some sequences. There was a lot of ridiculousness in some other sequences like one that had Seagal and Ja driving a car and Ja totally flew out of a car or when Kurupt fired a rocket launcher and was sent flying. Those scenes got a laugh out of me for the absurdity in both scenes. Not to mention when a gun got caught in an elevator door and Seagal flipped it over to have it point at the bad guys. Also, I could not help but laugh during the climax when two guys jump from a balcony and start firing their guns. I mean, come on, how could the bullets not hit the other guy who jumped as well?

Of course, I can’t complain about the fight scenes, even though some involved doubles for some people. Although Peeples’ character was a total knock-off of Trinity, she impressed me a bit in her fight scenes. I can’t say that I am surprised because she had done a lot of fight scenes when she was in Walker, Texas Ranger.

Acting and action scenes aside, the complaint I had for the most part were some songs from the soundtrack. I wonder if this movie was edited and initially supposed to be rated R. This was PG-13, and I believe it is Steven Seagal’s only PG-13 film. The reason for my complaint is that a lot of the songs were edited. This film came out around the same time as the compilation, “Irv Gotti Presents The Inc” and a number of songs from that compilation appeared on the soundtrack. The film started with “Gangstafied” from a few Murder Inc artists (Including Ja) and it was distracting to hear parts of the lyrics censored. The same can be said about the use of “I’ma Bang” from DMX. It was just weird to hear it censored when it said “Do My Motherfucking Thing.” If the movie was rated R, the lyrics would all be intact.

I also must add that the song in the credits, “The Pledge (Remix)” contained clips from this film in the music video for it.

End spoilers.

Half Past Dead is more flash than substance, however, the film is still fun to watch for some reason. I don’t think this is a good film, but it is entertaining in some areas. I found myself laughing with and at some scenes, especially at a little Sony product placement with an inmate playing PS2 in a cell. The film also didn’t take itself seriously which was one reason that I had fun with it. I also must add that there is a direct-to-video sequel that stars Bill Goldberg and from what I understand, Kurupt reprised his role in that film. I might watch that and review it one day because judging from the DVD artwork it appears that Kurupt has a bigger role in that one than in this one. I am also curious about Bill Goldberg’s performance being that I am mostly used to seeing him in his wrestling persona. I’ll check it out one day.

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