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Album Review: Christmas on Death Row

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Year: 1996

Label: Death Row Records/Interscope Records

Track Listing:

  1. Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto – Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Daz Dillinger, Bad Azz, and Tray Deee
  2. Christmas Song – Danny Boy
  3. I Wish – Tha Dogg Pound
  4. Silver Bells – Michel’le
  5. Peaceful Christmas – Danny Boy
  6. Christmas in the Ghetto – O.F.T.B. (Operation From The Bottom)
  7. Silent Night – B.G.O.T.I., 6 Feet Deep, and Guess
  8. Be Thankful – Nate Dogg feat. Butch Cassidy
  9. On This Glorious Day – 816
  10. Frosty The Snowman – 6 Feet Deep
  11. O Holy Night – B.G.O.T.I.
  12. Party 4 Da Homies – Sean Barney Thomas feat. J-Flexx
  13. White Christmas – Guess
  14. This Christmas – Danny Boy
  15. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – 6 Feet Deep
  16. Christmas Everyday – Guess

It is now December and before I had started this blog, I had planned on doing a review on “Christmas on Death Row,” which was, as you would guess, a Christmas-themed album released by Death Row Records. Not just that, I just realized that today was the 20-year anniversary since its release, so what better way than to kick off this month than to review this album, especially on its anniversary?

Before I get into the album, let me just give some input on the deal regarding this album. Regarding the Death Row label, anybody who had listened to rap at any point in their lives would know what the contents of the music from this label consisted of, whether they involved drugs, violence, sex, misogyny, you get the picture. I will admit that when I was 10 years old, when I had heard about a Christmas album from Death Row coming out, I chuckled a bit. It just seemed a bit off because of what I was used to hearing from them, whether it was from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, etc. Hell, the album refreshed my memory about four or five years later when Death Row started re-releasing their albums and all the artworks had said “Digitally Remastered” on the cover. However, being that I was a teen then, I remember going on Amazon and looking at the listing and seeing a lot of negative feedback for this album. I was a naive kid then so I assumed that the album would suck. Then came when I reached my 20’s and the curiosity kicked in again.

I looked up the album again and finally listened to some samples and thought “Hey, maybe I would give this a shot.” I later bought it online and noticed that the copy that I got was the original 1996 release. Which I think was better considering how I liked on the “Parental Advisory” label, it had a red bow on top of it, unlike the 2001 re-release. Also, I will get to the part about the PA label.

Anyway, being that a lot of people would assume that this is a rap album that has people rapping about Christmas mixed in with violent content and other no-so-family friendly content, I decided that I would do the rap songs first before I go into anything else.

The song that kicked off this album was “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” from Snoop, Daz, Bad Azz, Nate Dogg, and Tray Deee. It is an interesting song considering how each guy talked about their experiences around Christmas time and as always, Nate Dogg (RIP) delivered a solid hook to the song. Plus, the song had a laid-back beat as it sampled “Do Your Thing” from the late Isaac Hayes. It’s a good song that was accompanied with an even better video. You just have to see it to believe it.

The thing that got me about “I Wish” from Tha Dogg Pound were the lyrics from Daz and Kurupt about how they wish they had love around the holidays. It was refreshing to hear them in a vulnerable state talking about how it was hard for them around the holidays. It had a good beat to go with it, produced by Daz, and also a chorus from a female singer, who I have trouble identifying.

And finally, in regards to the rap tracks of the album, we get to “Christmas in the Ghetto” from O.F.T.B.. I am mostly unfamiliar with these guys as I only know their songs from this album, the “Above The Rim” soundtrack, the “Gridlock’d” soundtrack, and the “Gang Related” soundtrack. I know that they had an album before signing with Death Row and later an album album on Death Row that was released way after the label’s heyday (When the label was seized by Wideawake and released a lot of their unreleased albums), both of which I may check out sometime down the line. Anyway, regarding this track, I have to give these guys credit for rapping about how Christmas was hard for them in the ghetto, but it really didn’t need the beat for the song as it was best suited for any other song. It’s one of my least favorite songs from the album, despite the lyrics and content, both of which also could have been better. Also, believe it or not, this song was the reason that this album was slapped with the Parental Advisory label. Yes, that is right, this song actually had profanity on there. Believe it or not, “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” and “I Wish” had no profanity in them at all. All three songs had minor drug references as they mentioned weed here and there, but that was about it, but the other songs were more appropriate to listen to around people.

That is about it for the rap tracks (Well, there is one other track with a rap verse that I will get to). What? You thought that this would be all rap? Well, that is not the case, because Death Row also had a lot of R&B acts on the label. That’s right, the majority of the album is R&B, which is not a bad thing. In fact, R&B works better for an album like this. First, I will touch on the original tracks before I touch on the traditional tracks.

“Peaceful Christmas” is one of three songs that Danny Boy had done for this album. This is actually a more original track as it isn’t one of those Christmas songs that you hear all the time during the holidays. In fact, some of the lyrics made reference to a few traditional Christmas songs. Danny Boy shined in this track with his soothing vocals, but regarding the beat of the song it gives off a rather dated feel. This album was released in the 1990’s, so it had a 90’s R&B feel. The beat reminded me a bit of “Pretty Brown Eyes” from Mint Condition. If you can look past that, the song is solid.

“Be Thankful,” on the other hand, is a very relaxing song to hear from Nate Dogg, along with Butch Cassidy, who provided additional vocals. Nate’s vocals didn’t come in until 30 seconds into the track as it started with an instrumental intro. The soulful vocals were strong with the two singers and the song’s message really stands out too. It had a nice soothing beat, too.

I was unsure if “On This Glorious Day” was a traditional track, but it seemed like it wasn’t as it had more of a holiday feel than it a religious feel from a more common song of the same name. This song was from 816, which I suppose was an R&B group on Tha Row at the time but never came out with anything new. The thing that I also must point out is that the intro to this song was also used in the intro bit for the video to “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto.” Anyway, I have to say that this is actually a solid track. The beat and the lyrics can really get you in the mood for Christmas. It’s actually a standout, in my opinion.

However, the last of the original R&B tracks left a lot more to be desired with “Party 4 Da Homies” from Sean Barney Thomas. The beat was a little too fast-paced and a bit out of place, too. It was mostly a song about setting up a Christmas party with the guys and having a bunch of women over. J-Flexx provided the rap verse for this song, which was also a bit mixed in some areas, as in he rapped about partying in the majority and then at the end said to be thankful for what you have in life. I get that the final bit of the rap verse was to get people in the spirit, but it didn’t help. Also, the chorus was rather repetitive. This song was actually another one on here that I didn’t care for.

The rest of the album had covers of traditional Christmas songs. The main thing that I noticed is that a lot of them were done by the same artists. What I mean is that you had multiple songs by one artist, and other songs done by a group, and then it happened with another few.

“Silent Night” featured an ensemble of B.G.O.T.I. (Which stood for “Bad Girlz of The Industry), 6 Feet Deep, and Guess. I have no idea who 6 Feet Deep and Guess are, but I mostly know of B.G.O.T.I. from their contributions to the “Gridlock’d” and “Gang Related” soundtracks. That is about it. Anyway, this version actually had a gospel-like feel to it. I can’t complain about the vocals from the singers on this song, but I think it was a little too long. That was about it in terms of complaints. But it’s still good. Also, this song had a video to go with it.

As for the other covers, I wasn’t too big on 6 Feet Deep’s version “Frosty The Snowman” as it had the feel of a boy band covering it, but I’ll listen to it if it comes on. The same could be said about “White Christmas” from Guess, which feels dated now as it has that 90’s R&B feel. It had a unique spin on it, but it’s not too bad.

However, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from 6 Feet Deep was actually a pretty good song from them, but it did not need the interlude in the middle of the song with one of the singers talking about the group. So that docked a few points from the song.

Guess’s version of the Smokey Robinson song, “Christmas Everyday” actually surprised me a bit when I first heard it. It definitely has a more urbanized touch to it and the singers really did a good job in trying to do Robinson’s vocal style in it. I cannot complain about this one.

The other two Danny Boy tracks, “The Christmas Song” and “This Christmas,” were more of a bright spot as he had provided soothing vocals and both songs had quite a jazzy beat to them. Both songs stood out and I will also say the same thing about “O Holy Night” from B.G.O.T.I.. Those ladies really gave it their all on their vocals.

Michel’le had only one track on here and that was her version of “Silver Bells,” which was pretty straightforward and she provided some great vocals like always. It was a pretty good track from her. I don’t understand why she didn’t have any other songs on here.

Overall, I have to give Death Row credit for trying to do a holiday album. This album is not bad, by any means. It’s actually decent, even though there are a couple of songs that I did not like, and a few that I wasn’t crazy about but would still listen to. It’s definitely not a gangsta rap album like one would think. It’s kind of funny to see the Death Row logo decked out in Santa gear on the album cover. It also must be noted that with the exception of “Christmas In The Ghetto,” this album is appropriate to listen to around people. So don’t be afraid to blast it while doing stuff (Though skip that track if you must, otherwise just burn a copy without that song). Also, Christmas albums from hip-hop labels are nothing new. In fact, I will review “High Fo’ Xmas” very soon, as in West Coast Bad Boyz. Stay tuned.

Also, check out the artwork that was used on the inside of the booklet. It’s a nice touch how the artist put the wings and halo on Tupac, because this album was released after he was killed. I wonder if he hadn’t died if he would have contributed to it.

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Top 5 Tracks:

  1. Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto
  2. I Wish
  3. Be Thankful
  4. On This Glorious Day
  5. Silver Bells
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Rap Movie Reviews

Rap Movie Review: Thicker Than Water

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Year of Release: 1999

Film Studio: Palm Pictures/Priority Films/Hoo-Bangin’ Films

So I basically had thought of something to delve into and that is “rap movies.” I don’t mean movies that had the likes of Ice Cube or Tupac Shakur playing characters and them being the only rappers in them. I am talking about those low-budget “rap movies” that went straight to video, or even ones that surprisingly made it to theaters. I might touch on hood flicks in the future, but this right here will be the start of a category I have been wanting to touch on.

If you lived in the late-1990s to the early-2000s, there is a good chance that you may remember that there were low-budget movies that had come out that starred rappers, and I mean a good amount of supporting characters played by rappers. It was a common thing way back when. What better way to start this column with a movie that I remember loving as a teen that starred Mack 10 and Fat Joe as the leads called “Thicker Than Water.” Now that I am older and wiser, does this movie this hold up? Or was I just too blind and naive as the 14-year-old boy that I was who thought it was the best movie ever?

The funny thing regarding how I found out about this movie was when I was in middle school I saw an advertisement for it for pay-per-view. I then remembered it when a relative of mine had the soundtrack and then I came across this movie on Showtime. Oh yes, I remember watching this a lot on Showtime back in the day. However, nostalgia can only cloud one’s judgment for too long, and when one day when I bought it at a store a decade after having seen it, some of those positive memories of having enjoyed something as a youngster have faded away.

The story’s plot is as cliche as it gets. What it dealt with was DJ (Mack 10) and Lonzo (Fat Joe) are rival gang members who decide to put their personal differences aside to get into the drug game. Did I mention that these guys are also budding music producers who are trying to pursue careers in music in hopes to get out of the hood? What’s weird is that these guys are getting deeper in the crime world than just gang-banging in hopes to make it in some legitimate business. Oh, and these guys also have girlfriends that serve nothing more than either as arm candy (Or eye candy to the audience), which also makes me see how sexist, if misogynist, this film is (More on that later). If anything, this movie is nothing more than a glorified rap video, and it was even shot like one.

Let me get into a lot of the ridiculous aspects of this film. We start the movie with Mack 10’s character, DJ, narrating about how life in the hood is messed up and how there may not be ways to get out. Next thing we see is a bunch of friends playing football in the park with music playing in the background. It’s supposed to look like a happy time, until a couple of women get into a scuffle. One of the women, Leyla, is supposedly “DJ’s woman” and going off on some girl because DJ had talked to her on the phone. She beats the woman up, and then she makes a snappy comeback only for Leyla to blast her with a gun right there. Next thing we see is Leyla dropping off DJ at his girlfriend Brandy’s house, and her giving him shit about how she “shot a bitch over him” and now she was dropping him to see another woman. I mean seriously, this was only in the first five minutes of the film, and I already see that a lot of the characters are portrayed in a negative light.

I must add that only the first 15 minutes of this movie take place within that day period, where during that time we also meet Lonzo, Fat Joe’s character, as he is first seen hanging out with his friends on his porch playing some word guessing game for some odd reason, one of whom was played by MC Eiht of Compton’s Most Wanted, and was more than likely in this movie because at the time this movie was made, he was signed with Hoo-Bangin’ Records, Mack 10’s label. Then when Lonzo’s girlfriend Kim called him inside, Lonzo’z boys just decided to rough up DJ because he happened to have been walking down the street where he was not welcome. It was funny to see considering the bad acting from these rappers, and there was plenty of bad acting in this movie, believe me.

After this host of sequences within the first 15-20 minutes of the film, we finally get to the crux of the plot. You see, with DJ and Lonzo aspiring to be music producers, they come across a few problems along the way. Lonzo was producing an R&B girl group, portrayed by real life group named Soultre, whom were signed to Hoo-Bangin’ at the time, and then went to go meet with a record company executive, only to see that the group had already met with him. The executive told Lonzo that he offered the group an exclusive deal to record for his label, which pissed off Lonzo greatly to the point where he pulled out a pistol and threatened him with it. The crazy thing about this was that Kim, Lonzo’s girlfriend, handed him the gun right before left for the meeting. I am sure he needed to be strapped for protection against rival gang members, but did he really need to carry the gun into the record company building? While DJ’s record equipment blew up on him during a session in composing the beats. So both men were fucked in that situation. So what are they going to do? They are going to put aside their personal differences and join forces to find a way to raise money by selling dope on the streets. Enter Gator, played by another rapper named CJ Mac, who is living large with his operations primarily based in New Orleans, La. but also had some influence in California. If anything, this guy was like the Tony Montana-type in this movie, with a mansion and everything.

So there you have it, the story is just them selling dope, and then of course we have some dissension in their operation along with them regaining their previous conflict. Not to mention that we had a stupid surprise twist at the end of the film that made little sense. I will not say what it was, but if you were to watch it, you would find the revelation to be stupid, too.

Another thing that I must add, the poster and DVD cover say that it starred Ice Cube, but that was far from the truth. Ice Cube appeared in the film, yes, but only for two minutes tops. He played DJ’s cousin who was a mechanic and gunrunner by trade. He was never seen again after that. We also had some other cameos by WC, Krayzie Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Bad Azz, B-Real and Big Pun. No disrespect intended for the late Big Pun, but when I see the scene when DJ and Lonzo meet with him at the diner, I wonder how he managed to fit into the booth. He looked like he barely got himself in there, and then of course we see that he has a drug stash hidden inside a refrigerator.

I have to say that this film did not hold up from when I was younger. Not that I thought that this was a movie deserving of awards, but I still liked it then. Nowadays, I would only watch it if I want to get a good laugh because this movie was obviously shot on a low budget. The acting was horrendous, especially from the two leads, and the story was predictable. I also must say that I could only count any positive characters on one hand. One in particular was DJ’s mother, who tried to tell DJ about his life and his father, though that subplot was an afterthought because there were only two or three scenes that mentioned DJ’s father. Another positive female character was Brandy, whose character was that of a college student trying to make something of herself, but even she became an afterthought with the only scene she had any real dialogue was when her and DJ were talking about their future at the beginning of the film. The only other time she was seen was when DJ and her, along with Lonzo and Kim, went to a comedy club. She had very little to do in the film and I am sure that the writers only added her in at the last minute. The aunt seemed like the only other positive character. DJ’s stepfather was only seen in two scenes, and I will say that I thought that the exchange between him and DJ was kind of funny in one of those scenes. All the other characters made it hard for me to root for them, especially the two leads.

This was indeed a bad movie, no doubt, but I have seen worse, MUCH WORSE, and I plan to review them in spite of how I felt about them (*cough*Hot Boyz*cough*). In the meantime, thanks for reading this. Also, I will review the soundtrack to this film. Stay tuned for that.

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