Dollars & Sense ratings system
Sort by ratings
More reviews

TASH, Rap Life, Columbia
After contributing to three albums that gained some critical -- but little commercial -- success as a member of the Alkaholiks, Rico Smith has gone solo in search of more paper and widespread acclaim. But don't get it twisted -- the Liks are still together. They have not broken up, the man better known as Catastrophe is simply attempting to garner more attention and loot for himself, as well as his Alkaholik brethren in the process. E-Swift produces five of the tracks on Rap Life, J-Ro appears on two and extended family member Xzibit guests on one. Tash's first solo LP is simply an opportunity to get to know him on a more personal level and for Tash to become more established as an individual artist. Rap Life is made up of 13 tracks and five skits. It features a diverse array of producers and guest stars. The beats are supplied by a number of producers, ranging in diversity from E-Swift to Rockwilder. And as is the case with most rap albums these days, there is a plethora of guest appearances (six of the cuts feature guests). However, this LP is different from a lot of albums in that all of the collaborations are top notch, with each artist adding to the others' shine rather than taking away from it. The lead single, "Rap Life," is a prime example. Over a bouncy, Young Lord-produced track, Raekwon drops by to help Tash expound on the intricacies of living the life of a rap star and how not every rapper lives this way, while some non-rap cats do. Another guest gem is "Smokefest '99." Here Tash is joined in the cypher by Outkast, Phil the Agony and Dr. Greenthumb (B-Real). Even "Bill Clinton" gives Tash a courtesy call explaining his absence from the festivities. The unusually deliberate, extremely laid-back beat provided by E-Swift is almost strong enough to catch a contact high from, as is the phenomenal verse provided by Big Boi. Yet another tight spot is turned in by Kurupt (appearances like these are the reason I looked so forward to Kurupt's albums) on "G's Is G's." However, Tash more than holds his own with Redman-esque lines like "Tash got a rambunction in the function, yo this sh-- ain't even fair, it's kinda like we punchin' munchkins." "Only When I'm Drunk" and "Blackula" are signature Alkaholik tracks, while Xzibit continues to rip guest spots (building anticipation for his Dr. Dre-produced album) with his turn on "True Homies." While all the attention I've paid to the cuts featuring guest collaborators might make it seem like Tash needs help to succeed, this is clearly not the case. He more than ably flows over funked-out tracks like "Ricochet," "Nightfall" and "Bermuda Triangle" to name a few in particular. The album does not fail to live up to the hype generated by his lead single. With Rap Life, Tash takes rap back to the days when artists were more concerned with their audiences enjoying themselves rather than simply reciting their "rap" sheets, whether they be real or imagined (this is not to be taken as a dis to anyone). Tash is more concerned with promoting how fly he is as opposed to how hard he is. The combination of funked-out beats and comical punch lines and stories is somewhat reminiscent of a West Coast version of the great Funk Dr. Spock. This is a very potent, liquor-soaked album, and I would not recommend driving while under its influence. Tash's solo debut is easily twenty-proof. He has more than earned a twenty-spot.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Brentwood

NOTORIOUS B.I.G., Born Again, Bad Boy
As expected, the second posthumous release from Notorious B.I.G. is shrouded in controversy. Critics question whether an album of "second-rate" Biggie tracks should have been released and, of course, there's the speculation of Puffy trying to capitalize on his protégé's death. Quite frankly, these criticisms are unfounded. Can anything that B.I.G. ever did be considered second-rate? Granted, these archived verses might not have made the cut on earlier albums, but his flow is still on point. As for Puffy trying to make a buck off Biggie's death... please. This cat pulled down something like $56 million in 1999... it's no Percy Miller payroll, but it's safe to say that Justin's allowance isn't in jeopardy. To be honest, Puff likely deserves praise, not criticism, for the successes of Born Again. His strengths have always been behind the scenes as executive producer, and here, he culls some prime performances from some of today's top artists. The album version of "Dead Wrong" sports the tightest, yet still disturbing, Eminem verse to date. Nas, taking hits for recent releases, shines on "I Really Want To Show You." Hot Boys, Big Tymers, Snoop, Ice Cube, Too Short, Sadat X, Redman, Method Man, Missy Elliott, Mobb Deep, Black Rob, Beanie Sigel... that's an impressive roster and each rocks the mic with Biggie, some in tribute, others as if the legend were still in the studio. Production for the most part is top-notch, often matching the styles of the guest artists... especially on the tracks with the Hot Boys, Busta Rhymes and Craig Mack. Is this B.I.G. at his best? No, but not far off. Even at his worst, he could easily outshine so many other MCs. When listening to Born Again, it becomes somewhat obvious which tracks are from the Ready to Die era and which are from the Life After Death era based on the style of Biggie's delivery. This mixture of intense and more relaxed vocals keeps the pace ever-changing. "Notorious B.I.G.," one of the bouncier tracks on Born Again, thankfully eliminates one of only two appearances by Puffy on the wrong side of the mic. On the plus side, Lil' Kim skillfully foreshadows her upcoming release on this track and one other, suggesting that her resumé offers more than just surgical enhancements. Closing out Born Again is a segment from B.I.G.'s mother, Voletta Wallace. What is emotionally touching once quickly becomes annoying and easily forgotten. Skip this track and don't let it spoil the feeling of hearing Biggie one last time.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- The W, a.k.a. Chef Paul Prudhomme

RAKIM, The Master, Universal
The Master effectively serves as a sequel to The R's 1997's comeback album, The 18th Letter. Much like his first solo offering, The Master employs a variety of producers, led by DJ Premier and Clark Kent. The beats occasionally sound a little ordinary, but compared to Ra's lyrics, it's hard not to. The best comes from Premier, who hooks up an upbeat track for the debut single, "When I B On Tha Mic." Tracks like "It's The R," "Strong Island" and "Waiting for the World to End" use Rakim's tried-and-true formula of sampling himself, but Rahzel takes the concept in a new direction by providing vocal scratching reminiscent of old Eric B. on "It's A Must." But the lyrics and the delivery are still the stars of the album. When Rakim returned after a five-year hiatus, it was good just to hear from him again. This time, Rakim leaves little doubt that he has returned to his throne as the best MC in hip-hop. He truly is The Master.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

Q-TIP, Amplified, Arista
A Tribe Called Quest was definitely one of the best rap groups going, now they're doing it solo. Q-Tip's debut solo album Amplified has now been released. Being a huge Tribe fan, I was very excited to finally hear this CD. I wanted to hear Q-Tip evolve and create a new or at least a slightly different sound. I set myself up for a huge disappointment. Q-Tip has a very good voice for rap and brings the rhymes in much the same way he did with the Tribe. That's probably to be expected, at least his first time out solo, but that's not even the problem. The music on almost every track sounds like he tried to make another Tribe Called Quest CD by himself, and there's no Phife coming in to rhyme the next line. Which is too bad, Phife really complemented Q-Tip perfectly. Together with Ali, they had the Zulu Nation tribal rhythm flowing strong. There's not any Amplified flow. After listening to this CD over and over again, I just couldn't get into it. The beats are poor and there's not really any music that's good enough to make you want to bob your head. You can't even turn up your subs to compensate for the lack of all this, because there is virtually no low bass at all. Busta Rhymes comes in late and tries to help out on "N.T.," but I never could understand at least half of anything he says. Then comes Korn on "End of Time." Why Korn is ever involved with any rap artist is absurd to me, but then I don’t understand them at all. It's just not what I expected of the Abstract, or is it just a little too abstract? Maybe. If it tries to flow like the Tribe did and fails, what's the point? Until this one goes on sale, leave your wallet in El Segundo.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Marky

KURUPT, Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, Antra
This is the album Dr. Dre should have made. Released on the same day as the highly anticipated 2001, Kurupt's The Streetz Iz A Mutha eclipses his mentor's project on several levels. Lyrically, Kurupt brings more authenticity with rhymes that come from the dome and not someone else's pen. And the production takes risks and mixes elements of old and new to compose a virtual masterpiece. His former Death Row inmate Warren G might want it all, but Kurupt's already got it: "Loose Cannons" is a throwback to the N.W.A days; "Who Ride Wit Us" is vintage g-funk influenced by forefathers Zapp and George Clinton; "Represent Dat G.C." follows suit with a dance-floor vibe; "Tryology" ranks among the best Wu-Tang-style beats with its string-laced track; and "Welcome Home" is a smoothed-out ode to L.A. Kurupt also gets full support from the Dogg Pound. Warren G, Snoop Dogg, Tray Dee, Nate Dogg, Soopafly and of course Daz remind you of the good old days of the wild, wild West on tracks like "Neva Gonna Give It Up," "Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha," "It Ain't About You" and "Girls All Pause," the first single. Dre makes an appearance as well, as "Housewife" pulls double duty on this album. To top it all off, the album closes out with "Live on the Mic," a freestyle session with KRS-One. Skits are kept to a minimum, highlighted by the return of Big Pimpin', WBALLS and Kevin "Slow Jammin'" James and a parody of DMX. Which brings us to the bonus track. Despite all the fuss, "Calling Out Names" is nothing more than a lyrical middle finger directed at DMX and others in the true spirit of battle rap. It's personal and hardly an attack on the East Coast. In fact, he praises more New York artists than he disses on the track (Buckshot, Noreaga, Jigga, Canibus, Wu-Tang, Eve and Def Squad to name quite a few). From the moment he steps to the mic and pays homage to Rakim on the opening cut, Kurupt let's you know it's on. Put simply, this is West Coast hip-hop at its best.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

RAEKWON, Immobilarity, Loud
The Wu-Tang saga continues with the release of Raekwon's sophomore solo disc, Immobilarity. Flashing back to 1995, Only Built for Cuban Linx was a hardcore masterpiece (and probably still the strongest Wu solo effort) and had the unfortunate distinction of providing hip-hop music with its most bitten gimmick since asking the crowd to "say ho": the rap mafioso fantasy. Immobilarity continues in a similar vein, but leaves the multiple monikers and drug cartel references behind for the most part. Instead, Rae takes it to the next level, focusing on the rhyme family, hip-hop conglomerate that the Wu has come to embody. Sure enough the first track includes the statement that, "...we have no interests, no investments, in anything illegitimate..." and makes vague mention of Immobilarity, a black family-owned corporation, which may or may not be a reference to the various enterprises of the Wu. The disc is a metamorphosis in itself. The first few songs deal with tales of street-level drug trade, and the pitfalls of ghetto-crime economics set to lush, string-laden tracks. Raekwon also introduces his own crew, the American Cream Team, on "Power." Things change as Rae's mom makes an appearance in a skit which is really a recorded phone call between the two discussing an appointment with a real estate agent to view some land for purchase. This is followed by "All I Need is You Pt. II," Rae's version of Ghostface's tribute to his mother. "Jury" is a reflection on his rise from the streets to hip-hop star and the complex mix of enlightenment and responsibilty that has come with it. Method Man makes an apperance on "F--- Them," providing vocals, and the hook that admonishes, "What you wanna be when you grow up? You wanna be thugs? You wanna be prankstas? You wanna sell drugs? You wanna be gangstas? That's what silly boys are made of..." Wu mate Masta Killa shares the somber track on "The Table," looking back on the street life that raised them and the knowledge gained over the years that has pushed them in a different direction while allowing them to remain grounded. Pete Rock puts in production work on "Sneakers," which provides a forum for Rae to comment on the sneaker fetish he has been indulging since back in the day. Vo and Pop beat Swizz Beats at his own game on "Pop Sh--," providing what might be the banginest cut on the disc from a production standpoint. "Forecast" closes it out by sending lyrical shouts out to cities around the globe that have shown love and allowed Rae to do his thing and make a living at it. All in all, Immobilarity provides a solid second effort following the classic that was Cuban Linx. The best thing about it is that rather than play upon a tried and true formula for success, Raekwon has used elements of his debut as a springboard to display his growth as an artist and a human being. We get a glimpse of rap star as son, as father, and as a product of his environment as well as his own sense of destiny. It might not be groundbreaking like Cuban Linx, but it is more than enough to secure a spot in my collection for his next disc.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Kawon

More reviews on Solé, ODB, Method Man and Redman...

All contents ©1994-2000 The 411 Online