That Slick Cat That Hev Recruited

In a perfect world, Herb McGruff’s Destined To Be would have been merely the first in a string of solo albums from an emcee who’d paid dues for years alongside Harlem’s finest rappers. Instead, the album flopped, McGruff got dropped, and in the decade that followed he seems to have largely disappeared. That’s truly a shame, for while the Crime Dog lacked some of the star power of cronies Cam’ron, Mase, and the late Big L, he was nonetheless a supremely solid New York emcee, the kind whose disciplined, battle-honed flow has become almost an anomaly in the decade since Destined was released.

A member of the legendary Children of the Corn, the early 90’s collective that included Killa Cam, Murda Mase, and Big L, Herb McGruff parlayed a succesful demo and and a memorable appearance on L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous LP (“my rhymes are more funky than a African cab driver“) into a solo deal with Heavy D’s Uptown Records, where he displayed surprising crossover potential on tracks like “I Know We Can Do It” and  Monifah’s “I Miss You (Da Street Remix).” While Mase and Cam’ron blew up and became household names, McGruff endured three years of label purgatory as Uptown moved from MCA to Universal, and it wasn’t until 1998 that he finally released his debut album. While not a masterpiece by any means, Destined To Be is a thoroughly enjoyable LP that, in its best moments, manages to strike the perfect balance between McGruff’s hardcore roots and the pop sensibilities of Heavy D. Sure, it suffers at times from lackluster production, as well as a shamelessly jiggy first single in the form of the Mr. Cheeks-featured “How We Do,” but it also boasts its fare share of minor gems (not to mention fiery appearances from Mase, Big L, and the LOX.) It certainly bangs harder than almost anything on a major label today.

Destined To Be is rare enough that you’re unlikely to find it at your local used record store (that is, if your town still has one) but it goes pretty cheap online. If I recall, I copped it from an Amazon seller for like seven bucks, and if you like owning physical copies of your music I suggest you do the same. Otherwise I’m sure there’s a rapidshare link out there somewhere. Either way, it’s not like Gruff sees any profit. Want a test-drive? Check out some of the highlights below.

Harlem Kids Get Biz (Prod. Spunk Bigga)

The obligatory ode to Gruff’s hood, here memorably referred to as “Homicide Harlem.” Spunk Bigga (no homo?) provides just the right amount of menace, and Gruff does his hometown proud.

What Cha Doin To Me (Prod. Heavy D & Warren Campbell)

Gruff’s crossover ability is in full display here, as he rides a buttery slice of the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.” Why this wasn’t the lead single, I’ll never know.

Who Holds His Own (Prod. Spunk Bigga)

The Crime Dog gets introspective on this mid-album slow-burner. Some real maturity on display here.

Danger Zone feat. Mase & Big L (Prod. Ty Fyffe)

The only downside of this track is that both Mase and L go so far the fuck in that Gruff becomes something of an afterthought. Ty Fyffe’s track knocks, and the absence of a chorus provides for maximum mic damage. Classic material.

Before We Start (Prod. Tony Dofat & Heavy D)

Okay, so the chorus is a bit cheesy, and that “Heartbeat” sample sure doesn’t break any new ground. Nevertheless, McGruff absolutely kills this break, further demonstrating the damage he could have done on radio, if he’d only had the right promotion. Maybe he should have signed with Bad Boy?

Reppin Uptown feat. The LOX (Prod. DT)

Nice work from The LOX here, particularly the underrated Sheek. With just a short verse at the end, Gruff gets a little outshined, but he gets it in on the interlude that closes out the track.

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