Diggin’ In the (Same) Crates

Oliver Sain — “On the Hill” (1972) (download)

Puff Daddy ft. Jay-Z & The Notorious B.I.G. — “Young G’s”

D.I.T.C. — “Day One”

You know you have low expectations for an album when you’re debating whether to buy it for the price of $1.00. Conventional wisdom should tell you that even one or two good tracks will justify the price, but you know that if the filler around those tracks is bad enough it will truly make you pine for a refund. On Tuesday, I bought Puff Daddy’s No Way Out amid just such concerns, and after giving it a listen I’m still not sure I spent my money wisely. Sure, there are some worthwhile moments on the album (mainly the four appearances by the Notorious B.I.G.) but the vast majority of Diddy’s (first) monument to his own self-importance suffers from vomit-inducing production and far too many verses by Puff himself, whose grindingly boring delivery makes the somnolent Mase sound like L.O.N.S.-era Busta Rhymes.

Aside from the “Benjamins” remix (whose beat changeup on Biggie’s verse marks one of the only surprises on an achingly predictable LP) No Way Out‘s strongest record is the Jay-Z and Biggie-helmed “Young G’s,” which again showcases the chemistry between the two Brooklyn giants, over a loop that, incredibly, was NOT lifted from a #1 record from the 1980s. When people mention “On the Hill,” from Oliver Sain’s 1972 Main Man LP, they inevitably bring up “Young G’s,” which flipped a tiny section of the song (beginning at 3:40) into a jazzy backdrop perfectly suited to the braggadocio of Hov and Biggie (let’s just not talk about Puff.)

Credit goes to Rashad Smith (who?) for placing such a banging record on an album otherwise marred by terrible production, but unfortunately for Rashad, Bronx legend Diamond flipped the same sample that same year, doing arguably a better job and resisting the jigged-out flourishes (in this case, the Kelly Price chorus)  that make even the best of No Way Out sound dated twelve years later. And while Biggie remains in a class all his own (“Young G’s” becomes infinitely more exciting the minute he starts flowing), D.I.T.C.’s “Day One” boasts five dope verses from five of NY’s finest, rather than just one amazing performance preceded by an underwhelming Jay-Z spot and a sleep-inducing verse from Puff. One of my favorite cuts of all time, “Day One” exemplifies everything great about the New York collective, reflecting the crew’s purist approach in its understated mixture of an obscure break, carefully-chosen drums, and across-the-board fire from each veteran lyricist. Which is not to take anything away from Puff’s record. It’s just hard to top perfection.

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