This past Tuesday, to little fanfare and with minimal promotion, two hip-hop veterans dropped what may be the best album of 2009. Spanning seventeen skit- and guest-free tracks (produced by Show, Lord Finesse, and French affiliate E-Blaze) O.C. & A.G.’s Oasis is an excercise in songcraft and lyricism, boasting not only innumerable quotables but also a depth and maturity commensurate with the duo’s status as torchbearers of true-school, New York rap. The product of two years’ hard labor, Oasis benefits from the natural chemistry of O and A, who’ve shared both the stage and booth repeatedly throughout their long careers. Unforced, unrushed, and completely organic, it’s the kind of album that gets better with each listen; I found myself, after playing it through once, wanting to start all over at the beginning. While a few may not grab you on first listen, the beats are solid across the board, providing ample backing for some of the best performances of both emcees’ careers.
Given the competitive nature of rap, heads will argue about whether O.C. outraps A.G. or vice versa; I’d say that while that’s really a moot point, my vote goes to A.G. Omar more than holds his own, both alongside the Giant and on his two solo tracks, but Andre sounds so focused he had my jaw dropping repeatedly. Whether kicking bragaddocio with O or dropping serious knowledge on solos like “Reality Is” and “God’s Gift,” A.G. proves that great emcees can indeed age gracefully; after spinning Oasis these past few days I’ve got him in my top five, and I can’t think of many rappers who could match either his delivery or his lyrics. Case in point: this freestyle, so godamn hot O.C. declines to spit after hearing it.
As critics release their best-of lists for 2009, I can only hope that Oasis rates a few mentions. If not, expect O and A to keep grinding, like the rest of the Crates crew, putting out quality music for the few of us still checking for that real hip-hop.
There’s a nice little Lord Finesse interview up at Wax Poetics. Hip-hop’s renaissance man speaks on the early days of D.I.T.C., how he linked up with Big L, and getting to work with Biggie on Ready to Die. Hearing dudes like this reminisce makes me sad for the current state of hip-hop. I seriously got emotional reading this shit.
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.
Show feat. Big L & Party Arty — “Back In My Hood” (download)
Just got my hand’s on Show’s last album, Street Talk, and I’m loving it. The fact that I didn’t even know about this joint until a couple weeks ago—and I consider myself up on most things D.I.T.C.—should testify to its absolute lack of marketing. It’s a shame that an artist of Show’s caliber is releasing music on a label with no promotional budget, and in what appear to be very limited pressings (Street Talk dropped in ’05 and is already out of print), but at least the music is still crack. There are quite a few highlights on this album (in particular, several appearances by a refreshingly gully Fat Joe) but a track that really jumped out at me on first listen is “Back in My Hood,” which showcases the talent of two fallen emcees, neither of who got the respect he deserved during his lifetime. Unlike Tupac Shakur, Big L was no more prolific than the average rapper not anticipating his own death, and most fans who’ve put in the effort have likely heard pretty much everything he recorded (although Finesse is apparently sitting on some unreleased tapes.) But L’s verse here, whether originally intended for the song or not, is new to me, and it’s a nice one at that. Meanwhile, longtime Crates affiliate Party Arty kicks a verse that, like his work on seven more of the album’s tracks, proves just what a blow his death was for lovers of that hardcore, unadulterated hip-hop. I’ll admit to sleeping on this dude during his lifetime; his gruff voice made it easy to dismiss him as a gimmick, and I guess I just wasn’t listening too hard. I’m listening now, though, and I’ll be searching out all his work in the weeks and months to come (should be fun, too, considering he worked with some of the best producers in the game.)
Bout to go kick it with this brown-skinned cutie from Argentina, so I figured I’d share some of my inspiration. Old Finesse from 1995’s The Awakening (an album I’m ashamed to say I don’t own), with appearances from Big L and Buckwild. It’s a shame that white people can’t really get away with talking to women like this. We just come off corny. But I’m gonna be operating in Spanish, so all bets are off. Ya tu sabes.
I was doing what I do best lately (not finishing this Fulbright application) and I ended up doing some interesting free association viewing on Youtube. It all started at the Complex site, which has a feature on the best mixtape albums of the past decade. The audio featured from the # 3 tape, 2002’s The Diplomats Vol. 1, is a Cam track dissing Harlem rapper Stan Spit (and really doing some serious damage.) Probably the most lethal line is “You fucked my man Big L album up,” a reference to Spit’s appearances on L’s posthumous LP The Big Picture. But what really caught my attention was Cam’s mention of a video. I didn’t know there were any videos from that album, so I tracked down the above clip. Cam ain’t lie, Stan Spit is nothing special, but A.G. does his thing and Pete Rock comes through with an idiosyncratic banger. Clip features appearances from Premier and Showbiz (I think; the resolution is so shitty it’s hard to tell) but I wonder where the rest of the Crates Crew was at. Shit got me wanting to see some live footage of L, which brought me to this gem from a European tour: