The mid-Nineties was undoubtably a golden era for rap music with so much amazing sound coming from New York (and elsewhere). Emcees were hungry and and producers were on point to make major musical statements that surpassed time and still sound fresh 20 years later. Here is a small selection of debut albums from artists who shone so bright yet burnt out too fast. Due to their premature careers, this a brief reminder of music you might have missed or forgotten about from that wonderful era.
1. Big Noyd ‘Episodes of a hustla’
Big Noyd came onto the scene by association with Mobb Deep and some choice verses on various mixtapes of that mid-Nineties golden era. His debut album ‘Episodes of a hustla’ was a pretty standard issue compilation of street anthems loosely tied together by skits featuring policemen investigating Noyd’s criminal activity. I must say the sample used during the scene in the precinct is very reminiscent of Eighties cop films where the corrupt police struggle to pin down the local hustlers – Big Noyd being one of them. Obviously Mobb Deep feature heavily on this album and to be honest, without their input the album is more of an EP when you take away the skits, remix and ‘Recognize & Realize’ parts 1 and 2. In Noyd’s defence, the rapper was incarcerated at the time of it’s release so you might expect the integrity of ‘Episodes of a hustla’ to outweigh it’s lack of lyrical content. That said, it’s still a pretty good album to dig up if you love the classic Queensbridge sound and love yourself a bit of that grimy hustle.
2. Mic Geronimo ‘The Natural’
If you didn’t catch Mic Geronimo the first time around, you probably missed him altogether. Another Queensbridge rapper ushered onto the scene by Irv Gotti and carried by the wave of respect the infamous New York producer and borough possessed in the mid-Nineties. ‘The natural’ was Mic Geronimo’s debut album that hosted his hit single ‘Shit’s real’ and a follow up track ‘Masta I-C’. Like the late-great Guru said, it’s mostly the voice and Mic Geronimo has a unique one that was soft and flowy. Unfortunately it might have heave been a bit too soft for a thirteen track full length LP, leaving the listener to nod his head to sleep. Even with guest rappers like Jay-Z, DMX, OC, Lost Boyz, Ja Rule and Royal Flush, ‘The Natural’ just doesn’t have that flair that makes you want to pop your collar and get bucked. It’s more of a chill lyrical vibe. Mic’s sophomore album ‘Vendetta’ was marked as something bigger and better than ‘The Natural’ but the club single ‘Nothin move but the money’ featuring Puff Daddy and those infamous shiny latex suits stopped Mic’s slow ascension to stardom dead in it’s tracks (pun intended). Still, Mic Geronimo’s ‘The Natural’ is definitely a record core rap fans from the Nineties should recognize and possess somewhere deep in their collection, gathering dust.
3. Cru ‘Da Dirty 30’
Chadio, Mighty Ha and Yogi dropped onto the airwaves and mixtapes with a great single ‘Just another case’ followed shortly by ‘Bubblin’ and ‘Pronto’. The trio brought a sound reminiscent of street corners during an era of extravagance and glamour. You could have easily been mistaken for thinking Cru was an independent operation but they were signed straight to Def Jam which is one of the biggest – if not the biggest -Hip Hop labels out there. ‘Da Dirty 30’ was the group’s first and last album featuring 30 tracks which was a lot. That said, some of the tracks are skits but their funny skits (‘DJ Footlong’, ‘Bulletproof vest’…) so you don’t skip anything. Even with hit singles, this album still packed a punch with tracks like ‘Straight from L.I.P.’ sampling Portishead and ‘Live at the Tunnel’ sampling Lovebug Starski which were guaranteed winners for any party. ‘Da Dirty 30’ is one of those rare albums you can drop the needle or hit shuffle on and not be disappointed. Definitely worth adding to your collection if you don’t have it already have it.
4. OGC ‘Da Storm’
O.G.C. stood for Originoo Gunn Clappaz and featured three emcees with a penchant for creative monikers: Starang Wondah alias Gunn Clappa Numba One, also known as Big Will, Hurricane Starang and Strang Da Beast From Da East); Louieville Sluggah alias Gunn Clappa Numba Two, also known as Hennyville Guzzler or Henny); and Top Dog alias Gunn Clappa Numba Three, also known as Big Kahuna and D-O (Source: Wikipedia because I wouldn’t remember all that!) The Gunn Clappaz were strongly affiliated to Heltah Skeltah, Smif n Wessun and Blackmoon forming the impressive emcee conglomerate The Boot Camp Clik. [Sidenote: Can I just say that that entire band of merry men should be poster boys for dyslexic children everywhere..?] With the Beatminerz Mr. Walt and Evil Dee behind the boards, ‘Da Storm’ has some tight production to it with wicked anthems like’No fear’, ‘Hurricane Starang’ and ‘Wild Cowboys in Bucktown’ featuring Sadat X. I won’t lie when I say I get slightly confused trying to remember which tracks feature of the OGC, Heltah Skeltah or Boot Camp Clik albums but if you can track down ‘Da Storm’ for your collection you’re already on the right path to listening satisfakshun.
5. Group Home ‘Livin proof’
Ok, if you listen to mid-Nineties rap music and you don’t own Group Home’s ‘Livin proof’ album you’re slippin – hard. This album featuring the duo Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker is certified street gold and guaranteed to make everyone nod their heads in approval. Now, before I praise this LP any further I need to point out something important: If it wasn’t for DJ Premier’s amazing production skills this album would suck balls. Whaaat?!? Yes, I said it. Even if Melachi smacked it when he featured of Gangstarr’s ‘Hard to earn’ with ‘Words from the Nutcracker’ and Lil Dap’s nasal voice is seriously infectious, their rap skills are weak. Listening to them rap you can almost see them reading out of their notebooks with a music teacher behind them clapping out the 4/4 rhythm. Yeah, perhaps that’s a bit harsh because there are some fine lines in there like Lil Dap’s opener “Eating curry chicken and rice and these hoes look nice…” or Nutcracker’s ender “Here’s a dope rhyme one time for your mind / If you’re dumb deaf and blind / You’re suspended in time”. But seriously, ‘Livin proof’ is all about the beats and DJ Premier did not hold back on dropping gem after gem.