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Hip-Hop Fridays: Ced's Album Reviews II

There is absolutely too much material coming out for me to ignore. And it is only going to get better or worse (depending upon your perspective) as the record companies keep sending the 4th quarter releases our way. This week and next we will review selected albums from the latest edition of the Hip-Hop menu.

(All albums contain lyrical content and material that is offensive to many)

Artist, Title, Rating

Big L, The Big Picture, 9

I love this album. And the saddest thing about it is that Big L is no longer here to bless us with more of his brilliant work; L was tragically killed in 1999 at the age of 24. I can remember back in 1995 when Columbia was marketing Big L as the next Nas. Such a disservice to both artists as they both had their own styles and talent in their own right. The album starts out lovely with "The Big Picture" produced by the one and only D.J. Premier. In fact Premier puts in work on three of the albums 16 tracks. Another highlight is a cut with another deceased rapper - Tupac Shakur entitled "Deadly Combination" produced by DJ Ron G. The album features cameos by Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, Fat Joe, Sadat X and Guru among others. It is a classic New York album featuring non-stop lyrics and boom-bap beats that don't quit. The only significant drawback to the album is that you know all the way through that Big L is no longer with us.

Scarface, The Last Of A Dying Breed, 8

The ace storyteller is back working on his 6th album and it is one of his best. Scarface, like the Ice Cube and KRS-One of old, delivers a concept album that doesn't feature knockout hits but which is filled with good cut after good cut. And beware, because on this one, Scarface definitely has an attitude with the DEA, FBI and law enforcement in general and with good reason following the DEA's recent harassment of Rap-A-Lot Records head James Prince; harassment so bad that California Congresswoman Maxine Waters had to intervene on Prince's behalf. The album's first single "It Ain't Part II" produced by Erick Sermon is a winner and features Scarface's raspy voice and diction at its best. He also does a nice job on "They Down With Us" a track featuring UGK that uses the beat to KRS One's "Still #1". Cameo appearances by Kurrupt and Daz , Redman and Too Short add value to the purchase and "Get Out " with Jay-Z is a witty cut that brings together two of Hip-Hop's biggest stars. The album is a continuous dark tale of the underworld - typical Scarface - that features some of the best sound quality, mixing and engineering that you can find on a Hip-Hop album these days. Listen to this with the lights out to feel the full effect but don't blame me if you get scared.

Nature, For All Seasons, 7.5

Nature is nice. It is as simple as that. Just about everybody slept on Nature after the Firm fiasco and Nature's release is two years overdue but he doesn't disappoint with one of the best flows in all of Hip-Hop and some surprisingly good production. Nature can rhyme over any beat and has the kind of effortless flow that reminds you of how Kenny Anderson handles a basketball. Those who want to sample him at his best and who may doubt the skills should check out "Nature's Shine", where metaphors and word plays abound at a level seldom seen in Hip-Hop. "The Ultimate High" with Nas is another sure shot for those who want to take it back to Queensbridge. However, the album suffers from weak and basic hooks - a common deficiency these days as more and more artists try to do too much on one album. Nature would have been better served with some more imaginative hooks or some guest appearances to help relieve the monotony. But over all this is a good album that will leave your head bobbing and with a healthy respect for one of Hip-Hop's best MC's.

Amil, All Money Is Legal, 7

Could have been better. But still good. You just expect a little bit more from someone with so many resources at their disposal. It is obvious that Rock-A-Fella aimed for this album to be Amil's coming out party - free of the presence of her labelmates and that goal was accomplished. More of her personality shines through and the album and there are even a couple of moments of deep introspection from the artist more commonly known for her fondness for jewelry. "Smile 4 Me" and "Quarrels" are touching and thought-provoking tracks that take you inside of a woman's head on a variety of subjects. The production is diverse and features a variety of flavors and that helps as Amil's silky voice is great for a while but can begin to wear on you over time. Which is why it may not have hurt for more cameo appearances from other artists. The clearest evidence of this is the track "4 Da Fam" which features Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek, and which may be the best posse cut of the year 2000. Sigel kills his verse on this one but everyone else isn't far behind.. "4 Da Fam" makes you wonder how much better the album could have been with a couple of appearances from Hip-Hop artists other than Jay-Z, who is featured on two other tracks, "Heard It All" and "That's Right". Sorry, the appearances of Carl Thomas and Beyonce' don't count as Hip-Hop cameos despite what MTV may have you believe - after they crowned Sisqo with an award in the Hip-Hop category at their recent award show. Amil does a credible job but the effort falls short of the top-notch album she could have delivered.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, October 27, 2000

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