(Editor’s Note: I first started reading Zilla Rocca‘s Rework the Angles series on Jeff Weiss’s blog and 1) loved the concept and 2) thought it aligned in spirit with the After Further Review series I’ve tried to mount. I reached out to Rocha about collaborating for a podcast where we combined our mutual interests in revisiting older albums and because of our crazy schedules, we ended up banging this out in print instead over the courses of several weeks. –O.W.)
Oliver Wang: Zilla, since you’re my guest here, I did the host-ly thing and let you pick what album we’d revisit. You chose Method Man’s 1998 album, Tical 2000. Why?
Zilla Rocca: I always like looking back on albums that were misunderstood or downright hated on arrival. That’s the case with Tical 2000 — it’s a victim of the late ’90s Music Industry Boom. CDs were moving millions every week, but CDs also gave artists too much time. There was no restraint in the CD heyday – 22 track albums with 75 minutes of playing time was the norm in rap back then.
The original Tical is a great cassette album: it’s muddy, it’s bass heavy, and it’s 13 songs long. That was ’94. By ’98, when Tical 2000 dropped, Def Jam was on fire, and Method Man was a super duper star. So when I revisit Tical 2000 now, I have to wade through literally TEN SKITS and countless wrong turns before I find an album worthy of Method Man’s talent. If you have some patience and rearrange the tracklisting, you’ll notice that Tical 2000 shows Method Man as one of the best emcees of 1998 (he was competing with Jay-Z, DMX, Big Pun, Canibus, Busta, Outkast,Black Star, etc)
Tical 2000 never comes up when discussing great Wu-Tang solo albums (and rightfully so), but when I cut it down to size, it’s a really devastating record. And enough time has passed for people to get over the disappointment or the bad experiences they had with it back then to just enjoy a great rap record by one of the most entertaining rappers of all time. Continue reading AFTER FURTHER REVIEW + REWORK THE ANGLES: TICAL 2000
Gang Starr : In Memory Of… (Noo Trybe, 1998, Moment of Truth)
7) In writing these posts and forcing myself to re-engage the album, I found myself amending that list I put up on post #1.
1. Hard to Earn
2. Step In the Arena
3. Daily Operation
4-6 (tied) Moment of Truth, No More Mr. Nice Guy, The Ownerz
For the longest time, I always thought Daily Operation was the Gang Starr album I didn’t rate as highly as “consensus” does but in comparing the two, side-by-side, Daily Operation clearly has more songs I’d rather rock to.
But more broadly speaking, this exercise also brought home how very sophisticated most of their albums were. Even if Moment ran overly long, it wasn’t just a jumble of aspiring “hot tracks” but rather, songs with thematic depth and resonance with one another. I don’t know if I’d go as far as describe Moment as a “concept album” in the conventional sense but it also wasn’t a smattering of songs hastily slapped together either.
Gang Starr feat. Scarface: Betrayal (Noo Trybe, 1998, Moment of Truth)
6) For the reasons I just laid out last post, practically the entire back 2/3rds of the album is filled with songs I’d FF over. And can we be real here, fam? 1998-99 seemed to be some kind of zenith for “albums too long for their own good” and while Moment of Truth wasn’t, technically, a double album, it had 20 tracks which is practically 2xLP length anyway. As good as any group could be in that era, even Gang Starr seemed to have trouble filling that many songs without programming a few middling tracks along the way (see also: Wu-Tang Forever).
I sort of like the melancholy feel of “What I’m Here 4” but any momentum that gets generated dissipates with the very next song (“She Knowz What She Wantz”) which might be the softest track in the group’s whole catalog. It’s not until Track 18, “Betrayal” that I perk up interest again. The Scarface cameo obviously has something to do with that but mostly, it’s the rich textures of the track that brought me back, especially with all the layers of sound Primo has working there. Easily one of the best-sounding tracks on the album and a capstone to the producer’s gifts in the era.
Gang Starr: The Militia (Soul Brother Remix) (Noo Trybe, 1998, 12″)
5) But back to Moment of Truth. That middle section, from “Itz a Set Up” through “The Rep Grows Bigga,” is where the album loses me musically. Again: I certainly wouldn’t have expected that.
To me, this part of the album is where Premier’s emergent production style begins to really make its presence felt. If you listen to his broader discography in this era – late ’90s through early ’00s – Moment of Truth is where it comes into full bloom. There’s more chopping, less long loops. It leans more towards a “harder” sound – aggressive guitar rips, sharp, staccato cuts, muscular baselines, etc. Even re-reading what I just wrote, my impulse is to say “wait, those all sound like good things” but for whatever reason, the style just left/leaves me a bit cold. It was telling that for “The Militia,” I always much preferred Pete Rock’s remix (which had more in common with older Primo styles) than the album version.
If this isn’t abundantly clear, what I’m saying here is: it’s not you (Preem), it’s me.
Sauce Money Against the Grain (Loud, 1997, Soul In the Hole)
4) But here’s the thing about that middle section: however thematically compelling and interesting, musically, it’s where MOT lost me. Trust, I was surprised in feeling this way.
Let me pause and point out that my favorite era for Premier’s sound was in the five years from ’93-’98. Both his Gang Starr production and his outside work was impeccable. Even something that might seem slightly throwaway – a Sauce Money soundtrack song for example – could sound revelatory.
Gang Starr: JFX to LAX (Noo Trybe, 1998, Moment of Truth)
3) “JFK to LAX” is solid too and here’s something I only started thinking about the other night. Despite the fact that, you know, the cover is Guru and Premier in court…despite the fact that this entire song is devoted to Guru working out his feelings about at the gun charge he caught at the airport…I never realized the degree to which Moment of Truth is suffused in the aftermath of that event. On a psychic level, it clearly weighed on Guru and in reaction, he addressed it both directly and obliquely on any number of songs clustered around this point in the album.
In that sense, I found MOT more interesting than I had previously, where I was more focused on analyzing it as a collection of songs (“does it bang?”) and overlooked the what-should-have-been-obvious-fact that Guru’s arrest haunts the entire middle of the album.
Gang Starr feat. Inspectah Deck : Above the Clouds (Noo Trybe, 1998, Moment of Truth)
2) Whether good or bad, the album peaks here, at Track 5. Not only is this one of the best songs on the album, but it’s easily among the very best songs Gang Starr ever released. I always heard rumors that Inspectah Deck wrote Guru’s rhymes on the song and that sounds plausible but I also don’t really care if there was ghost-writing here or not. In the end, it comes down to Premier’s incredible flip of a [redacted] loop none of us would have ever paid attention to and, of course, Deck’s verse. I will forever have the phrase, “I leave scientists mentally scarred/triple extra large/wild like rock stars/that smash guitars” burned into my head.
Gang Starr: Robbin Hood Theory (Noo Trybe, 1998, Moment of Truth)
I was recently listening to Moment of Truth again…probably the first time in close to 10 years that I’ve just put it on, front to back.
I’ve always ranked Gang Starr albums like this:
1. Hard to Earn
2. Step In the Arena
3. Moment of Truth
4-6 (tied) Daily Operation, No More Mr. Nice Guy, The Ownerz
Sometimes, #1 and 2 flip positions but Moment of Truth has never risen above the #3 spot.
It’s one of those albums that, instinctually, I know is a “good album” yet equally instinctually, I don’t connect with it. (See also: the second Brand Nubian album). But I decided to pull it out again and give it another end-to-end listen, just to see if my feelings had changed. Plus, I need to fill this “post a day” quota I stupidly committed myself to so why not create a bunch of posts to think all this through aloud?
1) Let’s just say this upfront: five out of the first six tracks are killer. Gang Starr had already teased us with “You Know My Steez” but the first new song we heard was “Robbin Hood Theory” and I remember thinking, “oh shit, man, this is gonna be good.”
For our second edition of “After Further Review,” me and Jeff Weiss, author of the new 2Pac vs. Biggie:An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle, talk about one of hip-hop’s most storied live freestyles, involving two soon-to-be-giants, before they began taking lyrical (and perhaps literal) shots at one another.
Continue reading AFTER FURTHER REVIEW #2: TUPAC/BIGGIE FREESTYLE
“After Further Review” was born out of the many online chats I’ve had about music. These are almost always off-the-cuff convos yet, at times, they yield insights I only get through dialogue (vs. trying to untangle what’s in my lonesome head). It’s easy for us to form an opinion around a piece of music (or art or whatever) and just stick to it because there’s nothing else challenging our world view but through dialogue, it opens us to new ideas. There’s something exciting and rewarding about that possibility even if, at the end of the day, we still affirm what we originally thought.
The concept with these columns is simple: take an album that’s far enough from the past that we now have some hindsight vision on it. Discuss.
I chose Reachin’, the debut album by Digable Planets, for two reasons. 1) It’s 20 years old this year (crazy!) and 2) it’s an album that, despite its commercial success, has all been all but passed over. It’s like the Avatar of golden era rap albums. I thought it’d be worth tangling with it again after spending at least 10+ years not thinking about it all.
I invited one of my favorite thinkers on pop music to join me for this inaugural chit-chat: Joe Schloss, author of both Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop and Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls and Hip-Hop Culture in New York.
Here’s where we began: Continue reading AFTER FURTHER REVIEW #1: REACHIN’