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No Country for Old (Rap) Men: Albums that fell tragically short of their potential

Robbie reveals the biggest disappointments in his record collection

Posted by Robbie Ettelson

There are more than enough horrible rap albums in existence, but the ones that really sting are those that had the potential to be great. This is a topic that I could write a book about at this point but for the time being I’m going to focus on six albums that I either bought with my own hard-earned cash and immediately wanted to return (despite the fact that import record shops had a ‘no returns’ policy) or was pissed that I wasted valuable bandwidth on my dial-up modem to illegally download.

Arabian Prince – Brother Arab

This former member of N.W.A. (he’s actually on the cover photos for Straight Outta Compton and the ‘Gangsta, Gangsta’ single) had released some electro stuff in the early ’80s but when I heard ‘Let The Goods Times Roll,’ with its superb Jimi Hendrix sample, I went and copped his album. Lo and behold, it was quickly apparent why A. Prince had been booted out of ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Group’—the rest of his stuff was pure, unadulterated garbage! I guess the fact that he had songs titled ‘It’s Time To Bone’ and ‘She’s Got A Big Posse’ should have tipped me off. Unfortunately I was just a dumb kid and got fooled by the cover picturing dude dressed in the same gear as N.W.A.

Kings of Pressure – Brains Unchained

This was a classic case of bait and switch. After whetting my whistle with the incredible ‘Armed and Dangerous‘ and ‘You Know How To Reach Us,’ it turns out that the K.O.P. (with production from the Bomb Squad of Public Enemy fame) had a little change of personnel by the time they recorded the album. To be fair, it was noted on the back cover, listing the ‘New School’ and the ‘Newest School’ line-ups, but I had enjoyed the ‘Brains Unchained’/’Slang Teacher’ single so thought I’d give it a try. $22 later, I figured out that I should have just copped the single, since the album contained dreck such as ‘Rappers Have Feelings’ (unwittingly paving the way for Drake, 20 years later), dreary ballad ‘Call Me On The Telephone’ and the cheesy horror movie-themed ‘Tales From The Darkside.’

Lords of the Underground – Here Come The Lords

A new crew produced by the legendary Marley Marl and his apprentice K-Def? Sign me up! Unfortunately, once the appeal of the crisp beats dissipated, I was left with disturbing realisation that Mr. Funkee and Do-It-All were rap answers to Pinocchio’s Donkey’s Island. Unleashing high-pitched squeals and cartoon voices didn’t work so great for the Fu-Schnickens nor Common Sense, and neither did it here. They may have lucked-out with that catchy ‘Chief Rocka‘ beat, but those migraine-inducing raps remind me of everything that was shitty about early ’90s hip-hop.

Canibus – Can-I-Bus

How do you go from being a guy who managed to hold his own against LL Cool J to making a song titled ‘Rip Rock’ (it ‘stands for hip-hop mixed with rock and roll’)? I guess we could just blame Wyclef, but the real problem is that Canibus seems to lack any sort of distinct personality or charisma to make the listener give a shit about the constant stream of rappity rap that he spews. After ‘Second Round K.O.’ he released ‘Honor U,’ which features social commentary along the lines of scolding expectant fathers for smoking around their pregnant wife and general relationship advice, which was what exactly zero of his fans were interested in hearing about from a guy hailed as the next ferocious battle MC.

The Firm – The Firm

Considering the combined talents of Nas, AZ and Dr. Dre, it was inevitable that this over-hyped supergroup (which also included that hack Foxy Brown and the solid, if unspectacular, Nature) would crank out a few good tracks. Overwhelmingly, however, this album plays like something put together by a focus group rather than the creative chemistry of an actual group. The punk smoove inflections of the Track Masters casts a long shadow here, introducing superfluous R&B hooks and lazy loops amongst some of the least-inspired Dre beats outside of his Aftermath compilation. If you ever meet somebody who claims to love ‘Firm Biz,’ you’re clearly talking to Steve Stoute in an elaborate Mission Impossible face mask disguise.

Nas – Street’s Disciple

On paper, this should have been great. Salaam Remi, L.E.S., Buckwild and Q-Tip in the lab with Nas. What could possibly go wrong? It’s almost like Nas was trolling his fans, having regained their good faith following the well-received Stillmatic and God’s Son, as he finally delivered the promised double album which he’d abandoned after I Am/Nastradamus was bootlegged. What could have been a sharp EP became his most self-indulgent excursion yet, with the formula of recycling classic breaks starting to show its age and shockingly poor decision-making. I mean who else but Nasir would get a producer of Q-Tip’s stature on board and have him loop ‘Atomic Dog,’ a break that was played out in 1990? And the less said about ‘Getting Married‘ and ‘Remember The Times,’ the better. There’s a reason no one in rap had ever used the word ‘urethra’ in a rhyme before!

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.

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