Sleeping With Open Eyes: Part 1

Illmatic, Enter The Wu Tang, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, The Infamous, Reasonable Doubt, Ready To Die, Mecca And The Soul Brother, Tical, Lifestyles Ov Da Poor N Dangerous, Doe Or Die, The Low End Theory.

I’m hoping these albums strike some sort of chord with you. They should do. They form part of the 1990’s best hip-hop records ever released, never mind just East Coast. I’ve read countless blogs, Amazon lists, Wikipedia articles, pages, magazines and books where these albums feature almost predictably on everyone’s  (mine included) “best of’s”, “albums to listen before you die” and “real hip-hop” playlists and no doubt will continue to as long as hip-hop remains in existence.

My point? What about those undeniable records of genius simply overshadowed by the above? The ones which fell victim not to the quality of the music itself, but merely the timing of its release. In an industry today where even the truly beautiful flowers are unable to rise above the magnitude of towering weeds, how impossible would it have been for such a flower to rise above a 100ft tree full in blossom? Put it this way, I wouldn’t have wanted my release date on April 19th 1994.

This is part one of an assortment of underrated hip-hop records from the 1990’s, carefully handpicked and selected for you by myself.

Fat Joe – Represent (1993)

Aptly, on the release date of his tenth solo album, we have Fat Joe’s debut album Represent. Say what you want about my man Joey Crack but his first three LP’s were just that: Crack. His sophomore Jealous Ones Envy often receives most of the plaudits in Joe’s discography due to an element of fine tuning in Joe’s production and style, but Represent was raw, ballsy and unashamed. The stripped-out methods of fellow D.I.T.C. counterpart Diamond D handle most of the board-work on Represent allowing Joe to spit his trademark street tales fresh off the top of his dome. Although when I dropped my Throwback Thursday for Joe I covered Flow Joe, my actual favourite joint from Represent is the Kool G Rap and Apache (R.I.P.) featured You Must Be Out Of Your Fuckin’ Mind. One of my favourite G Rap verses ever over a screechy, drum-looped banger. This was Fat Joe and The Bronx at its very best.

Album Highlight: Fat Joe (feat Kool G Rap & Apache) – You Must Be Out Of Your Fuckin’ Mind

O.C. – Word…Life (1994)

Onto another D.I.T.C. member and we find ourselves with O.C.’s Word…Life; A record in my top 10 of all time. Word…Life emanates everything which was good about the ‘90’s hip-hop scene; Clever, thought-provoking story-telling accompanied by witty metaphors over sonically cohesive, jazz and soul inspired production. A brilliant album for either microscope scrutiny or just background chilling. O.C.’s vocals effortlessly glide over Buckwild’s smooth beats (Word…Life, Born 2 Live, Ga Head, Ma Dukes) or switches it up when the occasion calls for a more sinister tone with Constables, No Main Topic or for the classic Time’s Up. Limited to two features throughout, in the form of literal neighbours Organised Konfusion, Word…Life proved that O.C. was as capable as a solo artist as he was within a group of super MC’s.

Album Highlight: O.C. – Constables

INI – Center Of Attention (1995)

Pete Rock’s work with CL Smooth is often given the credit it’s due however side projects with INI and Deda are frequently overlooked when it comes to Rock’s empire. If you didn’t know about INI, then I can just about let you off here because INI’s debut Center Of Attention was actually shelved and not released until Rock released a double disk compilation in 2003 containing this and Deda’s The Original Baby Pa. Understandably most of the focus around the LP was on Rock and his production credentials. As a side project it allowed him to experiment to a certain extent and fans were intrigued to see what direction Rock decided to take. To the casual listener, not much was noted but what is evident on Center is Rock’s trademark warm, mellow, and exuberant undertones which makes his work so admired. The group’s somewhat underground hit Fakin Jax is a perfect example of this fully intact with Mobb Deep Give Up The Goods sample. With Rock’s involvement it is understandable why Center of Attention went on to become one of the most bootlegged unreleased albums of all time.

Album Highlight: INI – Fakin’ Jax

Kool G Rap – 4,5,6 (1995)

My brother says I write and talk about Kool G Rap too much. Too much? Not enough I say. I’m not afraid to say in my opinion he is the greatest of all time. He rose to fame with DJ Polo and their first three Golden Age records: Road To Riches (1989), Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1990) and Live And Let Die (1992). In 1995 G Rap released his debut solo LP, 4,5,6. By now G Rap had redefined his multi-syllabic rhyme scheme and was now bringing heavier, punchier delivery than ever before. Many criticise G Rap’s solo career on the strength of his beat selection and on later releases I can sympathise with this point of view. 4,5,6 however doesn’t fall into this category. The freedom of going solo allowed G Rap to vary up his production to brilliant effect bringing in popular producers Buckwild and Salaam Remi but also mixing it up with unknowns to create the perfect atmospherics. Although peaking at number one on the R&B / Hip-Hop chart, 4,5,6 is still widely underrated and more people need to have this record in their CD player/iTunes/car (or all three like me).

Album Highlight: Kool G Rap – 4,5,6

Smif-N-Wessun – Dah Shinin (1995)

Smif-N-Wessun first appeared on Black Moon’s 1993 classic Enta Da Stage before releasing their funky single Bucktown creating significant hype for their debut release Dah Shinin. Dah Shinin brings dark, dusty beats characteristic of the 90’s East Coast scene but more importantly saw the emergence of the supergroup Boot Camp Click with Dah Shinin holding guest spots for Moon’s Buckshot, Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C. On the mic, Tek and Steele bring hardcore, street wordplay which they accompany with textbook boom-bap production from Tha Beatminerz. The simple fact this is how East Coast hip-hop should be done sees Dah Shinin find it’s way into my fifth spot for this Sleeping With Open Eyes collection.

Album Highlight: Smif-N-Wessun – Bucktown

Enjoy the tracks I’ve upped to give you a taste of what you’re missing on these brilliant records. Stay tuned for the next collection which will feature five more underrated gems for us to dissect and celebrate.

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4 comments to Sleeping With Open Eyes: Part 1

  • Francis

    brilliant. thanks so much

  • J Van S

    Trendz of Kulture

    Organized Konfusion

    Souls of Mischief



    Poor Righteous Teachers

    Heltah Skeltah

  • Cheers JVS. Just trying to find time to get around to do my second installment!

    Organized Konfusion – Stress: The Extinction Agenda for me. Would you agree or go with their debut?

  • J Van S

    Prefer Stress, Main…. But I’m over here (Stateside0 so not AS slept on here as there, I would think! Stress though – fo’ sho’ Listen back to the verses on “HATE” and “Bring it On”… LAWD!

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