Celph Titled & Buckwild-Nineteen Ninety Now [Album Review]

While the foundations of Nineteen Ninety Now sit firmly in their self-titled era, the freshness of Celph Titled and Buckwild’s innovation manage to deliver a 2010 gem to be savoured by old-school and underground heads alike.

Raekwon really has started something. It now seems as if everyone wants to rekindle Golden Age hip-hop again. And who am I to complain? The success of Rae’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, has seen industry vets such as Capone-N-Noreaga release the sequel to their critically acclaimed The War Report, AZ is soon to drop Doe Or Die 2 and even Snoop aims to go for the jugular after recently (and worryingly) announcing Doggystyle 2.

Celph Titled may not be instantly recognisable as a seasoned 1990’s old hand, but the Army Of The Pharaohs member and Demigodz front-man has had the underground pulsating since 1992. Although a producer himself, for his official debut Nineteen Ninety Now Celph teams up with a producer who needs little introduction. Famed for his stripped out, dark, haunting beats Buckwild has produced hits for D.I.T.C. comrades from Big L, O.C. and Fat Joe to rap heavyweights 50 Cent, Nas and Jay-Z. For their latest project, Buckwild has given Celph access to his 1990 ‘crates’ of unreleased beats and the result? An underground and old-school heads’ audio equivalent of a pig in shit.

I don’t often say this but within one second of pressing play you know exactly where Nineteen Ninety Now is headed. Even if unable at first to pinpoint the track, heads will instantly feel overcome with nostalgia with the deep, funky baseline which serves as a jazzed up version of Smif-N-Wessun’s Wrekonize. Celph starts things off with ample introduction before giving us a taste of what’s to come.

“You’ve gotta start with a new scheme/your goofball Ron Burgundy news team ain’t bringing the forecast/my hurricane cyclone attack’ll leave ya with ya bones cracked and four casts!”

Nineteen Ninety Now manages to keep things fresh throughout yet whilst essentially using the same trusty stripped-out drums and soul-sampling formula.  Tracks such as Out To Lunch really go in and I’ve found myself starting the album from this point on several occasions already. A drum heavy, punchy backdrop eliciting that textbook East Coast sound and although I was disappointed with Treach’s verse I guess I’ll just put it down to the Illmatic-paradigm (comparing all artist’s subsequent work to their unassailable previous work).

Eraserheads has Buckwild showcasing his orchestral capabilities straight out of a John Barry playbook and sets up Celph and Vinnie Paz to trade bars back and forth. Vinnie shows why he’s at the peak of his game and one of the top MC’s out at the moment.

Hardcore Data feels lifted straight from Black Moon’s 1993 debut Enta Da Stage and Mad Ammo’s timely horns and sporadic sax emanate that Stress: The Extinction Agenda feel. At points I even expected Pharoahe Monch to jump on the mic. The undoubted star of Mad Ammo is R.A. The Rugged Man although that said, this wasn’t one of R.A.’s best verses and his quick fire flow didn’t fit as well to Buck’s beat as I had hoped.

The funky melodies return on I Could Write A Rhyme and Lord Finesse’s influence on Buck’s production style is evident here. Celph uses Buckwild’s laid back, rolling backdrop to rewind on his entry into the game, his influences, his first group and getting his deal in New York. To me it feels like the album has just started, which at number 6 is a refreshing stance, however the nature of Celph’s reminiscent bars leaves the listener wondering whether I Could Write A Rhyme would have been better suited at number one, setting the context for the remainder of the album.

I don’t know which version came first so all I’m going to say is that Tingin’ bares uncanny resemblance to Big Shug’s Premier produced Crush. After all, we would be naive to presume that because Buck samples Big Shug’s vocals on chorus that his version came after. For what it’s worth, the added progressive piano loop which Buckwild layers Tingin’ with adds a much improved dimension to the track and with Big Shug replaced by Celph’s vocals, it’s a no brainer really.

There were so many untouched treasures from Buckwild’s basement that the numerous interludes, which the listener will find littered around, are all laced with some form of musical touch and the impressive Swashbuckling ends up rocking 4 different beats. Celph enlists some help with a Big L-swaggered Apathy, Ryu and Esoteric venomously tackling each beat individually.

Celph and Buck call in some more help for There Will Be Blood resulting in Sadat X, Grand Puba, A.G., Diamond D and a Word…Life hungry O.C. all dropping respective verses leaving you feeling its 1995 all over again. Lines such as: “I know you ain’t diddy, but I can make you see thru puffy eyes” bring a smile to the listeners face not only from the entertaining reference, but also the cleverness in the way it was constructed.

With so much boom bap on display on Nineteen Ninety Now, who would have thought it was the soulful Miss Those Days which would steal the show as a modern-day classic to which it serves its very own purpose for. “RZA rocking all the beats/SEGA with the Altererd Beast/wasn’t safe to walk the streets with Jordan sneakers on ya feet!” As a tribute track to the 90’s I can really relate to Celph’s sentiments and the introspective, smooth female vocals on the hook come as an appropriate and yet not-out-of-place variation to what else is on offer.

As for the early leaks, the synthy Step Correctly has been on heavy rotation before I got the album advance copy. It’s an odd one because I can’t pinpoint why it’s so addictive but somehow has real replay value. Styles Aint Raw isn’t as grabbing as Step Correctly but a real album highlight is Apathy’s verse where he showcases why he’s such an underground favourite. “Sick of simplifying for you simple minded simple Simons/this is simple science when I spit it’s signifying/that my spit is flying I could spit shine the sun’s surface/this verse is hot as fire breathing dragon’s burps is!” Just one of many quotables from an often, lyrically mesmerising album.

Only two tracks are somewhat forgettable, the A Tribe Called sampling Where I Are and the weak Fuckmaster Sex over a frail Buckwild beat which we know both producer and emcee can do much better.

Although at times I’ve criticised the opening track choices, Nineteen Ninety Now holds a perfect ending in the form of Time Travels On where Celph calls in his Equilibrium counterparts as a nice finishing touch. Celph closes out with some wisdom from the heart while Buck’s production sinks into the background allowing Celph’s powerful message do the talking: “Make the best of you’re time here, let you’re loved ones know that you care, cause they ain’t always gon be there, better plant seeds for your future to grow, don’t procrastinate, bullshit or move too slow. I used to be depressed about this life of mine, but now the clock is my medicine, I get better with time, time travels on.”

On announcement of the project, my excitement was constrained in part by my scepticism towards Celph’s ability to keep the listener engaged for a full length LP. That doubt is now firmly erased. Although Celph opted for his trademark braggadocio punch lines more than the absorbed introspective, he does illustrate his strength with variety, something many MC’s never seem to conquer. I, for one, hope tracks such as I Could Write A Rhyme, Miss Those Days and Time Travels On aren’t slept on in the organised confusion Ninteen Ninety Now invariably provides.

Celph’s partner in crime Buckwild isn’t just here to give him the keys to his basement either. He is the orchestrator of this masterpiece. With some utterly brilliant cutting, scratching, sampling and relevant interludes Buckwild demonstrates the value in the undeniable chemistry between emcee and producer which he and Celph share. The features are carefully selected to combine the desire of the underground with that much sought after old-school flavour and although some bars may disappoint, this is more a reflection on the high quality and standards of each MC as there isn’t a weak verse in sight.

While the foundations of Nineteen Ninety Now sit firmly in their self-titled era, the freshness of Celph and Buckwild’s innovation manage to deliver a 2010 gem to be savoured by old-school and underground heads alike.

Celph Titled and Buckwild’s Nineteen Ninety Now drops on October 26th.

Download and listen to the album sampler here.

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