Tiffany Lane is possibly one of the only rappers in the industry who is also a certified paralegal. She also has two daughters, one of whom is now a Ford model. But you only know who she is because of a guy she used to fuck.
Sorry, that may have been a bit crude, but it's also absolutely true: Tiffany Lane is only moderately famous because she used to fuck Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, which wouldn't be a bad or even newsworthy item, had Biggie not been married to Faith Evans at the time.
Tiffany met Biggie in 1995, after he had already become relatively famous, and impressed him so much with her rhyme skills (that wasn't supposed to be a blowjob joke) that he convinced his friend, record executive Lance "Un" Rivera, to sign her to his vanity label, Untertainment (which sounds like the exact opposite of entertainment, but whatever). This made Tiffany, who adopted the moniker Charli Baltimore (taken from the Geena Davis flick The Long Kiss Goodnight), the second woman to earn a record deal after sleeping with Biggie: the first, of course, was Lil' Kimberly Jones, who secured her spot in the Junior M.A.F.I.A. by (insert an actual blowjob joke here). At least, that's what I learned by watching the movie Notorious, a Biggie Smalls biopic that completely forgot that Charli Baltimore ever existed.
Unlike her more popular counterpart, Charli didn't have the benefit of getting The Notorious B.I.G. to help her write her songs: he passed away before she even started recording her debut album, To Hell And Back (later changed to Cold As Ice). In fact, the only time these two ever worked together was (oddly) on the set of the video for Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s "Get Money", where Tiffany was fitted with a blond wig and tasked with playing a Faith Evans lookalike in one of the most poorly thought-out ideas Biggie had ever executed. So it makes sense that she was a little bit overwhelmed when it came time for her to actually fulfill her contract.
Her labelmate Cameron Giles, better known as Cam'Ron, managed to sell over five hundred thousand copies of his debut project, Confessions Of Fire, so the pressure was on. Through means that I still don't fully understand, Tiffany managed to call in some ringers to assist her: aside from calling in favors from Cam'Ron, she also finagled beats and guest verses from hip hop heavyweights such as The RZA, DJ Premier, Noreaga, and Eightball. Cold As Ice was scheduled to drop in 1999, positioned to throw itself at the same audience that followed Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records and everything the Trackmasters had their hands in. Charli Baltimore was poised to explode.
And then she didn't.
Although promotional copies were sent to music critics, Cold As Ice never saw a proper release in stores. Untertainment folded shortly thereafter, and Charli found herself bouncing around from label to label (aligning herself with artists such as Ja Rule and The Game), hoping to recapture the magic that she never truly held to begin with. The third member of mythical rap supergroup The Commission (alongside Jay-Z and Biggie himself) never reached the heights she was promised by her lover.
However, copies of Cold As Ice leaked to the Interweb a long-ass time ago, so what follows is a write-up on an album that could have changed the trajectory of Tiffany Lane's career, had her label been in a position to put it on store shelves, instead of quietly releasing it to Amazon and iTunes in 2009 without any publicity whatsoever. (Yes, that's right, you can actually purchase this album. This was originally going to be another one of my 'Not Available In Stores!' entries before I discovered it online.)
So I have to ask, would Cold As Ice have found an audience back in 1999?
1. INTRO (FEAT. LANCE “UN” RIVERA)
What the hell was this shit? I feel like I tuned in midway through an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. Why would Charli let Lance “Un” Rivera talk about her in such an ugly and derisive manner on her own fucking debut album?
2. ANGEL DUST
An extension of the intro (which was uncomfortable to listen to, even by rap album intro standards), which, thankfully, simply features Charli behind the mic. Unlike the other well-known mistress, Charli doesn't actually sound like a female Biggie: instead, her delivery sounds more informed by that of her labelmate Cam'Ron. She spits a quick two verses and doesn't sound half bad doing so. I don't necessarily have high hopes, but maybe this will at least be entertaining.
3. STAND UP (FEAT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Cold As Ice gets its most bizarre collaboration out of the way early on, as Ghostface Killah hooks up with Tiffany while The RZA works the boards. After working their way through an awkward will-they-or-won't-they sex rap of sorts (in which our hosts pledges to fuck Pretty Toney in return for half of his publishing – I'm betting that promise has since been rescinded), they resort to kicking separate verses over a Prince Rakeem masterpiece of minimalism. Predictably, Ghost sounds just fine, but Chuck also turns in a good performance, making me forget why I was so confused that RZA gave her the beat in the first place. Even though Cold As Ice was pretty much shelved (until now, anyway), “Stand Up” was released as a single, with the (awesome) instrumental included, so at least this track was easy to find.
4. KEEP IT REAL (FEAT. CAM'RON)
I always found it curious that Puff Daddy kept Craig Mack and The Notorious B.I.G. apart during the recording sessions for their respective debut albums: being the savvy salesman he is, you think he would have dabbled in some cross-promotion. (The “Flava In Ya Ear” remix doesn't count: that song wasn't available on either Project: Funk Da World or Ready To Die.) Un tackles the issue head on by having the first two artists ever signed to Untertainment collaborate on “Keep It Real”. Cam'Ron spits his verse and quickly leaves, while Charli (who also appeared on Cam's Confessions Of Fire) bats cleanup over a relatively funky Lance “Un” Rivera beat that reminds me of something Timbaland has done in the past. The song itself wasn't very memorable, though.
5. PULL THE ALARM (FEAT. BILLY LAWRENCE)
Charli Baltimore aims for radio playlists: that's the only reason anybody has ever hired vocalist Billy Lawrence to sing a hook on their rap song. Luckily for me, this song is so godawful that there was never a chance in hell that “Pull The Alarm” could have ever become a popular song (although I've been proven wrong before). Every time I hear Lawrence on a track while doing these write-ups, I'm always left feeling bad for her: with the caliber of artists she's worked with in her career, she seems to have gotten a raw deal.
6. EVERYBODY WANNA KNOW
Somehow, Charli was able to swing beats from the A-list likes of The RZA and, on here, DJ Premier for her debut album, while Cam'Ron was stuck with Jermaine Dupri and the Trackmasters. Does Chuck have more street cred or something? Or is it because she looks like a fucking fashion model? Not really sure, but she tackles this Primo instrumental in an overzealous manner, as if even she realized that the very concept of her getting some DJ Premier boom bap to herself was ridiculous and she had better take advantage of it while she could. Primo's typical chorus of scratched-in sound bites is annoying as fuck (the music behind both of Biggie's “contributions” interrupts the song's overall flow), but Chuck actually sounded alright with her three verses. Better than Melachi the Nutcracker, anyway.
7. WELCOM E TO THE TUNNEL (INTERLUDE)
If this dumbass skit were a real-life incident, there would be so many legal ramifications.
8. MOTHAFUCKAS DON'T WANT IT (FEAT. TONY DUTCH & ACE SPADE)
The hook on here is fucking atrocious, so much so that it sounds like a parody of rap music, which isn't something I appreciate when there isn't any actual joke to be found. Chuck adopts an ill-advised speed-rap flow before even she realizes that she sounds stupid, but when she switches back to her traditional delivery method, she sounds right at home alongside failed rap duo (and labelmates, if the Interweb can be trusted) Dutch and Spade, artists who never really went anywhere with their respective careers. This song might be the reason why.
9. PIMP DA 1 U LOVE (FEAT. EIGHTBALL & RODNEY ELLIS)
Southern stalwart Eightball appears on this song for absolutely no reason: he spits the chorus, which he shares with crooner Rodney Ellis, and then leaves, with Chuck holding the bag on this sort-of love rap that she doesn't sound altogether comfortable with. A note to all aspiring rappers: if you luck out and get a name-brand guest artists to agree to make an appearance on your song, spend the extra money and get a verse out of them. Otherwise, your work will sound as aimless as this song did, and the listeners will think you're an asshole.
10. FEEL IT
Unless my memory is failing me, this late term abortion of a song was released as one of the singles from Cold As Ice. Teddy Riley's beat is all loud noises and no soul: even if I was high as fuck, I couldn't hallucinate a fathomable way to enjoy this shit. Chuck does what she can with the crappy beat, but she succumbs to the pressure of trying to make an obvious bid for radio airplay, failing miserably. This shit made me want to stick a screwdriver directly into my eardrum.
11. THOROUGH SISTERS (FEAT. THE LADY OF RAGE, GANGSTA BOO, QUEEN PEN, DA BRAT, & SCARLET)
Originally titled “Thorough Bitches” but cleaned up so as to not offend the sensibilities of middle America, although the chorus (which works around a vocal sample from The Notorious B.I.G.) remains unchanged (and besides, that line of logic doesn't explain away “Mothafuckas Don't Want It”). This coterie of chicks kick censored lyrics in a virtual cypher. The beat is simple enough to stay out of the way, and everyone sounded decent enough, even some of the inspired choices (Gangsta Boo (no relation to Chicken Boo), formerly of Three 6 Mafia? Really?), but all of the dropped audio protecting our children's ears from profane language disrupts the flow. Also, who the fuck is Scarlet? Had anybody ever heard of her before reading this write-up? Anyone? Bueller?
12. INFAMOUS (FEAT. MOBB DEEP & MIKE DELORIAN)
This Havoc-produced trifle was bad enough (Havoc gave a better beat to Foxy Brown for her “The Promise” from Ill Na Na), but it gets exponentially worse when Hav's verse suddenly morphs into a performance by Mike Delorian, best known by absolutely nobody as one-half of Prodigy protégées Bars-N-Hooks. Who let this guy into the booth? On a positive note, Chuck adapts to the artists she's working with pretty successfully, and Cellblock P's verse actually sounded alright. His hook, on the other hand...
Chuck dedicates this moody RZA track (how the fuck did she get two?) to “jealous n----s and bitches”, but she doesn't give the folks in that category much to actually be jealous about: Tiffany spends a lot of time defending herself against her detractors and her critics. Although she goes back to this particular cliché too many times on Cold As Ice, at least Charli is aware that most people think of her as a whore, that she fucked for her position in the rap game (at least back in 1999). Also, this track sounds suspiciously like a Notorious brainwave: I wonder if he had more of an influence on Chuck than I originally thought.
14. SAY YOUR PRAYERS (INTERLUDE)
A skit featuring one of Charli's two children. Hard to criticize when a child is involved, and this interlude isn't offensive in any way, so I'll just move on.
15. HAVE IT ALL (FEAT. JENI FUJITA & MISS JONES)
On “They”, Tiffany mentioned that four of her loved ones had passed away: “Have It All” is her way of talking through her losses. The reflective beat, which skews a bit too poppy for the subject matter, facilitates two Charli verses that showcase an increased focus and maturity, and she sounds polished, not really like the Charli Baltimore that recorded the rest of Cold As Ice, as she finally lets her guard down, albeit briefly. I hadn't heard from guest vocalist Jeni Fujita since I wrote about John Forte's Poly Sci, so while her performance was annoying and shrill, it was nice to see that she earned another paycheck. Coincidentally, John Forte also produced this song, so that explains that.
16. NBC (FEAT. CAM'RON & NOREAGA)
“Have It All” could have ended Cold As Ice on a good note, but since this is a hip hop album, abundance is the word of the day, and I'm forced to continue on. Chuck and Cam'Ron are joined by one-half of Capone-N-Noreaga (guess which half!), and all goodwill earned by Tiffany's touching lyrics before has been thrown in the incinerator. Our host resorts back to her default setting, cursing like a motherfucking damn hell ass sailor and referencing her vagina at least once, in order to keep up with the guys. Bleh.
17. MAKING LOVE (FEAT. BROTHA)
This sex rap was inevitable: since Tiffany is going out of her way to hit all of the typical rap album tropes, why wouldn't she give listeners a dirty song? While this is hilariously exploitative, and it goes against everything that all “proper” (read: "not as well known”) female emcees stand for, Charli's filthy-as-fuck (and highly detailed) depiction of fucking her man's best friend is actually somewhat successful, and by that I mean that the kids reading this review will listen to “Making Love” and suddenly have a hard-on for Charli Baltimore and will just as suddenly have to clean off their computer screens and keyboards. The hook is dumb, but honestly, nobody will really care: Tiffany gives this Penthouse-level sex rap everything she has, and it doesn't suck (no pun intended), so good for her. She even shows restraint by tacking on a twist ending.
18. WAKE UP BITCH (INTERLUDE)
Really just the intro for the next track. Still useless.
19. 30 MILES FROM BALTIMORE (FEAT. BROTHA)
For her final tale, Tiffany reimagines Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight as a documentary following her own life, recounting the film's events (and some other made-up shit) from her own perspective, and doing so in such a manner that Geena Davis may want to consider filing a lawsuit for plagiarism. This song was already corny, but it gets even worse whet Brotha apes Mr. Mister's “Broken Wings” for the chorus. Yes, you read that right. You should probably just go watch The Long Kiss Goodnight again: that flick is pretty underrated, and Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious in it.
20. OUTRO (FEAT. LANCE “UN” RIVERA)
Unnecessary. If Un really treats his artists like he does on Cold As Ice, it's almost as though he deserved to get shanked by Hova. Yeah, I went there.
21. HORSE & CARRIAGE (REMIX) (CAM'RON FEAT. BIG PUNISHER, CHARLI BALTIMORE, WYCLEF JEAN, & SILKK THE SHOCKER)
This remix to Cam'Ron's hit “Horse & Carriage”, which originally featured Ma$e, is actually a Cam'Ron song, but I suppose Un slipped it on here for some extra exposure (even though a video was shot: how much more exposure did it need?). This all-star (plus Silkk The Shocker) track infamously samples the theme from Night Court and really has nothing to do with the original song, except for when Chuck disses her former friend Mason Betha (even with his name edited out, it's easy to tell where she was going with her line). Pun sounds good, Cam (is this his first reference to the Diplomats?) is alright enough, Silkk is predictably meh, and Wyclef is horribly miscast. Tiffany, the alleged star, handles herself well, I guess. And with that, we're done.
Different promotional versions of Cold As Ice contain the following tracks in lieu of “Horse & Carriage (Remix)”.
Even though this track was released as a single (it's from the soundtrack to Woo, a film you had completely forgotten about until I brought it up just now) and a video was shot for it, it wasn't actually supposed to originally appear on Cold As Ice. DJ Clark Kent's production lazily swipes The O'Jays's “For The Love of Money”, which is now better known as the theme song for NBC's The Apprentice, and Tiffany fails to separate herself from the materialistic masses, possibly because the fucking song is called “Money”. The failure of this single may have actually contributed to the label thinking twice about dropping Cold As Ice.
ANYWAY YOU WANT IT (FEAT. BILLY LAWRENCE)
I actually can't draw any conclusion on this track, as it's extremely difficult to track down, and I don't feel like putting in that much effort. I'm assuming that this isn't a cover of the Journey song, though. Considering the guest star, I highly doubt it's worth my time, but I could be wrong: if you've heard this track, leave me a message below.
ICE (FEAT. MA$E)
This song was allegedly left off of Cold As Ice because the label couldn't clear the sample, which Wikipedia says is from Vanilla Ice's “Ice Ice Baby”, but is clearly Queen and David Bowie's far-superior “Under Pressure”. Anyway, this song sucks: both Charli and Pastor Mase sound bored out of their minds, and their performances suffer as a result. After recording this track, M-A-dollar sign-E pissed off Cam'Ron to such a harsh degree that Tiffany, being the loyal labelmate she is, decided to attack him on “Horse & Carriage (Remix)”. So it goes.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Charli Baltimore is by no means the best female rapper out, but her shelved (and eventually quietly released) debut Cold As Ice isn't entirely bad. There are actually a few really good songs on here, and a couple of guilty pleasures, too. It certainly isn't any worse than Cam'Ron's Confessions of Fire. Tiffany Lane caught a bad break in our chosen genre: she actually honed her skills and, as a result, is a better rapper than Lil' Kim. (I'm serious.) She even managed to somehow convince name-brand producers to work with her. And yet, her career has yet to go anywhere. Cold As Ice won't appeal to most of you two, I'm sure, but it isn't completely bad: in fact, I actually liked a lot of this. But you will need to be in the right state of mind. Hip hop heads looking for feminist rhymes will need to look elsewhere, unless they want to hear about the power of the pussy, specifically the one belonging to Charli Baltimore. Fans of East Coast rap circa 1999 will find something to like on here, though.
BUY OR BURN? A burn is sufficient, but you may actually want to track down the songs listed below, as they are surprisingly entertaining.
BEST TRACKS: “Stand Up”; “Everybody Wanna Know”; “Have It All”; “Making Love” (no, I'm not joking about the last one)