This album came out eighteen years ago. No fucking shit. This album is old enough to vote. This album can get a tattoo without his parent's expressed written permission from Major League Baseball. This album can get into a club, although it still isn't old enough to drink (in the United States, anyway). This album has to go register with Selective Service, or at least flee the fuck to Canada when his name comes up in the draft. This album is old enough to remember a time before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and all of that other shit you kids use to not directly speak to one another.
Fuck, I feel old.
Jamal Phillips is a Philadelphia-bred rapper who began his hip hop career as a second-ran child star. In the early part of the 1990s, uberproducer Dallas Austin paired Jamal up with Malik Edwards, a fellow teenage wannabe rapper, and formed the duo Illegal, a team that lasted for the duration of exactly one project, 1993's The Untold Truth, released on Rowdy Records. Although that project spawned a couple of singles that one could potential trick themselves into remembering were once considered semi-popular in some circles, Illegal was short-lived for a reason, as both Jamal and Malik, who disbanded amicably, ran toward greener solo-artist pastures as soon as fucking possible.
Malik rechristened himself Mr. Malik and found himself in California, ultimately landing guest spots on three of the most popular projects ever released by the Left Coast: Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle (apparently Snoop is his cousin - who knew?), Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food, and Warren G.'s Regulate...G Funk Era. So he did fine, I guess; since this writeup isn't about him, I'm going to stop talking about him. Jamal, on the other hand, retreated east, landing smack in the middle of the New York mid-1990s renaissance, and using the connections he made while recording The Untold Truth, he found himself running with Erick Sermon's Def Squad crew, which consisted of Sermon, Keith Murray, and motherfucking Redman. (Lord Finesse and Diamond D also handled production duties on The Untold Truth, but I guess it would have been weird had Jamal become a part of the Diggin' In The Crates crew. Then again, they still count Fat Joe among their ranks.)
Jamal, who now also calls himself Mally G even though Mally J might have made more sense, recorded and released his solo debut, Last Chance, No Breaks, in 1995. To date, it is his only solo album. With the help of his Rowdy Records home and his Def Squad brethren both behind the boards and in the booth, Jamal attempted to capture eleven perfectly-timed moments in hip hop history, each one capturing the New York sound better than the last.
You can guess how well he did there.
1. LIVE ILLEGAL
Last Chance, No Breaks kicks things off with a darker Easy Mo Bee beat than I remembered, which immediately classifies this project as Mally G's take on Redman's Dare Iz A Darkside (which was released the year prior). The Havoc vocal sample (borrowed from Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Part II") helps bridge the gap between Jamal's former group and his current mindstate, so although Mr. Malik is never once mentioned, it's clear that our host hasn't entirely forgotten about his past. Mally G spits two verses that aren't lyrically dense or anything, but he sounds entertaining enough if a bit utilitarian), riding the darkness that only mid-1990s New York hip hop could ever have provided. A nice start.
2. KEEP IT LIVE
And there goes my motivation to finish this write-up. It's rare that any artist can squander all of his built-up goodwill within the span of a single song, but our host's three autobiographical verses (I assume) are boring as fuck: it's a variation of similar stories that we've heard from damn near every other rapper in creation, and Mally G can't find any interesting twists and turns, so instead of embellishing the truth like damn near every other rapper in creation, his admittedly-refreshing honest approach results in one dull-ass song that deserves, nay, demands to be skipped. Of course, meandering and soulless vocals can sometimes be overcome with the help of a great beat, but producer P.M.E. fails our host in this regard, too. It would be kind of funny just how bad this song was had it not been so much nothing that it has rendered me apathetic. Which is a goofy thing to say after wasting so much virtual ink on a song that sucks, but oh well.
Mally G's cover of the Yaz (or Yazoo, depending on which side of the pond you reside)'s "Situation" turns the dance hit into a violent storytelling rap, and it's also not a cover. After the bullshit that was "Keep It Live", our host is fighting an uphill battle, and he enlists producers Erick Sermon and Rockwilder for assistance, who comply with a decent instrumental that finds a way to fit the sound of a jail cell slamming shut into the music itself. Not terrible, but our host isn't an engaging-enough presence to get away with telling stories of this caliber. I much prefer his shit-talking persona. But this wasn't bad, even though he hardly shows any type of emotion at the end, when the shit goes down.
4. INSANE CREATION (FEAT. REDMAN)
It only makes sense that the Def Squad would be represented on a project from an ancillary member of the crew. The Green Eyed Bandit helped with production on the last track, and on "Insane Creation" Reggie Noble finally locates the studio, hidden underneath a haze of marijuana smoke and Cheeto dust, and rhymes alongside our young host on what could have easily been a Dare Iz A Darkside leftover, albeit one produced by Easy Mo Bee, who somehow dances around the fine line between dark and catchy. Mally G and Redman both sound pretty fucking good (Funk Doc especially, because come on), even this far removed from Last Chance, No Breaks's release date. Huh.
5. FADES 'EM ALL
The first single from Last Chance, No Breaks is a minimalist creation from Redman and Rockwilder that provides only a rough estimate of boundaries for Mally G to bounce off of. As this was likely most of the hip hop world's introduction to the idea of Jamal from Illegal as a solo artist, he had to make this first impression count, and to that end, he does alright: his confrontational style, consisting of vague threats and general shit-talking, certainly informs the rest of his body of work. "Fades 'Em All" sounds incredibly fucking dated, though, and not just because of the Biggie vocal sample (taken from "Ready To Die") that the hook is built around. Sadly, this didn't hit quite as hard as I had hoped. Sigh.
6. THE GAME
The whole "hostile" theme that opens "The Game" is much better suited to the off-kilter Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich-adoring Keith "Keith Murray" Murray, so it was pleasing to hear our host use Redman's spacey (if a bit simplistic) beat to describe the typical goings-on in the drug game with clarity. I don't necessarily believe that he's a certified expert on the subject, but fuck it. This was an interesting diversion, and the brief cameo from Redman's Dr. Trevis character at the end was a surprise (I had completely forgotten about that shit), but it does tie this project in with the rest of the Reggieverse.
7. DA COME UP
Mike Dean, a prolific producer who still works his ass off today (mostly alongside Kanye West these days), is funkier and more polished than the rest of Last Chance, No Breaks, which, in this case, is a terrible thing. "Da Come Up" sounds like, and I realize this is a strange comparison but just listen to it and you'll agree, the "Eerie Gumbo" remix of Ice Cube's "Lil' Ass Gee", and it shares subject matter with that O'Shea composition. Jamal's shit-talking always sounds better than his philosophical street tales, but that doesn't mean that his storytelling is terrible. Combining these skills with a beat such as this one makes it seem terrible. Mike Dean should have given this instrumental to someone, anyone else. Also, has anybody noticed that none of Mally's interludes are as goofy or playful as those on pretty much every other Def Squad project? Just me? Okay then.
8. DON'T TRUST NO
9. KEEP IT REAL
The only other single I remember from Last Chance, No Breaks is a bizarre miscalculation, a radio-friendly effort (aside from all of the fucking cursing) from a guy who will absotively posilutely never be played on a mainstream outlet (as a solo artist, anyway: I remember the Def Squad banger "Countdown" airing on MTV back in the day). Erick Sermon's beat, because I know, right?, is all dressed up for a night of drinking and dancing, but it clashes horribly with our host's thug posturing, as he focuses on chastising "bitch ass n----s" for not keeping it real when he should be paying attention to everyone having fun around him. Like I said, a miscalculation.
10. GENETIC FOR TERROR (FEAT. KEITH MURRAY & L.O.D.)
A silly song title masks a decent posse cut that sounds like Keith Murray and his Legion Of Doom weed carriers 50 Grand and Kel Vicious featuring Jamal, but whatevs. Our host sounds re-energized alongside his Def Squad coworker, and that energy translates to the audience, getting the listener amped up in a way that Reggie and Rockwilder's otherwise alright instrumental could not. The real star of this show is Murray himself, whose verses seem to consist solely of bars later reused on other, better songs, but still sound much more threatening than anything Mally G has thrown us all evening. (The Interweb seems to be convinced that Erick Sermon and Redman also make vocal appearances on here, which would make this a true Def Squad song, but they must be remarkably skilled at hide and seek, because I didn't hear them anywhere. I am also tired right now, so.)
11. UNFUCKWITTABLE (FEAT. GEORGE CLINTON & PASSION)
What the fuck? "Unfuckwittable" sticks out like a sore thumb in a sock full of quarters: the Erotic D production meanders not unlike Dr. Dre's "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)", which may have been an influence, and Mally G hardly factors on the final track from his own goddamn album, leaving the bulk of the heavy lifting on this funk overdose to guest stars George Clinton (no, seriously) and rapper Passion. Clinton's presence makes very little sense on a project that was supposed to allegedly sound like the streets of mid-1990s New York City. Throws the project's momentum off course completely, with no hope of any type of comeback. Wow, was this ill-advised.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I received so many requests to write about Jamal's Last Chance, No Breaks that I almost thought that this album was some classic record that I had somehow erased all memory of. Let me assure you, that is definitely not the case: Mally G excels in short bursts, not in long form, and a full-length project from the guy is bound to have more dry spots than shining moments. His eye for producers is pretty unexpectedly brilliant (Easy Mo Bee is an underrated gem and really should work more), but their actual beats didn't hold up for me as much as I had hoped. Jamal comes across as a disillusioned Shyheim, a former child star who also found fame by connecting with a crew that was famous as fuck (for Shy, that would be the Wu-Tang Clan); however, unlike Mally G, Shyheim actually sounds like he enjoys his job (or enjoyed; I understand he's retired now or something?), whereas our host seems to be going through the motions. If he was hoping that people would pick up Last Chance, No Breaks solely because of the Def Squad affiliation, well, he was probably right, but that doesn't mean that anybody ever really listened to this shit. There are a couple of good tracks, and a handful more would do in a pinch, but this album doesn't work as a cohesive whole. Interesting for Def Squad historians, though, as it's always good to see some of your favorite artists obviously having fun on a low-stakes project, kind of like how all of your favorite comedians keep appearing on each other's shows and podcasts.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, unless you find it for negative three bucks at a garage sale or something. Yes, that means that someone would have to offer you three dollars to take it off of their hands. Then you should get two.
BEST TRACKS: "Insane Creation"; "Genetic For Terror"
B-SIDE WORTH TRACKING DOWN: "FADES 'EM ALL (PETE ROCK REMIX)"
I still have no clue how this collaboration even happened in the first place, but Mally G somehow blackmailed the legendary Pete Rock to remix his single, and the Soul Brother complied by giving his host an actual beat to rhyme over. It's not that the original instrumental is bad; it's just that Peter Q. Rockefeller's take is that much better, as it lends the track some assistance in the head-nodding department. Curiously, this remix is for the clean edit of Jamal's first single, and yet it still plays better than the source material. Huh.