(Today's Reader Review takes a detour into Wu country, so if you're just not in the mood, well, I don't know what to tell you. Are you new here? Don't you realize how often the Wu-Tang Clan pops up on HHID? Anyway, Michael decided to write about West Coast affiliates Northstar (and their debut project, Bobby Digital Presents: Northstar, with the emphasis inadvertently placed on the wrong act right on the fucking album cover), and I decided to post it. Leave your notes for Michael in the comments.)
Hello, Internet! Why am I reviewing another obscure album, even after the collective yawn that followed my review of Screwball’s Loyalty? Because...well, I’m actually not sure. Anyway, if this introduction seems rushed, it’s because it is: thinking about this album for more than twenty seconds at a time hurts my brain. Enjoy!
Following the release of Wu-Tang Forever in 1997, The RZA decided to branch out and search for new talent, as the Clan was going through a turbulent period. He ultimately wound up in Los Angeles, where he met several individuals who would later become known as the Black Knights of the North Star (a badass crew name, I might add). They soon found themselves appearing on various Wu-Tang projects in the late 1990’s, such as The Swarm, the Ghost Dog soundtrack, and The RZA’s own Bobby Digital side projects. While none of the members were necessarily bad, many fans were confused as to why The RZA chose to feature them so prominently instead of the other eight core Clan members.
After many other small projects and guest appearances, the group inexplicably broke in two: the Black Knights and Northstar (now with both words in the name combined for some reason). Both groups rose to pseudo-prominence in the mid 2000’s, with both of them recording studio albums, but only the Northstar project, entitled Bobby Digital Presents: Northstar, ever officially hit store shelves with actual label distribution and promotion and stuff, so the duo, made up of Christbearer and Meko the Pharoah, at least have that distinction.
So, how does this half of the West Coast Wu ensemble fare in 2013? Not well.
1. LUV ALLAH (FEAT. KINETIC)
This beat sounds corny as fuck. The vocal sample, which I imagine producer Armand Van Helden (better known for house music than third-tier rap songs) thought sounded uplifting and motivational, comes across as extremely tacky and, well, stupid. What makes it even worse is Christbearer constantly repeating, “This is so, so serious” over the hook, as if we needed to be reminded of the importance and alleged poignancy of the subject matter. I think by far the weakest link on this track is Christbearer himself: his bouncy, upbeat flow does not mesh well with more introspective-sounding beats (well, ones that aspire to be, anyway) such as this one. Meko and Killarmy's
Beretta 9 Kinetic sound
alright, though, and actually make the song better as it progresses,
but, ugh, that sample.
2. WE GOT IT (FEAT. FREEMURDER)
Now this is more of what I was expecting from this project. The listener is immediately greeted with aggressive drums and dark piano keys, making this sound much more Wu-esque than “Luv Allah” ever dreamed of becoming. Apart from the painfully generic hook provided by Freemurder (yeah, I have no idea either), this managed to entertain me, thanks in large part to the Mathematics beat, which Christbearer and Meko flow over effortlessly. This song didn’t knock my socks off or anything, but if memory serves, it was one of the strongest songs on the album. Sigh.
3. SKIT (FEAT. CALVIN COOLER)
I have no idea what story is trying to be told in this skit, and I do not ever want to listen to this again to find out.
4. RED RUM (FEAT. SHACRONZ, & DON)
Rejoice my children; The RZA is here to save the day! Oh, wait a minute, this song is terrible. In an era when The RZA was producing classic Wu-Tang tracks like “Run” by Ghostface Killah and “School” by Masta Killa, it is entirely inconceivable as to how such a garbage beat like this could have ever been created. Whether it’s the atrocious hook, the insanity-inducing sample (which sounds like two mosquitoes fucking inside of your ear), the mind-numbingly boring drums, or the incredibly lackluster lyrics, this song is guaranteed to ruin your day. I usually encourage others to listen to a song first and give it a chance, but I feel perfectly comfortable warning every reader to never listen to this song ever. It’s bad for your health.
5. SKIT (FEAT. CALVIN COOLER)
Okay, this one actually made me laugh, but it was still highly unnecessary.
6. CRAZY (FEAT. TONEBONE, MIDNIGHT, & SHOSHOT)
Mix Jive Musick comes across as a poor man’s True Master on this track. While the comparison might turn some people off immediately, I still found the beat to be quite good, although the guest artists make it sound like complete shit, tarnishing an otherwise good piece of production. Also, Christbearer’s claim that “Bitches can’t swim ‘cause the water too wavy” just sounded really dumb, and I could never bring myself to look past such a stupidly worded line. However one may feel about this song, it serves as a breath of fresh air after the travesty that was “Red Rum.”
7. NUTTIN (FEAT. 9th PRINCE & DOM PACHINO)
I sincerely hope that I was not the only one who expected this song to be solely about actual nut-busting. That I even considered such an absurd concept to be a possibility speaks volumes about one of hip-hop’s many ills, but I digress. This was actually a pretty good song featuring 9th Prince (one of my favorite rappers, minus the bigoted homophobia – read Max’s review of Granddaddy Flow and buy the album!) and an uncredited Dom Pachino, both of whom are members of the much more successful (relatively speaking) Wu-Tang offshoot group, Killarmy. Armand Van Helden, the man behind “Luv Allah”, certainly chose a much better vocal sample to utilize on this track, and it was fun hearing 9th and Pachino spit alongside their West Coast brethren.
8. SKIT (FEAT. CALVIN COOLER)
9. SEE ME (FEAT. FREEMURDER)
Yikes. Definitely not what I want from any Wu-Tang project ever. I’m pretty sure Northstar just got done mocking 50 Cent in their second skit, yet this beat sounds identical to the kind of club-banging crap that Fiddy loves to churn out in his G-Unit sweat shop. It pains me to type these fucking words, but here it goes: The RZA produced this song. At least with “Red Rum”, I could understand The RZA’s motivation behind the beat, but “See Me” is just so disgustingly anti-Wu that it hurts my heart. Puppies get brutally decapitated and thrown into pits of fire-breathing komodo dragons every time this song is played. The moral of this story: don’t play this song.
Northstar decides to rap about their favorite Nintendo 64 gaming experiences over a (gasp!) pretty good RZA beat. I really liked this song until I realized it was just an inferior remix of a much better song that appears later on the album. I’ll expand upon this later.
11. SO SO SERIOUS (FEAT. TMF)
Christbearer decided to take the most irritating part of “Luv Allah” and turn it into an entire fucking song? Christ! TMF, Ghostface Killah’s rap crew who eventually morphed into the more recognizable Theodore Unit, rhyme over a looped portion of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song (which is about as original as sampling “Apache” or “Nautilus”) and manage to sound much better than the West Coast duo. Christbearer can’t help but sound painfully wacky over the irritating beat and ultimately brings the entire song down with him. This was a considerable misstep on an already questionable album.
Mathematics once again provides Northstar with a beat that complements the respective styles of both members adequately enough. Christbearer and Meko (who hilariously spells “Duckie” as D-U-C-K-Y during his verse) spin a yarn about an old acquaintance of theirs who fell victim to the pleasures of the ghetto. I certainly appreciated the Wu “feel” to this song, but I in no way will grant that this actually sounded good. This was just more piffle. Yay!
13. BALLIN (FEAT. SUGA BANG BANG & SOLOMON CHILDS)
Frequent M.O.P. And Smooth Da Hustler collaborator DR Period provides Northstar with a boring beat that samples what I can only assume are old Sierra computer games from the early 1990’s. How very poor. Pass.
14. DESTINY (FEAT. KINETIC)
What. The. Fuck? The “sung” vocals sound absolutely dreadful over cheap-sounding piano plinks that I’m sure not even The RZA would have bothered with for his own experimental Bobby Digital material. What's that? The RZA produced this track, too? Good heavens! Who knows how many honey-dipped spliffs The Abbot consumed during the recording of this album, but goddamn, it must have been the purest shit from the mystical fields of Arcadia. No sober soul in the entire universe could ever think this shit sounded good. Skip, skip, skip, skip!
15. BLACK KNIGHTS OF THE NORTH STAR (FEAT. DOC DOOM & MIDNIGHT)
Well, this song is pretty damn awesome. I oftentimes wonder if this is actually a great song, or I just subconsciously think of it as one because it sounds so much better than the rest of the album. I tend to side with the latter theory. Compared to “64” (its ugly twin brother), this song skyrockets; the guest appearance of the Black Knights (well, Doc Doom, anyway) provides an extra layer of energy and finesse that is immediately noticeable within the first five seconds of the track. Why did they ever decide to split up again? Also, why the hell is “64” even on this album? Is it really any secret that this is the only memorable song they will ever make? Why tamper with your only saving grace? Whatever, I’m just glad this album is over. I’m hungry.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I am going to admit that this review took me several months to write. I could not bear having Bobby Digital Presents: Northstar in my sight for more than thirty minutes every lunar cycle. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I struggled to understand The RZA’s motive to put his name on the goddamn cover, but whatever, it probably made him a couple hundred bucks. "Cash Rules" and all that. There are a few pretty fun songs hidden beneath the myriad of shit- infested swamp filth, but even for the most diehard of Wu-stans, Northstar isn't worth your time. Studies have shown that sifting through this bucket of spunk can permanently ruin your perception of the Wu-Tang Clan. The psychological toll this album inflicts is far too great for any mortal mind to bear, and it is for this very reason that I warn everybody to just stay away.
BUY OR BURN? If you really love Wu-Tang, then I suppose you could burn the tracks below, but wouldn’t listening to Liquid Swords again be so much better? Hell, a kick in the nuts is better than this shit.
BEST TRACKS: “Black Knights Of The North Star"; "Nuttin"
(Questions? Comments? Complaints? Leave your thoughts below.)