(Today's Reader Review comes from frequent contributor Sir Bonkers, who took some time from his own site, Diggin' In The Crates, to listen to one-hit wonder Skee-Lo's debut album I Wish. Leave your thoughts for him below.)
Skee-Lo is about as good of an example of a one-hit-wonder you can give. In 1995, his single "I Wish" managed to hit near the top of music charts worldwide. This might not seem like much of an achievement today, but back then the pop charts still weren’t entirely used to hip hop tracks. Then again, said single is a prime example of a hip hop song people will praise even when they claim to hate the entire genre (kind of like Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" in that people are in love with nostalgia and like reminiscing, since there is no obligation to give a shit about current rap trends, although I like "I Wish" much more).
Apparently he wasn’t originally from Los Angeles, but according to Wikipedia Skee-Lo had been living there for about a decade when he released his debut, also titled I Wish, which explains the overt left coast-feel it gives off. (Although today a hip hop album typically has thirty tracks produced by the fifty hottest producers of the moment and features the illest emcees from across the North American continent, making it sound all over the map by default, in the mid-1990s you could pretty much accurately deduce where a rapper hailed by simply listening to his or her music, usually over the span of somewhere between twelve and fifteen tracks, which gave the artist and a handful of collaborators enough time behind the mic and boards to form an identity colored by the variety of hip hop that was popular in their hometown.)
1995 California hip hop was syrupy G-Funk, which usually incorporated slow hypnotic grooves, a deep bass, cheesy female backing vocals, and a high-pitched, whiny, hovering synthesizer lead. That doesn't male Skee a Snoop Doggy Dogg clone, though. Antoine “Skee-Lo” Roundtree is much more like you and I than Calvin Broadus ever was or will be. He openly raps about his own problems, which don't usually involve keeping his stable of hos in check, drive-by shooting rivals, or keeping the police off of his ass. He does boast occasionally, but not about anything but his rhyme skills, which he proves as fairly impressive in the process. And when he does talk about the streets, he sounds genuinely scared that something bad might happen to him out there. (He's actually not unlike Coolio in that respect.)
Of course, the fact that he’s not your everyday Death Row Records reject doesn’t mean he automatically dropped a nice album. But it does mean he was different enough to generate enough of my curiosity to make me give this a spin.
Antoine is next in line for a turn in the gang rape of the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” and fails to do anything worth mentioning with it, except for adding some sax. Not that this sounds unpleasant or anything: matter of fact, right off the bat Skee-Lo shows some obvious rhyme skills. It’s hard to compare his style to anyone else’s, but saying he's like a slowed-down, self-censoring Twista is not too far from the truth, I guess.
2. I WISH
The song that’ll make sure that Skee-Lo will never be forgotten by either hip hop heads or people who still love American Pie. This still sounds fresh and catchy today, with its funky beat that even incorporates whistling into the mix. What made Skee stand out in the gangsta-dominated musical landscape of 1995 is his willingness to talk about his insecurities in a manner that showcase him as slightly annoyed rather than hyper-violent. He stays away from both unnecessary profanity and Fresh Prince corniness, which is itself deserving of a compliment. This is one of those timeless classics that will get played at clubs, house parties and maybe MTV throwback programs (if they ever decide to play music again, that is) until the end of time, and it’s entirety deserving.
3. NEVER CROSSED MY MIND
Obviously, the gangsta posturing would surface at some point. However, Antoine talks about how he used to be rather violent (he eventually grew out of it). Despite some graphic descriptions of violence, he still doesn’t use profanity, which is a good thing, as it wouldn’t fit our host’s style to incorporate “n----z” and “bitches” into his rhymes. The instrumental sounds a bit like a G-Funked-up version of Michael Jackson’s “The Lady In My Life”, which works alright enough. Not bad at all.
4. TOP OF THE STAIRS
The subject matter here is quite similar to that of “I Wish”, but not nearly as memorable. I still can’t hate on it too much, though. There are much worse rap songs out there.
5. COME BACK TO ME
Skee attempts to convince the girl who left him to come back, apparently by leaving this song on her answering machine. Hmmm… So Antoine doesn’t have a stable of bitches and he actually gets sad when bad things happen to him? He pulls this off by not making this song quite as corny as it could have been. Skee’s well-crafted rhymes about things most us actually go through make him easier to relate to than, for instance, Snoop’s tales of pimping hos. I have nothing against gangsta rap, though: I love rapping along to “Gin and Juice” with my homeys after drinking a few pints. But Skee’s grounded quality is just refreshing. I will say that these left coast-sounding instrumentals start running together and are starting to sound too much alike, but I could just as easily praise the album for consistency.
6. WAITING FOR YOU
Not that Skee-Lo can’t pull off a boastfest when he feels like it. This instrumental, which incorporates trumpet soundbites and is a bit more high-energy than anything on here since “I Wish”, also helps kill the monotony a bit, which is nice.
7. HOLDIN' ON
As far as love raps go, this is neither here nor there. The swooshing erotic lounge synth makes this beat sound quite generic and the female vocals on the hook didn’t do it for me, either, but Mr. Roundtree is flowing deftly over it as ever.
8. YOU AIN'T DOWN
A staple of hip hop is the “you never fucked with me until I came up” song. This is one such song. Even though this album and its title track were successful enough to warrant gold plaques for both, one can’t help but wonder if Antoine didn’t speak too soon, considering how quickly he would fall off the radar again.
9. CRENSHAW (FEAT. FUNKE & TREND)
Apparently Crenshaw is the place to get down on a Sunday night. And those certainly are two generic-ass guests on here. Even though they don’t fuck up this nice chilled-out song, which will definitely make its way to my summertime blunt blowing in the park-playlist alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”, DJ Quik’s “Summer Breeze”, Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride”, and Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”, among others, I’m not inclined to look for anything else these Funke & Trend guys may have recorded.
10. THIS IS HOW IT SOUNDS
This jazzy tune mixes Skee’s usual G-Funk sound with jazz horns and what seems to be the same Isley Brothers vocal samples 2Pac used for the “Bury Me a G” track by his group Thug Life. This song is pretty grand and unexpected, too.
11. THE BURGER SONG
The acid jazz-meets-G-Funk vibe is extended to this ridiculously-titled song. The hook, which sounds like Antoine ordering a whole bunch of shit at Mickey D’s, is all sort of ridiculous. “The Burger Song” is a strange (but not completely horrible) way to kill off I Wish.
12. I WISH (BONUS STREET MIX)
All this unnecessary bonus remix accomplishes is reminding the listener of the brilliance of the original version's instrumental.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I Wish is a pretty decent album. It has enough familiarity to effortlessly take one back to a particular time and place in history, with the title track being the best example, and the album holds enough surprises (such as “This Is How It Sounds”) to keep things interesting as well. Skee-Lo proves himself to be both an above-average rapper and an above-average producer (he co-produced everything on here). I wouldn’t label this as canonical, and I won’t ever be listening to just this album the entire summer long, but I’ll definitely revisit it every once in a while.
BUY OR BURN? You should definitely spend some loose change on a used copy of this.
BEST TRACKS: “I Wish”; “Never Crossed My Mind”; “Waiting For You”; “Crenshaw”; “This Is How It Sounds”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)