January 13, 2008

Def Squad - El Nino (June 30, 1998)


The hip hop supergroup is apparently the fad that will never die, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a very rare occurrence when your weed carriers end up actually having talent, so of course you would help build up their career (while keeping yourself in the spotlight) by making multiple guest appearances on their albums. If those tracks are relatively well-received, then the group album is the next logical step.

EPMD's baggage handler Reggie Noble, who has certainly grown into his own as an artist, and Keith Murray, who first popped up on (I think) Erick Sermon's first solo album (after the breakup of EPMD), had, at this point, released critically acclaimed discs for Def Jam and Jive Records, albums that had the luxury of actually being bagged up and purchased, by actual people, for the most part. (That probably applies more for Redman than Keith, honestly.) Erick Sermon, Redman, and Keith Murray had formed the loose collective Def Squad, and made it a point to pop up on each other's albums as a show of solidarity. When their one-off single, a remake of the classic Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers' Delight", became a mainstream hit (and actually resulted, for the first time in my area, in Erick Sermon being played on the radio outside of an EPMD flashback), Def Jam worked out some deals under the table with the other labels involved and decided to release their first (and, to date, only) collaborative effort, El Nino, as part of their Survival Of The Illest promotion, which really only helped DMX move units, from what I remember.

What says Max of El Nino?

1. SHOWER (INTRO)
Generic rap album intro number 8,267,458-C. Reggie produces all of the skits while Erick Sermon does all of the songs (with the exception of one, which I'll get to below). Perhaps E-Double should have given Reggie a break, as none of these skits are funny or entertaining.

2. CHECK'N ME OUT
Now this should have been the first track. Did we really need an introductory sketch?

3. COUNTDOWN (FEAT JAMAL & PMD)
The second single from El Nino is this awesome track. Redman and Keith's respective verses rock, and PMD's seemingly uncredited hook is the exclamation point of this overly excited run-on sentence.

4. FULL COOPERATION
The first single. The video, in which the three rappers take on three different Eddie Murphy film roles, is more interesting than the song is today, but it's not bad: to be honest, to me the song lost its luster once Puff Daddy's old girl group Dream (yeah, I don't remember them either) utilized the "Full Cooperation" beat for a remix to one of their horrid songs. Oh, and the hook is lame.

5. RIDE WIT' US (FEAT TOO $HORT)
Not completely horrible. You may recall from an earlier write-up that this song filled the "Def Squad posse cut" quote on Keith Murray's third album; now do you see why I wrote that there were better songs to choose from? I bet it had something to do with the fact that Too $hort was also signed to Jive, but that's just Max and his imagination talking.

6. LAY 'EM DOWN (SKIT)
...

7. RHYMIN' WIT' BIZ (FEAT BIZ MARKIE)
James Brown's "The Payback" is sampled to death in hip hop already, and this song doesn't make a strong case for continuing its lifespan. (I'd rather hear the original at this point, thanks.) But with the inclusion of Biz Markie, this song is entertaining, to say the least, and the rappers sound like they're having a good time

8. THE GAME (FREESTYLE)
Not really impressed with this one.

9. WORLD ANNOUNCEMENT (SKIT)
While I do love The Warriors, the inclusion of all of these skits is questionable at best.

10. CAN U DIG IT?
This is the point where El Nino takes a dive into shark infested waters. Erick Sermon provides E-Double Generic Beat 86-Q, and this time, it doesn't stick.

11. YOU DO, I DO
What the fuck?! This song sounds terrible. Sadly, this is the only actual song produced by Reggie Noble. Coincidence?

12. YA'LL N----S AIN'T READY
I first heard a snippet of this song on one of those Survival of the Illest promotional discs (either the one that came with DMX's first album or Onyx's third CD, I don't remember which), and I was excited, because the beat sounded hectic, yet chilled. When I finally heard the final product, I was disappointed to learn that, after actually paying attention to the song itself, none of the three rappers is actually suited to the beat, even Reggie, although he acquits himself fairly enough. A huge disappointment, to say the least, but at least the beat still sounds good. Someone should jack this beat for their next mixtape. (You can have that idea for free.)

13. SAY WORD!
Proof positive that Erick, Keith, and Reggie were at least trying to pick the energy up and get the audience back, but rhyming to this beat doesn't really work.

14. NO GUEST LIST
Keith: "I battle with words/go to war with ideas!" The rhymes are above average, but the lame-ass chorus fucks up the whole experience.

15. BABIES FATHER COMMITTEE (SKIT)
...

16. DEF SQUAD DELITE
The novelty single, previously released on the wretched In The Beginning... compilation album (be good, and maybe I'll write that one up after all), is included here for no real reason other than to trick people into buying El Nino instead of In The Beginning... I have no clue why they changed the name of the track for the Def Squad album, though (since it was just called "Rappers' Delight" before), although I'm sure it was a legal matter. Sounds good, but then again, I repeat: novelty single.

FINAL THOUGHTS: El Nino is about half of a good album. It starts off strong (minus that dumbass intro), only gets stronger, and then falters midway through. It's mostly Erick Sermon's production choices that muddy up the El Nino waters, as the rhymes are uniformly good and consistent throughout. These three guys sound fantastic, and work well off of one another, so you just know it's a hell of a lot better than any of those supergroup albums from Cash Money or No Limit.

BUY OR BURN? Regardless of the second half, the first several tracks are good enough to warrant a purchase. And if you act now, you may also receive a plastic jewel case, in which you can easily carry your purchase.

BEST TRACKS: "Check'n Me Out"; "Countdown"; "Def Squad Delite"

-Max

5 comments:

  1. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJanuary 14, 2008

    This album was a lot of fun. The feel good album of 1998. Nothing I would consider a must have and certainly not a classic, just a solid album. I enjoy several songs from The Most Beautifullest... and most of Enigma but Keith Murray is better as part of a group than he is as a soloist and small doses also do Erick Sermon justice. Incidentally, if Redman was ever Erick Sermon's weed carrier it was a short stint which ended with Reggie selling the weed back to the green eyed bandit. And then stealing it from him.

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  2. bringing me back with this one :)

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  3. yeah, i liked this album a lot as well! and "The Game" was one of my favorite cuts from the album. i'm still waiting for that new Def Squad album to drop... btw: when are you going to start reviewing EPMD albums?

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  4. I wish this album was released in 95-96, as Sermon's beats then were some of the best beats I've ever heard in hip hop.

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    1. Don't forget Reggie's beats back in 94-95, as well. His smoked-out spacey sound remains very refreshing today.

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