February 12, 2008

Gravediggaz - The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel (October 14, 1997)


The debut album from the Gravediggaz collective, N---amortis (if you live on U.S. soil, you know it as 6 Feet Deep; if you're in Sweden, Shiny Happy People Holding Hands), was met with critical acclaim, which colluded with the public opinion that it was a really fucking good album. The group became the first of only two Prince Paul side projects to warrant any sort of follow-up (the other one being Paul's Handsome Boy Modeling School albums with Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, which reminds me, I really need to review those albums, too).

The first Gravediggaz album was not in any way, shape, or form a Wu-Tang production, no matter how many people tried to prove me otherwise; it was a Prince Paul project that just so happened to include Prince Robert Diggs. Paul's fingerprints were all over that motherfucker, and Rza was limited to producing about two and a half songs. While I would love to say that their second album, The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel, was still Paul's baby, we have to be honest with ourselves. Since the release of the first disc, The Rzarector became a star in his own right, and, predictably, was the guy that was leaned on the most by Gee Street, their label, to reproduce some of that old magic (Wu-Tang Forever was released to critical acclaim and big sales numbers earlier in 1997), so Prince Paul (The Undertaker) was pushed to the wayside. Not that this album sounds like Forever Part 2 or anything, but I've always wondered what this could have sounded like had Paul contributed more than one skit, the outro, and a photograph.

The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel proves to its audience right from the jump that the Gravediggaz's focus had shifted completely from what they were originally looking at. Prince Paul, The Rza, Frukwan (The Gatekeeper) and Poetic (Grym Reaper) were known as the best representatives from the hip-hop sub-genre "horrorcore", which the group would never lay claim to anyway, as their debut album was a satire. (For fans of actual horrorcore, I saw Esham detailing my car with a toothbrush (extra-soft bristles!) over at the Kwik Wash.) For the follow up, The 'Diggaz take on a more spiritual bent, making it feel like a natural ancestor to the Maccabeez project (or, for that matter, any Killah priest solo album). Unlike N---amortis, where the underlying thread was a hateful diatribe against an increasingly outdated music industry (and against Tommy Boy records, specifically), The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel is not a concept album, unless you're in the minority that considers "maturity" and "artistic growth" to be concepts.

As I wrote above, Prince Paul hardly participates on the disc, and his presence is missed greatly. The Rza, who executive produced the project, appears on less than half of the album's fifteen tracks, although he is a much bigger presence behind the boards this go round, and has utilized his pointy-ass finger claws to persuade Wu-Elements True Master, 4th Disciple, and future traitor Goldfinghaz to help make the disc sound more like the missing link between Wu-Tang Forever's "Sunshower" and Rza's lost album The Cure (still not released, and probably never will be). In the booth, this album belongs to Poetic and Frukwan, who bring their updated flows to the party and refuse to apologize for sticking their dicks in the mashed potatoes.

Sadly, the group as we know it disbanded shortly after this album's release. (Rza apparently discovered better things to do, like using his pointy finger claws to clean the tile grout in the Wu-Mansion, and Prince Paul wasn't the type of artist that Gee Street would entrust with a budget more than once.) Only The Gatekeeper and Grym Reaper would continue using the name; I suppose in a way, you could look at this album like the Iron Flag situation, as a practice session for Poetic and Frukwan for when they would be on their own. Sadly, Poetic passed away from colon cancer in 2001, leaving Frukwan as the last man standing.

Those of you who are holding out hope for a reunion, I wouldn't hold your fucking breath. Rza can't even keep the folks at his day job happy: what are the odds that he would return to a night shift at 7-11 that probably earned him no additional income but massive headaches?

Sad, that's what that is.

1. INTRO
I suppose I should be impressed that The Rza produced this intro, but it's not like it's an actual song or anything.

2. DANGEROUS MINDZ
I want to say this was the first single, but I'm not sure. Sounds good enough, but the guest appearances of Coolio and Michelle Pfeiffer are unnecessary.

3. DA BOMB
Uncharacteristic True Master production underlines the fierce performance of Frukwan, although Poetic keeps the pace pretty well.

4. UNEXPLAINED
Poetic actually stepped behind the boards for this impressive beat, and the song is decent, but you're left wondering what Rza was doing that was so much more important than appearing on songs with his brethren.

5. TWELVE JEWELZ (RZA SOLO)
First of all, is that subtitle really necessary? That's the height of conceit on the part of Prince Rakeem. Secondly, it seems that Rza's completely abandoned his Gravediggaz 'Rzarector' alias. Finally, while the rhymes are good, the beat (provided by little-known Wu-affiliate Darkim Be Allah) doesn't impress me.

6. FAIRYTALEZ (FEAT KELIS)
Yeah, that's the same Kelis that made her career with her milkshake and who married Nasir Jones. This was her first recorded appearance, and hearing this today, it's very hard to picture that the vocalist would go on to have her own career, since she sounds annoying, as if her vocals were run through ProTools nine thousand times. Oh, the rest of the song? I never cared for it.

7. NEVER GONNA COME BACK
Kind of like the Gravediggaz's version of the Lost Boyz's "Renee". This song grabbed me back in 1997, and today it still sounds great, thanks to some heartfelt rhymes and cinematic production by Goldfinghaz, whom you've never heard of and you never will again.

8. PIT OF SNAKES
The beat is meh as fuck, and the hook is frustrating, but the rhymes are decent at best, so it's not a complete waste of your time.

9. THE NIGHT THE EARTH CRIED
4th Disciple and The Rza co-produced this track, which I also believe was a single. I have to give Rza credit: he makes it a point to outrhyme his partners on every song he bothers to make an appearance on, something that doesn't even happen on actual Wu-Tang albums.

10. ELIMINATION PROCESS (FEAT SHABAZZ THE DISCIPLE, OMEN, & THE ALEEM BROTHERS)
The goofy sing-song to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song is hilarious. Shabazz comes with the same energy that he showcased on the first Gravediggaz project, but otherwise, this song is only alright.

11. REPENTANCE DAY (FEAT KILLAH PRIEST & HELL RAZAH)
Due to the participation of Killah Priest and Hell Razah, I was drawn to this song early on, since I'm a sucker for a Wu-Tang posse cut, and although this song's slow, simmering beat is awkward and meandering at first, it grows on you.

12. HIDDEN EMOTIONS (FEAT TRUE MASTER)
The track starts off with one of the only Prince Paul skits I've ever heard that isn't funny, but it is surprisingly touching; it's actually one of my favorite Paul-as-cinematic-auteur skits. True Master, the producer of the actual musical portion of the track, also pops up on the song itself, and his voice reminds me of a less polished Gza/Genius, which isn't a bad thing.

13. WHAT'S GOIN' ON (FEAT 9TH PRINCE & BLUE RASPBERRY)
The Rza's lone solo production effort (that isn't an intro) is also the most Wu-sounding song here. The beat knocks, and Rza, Frukwan, and Poetic rip the shit out of it, but the inclusion of Rza's brother 9th Prince is questionable. My guess is that he was tagging along that day and refused to leave the recording booth until Rakeem promised him a guest spot and an Choco Taco.

14. DEADLIEST BIZ
Decent, but kind of weak, being the last actual song on the album and all.

15. OUTRO
Prince Paul's lone track. At the end of the album. Telling.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel is a much much more subdued cousin to N---amortis: it's not even fair to refer to this as a sophomore effort, since the sensibilities are completely fucking different. The in-your-face horrorcore is in the past, and what we're left with are three rappers that can hold your attention without resorting to shock tactics, such as chewing off one of their own fucking arms. Go into this expecting the exact opposite of N---amortis, and you won't be disappointed.

BUY OR BURN? You should pick this album up as soon as possible. Some poor production choices aside, this is a solid effort, and since Prince Paul's name is still associated with the album, he still receives a percentage of the royalties from the sales, so if for no other reason, pick it up.

BEST TRACKS: "Repentance Day"; "What's Goin' On"; "Dangerous Minds"; "Never Gonna Come Back"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Deep/N---amortis
Prince Paul - Psychoanalysis (What Is It?)

6 comments:

  1. soulcleanmusicFebruary 13, 2008

    The verses on What's Going On, Snakes, Wu-Gambinos, and the Swarm's And Justice For All are crazy. If he was consistently at that level, Rza'd be ranked near the top on the lists of the best emcees of all time.

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  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessFebruary 17, 2008

    Rza merked this shit. This is the Rza I prefer, the one from Ironman and Wu-Tang Forever rather than the one from Enter the 36 Chambers. He toned down his delivery which accentuated his voice.

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  3. fassyfied follow-up to a classic (IMO)

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  4. soulcleanmusicFebruary 18, 2008

    Yeah, I remember reading in an interview somewhere that there were some people who were frustrated that Old Fat Ned wasn't on this record

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  5. Good review man and I'm glad to see this one on here. You can really see in this album the differences in the way RZA and Paul approached hip hop.
    Prince Paul always tried to make his shit as entertaining as possible, with intricately produced skits and complex beats where you know he spent a long time digging in crates and working on his shit. He used the first GD album to play it up for comedy and entertainment with the classic track about dropping tabs and bad trips - awesome song.
    RZA is more lazy with his shit because his idea of a skit is to just put a mic in the middle of a room where everybody's smoking weed and sometimes his beats could be a little "uninspired" to put it kindly (like were the ones on The Pillage intentionally bad or what? was that all just a big joke at Cappadonna's expense? because if it was, that's actually pretty funny if you think about it).
    But this 2nd GD album shows you the real greatness of RZA & Wu because he flipped the whole horror idea into this social commentary/philosophy sort of thing that the Wu always brought. Poetic really takes that shit and runs with it here and he's the star of this album lyrically. And like you said even Paul's contribution is a skit that's actually serious, but the vibe here is very more like RZA & the Wu B-team allstars.
    And yeah this is actually kind of an uneven album with a few shitty songs and concepts but it's one of my favorites.

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  6. I remember thinking this album was irritating as fuck. With older eyes, I still am not the biggest fan, particularly of that Kelis bullshit. However, the tracks at the tail end are pretty good, particularly Repentence Day. Not really even close to the first album though

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