May 24, 2008

Smoothe Da Hustler - Once Upon A Time In America (March 19, 1996)


Everything I learned about Smoothe Da Hustler was picked up from a press release that he happened to store on his MySpace page.

- He is male.

- He hails from Brooklyn, NY, and has apparently had his hand in the hip hop cookie jar for quite some time now. His early duties in the genre consisted primarily of ghostwriting: he is allegedly responsible for crafting Foxy Brown's flow and breath control, which is why she's a rapper in the first place and not a professional hairdresser beater-downer. (Um, thanks?)

- His biggest single, and still his best song to date, was actually a B-side. "Broken Language", the track that essentially introduced the world to Smoothe and his brother Trigger The Gambler, and all of the discarded remnants of destroyed languages that it entailed, was paired up with the far less successful "Hustlin'". Radio deejays gravitated toward the flipside, with its commanding DR Period instrumental and higher BPM (boasts per minute, in this case).

- Smoothe's debut album, Once Upon A Time In America (with its title pilfered from a Sergio Leone flick - the filmmaker in me approves, especially considering I had to suffer through Tony Yayo's Kazaam), allegedly sold more than five hundred thousand copies, securing it a golden plaque from the RIAA. I call bullshit on that: I know that people actually bought CDs back in 1996, but it's not like Smoothe Da Hustler was getting many MTV spins or appearing on Top 40 radio. If Smoothe himself somehow finds himself coming across this blog, I invite him to prove me wrong. The email link is at the right.)

- After dropping his debut on Profile Records (the old home of Run DMC) and shooting a few videos, Smoothe Da Hustler seemed to fall off the musical map, to such a degree that he didn't even release his sophomore effort until 2008. (He made some appearances alongside his brother Trigger, a few of which are branded with their group name The Smith Brothers; he also worked with the likes of Public Enemy and Ice T, writing songs and such, but for the most part, he stayed away from the mic.) The answer to the question that nobody really asked appears on his press release: a combination of label drama and legal issues regarding gaining full custody of his kid after losing the child's mother to a brain aneurysm, led to Smoothe keeping himself in the background. He mentions specifically the full custody issue because Smoothe "don't play when it come to [his] seeds", a smart move on his publicist's part, since it actually makes me like Smoothe that much more, even if he is responsible for Foxy Brown.

So how does Once Upon A Time In America, an album that one of my two readers may have grown up with in high school while the other reader may have no idea who the fuck I'm writing about, stand up to the test of time?

I don't know yet. I need to listen to it first.

1. ONCE UPON A TIME...
You all should know how I feel regarding rap album intros by now. I will note that the music that accompanies the dialogue is unintentionally creepy at the very beginning; I almost expected this album to be the tale of a serial slasher that lives in the woods, cutting up nubile teens for sport. Or a diatribe against global warming, I don't know.

2. FUCK WHATCHA HEARD (FEAT TRIGGER THE GAMBLER)
Smoothe's brother makes the first of several appearances on here. Smoothe isn't the best rapper in the world, but his distinctive voice dares the listener to not pay attention when he speaks in rhyme form. DR Period's instrumental plods away, as the drums certainly take their fucking time (and I mean that in the best possible way). My only complaint is with the title. How can you tell people to "fuck" what they heard if this is the first actual song on the album? DO you want me to "fuck" the intro? Because that shit's only legal in the South.

3. DOLLAR BILL (FEAT D.V. ALIAS KHRIST)
I didn't pick up Once Upon A Time In America right away. I waited until I heard Trigger's contribution to The Nutty Professor soundtrack, with D.V. Alias Khrist (a bizarre, yet cool name) interpolating Hall & Oates on the hook. I remember liking his voice, and when I finally got around to picking this up, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him singing some actual verses in addition to the hook on here. Smoothe sounds okay, I suppose, but DV steals this track right out of his grandmother's candy dish.

4. GLOCK'S ON COCK
The only song on this disc to not be produced by DR Period is entirely dedicated to the hiding place of Smoothe's gun within his trousers. A word of caution to all aspiring rappers: you should only reference a movie in your lyrics if it's actually a halfway decent flick: Demolition Man is not one of those movies, Smoothe.

5. BROKEN LANGUAGE (FEAT TRIGGER THE GAMBLER)
This single took everybody by surprise, especially since this guy and his brother got on the radio while they were complete unknowns. The song itself is still great, and actually sounds better when you're twelve years removed from its original release date, especially when you look past the fact that Smoothe and Trigger are rhyming about absolutely nothing. Redman and Method Man are obviously fans, as you should be.

6. SPEAK MY PEACE
Skit.

7. NEVA DIE ALONE (FEAT DAWN TALLMAN)
At least the hook (the time-tested and patented 'no-name female R&B singer on the hook' technique) matches the song, but the song isn't any good, so what was its purpose?

8. FOOD FOR THOUGHTS
This song wasn't bad (Smoothe sounds like he's at an audition for a M.O.P. cover band at the beginning of the track), but in the midst of all of these rhetorical questions, did he just ask "What makes my dick taste so slick?" Now I know that's not actually what he says, but it took me out of the listening experience regardless.

9. FAMILY CONFLICTS
Skit.

10. ONLY HUMAN (FEAT KOVON)
This song sounds completely out of place on Once Upon A Time In America, but when taken out of context, it's pleasant enough.

11. HUSTLER'S THEME (FEAT KOVON)
I never cared for this song. I think it was a single at one point, but so what?

12. MURDAFEST (FEAT D.V. ALIAS KHRIST & TRIGGER THE GAMBLER)
I respect the fact that Trigger took a backseat on this song, only performing on the hook, since this is his brother's album and he allows Smoothe the opportunity to shine, but this sounds like the type of beat and/or subject matter on which the brothers would excel. It's still a pretty good song, even though DV is only heard crooning in the background during the hook; you have to turn your speakers up loud in order to verify that he was even present for the recording.

13. HUSTILN'
Meh.

14. MY BROTHER MY ACE (FEAT TRIGGER THE GAMBLER)
Would qualify as "Broken Language Part 2", if only there weren't already a song with that title. (Stay tuned, my two readers, for more on that subject.) This song sounds ten times better than "Broken Language" in my opinion, an opinion which is pretty much bulletproof at this point. Smoothe's tendency to rhyme Trigger's words in reverse at random intervals is both interesting and educational.

15. DEDICATION (FEAT KOVON)
Sounds bizarrely radio-friendly. I respect that Profile Records needed to at least pretend to try to move units, but Smoothe Da Hustler is one of the last rappers that I would try to sell to a mainstream audience. I think I would try to peddle Shyne Po's singles on Sesame Street before I would put Smoothe on a mainstream-ready instrumental. This is a terrible way to end your debut album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Once Upon A Time In America is still pretty damn enjoyable today, in a "I miss hip hip from the mid-to-late-nineties" kind of way. I honestly doubt that today's fickle audience, brought up on the dominance of the South's, let's be honest here, bullshit, would even give this disc a second glance, which is a fucking shame. It's not the best representative of New York hip hop, but it will unlock memories, which is what all good music tends to do anyway.

BUY OR BURN? In the mood for something different? Trying to stray from the mainstream? You should buy this album, especially if you're on a quest for nostalgia. Not every song is a winner, but there are enough bangers to warrant a trip to the used CD store, even with gas costing as much as it does today.

BEST TRACKS: "My Brother My Ace"; "Broken Language"; "Murdafest"; "Dollar Bill"

-Max

17 comments:

  1. I had this one on vinyl, after hearing Broken Language, and was a bit upset to find only "My Brother My Ace" was near in nearly every detail.

    but years later, i still enjoy the odd listen, took years, but its grew on me...lol

    and i'm not sure if you should doubt the sales, i know of several people who had this, which for someone hailing from UK usually ment it was making big moves in US....

    plus, the album i had was a 2 record set, which always produced better sound on the decks, but strangly, thi one never did, that always upset me too

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  2. AnonymousMay 24, 2008

    Nice review Max, although it kinda hurts to hear an american complain about gasoline prices.. (In the Netherlands you pay roughly 10 dollars a gallon)

    At least smoking the weed is still legal

    George

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  3. Good point, George. For all of my two readers overseas, that last comment should read: "...there are enough bangers to warrant a trip to the used CD store, even if you're forced to choose between the disc and a 2 for 1 deal at your local brothel". Of course, you understand that the whole gas thing in the States if a problem because we have such a riduculously high and self-absorbed standard of living, but we live in a country where the minimum wage is incredibly low.

    Thanks for reading, guys!

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  4. In Antartica, we don't need no fucking gas. I be riding seals and shit like that.

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  5. this album sounded atleast worth the listen, so i checked amazon expecting to see it for a couple bucks or less plus shipping, and with shipping the price would be double digits. not paying for thattttt...

    i guess i lucked out with that freddie foxx album one time..


    FUCK gas prices. no need to be over 4 dollars here, fucking ridiculous.

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  6. boken languages..i remember being conflicted bout the noahkillingcroossbreakingbible rippingMarybangingingjesushanginging part: sounded hella dope (at the time)and so sacriledgeous at the same time...i thought "yuh sinning yuhself enjoying this ish"

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  7. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMay 26, 2008

    The blasphemous lyrics in Broken Language always struck me as an attempt to follow what Nas did on Live From The BBQ. Nas wasn't the first or the last rapper to come with shocking religious references; Ghostface slapboxing with Jesus and licking shots at Joseph and the very existence of Killah Priest come to mind. But "when I was 12 I went to hell for snuffing Jesus" really had people buzzing. Here's two more ill rhymes dealing with the supernatural from Nas:

    I opened up Shakespeare's tomb, stole his remains, ground up his bones, then smoked it and got in the game.

    As an infant, to keep me living, my mom fought off bats, giant-sized, flapping wings, 6 would attack crying Nas.

    As for the price of gas in America, it's different than the situation in Europe because of geography, environmental policy, and lifestyle choices. Europe has an average population density of 180 per square mile while the United States stands at 80. The average American lives farther from their workplace than the average European. The average American also drives a car that gets 10 miles per gallon less than the average European's car. Most importantly, a much higher percentage of European gas sales are for taxes applied to environmental causes. In America the high prices are not part of an effort to reduce and fight pollution, they are for the benefit of outrageously rich and powerful corporations. At least that's what I heard.

    Smoothe Da Hustla never could hold my attention.

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  8. AnonymousMay 27, 2008

    "in my opinion, an opinion which is pretty much bulletproof at this point."

    Damn.

    Mr. Childs

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  9. Max, you know I respect your opinion, with it being bullet-proof and all . . .

    and you know I usually agree with you on your reviews . . .

    but even in this review, which is apparently supposed to be a positive one, you come across as hating on Smoothe and the album.

    This album is good.

    REALLY GOOD.

    The skits actually give it a truly cinematic type feel, and lend context to the album.

    Kid from Brownsville on the come up, trying to do right for him and his family, and dealing with all the shit in the world, blah blah blah. But it comes across as more genuine here.

    Songs like Food For Thoughts, Neva Die Alone and Only Human play that theme out as much as the more braggadocio songs do.

    And Neva Die Alone knocks, listen to that shit again.

    This album blows the doors off anything out today, and people who haven't heard it will be better off for checking it out.

    As far as sales go, I own a copy. The cassette version at that.

    P.S. Rass Kass would kill for an album of beats like this.

    Peace.

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  10. AnonymousMay 28, 2008

    I feel obligated to react on The most felonious..', since he had to do all that research for his comment.

    Since you said it all on the economic side of the matter, the only thing left for me to say is this:
    Thanks to your gouverments' international politics (which are, let's be honest, directly related to gaining all this cheap oil) I make 20 Euro/hour (30 USD) for working parttime as an interrogater of 'high risk passengers' (read: arabs) at the airport of my town without even having a diploma, because as a history student I suppose to know cultures and sh*t.
    This interrogation is standart procedure solely on flights to Israel and the US, so I guess a 'thanks' for indirectly paying my way through the best university of my country without having me to private-tutor dumb rich kids at the local highschool, like all my classmates do, is order.

    Although in principle that sh*t ain't right and you know it.

    Aside from that I love America (unlike most of my fellow europeans) As a matter of fact, half of my family lives in NYC, which I think is the most awesome town on earth.

    I realise im totally off topic, for which I apologize, I promise it will never happen again, at least on this awesome blog.

    Greetings

    George

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  11. AnonymousJune 24, 2008

    Loved this album. It seemed as though smoothe and them would be the next big thing - at least in underground terms - but then they just vanished.

    What happened to the trigger album? That was advertised in the source, had some singles and just never came out.

    Ben

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  12. AnonymousJuly 09, 2008

    All I can remember is that photo of Smoothe in the "Source" profiling in front of his benzito....dunno kno why that image came to mind but wanted to share...

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  13. I love broken language of course... but luv "never die alone" is one of my favorite tracks smoothe was ahead of his time and in 2008 he released Happy violentines day ....luv that album u guys should get it and give it a shot.....myspace.com/smoothedahustler

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  14. shit I thought me & my crew were the only to appreciate Smoothe's album

    why did he add E? is it cuz of C.L. Smooth

    oh also, Smoothe & Trigger should've been a group

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  15. AnonymousJune 20, 2009

    Actually he was a very good rapper, I have no idea what this reviewer is talking about.

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  16. DV alias khrist is annoying!! i hate his fucking voice, max u actually like his hooks, his voice sounds like shit, its like hes trying to sound like a ghetto version of d'angelo, but besides that annoying shit beast, smoothe here does great, love his broken language style of rap

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  17. Smoothe & Trigga are a group with Ice-T called SMG (Sex Money & Guns).
    I was never a big fan of the album but Im DLing it again now to listen.

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