July 24, 2008

Above The Law - Livin' Like Hustlers (February 22, 1990)



Remember Ruthless Records? I certainly don't, and I've written about them for the past few months. But that particular record label, allegedly funded by drug money and co-owned by a white guy whose specialty was screwing young African-American men out of their songwriting royalties, cemented its place in hip hop history by unleashing N.W.A. onto the musical atmosphere. Group members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and ringleader Eazy-E (I left Arabian Prince out for a reason, folks) created a storm of controversy and a slew of copycats in their wake, so it would only make sense that Eazy would go out of his way to sign one of those such groups.

Cold 187um, KMG, Total Kaos, and Go Mack (which is a really strange rap name) made up Pomona-based gangsta rap crew Above the Law, who had the notoriety of releasing the final album on Ruthless Records before shit went haywire. Livin' Like Hustlers, their debut disc, was ten tracks of gangsta rap gold, featuring plenty of soulful samples, violent-and-yet-socially-conscious rhymes, and (supposedly) Dr. Dre behind the boards, although that last fact probably came about because Dre was essentially Ruthless's in-house producer and executive produced everything, kind of like Suge Knight did with each Death Row release, when everybody knows he has nothing to do with the musical side. More than likely, Above the Law produced the disc themselves and Dre did some touch-ups, as he has done throughout his career ("producing" some of Dat N---a Daz's and Mel-Man's work comes to mind).

Livin' Like Hustlers didn't move tons of copies worldwide, but Above the Law should be recognized for their ear for samples: some of these instrumentals on here sound more like action movie sequence soundtrack music than your average West Coast hip hop contributions. And that's a good thing, folks.

Sorry this one is short, you too: I kind of have a headache going right now. Enjoy!

1. MURDER RAP
I first heard this song while driving around the mean and pixelated streets of San Andreas, and was immediately pissed that I had never heard it prior to that. The Quincy Jones Ironside theme, which was also prominently used in the Kill Bill flicks, attracted me at first, but after performing drive-bys and hitting random pedestrians while on my way to go buy some pants, I ended up liking it. A lot. I also have a second version of this track that contains a snippet of an interview Ruthless Records label head Eazy-E did regarding his invite to the White House. The fact that he actually had dinner in the White House blows my mind, but not for the reason you would think: I'm still appalled that Eazy would even consider dressing up for the occasion.

2. UNTOUCHABLE
This isn't bad. The beat sounds like something that would play underneath a montage sequence in which the main characters are trying to put a plan in motion, possibly to rob three casinos at the same time. (Sorry, Ocean's Eleven was on television all of last weekend.) The horns where the chorus starts remind me of Real Life's "God Tonight", although I'm almost positive that wasn't the comparison Above the Law was going for.

3. LIVIN' LIKE HUSTLERS
How exactly does one go about "eating chicken like a motherfucker"? There are no explanations to be found here. Anywho, this is just a calm track, nearly derailed by its bullshit fake commercial intro. But I can still picture cruising around the hood with my 40-ounce, with this shit blasting out of my speakers at near-indecipherable levels. Then again, I could technically blast any song out of these fictional speakers, such as De La Soul, or anything by Falco, but this would be more fun.

4. ANOTHER EXECUTION
Scratch that last comment: this shit would be blasting out of my speakers while tooling around the block and macking on chicks that do nothing but sit outside of their homes all day (when the really good looking women are at Barnes and Noble, ya'll, but the car can't go on the highway, as it only goes up to sixteen miles per hour). You can use "Livin' Like Hustlers" to fule your Jazzercise regimen for all I give a fuck. The hook on here is pretty weak, though.

5. MENACE TO SOCIETY
Right from the start, the dirty drums and horns draw you in to Gangster Rapping 101, and immediately kicks your ass. There's even a hint of a melody on here. Damn, I love this song.

6. JUST KICKIN' LYRICS
There's no real point to this song: it simply features Cold 187um kicking lyrics justly. But damned if it's not entertaining.

7. BALLIN'
You know, for a song that goes out of its way to qualify itself with the fact that Above the Law was chilling with such a highly esteemed rap pedigree as Dr. Dre, The D.O.C., and Eazy-E, this sure blows elephant cock. This shit is boring.

8. FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Regardless of what Cold 187um was aiming for with his first verse, this song does actually come off as preachy. However, the it still sounds good, and its points are still valid, so overall it still works, even if all I can hear when the beat kicks in is Lil Kim's "No Time". Sigh...

9. FLOW ON (MOVE ME NO MOUNTAIN)
And whenever I hear this beat, all I can think about is that Nas song "Escobar '97" from the Men In Black soundtrack. Takes a while to get the party started, but I love this beat, so it gets a pass.

10. THE LAST SONG (FEAT DR. DRE, MC REN, & EAZY-E)
A pretty massive posse cut, which must have been huge at the time, even though Ice Cube, who was still technically "with" N.W.A. at the time, is nowhere to be seen (from what I understand, Ruthless Records floated a rumor that O'Shea was working on his solo album at the time, which he probably was, but on the East Coast, with the Bomb Squad). Accordingly, it features the remnants of The World's Most Dangerous Group getting absolutely slaughtered on the mic by their hosts. Even MC Ren sounds like shit when compared to KMG and Cold 187um, who simply had more to prove. That doesn't mean this is a bad song, though: far from it.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Livin' Like Hustlers still sounds pretty good today, and, as an added bonus, it's concrete proof that Dr. Dre did not, in fact, create the art of G-Funk (although he may have mastered it). Even though Andre supposedly produced every song on this album alongside Above the Law themselves, you'll notice that this album sounds absolutely nothing like what Straight Outta Compton or any other Dr. Dre beat at the time. In fact, it comes off as gangsta rap as performed by some outsiders that could kick your ass if they absolutely needed to, but would prefer to just do their own thing. And in that sense, this shit works.

BUY OR BURN? This is a quick listen, at only ten tracks, and you can probably find it pretty cheap, so you should pick this one up. It certainly couldn't hurt your collection, anyway.

BEST TRACKS: "Murder Rap"; "Another Execution"; "Menace To Society"; "The Last Song"; "Flow On (Move Me No Mountain)"

-Max

6 comments:

  1. I enjoy most of this album - definitely up there with the shit that came out that year. Dre was incredilbe with the production.

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  2. Cold 187um is the main producer, or better yet, the only producer behind Above the Law. He did a track called "Dont Bit the Phunk" where he sets the record straight telling it like it is that Dre was NOT the first on the G Funk bandwagon, sorry I mean the P Funk sampling. Anyways... neither was Cold 187um for that fact. Alos, noteable, if you dont know, Cold 187um is the nephew to a big funk artist from the 60-70's, Willie Hutch.Funk and Jazz too. You can hear the influence on later albums. Their second album, Black Mafia Life is one helluva drug.

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  3. This is a classic album, a real one! And it's way better and tighter than most of today's releases.

    A must have, a gem...

    -Kay-

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  4. Simply a west coast classic!

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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  5. HAHAHAHA i like the review on the first song.. so true.. me.. i was listening to this song on my way to murder Eazy-E or should i say "Ryder" haha! Another great one in Dr. Dre's catalog for producing and good album!!

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