July 20, 2008

Artifacts - Between A Rock And A Hard Place (October 25, 1994)

Former graf artists Tame One and El Da Sensei, who perform under the group alias Artifacts (and at least once under the name Jersey Boys), made a mid-size spalsh into the hip hop world with their debut disc, Between A Rock And A Hard Place. The album, which was released on the now-defunct Big Beat subsidiary of Atlantic Records, was both an ode to graffiti and a hardcore hip hop disc, filled with dark, sparse beats and lyricism that referenced the days of yore while updating rap stereotypes.

I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about the duo, except for the fact that after two albums, they disbanded (on amicable terms) and are pursuing solo careers: Tame One is currently signed to Amalgam Digital and has a spot in underground hip hop supercrew The Weathermen, while El scored a distribution deal with Fat Beats after traveling the world in his journey toward lyrical mastery (that's actually the best line from his surely-written-by-a-publicist biography on his MySpace page) and rhyming with approximately half of Europe.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place was never destined to move millions of units, but those that picked it up appreciated the production, mostly provided by T-Ray, who is also known for his work with Cypress Hill and their affiliates, and the rhymes fit the themes nicely. Another positive sign is the crew's friendship with Reggie Noble (who may or may not be Tame One's cousin, depending on where you look online): since Redman tends to only associate himself with artists of a certain caliber when he's grooming them (you'll notice I'm not referencing all of those cameos in which Reggie was just trying to make a quick buck), Tame and El must have had some special spark that caused a major label to trip all over themselves in signing the crew.

Those introductory paragraphs aren't my best, I know, but in my defense, I'm very tired.

This is really just a rap album intro, but it's an instrumental with some scratched-in vocals, not anything hyper-self-absorbed, so it gets a pass. (I'm just as surprised as you.)

Ah, the way rap singles used to sound: dark, ominous beats (provided by Buckwild) with lyrics that kept it as real as the artists involved possibly could, with the very great possibility that radio would bend to the song's will, as opposed to the songs today that are specifically recorded for the radio. This shit just sounds good. That's also the same thought I had back in 1994 when I first heard this on the radio.

I'm not loving the hook: it comes off as too elementary for a rap song, but when compared to some of the choruses today, it's passable. This ode to graf writing sounds great over this understated jazzy beat, and the subject matter is something that is hardly ever touched upon in music, so it is most welcome.

Nice touch with the Erick Sermon vocal sample: his lazy drawl makes for a nice contrast to T-Ray's beat, which provides such a sense of urgency that I almost dropped this blog in order to do...well, something else, but I'm glad I stuck to my guns. This is entertaining as hell, folks.

I'm not feeling this song at all. But after the last three songs, it was inevitable that something would trip us up. You can't win them all, my two readers.

The fact that both Barbara Walters and Saturday Night Live are referenced within the span of two words is freakin' hysterical. That's the only thing I can recall about this track, though.

The autobiographical, flashback-y lyrics are appreciated. Considering the entire album will make you feel like it's 1994 again, maybe this type of track can be considered overkill, but it still sounds good. When Tame and El focus on their chosen subject matter, as opposed to talking random shit, the results are impressive.

Wow, a Married, With Children reference. Almost because of that alone, this song doesn't hold up to 14 years of scrutiny. Well, that, and T-Ray's beat is a bit plain this go-round. But the lyrics are energetic, so that counts for something.

Don't get too excited: Reggie is only (barely) on the goddamn hook. (He also co-produced the track with the guy that lives in his pool house, Rockwilder.) I can respect the fact that Redman wanted his boys to shine, so he took a back seat, but I would have loved to have heard Reggie spitting a verse alongside Tame and El, and I know that all of my other two readers feel the same way. Still, not bad, but for what it could have been, I have to say that this track is not living up to my unreasonably high expectations.

The obligatory stoner song, made popular by seemingly every rapper ever. The lyrics are nothing new, especially if you've listened to any Cypress Hill song, but the beat makes a perfect companion to zoning out. The track runs too long, though.

I liked the overall message in the song, but that doesn't mean I thought it was any good.

A perfect song to listen to when you and your friends feel like hanging out in front of an abandoned apartment building, with a fire shooting out of a trash can, while your crew passes around various weapons of increasing absurdity, finally ending with you carrying a board with a nail in it. Also, you're in black and white. Yeah, I remember those days.

I've included the dashes in the titles because that's how the songs are actually referred to within the liner notes, where things don't have to be censored, but whatever, this is a major label we're talking about here. Anyway, this uses the same sample that Raekwon would later use for his "The Missing Watch". Honestly, the instrumental isn't confrontational enough for a song with such a cool title, but it's still a good way to end your debut album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Between A Rock And A Hard Place doubles as an inexpensive time capsule that is set to take you back to 1994, when hip hop music was created for the love and not so much for the money, since I can't imagine Tame One and El Da Sensai thinking that they would become millionaires based on this album's sales. This is the perfect type of album to throw onto your iPod whenever you're sick of what is on the radio, even though the Artifacts's outlook could have been just a tad bit happier and shinier (and their lyrical content could have switched up just a tad as well).

BUY OR BURN? I think you would enjoy this more if you bought it, instead of burning it, since you'll have that warm and fuzzy feeling that you're putting a dollar or two into the pockets of a couple of artists that are deserving of your attention. No, really. Go buy it.

BEST TRACKS: "Dynamite Soul"; "Heavy Ammunition"; "Whayback"; "C'mon Wit Da Get Down"; "Wrong Side Of The Tracks"



  1. Tame and Sensei make a good team, and even their second album has more high points than low. What is arguably their best track, however, is the "C'mon wit da git down" remix, which appears on the newer releases of the album and features a verse from Busta Rhymes.

  2. AnonymousJuly 30, 2008

    One of my favs... this is a great album.

  3. AnonymousJuly 20, 2009

    Best Tracks:
    Attack Of New Jeruzalum

    Whassup Now Muthafucka

    Lower Tha Boom

    Comin Thru Your Fckin Block

    Flexi Wit Tha Tech

    Heavy Ammunition

    Notty Headed Niggaz

  4. MaxwellpaperstaxwellJanuary 11, 2011

    Once again thanks to Max for revealing another dope album new to my ears. The amount of hip hop on my I pod has doubled the past month thanks to this blog, keep on keeping on my brotha

  5. I consider this album a classic one. Tame one has one of the most groovy flows ever on this particular album.

    I believe Lower da Boom differs from the ordinary Cypress Hill style, but I agree that it could have been shorter in time.

    Anyway it's an album every hiphopper should know about.

  6. You must have a loooot of CD's max.

  7. Oh, this one's a classic f--kin' album, most definitely. The C'mon Wit Da Git Down (Remix) featuring Busta Rhymes should've made the album, though. The final track grabs hold of my ears in so many inappropriate ways.

    Tame One shares a certain attribute with his younger cousin, in that he seems to consistently black the fuck out on grimy ass beats, which is always appreciated.

    This album solidified my love for T-Ray of the Soul Assassins. He brings similar awesomeness to his two productions on G Rap's debut 4,5,6.