July 27, 2008

Heltah Skeltah - Nocturnal (June 18, 1996)


The cover of Nocturnal may remind you of a poorly financed Italian horror flick, but rest assured, it's just the product of two minds that aren't as demented as they would like you to believe. Heltah Skeltah, made up of rappers Rock (also known as Da Rockness Monsta) and Ruck (who does business today as Sean Price, to a lot of blogger acclaim), are a New York-based rap duo who are affiliated with hip hop supergroup, the Boot Camp Clik, whose roster also includes old-school heads Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun, along with their modern-day equivalent Originoo Gunn Clappaz.

Ruck and Rock made their debut on Smif-N-Wessun's debut album Dah Shinin' in 1995, and quickly paired themselves up with their counterparts in the O.G.C. and formed the Fab 5, which is approximately the nine hundred thousandth time a rapper has somehow referenced the Beatles in some fashion. Together, the Fab 5 released one single, "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka / Blah!", which was successful amongst hip hop fans that carry their lives in a Jansport strapped to the opposite of their fronts. Both sides of the 12-inch single showcased the appealing chemistry of the two crews, which gave them the confidence to proceed in their respective careers: the Originoo Gunn Clappaz would release their debut album Da Storm in the fall of 1996 (and you can read the review, which I apparently wrote on this very blog over a year ago, by clicking here), but Heltah Skeltah was marketed first by the Boot Camp Clik: their debut, Nocturnal, which was released by Priority Records in an exclusive distribution partnership with the Boot Camp Clik's label, Duck Down, hit store shelves a few months prior to Da Storm.

Nocturnal was quickly hailed as an underground classic, thanks to its dark, grimy beats (something that was missing from the New York sound in 1996, unless you were a rapper that happened to be a part of that other New York supergroup, the Wu-Tang Clan) and the lyricism of Rock and Ruck, who sealed their social commentary in a package chock-full of boasts that would ensure their message made it to as many hip hop heads as possible. Nocturnal never earned any plaques by the RIAA, but its critical acclaim allowed the duo to live another day in the industry.

Here we go.

1. INTRO (HERE WE COME) (FEAT STARANG WONDAH)
How cool is it that the first voice you hear on Nocturnal is Starang Wondah, one of my favorite underrated emcees? He's not even in the group! He does his part to introduce Rock to the masses (Ruck is somewhere chilling in the background, I'm sure), and in return Rock spits some rhymes, making this an atypical rap album intro. Too bad the beat is fucking weak, and it was provided by two producers, Buckshot and Lord Jamar (of Brand Nubian). This is not a good sign.

2. LETHA BRAINZ BLO
The title sounds like it would fit more appropriately on an M.O.P. album. The instrumental (provided by Baby Paul from Da Beatminerz) also sounds a lot less confrontational than you would expect from a song with such an aggressive handle. Kind of disappointing, really, although Sean Price does alright with his first lyrical foray on Nocturnal.

3. UNDASTAND
For some reason, this song is edited on my copy, but hip hop doesn't actually need curse words to function, my two readers. (I know, right?) The simple beat (also provided by Baby Paul) doesn't intrude Ruck and Rock's personal space, allowing them to rip shit without any obstructions, which is nice.

4. WHO DAT?
This may be less than a minute and a half long, but rest assured, this is an actual song. Kind of dull, though.

5. SEAN PRICE (FEAT ILLA NOYZ)
Oddly, a track that you would assume to be Ruck's solo shot is accompanied by another rapper, one that is not his rhyme partner. However, when you discover that Illa Noyz is Sean Price's younger brother, it'll make sense to you. (Illa Noyz should not be mistaken for, as if anybody would even put these two concepts on the same plane, Sufjan Steven's Illinois, his rock album that was part of his quest to produce an album about every single state in the United States. Whatever happened to that guy, anyway? Did he give up after Michigan and Illinois?) Ruck comes off as pretty good, in that "you will want to watch out for him, because he may do some big things as a solo artist in about ten years or so" kind of way.

6. CLAN'S, POSSE'S, CREW'S & CLIK'S
I was hoping for a lyrical dissertation that would point out the subtle differences between each classification of grouping, but instead, I got a rap song. How weird is that?

7. THERAPY (FEAT VINIA MOJICA)
This song was remixed and released as a single at one point: there's even a video floating around, of which all I can remember is the chick in the nurse's outfit writhing around on a gurney in a negligee. Even with a slightly tweaked beat, this instrumental is lackluster, but the lyrics are good and topical. The remix does the lyricism one better, though, as Ruck and Rock re-recorded (and slightly tweaked and shuffled) their verses in a more subdued manner, which makes the track that much more substantial.

8. PLACE TO BE
Ruck and Rock each spit one verse over an appropriately dark beat by Shawn J. Period. My only complaint is that it's too fucking short. But you can't win them all.

9. SOLDIERS GONE PSYCO
Another appropriately dark beat, but unlike the last song, I found this one to be boring as shit.

10. THE SQUARE (TRIPLE R) (FEAR THA REPRESENTATIVZ)
The odd reference to "that karate instructor from the Bart Simpson commercial" notwithstanding, this is really just your average collaboration with the weed carriers in the Boot Camp Clik. Tha Representativz are made up of rappers Supreme and Lidu Rock, who is actually Rock's younger brother (and is deserving of at least a minute amount of credit for not going with the obvious rap name 'Lil Rock'), and to this day they must just sit around wondering who in the fuck allowed them to name their two man crew with such a terrible moniker.

11. DA WIGGY
This song received some burn around my way, and it made me hope that this was going to be the second single. (That slot went to the remix of "Therapy" instead.) Mr. Walt (of Da Beatminerz)'s drums are dusty, and when I say dusty, I mean early Wu-Tang dusty. Ruck and Rock rip the shit out of this track, even though the goofy voices on the hook are about as annoying as Warren G's G-Child character and Timbaland's Lil Man. Regardless, this shit knocks.

12. GETTIN ASS GETTIN ASS
A poorly executed skit, in which Ruck calls up a female friend, trying to convince her that a booty call would be a good idea. These type of skits tend to work more if it doesn't sound blatantly obvious that the third party is standing right next to you in the booth and is not, in fact, on the phone. Just a thought.

13. LEFLAUR LEFLAH ESHKOSHKA (FEAT ORIGINOO GUNN CLAPPAZ)
This is the same song that was originally credited to the Fab 5 (the two rappers in Heltah Skeltah combined with the three members of O.G.C.), but it's still enjoyable as hell. Highlights for Max include Starang Wondah and Sean Price passing the mic back and forth, hitting the "back" button to hear this shit again, and the sheer ridiculousness of the imagined words that make up the title.

14. PROWL (FEAT LOUIEVILLE SLUGGAH)
Why does Louieville Sluggah appear on two songs in a row on Nocturnal (he's part of O.G.C., so obviously he popped up on the previous track) when he's not in the fucking group? I suppose it doesn't really matter, since he sounds pretty good on this track, which is by far the most effective beat-jacking of Portishead's "Sour Times" that I have ever heard in a hip hop song.

15. GRATE UNKNOWN
One of my favorite aspects regarding the Boot Camp Clik (and one of their most aggravating traits, since I am a writer and all) is their insistence on misspelling words that you wouldn't expect rappers to misspell. Not content with adding on "-az" to words that typically end with "-ers", the BCC goes out of their way to destroy words like "psycho" and "cliques", and while the term "grate" isn't technically the wrong spelling, it is the incorrect usage of a homonym. Oh, you wanted to know about the song? Trust me, you really don't.

16. OPERATION LOCK DOWN (FEAT BUCKSHOT)
The first single (produced by E-Swift from Tha Alkaholiks!) and video, in which Ruck and Rock play Native Americans and sit in their teepees rapping to the camera when they're not getting their face paint reapplied by native makeup aritsts with big breasts. This track is several degrees more melodic than anything else on Nocturnal, and both Ruck and Rock's respective deliveries are the calmest they would ever be. Very nice. Also, Ruck's performance in the video is also pretty awesome, especially his timing with the small fire burning in his tent.

17. OUTRO
A random conversation in the studio, scored by the still-playing instrumental (and, strangely, the chorus) of "Operation Lock Down". This is just plain odd.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Listening to it today, Nocturnal bogs down in spots, and some of the production lacks that spark that will help the current audience remain interested. However, some of the songs rock harder than I remember from twelve years ago. (Has it seriously been that long since Nocturnal was released? Fuck!) Overall, I found the album to be enjoyable, although it's not a better effort than O.G.C.'s Da Storm, but, as my two readers will recall, I'm just biased toward Starang Wondah.

BUY OR BURN? If you can find this one for a few bucks in the used CD bin, you should spend the money. Sure, you'll skip past a few of the songs and the skit toward the end, but there will be at least three songs that you will like.

BEST TRACKS: "Da Wiggy"; "Prowl"; "Undastand"; "Place To Be"; "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka"; "Operation Lock Down"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read all of the Boot Camp Clik posts by clicking here.

10 comments:

  1. This album is another banger. Clans, Posses . . . , Da Wiggy, and the song that starts with "Let the madness begin . . ." all are ridiculous.

    And that's not even mentioning LLF or Operation Lockdown. Solid album, AND MUCH BETTER than the OGC album(although Starang is the man).

    Max, good job on the reviews all month, it's been an entertaining(and sometimes infuriating) read.

    But I'm sure it couldn't have been easy doing 31 of these in 31 days.

    Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessAugust 01, 2008

    Your review of The Storm by Starang Wondah & Friends has two comments attached (both inspired by a lack of comments). Nocturnal will now match that lofty total. Even the hallowed Enta Da Stage drew only 7 comments. The Boot Camp Clik ain't what it used to be, huh? I thought Sean Price was the reigning champ on the internet. Do these people even know that he was in Heltah Skeltah? I know that. I've known that for years.

    I've always preferred Heltah Skeltah to any other BCC outfit, Black Moon included. In ranking the Boot Camp rappers I've come up with the following list:
    (1) Sean P
    (2) Starang Wondah
    (3) Rockness Monsta
    (4)(tie) Smif, Wessun, Buckshot, Tek
    (8) All those other dudes
    (1,359) Steele. Steele sucks.

    Despite Rock's solid ranking, I always campaigned for more mic time going to Ruck. He was coming with the lengthy multi-syllable rhymes, had a great voice, and was rapping about weed a lot. His solo projects haven't turned out to be everything I hoped for but his success makes me happy.

    Finally, I've got to mention how moronic it is that Sean Price's main moniker with Heltah Skeltah was Ruck. I guess it's short for Ruckus but is the Ruck/Rock, Rock/Ruck symmetry really enough to warrant such lousy names? Was this an overreaction to the potential for further copyright infringement lawsuits? Is that reference enough to let people know that I was joking about Steele's ranking but dead serious about everyone else's? Do you think Supreme and Lidu Rock have their own label with the clothing line jumping off? If Starang Wondah, Big Noyd, Bad Azz, Peedi Crack and Killa Sin are all packed into a 1989 Honda Accord, who's carrying the weed and riding bitch? What if mic skills decided it? Why hasn't Starang Wondah dropped a solo project? Is anybody still reading this?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yo, i'm reading.

    Heltah Skeltah is waaaaaaaaaayyyy better than Starang & his weed carri.... hem... OGC.

    Sean Price is the best out of the BCC.

    Nocturnal is one of the best BCC releases.

    Stop D#*kridin' Starang so much!

    1. Sean Price
    2. Steele
    3. Rockness Monstah
    4. Buckshot
    5. Starang Wondah
    6. Tek
    7. Supreme
    8. Illa Noyz
    9. 5'FT
    10. Lidu Rock
    11. Top Dogg
    12. Louieville Sluggah

    ALL OF THEM ARE NICE ON THE MIC! (pause)

    Try to be unbiased one time in your life!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AnonymousMay 10, 2014

      What about Big Dru Ha?

      Delete
  4. lmao @ the guy who ranked both "Smif" and "Wessun" above "Steele".

    For the record, Steele > Tek.

    But neither Steele nor Tek is on the level of Smif. He's on some other ish. So is Wessun.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow Iam 18 and I luv this type hip hop
    feels good that I can keep up in a convo about music that came out wen I was stll goin to bed early
    nonetheless nocturnal is one of my favorite albums and grate unknown is the first fav track
    I roll one up and bump dis album everyday

    ReplyDelete
  6. word, thats dope that they sampled portishead for prowl. dummy came out pretty recently prior to that

    ReplyDelete
  7. Realistically, the oddball outta BCC is Top Dog, although he occasionally brings the ruckus. "remembers Danjer, shudders"

    The rest are all level to me. Sure, they bring different elements to the table. For example, Heltah Skeltah and Starang Wondah are the punchline experts, Smif N Wessun and Louieville Sluggah are the introspective street poets, and Buckshot is an amalgamation of both styles, which is expected of the BCC leader.

    But that doesn't make them any less skilled than one another.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yo, for that "Prowl" joint, Mr. Walt sampled "Danube Incident by Lalo Schifrin (1968)"... not Portishead. Research harder.

    ReplyDelete