December 21, 2008

Reader Review: Gravediggaz - The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel (October 14, 1997)



(Although I've had this special week-long series of guest write-ups by Hip Hop Isn't Dead readers in mind for a while now, I'm going to go ahead and pretend that I'm still fucking pissed about Def Jam's Ghostface Killah cash-in GhostDeini The Great, so much so that I'm taking a week off from writing. However, I'm not going to leave my two readers empty-handed. For the first guest post, fellow Wu stan Banksta opted to point his gaze toward the second Gravediggaz opus, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel. Enjoy! Oh, and all of the italics within parentheses are mine, as I'm a control freak like that.)

Because Max wrote in November all about sophomore albums, I'll also start with one. This review is about second album by Gravediggaz - The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel. I'll pass on writing their whole story (like when and where the group was founded, etc), because if you are reading this, you have read Max's reviews about them, know their story already, or both. I'll just say the essential things.

Gravediggaz were a rap group consisting of Prince Paul, The RZA (or Prince Rakeem, as was his name when the group was founded), Frukwan, and the late Poetic. Each member took on a morbid persona while performing in the crew - their nicknames were the Undertaker, Rzarector, Grym Reaper and Gatekeeper, respectively. The group released three albums, but only two of them as a quartet. Later, both Princes would break from the group, leaving Poetic and Frukwan alone with Nightmare In A-Minor, their last album. Poetic passed away in 2001 from complications due to colon cancer, leaving Frukwan with promises of "hearing new Gravediggaz in 2008" (because that was really going to happen).

While most people prefer their debut 6 Feet Deep, a darkly humorous album about threatening the music industry and/or chewing arms off, over their second offering, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel, I'll go against the common opinion and say that I prefer the sophomore effort. Sure, at first I liked 6 Feet Deep (or N---amortis, depending on your part of the world) more, but this album has grown on me, as the Gravediggaz completely changed their direction - from the above-mentioned mockery, they moved toward mentoring people and teaching about black gods. It may not sound like the best theme to sell albums (and crappy ringtones) with, and obviously, it wasn't - Wu-Tang Forever, The Rza's other major 1997 project, managed to blow the Gravediggaz out of the water.

Because of the Wu-Tang Clan's position in the music world, The Rza/Rzarector took control over the group's direction at the time, for better and for worse. Why for worse? On paper it sounds good, but in reality, Prince Rakeem hardly appears on this album for reasons unknown (but I bet one hundred to one odds that his day job kept him busy, as he didn't care that much about the Gravediggaz at that point), either behind the mic or the boards. You miss his presence even more when you realize that with this album, Prince Rakeem had reached the peak of his lyrical skill. Frukwan and Poetic came with even better lyricism than before, but they also make beats, and Reaper's performance is most satisfying.

Now, let's get straight to business.

1. INTRO
...

2. DANGEROUS MINDZ
Both The Rza and 4th Disciple (his favourite Wu-Element, although you wouldn't tell it by Wu-Tang Clan's group efforts) step behind the boards for this grand instrumental, while the three main rappers in the crew (because Prince Paul was never one to rap much) rip the shit out of this song. Poetic kinda lost the topic in the middle of his verse, though.

3. DA BOMB
Grym and Frukwan sound like water and fire, respectively, over some decent True Master production.

4. UNEXPLAINED
If Poetic were still around to release a solo album, I would hope that he would make all the beats for it by himself. I'm sure it wouldn't suck.

5. TWELVE JEWELZ (RZA SOLO)
As if he couldn't say Rzarector. (I'll be honest, that was a pretty good point that I failed to make in my original review - why the fuck is it subtitled "Rza Solo" when he's supposed to be playing a different role?) Lyrics are good, but I don't like these voice slow-downs - this is a recurring theme throughout the album.

6. FAIRYTALEZ (FEAT KELIS)
I've got nothing good to say about debut of the vocalist who's got Ol' Dirty's money. Sorry, I do not care for the story of three little pigs, because this song is meh.

7. NEVER GONNA COME BACK
At first, when I saw the title and heard the chorus, I thought this is another misogynistic song about an unnamed bitch who left a man and/or stole his dough and/or etcetera, and is now nowhere to be seen, but the Gravediggaz proved me otherwise. Kudos for this, as well as for a good song as a whole.

8. PIT OF SNAKES
One of my favourites, if not because of one of the rare appearances by Bobby Boulders. (I had also completely forgotten about The Rza's terrible nickname from the "Gravel Pit" video. My guess is that I was too distracted by Tamala Jones.) The beat, produced by both The Rza and True Master, is empty and sounds like shit. Not a huge amount of shit, though; just a little bit.

9. THE NIGHT THE EARTH CRIED
Because you can't have an album that is both full of melancholy and educational (talking about Nation of Gods and Earths) without a song about black slaves from the year 1555. The Rza steals the show as always, so his absence on two-third of the track is only half-painful. Frukwan's verse was too long, though, and kinda bored me.

10. ELIMINATION PROCESS (FEAT SHABAZZ THE DISCIPLE, OMEN, & THE ALEEM BROTHERS)
I don't know why Poetic decided to sing like this, and hearing two choruses at once are frustrating. That being said, Grym Reaper's beat is decent, and I appreciate any reasoning that provokes an appearance by Shabazz.

11. REPENTANCE DAY (FEAT KILLAH PRIEST & HELL RAZAH)
The strange and otherworldly beat helps the lyrics with creating some vivid imagery of the apocalypse, although you shouldn't expect anything less with the guest appearances from Hell Razah and Killah Priest (both from Sunz of Man). Being the last of three Grym Reaper's productions, this kind of leaves you sad you won't hear more, although it's still more than Prince Paul had, and he fucking created this group. Nevertheless, this shit KNOCKS.

12. HIDDEN EMOTIONS (FEAT TRUE MASTER)
I love this track. Prince Pawl Musick, as Undertaker calls himself in the liner notes, produces the beginning of this song (the skit, naturally), and Frukwan (along with Poetic) drop some heartfelt and touching rhymes. True Master both produces and spits a verse, which is rare for him, but he provides a very nice conclusion.

13. WHAT'S GOIN' ON (FEAT 9TH PRINCE & BLUE RASPBERRY)
I cannot stress to you enough how good The Rza's verse is. I don't know why 9th Prince, and not, let's say, Inspectah Deck, has to appear on this (other than the fact that he's The Rza's little brother), but he sounds alright. This song is simply beautiful, and if you don't agree, I point a 50 millimeter 500 shot magazine full clip gat at your back. (Any threats to the two readers of this blog are the personal property of the author of this particular post and not the responsibility of Blogger, Google, Max, or Brian Boitano.) Damn, I even like Blue Raspberry's singing.

14. DEADLIEST BIZ
Frukwan certainly isn't the most creative producer in the world, but he sounds as comfortable as one can over his own beat.

15. OUTRO
Prince Paul produces the last track and then promptly leaves the group, as does Rzarector, and as such, we're done with this album. (And with the group as we knew them.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Gravediggaz have made a second album as different from a debut as one can be. While I'm forced to say that 6 Feet Deep was better album (for many reasons: more full-group contributions, "Diary Of A Madman", etc.) (and also because Max says so), I like The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel much more. Although Rzarector's verses are the best, it's not like Poetic and Frukwan can't handle a track alone. They bring their updated flows, too, and put them into good use. Getting back to the production, most of the duties in this department are fulfilled by Wu-Tang affiliates. This includes both Wu-Elements (which is good), and some lesser known beatmakers, too (which is not so good), but my ears aren't bleeding, so I'll stop myself from giving a thumbs down. You can't help but wonder how this album would sound with more input from The Rza and more (or, to be honest, any) Prince Paul production. One also wonders what this album would have sounded like if Wu-Tang Forever were never released. However, the final product is pretty good, so it deserves a buy. What, you were expecting another Amazon.com link?

BEST TRACKS: 'Repentance Day', 'What's Goin' On', 'Dangerous Mindz'

-Banksta

(Max here again, mainly to note that, once again, I didn't write this post, but also to let you know that all comments are appreciated. Do my two readers like seeing other points of view on these write-ups? Drop me a line and let me know. Also, for those that are interested, here's a link to my original review.)

5 comments:

  1. I never would have guessed you didn't write this Max.

    As for the album, it's good but the sheer (beauty?) of 1-800-Suicide will never be topped.

    I would lean towards The Pick, Sickle, and Shovel for an all-around listen though.

    Props Banksta

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  2. Gravediggaz isn't really a personal favorite of mine, but I did enjoy the user review.

    As much as I love your reviewing Max, it's refreshig to have a different perspective (plus your comments throughout the review were great).

    I say keep the user reviews coming and work up some marvelous stuff of your own.

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  3. This album sounds nice, but it isn't as dark and rough as 6 Feet Deep. That is why I think the debut album is the better album.

    Anyway, the sound here is cleaner and more creative...

    "Fairytalez" is a great track! When I listened to it first, I did'nt like the singing (female vocals), but something kept me interessted about the entire song. So, I put my headphones on, turned up the volume, pushed the "Bass EQ" button and after listening 5-6 times in a row, it sounded great!!!

    In my ears echoed the leftovers of something different, something which I named "hip hop opera".

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  4. *yawn*

    It ain't the Gravediggaz w/o Prince Paul.

    Pass.

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  5. Good review. I cant stress how good Hidden Emotions is. The last verse on that track is eye opening man. "hiding you emotions cuts short your ambition"

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