August 26, 2009

Not Available In Stores! Timbo King Presents The Royal Fam - Black Castle (2005)


Back in 1995, The Source reviewed a 12-inch single by a group known as Royal Fam: "Summin' Gotz Ta Give" b/w "I Declare War". Both sides were produced by Y-Kim the Ill Figure, and the magazine gave both songs high marks. I discovered with quiet glee that Royal Fam was a crew affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan, placing them up there with Sunz Of Man and, later, Killarmy: I consider those three crews to be the first, and ultimately the best, wave of Wu-affiliation that fellow stans such as myself have come across.

Royal Fam was made up of group leader Timbo King, the elder statesman of the crew (he had a previous life as a pre-Wu artist, also coincidentally known as Timbo King: he and Spark 950 released an album on Street Life Records called United We Slam in 1994), and a few others who I have a bit more trouble nailing down, since the cast of characters was constantly revolving, save for Timmy. Dreddy Kruger, now best known as the A&R of some of the better Wu-Tang projects to come down the pike, was a member at one point, as was Stoneface, Q-Base, Mighty Jarrett, and Dark Denim. Y-Kim, the crew's main producer, was also considered an official member of the group for a short time, according to online sources. Some of those names may be inaccurate, because ultimately Royal Fam never received a chance to shine like their brethren did, so there was no real reason for anybody to pay them enough attention to get the facts straight.

Royal Fam scored a deal with Capitol Records thanks to the Wu-Tang Clan name, and an album entitled Black Castle was quickly recorded for mass consumption. With the moderate buzz that was surrounding the crew after their appearance in The Source, Capitol even assigned Black Castle a catalog number and a release date, implying confidence in the rag-tag group of relative unknowns riding on coattails. However, the release date came and went in 1996, and Black Castle was never released. Royal Fam was soon dropped from the label entirely, leaving them without a home, although Timbo King used his free time to record guest spots for actual Wu-Tang Clan member solo albums.

Some of the songs leaked out in various formats, including a couple of actual Royal Fam albums released overseas that were never officially sanctioned by the artists, but the status of Black Castle remained a mystery until 2005, when Nature Sounds announced that it would release Royal Fam's fabled "lost" album (except they would credit the album to Timbo King, which will make sense after you finish reading this post). An album cover was produced, another catalog number was recorded, and promotional copies were sent to critics and radio stations. And then...nothing. Again.

For reasons unknown and yet probably have everything to do with money, Black Castle has yet to be released officially anywhere, although you can easily score a copy if you hunt on the Interweb long enough. Royal Fam is essentially defunct, although Timbo King and, to a lesser extent, Dreddy Kruger, still work on a regular basis. But for the most part, Black Castle will remain an anomaly, a lost fragment of what could have been, unless you decide to spend hundreds of dollars on a promotional version online.

Which I won't condone, by the way. We're in a recession, people!

1. INTRO
Almost completely useless. I say “almost” because the crew manages to remind listeners no less than fifty-seven times that the next song on Black Castle was titled after one of their oft-used catchphrases.

2. BLAME US
Timbo King brags about fucking Britney Spears (which I'm fairly certain never actually happened, but I'm not the guy's biographer or anything), which begs the question: exactly how old was she when this song was recorded? If this was from the original Black Castle, wouldn't she have been, like, sixteen or something? Regardless, none of this matters, because this track is fucking terrible. Timbo sounds like the only rapper in the crew who actually knows how to rap, which may be why he's the only person I remember appearing on this song, which doesn't bode well for the rest of this album.

3. RULES 101
It's kind of weird hearing Timbo King, a man who hasn't exactly had the best of luck in the music industry himself, advising aspiring rappers how to go about handling themselves. It's still an interesting subject, though, and Timbo King clearly knows his The Business Of Music backward and forward, so I guess if even one young artist heeds his warnings, he'll sleep like a baby at night. This isn't bad.

4. INVITATION ONLY
Why would Timbo brag about rhyming straight through a song with no chorus is the song he makes said boast upon contains a fucking chorus? These and other Royal Fam questions will be answered on Neveruary 31st.

5. ALL THE KINGS MEN
The Y-Kim beat is decent in an old-school Wu-Tang kind of way (which, given this song's age, means that it sounded entirely current around the time that it was supposed to drop), but Mighty Jarrett's verse is waaaaaay too long, leaving everyone else picking at table scraps after the attention of the listeners has already been diverted onto another track.

6. WHAT YOU THINK
The beat starts off sounding interesting enough, but it devolves into a simple drum and piano piece that stays the fuck out of the way of Timbo's average-quality lyrical darts.

7. BLACK CASTLE
I wasn't actually expecting a title track on this album. Y-Kim's beat is commendable, even veering toward pretty good at times. But I was bored as shit while listening to this piffle.

8. I DECLARE WAR
This was the B-side to the only officially released Royal Fam single. As I mentioned above, I first read about this song in The Source, but was never able to hear it with my own ears until this project finally materialized. Praise was heaped upon Royal Fam because of this single, but, of course, the album never happened, so they were never able to capitalize on it. Today, I feel the hook is pretty awful, but Y-Kim's beat is appropriately dark (and hopeful, oddly), and Timbo King fits himself over it well. Seriously, though, why is Black Castle considered a group effort?

9. ONCE UPON
This was actually kind of dope. It tackles a serious mood simply and efficiently. Timbo's version of Gza's “Cold World” (which this essentially is) would have benefited from other contributors, though.

10. ARMY BRIGADE (FEAT TRUE MASTER, JAHRULE, & ROC)
I love this song, and have always loved it, ever since it first leaked to the Interweb under the ridiculous title “Army Brickaid”. (Seriously? Somebody thought “brickaid” was a real word? Spellcheck much? That just makes me embarrassed as a fan and visibly upset as a writer.) This song is the shit. The Y-Kim beat sounds nothing like a Wu-Tang instrumental should, and the track is much better for it. Guest rapper True Master, who is better known as a Wu-Element producer in his own right, also sounds exactly like Gza/Genius, which is only a good thing because the man brings his A-game to the court. Awesome. By the way, Jahrule is not Ja Rule, for those of you two who were concerned.

11. SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE (A/K/A SUMMIN' GOTZ TA GIVE)
The first single, with a video (directed by Gza/Genius, I believe – wow, that's a lot of references to the Gza in a Royal Fam write up, huh?) shot and played on Rap City. Once again, it's strange that Timbo King (surprise! He's rhyming by himself!) is talking about a business in which he himself hasn't been very successful, although, to be fair, instead of offering advice on here, he's taking a more aggressive approach against shitty rappers, which makes this a better song than “Rules 101”. Y-Kim's beat sounds pretty fresh today, and Timbo's verses are entertaining as hell, although I should chalk that up to the nostalgia factor, so this still gets a thumbs-up today.

12. MUSICAL CHAIRS (FEAT HELL RAZAH & PRODIGAL SUNN)
Hey, how about that, some guest stars from Sunz Of Man. The title is pretty cool, and Arabian Knight's beat keeps things moving, but Stoneface's opening verse is jarring and not appealing in the least. Which I suppose is a phrase that could be applied to most Royal Fam songs. Huh.

SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? Black Castle is interesting in an academic capacity: Wu-Tang scholars who have been waiting for the Royal Fam album ever since it was originally announced eleventy billion years ago (and who have avoided the unsanctioned albums that leaked to the Interweb) will be intrigued to know what the disc was supposed to sound like. However, they'll be in for a severe letdown, as Black Castle is no lost masterpiece. This is not Timbo King's Smile: this is a weak project with a handful of good songs, a shitload of boring Y-Kim instrumentals, and a rapper (Timbo himself) who outshines his companions, if for no other reason than because he's essentially the only rapper on this so-called “group” album. Nature Sounds probably did the right thing by pulling this from their release schedule, as its dated Wu sound won't really appeal to anyone (except for a handful of tracks that the Wu stan in me loves). Oh well. Better luck next time?

-Max

1 comment:

  1. Once upon is dope as hell and I would disagree with the GZA "Cold World" remark...it didn't remind me of that song at all...
    I also liked I Declare War, and Summin' Gotz ta give was decent...Army Brigade was okay, but didn't do it for me really...

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