September 29, 2009

Tha Alkaholiks - Firewater (January 24, 2006)


Firewater was touted as the fifth and final album by West Coast party kings Tha Alkaholiks. It was released almost thirteen years after their first disc, 21 & Over, and it was a promise that the group has kept, at least as of this writing: other than a few solo albums from Tash and J-Ro, there hasn't been a reunion, and there doesn't appear to be one in the works, either, although the group broke up amicably.

Firewater was the last effort by Tha Liks to provide the hip hop landscape with feel-good music, promoting a lifestyle that most other rappers had seemingly moved away from (weed still appears to be the vice of choice for hip hop). No longer a part of the Loud Records family (as that label had gone under), J-Ro, Tash, and E-Swift signed a one-off deal with Waxploitation Records, distributed by the Koch graveyard, and announced in 2004 that this was their last album.

This didn't really surprise me. The genre had changed in the five years since their last album, and their break may have been a little too long for Tha Liks to catch up. Focusing on the subject matter of drinking somewhat irresponsibly has always been a bit of a gamble for record labels to sell to a mainstream audience: when was the last time there were multiple deaths on the highway because someone had smoked too much pot? While the crew was able to offset their words (which, to be fair, usually included some cautionary tales) with hot beats that appealed to hip hop heads, their fourth effort, X.O. Experience, found the group saddled with the task of getting the club audience to care, so outside help like Rockwilder and The Neptunes were brought in: while their efforts were fruitful, the labels forgot to take into account that people are already drunk when at the club: they don't need to have someone extolling the virtues of beer goggles.

Still, I enjoyed their music, so I was sad to see them go. It's never the acts that you can't stand that retire, you know. (The lone exception: Master P. But did you ever really consider that guy to be a rapper?)

1. INTRO
Unnecessary.

2. TURN IT UP
Um, Tha Liks seem to be aiming for a mainstream audience, and their attempts are damn near condescending. Tash sounds good, and J-Ro is okay, but the inane hook and the beat's unquestionable bid for radio airplay both fall flat. It's not as if drinking is a subject that should be limited to underground artists or anything, but this song takes all of the fun out of getting drunk. Tha Liks shouldn't have to try this hard to bump in the clubs: they should just be themselves. I know, I know: easier said than done when it comes to the music industry.

3. THE FLUTE SONG (LALALA)
The female vocals on the “hook” sound like a reference track for the instrumental, and probably should have been deleted. Other than that misstep, this song was alright, as it manages the impossible: it recalls fond memories of older Alkaholiks content while sounding absolutely nothing like anything in their back catalog.

4. POPULAR DEMAND
I hated this shit. That's all I got.

5. THE GET DOWN
I happen to believe that Tash can rhyme to almost any beat and sound good, but E-Swift's instrumental puts that theory underneath a microscope for closer examination. This shit was boring as hell. I'm starting to remember why I stopped listening to Firewater.

6. GET INTO IT
If partying with Tha Liks really comes with an all-inclusive package of drinks, then I can forgive this otherwise trite song with a dull instrumental from The Rural (a terrible name for a production unit, by the way). If they just made that shit up just to make the chorus rhyme, then I am not having it.

7. FADED
I didn't find this skit funny the first time I heard it.

8. CHAOS
The crazy drums on here define the Danger Mouse beat, giving “Chaos” its first shot of energy and a much funkier sound than anything else on Firewater so far. (I'm surprised, too, especially since I'm not the biggest Danger Mouse fan.) Tash and J-Ro also seem refreshed behind the mic. This could have made more of an impact had it been sequenced immediately after the intro, but I digress.

9. HANGOVER (FEAT STYLIZTIK JONES & BISHOP LAMONT)
I found it weird that Tha Liks didn't already have a song with this title in their catalog, especially given their typical subject matter and their fucking group name. E-Swift's shuffling beat is okay, and Styliztik's line “if this is The Matrix, I'm the glitch” was of funny, but Tash is the shining star of this set. Tacking on probable Aftermath escapee Bishop Lamont at the end also added nothing to the proceedings.

10. PARTY YA ASS OFF
No thanks. After hearing this shit, I'd rather stay in and read some Grisham.

11. HANDLE IT
Meh.

12. ON THE FLOOR
The dialogue sample, commanding listeners to “get your ass on the floor”, is too disturbing and jarring to justify dancing in a club setting (or in the privacy of your living room, for that matter: you're too afraid that the owner of the authoritative voice will jump out of the speakers and shake the shit out of you). Which is too bad, as the song sounded pretty good without that shit.

13. POVERTY'S PARADISE (FEAT POOH)
There's hardly any rapping on here at all: Pooh's vocals sound alright in an “absolute definition of the term 'studio musician'” kind of way. I don't buy albums by Tha Alkaholiks to hear about society's ills, though: you drink to forget that shit. So, yeah, this didn't work for me.

14. DRINK WIT US
E-Swift's beat is much more dramatic than it needs to be, but I enjoyed J-Ro's BDP-inspired hook listing their friends within the industry, especially when he name-dropped the Deftones and Fishbone alongside the usual suspects Wu-Tang, King T, and Lootpack. They also shout out Xzibit, confirming that their brief feud had ended. The end of the track turns into a dedication to fellow artists who have passed on, making this the most touching song Tha Alkaholks have ever recorded, and it's still about drinking.

15. DO IT
The Rural's beat throws in an unexpected sample from “Ready Or Not, Here I Come (Can't Hide From Love)” (by The Delfonics), which I hadn't heard since Missy Elliott's Timbaland-produced “Sock It 2 Me”. There is nothing remotely West Coast about this instrumental, but I actually liked this track a lot.

16. OVER HERE (FEAT KING TEE)
This is how Tha Liks decided to end their final album? My wife had to wake me up to let me know that the CD stopped playing.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Firewater capped off the career of Tha Alkaholiks, who immediately (and amicably) disbanded after this disc was mastered (although they all still continue to work). This album contains a handful of tracks that deserve their place in their catalog, but it mostly proves that maybe Tha Liks should have called it a day after X.O. Experience. J-Ro and Tash sound like grizzled veterans who are still capable of bringing the noise when called upon, but they come off as weary, as if they noticed life (and, more importantly, hip hop) passing them by at a speed which they couldn't catch up with. This left Firewater sounding dated, even when it was a brand new album. That said, “Drink Wit Us” simultaneously pays homage to some of the fallen greats in hip hop while acting as historical evidence that Tha Alkaholiks have played a large role in the hip hop genre, making it a perfect final act for Tash, J-Ro, and E-Swift. It's just too bad that Firewater actually ended with fucking “Over Here”.

BUY OR BURN? I would like to tell you two to buy this, but most of the songs on here suck balls, to tell you the truth. Just burn the songs listed below and add them to an all-Liks playlist that you can create using their first four albums (and Tash's solo debut) as a basis. Or, at the very least, listen to “Drink Wit Us” and pour out some liquor for Tha Alkaholiks.

BEST TRACKS: “Drink Wit Us”; “Do It”; “Chaos”

-Max

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2 comments:

  1. No Gut Reaction Ghost Review today?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Any chance of a Holocaust/Warcloud write up? Most specifically Smuggling Booze In The Graveyard.

    ReplyDelete