March 18, 2010
The Dove Shack - This Is The Shack (August 22, 1995)
In 1995, Def Jam Records executives were convinced that rapper-slash-producer Warren G. was the second coming of Dr. Dre. A lot of this comparison came from the fact that the two were literally related: they are half-brothers. But when Warren's debut album Regulate...G Funk Era hit store shelves and sold quite a surprising amount, the label thought that they were sitting on a goldmine, and quickly charged Warren G. with crafting projects from his featured friends, in the hope that at least one of them would be the next Snoop Doggy Dogg.
While this wasn't an entirely terrible idea (hey, in the music industry, you just never know what's going to be the next big thing), Warren G. should never have been looked to as some sort of barometer of talent. The man himself lucked out more by association than anything else (let's not forget that he managed to score guest appearances on both Dre's The Chronic and Snoop's Doggystyle by merely being in the right place at the right time), but he was still too busy honing his own craft: he should have never been saddled with the additional task of nurturing new acts.
Anyway, the two recipients of Warren G.'s affection were his two groups Da Twinz and The Dove Shack, both of whom made their debut appearances on Warren's project. Having signed off on this gamble, Def Jam set their sights on August 22, 1995 as the release date for both albums, Conversation by Da Twinz and The Dove Shack's This Is The Shack, in the hopes that fans of Regulate...G Funk Era would just pick up both without questioning anything.
Well, that tactic worked on at least one person: me. Yeah, I was a sucker back then.
Strangely, even though he pretended to executive-produce the debut album from Bo-Roc, 2 Scoops, and C-Knight, This Is The Shack contains hardly any input from the man himself: instead, he allowed The Dove Shack free reign to make the rap album that they wanted, within the confines of what a commercial rap album on a major label is supposed to sound like. (Warren focused almost exclusively on Conversation, which was the best thing he could have done: click here to read that review.) This allowed for a modicum of experimentation: The Dove Shack used what they believed to be their one shot at fame to explore the laid back feel of the West through a funhouse mirror, taking on the tone of three young kids trying to emulate their older brothers, if their older brothers were N.W.A. They did so without the aid of any guests, which is rare for the genre in general. (Warren briefly appears to introduce one track, using an altered voice, so that doesn't really count.)
Aside from one track, Warren G. handled absolutely no production on This Is The Shack, which left the artists to seek their musical backing elsewhere. This resulted in your usual no-name producers looking for their shot, but there was one guy who manned the boards that I never even realized contributed to This Is The Shack until today: that's how much I paid attention to this fucking album upon its release. I'll get to him when I get to him, though.
In the end, both Conversation and This Is The Shack failed to sell enough copies to justify keeping both acts on the label, so they were dropped, while Warren G. set forth pretending that this excursion never happened, turning his attention to destroying his own career, one album at a time.
That doesn't mean that This Is The Shack is bad, though. Conversation was actually the fucking tits, so This Is The Shack might still sound alright, right?
1. INTRO (SKIT)
Useless rap album intro number 1080, but to be honest, I found it kind of funny when a woman is referred to as a “bitch” and then that aberration is explained away with a “That's how you can talk to them, too, in here”. Sad and wrong, but true.
2. SMOKE OUT
The 2 Scoops line "Japanese eyes describe the effects of the blunt" is both offensive and remarkably vivid in its description. Sadly, that sentence is the height of cleverness on this alleged smokers anthem, which isn't a good way to introduce The Dove Shack to the masses; this track and the one that follows should have been swapped. At least producer Clizark's beat sounds pretty damn smooth, though.
3. THIS IS THE SHACK (FEAT WARREN G.)
A misplaced kids-visiting-an-old-abandoned-house skit leads into the exact same song that introduced The Dove Shack on Warren G.'s Regulate...G Funk Era. Cynical Max believes that this track was included just so the sticker outside of the cellophane wrapping on the CD case could read “Produced by Warren G.” without it being an outright lie. (Rational Max believes that theory isn't that far off, as Warren fails to appear anywhere else on This Is The Shack, but is all over Conversation. Hmmm...) This definitely sounds much more concise and polished that “Smoke Out”, but it feels out of sorts with what the Shack were going for.
4. SUMMERTIME IN THE LBC
This is actually different from the version that was released as a single from the soundtrack to The Show. It begins in the exact same manner, but then takes a left turn into an alternate universe midway through, as Bo-Roc handles all of the vocals by himself (as C-Knight helpfully advises in his introduction). That's right, there is zero rapping on here. Still a bunch of fucking cursing, though. This isn't bad, but it's definitely not what I expected to hear so early on in the album's progression. (The version that did appear on The Show's soundtrack, which includes both C-Knight and 2 Scoops, can be found at the end of the album, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
5. BOMB DROP
When I first picked up both Conversation and This Is The Shack (yes, I actually believed the Def Jam machine for a short period of time), I gravitated toward the G-Funk prevalent on the debut from Da Twinz; I tended to ignore this album completely. Whenever I forced myself to listen to This Is The Shack (so as to justify my purchase), I sat through “Bomb Drop” over and over again, convinced that I could trick my brain into liking this track. That was a misguided effort: The Dove Shack sound uncomfortable and awkward over this instrumental, turning what should have been a preemptive strike into a weak offensive, one easily defeated with the press of the 'skip' button. Which is a damn shame, as the Shack of Doves actually have an ace in the hole behind the boards: to my complete surprise, this song was co-produced by Jason Mizell, better known as Jam Master Jay from Run DMC. I know, right?
6. THE TRAIN (SKIT)
It wouldn't be a rap album without an interlude featuring simulated orgasms and a general feeling of disrespect toward the woman performing them. I never understood why a guy would want to team up with his boys to all fuck the same girl at basically the same time: that just sounds kind of gay to me.
7. FUCK YA MOUTH
The misogyny present on this song is fairly lackadaisical in its execution: it's almost as if these three are simply reciting written statements because they were told by their label that this kind of material was expected from all West Coast rappers and not necessarily because they actually feel that all women are simply sperm receptacles. Of course, I may be wrong (*cough* “The Train (Skit)” *cough*). Regardless, from the lyrics on down to the beat, this shit is simply dull.
8. SLAP A HOE (SKIT)
9. FREESTYLE INTERVIEW (SKIT)
A skit immediately following a skit? Come on, guys! You can do better than that.
Freestyle cypher my ass, but this track is still amongst the most entertaining on This Is The Shack, if only because Bo-Roc, 2 Scoops, and C-Knight pass the mic back and forth, ripping shit without the aid of a chorus. The Dove Shack aren't the best rappers in the world, but that all bounce well off of one another. Crazy C's beat isn't bad, either, although it foes sound much more pleasant and carefree than most cyphers are used to handling.
11. CROOKED COP (SKIT)
12. GHETTO LIFE
The instrumental, crafted by Crazy C, wasn't half bad; there are a couple of flourishes that make it sound better than it should. The verses are all typical pedestrian tales regarding, no surprise, life in the ghetto. At this point, a rapper has to have a truly unique take on his circumstances in order for him to get noticed while rhyming about this type of subject matter, since every fucking rapper ever conceived (that isn't named Asher Roth or MC Paul Barman) rhymes about the exact same shit . The chick on the hook provides some flat-sounding vocals for your amusement, as well. Thus far, This Is The Shack is more along the lines of putting together an IKEA bookshelf using the written instructions than I remembered it being.
13. EAST SIDE PARTY
There are only a handful of artists who can alternate between singing and spitting with ease. Bo-Roc certainly isn't one of them: he sounds lust fine with his vocals (had his career gone in another direction, he could have turned into a low-rent Nate Dogg available for bar mitzvahs), but his verses suffer from no attention being paid to the importance of pacing. C-Knight and 2 Scoops have a better handle on the rhyming, but neither one of them can elevate this generic song (also produced by Mizell) beyond the rating of “merely okay”.
14. ROLLIN' WIT A GANG
The title is among the most irresponsible in Def Jam history. Promoting gang life is nothing new in hip hop, but most rappers are a bit more mysterious about it. (I'm kidding: I couldn't even keep a straight face when I wrote that last sentence.) The song is also boring as fuck, so it may inadvertently result in lower enrollment numbers in street gangs, because it sounds much more thrilling to do your own thing than to join a clique such as what is described here.
15. WE FUNK (THE G FUNK)
If I remember correctly, Def Jam pushed this as a single in a last-ditch effort to sell This Is The Shack to Middle America (read: non-fans of Warren G.). Young Jedi's beat makes this the most radio-friendly of all of the tracks on the album, and it definitely promotes the G-Funk lifestyle (whatever that may be: I imagine it involves a lot of backyard barbecues, weed, dominoes, and wondering when Dr. Dre will ever notice you), but when it comes to the song itself, devoting an entire song to a sub-genre of hip hop doesn't leave much room for any actual subject matter. This was pleasant enough to listen to again, but I won't ever feel the need to actively seek it out in the future.
16. THERE'LL COME A DAY
17. SUMMERTIME IN THE LBC (RAP)
The song that The Dove Shack apparently thought was so nice that they recorded it twice. This is the version that Def Jam commissioned a video for (somehow, Warren G. held so much clout within the Def Jam halls that he convinced the suits to let him use the soundtrack for The Show as a promotional tool for his own acts: aside from The Dove Shack, Da Twinz also make an appearance, along with other G-Child protégées that never saw the sweet light of day again). The same beat is utilized, of course, and the result remains that this is one of the best feel-good West Coast anthems to ever be recorded. This is the version that I actually like; the other, non-rap one is merely alright. This was a strange way to end This Is The Shack, but hey, whatever works.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Listening to The Dove Shack's This Is The Shack again, it's pretty easy to understand why they were dropped from Def Jam. Nothing on this album is overly offensive (unless you're a woman: in that case, “The Train (Skit)” and “Fuck Yo Mouth” are pretty awful) or terrible, and the flows of 2 Scoops and C-Knight (not so much Bo-Roc) are sufficient enough. It was the overreaching ordinariness of This Is The Shack that makes this a grueling listen. No new ground is broken musically nor lyrically, which isn't always a bad thing, but there isn't anything on here that truly demands your attention, which is why I'm so puzzled at This Is The Shack's almost uniform praise amongst my blogger brethren while Conversation is hardly ever mentioned. It's telling that Warren G. had almost nothing to do with the creation of this album: perhaps even he felt that his patented production work would not be aided by the merely passable antics of The Dove Shack. Had they been signed to an underground label to begin with, The Dove Shack probably could have thrived, found a cult audience, and could still be recording today, because they aren't the true problem with this album: everything else about the project, including the poor album cover design, screams “average”, and “average” doesn't always equal “entertaining”.
BUY OR BURN? A burn is enough. In the battle between Warren G. weed carriers, the clear winner in my mind is Da Twinz. But as neither The Dove Shack nor Da Twinz progressed much further in the industry, I suppose they both lost in the end. Sigh.
BEST TRACKS: “Freestyle”; “Summertime In The LBC (Rap)”