September 20, 2010

Craig Mack - Project: Funk Da World (September 20, 1994)


In 1994, hip hop fans were witness to a penetrating double-fisted attack on their chosen genre by record label executive and all around camera hog Sean "Puffy" Combs, courtesy of his Bad Boy Records.  The first wave hit store shelves on September 13, when Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace told anybody within earshot that he was Ready To Die, to the tune of millions of copies sold.  The immediate follow-up went on the offensive one week later (sixteen years ago today) in the form of Craig "Craig Mack" Mack's debut, Project: Funk Da World, which moved at least five hundred thousand units and helped Puff Daddy live to fight another day.


Wait, what?  Craig Mack's album came out after Biggie's?  Apparently so.  My memory must be failing me: I swear that Project: Funk Da World not only dropped first, but its first single, "Flava In Ya Ear", was a hit long before "Juicy" ever made anybody nostalgic for Mr. Magic and Marley Marl on the radio every Saturday.  But I've been wrong before.  So let's rewind a bit further back.


Craig Mack began life as the MC EZ half of MC EZ & Troup, releasing his debut single "Get Retarded" waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1988, back when most of my two readers were hanging out in a nut sack somewhere.  (This song isn't very easy to find, but luckily, the helpful folks over at ego trip included it on their album The Big Playback, intended as a companion piece to their Big Book of Rap Lists.  It's worth the effort it takes to listen to it; if nothing else, you'll discover where Dr. Dre got his inspiration for his Bulworth soundtrack offering "Zoom".)  Mack worked sporadically after that, but a chance meeting with Puff Daddy led to a recording contract with the freshly minted Bad Boy Records and a guest spot on a Mary J. Blige song, "You Don't Have To Worry" (thanks to Puffy's management contract with the Queen of Hip Hop Soul). 


Craig Mack quickly recorded his debut, Project: Funk Da World, with the help of producer Easy Mo Bee, who handled five of the album's eleven tracks (Mack himself helmed another five, with Rashad Smith rounding things out).  His flow, which consisted of that of a mumbled Pete Rock mixed with a mouth full of peanut butter and marshmallow-flavored gravel, was an acquired taste, but it couldn't be denied that he brought something unique to the table.  Unfortunately, he was quickly overshadowed by his younger labelmate Biggie Smalls, who would go on to, um, bigger and better things (ironically, his career actually springboarded from a cameo appearance on a Craig Mack remix), while Mack was delegated to back office duties at Bad Boy before he left the label entirely.


Project: Funk Da World was the second full-length album released on Bad Boy, but it has quickly been reduced to but a footnote in the history of the man that now calls himself Diddy.  Hell, Craig Mack barely makes a dent in the Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious (although someone playing him does make a brief non-speaking appearance during a photo shoot), even though it is believed that Puffy originally had more faith in Mack than he did in his eventual cash cow.  This is one of those albums that may come up in conversation every once in a while, but nobody ever pretends that they've listened to it. 


But that's doing Craig Mack and the year 1994 a disservice.  Project: Funk Da World is the only other project from Bad Boy Records that wasn't dipped in blingy excess: Mack forced the radio to cater to his whims.  ("Flava In Ya Ear" is still considered a hip hop classic to this day, so at least our host for the evening receives the occasional royalty check.)  So let's join up with the five hundred thousand other satisfied (I'm guessing here) consumers who claim to own this album and see if it works as a distant cousin to Ready To Die, or if it's supposed to be its own animal.


1. PROJECT: FUNK DA WORLD
Problem number one: this is a rap album intro, plain and simple (although Craig does actually spit some bars – more on that in a bit). Problem number two: the intro is based around (what I assume to be) a fictional military campaign and/or terrorist organization initiating something called “Project: Funk Da World”; the audio is recorded at such a low level that it's hard to make out exactly what the fuck is going on half the time, not unlike watching a Michael Bay movie where the multiple jump cuts disorient the audience. The robotic voice that runs through the second half of this intro is also annoying and obtrusive. On the plus side, though, when Craig and his “I'm rhyming with all of these marbles in my mouth” flow kick in over this self-produced beat, I actually forgot about my initial issues with this intro, as his lyrics meld with the instrumental as if they were born to do so. All in all, this was half good and half fucking useless.


2. GET DOWN
The second single from Project: Funk Da World throws audiences off at first, as Puffy and Craigy felt it was appropriate to use the first forty seconds of the track to play random gibberish as a way to introduce “Get Down”. When Easy Mo Bee's beat finally begins, though, nostalgic feelings will start to rush back to my two readers who were cognizant of hip hop in the 1990s (everybody else may just enjoy the simplicity of the instrumental). Although I was never convinced in the least bit, I've always loved how Craig Mack says “I ain't scared of you motherfuckers”. Here, Craig pairs three verses (delivered in an accomplished manner that could only work in the 1990s) with a surprisingly not-annoying hook, and it all works. (Side note: Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest, although I shouldn't have to continually remind you two at this point) even remixed “Get Down” at one point, but I've always preferred Mo Bee's original production work.)


3. MAKING MOVES WITH PUFF (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
You didn't really think that Puff Daddy would miss out on making a cameo appearance on an album released on his own fucking label, did you? Here, he even convinced Mack to make his nickname a part of the song's goddamn title, which is truly one of the most conceited things Puffy has ever done. (Even Biggie wouldn't have any of that shit.) As such, even though Craig Mack plays along admirably (his line “Power Rangers ain't more amazin'” dates this third single incredibly, but it worked at the time), the overt influence of Diddy on the track makes this a half-remembered nightmare that you'll want to shake off very quickly.


4. THAT Y'ALL
I don't understand why this song has a title that makes no fucking sense when taken all by itself: had it been called “Like That Y'all”, then it could have worked, especially since Craig never uses the title phrase within the track's context without throwing the word “like” in front of it. Anyway, even without the presence of his label boss, Mack turns in a truly shitty performance, his confidence behind the mic undermined while he awkwardly tries to salvage the beat that wouldn't make for a good rap song no matter how many rappers or other flourishes you threw on top of it. A decent interlude, maybe, but never a good song.


5. FLAVA IN YA EAR
This is Craig Mack's signature anthem. When the man dies, this shit will be played on a loop at his wake. And deservedly so: this track still bangs today, thanks to Easy Mo Bee's simple, masterful two-note production that can't help but make Mack's lyrics quotable. This is the first song on Project: Funk Da World that can legitimately be described as “funky”. This is actually a better first single than “Juicy” was for his labelmate, a fact even Puffy seemed to realize, as he quickly recruited Biggie Smalls (as well as LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Rampage the Last Boy Scout) to appear on the remix, which set up the rare occurrence of an all-star remix actually outdoing the original song (and helping Biggie break through to the mainstream). But this is Craig Mack's song through and through, and the original is still really fucking good. Even Jennifer Lopez, of all people, thinks so, as her “Ain't It Funny” remix jacked this beat without any remorse whatsoever.


6. FUNK WIT DA STYLE
Mack's beat sneaks up on you with its dopeness, and even though, once again, the title makes no sense (this time it's more of a poor word choice than anything else), Craig Mack rides the instrumental just like the pony he rode that one year in summer camp. It's not flashy enough to have ever been released as a single, but it's nice in its own way. This was unexpected.


7. JUDGEMENT DAY
Conversely, this song was weak as shit, although Easy Mo Bee does his beat to make the track at least sound as dramatic as he can. Lyrically, this is just a “Get Down” retread, which wouldn't be completely horrible if it wasn't for what happens to be the downfall for many a rap artist: the chorus. Maybe more rappers should look to a professional songwriter like Diane Warren for more help with their hooks. Hell, it certainly couldn't hurt.


8. REAL RAW
This self-produced gem of a song (which could have been perfect (by Craig Mack standards, anyway) if not for the brief bit of homophobia thrown in for good measure) uses an old-school aesthetic combined with a more modern sound with great results. Mack spits his rhymes in an entertaining and easy-to-understand manner, and the beat comes across as damn near whimsical. This was much more entertaining than anybody would ever expect from our host: why wasn't this ever released to radio? “Bwees” everywhere would have been happy with it.


9. MAINLINE
At this point, Mack's flow gets the best of him, as he is fucking unintelligible over a weak Easy Mo Bee beat. And when you can't understand a goddamn thing the artist is saying, you are either (a) listening to Bob Dylan, or (b) relying on the underlying music to provide clues, and the instrumental doesn't make anybody want to mainline anything. This track was fairly awful.


10. WHEN GOD COMES
Craig Mack takes a serious tone on this song, trying to prepare all of his “bwees” for the Rapture. Or something. It isn't overly religious, but the track is about what will happen if the title event ever occurs, so be forewarned. The beat, provided by Mo Bee, is okay, and it's not as if what Craig has to say isn't true (aside from the titular occurrence, which really depends more on your religious preference): in fact, he makes a lot of good points (he even chastises radio stations for playing overly violent music that can be easily accessed by young children), but maybe I'm not in the mood to be preached to. Odds are, you two won't be, either.


11. WELCOME TO 1994
1994 was actually a pretty good year for a younger Max, but this song doesn't remind me of happier times at all. I'm almost afraid that younger readers will listen to this track and believe that all hip hop sounded this bad during the mid-nineties. I assure you, that is not the case: this song is merely an exception. It's also a fairly bad way to end the evening.


FINAL THOUGHTS: Craig Mack's Project: Funk Da World and The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die are almost night and day, which is odd, considering that they both share a record label, a label boss who insists on becoming as big a name as his employees, and even a producer (Easy Mo Bee). But while Biggie was concerned with appeasing the “real” hip hop heads while handling Puffy's (admittedly brilliant, in a business sense) requirement of appealing to the mainstream (read: women), Craig Mack had no such filter, and he had the freedom to record the album that he wanted. And what he wanted to record was a project for the heads that liked to pretend that the mainstream didn't even fucking exist in this dojo, even after “Flava In Ya Ear” blew up on the radio. Project: Funk Da World is not a perfect album by any means, and Craig Mack's own lyrical flow takes some getting used to: in fact, it's entirely probable that some listeners will never be able to understand a single mumbled word coming from his mouth. But for folks willing to make the effort, Bad Boy Records did them a solid, releasing an album with four bona fide great songs and other misfires that are, at the very least, interesting to hear. Craig Mack will never be in anybody's top five, but he can be proud of at least half of the work found on Project: Funk Da World, because that means he will never be looked at as the weakest artist on the Bad Boy roster when the history books are written.


BUY OR BURN? Why the fuck not? You may as well pick this one up. It was touch and go for me for a while, but ultimately the tracks listed below tipped the scales. Don't go into this one expecting Craig Mack's version of a Biggie album, and you'll do alright.


BEST TRACKS: “Flava In Ya Ear”; “Real Raw”; “Get Down”; “Funk Wit Da Style”


-Max

18 comments:

  1. One of the problems I had with this album was that most of the beats never really change that much (i.e. drop a bass line, drop to just drums, pause) a lot of them just seemed looped.

    But it was definitely worth a couple spins.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review. Could you do "Doomsday Forever" by the Almighty RSO?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Also the whole computer hacking intro reminds me too much of Canibus's "Can-I-Bus" intro. Even though Craig Mack came first.

    Can you please review "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back" or "Raising Hell" next.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey, what about reviewing some Ice-T ?

    ReplyDelete
  5. djbosscrewwreckaSeptember 21, 2010

    Production and rhyming wise a lot of the songs sound similar, and the weak ones are pretty bad, but to be fair this does mean that the album has a consistent feel, which most records don't nowadays. I think you nailed the decent tracks in the review and I like the conclusion that this is a buy.
    Why the need to compare it to Biggie though? I don't get that. Craig Mack is a different kind of artist, and fair play that they let him make his own record without commercial leanings. That track "When God Comes" is good precisely because he's talking about stuff other emcees aren't talking about. I can't say I'm religious, but I'm feeling that track because he's saying stuff that's right, not bullshit that's gonna sell. What's really real?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Co-sign Patrick and the last anonymous. But even better, some Scarface & Geto Boys would be appreciated, Max.

    ReplyDelete
  7. i remember heads bopping through the halls just humming the two note melody and punctuating it with that haaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! But what usually happens happened : the rest of the album is never usually anywhere near the fire of the single it's built around. Copped and kept it for history's sake, but i could'nt tell the last time it got any spin.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh and not to forget, Max when are you planning to follow-up your review for "Licensed to Ill" and get to the second Beastie Boys album? It would be appreciated if you moved it higher up in priority!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I never gave this CD a chance when it came out although I did cop the 'Flava in Ya Ear' cd-single.

    B-side to track down: The "Flava in Ya Ear" Cd-single contains a freestyle called Shinika.

    LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_YQ1Gt6Aow

    PEACE!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'd also be down to hear about "Kuruption!" or "Quik is the Name".

    ReplyDelete
  11. Or Daz' "Revenge, Retalliation and Get Back"

    ReplyDelete
  12. yo max. when we gonna see digital underground’s sex packet album. kid

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yeah Max, there should be more Kurupt on this blog 'cause (as you pointed out during the Chronic review) Kurupt is arguably the strangest rapper of all time 'cause sometimes he is unbelievable but mostly sucks! Any chance of reviewing BlaQKout?

    Love Fleva In Your Ear (Remix)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've always thought Mack was wearing a hat on the album cover...but is that his hair?

    ReplyDelete
  15. This album is fucking classic and I truly believe that it was COMPLETELY produced by Mo Bee (except one Rashad Smith track).

    Not a bad beat there and Get Down is a timeless jam.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I remember when came out , had that underground feel to it, heard a remix of Funk da world which I never got hold of, but it slammed like X-Clans funkin lesson, when I hear it again now it's senna slightly alternative, there are some tracks that sound good at 2am - when I hear - " who's this "

    ReplyDelete