September 17, 2010

DJ Honda - h (a/k/a DJ Honda) (July 2, 1996)

DJ Honda is a Japanese turntablist and music producer who started his musical career the natural way: by doing almost the opposite of what he ended up doing.  According to his official bio on his website, unless he really enjoys fucking with people, he was a singer and guitar player in a rock band called The Clique, and he took up the two turntables and a microphone as a second job to help make ends meet.  In a storybook ending that typically happens to people that aren't you, Honda became better known for his deejay skills, spinning the shit out of exclusive parties and remixing the living fuck out of already existing songs.  Also, he punched a puppy in the face.  Not for any real reason, though: it was a Tuesday, and he was drunk with power and Jameson.

After making a name for himself in the States in a turntable competition (one of those things that occurs frequently in cities that aren't the one you live in), DJ Honda relocated to Los Angeles and proceeded to record an album, h (or DJ Honda, depending on where you look: his own website calls it h so I'm going with that), that had a very obvious East Coast bent.  In a happy coincidence that only happens in romantic comedies and in the music industry, Honda's performance in the aforementioned competition won him many fans, most of whom jumped at the chance to work with him on his debut project.  Honda accepted those returned favors from the likes of The Beatnuts, most of Brand Nubian, Common, Tha Alkaholiks, Fat Joe, Redman, Guru and DJ Premier of Gang Starr, and a few unknowns to even out the playing field.

h was released by Relativity Records in 1996, and while it wasn't destined to move millions of units, it sold well enough to keep Honda rolling in new puppies to punch in the face, and its critical acclaim helped him build his name with additional albums and up to the present day, where he has added entrepreneur and CEO to his official title on his nameplate, which looks much more respectable than simply listing 'DJ Honda: Friend of Psycho Les'.

Here is h in all of its glory.

A short and sweet musical introduction. Not bad.

Since this is his show and all, DJ Honda gives himself a deejay cut right out of the gate. Can't say that I blame the guy: I'd probably do the exact same shit.

For the first actual song on h, DJ Honda calls in a favor from both halves of Gang Starr: the late Guru (R.I.P.) provides vocals while DJ Premier scratches the shit out of the “hook”. I've never cared for the music on this song: for me, it sounds too smooth for someone with Guru's monotone to spit over as precisely as we're used to. But he does his best and mostly succeeds, giving the project an early injection of street cred. Although this is Honda's time to shine, I was left wishing that Primo handled the production end of the bargain, or at least remixed the song: hell, Primo provided the beat for that Gang Starr track on Tony Touch's The Piecemaker, so it wouldn't be unheard of.

DJ Honda gives New York rapper (and occasional Beatnuts accomplice) Problemz a solo showcase with “Kill The Noize”, but I don't understand exactly why: after hearing the song, I find him to sound just as generic as every other thug rapper out there in the world. The beat also manages to go absolutely nowhere, possibly because the rhymes fail to transcend it. So of course Problemz ends up being the guy who, in the future, gets his own album with the help of DJ Honda. Maybe he's seeing something that I can't, but this song isn't very good. I call them like I see them.

Reggie Noble takes over the proceedings in his Dare Iz A Dark Side phase, destroying motherfuckers even with a lame-ass hook that consists of a single Redman sound bite being scratched to infinity by Honda. Wow, that was kind of a long run-on sentence. Anyway, this track slides successfully into Redman's catalog, as he proves that he is truly able to rhyme over absolutely any beat, even those from outside of his home country. This shit was just nice, and Honda complements his guest's vocals nicely.

This track, which purports to contain some straight talk from the New York area, is kind of a hot mess. Sadat X spends his time providing a terrible chorus and singing the praises of all of the Japanese women that he wants to fuck, Wakeem (an artist who up and vanished after h was released) talks about absolutely nothing in particular, and Sadat's Brand Nubian partner Grand Puba closes things out by complaining about how Tommy Hilfiger has yet to pay him for “putting [them] on the map”. I enjoy songs that shoot the shit as much as the next guy, but there's no actual here here: this track was randomness set to a bland instrumental. You three had to hook up with DJ Honda to talk about nothing?

Not as short as the other intro, but at least it's still just a musical interlude with sound bites and not a goofy skit, as most other albums would succumb to.

The beat on here is pretty fucking dope. All of the emcees (Al Tariq reunites with his former Beatnuts crew) punch in and punch out quickly and efficiently, save for Problemz, the last guy to appear, who was clearly being groomed by Honda for bigger and better things (although the jury's still out as to whether that act of charity is justified or not). To his credit, Problemz doesn't sound bad on here: maybe his talent lies in collaborations. This shit sprints by so quickly that you're left wishing it went on for another five verses.

With that misleading title, you're forgiven if you skip past it by accident, but you should know that this is actually a one-verse wonder from Chicago's own Common. For his part, Lonnie sounds Resurrection-era good, so when the track ends abruptly, you're left wanting more, which is one of the best things anybody can ever say about an artist.

This is allegedly a “freestyle”, but it's nearly five minutes in length and contains the traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure, so take that title with a grain of salt. True, Biz Markie's crazed pop-culture ramblings are barely cohesive enough to qualify as lyrics ((the third verse consists mostly of The Biz listing names for no real reason), but nevertheless, this is an actual song, and should be graded as such. Honda's beat is simple and nice, but thanks to the vocals, you'll only want to listen to this just the one time.

Sean Black, another unknown artists who DJ Honda counts among his friends even though he doesn't get nearly as much screen time as Problemz, also receives a solo showcase, and he fares much better than that guy. There isn't anything on here that will help him stand out in the crowd, but his verses were confidently delivered, and Honda's instrumental complemented him beautifully. This was simply an entertaining track.

All three members of West Coast party animals Tha Alkaholiks (including the typically behind-the-scenes E-Swift) touch down in Japan (relatively speaking) and record a song that sounds a lot like something that they could have come up with on their own. That is in no way a criticism, though: aside from the terrible hook (h is chock full of those), this shit bangs, and Tash (as usual) rips shit like nobody's business. (What is that expression supposed to actually mean, anyway? How would the phrase “nobody's business” somehow signify excellence in any given field?) This shit was fucking nice.

Al Tariq resumes his solo career to wax lyrically about the end of the world and Armageddon or some shit. The point is, Honda's beat is far too peaceful for it to be the soundtrack to the destruction of life as we know it and the return of Jesus Christ (this song has a heavy religious bent to it). The rhymes themselves are alright, as they most definitely deviate from anything that you would expect a former member of The Beatnuts to talk about, but the song itself was pretty skippable.

European pressings of h cap off the evening with a couple of bonus tracks. For some reason, this is the version that I actually have, so we will continue...right now.

Kind of a sequel-slash-remake of the song that appeared earlier on h (although a sound bite taken from this song appeared on that previous cut, which can only mean that h is the Möbius strip of hip hop albums), but the lyrics are all new, and Problemz has been replaced by Common because shut up, that's why. Psycho Les gets the longest verse for some reason, but everyone on here simply rhymes for the fun of it (especially Al Tariq, who reverts back to his older Kool Fashion moniker on here), and that feeling is pretty fucking contagious. The multiple shout-outs to Honda mush have made him feel pretty good, too. Large Joseph ends his contribution by bringing up that 2Pac is innocent which brings up a good point: nobody ever really seemed to discuss Pac's legal situation on wax (save for the man himself, obviously). Do you two believe that he was innocent of the charges made against him? Discuss.

Plays out exactly as it reads. And with that, we're good.

DJ Honda also apparently released an alternate version of h in his native Japan which, instead of containing a few exclusive bonus tracks, appears to be an entirely different album, with completely different songs, a whole other roster of guest artists, and the original first take of Redman's “Dat's My Word”. According to Discogs, the only songs that survived the cut was “Out For The Cash (5 Deadly Venoms)”, “What You Expected”, and Biz Markie's “freestyle”. That's a pretty interesting exclusive to give to your home country. I most certainly do not have that version of h, so I can't comment on it, but if any of you two are privy to the information contained within, leave some notes below.

FINAL THOUGHTS: DJ Honda's h is a mostly satisfying view of hip hop as seen through the perspective of an outsider, the main qualifier in this case being location. His scope isn't that grand for a first outing (a lot of his guests make multiple appearances), but Honda succeeds with his version of East Coast hip hop, even if it appears at times that he's falling into the trappings of our chosen genre without bringing anything new to the party. (“International Anthem”, in which DJ Honda plays host to West Coast stalwarts Tha Alkaholiks, is the lone exception, if only because it sounds like an impersonation of the West Coast's musical output.) A lot of this is still entertaining as hell today, and it's easy to see the potential in our host being realized eventually, so while not every track works, enough of h will make listeners happy.

BUY OR BURN? You could probably find this one pretty cheap, so I would suggest you spend the money. It isn't that great of a commitment to sit and listen to, and the odds are pretty good that you'll find something to like on here.

BEST TRACKS: “Out For The Cash (5 Deadly Venoms)”; “Out For The Cash”; “Dat's My Word”; “International Anthem”; “Fuk Dat”



  1. djbosscrewwreckaSeptember 17, 2010

    Nice review - it's a reasonable album with some decent tracks, and a good solid East coast flavour. Nothing spectacular, and nothing offensive. "Out for the cash" is the highlight I think. The other two albums after this are pretty much the same - number two is like a more refined version of this one.


  3. The Japanese version of this album is available on iTunes. It's got a pretty good Erick Sermon solo cut and the version of Dat's My Word with the superior beat.

  4. DJ Honda also produced the entirety of 565 - Samurai Sword, it's a Japanese album though, so all the rapping is in Japanese, but the beats are decent.