October 5, 2010

My Gut Reaction: Trife Diesel - Better Late Than Never (July 21, 2009)

For me, Theodore Bailey, who used to rhyme under the pseudonym Trife da God before switching it up to the current Trife Diesel, came completely out of nowhere.  In 2001, he popped up as one of Ghostface Killah's lackeys on three tracks off of Bulletproof Wallets, and even accompanied his mentor on the lead single from Mark Ronson's Here Comes The Fuzz project, "Ooh Wee" (also featuring Nate Dogg).  In 2004, Ghost compiled some of his album rejects along with some tracks from his Theodore Unit crew (named after Trife?  Now that would be interesting if it were true) and released the mixtape-slash-album 718, which still stands as one of the finest Wu-Tang Clan offshoot albums of recent memory.  So in the span of three years, Trife da God had established himself as a promising artist that could use the Wu-Tang logo as a launching pad if he so chose, and nobody would complain one bit.  Not bad for a guy who didn't have much of a career breakthrough before Bulletproof Wallets.

Or did he?  Other websites purport that, in a previous life, our Trife Diesel was better known as Trife, one half of the Snakes in the Junior M.A.F.I.A.  I can find nothing online nor in any liner notes that can help prove this to me otherwise, so I have no idea how true this is, although I kind of doubt it.  As the M.A.F.I.A.'s debut album Conspiracy dropped in 1995, that would place Theodore as being approximately fifteen years old when that project was released.  It isn't unheard of, but I can't imagine that The Notorious B.I.G. would include a child in a crew made up of his friends and his mistress; since they couldn't take him into the club, what would they have done with him?  But if any of you two can provide some sort of proof, hit me in the comments below.

Trife's first solo effort, 718: Stapleton To Somalia, was ultimately jettisoned and configured into a Ghostface Killah & Trife da God project, Put It On The Line, in 2005.  (Promotional copies of 718: Stapleton to Somalia exist, however, and are readily available if you  search the Interweb for about twenty seconds.)  Ostensibly, this move was made to guarantee record sales from Wu-Tang stans such as myself, although I'm not sure of the legalities that would have allowed Ghost to release a disc under his own name on an entirely different label than the one he was contractually obligated to at the time.  For his part, Trife accepted the changes, as they didn't seem to have been made out of any lack of faith.  Besides, Trife and Ghostface are two great tastes that taste great together: throw Raekwon into the mix and you would have the ingredients necessary to make up for that Wu-Massacre debacle.  (Method Man could make sporadic guest appearances, if necessary.)

Trife abided his time by putting in additional cameos on Ghostface projects, but when the time came around to release another debut solo album, he jumped at the chance.  Better Late Than Never, a direct reference to the eight years he had to wait before unleashing a project of his own, dropped in 2009 to very little fanfare and even more limited publicity, but that was to be expected, as it isn't as though Trife is signed with a major label or anything.  Trife was never the guy to throw Wu-Tang references into any given verse for no reason (another reason he's much different from almost any other Wu-Tang Clan b-teamer), so Better Late Than Never could actually be classified as a non-Wu album, had it not been for the obvious history between Trife and Ghost, who appears twice on here.  The rest of the guest appearances are spread out to Trife's old friends from his original crew TMF (who were quickly absorbed into the Theodore Unit) and some underground rappers that you've probably heard of.  You probably won't have a clue who the producers are, though: given his limited budget, Theodore elected to go with quality instead of name-brand recognition: suffice it to say, you won't hear any Wu-Elements on here, although I'm sure he would use them if he had the cash.

Better Late Than Never was released over one year ago, before Raekwon and Ghostface Killah turned the Wu tides with their respective albums, so it was lost in the shuffle quite easily.  So now's a good time to fish it out of the water and give it a go.

A soulful, jazzy Blunt concoction makes up the first beat Trife spits to, getting the title track out of the way with two verses (the third is more of a breakdown than anything else) are exactly the tight, concise, and detailed rhymes of a guy who can (and has, repeatedly) hold his own opposite of Ghostface Killah. This motherfucker is so self-assured that it's astounding to realize that this is his debut solo album (although, once again, it wasn't supposed to be). This was a really good way to start things off.

Diesel's focus is scattershot throughout this one-verse wonder, but his diatribe against current hip hop trends-slash-advice for up-and-coming artists-slash-autobiographical tale has one thing going for it: it sounds fucking good. Lee Bannon's beat is a perfect match for Trife's words, so much so that you're left wishing that this song went on for another three minutes. Nice!

The DJ Snips beat actually sounds pretty interesting, and Trife takes full advantage, kicking three verses that tread the same water as every single other Trife verse ever fucking written, but he has an entertaining way with his rhymes: not unlike the Clipse, Trife da God would have grown tired quite a while ago without that particular trait. (Now that I think about it, Trife kind of sounds like the missing third Thornton brother.) The chorus is almost comically awful, derailing the train from its kiddie-park track, so the overall final product isn't that great, but everybody's allowed some missteps. Make me proud, Trife.

The execution on this could have been a little bit tighter in my opinion: instead of focusing on the absurdity of making all of your important life decisions with the flip of a coin, Trife turns his eye toward more crime shit. He sounded okay, but when combined with the DJ Snips production, this was fairly dull.

Trife invites a couple of his old friends (who also happen to be a part of Theodore Unit; funny how that happens, right?) to conduct a lyrical workshop over an interesting-if-not-that-significant Bean One beat. And conduct they do: Trife even dials down his contribution a but just so he can comfortably stand alongside his brethren. Tommy Whispers swoops in for a third verse that sounds as though it was performed by a Killah Priest clone after sucking in the helium from a child's birthday balloon with a Sudafed chaser. This was kind of great.

Trife tackles the Inspectah Deck “Serious Rappin'” recipe (although, to be fair, Trife's song did come first), looking outside of his immediate vicinity for some underground credibility. The results are mixed: Blunt's beat sounds like it would have been better suited to another one of those “slice of life” stories that some rappers are good at, but Trife manages to excel anyway, save for his wordy hook, which is a bit much. Freeway, who is probably too big of a name to be included in a grouping such as this, does alright, but Term sounds fucking awful. (Must have been having an off day.) Trife does prove that he can thrive outside of his comfort zone, though, and that was the point, right?

Ghostface Killah's first of two guest appearances on Better Late Than Never goes off without a hitch, but he is easily bested by Trife's two verses (on which he's nice enough to slyly mention the title of the other Ghost-featured song on here). Neenyo's production, which approaches Birdman's “Always Strapped” (I mean that in a good way: I actually like that beat, if not the words laid over it) is pretty far removed from Wu-Tang for most stans to feel comfortable with, but this song works extremely well. Besides, it's not as though Trife had a ton of RZA beats to choose from; to this day, those two have yet to work together. Come on, Rakeem, you worked with Meth's weed carrier; the least you can do is show Trife some consideration, since he's actually fucking talented.

This Mental Instruments beat is pretty fucking dope: I especially dug the off-kilter wind chimes that occur every fourth bar. Trife invites his friends back to his place for a quick trio of verses, without the presence of a chorus hindering things. Shit like this makes me hope that Ghost has the time to compile another Theodore Unit album, since his Def Jam obligations should (finally) be cleared up. This shit was nice.

An out-of-left-field brief tribute to blind men everywhere. Trife tackles this topic with grace and clarity, especially during his second verse, when he praises blind musicians who never lost their nerve to be creative even though they were never able to actually see their many fans. This was an unexpected lark, but not every rap song needs to be dark.

Pretty goofy, but also pretty entertaining: the entire track (which clocks in at just over two minutes) consists of Trife trying to convince an overly generous Ghost to go out (Pretty Toney tells everyone that he'll pick up the tab because he hit the lottery – were his finances that bad with Def Jam that he had to resort to trying to hit the Powerball?), while Shawn Wigs turns in a pretty crappy verse. But the fun and excitement of this song is contagious: hell, now I want to get ready to hit the clubs, and I still have to actually finish this review. Nice work, Trife.

I really liked the production work on here. Trife and Kryme Life bounce off each other well, reinforcing the idea that the Theodore Unit is truly underrated. Hell, I even liked Kryme's callback to Cappadonna's last bar from “Winter Warz” during his verse. The only way this could have worked better is if Ghost also made a cameo. But you can't have it all, I guess.

This is actually dope as fuck. After a brief musical interlude, DJ Flatline and Kender's dramatic late-night-newscast theme of a beat kicks in for Nickel Nine to demolish. Trife's performance also solidifies an opinion that I've had for quite a while: the artist formerly known as Trife da God truly is the finest Wu-Tang weed carrier of them all (although I should probably stop calling him that, as he's obviously graduated beyond that point). Dude can write a hot verse, he has a decent ear for beats, and he sounds at ease alongside such hip hop heavyweights as Royce da 5'9”. Whatever it takes to get by in our chosen genre, this guy has it. Now if only people would actually purchase Better Late Than Never...

There's an uncredited appearance by Barack Obama on here: I'm starting to believe that Inspectah Deck listened to Better Late Than Never and decided this was what he wanted The Manifesto to sound like. However, I'd rather listen to Trife these days instead of the Rebel INS: it's sad, but it's absolutely true. Trife decides to take on societal ills with a realistic but hopeful tone: although he doesn't provide any solutions of his own, he at least proves that he's been paying attention to the news. Also, he apparently really really really likes Obama. I'm just saying.

I don't understand why name-brand artists can't choose hot beats to spit over, but Trife can apparently throw his bouquet into a crowd and come back with sixteen instrumentals that sound good. Blunt's instrumental is really fucking hot, and his version of a Ghostface Killah song (even including what sounds like an uncredited cameo from Tony Starks on the hook) circa Fishscale is a winning one. I was hoping for a slightly better performance from Tommy Whispers, but he did well during his other guest spots, so I'm willing to let this song slide.

This was an interesting idea: a man and a woman broadcast their opposing views on their relationship, which has hit a rough patch. Kudos to Trife for including a female point-of-view that actually makes sense without being catty (especially with Stash's line “You're acting like I'ma always be there”)...and the same bit of praise gets taken away as Diesel loses his shit and resorts to violent threats and sexist remarks. Rationality is overrated, I guess. You root for the star attraction until he turns on you at the end...didn't see that M. Night Shyamalan twist coming. Oh well.

Trife's ode to mothers around the world ends Better Late Than Never on a positive note, as he apparently treats his baby's mother with much more respect than the chick portrayed on the previous track. Lewis Parker's production made this an outright peaceful way to leave things.

THE LAST WORD: Trife Diesel's Better Late Than Never is the most entertaining Wu-Tang Clan-related project since Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Part II (and yes, I realize this actually dropped before Rae's magnum opus). Trife uses his solo debut to prove that he probably could have earned a record deal even without the aid of Ghostface Killah, thanks to his consistently engaging rhymes and an ear for beats that works better than most artists who are currently leasing their space in the spotlight (with an option to buy). Trife separates himself from the pack through mere skill alone, rhyming alongside both his Theodore Unit brethren and underground cats with the ease of a seasoned veteran. I would actually love to hear another Trife Diesel album as soon as fucking possible: he should really get on that shit. Until then, we have Better Late Than Never to hold us over. I recommend that you pick this one up as soon as you can, especially if you're a former Wu stan that doesn't find any of the Clan's current output, no matter how indirect, relevant in 2010.


Theodore Unit – 718
Ghostface Killah & Trife da God – Put It On The Line


  1. def gona have to check this one out asap

  2. "FORMER Wu stan"? That Wu-Massacre, Bieber-Massacre and possibly that RZA's gay karaoke with Elijah Wood turned you away after 16 years?? But yeah, I'm kinda embarassed too by being a Wu fan in 2010...

  3. So if you like Trife that much, what exactly took you so long to get to this?

    Its a good album I guess, but for some strange reason it leaves me unimpressed, dunno why.

  4. FLX - It takes me a long time to get to a lot of recent albums. I'm kinda lazy.

    Banksta - I'll still drop money on pretty much anything the original nine members put out (sadly), but I'm much more cautious with their affiliates these days.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. A strong album...
    Lets hope he gonna make another one soon.

  6. Yo, Max. Could you review 50 cent's "Power of the Dollar" for your unreleased sectioN?

  7. Love ya Max, and love the Wu, but there about a thousand rap artists more worthy of review.

  8. He bided his time. Bide means to stall. Abide means to comply.


  10. I didn't know that Trife had a career outside of appearances of Ghost's albums and Theodore unit. I'll check it in the future.

    And about the start of his career, Wikipedia tells me he started in 1999, on Shyheim's Manchild.

  11. This was nice! thanks for the recommendation