November 18, 2010

Not Available In Stores! Deadly Venoms - Deadly Venoms (a/k/a Antidote) (1998)





Some of my readers may have wondered why I hadn't written about the only female crew in Wu-Tang Clan history, the Deadly Venoms, during the first round of female emcee write-ups.  To those folks, I offer a shrug and a hand motion that indicates that it's time that we move on.

Lord only knows whose idea it was to bring the female perspective into the Wu-Tang Clan's melodically violent world.  The Deadly Venoms (or Venom, as they were originally called) were formed in 1997 by Russ Prez and Storm, two guys whose Wu affiliation is still sketchy to me to this day (I'm convinced that they named their company Protect Ya Neck Productions simply to draw the Wu audience and not really because they were a part of the Clan's actual history.).  For this crew, it was decided that ringers should be called in to ease the listener's transitional experience, so they called upon already established artists N-Tyce, Finesse (of Finesse & Synquis), and Champ MC to join relative unknown (to me) J-Boo in recording songs that were mostly about mic dominance by way of the swinging sword.  A fifth member, Lin Que (formerly of the X-Clan), joined the group but left without having ever recorded any songs under the Deadly Venoms banner.

The quartet released their debut single, "Bomb Threat / Boulevard", to mild acclaim, by which I mean that nobody outwardly complained about it.  They also made a guest appearance on, of all things, a Kurupt album (Kuruption!).Encouraged by the reaction, they set about recording their debut album, which is occasionally referred to on the Interweb as Antidote but is actually called Deadly Venoms, for A&M Records.  To ensure a successful release, Storm and Russ Prez called in favors from The RZA (on the production side for a couple of tracks) and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan, of which only four of whom bothered to call back.  They handled the rest of the project themselves, leaving room for an occasional weed carrier and for a mighty posse cut featuring two other crews that were signed to Protect Ya Neck Productions, M.M.O. and KGB, neither of whom went on to much success later on. 

In 1998, the Deadly Venoms seemed to be ready to give the hip hop world an earful, with videos in the can and promotional discs in the hands of critics.  Unfortunately, A&M became embroiled in financial troubles, and a pending merger with Polygram essentially killed the Deadly Venoms project before it could ever leave the vault, making this project one of the Wu-Tang Clan's holy grails.

(Sadly, this pattern actually repeated itself when the crew tried to release a second album on an entirely different label, but we'll get to that story another time.)

Deadly Venoms is an actual Wu-Tang Clan-sanctioned release, though, which makes it enough for me to actually give a damn about it.  J-Boo, Finesse, Champ MC, and N-Tyce were never given a fair shot at a second life in our chosen genre due to label politics (and, I imagine, a complete lack of interest from actual Wu stans), so I feel that today's post serves as an appropriate dedication to the hard work the four ladies put in.

But is this shit any good?

1. INTRO
Foregoing your typical rap album intro bullshit, the ladies choose instead to each spit a verse over some boring Storm instrumental work. Although each one of the four has a distinctive voice, they all seem to share a similar presence, which makes it difficult to tell them apart and to even pay attention to the words, to be honest. (The lone exception is N-Tyce, who comes across as the most interesting by default.) I found it curious that a girl group promoting themselves as an offshoot of the Wu-Tang Clan would sidestep the rather obvious idea to have a sound bite from a kung-fu flick open up the album, though.

2. ONE MORE TO GO (THE EARTHQUAKE) (FEAT. CAPPADONNA, METHOD MAN, INSPECTAH DECK, STREETLIFE, & GZA/GENIUS)
Probably the only song in the Deadly Venoms catalog that most Wu stans can even remember, and it sure as fuck isn't because of the performances from the ladies. (Although they do keep up with the guys effortlessly.) Including sound effects jacked from the same kung-fu flicks they avoided on the intro was a nice touch, but the beat, from the combined efforts of Russ Prez and Storm, is dark, imposing, and more than a little bit dull. So it's up to the verses to save the day, and for the most part, everyone sounds pretty good, except for the shitty Cappadonna (who also handles part of the chorus), who was a larger presence in the Wu world at the time, and the out-of-place GZA/Genius, who doesn't normally make guest appearances of this nature, spitting a verse that is similar to what appeared on his own “Amplified Sample” but, upon further inspection, only shares a couple of bars with that song, so huzzah for not recycling lyrics, Gary. Still, this was pretty decent, although I am a Wu stan; everyone else may wonder what the big deal is.

3. DRUG FREE (FEAT. OL' DIRTY BASTARD & SHORTY SHIT STAIN)
This was excruciatingly painful to listen to. The song isn't very good in the first place, but in light of how guest star Ol' Dirty Bastard passed away, this track adopts a morbid postscript. Osirus delivers a dark, paranoid verse, one that could only be fueled by heavy cocaine use, and then urges kids to stay away from drugs, ostensibly so that the kids don't turn out as insane as ODB sounds on here. Not really sure why this is considered a Deadly Venoms song: only Champ MC appears, and hardly ever at that. No, this is a Big Baby Jesus song all the way (and was erroneously labeled as such when it was posted to blogs immediately after Russell's death), and his performance is so harrowing that it may actually work as an anti-drug public service announcement. But not as a song.

4. COUNTERFEITERS
Russ Prez's moody instrumental sounds just broken enough to qualify as a Wu-Tang beat, but had it not been for those escaping piano keys, this would be boring as shit. Everyone that isn't N-Tyce sounds like Rah Digga without the talent, which is unfortunate, as all of these ladies have more experience behind the mic. “Counterfeiters” ended up sounding like an imitation Wu-Tang b-team group effort, which is kind of sad, because they bounce off of each other's energy fairly easily.

5. LADIES ROOM
The chorus is fucking ridiculous, but at least N-Tyce gets bonus points for making the obvious reference to Klymaxx's hit song “Meeting In The Ladies Room”. This team of queen killa beez actually benefit from Storm's non-Wu-sounding instrumental: had it not been for the word overload, this could have been a mildly successful mainstream single. The Deadly Venoms obviously loved the beat: they allow it to play out, unobstructed, for the final minute of the track. While it is actually a pretty good piece of music, the ladies fail to do much with it. They all still sound alike at this point, which is a problem five tracks into their debut.

6. WHAT, WHAT
This is actually pretty dope. What is essentially a freestyle session is bolstered by Storm's minimalist beat, which bears a striking resemblance to Erick Sermon's work on Keith Murray's “Hot To Def”. J-Boo, Champ MC, N-Tyce, and Finesse all hit the ground running, passing the mic back and forth while taking turns destroying all of the furniture in the studio, sounding more like a female Originoo Gunn Clappaz than anyone related to the Wu. Which makes this a great time to ask the hip hop gods yet again for a Wu-Tang Clan / Boot Camp Clik collaborative project. You know you want to do one, guys.

7. POCKETS STAY DEEPLY
Russ Prez's instrumental on here is pretty fucking great, providing the soundtrack for J-Boo, Champ MC, and Finesse's financial dealings. This could have been put to better use as a heist song, since the beat offers dramatic flourishes that don't necessarily correlate with the concept of hustling, but otherwise, this was a really good song. N-Tyce was missing in action on here, but you won't really mind all that much.

8. THE WAY WE FEEL
Not so much a “song” as it is another freestyle session, except this one is uninteresting at best. The Deadly Venoms all try their best to differentiate themselves from one another, but unlike the actual Wu and their separate personalties, these ladies are difficult to distinguish, even with their unique voices and deliveries: it's too much effort to even care at this point. I'm just saying that it's very easy to understand why the Deadly Venoms failed to find themselves a release date.

9. D-EVILS
Borrowing a title from the Shawn Carter catalog isn't the beat idea in the world, but shifting the original song's focus to the evil that women do is a novel concept. It's too bad that most of the crew fails to stick with the theme, even N-Tyce, who introduces the fucking idea at the very beginning. There isn't much to recommend on here, although Storm's instrumental is peaceful in its repetition, I suppose.

10. WORD LIFE
Meh.

11. EVERYTHING
You would think that Wu-Tang offshoot groups would be exempt from the rules and regulations of our chosen genre, since hardly anyone ever looks for these albums anyway, but they apparently are not, so the Deadly Venoms present listeners with their love rap. You don't need me to tell you that, after an entire album filled with violent threats, sociopathic outbursts, and lyrical bombast, this doesn't sound entirely natural, but here you go: this doesn't sound entirely natural. Especially when J-Boo uses the phrase “mother freak” instead of the much more fun to say “mother fuck”. Why the restraint now, ladies?

12. RING BELLS POSSE (PYN SYMPHONY) (FEAT. KGB & M.M.O.)
Having already filled the need for a collaboration with the Wu-Tang Clan (well, some of the members of the Clan, anyway), the only logical direction for the Venoms to travel is alongside the crews of M.M.O. And KGB, both of whom were also Wu-Tang affiliates, but in a “third cousins twice removed” way. Over a low-key Storm production, J-Boo, Finesse, and N-Tyce barely register, allowing their invited guests time to play, and to their credit, everyone sounds decent enough, although absolutely nobody would ever listen to this song and believe that either M.M.O. or KGB deserved their own albums or anything.

13. FORMULATE
This song sucks elephant cock, so I'll use this space to wonder just how long it will take for The RZA to sample Nicolas Cage's dialogue from the remake of The Wicker Man for a Wu-Tang song. “Oh no, not the bees! Not the bees!”

14. SLICE LIKE SWORDS
How can the Deadly Venoms include a song entitled “Slice Like Swords” on their album and not include the sound effect of a sword slicing through the air? That's a missed opportunity right there: that seemed like a fucking freebie. Forget about the fact that a track with such a Wu-esque title sounds nothing like what the Wu would ever use themselves, and focus on the absolutely horrible song you're presented with, and you're forgiven for not exactly caring who any of these ladies actually are.

15. READY (FEAT. TEKITHA)
J-Boo, Champ MC, N-Tyce, and Finesse use the micro-beat (on which Wu songstress Tekitha's crooning is the most thought-out aspect) to run a gimmick into the fucking ground and then pour dirt over its rotting corpse: reciting a list of events that they are “ready” for. The Interweb believes that none other than Prince Rakeem produced the beat, a claim that appears to have been confirmed by Finesse's verse, and his free jazz association, while sounding interesting in its own right, isn't very conducive to mic ripping. It reminded me of a much more subdued version of Raekwon's RZA-produced “Black Mozart”. By the way, why wasn't Raekwon on this project? That motherfucker works with absolutely everybody.

16. RAP SCHOLAR (FEAT. LA THE DARKMAN & JAMIE SOMMERS)
The Interweb seems to think that The RZA is behind this one as well, which annoys me, because I like to associate Bobby Digital with better, more elaborate instrumentals. La the Darkman, appearing on Deadly Venoms because shut up, that's why, doesn't even manage to make a dent in the proceedings. I don't think he was even in the studio that day: it seems that his cameo was recorded through the power of osmosis. This was a truly boring way to end the album.

SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? I wouldn't. The self-titled debut from the Deadly Venoms is extremely difficult to sit through, as each individual track wears you out, and not in a good way. As a Wu-Tang Clan offshoot album, there isn't much to recommend, since all of the contributions from the guests (including the actual Wu-Tang Clan members) sound disinterested, from GZA's boring verse to The RZA's cutting room floor instrumentals. As a regular rap album, there isn't much on here that will engage the audience. J-Boo, Champ MC, Finesse, and N-Tyce all sound alright enough as a part of a group (it helps that they have prior experience on their resumes), and it is admirable to hear them rhyme without quickly resorting to asserting their sexuality: these ladies manage to pull off a credible Wu impersonation. But the beats always seem to be playing on an entirely different plane of existence, as the Venoms attack every single one with the exact same level of intensity, which grows tiring very quickly. Most Wu stans will already have Deadly Venoms in their possession, so I'm probably preaching to the choir, but if you insist on tracking this one down, I recommend to listening to only one or two tracks a day. A few of these songs are really fucking good, but they can't override the project as a whole.

-Max

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1 comment:

  1. Good review. If you ask me, I thought it was an okay album (enjoyed their second one more, though).

    N-Tyce is the only reason I listen to this group. She's the best girl out of the four, I think.

    So yes, I really did mind that much that she wasn't on 'Pockets Stay Deeply'.

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