April 17, 2011

Black Moon - War Zone (February 23, 1999)




Full disclosure time: although this was not the first Boot Camp Clik project I ever purchased (that honor would go to Originoo Gunn Clappaz's Da Storm), it was the first Black Moon album for my collection.  Yes, you read that correctly: I bought War Zone, the crew's second album, before I ever picked up Enta Da Stage officially.  I fixed that mistake almost immediately, but I feel it's important that you two know the truth.  

As you are now undoubtedly figuring out in your head why HHID hasn't really focused on the exploits of the entire Boot Camp Clik all that much (I bet you've also come to your own conclusions regarding my Enta Da Stage write-up, too), allow me to throw you another curveball: I didn't actually buy War Zone because of the music included.  I hadn't even heard any of the singles that Black Moon had released for the project: hell, if I had, I probably would have significantly questioned my commitment to throwing money away.

Here are the reasons I decided to buy Black Moon's War Zone.

-  The guest list was intriguing enough to me.  Aside from some of the BCC making their token guest appearances (I was sad that Starang Wondah apparently wasn't invited, but whatever), the contributions from Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, M.O.P., and Heather B. seemed interesting enough.  Based on the little bit I knew about rappers Buckshot and 5 Ft. from their Enta Da Stage work (I was actually familiar with the songs from their debut; I just never got around to buying it until later, for some fucking reason), I thought that these guests might actually be complimentary to their respective styles.

-  I was also excited with the idea of an album featuring wall-to-wall production from Da Beatminerz.  (Again, this doesn't explain why I didn't just buy Enta Da Stage first.  Sue me.)  I'm a fan of dark, dusty production, especially when the artists who choose to utilize those types of beats are skilled enough to stand out amongst the dank.  While I didn't exactly get my wish, I was still pleased with the results back in 1999.  Today, however, will probably be another story.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sadly, though, the most honest reason I can come up with as to why I blindly bought War Zone has to do with the backstory of the album.  Black Moon were in the midst of their lawsuit with their former label, Nervous Records (who had released both Enta Da Stage and Smif-N-Wessun's Dah Shinin'), one which threatened to take away all of their rights to their early work, even the right to use their own fucking names.  I found this fascinating for all the wrong reasons: just how fucked up can a record contract be if you are signing away the ability to keep your own nickname?  Although they had since formed their own label, Duck Down Records (which, at the time, had a distribution deal through Priority Records), the two founding groups of the Boot Camp Clik were still stuck in park: Smif-N-Wessun was even forced to change their name to the Cocoa Brovaz in order to actually release their sophomore effort, The Rude Awakening, one year prior.  War Zone was even originally marketed as the new album from "Buckshot, 5 Ft., and Evil Dee", just in case they lost the suit prior to their 1999 release date.  (This reminded me of how The Firm's project was quickly changed to an album from "Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Nature", except it was even more pathetic.) 

Luckily, a deal was finally reached just before the album dropped, hence the name Black Moon appearing on the album cover art.  (This decision was made too late for a couple of parts of the album to be reconfigured: I'll expand on that when I get to it.)  

The unfortunate aspect of this backstory is that I have completely glossed over the lyrical contributions of both Buckshot and 5 Ft., who doesn't rap all that much but still managed to score a career record number of slots on War Zone.  This project proved that Buckshot's worldview wasn't as obscured with the griminess of street life as one might have originally thought.  In fact, the CEO of Duck Down Records steps up his writing game tremendously, tacking sociological commentary onto Black Moon's second effort.  For their part, production team Da Beatminerz (of whom Evil Dee is a member) chose not to wallow in the darkness, instead choosing to stretch out their sonic boundaries, mixing up the overall sense of menace with some lighthearted moments, including one track, "Two Turntables and a Mic", which sounds custom-built for the radio airwaves of 1999.

Well, why should the honesty stop here?  Let's get to the fucking review!

1. INTRO
Bleh.

2. THE ONSLAUGHT (FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES)
The music starts off sounding iffy, but once the drums kick in, you're hooked. Buckshot manhandles his three verses with the skill of a seasoned vet, mastering a flow that will appeal to both Black Moon fanatics and new listeners alike. The weakest link on “The Onslaught” is also its most marketable: Busta Rhymes, who only provides the hook and unnecessary ad-libs at the end, appears to have been included solely because of the star power attached to his rap moniker. Erase him from the track, and “The Onslaught” would be much more effective (although, to be fair, we wouldn't have a helpful reminder of what the song is called after every verse, so that's something).

3. WAR ZONE
A bizarre Frankentrack that was altered from its original form, Harvey Weinstein-style, for reasons that remain unknown to me today. Buckshot and 5 Ft. both sound really fucking good, but the groove is interrupted by random cutaways during where the chorus once sat (more on that a bit later). The Beatminerz beat is perfectly minimalist, especially for a Black Moon track, but when the beat switches at the very end to that of Originoo Gunn Clappaz's “No Fear”, you realize just how similar the two instrumentals sound, which takes away from the experience quite a bit. This could have been really good, but instead, the flow on this amalgamation just sounds fucked the fuck up.

4. THIS IS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE (WORLDWIND)
In an effort to truly differentiate the sound of War Zone from that of Enta Da Stage, Da Beatminerz break out the Middle Eastern flutes for what is ultimately a fairly interesting beat. To his credit, Buckshot adapts pretty quickly, and his verses prove to be some of the best from any rapper-slash-label runner, but the hook is fucking awful. I shouldn't be that shocked, since rappers as a whole haven't written a good hook since the dawn of time, but on here it just smacked of pure laziness.

5. FREESTYLE
“Freestyle” my ass: the only aspect of this track that sounds remotely spontaneous is Buckshot's reliance on the word “motherfucker” as an easy out. That said, I still really liked this shit. The beat is pretty simple, evoking the actual feel of a freestyle cipher, but it still manages to include a nice jazzy breakdown before the third verse. Buckshot's performance is also fairly entertaining, as his boasts contain the perfect combination of humor and venom. This was pretty goddamn nice.

6. FIVE (INTERLUDE)

7. FOR ALL Y'ALL (FEAT. HEATHER B.)
Former The Real World alum Heather B. is a nonfactor, appearing on here mainly because of a previous working relationship with Da Beatminerz. (At least, that's the best explanation I can come up with.) She provides the hook and random ad-libs (kind of like Busta on “The Onslaught”), nearly ruining a crushing 5 Ft. solo effort that is truly fucking impressive for someone who is seen as the quiet guy in Black Moon. I also enjoyed how the beat switches during his second verse. Had it not been for Heather, this track could have been freaking amazing.

8. COME GET SOME (FEAT. LOUIEVILLE SLUGGAH)
I quite liked the beat on here, but Buckshot wasn't the best artist for it: his two verses are full of clich├ęs and out-of-left-field attacks on commercial rap, seemingly included to appeal to the audience in a “Hey! I'm just like you, the listener!” kind of way. O.G.C.'s Louieville Sluggah does a fine job, though, even delivering a surprisingly cold-hearted second verse that helped me look past the corny hook and the fact that Starang Wondah fails to appear on War Zone.

9. WEIGHT OF THE WORLD
I quite liked the dusty beat, but Buckshot and 5 Ft. don't take full advantage: they decide to cram a shitty hook in between their verses, negating the power of the track. 5 Ft. actually sounds better on here than Buckshot, for those of you who care about that sort of thing, but the instrumental deserved better.

10. EVIL DEE IS ON THE MIX
Evil Dee provides something that is missing from rap albums these days: the deejay cut. There isn't much deviation to speak of on here, but it is less than one minute long, so it'll do.

11. SHOWDOWN (FEAT. Q-TIP)
Even though Q-Tip's presence is negligible (he only provides the hook, begging the question: why did Black Moon call in their favors for such a minimal amount of effort?), “Showdown” comes across as a more violent A Tribe Called Quest song, with Buckshot playing the role of the Abstract Poetic over a simple Beatminerz instrumental. His impression isn't half bad, but there was truly no reason for Kamaal to even pick up a paycheck for this shit.

12. ONE-TWO
Buckshot and 5 Ft. take it back to their Enta Da Stage days with the aid of a grimy beat that relies too heavily on scratched-in vocal samples repeating the song's title. At least, it does at first; the samples receive one last hurrah before 5 Ft. kicks a long-ass Cappadonna “Winter Warz”-esque verse that is really fucking good. Buck does alright for himself, too. Nice!

13. FRAME (FEAT. COCOA BROVAZ)
It's kind of sad that the lone song on War Zone reuniting Black Moon with their closest peers, Smif-N-Wessun, turned into this lameness. The beat is weak, and all of the artists sounds as though they should hang it up for good, which I'm pretty sure wasn't the intention.

14. BUCKSHOT (INTERLUDE)
On which Black Moon show their hand, proving that they had to pay their older, (allegedly) crooked record label for the right to use the Black Moon name on the album cover. They hide the group name on here through backmasking. Why even bother to include this skit, then? It wasn't exactly what the kids would call “essential”.

15. TWO TURNTABLES AND A MIC
I don't think Buckshot was the best choice for the role of “guy who tries to save hip hop”, but this wasn't all that bad, even with the overwhelming Taana Gardner “Heartbeat” sample on the, um, beat. Dude performs like a motherfucker, so it's okay that his rhymes aren't all that great. Can't help but feel that the instrumental was a cop-out, though, even with the overall “bringing it back to the old school” theme on here.

16. ANNIHILATION (FEAT. M.O.P. & TEFLON)
Da Beatminerz should maybe hook up with M.O.P. for a collaborative effort: that could make for a pretty potent album. As with any artist paired up with the Mash Out Posse, the two options for Buckshot and 5 Ft. are to step up their aggressive tendencies or get run over by a steamroller, and they both choose the latter, as they are quickly annihilated on their own shit. Not a big shock, I have to say.

17. DURESS
Da Beatminerz use the exact same The Electric Prunes source material (“General Confessional”) as Rampage's “Flipmode Iz Da Squad!” for a Buckshot solo that is as boring as the chorus is irresponsible: repeating the phrase “Why them devils keep fucking with me?” teaches listeners that any problems that occur in their lifetime are the result of someone or something fucking with them, passing the buck (no pun intended) to a generic, supernatural scapegoat instead of learning to accept any responsibility for their own actions. But that's far too deep of a reading for such a crappy song, so...

18. THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR
You can't tell me what to do.

19. OUTRO (FEAT. ROCK)
An outtake from the original cut of “War Zone”, which not only features Rock (from Heltah Skeltah) on the up-until-now missing hook, he also directly mentions the name “Black Moon”, which might explain why it was removed from the final cut. At least Buckshot and company aren't pretending that the original “War Zone” didn't happen, so this was an interesting way to end things, I guess.

A re-release of War Zone, entitled War Zone Revisited, includes two additional tracks, “The Streets” and “Just Us”. I don't have either of those tracks, so if you're familiar with what they sound like, leave your thoughts below for the other reader.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Wow. I didn't enjoy Black Moon's War Zone nearly as much as I did back in the day. This just didn't hold up well at all, from the mostly lazy Da Beatminerz production to the performances from star attraction Buckshot, who doesn't appear to be quite ready to carry an album consisting of nineteen tracks (or twenty-one, depending on which version you come across). The subject matter rarely strays from how Buck believes himself to be better at everything than you are, which isn't that big of a deal when it comes to a Boot Camp Clik release, except that, save for a few tracks, he doesn't sound like he's convinced even himself. An obvious reliance on name-brand guest stars, the biggest of which hardly do anything, also discourages the audience. It should be noted, however, that 5 Ft. actually sounded really fucking good during his sporadic appearances, perhaps because he wasn't worked to death like poor Buckshot. Overall, War Zone is a disappointment.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this if you must. BCC enthusiasts will already have this one in their collections, but as for everyone else, there isn't much on here to recommend.

BEST TRACKS: “One-Two”; “Freestyle”; “The Onslaught”

-Max

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8 comments:

  1. djbosscrewwreckaApril 18, 2011

    I agree with your assessment of what are the stronger and weaker tracks, but I love this album overall. They did a great job of updating their sound but still keeping the grittiness. Although it trails off a bit towards the end, the first two thirds are class. They probably didn’t make enough use of Heather B and Q-Tip, but there are enough different people on here to keep it interesting. And 5FT kills it when he appears. I’d recommend picking this one up.

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  2. Aww shucks Max, this album floats my boat.

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  3. I heard it was good, so I'll try this regardless of the review (one day). Still, it's nowhere on my high priorities list.

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  4. a BURN.now thats fucked up

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  5. another wack review

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  6. War Zone is a good late 90's N.Y Hip Hop album, though not in any way as dope as Enta Da Stage. The biggest disspoinments here are: 1.) A Shortage of BCC guests 2.) Very minor contributions from big-name comrades, who could have made great REAL collabos.

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  7. This album DEFINITELY deserves a fucking purchase, you lunatic.

    I don't know what you're smoking, Buckshot & the Beatminers were very much in form here. Even on the Q-Tip cameo track & ESPECIALLY on the BCC assists.

    And the 5 ft solo & MOP tracks absolutely SUCK.

    The "For All Y'all" beat sucked wild moonhog balls.

    AND BUCKSHOT WASN'T ON THE MOP TRACK, YOU FUCK.

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  8. AnonymousMay 26, 2015

    I dunno, I loved this album. Just found the skits annoying.

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