(Today's Reader Review is provided by P_Captain, who decided that the nearly-forgotten West Coast crew Compton's Most Wanted (which housed rap veteran MC Eiht) was deserving of some virtual ink. What follows are his thoughts on their third release, Music To Driveby. Leave some comments for P_Captain below.)
One of the first gangsta rap groups in Compton to follow in N.W.A's footsteps was Compton's Most Wanted, made up of MC Chill, DJ Slip, DJ Mike T and Boom Bam, all led by MC Eiht. Their first album, It's A Compton Thang, came out in 1990, featuring production help from DJ Unknown and rapping performed by MCs Eiht and Chill. The next year, the crew released Straight Checkn' Em, which, while not as good as its predecessor, still worked on many levels. While the debut focused mainly on battle rapping, Straight Checkn' Em took a more gangsta approach, and as a result, was a lot more violent in both content and tone. The sophomore effort also featured MC Eiht handling all but two verses on the entire project (“Growin' Up In Tha Hood”, which was included on the Boyz N The Hood soundtrack, featured an appearance by MC Chill), so it was pretty obvious who CMW was positioning to be their breakout star.
Around the same time Straight Checkn' Em hit store shelves, Chill was sent to jail on a petty crime charge (which also helps explain his lack of a presence on that project). Boom Bam had been locked up since the late 1980s (well before their first album dropped) and has not been featured on the mic at all, including up to the present day. So MC Eiht was pretty much what listeners were going to get, and in 1992, Compton's Most Wanted quickly recorded and released their third effort, Music To Driveby.
On Music to Driveby, MC Eiht handles all the rapping by himself, save for a guest verse that is provided by Houston legend Scarface, and he chose to further explore the gangsta themes introduced by its predecessor. I don't have much more to say, so I'll just get to the review.
Oh wait, I almost forgot: MC Eiht had been engaging in a beef with fellow Compton rapper-slash-producer DJ Quik, so there are numerous references to that battle throughout Music To Driveby. Read on to find out my opinion about all that.
Plays exactly as it reads, but to be fair, it is rather brief, clocking in at only twenty seconds.
2. HIT THE FLOOR
During this one-verse wonder, MC Eiht announces his return to this here gangsta shit, with his flow adopting a much more aggressive tone than ever before. This was a pretty good song, but it was a bit too short for my tastes.
3. HOOD TOOK ME UNDER
Fans of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas may recognize this song (it's played on Radio Los Santos), but even outside of that game's context, this is a pretty goos track. MC Eiht gives listeners a story about the life of a poor young black male in the hood who's forced to join the gang life, and in turn, is introduced to a life of crime. As is expected in most of these type of hood tales, the main character is eventually gets served a life sentence for murdering a rival gang member. The DJ Mike T beat is also pretty nice with its cold, relaxing atmosphere.
4. JACK MODE
Eiht spits three verses, each one describing a specific event in his life which resulted in him jacking random people just for the hell of it. (Even though MC Eiht is talking about robbing people, reading that sentence aloud will probably cause most of you two to burst out in fits of laughter, so I'm leaving it in. There was just no other way to explain the song without using the terminology introduced in the title.)
5. COMPTON 4 LIFE
MC Eiht dedicates this track to his hometown of Compton. (Which you probably figured out just by reading the title.) He describes life in his city, admitting that most of his homies end up in prison due to their day-to-day activities. Compton may seem like a nice place to visit when you see pictures (seriously?), Eiht successfully scares the shit out of anybody who would ever consider stopping by.
6. 8 IZ ENOUGH
This track has nothing to do with Big L's song of the same name. (Or, I'm assuming, the sitcom.) It doesn't even feature eight different guests or even just eight verses from MC Eiht. Instead, this is just yet another gangsta rap song on which our host talks trash for the duration: he rhymes with the assumption that “Eiht” is enough for the listener. This is one of Music To Driveby's lesser tracks.
7. DUCK SICK II
This is a sequel to "Duck Sick" from It's a Compton Thang. Eiht throws a few shots DJ Quik's way, but nothing really worth mentioning. This track isn't much better than the one preceding it, but I still think it's a worthy enough listen.
8. DEAD MEN TELL NO LIES
One of my favorite songs on Music To Driveby. MC Eiht uses the awesome bassline in the backdrop to his advantage, spitting more violent threats and even some darts at DJ Quik (again) for good measure. Most definitely much better than the previous two tracks.
9. N 2 DEEP (FEAT. SCARFACE)
This song features Scarface (from the Geto Boys), so you know that it's gonna be dope. Eiht and Face weave a crime tale split into three verses, with the centerpiece falling to the guest, and Eiht more than holds his own. Beat wise, DJ Slip pulls a similar move to EPMD's "It's My Thing", sampling one second of a Lyn Collins song and then looping it for the entire instrumental. While it wasn't as dope as the EPMD track, it still worked.
10. WHO'S FUCKING WHO?
MC Eiht and company attack the entire East Coast on this track, which was just one of several volleys that served to escalate the East Coast-West Coast rivalry that was in its infancy around this time Music To Driveby dropped. New York rapper Tim Dog had released his "Fuck Compton" just one year prior, and as a result, most everybody in California was throwing shots his way, except for the artists who were smart enough to avoid the beef, knowing that any sort of response would just make Tim more popular. Anyway, “Who's Fucking Who?” stands out much more for its production technique than it does for MC Eiht's short verse: DJs Slip and Mike T decided to do some cutting and pasting of different sound bites to turn Tim Dog's words back to him. The best instance is when they sample the Boogie Down Productions track "South Bronx", taking just the part which mentions their borough, and then follow it with Tim Dog's own voice saying "bullshit city" (from "Fuck Compton"). The results are astounding: I haven't ever heard any rapper who has tried to dis their opponent in such a creative manner.
11. THIS IS A GANG
MC Eiht uses the same sample as found on EPMD's "You're a Customer" to describe his gang and how it actually constitutes a gang. It isn't groundbreaking, but it isn't offensive, either.
MC Eiht briefly abandons his gangsta rap mission to discuss the opposite sex. This was a fairly disturbing tale about a woman who would sleep with anyone in the neighborhood, even when her life was in jeopardy. Okay, maybe this still qualifies as gangsta rap. On a much higher note, the haunting saxophone-driven instrumental manages to hold up much better than the lyrics.
13. N----Z STRUGGLIN
MC Eiht provides listeners with a lesson in economics, and by that I mean he talks about growing up poor. At least his lyrics run a bit deeper than usual on here.
14. I GOTS TA GET OVER
A continuation of the previous song's theme, but with much better results. The beat also helps a lot.
15. U'S A BITCH
I just love this song. Over a very nice instrumental custom-made for the night, Eiht talks about a girl who is cheating on him. It isn't a very interesting topic, but the music truly makes the song on here.
16. ANOTHER VICTIM
With more shots taken at Tim Dog, MC Eiht is more battle-ready on “Another Victim”, with its use of the Issac Hayes song “Blue's Crib”, than he is anywhere else on Music To Driveby. He relies a bit too heavily on profanity for profanity's sake (as opposed to It's a Compton Thang, which used them sparingly), but he still manages to get some pretty good results.
17. DEF WISH II
After allowing some sound bites from from Scarface and Goodfellas to play out at the start, DJ Slip drops another good beat, this time featuring a creepy nocturnal car-chase-in-rainy-weather vibe. MC Eiht is at his most violent here, as he threatens DJ Quik yet again, while also relating a tale of kicking someone's ass in gruesome detail.
18. MUSIC TO DRIVEBY
This is more of a shout-out outro than a title track, but I liked it nonetheless, mainly because of the beat, which elevates this to one of the best shout-out songs ever recorded. Following all the rage and violence of the past tracks, Eiht chills out a bit and lights up a big fat blunt, which alters his voice to a much smoother flow than he has ever had before. Some people might be shocked by his name-dropping of crews such as Main Source, Gang Starr and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, but most West Coast artists didn't have beef with the entire East: it was mainly just Tim Dog (unless you were 2Pac).
FINAL THOUGHTS: Music to Driveby is, without a doubt, one of the best gangsta rap albums ever, as it is damn near a classic to me. While it never had a huge impact on the genre, Compton's Most Wanted managed to release one of the best gangsta rap albums not recorded by a member of either N.W.A. Or the Geto Boys. The production on Music To Driveby remains funky, mellow and cool while MC Eiht's lyrics take the opposite approach, but at the same time, everything meshes because of Eiht's smooth flow. While some of the tracks don't really hold up today, the album remains consistently enjoyable. Even though this is technically a group album featuring only one person performing (save for Scarface's contribution), MC Eiht raises the project's overall status, proving why he is one of the most underrated artists in the West.
BUY OR BURN? I think you need to buy this album as soon as you can find it. You may have some trouble finding it in stores, but that's what the Internet is for. MC Eiht and Compton's Most Wanted deserve more of your attention than the recent wack pop-rap garbage that sells platinum within a month.
Best tracks: "Def Wish II"; "Hood Took Me Under"; "U's a Bitch"; "I Gots ta Get Over"; "Who's Fucking Who?"; "N 2 Deep"
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)