(Today's Reader Review finds frequent contributor Sir Bonkers jotting down his thoughts during his first spin of The Lady of Rage's Necessary Roughness. While it would be nice to think that he was inspired to do this after reading my own review of the project last year, in reality he actually sent this submission in just before I was about to publish mine, so I held it back for obvious, selfish reasons. But you two can read it now, so that's what's important, I guess. Leave some comments for him below.)
Pretend it's still 1997. Death Row Records is making gradual strides toward becoming the label that releases nothing but reheated leftovers that it would be best known as in the new millennium. Death Row was still living off of the highs of the previous fiscal year, which had been exceptionally good, sales-wise: the late 2Pac's dual efforts, the double-disc All Eyez on Me and the Makaveli-credited The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, as well as Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Tha Doggfather, had all gone platinum multiple times over.
It wasn't all good news, though. Dr. Dre, the man who had singlehandedly put Death Row Records on the map, had defected to form his own label after his business partner Marion “Suge” Knight’s management style had become increasingly violent. Their most controversial and highest-selling employee, 2Pac, had been gunned down in Las Vegas under extremely suspicious circumstances: that murder remains unsolved to this day. Suge himself had been sent to prison for violating parole, which ultimately led to the downfall of the enterprise, as his threatening presence during studio sessions was the glue that held the roster together: as such, every act signed to Death Row was just about ready to follow in Dr. Dre's footsteps, especially superstar Snoop Dogg, who quickly signed a deal with Master P's No Limit Records.
Still, 1997 had started off well, with the release of the Gridlock’d soundtrack (which accompanied 2Pac’s posthumously-released film of the same name), which was certified gold. Death Row followed up that success with the debut album from female emcee The Lady of Rage, Necessary Roughness. This project was a long time coming: although she was best known at this point for her work on Dre's The Chronic, Snoop's Doggystyle, and Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food (she was erased from All Eyez On Me), she had been rapping well before Dre discovered her in 1991. She even scored a hit single of her own, the Dre-produced, Snoop-assisted “Afro Puffs” from the Above The Rim soundtrack. However, I have to assume that the hype generated by “Afro Puffs” had significantly diminished by the time Necessary Roughness dropped.
According to Wikipedia, which I know isn’t the most reliable source of information, Necessary Roughness sold over seven hundred thousand copies, which would make this project a gold-certified, damn near platinum album that didn't include any big singles. That’s quite an achievement. Perhaps people simply picked this up because The Lady of Rage was featured on quite a few undisputed classic records, or maybe it was because the buzz on Death Row Records hadn't yet dissipated, even with all of the controversy surrounding the label at this point. It's also possible that Suge, Rage, and their team of producers (which apparently include a few nice surprises) were actually capable of releasing a good product without the help of Dr. Dre.
1. RIOT INTRO
People rioting because they really want to hear Rage’s album? Oddly enough, this actually makes a little bit of sense, as Necessary Roughness (which was originally called Eargasms) had been promised for five years at this point. Still, that was no excuse for having this uninteresting shit run for longer than three minutes.
2. NECESSARY ROUGHNESS
This instrumental, from former Puff Daddy employee Easy Mo Bee, sounds a lot like The Notorious B.I.G.s “Warning” (which he also produced). Rumor has it that Mo Bee was beefing with Diddy in 19997, which might help explain his presence on a Death Row Records release and on Craig Mack's sophomore effort: regardless of the backstory, I'm glad Suge Knight was able to let the whole “Easy Mo Bee is primarily an East Coast-based producer”-thing slide for this title track, as The Lady of Rage is more at Biggie’s level than Lil’ Kim could ever wish to be. This sets the mood pretty well, even though it sounds nothing like any song off of any previous Death Row release.
3. BIG BAD LADY (FEAT. 2PAC & KEVIN VERNANDO)
Since Pac quotes from Rage’s single “Afro Puffs” and repeatedly mentions her name, I suppose he really did record this track with her before he
passed moved to Cuba. Although he doesn’t get around to ever spitting an entire verse (he is limited to hook and ab-lib duties only), they sound surprisingly good together, which I didn't see coming, as The Lady of Rage wasn't featured on All Eyez On Me (see my note above) while everyone else on Death Row was featured in some capacity. Anyway, Daz’s instrumental is okay enough, but Rage sounded a lot more natural over Easy Mo Bee’s East Coast beat. Then again, Rage is from Virginia, which isn’t anywhere near California, so...
4. SHO SHOT
According to Wikipedia, “Sho Shot” was a single, but I never heard it on the radio. However, there is a video, which, if the cover art left any doubt, confirms that Rage was still rocking her afro puffs. This instrumental (provided by a producer who goes by the nickname "Barney") reminded me of Snoop’s “Murder Was The Case”, and Rage, who doesn't even try to imitate that classic storytelling track, choosing instead to take the constant-punchline route, sounds really good over it.
5. NO SHORTS
No, this song isn't about Rage inviting you to help her take off her clothes, Lil' Kim or Foxy Brown-style. It's actually about not cutting any corners when trying to create good music. Dat N---a Daz, who produced, also gets to rant for a bit about sucker MC’s who do just that. It wasn’t entirely horrible, but the tired subject matter has been used in a much better way in the past: as such, devoting an entire track to this could actually be considered as the artist taking a shortcut. Oh, the irony.
6. GET WITH THE WICKEDNESS (FLOW LIKE THAT) (REMIX)
Since I haven’t heard the original version just yet, I can’t really compare the two: however, it is included later on in the program, so I will eventually get around to it. For now, I will say that this sounds like one of the smoother tracks off of Dogg Food, which is a good thing, since I fucking love that album.
7. RAW DEAL (FEAT. BGOTI)
Had Rage been involved in the world's longest pregnancy, one that began in 1994 and was still going strong in 1997? Because she’s still putting shit on her unborn kids, apparently. Other than that, and the fact that this track runs about a minute too long, this was decent enough.
The hook was grating to the ears. Otherwise, this Easy Mo Bee-produced song rocks.
9. ROUGH, RUGGED & RAW (FEAT. SNOOP DOGGY DOGG & DAZ)
The lone song Daz raps on is one he didn't actually produce. I've never heard of this Reg Flair guy, but on here he has given me no reason to dive further into his work, thanks to this repetitive, non-catchy bullshit. The hook, which features all three rappers shouting the title of the song, also blows Lexington Steele dick. Which is too bad, as the track still manages to showcase the natural chemistry between Snoop, Daz, and Rage.
10. SUPER SUPREME
The beat, by producer Kenny Parker (who, I'll be honest, I'm not that familiar with, although the name looks familiar), is too repetitive for my tastes, but The Lady of Rage proves yet again why she is the number one ranking female rapper on my list. I'm serious.
11. SOME SHIT
Of all the people who I believed would be the most unlikely to ever appear on a project released by Death Row Records, DJ fucking Premier was high up on the list. And yet, he produced this track. It isn't his best work or anything, but the mere fact that this collaboration exists makes me shriek like a little girl.
12. MICROPHONE PON COK (FEAT. MADD 1 & EDI AMENG)
Wait, there are two Primo tracks? Word up! Chris Martin brings out some ominous violins, and both Rage and guest rapper Madd 1 (who I’ve never heard of) sound good. The only downside to this song is the (faux?) Jamaican hook, which, while not sounding completely horrible, is a pretty worn-out gimmick at this point.
13. GET WITH THA WICKEDNESS
The remixed version of this song, which we heard earlier, showcases Death Row's tendency to simply lift the vocals off of tracks and throw a new beat underneath them. This was also a single, which is surprising, as Daz’s remix could be considered as more radio-friendly. The video is also nice, as it features Run-DMC introducing The Lady of Rage to the masses. Obviously, this sounds completely different than the Daz mix: the surprisingly good Rage-produced instrumental has a definite East Coast feel that is, indeed, slightly reminiscent of Run-DMC (emphasis on slightly), and the ghoulish chants on the hook give this a more dramatic feel, as opposed to the polished G-Funk used for the alternate version.
14. CONFESSIONS (FEAT. BGOTI)
Not surprisingly, given the title, the final song on Necessary Roughness is confessional. It starts with some acapella gospel singing by girl group BGOTI, who had also landed a song on the Gridlock’d soundtrack earlier that same year. It’s a 2Pac-styled I’m-the-biggest-gangsta(-bitch-)ever-but-I-want-to-go-to-heaven-plus-I-really-couldn’t-help-but-commit-all-these-crimes-type of song, complete with a church-bells-rocking instrumental courtesy of Rage herself. The execution was really good, and I felt that the gospel elements were a nice touch.
THE LAST WORD: The Lady of Rage's Necessary Roughness is simply a really good record. Even though Dr. Dre wasn’t around to lend a hand, we get DJ Premier and Easy Mo Bee doing two cuts each and Dat N---a Daz handling most of the rest, while Rage and the occasional guest rapper rip shit up. Rage is so far the only female MC who I actually enjoy listening to for the length of an entire album, probably because she wasn’t hired for her willingness to talk about how hot her body is and how much of a freak in bed she can be. It’s too bad we haven’t heard much from her since, but given the state of Death Row Records at the time of this project's release, I suppose we should just be satisfied with the fact that Necessary Roughness actually came out. I can wholeheartedly recommend a purchase.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below. And for comparison's sake, here is a link to my original write-up.)