(Today's Reader Review comes from The Professor, who last contributed half of the dual write-up for Capone-N-Noreaga's The War Report 2: Report The War. He's brought you two a short and sweet dissection of 8-Off the Assassin's aborted debut album, Wrap Your Lips Around This. Leave some notes for him below, and sorry, but that was the only picture I could actually find.)
In the late half of the 1990's, there were a lot of rap albums that were completed and then shelved by the labels, including Trigger Tha Gambler's Life's A 50/50 Gamble, Cormega's The Testament, and INI's Center Of Attention, the latter of which is surprising, considering that Pete Rock worked with them extensively. You can also add the name 8-Off the Assassin to that lengthy list.
I was clicking around on YouTube one day looking up 8-Off's videos: shortly after, I was alerted to the existence to his unreleased album, Wrap Your Lips Around This; a few Google searches later, I'm now able to try it out. For those of you who aren't familiar with the name, Angel “8-Off” Aguilar is a Puerto Rican and Filipino New York-based rapper, producer, and ghostwriter who was once signed to East West/Elektra Records (also the home of acts such as Das EFX, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Busta Rhymes, back when he could really rhyme and not when he was recording songs with the likes of Ron Browz). He recorded his debut album, Wrap Your Lips Around This, between 1994 and 1995, released a couple of singles, shot some videos, and even pressed up some promotional copies, but all of a sudden East West pulled the plug, possibly because he wasn't clicking with the mainstream as well as those three names I listed above.
Although his label thwarted his plans to release his debut album, 8-Off is still an active part of the hip hop genre today: he's gone through a couple of different names (he's also known as Agallah, a play on his last name, 8-Off Agallah, and Don Bishop) and affiliations (he was once linked to the DipSet movement, and is formerly a part of the group D.B.D. (which stands for Death B4 Dishonor), which he formed with Parrish Smith of EPMD fame), and he now focuses primarily on producing, although he still raps (in fact, his “second” debut album, You Already Know (credited to Agallah the Don Bishop), dropped in 2006 on Babygrande Records, and it features production work from The Alchemist and DJ Premier).
That's all I got. You can tell that I don't like to be on Wikipedia all that much. Let the games begin.
Well, the beat is tight, but Agallah sounds so uncomfortable over it. His style comes across as that of someone who was recently kicked out of Onyx, although to be fair, there were a lot of people who sounded like this in the late 1990s. You'll be pressing the skip button fairly quickly.
2. KICK DOWN THE FUCKIN' DOOR
This beat is dark as hell: this should have been the introductory track. 8-Off sounds fantastic on here, and the scratching on the track was a nice touch: this is what hardcore hip hop should sound like. The voice changing effect at the end was unnecessary, though. The combination of the drums and the piano makes “Kick Down The Fuckin' Door” sound like an alternate take on Mobb Deep's “G.O.D. Pt. III”. Well done.
3. SKIT #1
After a nice instrumental at the very beginning, this track segues into a skit which features some idiot telling our host how he was fucking his wife, and then you only hear gunshots. Trust me, folks, you'll be skipping this one.
4. GHETTO GIRL
I found it funny that the listener is presented with this cheesy-ass song after that preceding violent skit. I think this might have been a single: I watched the clip commissioned for this track on YouTube a few times. A young Ashanti was featured in the video, which also showcases Agallah failing to do basic dance moves. This was pretty radio-friendly: take that however you'd like.
5. NEIGHBORHOOD HOE
What the fuck is this shit? Agallah sounds uncomfortable, and his lyrics are unintentionally hilarious. You probably shouldn't actually pay attention to the lyrics, though, if you don't want to get upset.
6. LIFE AIN'T EASY (FEAT. ?)
The instrumental sounds dated, and it probably did even back in the 1994-1995 timeframe. This isn't a completely horrible thing, though. Agallah's verses get better as the song moves along. I'm not sure who actually appears on the chorus (I can't find any information online), but she doesn't sound that bad, either. This is the second best song on Wrap Your Lips Around This so far. This project is already sounding much better than I was hoping.
7. ONLY LIVE ONCE
Another good song: the instrumental sounds smooth and focused while Agallah is at his best. It was short as hell, though: I could have tolerated a couple more minutes of this shit.
8. USED TO HAVE IT ALL (FEAT. HORACE BROWN)
Another blatant attempt at radio airplay, as 8-Off brings in R&B crooner Horace Brown to sing the chorus, while he gets his Nas on. The track was good but not great; to be honest, I almost dozed off for a second there.
9. BOW DOWN
Agallah brings back the hardcore hip hop sound, but “Bow Down” sounds much less energetic than “Kick Down The Fuckin' Door”. The instrumental sounds fantastic, but overall the song was bland. Oh well.
10. ALIZE FOR DOLO
This is the original take on the song that became the second single from Wrap Your Lips Around This, although it really sounds nothing like the remake (the remix appears later in the tracklisting). I've liked this song ever since the first time I heard it. Always thought it had a goofy title, though.
11. PROPA SWERVE
Well, at least it's short.
12. FAKIN' MOVES
Now that's more like it. This beat is epic, and Agallah even sounds alright, but if you ignore the words and just listen to the music, you'll think this shit is much better than it really is. I may have spoken too soon earlier: Wrap Your Lips Around This may not be the lost gem I thought it was. Sorry, folks.
13. I AIN'T THE ONLY RAPPER
This sounds like another attempt at gaining a mainstream audience, but it sounds better than his other radio-friendly efforts on Wrap Your Lips Around This. The chorus was a little weak, but Agallah sounded really good on here, and the beat makes you want to dance, so fuck it, I liked this shit. Good job, 8-Off.
14. GHETTO AIRLINE (SKIT)
Although the beat sounds decent, you'll be skipping this track, too.
15. SCIENCE FICTION
After listening to this song, I believe 8-Off should have just named it “Fiction”. I'm just saying. Anyway, the track sounds pretty good, and the contrast between the darker beat and Agallah's funny lyrics works very well.
16. GOING IN FOR THE KILL
17. CATCH A BODY
I think I've figured it out: Wrap Your Lips Around This was probably shelved because a lot of the songs on here sound too much alike, and its commercial prospects would have been hampered by the inevitable critical indifference. “Catch A Body” sounds like a B-side that that somehow earned a promotion to the proper album: there is an overall lack of effort that comes across to the listener, especially with Agallah's rushed performance. However, it is short as hell, so not all is lost.
18. ALIZE FOR DOLO (REMIX) (FEAT. MR. CHEEKS)
This is the version of “Alize For Dolo” that was actually released to radio as a single, featuring a contribution from Mr. Cheeks (from the Lost Boyz) and some new bars from our host. This remix was handled by Lost Boyz affiliates “Buttnaked” Tim Dawg and Mr. Sex, who turn in a beat that sounds much more mainstream than the original cut. This was probably the fifth best track on here: I recommend you try to find the video on YouTube. (This track doesn't seem to be a part of the actual promotional version of Wrap Your Lips Around This that I was able to find, but enough of the leaks on the Interweb tack this on as a final song, so I'll let this one slide.)
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? 8-Off's Wrap Your Lips Around This sounds pretty good as an overall package: you would probably have the same reaction if a few of the lesser tracks were removed. At the same time, though, I felt disappointed, as it doesn't sound like Agallah put in that much effort on the project as a whole. Wrap Your Lips Around This isn't the Holy Grail of lost hip hop albums, but even with some of my criticisms, I still think it's worth listening to at least the one time, especially if you want a change from the bullshit that's on the radio today. Some of the tracks will even remind you of what hip hop radio sounded like in the 1990s, which can be good or bad, depending on your preference. Overall, I think you should give it a shot, especially if you have a good Anti-Virus program on your computer, since you'll have to do some serious searching.
- The Professor
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Do you want to review an album yourself? Leave your thoughts below.)