Rahzel Brown, also known as Rahzel, also known as Rahzel the Godfather Of Noyze, also known as Rahzel Brown, is probably best known as a performer who specializes in the human beatbox, which has become one of those hip hop elements that has grown especially scarce in these end times that feature star turns by people who call themselves “Waka Flocka Flame” and “Lil' B the Based God”. He's probably best known as being a former member of the Philadelphia-based band The Roots, although the reasons behind his leaving a crew that has earned truckloads of critical acclaim (and a slightly higher public profile, thanks to their day jobs on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) are still a mystery to me. (My money is on the fact that The Roots actually employed two beatbox specialists at one point, Rahzel and Scratch, and maybe our host was feeling a bit underappreciated. Why they needed two when the rest of our chosen genre had zero is beyond me.)
Rahzel parlayed this talent into a consistent role as a guest star, working alongside acts as varied as Rakim, Everlast, The Crystal Method, C-Rayz Walz, and, um, Björk. But his best-known performance with the Roots Crew came early in their career, on Do You Want More?!!!??!'s “The Lesson Part 1”, on which he provided all of the musical backing while Black Thought and Dice Raw (in his debut appearance) did their thing, “The Lesson Part 1” is considered to be one of the many classics in their catalog, so at some point, MCA (the home of the Roots Crew) thought it would be an excellent idea to give the man his own album deal, allowing him free reign to go nuts with his beatboxing techniques. This idea eventually grew into Make The Music 2000, Rahzel's debut project, which, as you may have expected, failed miserably when it hit record shops in 1999. (Back then, the clout that the Roots name carried didn't hold that much weight. Actually, that kind of rings true today, too.)
It turns out that the mainstream audience wasn't ready, prepared, or even cared enough for an album chock-full with vocal trickery: it takes a special kind of person to hear someone literally spitting into a microphone and consider that to be music. It doesn't help that the project itself seemed a bit uneven from the jump: if Rahzel is considered to be one of hip hop's master beatboxers, why the hell were there beats from Marley Marl and Pete Rock on Make The Music 2000? That question was never really answered, although Rahzel did allow enough room on the project for himself to play the background (again, literally) while A-list guest stars worked around him. Confused yet? All of this was framed around multiple interludes that purported to feature snippets of his live show, which, apparently, consisted of him, a microphone, and nothing else. I certainly hope the audience didn't feel as though they were being ripped off.
1. THE HUMAN BEAT BOX (INTERLUDE)
Your standard rap album intro, although it does set up the overarching theme nicely.
2. MAKE THE MUSIC 2000 (FEAT. TJ SWAN)
The first track on Make The Music 2000 (and the album's second single) is a Marley Marl-produced, TJ Swan-featuring homage to one of the original human beatboxes, the diabolical Biz Markie. As Rahzel isn't tasked with providing the entire beat, he is able to focus on tossing little vocal flourishes (scratches, sound effects, and the like) in between his bars, which are helped immensely by the presence of a grand master behind the boards. Not bad, although it is a bit forgettable, admittedly.
3. SUPER DEE JAY
An excerpt from Rahzel's live show, in which he explains hoe he doesn't need silly peripherals such as “instruments” to create “real rap music”. The fact that this skit was placed in between two tracks that obviously used instruments to provide their respective beats has, apparently, been completely lost on him. He does have a fairly nice take on LL Cool J's “Rock The Bells”, though.
4. ALL I KNOW
Make The Music 2000's first single features a human beatbox performing over a Pete Rock instrumental. I liked this track back in 1999, and it still sounds pretty good today, but admit it: you're sitting there thinking that this particular combination was a rather peculiar way to promote an album from Rahzel. Peter may be handling the production, but he doesn't even have to do all that much work, aside from letting his (mildly interesting) beat play, as Rahzel does all of the heavy lifting, creating his own chorus by performing his own scratches and sound bites (brilliantly, I might add). I have the instrumental lying around on my hard drive somewhere, but it sounds pretty empty without Rahzel's fake scratches, he's of that much importance to this song actually working.
5. CARBON COPY (FEAT. VINIA MOJICA)
This track is indicative of why Make The Music 2000 wasn't very successful overall. Rahzel's lyrics, while alright, aren't all that great, and they are quickly overshadowed by his vocal trickery anyway, so there seems to be little point to them. As such, hearing him spit three verses (which are fucking censored, by the way) verges on overkill. It doesn't help that the Scott Storch instrumental is bland as shit, and the chorus, performed by Vinia Mojica, is flat. Nobody's accusing Rahzel of copying anybody, so it's strange to hear him launch a preemptive strike against anybody who would potentially think otherwise. As you probably expected, this song blows.
6. I KNOW WHAT YA SAYIN' (INTERLUDE)
7. NIGHT RIDERS (FEAT. SLICK RICK)
Guest star Slick Rick, who apparently has such little faith that the audience will recognize his voice that he feels the need to confirm his own appearance at the very beginning of this track, revisits his “Kit (What's The Scoop)” (from The Great Adventures of Slick Rick) concept by playing the Michael Knight to Rahzel's KITT, although to be fair, Ricky doesn't really interact with the car: he just focuses on a couple of hot verses while Rahzel supplies the beat, scratches, and samples all by himself. I appreciate Ricky's cockiness, which never eases up even when he is reduced to making sporadic cameos in our chosen genre, and our host does a very credible job with his instrumental, so this shit simply clicked for me. Very nice.
8. JUST THE BEGINNING (INTERLUDE)
9. BUBBLIN BUBBLIN (FEAT. SHAWNA RAW & EMANON)
What the fuck was this shit?
10. TO THE BEAT (FEAT. Q-TIP & ?UESTLOVE)
Contains the most complete Rahzel-derived instrumental of the entire project, although to be fair, the music on here wasn't entirely made with his mouth. Our host goes damn near Dilla-esque with his musical backing for A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, who lends a performance straight out of the Beats, Rhymes & Life sessions, sounding fucking fantastic while doing so. This is exactly the type of track that should have filled the entirety of Make The Music 2000: maybe then this would have been considered a successful Roots spinoff, unlike Dice Raw's Reclaiming The Dead, Black Thought's aborted Masterpiece Theater, and Reading Rainbow.
11. WU-TANG LIVE (INTERLUDE)
Another interlude, albeit one that features our host recreating “Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit” and Raekwon's “Guillotine (Swordz)”, complete with goofy fake Kung-Fu flick sound bites (and, inexplicably, plenty of Mortal Kombat references). Huh.
12. STEAL MY SOUL (FEAT. ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO)
Rahzel provides approximately ninety-five percent of the musical backing for surprise guest star Me'Shell NdegéOcello, who essentially does fucking nothing on here. (Spoken word poetry does not count for me.) To his credit, Rahzel's backing sounds entirely different that everything else presented on Make The Music 2000, so his skill should not be denied. However, this is still hardly a song, and it will undoubtedly fail to keep your interest beyond the first five seconds. What the fuck, man?
13. FOR THE LADIES (INTERLUDE)
14. SUGA SISTA (FEAT. THE ROOTS & AARON HALL)
Rahzel aims for the female demographic that wouldn't have purchased this album even if Oprah Winfrey herself had endorsed it, and abandons the project's focus while doing so: the L.E.S. production is decidedly beatbox-free (or -lite, as any potential input our host had is negligible at best). As such, this sounds like an orphaned Roots song that inexplicably features Rahzel's lyrics instead of, say, Dice Raw's. Black Thought (who makes up the entirety of the Roots' participation on here) swoops in for a cameo that eats the rest of this song whole, so much so that his brief contribution is the only goddamn thing I remembered about the track. Never a good thing, that.
15. SOUTHERN GIRL (FEAT. ERYKAH BADU)
As a song, this song is awful: guest star Erykah Badu may as well be reciting a portion of her monologue from her one-woman show, The Pretentious Girl From The South Who “Subtly” Passes Judgment On Everybody Else While Trying To Sound “Humble”. As a musical experiment, it also stumbles, as Rahzel's backing is weak at best, never coming close to engaging the audience, all of whom have just been insulted by the song's performer and, as such, deserve to be coddled. The kids would refer to this shit as an “epic fail”. I just think of it as a fucking waste of my valuable time. Thanks, guys.
16. IF YOUR MOTHER ONLY KNEW (INTERLUDE)
This interlude-slash-outro features Rahzel kind-of paying homage to the late Aaliyah by recreating her Timbaland-produced “If Your Girl Only Knew” sans instruments, although it's not like he starts belting out her verses or anything. (This is apparently one of his signature bits, or at least it was at the time Make The Music 2000 was recorded: at one point, he performs the chorus and the beat at the same time.) After a brief bit of silence, Rahzel returns to present listeners with the true outro to Make The Music 2000 as he and Kenny Muhammad battle guest stars DJ Skribble and DJ Slinky in a war of beatboxes versus turntables. It's interesting, but only the once.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Although it starts off interestingly enough, Rahzel's Make The Music 2000 stumbles and never fully recovers. Part of the problem is that it has absolutely no idea what kind of project it wants to be when it grows up: is it a straight-up beatbox album? Is it a rap album with occasional beatboxing? Was Rahzel trying to record his interpretation of a Roots album? Nobody will ever know our host's true intention, as Make The Music 2000 sounds like a combination of all of those options, with some other bullshit thrown in for padding. Rahzel isn't that great of a rapper, so focusing on his rhyme skills was a questionable move, even if he was able to secure some A-list talent (Marley Marl, Pete Rock) behind the boards: those slickly-produced tracks also take away from the impact of the beatboxing showcases, which can't help but sound rudimentary in comparison. (Of all the guest stars, only Slick Rick and Q-Tip manage to emerge unscathed.) Rahzel simply was not ready for a solo showcase, and the scattershot nature of Make The Music 2000 proves that he shouldn't have been handed the keys. Some of this still held up for me today, but the majority felt like a really long interlude that wasn't bookended by anything. Beatboxing deserves a better showcase than what MCA was able to provide.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one. The tracks listed below are alright for what they are, but you won't die if you never get to listen to them.
BEST TRACKS: “To The Beat”; “Night Riders”; “All I Know”