I occasionally dig through the archives of HHID, both to track my progress and to find inspiration for new posts, as I am actively trying to not write about every single Wu-Tang Clan z-teamer out there (you two may believe otherwise, but check out the past write-ups: I've barely scratched the surface when it comes to the Clan, so I'm sure we can all agree that it could be a lot worse, so stop your goddamn bitching). That's how my review of the first Soundbombing project, a label sampler-slash-mixtape commissioned by the late Rawkus Records, caught my eye: I wrote about it way back in 2007, and then somehow flaked on getting to the next volume in the series. That oversight will get corrected...now.
The first Soundbombing album was essentially a collection of most of the twelve-inch singles that Rawkus Records had released up to that point, compiled together for ease of use. The artists involved were all essentially underground hip hop royalty: some of them, such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and R.A. The Rugged Man, continue to enjoy critical acclaim today, while others, such as the now-defunct Company Flow, live on in the memories of older hip hop heads. Even as a label sampler, though, Soundbombing managed to sell enough units to warrant a second installment.
Soundbombing II was released in 1999, but this time around, it was no mere sampler, nor was it a compilation of Rawkus singles: the label commissioned all-new music for the project, both from its own roster (all of the names I listed above make return appearances) and from the outside world (not only are there cameos from some of the biggest names in hip hop production, even motherfucking Marshall Mathers takes a turn behind the mic, a coup that was only possible because it happened right around the time his major label debut, The Slim Shady LP, hit stores), all in an attempt to introduce its underground acts to a more mainstream audience. It was hosted and mixed by J-Rocc and DJ Babu (of the Beat Junkies) into a proper mixtape, with all of the scratches, interludes, and overlong instrumental intros/outros that come with that distinction.
Soundbombing II helped further the careers of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, but it also helped promote some of the newer members of the Rawkus family, such as Pharoahe Monch (late of Organized Konfusion), the artist formerly known as Mad Skillz, and The High & Mighty. As a way of padding the sales figures, it also includes guest spots from artists not really affiliated with the label, such as Common, Prince Paul, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, Marley Marl, and many others, but the label made sure that its own roster monopolized the spotlight, with both Mos Def and Kweli making multiple appearances. As a result, this project managed to sell a bit better than its predecessor, well enough to warrant a third installment, which, going by my personal schedule, I should get to in approximately four fucking years.
A wide assortment of artists (including the late deejay Roc Raida) help introduce both Soundbombing II and DJ Babu and J-Rocc, also known as the Bumrush Brothers. It's a mixtape: what else did you want?
2. ANY MAN INTRO
Kind of acts as the tall guy who sits directly in front of you at the movie theater, preventing you from seeing the screen.
3. ANY MAN (EMINEM)
Rawkus front-loads their project by placing Marshall Mathers in the first slot. At the time, he was slowly gaining momentum from The Slim Shady LP and his music videos on MTV, but he was still considered an underground artist, as evidenced by his need to collaborate with the likes of DJ Spinna, Royce da 5'9”, and Thirstin Howl III. So his appearance on Soundbombing II only doesn't make much sense today, now that he has given up all semblance of hope and become a full-fledged pop star. Which is why the Em that rhymes on “Any Man” doesn't really sound like the guy who wrote “Love The Way You Lie” at all. Marshall riddles this Beatminerz confection (now there's a partnership worth revisiting) with punchlines, most of which will make you long for the Slim Shady of olde. I still love his last two bars: you should give this song a spin so that you'll know what I'm talking about.
4. B-BOY DOCUMENT '99 (THE HIGH & MIGHTY FEAT. MOS DEF & SKILLZ)
The Rawkus marketing team strikes again, giving the second song slot to a track featuring the label's biggest star, Mos Def, who proclaims that he is independent by conveniently spelling the word “independent”. Aside from that bit of ridiculousness, Dante sounds great, as does (Mad) Skillz, over this pulsating DJ Mighty Mi instrumental. The High & Mighty's Mr. Eon, who sounds like Busta Rhymes on Ambien, also scores points for tossing in a reference to Godzooky) and for generally not sounding awful when paired up with the likes of Mos Def and Skillz. Good times all around. I believe a video for this song was also commissioned.
5. WWIII INTRO
Mainly exists as a way to transition from “B-Boy Document '99” to “WWIII”. That is all.
6. WWIII (SHABAAM SAHDEEQ & PHAROAHE MONCH)
Pharoahe Monch and Shabaam Sahdeeq trade verses over a pounding Lee Stone instrumental that doesn't sound anything like World War III should: it comes across more as the theme music for an as-yet-unproduced sequel to Boiler Room. However, both guys deliver performances that are interesting enough, and neither one gets lost in the beat, which is a feat in and of itself, so while the track isn't great by any means, I'm willing to let it slide.
7. STANLEY KUBRICK (R.A. THE RUGGED MAN)
Capital the Crimelord's beat sounds almost exactly like what The Alchemist gave Royce da 5'9” on “I'm The King”, but don't hold that against R.A. The Rugged Man, who fits the dark instrumental like a bloody glove. True, his two verses don't really showcase the man's actual writing talent: he comes across as sounding like every other rapper in existence on “Stanley Kubrick”. But R.A.'s voice is gruff and compelling enough to keep you listening regardless, even when he sends a curious shout-out to the Infamous Mobb and commands listeners to “ride with us” during the crappy chorus. Everything else about this song was still nice, though.
8. A MESSAGE FROM J-LIVE & PRINCE PAUL (FEAT. J-LIVE & PRINCE PAUL)
I understand why these two were asked to appear on Soundbombing II, but I would have preferred Prince Paul contributing an actual skit instead.
9. CROSSTOWN BEEF INTRO
Plays exactly as it reads.
10. CROSSTOWN BEEF (MEDINA GREEN)
I remember having the CD single for “Crosstown Beef” (and its b-side, “Fla-La-Lashe”) in my collection at one point, but I think it lost the battle of Max vs. Hunger back in my leaner days. Mos Def joins up with DCQ, Jah-Born, Lord Ato, and Magnetic to form Medina Green and spit slice-of-life tales that are a tad but more violent than Dante usually associates himself with. I used to really like this track back in 1999, but I'm sad to report that it doesn't hold up well at all. DCQ and Kash Rule (Magnetic's other moniker) sound like amateurs riding on the coattails of The Mighty Mos, who sounds pretty bored himself, and De La Soul's Posdnuos provides a beat that I swear was interesting to me at one point, but not as much today. Oh, how things change.
11. 7XL INTRO (FEAT. PETE ROCK & MARLEY MARL)
I love that Rawkus somehow convinced Marley Marl and Pete Rock to appear on the intro to a song that neither man had anything to do with.
12. 7XL (SIR MENELIK FEAT. SADAT X & GRAND PUBA)
A former apprentice of Kool Keith, Sir Menelik (also known as Scaramanga Shallah and Cyclops 4000, in keeping with his former friend's tendency to switch identities at the drop of a hat) collaborates with Brand Nubian's Grand Puba and Sadat X, the two biggest artists this guy will ever work with, and even though his verse nearly collapses underneath the weight of all the words he crams into it, he manages to sound pretty good. Puba sounds pretty grand as well, but Sadat is simply coasting: luckily, DJ Spinna's entertaining instrumental helps move things along fairly graciously.
13. CHAOS (REFLECTION ETERNAL FEAT. BAHAMADIA)
Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and producer-slash-occasional rapper Hi-Tek) team up with Philadelphia underground stalwart Bahamadia for a track that doesn't sound very memorable. It probably didn't help that Hi-Tek produced a beat that is about as monotone as Bahamadia's own voice. Not that I hate her voice or anything: with better marketing, she could be positioned as a female Guru (R.I.P.). But the song as a whole is relatively boring, which makes the title more ironic than most.
14. SOUNDBOMBING (DILATED PEOPLES FEAT. TASH)
Evidence's instrumental continues the deliberately slow pace Hi-Tek introduced on “Chaos”, and both he and Rakaa-Iriscience seem to spit their verses in an even slower cadence than usual, which turns the mere act of listening to a song into a fucking chore. Even Tash (of Tha Alkaholiks), who I normally love, sounds restrained on here, and I was hoping that he would have been enough to turn the tide. Sigh.
15. BROOKLYN HARD ROCK (THIRSTIN HOWL III)
Thirstin Howl III, who swiped his rap name from the rich old man on Gilligan's Island, kicks a one-verse wonder that is both somewhat entertaining and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt why he isn't more popular. Which is too bad: his tendency to shout his lines to get the full effect could lend itself handily to a cameo on an M.O.P. song. The chorus is straight-up ass, but by the time it begins, you will have skipped ahead to “Mayor” anyway.
16. MAYOR (PHAROAHE MONCH)
Pharoahe Monch returns for a solo song, on which he takes a fantastical roller coaster ride within the mind of a guy who just murdered the mayor of his city. (Although the mayor is never actually named, it's a safe bet that it was intended to be Rudy Giuliani, as most rappers couldn't stand that motherfucker.) Monch's attention to detail is crucial for a song like this to work, and on that end, he succeeds (and even manages to drop a quick reference to Ellen DeGeneres, which was unexpected). The hook is all sorts of awful: I think my ears started to bleed. A lot. So much so that I think I may be dead right now. But that's my only complaint.
17. PATRIOTISM INTRO
Man, there sure are a lot of song intros on Soundbombing II, right?
18. PATRIOTISM (COMPANY FLOW)
“Patriotism” is credited to Company Flow, but it's really just the El-P show (with scratching provided by Mr. Len). El-Producto gets his political activism on, illustrating the contradictions that make up the United States of America the best way he knows how: by yelling about them. El-P is truly an acquired taste, and if you're not already on his side by now, “Patriotism” won't change your mind, but for those of you two who like it when artists actually pay attention to the world around them, this might be your bag.
19. 1-9-9-9 INTRO (FEAT. Q-TIP)
Sure would have preferred a Q-Tip guest verse instead of a brief message, but whatever.
20. 1-9-9-9 (COMMON FEAT. SADAT X)
Hi-Tek laces the beat (and his Reflection Eternal partner Talib Kweli provides an intro) to the first single from Soundbombing II. Common takes the reigns and handles two verses without really saying much (although it's very easy to find parallels to his most important contribution to our chosen genre, “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, if you look hard enough), relenting only toward the halfway point for Sadat X, who was gunning for the award for Most Prolific Guest Star On Soundbombing II, who sounds okay. I wasn't a huge fan of this track back in 1999, but today I can at least appreciate Hi-Tek's pleasant tone.
21. WHEN IT POURS IT RAINS (DIAMOND D)
D.I.T.C.'s Diamond D, the self-professed “best producer on the mic”, supplies his own beat, as he is wont to do, for a quick one-and-a-half verse wonder layered over some haunting piano keys and not much else. Lyrically, he isn't discovering new territory or anything, but this song sounded pretty good, even though it didn't really fit in with the rest of Soundbombing II. But still.
22. A MESSAGE FROM MOS DEF & THE BEAT JUNKIES (FEAT. MOS DEF)
Mos kicks a brief lazy freestyle, and the Beat Junkies...well, they were present. That's all I got.
23. NEXT UNIVERSE (MOS DEF)
Dante snatches the crown from Sadat X, eschewing all other rappers in favor of riding for dolo over this Hi-Tek instrumental that sounds as charming as the better tracks from Black On Both Sides. At least Pretty Flaco still sounds excited about the concept that he can actually rap for a living and not have to apply for a real job, something he completely forgot when he recorded True Magic in the span of seventy consecutive minutes.
24. EVERY RHYME I WRITE INTRO
At least this is the last intro of this type on here. And I suppose I should be thankful that the Beat Junkies were nice enough to separate the “intros” from the actual songs. But that's where it stops.
25. EVERY RHYME I WRITE (SHABAAM SAHDEEQ & COCOA BROVAZ)
The Cocoa Brovaz (better known as Smif-N-Wessun) were once signed to Rawkus Records, even managing to record an album that never saw the light of day. So this collaboration is more about label synergy than it is about any actual respect running between the artists and the label involved. That being said, this Nick Wiz-handled affair isn't bad, even though Steele's third verse sounds as though he spent too much time listening to his own “Black Trump” (from the 1998 album The Rude Awakening) before entering the booth. Eddie Griffin makes a cameo at the very end for no real reason: I'm still hoping he doesn't appear on Detox.
26. ON MISSION (REFLECTION ETERNAL)
Not really sure why Rawkus was okay with inserting this boring-ass song as the last one on Soundbombing II. Kweli's performance leaves a lot to be desired: he was still at that point in his career where his flow was still developing its boundaries. Still, I guess this could have been a lot worse, as he does at least try to “think before he spit[s]”.
This outro runs for about a minute, fades out, and then returns with a vengeance, allowing both Babu and J-Rocc to spit some goofy bars while stoned as fuck (if all of the coughing is to be believed). At least they're having fun: I stopped doing the same several songs ago. Also, this outro becomes strangely racist at the end. Huh?
FINAL THOUGHTS: Soundbombing II starts off strong, but it quickly devolves into a low-quality Rawkus Records label sampler, albeit one with a high-class pedigree. Some of the Rawkus artists featured deserve the longevity they've received in our chosen genre: others should run back to their day jobs before their supervisors realize that nobody's manning the fryer. Soundbombing II is too long, like most mixtapes, and the songs tend to wear out their welcome before a single word is spoken, thanks to the Beat Junkies's horrible idea of including intros to most of the artist offerings. A no-deejay version of Soundbombing II may sound more entertaining, but since we're stuck with what we have, this project is about twenty-five percent banging, Yeah, I said it.
BUY OR BURN? Burn it. Better yet, look for the tracks listed below and let the rest of the project be. Most followers of underground rap will be familiar with the artists on Soundbombing II's plate, and they'll already know that there are much better examples of their work to be found elsewhere. But if you already own this, you may as well hold onto it.
BEST TRACKS: “Any Man”; “Stanley Kubrick”; “B-Boy Document '99”; “Mayor”; “Next Universe”