July 10, 2011

Shabazz the Disciple - The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrollz) (October 7, 2003)


Today I'm running another one of those Wu-Tang Clan-related posts.  You know, the ones that will inevitably draw fire due to the blog focusing more on (x) instead of your favorite artist, (y).  Well, here's another move straight out of left field: after today's post, I'm taking a brief break to fucking sleep hopefully become inspired.  You'll be the first to know when I return: this shouldn't take me that long.

David Collins, a rapper who is known (but not necessarily better known) as on-again, off-again Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Shabazz the Disciple, hasn't had an easy time in our chosen genre.  His career has been derailed so many times that it's almost as though a higher power is simply fucking with him at this point.  What follows is a quick rundown.

David was an original member of the group Da Last Future, who represented the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn (hence all of the Red Hook references in his work).  Da Last Future, which also consisted of Hell Razah, Killah Priest, Prodigal Sunn, and 7th Ambassador (also known as Zodiac Killa) recorded a demo that ended up in the hands of The RZA (due to the Killah Priest connection, I'm sure: it's been mentioned a few times that, had Priest actually stepped up during the recording sessions of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), he would have been the ninth member of the crew and not Masta Killa, who was a late addition), who signed them as the first act to the newly-formed Wu-Tang Records (the first of seven thousand failed attempts by Prince Rakeem to keep all of the Wu affiliates in-house).  Da Last Future changed its name to Sunz Of Man (a name I'm sure you're much more familiar with), hired 60 Second Assassin as an additional member, and they recorded a number of singles, the most notable (for me) being the 4th Disciple (no relation)-produced "Soldiers Of Darkness" (a collaboration with their labelmates Killarmy) b/w "Five Arch Angels", which I don't remember Shabazz appearing on but whatever, in 1995.

Although that twelve-inch single, along with a few others, were relatively well-received, the Sunz of Man debut album, Nothing New Under The Sun, was scrapped by Wu-Tang Records in 1996, although there are still unanswered questions as to why this actually happened.  (There is also speculation that the album was both completed and mastered, and is currently sitting in one of The RZA's many diamond-encrusted vaults, next to his Freddy Krueger-esque Gravediggaz glove, because ads ran for it in The Source.)  While Sunz of Man lived on, recording a different debut album, The Last Shall Be First, Shabazz had had enough, and he, along with 7th Ambassador, left the group.

While spinning his wheels with Da Last Future, David also recorded what would soon become the verse he will forever be best known for, one which will probably be inscribed on his tombstone if we're still using those in the future as opposed to simply marking the location of someone's burial with a hashtag, on the classic Gravediggaz song "Diary Of A Madman" from 6 Feet Deep (or N---amortis, if you're reading this overseas), under his original moniker, Scientific Shabazz.  (He appeared on this song alongside his coworker Killah Priest, which, once again, is probably more because of the RZA connection than it was because they were in the same group.)  "Diary Of A Madman" is an undisputed masterpiece: we won't be debating that fact today as there is no debate, because if you don't like the track, that's akin to saying you don't like freedom or puppies or blowjobs or something.  Rumor has it that The RZA, once he's done filming his kung-fu flick and runs out of honey-dipped blunts, is reforming the Gravediggaz (who quietly broke up after their second effort, The Pick, The Sickle, & The Shovel, and has since witnessed the passing of founding member Poetic) with Shabazz and Priest in tow.  I'm sure the reunion album will drop the same day as The Cure (and Detox, for that matter).

Thanks to the Wu-Tang affiliation, after leaving Sunz Of Man Shabazz was able to sign a deal with The Genius to be a part of GZA Entertainment, which was either a label or a management company, I don't know and/or care.  He unleashed a slew of twelve-inch singles, such as "Death Be The Penalty" and "Crime Saga", and scored tons of ads in the back of The Source for his eventual debut project.  Unfortunately, that project was also scrapped, and GZA Entertainment folded.  Not only did this leave Shabazz unemployed, it also created a rift in his relationship with the Clan, which caused him to (temporarily) sever his relationship with the crew in an effort to find himself.

That is why his "debut" album, The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrollz), was released in  2003 instead of in the mid-1990s, when more people might have still given a damn.  I placed the word "debut" in between quotation marks because the topic of today's post is mostly comprised of all of the twelve-inch singles he managed to release before the turn of the century (except for "Death Be The Penalty", an exclusion that makes no fucking sense), alongside a handful of newer tracks recorded especially for the project.  It was released by Battle Axe Records, a label that, regardless of what its logo kinda-sorta resembles, doesn't really have any Wu-Tang ties. 

I just realized that I used up a bunch of words writing an introduction for an album that most of you two probably won't care about.  Oh well.  As you were.

1. THE OPENING (INTRO) (FEAT. YOUNG ANUTT)
Groan...

2. RIGHTEOUS CHAMBA (SKIT)
Use of the term “chamba” aside (thereby confirming some semblance of a Wu-Tang affiliation through six degrees of separation), the most interesting aspect of this skit is when Scientific Shabazz explains that he isn't anything like the character he played on “Diary Of A Madman” while his verse from that Gravediggaz classic plays in the background. However, we're still looking at a skit that immediately follows a rap album intro, and that shit is just uncalled for.

3. RED HOOK DAY
For the first actual song on The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrolls), Shabazz travels a familiar path: he explains how hip hop music inspired him to become a rapper, even mentioning at one point that he was actually discovered by The RZA.  Save for the creepy, high-pitched chipmunk chanting where the hook would normally be, this track wasn't bad at all.

4. 1ST ANNUAL BOOTLEG MUSIC AWARDS
Wow, this skit is really fucking long, and Shabazz sounds really bitter, to boot. What the fuck is up with having three skits within the span of four tracks?

5. HIP POP
So Shabazz creates an awards show skit that is an elaborate way to chew out his former friends. He also uses that interlude to comment on other artists stealing his beats and commercializing them...so he decides to swipe the basic concept of Gang Starr's “Take It Personal” and make it less appealing? How the fuck does that logic work? And here's some more confusing shit: this song is actually entertaining, although I will admit that it comes across as incomplete in a demo track kind of way.

6. OASIS
I have no doubt that Scientifik Shabazz has grown up in and around hip hop, but there are other topics that one can (and should) rap about. Living in the lap of luxury after having grown up in the projects (a boast I don't buy into, since nobody knows who Shabazz the Disciple is) can only provide the fodder for exactly one handful of songs. It's time to move on, son! “Oasis” also hangs around for two minutes too long, so David uses that time to lay down a ton of shout-outs, although he does it so gradually that you won't even notice it, at least until Phil Collins receives some unconditional love.

7. SURRENDER (THIEVES IN DA NITE PT. 2)
It is kind of odd for a sequel to appear before the original song, but it's happened before in our chosen genre, and it will happen again. His beat is fairly interesting, but it takes a backseat to his rhymes, on which he spits from the mindstate of a criminal, stepping the fuck up and making a valid case that he could appear alongside Raekwon and Ghostface Killah and have it feel entirely organic. Maybe one of them should reach out to our host?

8. BKBS
This song contains what is probably the seven thousandth bar stolen from the mouth of The Notorious B.I.G. on this album. (And everyone thinks that Shawn Carter can't leave well enough alone.) Sadly, this track, which shoots for a jazzy feel not unlike early Gang Starr, is all bullshit, which isn't something I would brag about, but clearly Shabazz has a dissenting opinion. Pass.

9. SON RISE (LEEK LOVER INTERLUDE)
Completely and utterly skippable.

10. CREMATE 'EM
Shabazz takes his sweet time coming into the booth, allowing the moody atmosphere to speak for him. Two problems with that tactic: (1) Having someone chant the word “ashes” during the “chorus” is far too comical to sound threatening, and (2) Shabazz adopts an ill-advised speed-rap flow that doesn't exist in this dojo: all it manages to do is steal away all of the man's oxygen, like a cat allegedly can do to a newborn baby. Moving on...

11. CRIME SAGA
This was the only Shabazz solo song I was familiar with prior to picking this disc up, because there was an actual video for it that aired on BET (which was directed by GZA/Genius, which proves that he was, at the very least, taking an interest in his own acts). I also remember this single being advertised in The Source (as a sequel to the earlier “Death Be The Penalty”, a song which, curiously, is not on this album). Anyway, Carlos Bess and Choco lend our host some production that is appropriately dramatic for Shabazz and his criminal profiling: my only complaint is that The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrolls) contains only the clean version of “Crime Saga” (not that the inclusion of curse words could make this good song even better, of course: I'm just not a fan of censorship). My guess is that our host's prior label “accidentally” lost the masters. If you happen to have the explicit version somewhere on your hard drive, please hit me at the e-mail address in the sidebar.

12. PASSOVER (SKIT)

13. STREET PARABLES (FEAT. LORD JAMAR)
Smartly, the hook reminds listeners of “Diary Of A Madman”. (While I'm sad that Shabazz will probably end up best known for a single verse on a song that doesn't belong to him, I am intrigued that he was able to gain so much mileage out of that lone performance.) This track started off questionably, and the title suggests quasi-religious psychobabble (as does the presence of Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar, who seems like a weird choice for a guest), but once the beat (also from Lord Jamar...oh, now I get it) kicks in, all of your worries melt away.

14. THIEVES IN DA NITE (HEIST) (FEAT. KILLAH PRIEST & LIL' DAP)
Q-Unique's instrumental is the most Wu-sounding beat on this entire project, and the presence of Killah Priest (albeit on the hook only) only helps strengthen that bond. (The inclusion of Lil' Dap, from Group Home, looks awfully goofy on paper, but better him than Melachi the Nutcracker, who straight up sucks on the mic, whether he has Primo backing him or not). As a result, this song comes off as a natural cousin, both musically and stylistically, to “Diary Of A Madman”, which, if anyone has paid attention to the review thus far, marks the sixty-seventh time I've mentioned that classic song within the context of this write-up. Is that a good thing? Probably not.

15. ORGANIZED RIME PT. 2
A sequel to a song that doesn't appear on the same project? On the artist's debut album? Sure, why the hell not? I wasn't impressed with this song, though. The Lord Jamar instrumental was dull, and the lyrics featured nothing that one could grab on to. This just comes off as a generic non-apologetic crime story that most New York rappers try to pass off as “entertainment”.

16. BLASPHEMY
Meh.

17. GHETTO APOSTLES (FEAT. FREESTYLE, POETIC, & R.H. BLESS)
This posse cut featuring our host's weed carriers would be interesting even without the inclusion of the late Poetic. However, the professional swiftly out-raps all of the rookies, our host included. I could have done without the off-putting beat switch toward the end, but this song still kind of rocked.

18. THE LAMB'S BLOOD
The title sounds as if it would be a better fit for a Killah Priest album (or at least Jedi Mind Tricks, over whose beats Shabazz may thrive). Baby J's instrumental sounds a bit too poppy for the serious lyrics our host tries to kick, so as a result, this comes across as a mishmash. Sigh.

19. WAR TRILOGY (P.O.W. - PROJECTS OF WAR) (FEAT. FREESTYLE)
The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrollz) ends with a three-part suite known as the “War Trilogy”. Shabazz doesn't bother to appear on this installment, and the credited guest only squeaks out about ten seconds of material before the “story” decides to proceed.

20. WAR TRILOGY (M.I.A. - MILITIA INCARCERATED ALIEN)
Poor Freestyle. All he wanted to do was spit a verse (in the middle of a battlefield, apparently – perhaps he should pay better attention to his surroundings), and instead, he gets injured by shrapnel. As depressing as that can be, Shabazz decides that rhyming about helping his friend out is the correct course of action. Hey, maybe you should just put the mic down for a second and actually tend to his needs, huh?

21. WAR TRILOGY (AMBUSH) (FEAT. FREESTYLE)
Luckily, Freestyle seems to have made a full recovery, as both men trade bars over Baby J's beat. Although this final chapter appears to abandon the theme entirely (there are no ambient sounds of war behind them), this was a fairly nice way to cap off the evening. Kudos to Shabazz for also ending the disc with a somewhat political statement (instead of the explosion that the track builds itself up to, the sound of a newborn baby's cry is heard). So The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrollz) is a hip hop precursor to Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void? Weird.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrollz) is a surprisingly entertaining "debut" project from Shabazz the Disciple. He occasionally falls into the same trap that Killah Priest has yet to escape from (boring quasi-religious psychobabble in place of engaging lyrics, over beats that would put the average listener to sleep), but The Book Of Shabazz (Hidden Scrollz) contains enough heat to offset the odd excursion into the world of crap. Shabazz is not without talent, and he deserves to thrive in the hip hop world, especially when there are other “artists” without a single ounce of his skill raking in dough by the fistful. After listening to this, I'm shocked that I took this out of rotation so quickly back in 2003. I do believe that the Wu-Tang affiliation helped the man immensely, though: I'm not altogether convinced that he could make it without the assistance of other Killa Beez. Then again, I'm a Wu stan, so of course I would have liked to have seen more involvement from them.

BUY OR BURN? If you're a Wu stan too, then you should buy this immediately. However, if you're not, I still urge a purchase, but you should probably give the tracks listed below a spin first, just so you'll know what you're getting into. But overall, I thought this shit worked out very well, much more so than what I was originally expecting to recall, so that was nice.

BEST TRACKS: “Thieves In Da Nite (Heist)”; “Ghetto Apostles”; “Surrender (Thieves In Da Nite Pt. 2)”; “Crime Saga”; “War Trilogy (Ambush)”; “Street Parables”; “Hip Pop”

-Max

23 comments:

  1. Hey Max, please don't go on break for too long. This blog is AMAZING!!!

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  2. AnonymousJuly 11, 2011

    Nice review, I found myself laughing quite often and more important - I agree with you, this is a purchase. Crime saga, Thieves In Da Nite, Ghetto Apostles, Street Parables is what hip hop needs today. There's however this feeling that most of the material has been recorded much earlier than the rest of the stuff so at the end you get something like a big mishmash (for instance "surrender" and "cremate them" sound quite different from "crime saga" or "thieves in da nite" . Anyway, the good tracks are worth the purchase as I said earlier.

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  3. This is an excellent album that never sold copies. If you would take the skits and interludes out, then you would have a solid record.

    When I bought this record, I was so excited because my expectations weren't disappointed. I'm not sure what inspiration did Shabazz have when he compiled the tracks for his debut album, but somehow he made it in an interessting kind of way. To me it's a shiney moment in hip hop decline from an alternative artist, who seemed to have creative control of his creativity (or am I too excessive on this one?).

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  4. Legendary Weapons soon, right? Right?

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  5. Yeah, I'm waiting for Legendary Weapons review too.
    Good job on compiling a nice library of hip-hop album reviews Max.

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  6. AnonymousJuly 21, 2011

    where the fuck are you max ????????????????

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  7. AnonymousJuly 22, 2011

    r.i.p. HHID 2007/2011

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  8. ...if only it were that easy.

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  9. max dont leave us. :(

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  10. AnonymousJuly 23, 2011

    Just don't end it with Shabazz that would be a slight to this site

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  11. AnonymousJuly 24, 2011

    heeeeey don't let us down max pleeease, ain't no review site on the whole fuckin web that can be compared to HHID...

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  12. Well, obviously you're not going be inspired if you review D-list Wu-Fam albums half the time, lol.

    There are so many rap artists you haven't touched. It'd be a shame to shut down the blog, b/c it's awesome. But I'm not really looking to read about La the Darkman and Shabazz The Disciple and Aragaog The Destroyer and Scrappy the Christmas Elf.

    Too Short alone has seventeen albums. That could keep you busy for a year, haha.

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  13. Tile GroutJuly 25, 2011

    Hope everything's okay Max.

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  14. for real whats up with this huge break?
    if this is the end i may shed a tear, no other site has reviews like this i really enjoy the format and i know a lot of other people do too

    ..well there was that one "refuse to come wack" site but......

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  15. Max waits for Detox to drop, so he can come back with a bang. :)))

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  16. Tile GroutJuly 26, 2011

    @ Miles: Aragaog the Destroyer? Bwa ha ha, funny.

    By the way there is actually some loser asshole "black metal" "singer" with a very similar name. The kind of dumb shit who dresses in armor, black eye shadiow, carries an axe and makes a point of turning crosses upside down every chance he gets. You know, because he's EVIL and demands fear and respect!

    Maybe he'll be inspired to move from Sweden to Brooklyn (I mean Medina, sorry) and try for a shot at the Wu D list.

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  17. AnonymousJuly 26, 2011

    Black Milk-Tronic when you come back pleasee

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  18. That Scrappy the Christmas Elf EP was dope, though.

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  19. Tile GroutJuly 27, 2011

    @ Max: wasn't it though? Peep game:

    "I bust peppermint like the Shortcake busts strawberry".

    The second coming of ODB.

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  20. AnonymousJuly 27, 2011

    Max can't leave HHID. There are many other wu-tang affiliate's albums left with no review, and many more west coast classics to be destroyed (just kidding). As he's said, he's looking for more inspiration and I believe he'll be back with more humor and powerful words.

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  21. Aww man, that last joint w/Freestyle Goes in. The Screech-y beat just screams NYC Underground Hip-Hop.. I wish it was longer.

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  22. yo i really appriciate this review i learned crap about killa priest/sunz of man/ shabazz i would never know thanks alot peace

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