In my ongoing attempt to treat other hip hop supergroups in the same way that I treat the Wu-Tang Clan and their various offshoots on HHID, I present to you two a project that I had completely forgotten even existed in the first place: Black Moon's third album, Total Eclipse. After having made my "finish what I start" argument during the last Busta Rhymes write-up, I dug through my crates and boxes to locate the projects of the many many many artists whose discographies I've started discussing and then seemingly gave up on, and I came across Total Eclipse, an album I had listened to exactly one time, so I figured now was as good a time as any to get the Boot Camp Clik and their many affiliates back onto the front page.
Total Eclipse was released in 2003, four years after Duck Down Records co-CEO Buckshot, 5 Ft., and DJ Evil Dee had both released their sophomore effort War Zone and settled with their former label home, Nervous Records, over the right to actually use their band name. I've mentioned this before, but for those of you in the cheap seats, I'll repeat: any contract that you sign with a record label where you could potentially lose the right to use your own name is a fucking terrible contract. Thankfully, Black Moon has long since moved past their legal issues, and Buckshot has inadvertently become the leader (alongside fellow Duck Down co-founder Dru Ha) of what is one of the best underground hip hop label in the game right now, with its roster including the likes of everyone in the Boot Camp Clik, KRS-One, Kidz In The Hall, B-Real, Pharoahe Monch, Random Axe, and, um, Black Rob.
As mentioned above, Total Eclipse is Black Moon's third album, and it is their first to not feature wall-to-wall production from Da Beatminerz, although to be fair, they do handle about three-fourths of the project. Rappers Buckshot and 5 Ft. used Total Eclipse as a vehicle to expand their reach within our chosen genre, and as a result, the album is a far cry from the grimy, basement beats that their other two releases, Enta Da Stage and War Zone, subjected listeners to, as the two artists (well, okay, really just Buckshot, as 5 Ft. only appears on four tracks, since he's the Phife Dawg to Buck's Q-Tip) choose instead to rhyme over more accessible instrumentals, which I suppose sounded like a good idea at the time.
Wikipedia claims that Total Eclipse was released to critical acclaim, but I find that difficult to believe, since that would imply that people were actually aware that it came out in 2003. Two videos were allegedly shot, but I don't recall ever seeing either one or hearing any singles on the radio: in fact, I didn't even pick up Total Eclipse until a few years after it dropped, when I randomly came across it in a store, double checked to make sure it was a real Black Moon album and not an unauthorized compilation (not unlike what Nervous did with that Diggin' In Dah Vaults project), and went back to pick it up; I had never heard of it before that day. Nice job with the marketing there, kids. The part of the Wikipedia story I will believe is that Total Eclipse failed to reach its intended audience, as the only people who cared (and still care) about Black Moon were underground heads with visions of Enta Da Stage dancing in their heads alongside the scantily-clad sugarplums.
1. STAY REAL
This introductory song-as-message is brought to you by Da Beatminerz and the good folks at Duck Down Records. In case nobody gets that reference, I'll be a bit more direct: the beat on "Stay Real" samples the same source material that Just Blaze mined for Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement", which this track actually predates, and aside from a few creative flourishes, the instrumentals sound basically the same. Buckshot provides the bookend verses while 5 Ft. workss the torso, both men making their case for hip hop longevity (it helps that they choose to "Stay Real, " suppose), and even though the song is a bit too long (was there really a need for the first track on Total Eclipse to run longer than five minutes?), it does serve as an effective reintroduction to Black Moon for those of you who may have tuned out after War Zone. Not bad.
2. LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL (FEAT. SEAN PRICE)
Were you expecting an homage to the Beastie Boys song "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun" featuring a winning cameo from Sean Price? You weren't? Good, because this song is so not that. In fact, it kind of blows: the MoSS/Dan the Man beat is too simple to even pretend that it could be remotely threatening, and the choice of vocal sample (played during the chorus) can best be described as "hyper-fucking-annoying". Both Buckshot and the artist formerly known as Ruck deliver weak-ass verses as well, and it's far too early into Total Eclipse for everyone to sound exhausted. This shit sucked.
3. THE FEVER
5 Ft. gets in a quick one-verse wonder before disappearing back underneath the rock he lives under. Nothing about "The Fever" or Tone Capone's instrumental sounds feverish in the least bit, and 5 Ft. actually sounds annoyed and angry at the fact that he was included on a glorified interlude instead of on an actual song featuring Sean Price. Although it doesn't last long enough to warrant you exerting the energy, you two should probably skip "The Fever" entirely.
Black Moon's cover of the New Order standard "Confusion" veers in a different direction than expected, foregoing Bernard Sumner's club-friendly vocals in favor of some fresh, original record industry commentary from Buckshot and a DJ Static-handled instrumental (one that uses the same Lee Oskar "Our Road" sample, in much the same way, as DJ Premier did on Jeru The Damaja's "Ain't The Devil Happy") that doesn't truly fit the proceedings, but it also doesn't not fit, if that makes any sense. The hook is terrible, which is to be expected, but it was interesting to hear a co-CEO of an underground label complain about the very industry that allows him the opportunity to publicly complain about the very industry that allows him the opportunity to publicly complain about..okay, okay, we get it.
5. THAT'Z THE WAY SHIT IZ (FEAT. COCOA BROVAZ)
Awfully bland for a track that claims to offer up guest spots for both Tek and Steele from the Cocoa Brovaz (apparently they were still fighting over the Smif-N-Wessun name back in late 2003) but then abandons them both in hook country. Da Beatminerz lend an instrumental that would have been better utilized by any other shitty artist in our chosen genre and it would be ignored, but because Black Moon decided to use it, I'm forced to pay attention to how much it doesn't work for Buckshot, whose verses sound as forced as an absentee father attending his daughter's first school play. The only think I liked about this track is how the title sounds like a direct response to the question posed in the next track's title.
6. WHY WE ACT THIS WAY (FEAT. STARANG WONDAH)
Starang Wondah (from the Originoo Gunn Clappaz, which may or may not still be a group today, it's hard to tell) is one of my favorite underrated rappers, but you would be hard-pressed to determine exactly why after hearing his pedestrian two verses over this inessential Nottz beat (one that Buckshot believes to be "crazy", clearly unable to discern the difference between "crazy" and "entertaining"). Buck quickly lets loose his two verses and then leaves his guest with the heavy lifting, but the truth is that neither man sounds quite capable over the instrumental. I seem to remember this being the major problem I had with Total Eclipse and, as such, the reason why I forgot it even existed. Sigh.
7. MC EVERYBODY (SKIT)
8. THAT'Z HOW IT IZ
I actually found this song, which successfully both ties into the preceding skit and reiterates the response given in the title of "That'z The Way Shit Iz", to be pretty fucking dope, as the unorthodox and simple Beatminerz concoction reminds me of War Zone's "Freestyle", except without Buckshot trying to end every bar with the word "motherfucker". Buck and 5 Ft. jump right into the mix with their advice to all aspiring artists who may not have a realistic idea of what actually happens within the music industry. Buckshot's been around for a while, so it's fair to say that he knows what he's talking about, and even 5 Ft. gets in some entertaining and informative lines. This shit was nice, son!
9. STONED IZ THE WAY
Unlike this shit, which was so appalling that I can't even be bothered to write more than one sentence about it.
10. RUCK IS DEAD (SKIT)
11. WHAT WOULD YOU DO? (FEAT. SEAN PRICE)
Sean Price makes up for his horrible cameo on "Looking Down The Barrel" and the confusing skit "Ruck Is Dead" by bringing out an entertaining performance on this playful track, which features Buck and his guest trading off verses that begin with hypothetical questions in an effort to stimulate the audience. While the lyrics are all on point, however, the Beatminerz instrumental leaves a lot to be desired, as its generic texture clashes with the attempted ruggedness of Buck and Ruck, attorneys at law. Oh well.
12. HOW WE DO IT
I couldn't get into this track at all. Buckshot's three verses weren't necessarily bad, but he doesn't say anything of note, either. Kleph Dollaz's beat also, once again, doesn't fit the artist, but I'm starting to believe that was the underlying mission statement during the recording sessions for Total Eclipse. The lame-ass hook was just the icing on a horrible-tasting cake made up of compost and baby doll heads. Moving on...
13. WHERE IT GOEZ WRONG (FEAT. TEK)
This track had problems sticking with a theme. When the Beatminerz beat first drops, the listener is led to believe that this will be the "serious" song on Total Eclipse, but then the artists featured veer off onto wildly different topics, with Buckshot being the worst offender, as his verse, typically detached in its shit-talking, comes across as especially unnecessary. Tek, also credited as Smokey Lah on the back cover for some reason, fares well enough, but there isn't anything on here that will stick to your ribs. Damn.
14. PRESSURE IZ TIGHT
This wasn't all that great, but it is the best song on the back half of Total Eclipse. Over a mildly entertaining Beatminerz excursion that plays better today than it did nine years ago, Buckshot and 5 Ft. assert their dominance in a surprising manner, and by "surprising", I mean that 5 Ft. actually contributes two verses to Buck's one. "Pressure Iz Tight" is decent as a late surge from Black Moon, but when looked at outside of the album's context, there isn't all that much to see here.
15. NO WAY (FEAT. STEELE)
zzzzzz...huh? What? There was a song playing? Nah, you're just fucking with me. Right?
16. THIS GOES OUT TO YOU (FEAT. STEELE)
Total Eclipse ends its program with a Coptic-handled attempt at positivity and sincerity that features Buckshot running through some autobiographical verses while describing his struggle in the rap industry, which isn't nearly as dramatic as you would think, but he still sounds pretty good along the way. As the track isn't confrontational in the least bit, though (Steele's chorus indicates that this song is dedicated to those who simply didn't believe in our host, which is hardly the same thing as throwing your success in someone's face), "This Goes Out To You" is the equivalent of Buck giving his haters the middle finger during a light rainstorm or piano keys. Still, this wasn't a bad way to end things.
The European pressing of Total Eclipse contains the following bonus track.
For the non-Stateside audience, Black Moon chooses to end Total Eclipse with an extra track taken from a single that was allegedly unleashed earlier in 2003, but I haven't ever seen a twelve-inch single for the Beatminerz-produced "Rush", so it clearly doesn't exist. The instrumental lends the project a much more aggressive sound then the rest of the album managed, but that doesn't mean it meshes well with whatever Buckshot was aiming for on here. Buck gives listeners three decent-to-good verses and an overly-wordy chorus, but I've long since moved on past the point where I have to actually accept that shit. And with that, we're good.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I've mentioned it enough times throughout the post that you two could probably finish this write-up for me, but I'll say it again anyway: Total Eclipse falters because the beats Black Moon purchased for themselves (well, mostly Buckshot) don't gel with their actual flow or subject matter or audience or whatever other excuse you can come up with. While it starts off strong, Total Eclipse quickly loses its footing in a world filled with wack-as-fuck beats, wasted cameos, and useless verses from both Buckshot and 5 Ft. I appreciate that Black Moon were trying to expand their sound while exploring the idea of longevity in as fickle a musical genre as hip hop, and it's unrealistic to expect Da Beatminers to sound grimy and gritty on all of their production credits, but that's not an excuse for Black Moon to snag that production team's leftovers and try to create an album around them. Also, the fact that DJ Evil Dee is in both Da Beatminerz and Black Moon would lead one to believe that he would only give his team the best beats his crew could come up with, but clearly I'm wrong about that, too. Total Eclipse doesn't go so far as to destroy any goodwill that the Boot Camp Clik have built up thus far, but it commits a far worse sin: it just isn't very entertaining.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this if you must. Total Eclipse should only be considered by Boot Camp Clik enthusiasts anyway: everyone else still reading this post can throw a rock in a mom-and-pop record store and find a better Duck Down release no matter where it lands.
BEST TRACKS: "That'z How It Iz"; "Stay Real"