(Today's Reader Review comes from Taylor, who elected to write about something I'm pretty sure the majority of you two have never heard of, Loon-E-Toon and DJ Mike Tee's EP, Inglewoodz Finast. Leave your thoughts for him below.)
In my opinion, 1993 was a pretty decent year for hip hop. Yes, Snoop Doggy Dogg made his solo debut with Doggystyle and took the world by storm that year, but back in 1993 most rap albums weren't created with the mainstream audience in mind (Snoop's included). It was also the year that Inglewoodz Finast, the subject of my post today, was released, although it's hard to classify it as an album (or as the EP it actually is) because it contains more skits than songs.
You're probably staring at the screen wondering, “What is a Loon-E-Toon, and who's this DJ Mike Tee fellow?”. Well, you're not alone, since I also have no clue. I've searched Google for information on these two, but that turns up nothing. As such, what follows is a adaptation of Loon-E-Toon's history based on what I gathered from the songs on Inglewoodz Finast.
Born at some point in time in Inglewood, California, Loon-E-Toon lived a good life (if a good life meant that he either struggled to live in his dangerous hometown or that he was an honor student, who knows). He met up with a DJ named Mike Tee somewhere along the way and, after securing a record deal with an indie through unknown means, they recorded this EP, which was released with almost zero fanfare or marketing (well one video was shot, but that's about it).
I certainly hadn't ever heard of Inglewoodz Finast until I found it a while back at the 99 Cent Store. (Yes, you can buy rap albums from dollar stores: at that same shop I even picked up a copy of Daz Dillinger's This Is The Life I Lead that I haven't gotten around to opening yet.) That's how obscure the project is, and that's probably how worthless people presume it to be, since it sold so few copies that the warehouse shipped all remaining inventory to dollar stores in order to clear out space for other stuff.
1. INTRO: THIS N----S CRAZY
And we begin with what appears to be an short instrumental cut taking on the appearance of a rap album intro. Starts off like it's going to suck, but ultimately comes off as pretty decent, with the drums contributing to the dope instrumental. I have to admit, this does show that DJ Mike Tee has skills behind the boards, but there's no need for anybody to listen to this more than once.
2. EVERYBODY DUCK
We move on to the first real song, characterized by the funky organ beat and and some very West Coast drums. DJ Mike Tee provides the perfect backdrop for Loon-E-Toon to spit over. The first time you hear him speak, you'll notice that his rhymes are somewhat simplistic, although he does manage to hold the listener's interest by switching up his style occasionally and even managing some clever lines (such as the one about Steven Seagal). Overall, not a bad way to introduce yourself.
3. INGLEWOODZ FINAST (ORIGINAL STREET MIX)
The first and only single released from this EP (and also the only video Loon-E-Toon managed to release). The beat is representative of what the West Coast sounded like back in 1993, with saloon-style pianos, hard non-dusty drums, and a R&B synthesizer in the background (courtesy of a sample from Earth, Wind and Fire's “Devotion”) all mashed together with a hint of soul. Loon-E-Toon fares much better on here lyrically, as he feels at ease telling the listener how much he loves Inglewood and how he believes himself to be “Inglewoodz Finast” rapper, and after hearing his arguments, you'd be inclined to believe him. The beat, along with Loon-E-Toon's raps, make this the best track on the EP easily; it could quite possibly also be the best track the man will ever record in his lifetime. On a side note, I also love how DJ Mike Tee mixes things up with the instrumental, really keeping me engaged throughout the four minutes and thirty-second runtime.
4. TALES FROM THA WESTSIDE
The beat mirrors that of every other West Coast rap song about the dangerous lifestyles these rappers find themselves living: with the two distinctive instrumentals that came before, I was hoping for something more. That doesn't mean it sounds terrible though. Loon-E-Toon also sounds like every other West Coast rapper alive, with his rhymes about drivebys, how he'll kill you if you look at him funny, and how he's always got his gat by his side. At least until the second verse, anyway, when he switches to storytelling mode, which he actually isn't bad at. Still doesn't excuse the most generic first verse I've heard in a long while, though.
5. RICE CAKES (SKIT)
What I'd like to know about this skit is what 1970's blaxploitation movie the sound bite was swiped from. Otherwise, aside fro the guy's corny “Get out of here you little bastard, get out of here, go on, beat it”, this skit is worthless.
6. THE PRARIE DOGZ
Is this a skit or an actual song? “The Prairie Dogz” could easily be another rap album interlude, but it also features actual music, but said music is of the country variety, and do I have to remind you that this is a rap album? Perplexing, I know. The singing is okay in an old-timey way, the lyrics are somewhat decent, and the booing is hilarious. Despite all that, though, this is either something you'll skip immediately or listen to all the way through. There is no middle ground.
7. THA GOOD OLD DAYZ
And we're back to the actual music. Inglewoodz Finast takes a turn into G-Funk territory with disappointing results, although the two-tone chimes throughout the track manage to make it at least marginally entertaining. What appears to be a nostalgic sentiment (judging by the song title alone) instantly changes into a rags-to-riches tale, with Loon-E-Toon rapping about how his life sucked back then (although it's great now).
8. NO ONE CAN DO IT BETTER (STATEMENT)
This was actually an instrumental interlude, but the dope beat provided does stand out as a statement, so I guess including the word “statement” in the song title was justified. Doesn't mean it isn't skippable, though.
9. CATCH A CONTACT (FEAT. RUDE AWAKENING)
Years before Ice Cube sampled Faze-O's “Riding High”, DJ Mike Tee & Loon-E-Toon sampled the song for themselves. And you know what? They manage to sound better then Ice Cube ever could. What you won't find on “Catch A Contact” are unnecessary distractions; what you will find is a laid-back song that manages to become a whole lot more. Loon-E-Toon provides what is possibly his best performance ever, his boasts being the peanut butter to the instrumental's jelly. DJ Mike Tee manages to create a constantly-evolving beat that not only includes “Riding High”, but also James Brown's “The Payback”, Rufus Thomas's “The Breakdown, Pt. 1", and an unknown horn break which I can't place at the moment (even the liner notes don't list the sample they used: in fact, it states that this song was written by Loon-E-Toon, while all of the others were written by someone named Louis Mayes. Hmmm...). Scratch what I said earlier; this is the best track on here hands down. Seriously!
10. INGLEWOODZ FINAST (SMOOTH MIX)
We close out the evening with a remix of the title track, one where there is less tension than before and there's a different sample in the background (which isn't listed in the liner notes for some reason). The lyrics remain the same, so there's no point in reviewing them again. I will say that the sample in the background seems more suited for a downbeat song then a energetic song like this was supposed to be, but I liked the synthesizer and horn breaks, the piano at the end, and the drums, so at least this song still has something.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It's a shame that Inglewoodz Finast has been mostly forgotten. Most of the EP sounds great, even though there are a few disappointments here and there and a high number of interludes (leaving only six real tracks), and Loon-E-Toon and DJ Mike Tee do not disappoint. Loon-E-Toon's rhymes are simple, but he changes up his style every now and then to keep you interested throughout the EP. The sound on here is representative of what the West Coast was like in 1993: mostly laid back, distinctive and innovative, and Inglewoodz Finast is an example of what an independent label could get away with releasing at the time (with everything looking like it was handled by the artists themselves, including the album artwork). The look and feel of this album represent a bygone era we may never get back to, and it's a shame, because this album sure made 1993 look cool.
BUY OR BURN: Despite a few missteps, this is a worthy purchase. If you can find it for sale somewhere around your neighborhood, buy it. If you can't, then it'd be best if you downloaded it from the Internet. But you didn't hear that from me.
BEST TRACKS: “Everybody Duck”; “Inglewoodz Finast (Original Street Mix)”; “Catch a Contact”; and maybe “Tha Good Old Dayz”
(Questions, comments, and the like go below.)