Although I'm technically taking a small break, I'm sneaking in this Wu-affiliate post as a companion piece to Michael's Northstar review. If you're still not a fan of anything Wu-related, try coming back tomorrow. This post will still be up, but twenty-four hours will have passed, and you may feel more relaxed about the whole thing. It's just an article, after all.
The Black Knights were a California-based rap quartet (made up of Doc Doom, Crisis the Sharpshooter, Monk, and Holocaust) who impressed The RZA enough to snag a deal on his now-defunct Wu-Tang Records, signing at the same time as their West Coast peers, the duo Northstar. In his infinite wisdom, The RZA joined the two crews when introducing them to the world, crediting them as the Black Knights Of The North Star when they appeared on Prince Rakeem's various compilation projects and such; however, when it came to their debut projects, they were decidedly two separate acts.
Riding a wave of decent buzz, the Black Knights recorded their debut release, Every Night Is A Black Knight, in 2001. Unfortunately, the project never saw the official light of day in its original incarnation, as The RZA saw fit to keep it locked up in the vaults for unknown reasons. (Obviously, this wasn't a good sign.) Holocaust, who had since broken out on his own thanks to cameo appearances on Bobby Digital and Killarmy projects, left the group and embarked on a scattershot solo career, having already released more solo projects than many actual members of the Clan. A few years later, Doc Doom was shot and killed, leaving only Crisis and Monk as the remaining Knights, who, to their credit, still attempt to carry on the name today.
Although I have no clue as to why Every Night Is A Black Knight wasn't released on schedule (especially when Northstar's debut did hit store shelves), it did eventually reach the hands of Wu stans who wouldn't take "no" for an answer. The Black Knights themselves sold a version of their debut at live shows, and they partnered with Wu-affiliated website Chamber Musik for a semi-official, slighty revised physical release in 2007 (containing a few additional songs and some tweaks to the older ones). Today, however, you can download it off of Amazon, a fact I didn't realize until just now, as I finished this sentence.
For quite a while, Every Night Is A Black Knight was held in high esteem by Wu stans as a holy grail of sorts, an unreleased gem that held the secrets of the universe, or at least contained some really good music that was unfairly being held back from the masses. Clearly, we all know this wasn't true, since it's not as though mountains moved and seas parted when it finally became available for purchase six years later: hell, I'm willing to bet that the majority of the two of you who are still reading this review didn't even know that you can actually buy this off of Amazon until today. But still.
A sample of film dialogue to kick off the album? This better be going somewhere.
2. KILLA 4 LIFE
Doc Doom dominates the first actual song on here, the curiously-placed “Killa 4 Life”, which I classify as such because, as the Black Knights are pretty much an unknown entity, wouldn't it have made more sense to throw something in this slot that not only introduces the masses to Doom, Monk, and Crisis, but also promotes the group's actual name? It's called branding, folks. Anyway, the hook on here is shit, but the actual verses sounded okay over 6 Mil's production, which tries too hard to sound like Wu-Tang as run through a Cali filter for me to be entirely satisfied. Doom tackles two verses and positions himself as the de facto leader, and, well, he's not a bad choice, really.
3. DIRT UP (FEAT. G TWIN)
Much more straightforward with its West Coast gangsta leanings, right down to the fake-ass Nate Dogg-esque hook (performed by G Twin). The Doc Doom instrumental isn't a banger, but it's pretty fucking good regardless, and Doom, Monk, and Crisis all manage to not embarrass themselves, which was nice. Okay, I'm being too mean: everyone actually sounded pretty good. The overall content isn't anything new, but these guys at least come across as both confident and competent behind the microphone.
4. ALMIGHTY BLACK KNIGHTS (FEAT. GEMINI)
One frequent boast I hear from rappers is regarding how they claim to purchase a rival's album, open it up, listen to it, and then return it to the store, for a full refund, mind you, because it sucks. What fucking store accepts returns on open compact discs? That sounds like a poorly thought-out dis, if you ask me. The logic just isn't there. Anyway, “Almighty Black Knights” is awful, so maybe it's a good thing that the Black Knights chose not to open the album with it even though the group's name is in the title. 6 Mil's beat is too awkward for anyone to use adequately (and that includes former Knight Holocaust, who turns up here only to lend an uninspired performance), and Gemini's hook is terrible. Claws scratching down a chalkboard? Preferable to her off-key singing. No bullshit.
5. SKIT 1
Another sample of dialogue (from Menace II Society)? Sheesh.
6. KILLA KAL LIFESTYLE (FEAT. BLACK TECHS)
You're apparently not allowed to be a rapper from California if you don't eventually touch on gang-banging as subject matter. As such, the Black Knights follow up the previous interlude with a song that tries oh so very hard to make it seem like these guys would just as quickly rob and kill you as they would shake your hand in gratitude for knowing who the fuck they are. The good news is that “Killa Kal Lifestyle” does not sound like an attempt to emulate the Wu-Tang Clan. The bad news is that, in return, it sounds like many other shitty rap songs, except this one also contains some crappy female vocals. Sigh. (This appears to be different than from the version of this song that appeared on the Black Knights promo, as that take featured a Holocaust verse.)
7. SKIT 2
8. SMACK THIS BITCH (FEAT. KURUPT & SANDMAN)
Holocaust, who also goes by the rap name Warcloud depending on whether he's awake or dreaming and not sure which one is real life, stole this song and put it on his own solo album, Nightmares That Surface From Shallow Sleep, when it became obvious to everyone except the other Black Knights that Every Night Is A Black Knight wasn't going to make its original release date. This obviously misogynistic entry (hey, this is gangsta rap, after all) features professional hater of women the world over Kurupt (who, if you'll recall, frequently uses “hos like tennis rackets”, at least according to Snoop Doggy Dogg's “Doggy Dogg World”), although he only contributes ad-libs, which is a strange way for the group to blow their album budget. At least get half a verse or something. Holocaust provides the final verse, sounding like he's so far above this material that he's observing it from space, while the rest of the Black Knights try their damnedest to alienate the female audience that wouldn't have wanted to purchase this project in the first fucking place. Kurupt gets the last laugh, though: how that guy manages to score any pussy is beyond me, as he goes so far past misogyny that he just sounds fucking hateful. And, keep in mind, I usually like the guy's work. What does that say about me?
9. KNIGHTS OR NUTHIN'
6 Mil's beat is simple, almost too simple, but it stays the hell out of the way as the four Black Knights all attempt to redeem their actions from the previous track. And for the most part, they succeed. Holocaust finally delivers a verse that reminds Wu stans why we started to give a damn about him in the first place, while Monk, Crisis, and Doc Doom all score points with punchline and braggadocio. Hell, even the vocals repeating the song title at random intervals manages to remain enjoyable. Yeah, I liked this track.
10. BANGED OUT (FEAT. KAM)
Conversely, I couldn't get into this song, guest star notwithstanding. It is what it is.
11. SKIT 3
12. HUSTLE IS A WAY OF LIFE
6 Mil's instrumental has some interesting elements to it, but they're paired up with a traditional drum beat that can't help but make the overall track seem generic by design. That was unfortunate. The trio all sound decent enough during their respective contributions, but one doesn't get the sense that any of these guys really believe in the titular phrase, which defeats the whole purpose of the song existing in the first place. Unless it's satire. Which this is not. Groan.
13. GANGSTA ACT (FEAT. KURUPT & PC)
The Black Knights invite Kurupt back to the studio, and it's clear that, this time around, they laid down the law and forced him to actually contribute a verse. Kurupt, however, acts like a petulant child, interrupting Monk's verse to deliver his own half-assed performance. Okay, I realize that he didn't really cut off Monk, but the editing of the track sure makes it seem like Kurupt is a dick, which doesn't do him any favors. Man, this sure was a long paragraph to describe an instantly forgettable song, huh?
14. DUC LO
Doc Doom gets a solo showcase (only on the re-release), further positioning him as the leader of the group, and even with a corny hook that works in the song's title more often than necessary, he gets his point across effectively. The RZA finally checks in to see how Every Night Is A Black Knight is going, giving his boy a really good beat that twists and turns at the end. This doesn't sound like your typical RZA production of the time: in spots, I thought I was listening to an Automator interpretation of gangsta rap. Which is a weird but apt compliment, even though I hold Dan Nakamura and Prince Rakeem in equally high regard for entirely different types of beats. Anyway, this was enjoyable.
15. ROLLIN' (FEAT. THE RZA)
Bobby Digital borroed this Doc Doom production for the Killa Beez compilation The Sting back when it was clear that Every Night Is A Black Knight wasn't going to see a proper release, but even though I liked it on the glorified Wu-affiliate sampler, it fits much better within the context of the actual Black Knights project. The instrumental still bangs, and The RZA is clearly having a ball with his verse, altering his overall RZA-ness to fit into a lazy drive around the Los Angeles area with his right hand in between his passenger's legs. Doc Doom and Monk also sound pretty good, too, coming across as damn near refreshed after what her been a long-ass album thus far.
16. HEY LADIES (FEAT. BLACK TECHS & DEXTER WIGGLES)
The Black Knights make a bold decision regarding their cover of the Beastie Boys classic “Hey Ladies”, pretending that the source material doesn't even exist by choosing not to reuse any parts of the original beat, lyrics, or sensibilities present, and also this is a different song. “Hey Ladies” is kind of boring, in that it exists merely to fill the requirement that any gangsta rap album needs to feature at least one song where the artists, who have spent the resp of the project dissing and dismissing the bitches as little more than sperm receptacles, proclaim their love of
pussy. However, I found Dexter's sing-songy first verse kind of funny in
its audacity. Still, though, this sucked.
17. WHAT U LOOKIN AT ME 4 (FEAT. G TWIN, PC, DEXTER WIGGLES, P NUT, PIMP NASTY, BIG NUT, & THE RZA)
Meh. And I also have no comment about how none of the actual Black Knights appear on here.
18. REAL SHIT (FEAT. PC)
Not exactly the realest shit ever written, and 6 Mil's beat doesn't reflect how the Black Knights want listeners to feel about them. But the fact that Holocaust gamely plays along is amusing, unlike the overlong interlude that kicks off the song.
19. STATE OF EMERGENCY (FEAT. PC)
At this point, the Black Knights have long since worn out their welcome and are living on borrowed time, as this debut album is about nine tracks too long. 6 Mil's instrumental isn't engaging in the least bit, and PC's hook is frustrating, taking the listener completely out of the overall experience. We're done here.
Some versions of Every Night Is A Black Knight end with a short outro, but the digital download available on Amazon smartly leaves it off, cutting away before things get too desperate.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Here's the thing: Every Night Is A Black Knight is really fucking long, and most of it isn't good enough to warrant such a long running time. The music also isn't as engaging as it should be, for the most part: although the production is certainly competent and even good in spots, it's hard to distinguish this stuff from most other rap songs of the time. However, the Black Knights themselves manage to sound enjoyable enough, so that you'll sit through this just to hear them rhyme, even as you grit your teeth through the guest stars. Doc Doom, Crisis, and Monk work together well as a team, which makes it even more depressing that the Black Knights as we knew them no longer exist. Had they secured catchier production and maybe a high-profile cameo from someone not named Kurupt, Every Night Is A Black Knight could have been the hidden gem that Wu stans seem to believe it to be. What we ended up with, though, is an okay, overlong project that should have been much more. Still, some of this holds up much better than I had expected, specifically the songs listed below.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, if you haven't already. And if you don't care for the Wu-Tang Clan, well, this isn't going to change your mind.
BEST TRACKS: "Rollin'"; "Duc Lo"; "Knights Or Nuthin'"