For his one hundredth mixtape, deejay-slash-producer-slash-rapper-slash-radio show host Tony Touch decided that he needed to do something special. So over the course of two years, he took his time compiling beats and securing verses from some of his favorite rappers, and the end result is The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's, a collection of tracks and bars that serves as a throwback to an entirely different era in hip hop, an era most of us (including myself) have been missing greatly.
The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's combines the concepts behind two of Tony's mixtape collections. His 50 MC's tapes are legendary in the streets, featuring some of the top artists of their various times (depending on when they dropped, obviously) and containing, at minimum, fifty separate verses from fifty different rappers. Whereas his Piece Maker series is made up of label-released compilations of original material (the first was released by Tommy Boy Records in 2000, while the second was summoned from the Koch graveyard four years later) featuring rappers that people actually like, but not necessarily the newest, freshest artists out there. Aside from mixing the damn things, Tony Toca punched up these projects by offering some production and occasional verses of his own, which were so good that he eventually ended up contributing bars to entirely unrelated projects from other artists.
The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's is an independent release that Soul Temple is helping distribute, which means that the Wu-Tang Clan's The RZA had at least a tiny hand in how this all came about. And, just like the previous two installments, the Clan makes their presence felt on here. But the rest of the album-slash-mixtape-slash-whatever, with production mostly handled by one or the other of The Beatnuts (which is a nice touch) features mostly A-list artists doing what they do best. In an effort to adhere to the whole “throwback” theme, Toca solicited only one up-and-coming emcee to contribute a verse: Action Bronson ends up being the only dude to represent the current crop of rappers attempting to carry the torch. This seems like a contradictory approach: celebrate the continuation of hip hop by ignoring all of the younger artists who keep the genre alive? Sure, that makes sense. But it's Tony's mixtape, not mine; dude has worked for a long fucking time, so he can do whatever the hell he wants.
What this means is that the majority of the rappers on The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's are probably artists that a lot of my readers are aware of, but may not be all that familiar with. But if you're around my age (which I think can be estimated accurately based on the shit that I actually end up liking on this blog), I believe you'll find the guest list to be a welcome change from what you normally see in our chosen genre these days.
1. TOUCH & D-STROY (FEAT. D-STROY)
After an introductory callback to his previous work, Tony Toca attacks the DJ Premier beat with the passion of a dude who hasn't released a proper follow-up to his last hip hop compilation in nine years. Which is to say, he still sounds nice, but his excitement trumps his lyrical ability part of the time. Not that this is a bad thing: Tony's still the best rapper out of all mixtape deejays, and he sounds pretty good over Primo's boom bap. However, his invited guest, former Arsonists member D-Stroy, simply sounds a tiny bit better, a tiny bit more focused, and he also channels early Sticky Fingaz during his first couple of bars, so he wins. Maybe this is why “Touch & D-Stroy) marks the only lyrical appearance from our host on The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's. This was still entertaining as shit, though. A nice way to start things off.
2. LADIES FIRST (FREESTYLE) (FEAT. RAH DIGGA & ANGIE MARTINEZ)
Don't panic: radio personality and overall not-so-good rapper Angie Martinez only pops up to introduce the track. However, she only introduces the actual album and not Rah Digga, which was weird, but whatever. Over Psycho Les's okay-ish beat, Digga spits a single verse that, although not great, reminded me of a simpler time back when she was the best rapper in the now-defunct Flipmode Squad alongside team lead Busta Rhymes (who, apparently, appears later on this project).
3. DOUBLE A (FEAT. A.G. & MASTA ACE)
If it wasn't obvious before, Tony uses this song to define the era of hip hip he's most fond of, as there aren't many other mixtape deejays who would look to the Juice Crew and the Diggin' In The Crates collective for a collaborative effort in fucking 2013. Uncrazy Lester's beat sounds good, swooping over and under the bars, while Andre the Giant and Masta Ace unleash verses that prove that they can still hang with the kids, most of whom will have no fucking clue who they even are. Time to change that, you two: this song was pretty nice.
4. HOLD THAT (FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES, J-DOE, REEK DA VILLAIN, & ROC MARCIANO)
Hey, there's Trevor! It's been a while, man. Busta Rhymes brings along his newer, better friends J-Doe and Reek Da Villain For a posse cut, but to rub the insult into Rah Digga's injured face, he even invites former Flipmode Squad member Roc Marcy, because, obviously, he hates Rah Digga now, and also because Marciano has boosted his own profile in our chosen genre quite substantially as of late. (Yes, kids, Roc Marcy is not a new artist.) Dready's instrumental sounds like something Erick Sermon could have come up with back in the late 1990s, save for the synths during the hook, and everyone sounds alright enough, even that dude I'm not the biggest fan of, whose very sleepy, apathetic sense of being is counteracted by a beat that would actually help keep someone moderately alert. Not bad.
5. YOU KNOW YOU LOVE THIS (FEAT. LIL' FAME & BILLY DANZE)
Both halves of the Mash Out Posse pop up for “You Know You Love This”, a short Lil' Fame-produced number that sounds much more relaxed than what you know you love from them. Fizzy Womack takes a break from executive-producing random Wu-Tang Clan compilations to spit a quick verse, with Billy Danze bringing up the rear, neither man really shouting all that much, which, I'll admit, kind of threw me off. Especially toward the end, when older M.O.P. sound bites are scratched in, showcasing a much more volatile pair. Maybe these guys have matured with age, or maybe their doctors told them that excessive shouting could lead to the loss of vocal functions, I don't know, but this felt like it was missing something.
6. V.I.P. (FEAT. TOO $HORT, KURUPT, & XZIBIT)
As if filling a quota or some shit, Touch crams three separate California-based artists onto a single track, the Koolade-produced “V.I.P.”, which, sadly, is not a theme song, nor is it an homage to a long-cancelled Pamela Anderson syndicated vehicle that nobody else remembers. Too $hort's presence is the most surprising, as he's hardly ever called upon to contribute to compilations such as this one: as such, he doesn't waste the opportunity, letting his shit-talking speak for itself. Kurupt has become the new Prodigy so gradually that I didn't even notice: the guy's lyrics;s are nowhere near the level he was hitting early in his career, which is just sad to me. But the true disappointment is the unaffected Xzibit, who sounds like he could give a fuck's shit at this point. A shame.
7. HIT THIS (FREESTYLE) (FEAT. B-REAL)
Hearing Cypress Hill's B-Real over some Beatnuts production seems long fucking overdue, doesn't it? So it's a good thing that he sounds refreshed over Psycho Les's simple-but-pounding beat, spitting a quick verse before letting the program continue. Heads may not ever really want another Cypress Hill album, but B-Real should be booking more cameo work. Someone needs to get on that shit right away: hip hop misses, nay, requires his nasally tone.
8. BROOKLYN'S THE BOROUGH (FEAT. PAPOOSE & UNCLE MURDA)
Tony Touch returns to step behind the boards for two lesser-known New York-based rappers. Papoose's story is interesting, if not surprising: his debut album, The Nacirema Dream, was shelved for seven years, disrupting his overall career path, which is just now recovering, as the album has finally hit stores (think about it: the guy recorded his album back when people still bought CDs regularly, and now he's working in the iTunes era. That has to be an odd transition), whereas Uncle Murda's claim to fame is once having been signed to Roc-A-Fella Records. Neither main exhibits qualities that would warrant a raised eyebrow, let alone a rabid fanbase, but they're both serviceable enough to work around Toca's bells.
9. RANDOM (FEAT. SEAN PRICE & GUILTY SIMPSON)
Two-thirds of Random Axe reunite per Tony Touch's request: I suppose Black Milk was too busy saving puppies from a burning school bus or something. Or he wasn't invited, I don't know. Using substitute teacher P.F. Cuttin's instrumental, Sean Price and Guilty Simpson make sure that everyone realizes their team chemistry wasn't a fluke: hell, I still enjoy two Random Axe songs, “Another One” and the one with Danny Brown, to this very day. Including Sean Price also meets Toca's requirement to ensure the Boot Camp Clik is represented in some capacity on The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's, although I am not-so-secretly disappointed that this means we're being deprived of a “Spanish Harlem Part 3” with Smif-N-Wessun. But hey, no Hurricane G., so you take the victories where you can get them.
10. THOUGHT PROCESS (FEAT. BLACK THOUGHT)
The Beatnuts and Black Thought? Why haven't I ever thought of that? Psycho Les needs to break away every once in a while and sell a beat for completely random artists more often: I'm sure he could even make me want to listen to a Tyler, The Creator track. Black Thought, of course, has no problem destroying the mic: dude is nice with his, possibly one of the best in the game today. I only wish he would stray from The Roots a bit more, but hey, that's his life. I'm not telling him what to do. Especially when what he does do sounds this good.
11. BARS (FEAT. STYLES P., SHEEK LOUCH, & JADAKISS)
Why this isn't just credited to The Lox is beyond me, but all three members of the trio show up on “Bars”, a Juju-produced winner that uses an unorthodox sample, one which Styles P., Sheek, and Jadakiss all sound weirdly amped over. As usual, Kiss steals the show, just barely squeaking past the Ghost, while Sheek Louch busts his ass to keep up, but does so successfully. There are tons of artists and groups from the 1990s that have all but vanished, and I don't really miss them, but I'll say it: I'm kind of glad that The Lox have managed to hang in there this long.
12. WORLD PREMIER (FEAT. LIKNUTS)
A Beatnuts and Alkaholiks team-up called LikNuts sounds like the greatest fucking thing ever, so my only complaint about “World Premier” is that it's not even a minute-and-a-half long. Sounds fun as shit, though, and even though Tash (still one of my favorite rappers) and J-Ro do better lyrically, the Beatnuts (well, Psycho Les, technically) come through with the banging instrumental. Highly recommended.
13. UNORTHODOX (FEAT. RAEKWON, JD ERA, GHOSTFACE KILLAH, & THE RZA)
The Ol' Dirty Bastard sound bite at the very beginning made me wonder just what he could have done with a Psycho Les instrumental himself. Sigh. Anyway, this Wu-Tang posse cut (that also features Toronto rapper JD Era for some reason) is calmer than I had hoped, but these guys are much older than they were when they changed the game fucking twenty years ago, so I'll allow a more mature Rae and Ghost pairing when it sounds this entertaining. Prince Rakeem rounds out the cast as cool as a frozen cucumber (he also allegedly had a small hand in the song's production), and although he doesn't really fit, JD Era doesn't embarrass himself. Maybe this song is “Unorthodox” only because it sounds so different than what these guys would usually put together for themselves. But I still dug it.
14. SYMPHONY IN H (FEAT. EMINEM)
Tony Touch actually works for Eminem's satellite radio station Shade 45, so obviously he was going to ask his boss for a contribution to The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's (and not just because Marshall has given him freestyles before). This self-produced one-verse wonder is a weird bid to recapture his Slim Shady persona, sort of, and its attempts to sound demented only illustrate how not insane Eminem is today. He's still a good rapper (when the planet finally explodes and takes hip hop with it, he'll be ranked as one of the best rappers ever, and I'm not debating anyone on that), but he's only as good as his inspiration, which, apparently, was all a byproduct of the many drugs he doesn't take anymore. In short: it's alright, but it's not real.
15. BOUNCE (FEAT. TWISTA & BUN B)
Although both of these guys have been a part of our chosen genre since what feels like birth at this point, it was still surprising to see Tony Toca reaching out this far out of his comfort zone. Twista and Bun B use Psychotic Lester's instrumental to unleash two verses from entirely different worlds, all brought together by one of the most generic song titles of recent memory. Both men sound pretty decent, although I credit the beat, which, strangely, reminded me of JG Thirlwell's theme music for The Venture Brothers.
16. ONE PERSON THIRSTIN (FEAT. THIRSTIN HOWL III)
Toca resurrects both the corpse and the career of former underground king Thirstin Howl III for The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's, but the end result is disappointing, as his trademarked growl that helped he enjoy early songs such as “Brooklyn Hard Rock” (minus that terrible hook) and that Eminem collaboration “Watch Deez” seems to have been replaced with a flow that makes him sound like every other goddamn rapper on the planet. Which may help him with his career, if he can ever obtain support from the majors, but it makes “One Person Thirstin” sound less like a comeback and more like selling out. Groan.
17. POWER CYPHA (FEAT. WILLIE THE KID)
Weirdly, sometime Wu-affiliate La the Darkman's brother Willie The Kid is the guy who gets to spit a verse over the most Wu-esque beat on The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's. A Villa's instrumental, which sounds pretty good, also sounds like it would be a good fit for a more upbeat Roc Marcy, which is perfect, as that is what Willie actually sort-of sounds like. His one-verse wonder spouts a whole shit-ton of nothing, but he's confident while spitting these rhymes, and this flies by pretty quickly. So.
18. A QUEEN'S THING (FEAT. ACTION BRONSON & KOOL G. RAP)
Because Roc Marcy is technically not a newer emcee, Action Bronson earns the distinction as the only (promising) rookie in the new school to appear on The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's, but Tony Toca's co-sign doesn't automatically mean that this will be a good song. Bronson raps about the same shit he always raps about, but this time it doesn't work in his favor: he sounds apathetic over the Statik Selektah beat, which is just boring enough to not help matters any. This is how dull the song was: Kool G. Rap also sounded pretty bad. This was a misfire all around.
19. TAKE IT TO THE BRONX (FEAT. FAT JOE, SADAT X, & KRS-ONE)
“A Queen's Thing” was so awful that all “Take It To The Bronx” has to do is not completely fuck up and it would win the day. But then they lead off with fucking Large Joseph, who, as you know, isn't the best rapper these days. Sadat X spews the hook (and the final verse) with his idiosyncratic flow, as he tends to do, and seems to have also completely missed the overall point. The only guy to walk away smelling the least like shit is KRS-One, who manages to shine even though his own flow sounds a bit off. What the hell just happened here?
20. AW SHUX (FEAT. TERMANOLOGY)
This quick one-verse wonder from Termanology is one of the best of the entire project. Within a very short span of time, Term uses Tony Toca's simple beat to express his mild frustration that he hasn't really taken off, describing how he was hoping to use the money from his successful rap career to right his financial wrongs, and how he now has to wait a little longer. The bars are fluid and concise: you can even hear the exasperation in his voice just a bit. This was pretty damn good: hopefully he gets what he wants out of this rap shit.
21. STREET CORNER (FREESTYLE) (FEAT. PRODIGY)
Although it never really leads anywhere, Cellblock P's contribution to The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's shows that his bars have actually improved (a bit, anyway; let's not get crazy here) since the last time I had checked. He approaches a low-grade version of his performance on his own classic “Keep It Thoro” over Juju's instrumental. Maybe I do need to give a damn about his latest album, Albert Einstein, after all. But not anytime soon.
22. SLAUGHTER SESSION (FEAT. ROYCE DA 5'9”, CROOKED I, & JOELL ORTIZ)
Just Blaze takes time away from his burgeoning EDM career to give three-fourths of Slaughterhouse a beat, one that is just a banger. Royce, Crooked, and Joell all unleash some brutal fucking verses, all of which beg the question: why is it that they can excel in such short bursts, but when given a full album, they backslide? Also, why isn't Joe Budden on here? Conflicts with the shooting schedule of Love & Hip Hop? That's a rhetorical question: I don't actually give a shit that Budden isn't on here, because I thought “Slaughter Session” was pretty fucking good.
23. LET'S GO (FEAT. REDMAN, METHOD MAN, & ERICK SERMON)
All of The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's is essentially a throwback to a different (some would say better) era in hip hop, but “Let's Go”, the Erick Sermon-produced Redman and Method Man collaboration, epitomizes this vibe almost entirely on its own. The duo, joined by the Green Eyed Bandit, are all older and slightly more jaded with the direction hip hop has been heading in, and “Let's Go” won't convert younger heads, but I found this shit enjoyable in a nostalgic way. Reggie wins the day, as he is still capable of doing, but everyone actually sounds entertaining as fuck on here.
24. QUESTIONS (FEAT. NOREAGA, AL JOSEPH, & REEK
Surprisingly, the most fascinating verse on The Piece Maker 3: Return Of The 50 MC's comes from fucking Noreaga, whose last album, the recently-released Student Of The Game, I completely ignored. That may have been a mistake: Victor uses Charlie Brown's beat to provide answers to frequently asked questions, giving unprecedented insight into the man's current relationships with Nas, Tragedy Khadafi, both halves of Mobb Deep, and, most importantly, his former partner-in-rhyme Capone. He's also improved his game: it's almost as though he decided that he had to give a fuck in order to continue on. Dude wins the entire fucking album. That's not a joke. Al Joseph sounds okay, in a Big Sha-of-Horror City-kind of way, and Reek da Villain, the only artist to appear twice on thios project, only spits the hook. This could essentially be the beginning of N.O.R.E.'s comeback, if he wanted it to be. Which means he'll probably piss it all away again, but you never know.
25. GMI (FREESTYLE) (FEAT. GOB GOBLIN, STARVIN B, & SPIT GEMZ)
Tony Touch ends The Piece Maker: Return Of The 50 MC's with three relatively unknown artists, all Beatnuts weed carriers rhyming over a Psycho Les banger. Nothing truly memorable on here, but everyone sounds engaged, and the song itself was pretty goddamn entertaining, making for an excellent way to end the evening.
THE LAST WORD: As with any mixtape, there are bound to be throwaway tracks that you'll never want to listen to again. But it's to Tony Touch's credit that The Piece Maker: Return Of The 50 MC's zips along as quickly and as entertainingly as it does. Due to the overall approach, each artist only receives a single verse to get their point across, but this means that you'll never get tired of any one emcee, because another one steps in to take his or her place almost immediately. The production hits most of the right notes, with Psycho Les and Juju of The Beatnuts coming the closest to honoring Toca's attempt at recreating the late 1990s – early 2000s feel of a mixtape one would pick up at the local bodega, and there are very few actual bad performances on here, although there is a bit of filler, which is to be expected when you have fifty fucking guest stars on your album. This was so enjoyable, though, that I wish it hadn't taken the guy so long to drop the third installment, although I realize that would have fucked up the whole “one hundredth mixtape” thing. It isn't perfect, but you'll find enough to like, and you may stumble across a rapper or seven that you stopped caring about and decide to give their own shit another spin. Which was probably Toca's intention all along.