September 22, 2013

Cocoa Brovaz - The Rude Awakening (March 17, 1998)

Remember how I ended the last post by mentioning that these updates would be fairly infrequent?  That.

One of the major complaints I have regarding the incredibly shitty first contract the trio Black Moon signed is the fact that they lost the rights to their goddamn name when the group left their label, Nervous Records.  While they were able to eventually use their own moniker again, it took a court case and what I assume were a ton of legal fees.  Their labelmates and contemporaries, Smif-N-Wessun, found themselves in a similar position after the release of their first album, Dah Shinin', but for different reasons: in order to avoid a lawsuit from the Smith and Wessun company, because they obviously didn't believe that guns should ever be associated with hip hop.  The duo of Tek and Steele switched to the name Cocoa Brovaz, because that makes sense, and continued to record unencumbered, although they clearly worked something out, since you'll notice that they don't record under this nickname anymore.

The Rude Awakening was released three years after Dah Shinin'.  During the time in between, Tek and Steele found themselves in the enviable position of having what many consider to be a hip hop classic (not me, though, according to the review I wrote about it way back when) under their belt, and with that feeling came all of the pressure to have lightning strike twice.  Having jumped ship from Nervous in order to join their friends Black Moon at the newly-established Duck Down Records, Smif-N-Wessun, two of the founding members of the rap-supergroup-not-written-about-nearly-often-enough-by-Max Boot Camp Clik, were given creative freedom to do whatever they wished, so, as is the custom, they elected to not follow the same blueprint.

While Dah Shinin' was handled exclusively by production group Da Beatminerz, Tek and Steele branched out for The Rude Awakening, electing to not utilize just the dusty basement drums that everyone loved about their debut.  Because if there's anything that has consistently worked for any rapper ever, it's almost completly ignoring what everyone liked about you in the first goddamn place.  (Da Beatminerz do pop up periodically to provide assists, but are in no way in charge of this project.)

While there was moderate interest in the project leading up to its release, and at least one of the singles made it onto the radio airwaves in my neck of the woods on exactly two occasions (the Raekwon-assisted "Black Trump", which utilized the time-tested technique of snagging a guest appearance from an artist who is much more successful than you in the hope that some of their fans will somehow discover the rest of your catalog).  But The Rude Awakening is one of those projects that nobody ever really talks about these days, unless someone is making a point of mentioning that, hey, at least Black Moon didn't ever have to release an album as something that wasn't Black Moon.

Which is strange, since you would think that someone would mention how terrible the liner notes are.

Are those supposed to be their spirits rising from out of those headstones?  Or are these guys supposed to be having a pose-off in a graveyard?  Is Steele (facing the reader) wearing his own face as a mask?  And was even just a bootleg copy of Adobe Photoshop completely out of the realm of the graphic design budget at Duck Down?  All that above photo makes me feel is sorry for Sean Price's mother, who gets an R.I.P. shout-out, which was a sweet gesture, but what the hell?

The first track on The Rude Awakening is over five minutes long, because Smif-N-Wessun felt that it would take that long to address their controversial (to them, anyway) name change. Yes, the whole situation was fairly stupid and should have never happened, but is it so important that it merits not one, but two direct comparisons to Chuck D's opening bars from Public Enemy's “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”? Hell no. Shawn J. Period's instrumental, as weak as it is, is suitable enough for an audience no longer expecting backup from Da Beatminerz, and Tek and Steele both sound decent enough, but am I the only guy who thought it was weird that the first song on a Cocoa Brovaz album would kick off with a verse from a guest star? Just me then? Okay.

After an introductory song such as “Off The Wall”, you're forgiven if you thought that a track entitled “Still Standin' Strong” would be about Smif-N-Wessun's place within our chosen genre. Instead, Tek and Steele explain that they're still doing well at life, which is a concept so generic and vague that it can be applied to nearly everyone in existence that hasn't died yet: the Cocoa Brovaz are not about to alienate any of the audience members they still have left after the bizarre name change. Steele's simple loop is okay enough, but it fails to stand out when compared to some of the other beats on The Rude Awakening, including the one featured on the very next track.

It took them some time (two full songs' worth, to be exact) to work out some issues, but the Cocoa Brovaz finally step their game up on “Won On Won”, which was one of The Rude Awakening's singles. Over a bouncy (and entertaining as fuck) 12 Nations / Sean Cane beat, Tek and Steele pass the mic around, vacillating between threats and general shit-talking, and they sound like they're actually having some fun while doing it, a feeling that was sorely missing from “Off The Wall” and “Still Standin Strong”. This is actually one of the catchier songs in the Boot Camp Clik's entire catalog, all thanks to the instrumental, and it still holds up well today . (Side note: you can look to the Soul In The Hole soundtrack for a version of “Won On Won” not burdened with an annoying intro and not cut off by the upcoming skit.)


And now we're back to quiet storm rap? The low-energy beats on The Rude Awakening this far (save for the overly-caffeinated “Won On Won”, obviously) remind me of Smif-N-Wessun's Pete Rock collaboration album Monumental, in that I remember that project sounding much more subdued than an album produced by motherfucking Pete Rock should have. Anyway, at least the rhymes are more alert than Steele's narcolepsy-inducing contribution (although Baby Paul has a production credit on here, so at least one of Da Beatminerz signed off on this, apparently), especially those from Duck Down CEO Buckshot, whose shit-talking sounds smoother than ever. Once again, the Cocoa Brovaz attempt to imply a connection between themselves and Public Enemy by invoking a classic Chuck D. line, this time from “Welcome To The Terrordome”. I'm not sure where Smif and/or Wessun gleaned such lofty ideas from, but whatever.


In which the Cocoa Brovaz attempt, and very well succeed, at making the pursuit of financial happiness the most goddamn pointless and boring thing to ever do in the history of doing stuff. Which was clearly their intention, right? I mean, why else would they sound so joyless over this dull throbbing headache of a Filthy Rich instrumental?

Lord Self's beat on this Raekwon-assisted banger is much more annoying than I remember: you can play this shit loud through your car speakers and marvel as the high-pitched squeals arouse every single canine in the tri-state area. However, I still liked this song, whose title is inspired by one of the Chef's lines from his own “Incarcerated Scarfaces”: it's almost like Rae's deliberately sleepy flow makes Tek and Steele sound more awake by comparison. Thankfully, our hosts earn their keep, with playful bars mixed effectively with your typical boasts and threats. This shit makes the incessant need for financial security actually sound like something worth striving for. Not bad.

And just like that, with the help of producer Suite 1200, we're right back to the boring-ass songs. The instrumental is dull, as though 1200 forgot that the backing music needs to be at least a little bit interesting, and all of the rhymes lack passion, substance, depth, and all of the other qualities that would assist me in padding this very sentence. It doesn't help that Head Arabic and Smack Man are probably two of the worst-named weed carriers in hip hop history (not quite as bad as Shorty Shit Stain or Weeed Carryr, but not so far removed, either): the fact that Head Arabic kind of sounds like a less experienced Havoc also does him no favors. Bleh.

Tek and Steele try to act like grown men, reflecting on their pasts while questioning the plan of their chosen deity and wondering if anything will ever change in this game called life. Which you two probably figured out when you read the goddamn song title. Apparently, this new-found maturity brings with it an R&B chorus (performed by guest star F.L.O.W.), a slower-paced and “serious” beat from Steele and Suite 1200, and introspective lyrics from Smif-N-Wessun, but it doesn't mean that any of this is worth listening to. I'm actually kind of surprised that I'm still hanging in there at this, since I have no doubt in my mind that most of the two readers would have already deleted The Rude Awakening from their respective hard drives by now.

I suppose the sample producer JB chose to use (a sound bite cribbed from Mobb Deep's "Cradle To The Grave") for this song celebrating both Tek and Steele's locked-up homeys ultimately makes more sense than had he went with the more obvious Soul II Soul's "Back To Life"”, but man, I sure would have loved to have heard Smif-N-Wessun rhyme over that shit. “Back 2 Life” seems to be a late-game attempt at waking the audience up, what with Tek practically shrieking his good intentions into the microphone, but it's too little, too late. Also, the song sucked. So there's that.

This attempt to bring back the vibe of early Beatminerz production work probably fell on deaf ears, since Mr. Walt's beat is far too subdued to make anyone excited to hear about the titular subject, even though they got an actual Beatminer and shit. Tek and Steele do their best, but neither man has it in them to captivate the audience using their words alone, and the lilting melody in the instrumental keels taking you out of the overall listening experience. Sure, it's fun to shout along with the chorus, but you'll feel empty while doing it, since neither Smif and/or Wessun ever truly earn that moment.


What is with Smif-N-Wessun's need to incorporate bullshit R&B hooks into songs that are beneath them? Did they figure that, since the song sucked anyway, they should go balls-out and make “Hold It Down” the worst song of their career, complete with a guest crooner that keeps interrupting the flow of the song with her own need to hear her own voice?

The last real head-nodder on The Rude Awakening, which brings the count to three, which, when held up against a seventeen-track album, is a terrible return for your investment. The Mr. Walt beat is simple and hypnoticck album, is a terrible return for your investment. The Mr. Walt beat is simple and hypnotic, and both Tek and Steele, along with guest star Tony Touch (who, at the time of this project's recording, was better known as a mixtape deejay and not as a mixtape deejay who could actually spit), drop both English and Spanish bars without sounding like they're trying to jump onto a bandwagon. Erick Sermon's baby's mother Hurricane G kind of fucks shit up, with her insistence on ignoring the beat, but even she isn't terrible enough to make you want to shut the track off, although she does invite haters to kiss her asshole at the very end, so your enjoyment of this track may become wholly dependent on if that imagery repulses you or not. If it helps, it seems like Gloria recorded her verse independently, since she doesn't interact with Tony Toca, nor does she trade bars with Smif-N-Wessun directly.

Back when The Rude Awakening was released, 'Tall Sean' was better known as Ruck from Heltah Skeltah (he hadn't yet adopted 'Sean Price' as his official rap moniker), but even back in 1998 he wasn't above stealing the spotlight, as he handily walks away with this curiously-titled Baby Paul production (which completes the Beatminerz trifecta) with a hot verse that seems wholly disconnected from the reality Smif-N-Wessun are trying to create. Tek and Steele's fascination with bullshit R&B continues with the contributions of the other guest, Deidra Artis, who threatens to take over the entire song. This song isn't worth sitting through just to hear Sean P spit, though.

Instead of merely ending The Rude Awakening with several shout-outs to fallen comrades, Smif-N-Wessun actually drop verses dedicated to those who have exited this mortal coil. Shaleek's beat isn't very engaging, but it would be inappropriate for it to have sounded loud and bombastic, so for the void it was created to fill, it was okay. Tek and Steele also sound sincere with their sentiments. A quiet way to end the project.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  The Rude Awakening is one of those albums that I could never sit through back in 1998: the level of quality was too scattershot for my short attention span to give much of a shit.  Today I'm older and wiser, but The Rude Awakening still sucks.  Tek and Steele certainly went balls-out with their respective performances, but you'll get approximately one-and-a-half tracks into the project before you realize that neither man will ever be considered as what one would call a "good" rapper.  They skate by on the strength of their charisma, their playful interchange as a duo, and their production, but while the first two aspects work out okay enough, their musical backing consistently fails them.  The beats on here are boring as fuck, and that includes some of the Beatminerz-produced tracks.  What the fuck happened here, guys?  And don't blame the name change: in interviews and on the actual songs themselves, you make it perfectly clear that the Cocoa Brovaz are just Smif-N-Wessun hiding in Witness Protection.  So shouldn't this have been at least half as entertaining as Dah Shinin'

BUY OR BURN?  You can live the rest of your life comfortably without even remotely considering picking this one up.  Give the tracks listed below a spin at least once, though.

BEST TRACKS:  "Won On Won"; "Spanish Harlem"; "Black Trump"

Although this remix uses the same Mr. Walt beat as the original take, I actually recommend that you listen to this shit, for one reason alone: the Mash Out Posse. Lil' Fizzy Womack and Billy Danze do have it in them to hold the audience's attention over such an underwhelming instrumental, and through their efforts they somehow inspire Tek and Steele to wake the fuck up, rendering this remix a much more successful affair. Thankfully, it also features new lyrics, so it's almost like listening to a brand new song, albeit one you'll swear you've heard before.


There's some more on Smif-N-Wessun, and you can also catch up with the Boot Camp Clik here


  1. Thank you sir.

    Knew you'd give this a burn, which is correct; I was just interested in reading your thoughts.

    Major props to mentioning the "Bucktown USA" remix; M.O.P. really does make the song a lot more enjoyable to me than it should be. It's the first track on my Mash Out Playlist (unintentionally when I burned the disc, but it works).

    My sister goes insane when I play "Black Trump" in the car.

  2. ...Is there actually a rapper named Weeed Carryr? Because I want to hear him if there is.

  3. Everything BCC-related was quite abysmal following OGC's Da Storm. I guess Sean Price's Monkey Barz was cool -- he's really the only artist of theirs with any hint of longevity.

    It's all about 93-96 BCC.

  4. Michael -

    Everything Sean Price has released as a solo artist has been OUTSTANDING, and Buckshot's albums with 9th Wonder have also been very dope.

  5. 8 days between your last two reviews is fairly 'fairly infrequent'

  6. I've been trying to write this shit for 3 days on my iPhone but for some reason the comments function like bullcrap so...

    Bottom line - the best artists outta the whole Duck Down movement were actually Da Beatminerz.

    Just look at the BCC's input under them. Ranging from classic (Dah Shinin'. Fuck you, Maxy boy.) to pretty damn good (War Zone. Fuck you again, Maxy boy.)

    This leads me to a point I hold true for all artists.


    Nothing speaks consistency like a single production sound for the entire ride. And Da Beatminerz excelled at this in the mid-90's. the best example of that being Dah Shinin'. I really can't stress how much this album is not paid its due on this site, because it damn well deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other 1995 classics from Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous to Dogg Food.

  7. Yeah, I never understood why they just didn't change the name to Tek and Steele since that's what everyone fucking knew them as anyway. The Cocoa Brovaz. Sigh.

    Also the scan from the liner notes doesn't load.

    Good to have you back, Max.

  8. Luv this fuckin' Blog

  9. djbosscrewwreckaSeptember 26, 2013

    Enjoyed reading you take this album apart, even though I disagree with how badly you panned it..
    Weeed Carryr - classic!
    It's not a great album, but I still listen to an edited version of it from time to time.
    The MOP Bucktown remix is really good.

    Matt - yeah, Sean Price's solo stuff is quality. Max you could review Mic Tyson.

    Anonymous above - yeah, Beatminerz killed it on Dah Shinin and War Zone.

  10. Just burned this shit.

    And you know what?

    I'm fucking buying this shit!!!

    Much more hit than miss.

    Nowhere near as bad as you said, Maxy you fuck.

    Hilarious review!!!

  11. Just thought I should mention, Max, that your review of Spanish Harlem has a repeated sentence, the point where you say it's a terrible return for my investment. A statement I mostly disagree with, BTW. Rude Awakening is worse than Dah Shinin', but not by much.