(Sticking with the still-fascinating story of Death Row Records for at least one more post, today's Reader Review comes from Diggin' In The Crates' Sir Bonkers, who followed up his article on the compilation Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000 with his thoughts on its spiritual sequel, Too Gangsta For Radio, which I then apparently held on to for several years. Oops! Leave your thoughts for Sir Bonkers below.)
Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000 went platinum in 1999, which pleased Marion “Suge” Knight, as Death Row Records had lost all of its talent and hadn't produced any successful music for the previous two years. Unsurprisingly, he quickly commissioned another compilation that would serve as a showcase for his rotating roster of soon-to-be stars.
(I'm missing this explanation from the original submission, so I'll just add this in here: Too Gangsta For Radio is basically a label sampler designed to take Death Row Records' former acts Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Daz Dillinger (but not Kurupt, as his relationship with the label was complicated at the time) to task for abandoning ship. As such, Suge commissioned a lot of tracks, some of which came from artists who otherwise had nothing to do with the label, that specifically attacked the “traitors”. According to the album cover, Too Gangsta For Radio was intended to be Suge's hostile takeover of an anonymous radio station, one that takes place while the man himself was still behind bars, apparently.)
Not every act that appeared on the previous compilation would wind up on Too Gangsta For Radio. Female rapper V.K. decided not to show up for reasons unknown to me (although if I were to guess, I suppose Tha Row wasn’t a very female-friendly environment), and Snoop Dogg soundalike Top Dogg only appears on a single skit. However, that just left room for some of Suge's newer acts, including Crooked I, one of the few acts on this album that still works today, as well as West Coast veterans (and possible originators of the G-Funk sound) Above The Law.
Hey, who knows, it could be decent.
Although he is uncredited, this skit puts Top Dogg to much better use than any song on Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000. On this intro, he plays a Snoop Dogg (obviously) who wakes up terrified from nightmares about Suge Knight, ultimately asking his girlfriend to call the police to make sure Suge's still locked up. Then his girlfriend and the phone operator start making fun of Snoop. This may not be that far from the truth: I know I’d shit my pants if Suge were around, and I don’t even know the man. Thankfully Top Dogg is nowhere to be found on the rest of the album. This is one of the better intros I've ever heard.
2. FRIENDS (2PAC)
2Pac, who had been dead for four years as of the release of Too Gangsta For Radio (R.I.P.), was clearly the only person signed to Death Row with any commercial appeal (in Suge's eyes, at least), so this older, unreleased track was included just so his legion of worshipers would have an excuse to purchase the album. Also, he disses Dr. Dre (as well as Jay-Z) on here, which (surprise, surprise) is the overarching theme of this album. Those issues aside, “Friends” isn't a bad song, and the newer Big Hutch / QDIII beat was also nice enough.
3. GANGSTA RAP (CROOKED I FEAT. SCARFACE, TREACH, & KURUPT)
Hell yeah! This is that shit you’d actually hope for from a Death Row album during its heyday. This Big Hutch production bounces around like a motherfucking ’64 Impala with hydraulics. The funky guitar riff could make any rapper sound good, but these guys put in some bomb-ass performances. This was actually the first Crooked I track that ever entered my consciousness. What is notable about this track is that it's actually a remix of a then-unreleased Dogg Pound song: the original version would surface later on the Death Row-sanctioned Dogg Pound scraps-fueled album 2002. Crooked out-rhymes both Naughty By Nature's Treach and The Geto Boys' Scarface on here, which is quite a achievement for the then-rookie. Kurupt appears only on the hook, which is the only thing this song has in common with the O.G. version, but he still manages to rock shit. It’s too bad this wasn’t released as a single, since it probably would have blown up like Eyjafjallajökull, and in the process would haveve shown Suge that this is what we wanted to hear coming from Tha Row instead of those bullshit 2Pac Nu-Mixx projects.
4. I AIN’T FUCKIN’ WIT CHA (CJ MAC)
While he doesn’t do a completely awful job dissing Dr. Dre, I suppose this CJ Mac guy (who was once a friend of WC and was once signed to Mack 10's Hoo-Bangin' Records imprint) didn’t really have a good reason for doing so, except for Suge kindly asking. Which takes the punch away, even though this was technically proficient.
5. EVERYWHERE WE GO (ABOVE THE LAW)
Lile Dr. Dre, the veteran crew Above The Law was initially signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless Records and lated ended up aligning with Suge's Death Row Records, but unlike Dre, they never sold many records with Suge. The difference between the two acts certainly isn't talent: there are plenty of hip hop heads who would side with ATL over Andre Young any day of the week. It’s just that they got with Suge at a very unfortunate moment in time. Still, “Everywhere We Go” rocks regardless. There are plausible rumors that Big Hutch invented the G-Funk sound back when both Above The Law and N.W.A. were signed to Ruthless, and when Dre left the label he took the sound with him, elevating it to both critical and commercial mega-success. This song is proof that Hutch at least mastered the G-Funk sound. Who fucking knows what happened there?
6. FUCK HOLLYWOOD (THA REALEST)
After a quick homophobic skit that parodies the famous line from The Sixth Sense (you know the one), professional 2Pac soundalike Tha Realest uses “Fuck Hollywood” to wonder why so many celebrities are gay (according to him,anyway, but I don’t consider Tha Realest a reliable source of information about Hollywood stars), over a beat that features, among other things, a whistle and an acoustic guitar. He is assisted by a soulful crooner on the hook. Damn, this shit was laugh-out-loud hilarious. The fact that Tha Realest was able to record this shit without bursting into laughter gives it a demented feel. Let’s see if some of my unsuspecting 2Pac fanboy friends will dig this.
7. MURDA FOR LIFE (JA RULE FEAT. THE MURDERERS)
Here Jeffrey Atkins and his (uncredited on the back cover) ecstasy carriers spit some awful verses over the same Daz beat Tha Dogg Pound used for one of their two contributions to the Death Row-released Above The Rim soundtrack, “Dogg Pound 4 Life”. This was bad, meaning, well, baaaaad. Moving on…
8. IN TOO DEEP (THE LOX)
Although the back cover credits this track to the Ruff Ryders, all I heard on “In Too Deep” was former Bad Boy signees The LOX. Jadakiss, Styles P., and Sheek Louch were beefing with Puff Daddy around this time, and of course Puffy had his own issues with Suge Knight and Tha Row, which is the only reason why I can imagine they agreed to contribute this P.K.-produced bullshit. But even that theory makes no sense, as Suge and company had largely abandoned their battle with Bad Boy because they were too busy attacking Dr. Dre and Snoop. The short version is, I don't know what The Lox are doing on here.
9. FUCK DRE (THA REALEST, SWOOP G, LIL’ C-STYLE, & TWISTA)
After yet another homophobic skit (do all of Tha Realest's tracks kick off that way?), Suge’s weed carriers make a brave attempt at parodying Dr. Dre and Eminem’s hit single “Forgot About Dre”, utilizing a double-time flow and a hook that’s loosely based upon Em’s first few bars. Alas, Eminem's one verse contains more good lines that this entire track. Also, even though the back cover will lead you to believe that Chicago's Twista is the guest star, it's actually an unknown artist who later changed his name to Twist, possibly to avoid a lawsuit and/or a beatdown from the Chicago native. This wasn’t completely horrible, although it most definitely wasn’t very good.
10. THUG NATURE (2PAC)
This QDIII beat samples Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, which is somewhat interesting, since QDIII is Quincy Jones’s son and Jones produced “Human Nature”. The hook, performed well by an uncredited R&B singer, make this one worthwhile, as Pac spits some generic-as-fuck misogynistic verses that also manage to be pseudo-thoughtful, so I guess he should be hailed as a pioneer. Because that matters, right?
11. DEATH RIZZO (CROOKED I)
The beat was incredibly boring, but Crooked manages to both flow and rhyme very well over it, spitting a lot of great punchlines about both himself and Tha Row. The hook also doesn't blow, which is quite an accomplishment for a punchline rapper.
12. PROJECTS (SWOOP G FEAT. KEITA ROCK & JUICE)
I remember liking Swoop G’s verse on Snoop’s “Head Doctor”, but it seems every other song he's ever recorded sucks, including “Projects”, which manages to be the umpteenth West Coast rap song so rip off Roger & Zapp. If that’s your thing, you should listen to DJ Quik’s Safe + Sound, since Quik is superior on the mic when compared to these chumps, and his work behind the boards also trumps the people who “produced” this.
13. GANGSTA’D OUT (K9)
The skit during the beginning implies that Eminem’s career is the result of a conspiracy by the Ku Klux Klan: he was sent out to “sell more records then them n----s ever will”, and his albums sales actually fund the Klan in return. Which I personally found to be a fucking hilariously stupid idea: if only the actual songs on Too Gangsta For Radio were anywhere near as creative as the skits, we could have had a bona fide classic on our hands. Anyway, the beat isn’t interesting, and neither is K9: the repeated chanting of the title during the hook sounds like it was performed by a bunch of leprechauns, and I see Lil’ Flip nowhere in the credits, so that shit is inexcusable.
14. GIVE IT UP FOR COMPTON (DRESTA)
Wasn’t Dresta the guy dissing the shit out of Death Row on Eazy-E’s “Real Motherphukkin’ Gz”? Yes. Yes he was. Perhaps this guy actively seeks out record labels that have beef with the diggy doctor because he’s frustrated with the similarities between Dre’s rap moniker and his own. This song, however, focuses on dissing Tomica Wright, the widow of his former label's boss. I remember Gangsta Dresta sounding decent on Eazy’s song, but on here, he doesn’t. This song also inexplicably rips off The Eagles' “Hotel California”.
15. REAL TYPE OF GANGSTA (MAC SHAWN)
It seems that producer Ant Banks gave Mac Shawn some Valium before entering the booth. That makes his actual rapping sound much more tolerable, but his ad-libs need some work. This may or may not be a Snoop dis: I don’t actually care, because this shit blows Ron Jeremy dick.
16. THE COFF (G.P.)
This guy sounds like generic No Limit soldier #6028, which means he comes across as a more primitive prototype of the current Durrrty South rappers. If a more primitive version of such a rapper is possible, at least.
17. THIS IS THE THANKS YOU GET (THE RELATIVEZ FEAT. NUTTZ)
The second instance of something Dr. Dre produced being twisted into a personal attack, this one being a line he uttered on “The Watcher” (which was later re-used as the hook on Ice Cube's “Hello”, which featured both Dre and MC Ren). Although the intro to the track features a threat aimed at Daz Dillinger, which deserves a mention.
18. TOO GANGSTA (DRESTA FEAT. YOUNG HOODZ)
Eazy-E’s former weed carrier brings his own weed carriers along for the ride. I don't know why Suge ever thought that people would actually want to listen to this.
And we’re out!
FINAL THOUGHTS: Too Gangsta For Radio is a lot better than Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000, mostly because Suge Knight swapped out some virtually talentless hacks in favor of Crooked I and Above The Law. This helps matters greatly, since Crooked is a beast behind the microphone, and ATL’s Big Hutch is a good producer. Unfortunately, Mac Shawn and Tha Realest are still a part of the project, as well as a lot of other people who couldn’t make good music even if Suge was around to physically threaten them into doing just that. This leads to an album full of tracks that end up not fitting onto any radio format, thanks to a lack of quality control.
BUY OR BURN? I recommend a burn of the songs listed below.
BEST TRACKS: “Friends”; “Gangsta Rap”; “Everywhere We Go”; “Thug Nature”; “Death Rizzo”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)