November 11, 2014

For Promotional Use Only: The Lady Of Rage - VA 2 LA (June 19, 2005)



Poor Robin Allen.  The Virginia native straight out of Farmville (not the Facebook game, just to be clear) hit the equivalent of the goddamn Powerball jackpot when she was discovered by famed producer-slash-rapper Dr. Dre and signed to his then-fledgling label, Death Row Records, in the early 1990s.  After knocking guest appearances out of the park on projects from Dre and new friends and labelmates Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound, the artist commonly known as The Lady Of Rage was poised to reap the rewards of the success of her own debut project.  She even had 2Pac, another labelmate who is generally referred to as the best rapper of all time by stans who have apparently never listened to another rapper in their collective lives, in her corner.  But she was never able to capitalize on her popularity, which is a fucking shame.


Her debut album, Eargasm, was pushed back so many times that it came back around on the other side of the planet rechristened Necessary Roughness, which finally saw a release in 1997, which just so happened to be around the time her label was in turmoil.  Death Row Records had essentially imploded, although the lone casualties (aside from the late Tupac Shakur, obviously) were the acts on the roster who weren't able to skip town at the drop of a hat: there's a reason why only Dre, Snoop, Daz Dillinger, and Kurupt were able to walk away, while Rage and other bargain-bin artists (including a young Crooked I, who didn't have the cache he obviously carries today) were stuck with Marion "Suge" Knight and his various whims.

While I greatly enjoyed Necessary Roughness, which features Rage effortlessly spitting venom with aggressiveness, cleverness, humor, and a keen eye for observation, it didn't do well on the Billboard charts, which was essentially the nail in the coffin for Rage's career.  It's easy to blame the label: there was little-to-no marketing budget set aside for Necessary Roughness, most likely because Suge Knight was using up all of the label's resources in various court battles.  I mean, that album featured a guest appearance by Pac: someone could have promoted that shit, right?  So that's what I'm going to do: blame the label.  Anything wrong with The Lady Of Rage's career today can be traced back to Suge Knight.  Although Dr. Dre has a hand in it as well: is there any particular reason he didn't try to look out for her with at least a one-off Aftermath contract or something?

Anyway,one person remembered her work: Snoop Dogg, whose vanity label Doggystyle Records Robin signed with shortly after the commercial failure of her debut.  However, not even a pop culture icon like Snoop is immune to the need for record labels to "sell records" to "make money", so she soon found herself without a home.  For most rappers, this would have ended the story: heads would sit around, most likely after an enormous bong hit, reminiscing about the lady rapper from The Chronic and whatever the hell happened to her, anyway.

Robin's life story was granted an extension around 2005 when she was picked up by Boss Lady Entertainment, an independent label owned and operated by, of all people, Snoop's own wife, Shante Broadus.  Empowered by her new deal, The Lady Of Rage quickly recorded and released a mixtape called VA 2 L.A., obviously reflecting on her roots on the East Coast and her adopted California abode.  This mixtape was intended to not only promote a forthcoming solo album, but also to give a push to some of Rage's friends and weed carriers, as all rappers do when they see a modicum of success, because that's how Rage was put on in the first place, right?

VA 2 L.A. led absolutely nowhere; aside from occasional cameos and a loose track produced by the legendary DJ Premier (whom she works with quite frequently) that dropped recently, The Lady Of Rage is really nowhere to be found today.  There is a lot of talk of an alleged sophomore album that may eventually see the light of day, and there's supposed to be some sort of group project alongside other former members of Death Row Records, but I'll believe that when I see it.  In the meantime, at least she left us with something.


1. INTRO TO VA 2 L.A.
It's a mixtape, folks. If there hadn't been an intro, I would have been worried.

2. I'M COMIN'
Although the beat relies far too heavily on the vocal sample at the beginning (which, eventually, gives the song its title), it grows into something that sounds pretty goddamn good, and The Lady Of Rage rhymes her ass off as though there hadn't been a eight-year break in between solo projects. She sounds fiery and focused, and even helpfully explains at the end how VA 2 L.A. was intended to be a sneak preview for things to come, things that have, as of this writing, not yet come. Still, this was enjoyable. If only the song's intro had been trimmed a bit...

3. PUT U UP ON RAGE (FEAT. DIAMONIQUE)
Robin and her very own weed carrier Diamonique borrow the Timbaland-produced beat from The Game's “Put You On The Game” for a quick, breezy two verses that encapsulate the idea that you can't find someone that has never been lost. Rage sounds as potent as ever, and she flows with the instrumental (which is a bit more club-friendly than anything else I've heard her on thus far) with ease. I realize that this is essentially a Xerox of a Xerox of a previously-existing song, right down to when Rage adapts Game's G-Unit shoutout into something more self-serving, but this is a mixtape, where this kind of thing is to be expected, and besides, it sounded pretty good.

4. THE WEST NEEDS ME
After a nice callback to Dr. Dre's “Lyrical Gangbang”, Robin updates her sound for the new era (as of 2005, anyway), running through a one-verse wonder over a dope-as-fuck instrumental that flat-out bangs, combining West Coast sensibilities with a forward-thinking sound. Rage delivers the goods lyrically, as well. There's nothing more to say: “The West Needs Me” is just a good song, period.

5. DPG SET (FEAT. RBX & GOLDIE LOC)
Okay, it's just weird to have a song called “DPG Set” that doesn't include contributions from the primary members of Tha Dogg Pound, Daz and Kurupt. What makes it sadder is when Rage runs down a list of rappers who are considered to be Dogg Pound Gangstas, and, even though ancillary members such as Snoop Dogg and Soopafly are named, at no point does she name her actual collaborators on the song, RBX and Goldie Loc (from The Eastsidaz). However, I still really liked this track. The beat, taken from Xzibit's “Criminal Set”, sounds like a West Coast throwback, and the trio successfully play up the Death Row Records nostalgia factor (especially impressive on Goldie Loc's part, as he was never actually signed to that label) while delivering all-new bars. Not bad.

6. TEN PIMP COMMANDMENTS (FEAT. DOC STRANGE)
Rage defers to her boy Doc Strange for a riff on The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Ten Crack Commandments” that makes up for its lack of originality with enthusiasm. Strange pretty much mirrors Biggie's format, similar to what our host did on “Put U Up On Rage”, but there's nothing objectionable about this song otherwise. Aside from all the misogyny, obviously, but this is hip hop: sadly, it comes with the territory.

7. NO NO NO!!!
Although Robin sounds okay enough, the beat (taken from a Jae Millz track of the same name, without all of the exclamation points) is weak, and the gimmick that lends the song its title is annoying as fuck, restricting our host's verbal acrobatics by forcing to adhere to a specific structure. Bleh.

8. VA MO MONEY (FEAT. BIG STY)
Since she mentions them at the end of her first verse anyway, I'll announce to the universe that The Lady Of Rage needs, absolutely needs to record at least one song with fellow Virginia residents the Clipse, or at least Pusha T. The beat on “VA Mo Money” (50 Cent's “Piggy Bank”) sounds like something Pusta Thornton would have used for one of his solo efforts anyway, and Rage sounds fantastic over it. The guest verse from Big Sty is awfully terrible, but our host more than carries this track on her shoulders. The hook is also bad, but well, this is a rap song. And come on: you know a Lady of Rage guest spot on that just-announced Clipse album would be fucking crazy. Someone needs to get on that shit immediately.

9. AFRO PUFFS (ORIGINAL & REMIX) (FEAT. SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
A strange artistic choice. Rage combines two different versions of her breakthrough solo single “Afro Puffs”: the original mix from the Above The Rim soundtrack, and the remixed video version that's a bit darker (both of which were produced by Dr. Dre, at least allegedly). Neither version appeared on Necessary Roughness, probably because the song itself was too old by the time Suge actually let Rage near the booth, so I can understand why she chose to put it-slash-them on here; I just don't quite get why she couldn't have just kept them separated, or included the remix as a bonus track, or something. It's a mixtape, folks: there are no rules. Still, I enjoy the shit out of Rage's verses (and Snoop's ad-libs), and the transition between the two takes is both immediate and seamless. So.

10. BOSS LADY
Named after her label which probably doesn't exist anymore, “Boss Lady” features Robin swiping Kanye West's instrumental from Common's “The Corner” for promotional use only. Older hip hop heads who only really know Rage's work over Dre or Daz instrumentals may be surprised to hear how natural she sounds over some of 'Ye's more soulful work, but she shifts gears from “VA Mo Money” (because the last track obviously doesn't count) without missing a step. The hook was unnecessary, but this was pretty good regardless. How does she not have a current record deal yet?

11. BOW DOWN
Instead of jacking the beat from the obvious Westside Connection choice “Sunshine & Unicorns”, Rage rhymes over the beat from Cam'Ron's “Down & Out” (that 'Ye is featured upon but didn't actually produce: he allegedly stole credit from Brian Miller, but whatever). I think the window has long since closed (once an artist names one of their projects Yeezus, it's clear that they've long since abandoned hip hop traditions), but it makes one wonder what our host would sound like over some original Kanye West work. She doesn't sound bad on here, but “Boss Lady” was a tad bit more successful for me.

12. THERE THEY GO (FEAT. DOC STRANGE)
Doc Strange is wholly serviceable behind the mic, but “There They Go”, another solo showcase, is boring as shit. After ramping up the momentum for several songs, The Lady Of Rage misfires by stepping out of the office, right when she had the audience right where she wanted them. A shame.

13. GET 'EM GIRL
Rage speed-raps over the beat from the Cam'Ron song of the same name. At least this one-verse wonder is a lot shorter than it could have been. Because of the speed rapping. Of course.

14. UNFUCKWITABLE
A previously-released collaboration with DJ Premier that failed to set the world on fire when it first hit store shelves (as a part of the Snoop Dogg label sampler Doggystyle All Stars). Honestly, it's not the best the Rage/Primo partnership has produced: the beat is kind of annoying as shit. But our host destroys it with her volatile bars. Here's hoping that these two eventually hook back up for at least one more joint effort.

15. OLD SKOOL
A quick medley featuring Rage's contributions to Dr. Dre's classic b-side “Puffin' On Blunts And Drankin' Tanqueray” (a great song that meanders in a good way) and “Stranded On Death Row”, along with Snoop's “Set It Off”. A nice flashback that, unfortunately, will cause the listener to give ip on this mixtape in order to listen to some much better musical offerings.

16. THE INTERVIEW (FEAT. THE POETESS)
This skit is edited horribly, but it's clear to me that whoever cut this together was inspired by Prince Paul. Too bad our host couldn't have just gotten him for a quickie.

17. STR8 OUTTA VA
After a quick verse over the instrumental for the N.W.A. standard “Straight Outta Compton”, Rage turns this track into a mixtape outro, shouting out her collaborators, dissing anonymous artists who promised to work with her but then refused to accept her calls, and, most interestingly, calls out the music industry (and hip hop in general) for the lack of support for female rappers that can keep up with the guys (she name-drops Heather B. and Jean Grae, and she does have an incredibly valid point). The outro then turns into random gibberish to fill up space, but it's clear that our host is still passionate about this rap shit: here's hoping we haven't heard the last from her. She has too much of a history within our chosen genre to be ignored.

SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN?  Absolutely.  The Lady Of Rage is a relic of one of the most infamous hip hop dynasties, but only got there because of Dr. Dre's ear for talent, and thankfully that talent hasn't dissipated during her lengthy hiatus.  VA 2 L.A. shows that Robin hasn't lost a step behind the microphone, even as musical trends pass her by as quickly as they are formed.  It's unfortunate that this mixtape ended up becoming a preview for a full-length project that never materialized, since you could throw a few of these tracks onto your playlists seamlessly, they're that good.  It isn't a perfect mixtape, because there is literally no such thing: utilizing well-known beats takes away from the potency of the verses, and Rage's own weed carriers aren't horrible, but don't necessarily deserve their time in the spotlight either.  If you're a fan of Death Row's heyday like me, you need to grab this mixtape as soon as possible, if only for the nostalgia factor.  If you enjoyed Necessary Roughness, then you should have already downloaded this mixtape to your hard drive.  

(Note: Apparently VA 2 L.A. is for sale on Amazon, which is why I threw in some links throughout the post, but I don't agree with a mixtape that swipes beats from other artists being something that gets sold, since the original artists would make nothing from the sale, but I'll leave it up to you two as to how you acquire VA 2 L.A.)

-Max

RELATED POSTS:

5 comments:

  1. Rage had recorded a track with DJ Premier earlier this year called Chemical Burn: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqLDs-q9OYw

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know: that's why I wrote that whole "occasional cameos and a loose track produced by the legendary DJ Premier (whom she works with quite frequently) that dropped recently" sentence.

      Delete
  2. i dont listen to female mcs cause they all just stank ass hoes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congratulations! You're a part of the problem! Great job!

      Delete
  3. Unfortunately she decided to emphasize her mic skills as opposed to her body, so no one cared. For shits and giggles, check her out on Chubb Rocks "Bring 'em Home Safely" from The One album as Rockin' Robin.

    ReplyDelete