Although Ricardo "Kurupt" Brown's solo debut, the double-disc effort Kuruption!, was a mild hit sales-wise, it pretty much bombed with every demographic it was intended to please. Critics hated it because, well, it sucked, and longtime fans of Kurupt's tenure on the troubled Death Row Records found that a little bit of him went a long way, so focusing solely on him was akin to locking the camera on what is allegedly the main character while an entirely unrelated, far more interesting story plays out on the fringes. Also, Kuruption!, although designed to cater to both coasts equally, failed to appeal to anyone, since the West Coast wanted to hear more of that Dogg Pound style, while the East didn't give a shit in the first place, as they were still upset at that whole "New York, New York" thing from the Pound's debut, Dogg Food.
One year later, Ricardo reverted back to his old self and released his follow-up, Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, a wholly California-subsidized (with a few exceptions) affair that was much closer in spirit to anything he recorded while still signed with Suge Knight. Various label drama prevented Kurupt from soliciting help from his friends on Kuruption!: with Suge upset at the man's defection, he refused to sign off on appearances from anyone still attached to the label at the time, including his own rhyme partner Daz Dillinger (who only barely appeared once on Kuruption!) Dr. Dre popped up on Kurupt's debut because he had already escaped from Death Row at the time and was free to do whatever the fuck he wanted. As for Dogg Pound ringleader Snoop Dogg, well, he was busy building a home in New Orleans, having just defected himself to Master P's No Limit Records in a "just get me the fuck out of here, I'll do anything" contractual agreement.
Apparently freed from the shackles of tricky label politics and outright dick moves, Kurupt (and, by extension, his label home, Antra) set about recording the solo album people actually wanted to hear from the motherfucker: namely, something that sounds like a Death Row project with random people dropping into the booth as needed. This feel of playfulness is apparent on his sophomore album, Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha. Without the need to cater to the East Coast heads with random collaborations alongside Wu-Tang z-teamers who happen to share the label or building or planet with him or something, Ricardo focused solely on delivering the kind of album he wants, alongside his own actual friends, all of whom make multiple appearances throughout. Names such as Daz, Snoop, Dre, Soopafly, Xzibit, and Nate Dogg (otherwise known as "the people that should have contributed to Kuruption!") all pop up on at least one occasion to chill with their homey.
Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, confusingly, failed to make much of an impact within our chosen genre even though it was a closer representation of what anyone would want a Kurupt solo album to be. That's probably our own goddamn fault: rap fans are notoriously picky and we are never satisfied. Shortly after its release, Antra dropped Kurupt in the midst of label mergers, leaving our host without a home for a short period of time. Eventually that level of uncertainty regarding his musical future led him back to the doorstep of Suge Knight, but that's a story for another day, since today's post features a happier, more carefree Kurupt who isn't afraid to piss off anybody and everybody (or, specifically, the artists named on the now-infamous "Callin' Out Names", featured here as a bonus track).
1. I CALL SHOTS (FEAT. ROSCOE)
Snoop Dogg makes a quick, quiet (and uncredited) cameo at the very beginning of Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, thereby announcing that this project is already truer to Kurupt's sensibilities than Kuruption! ever was. Using the Organized Noize beat (yeah, I thought that was an interesting choice, too) as a trampoline, Ricardo launches into a gangsta rap missive that finds our host much more focused and engaging than on his previous effort. He's in such a good mood that he even lets his younger brother Roscoe in on the action, gifting him with the final verse on “I Call Shots”. This wasn't bad at all, but then again, I'm probably just thrilled that Kurupt avoided the rap album intro trope, so why listen to me?
2. LOOSE CANNONS (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER & XZIBIT)
Using a Dr. Dre vocal sample borrowed from Eazy-E's “Eazy-er Said Than Dunn” and a beat built upon N.W.A.'s “Quiet On Tha Set”, Daz Dillinger (who produced alongside Blaqthoven) throws himself and Kurupt deep into the middle of a heist tale, with the Dogg Pound Gangstaz passing the mic back and forth while desperately trying to describe the situation with as vivid an illustration as possible. Xzibit stops by near the end to deliver an unnecessary hook that still managed to sound alright, as it's kind of fun when revisiting stuff like this to hear a bunch of Cali-based rappers helping each other out. The instrumental is so fast-paced that the listener will be forced to pause the action while they catch their breath. This was pretty damn good today, too.
3. WHO RIDE WIT US (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER, BAD AZZ, BLAQTHOVEN, & DIMEN)
Fredwreck's production brings with it a wholly inoffensive gangsta rap song drenched in Cali sweat. Daz and Kurupt both seem excited to be here, which shouldn't be a selling point in our chosen genre but surprisingly has to be at this point, because there are far too many artists who sound bored as shit to be doing this as their day job. Seriously, does anyone think Nas could ever work in an office setting? Any and all rappers who feel the need to act apathetically toward hip hop need to get the fuck out of the game and enter the real world immediately. Give the next guy a chance to shine, because they will probably appreciate it a lot more. Anyway, this song was alright, but the setup for the skit that opens the next track (which includes a quick potshot aimed at DMX) is clumsy in its execution.
4. REPRESENT DAT G.C. (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER, SNOOP DOGG, SOOPAFLY, TRAY DEE, JAYO FELONY, & BUTCH CASSIDY)
I've always liked how Snoop and company turned a fake radio station skit from Doggystyle into a running gag. Anyway, “Represent Dat G.C.” is merely an excuse to throw a bunch of West Coast-based rappers into the same studio and letting them run the asylum. The thoroughly unimpressive Jayo Felony receives far too much airtime, but everyone else seems to feel the fun atmosphere within Fredwreck's beat, so even though this song is about less than nothing somehow, it's enjoyable enough to listen to, and it's always nice to hear Snoop alongside his boys.
5. WELCOME HOME (FEAT. LATOIYA WILLIAMS)
Cementing Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha's status as a Dogg Pound album in disguise, Daz pops up on “Welcome Home” to recite a single line, even though he has fuck-all to do with the track as a whole. “Welcome Home” was produced by Soopafly, but although it sounds alright, it's a marked departure from hos the previous four tracks have been, bringing the evening to a screeching halt. Kurupt's rhyming about something, I'm sure, but his shit-talking and indirect threats don't translate very well over a vehicle of this nature. Maybe our host should have buried this one somewhere near the end of the project?
6. TEQUILA (FEAT. NIVEA, T-MOE, & DAZ DILLINGER)
The Organized Noize-produced “Tequila” sounds nothing like the rest of Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, which is both a good and a bad thing. Kurupt, T-Moe, and Daz are all forced to half-assedly speed-rap through the proceedings, which had the weird effect of causing me to pay closer attention, so that worked out well, and the instrumental actually wasn't awful. The Nivea-sung hook, though, isn't connected in any way to the track and was probably built-in as a part of the beat, so that Kurupt had little to no say in removing it outright. It disrupts the flow of the track, and that's never a good thing when your song appears on an album with a ton of other songs for the listener to skip over to.
Kurupt and producer B!nk attempt to give Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha an air of gravitas, or at the very least the spittle of pretention, with the classically-tinged one-verse wonder “Trylogy”, which contains a mostly alert Ricardo that actually adheres to the beat with his threats and boasts. The track's intro wasn't necessary: when a song lasts for less than two minutes, it's forgivable if the artist chooses not to set the tone in favor of getting straight to the point. But this wasn't all that bad, for what it is.
8. NEVA GONNA GIVE IT UP (FEAT. SNOOP DOGG, NATE DOGG, TRAY DEE, SOOPAFLY, & WARREN G.)
A sly sort-of Death Row reunion, albeit one without Dr. Dre and Daz. I like the idea of this song more than its execution, but it's still pretty fucking fun to hear Kurupt spit verses alongside Daz, Snoop, Warren G., and Nate Dogg. Nostalgia, however, is a bitch, as it caused me to remember this track being better than it actually was. The Meech Wells beat is okay, and everyone's verses are serviceable without being overly interesting. (Charisma and chemistry will only take one so far, I guess.) But you know, nostalgia can also let you get away with a lot, so I still ultimately enjoyed this song, even with what I just wrote. Newbies won't get it, but those of you who were around for Death Row's heyday will find this entertaining enough.
9. THE STREETZ IZ A MUTHA (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER)
The Death Row Reunion cruise sails on, with Daz providing the intro to what is essentially a Dogg Pound song. Over Daz's weirdly moving instrumental, the duo use this title track to both vent and threaten their audience, as though anyone who actively seeks out gangsta rap would be surprised to hear that life on these streets can fuck you up. The chemistry between the two leads (because in no way does this qualify as a Kurupt solo shit featuring his boy) makes me wish that Tha Dogg Pound had released an immediate follow-up to 1995's Dogg Food. Sigh. This was quite likable.
10. YA CAN'T TRUST NOBODY (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER)
Most of you two won't see this as a problem, considering the hiccup known as Kuruption!, but Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha actually fails at distinguishing Kurupt as a solo artist, mainly because he keeps surrounding himself with guests in an attempt to stave off the burden of carrying a song, mainly deferring to Daz Dillinger. Look, I really loved Dogg Food, and I have a soft spot for the duo of Daz and Kurupt, but Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha isn't really supposed to be a Dogg Pound project. The Daz-produced “Ya Can't Trust Nobody” adds more fuel to this fire, as it sounds perfectly fine as a group effort but utterly awful as a solo song, since Kurupt is unable to forge his own identity when alongside his rhyme partner. Conflicting, I know, but this song is both okay and a failure. Strange.
11. IT AIN'T ABOUT YOU (FEAT. SOOPAFLY, TRAY DEEE, & LATOIYA WILLIAMS)
A goofy excursion set to a halfway-funky Soopafly concoction. I say “goofy” solely because of his (lyrical) contribution: the guy sounds like an elementary-level Snoop, which wasn't how I remembered him, but he delivers a kind-of hilarious verse, including a line in the long-ass hook where he tells an annoying bitch that she's not what the song's about: that caught me off guard and was rewarded with a guffaw. Then Kurupt said the exact same hook word for word, and the comment wasn't funny at all. This song wasn't terrible, but included on a project as overstuffed as this one, it quickly gets lost in the madness.
12. GIRLS ALL PAUSE (FEAT. NATE DOGG & ROSCOE)
This was the only single from Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha that I remember ever hearing on the radio, and even back in 1999 I thought it was a mistake. I mean, a Nate Dogg chorus can only salvage so much, you know? B!nk's beat approaches East Coast mainstream sensibilities of its time, and Kurupt (and his guests) all talk about a bunch of fucking nothing, which somehow gets girls excited enough to stop what they're doing. The problem lies in the fact that everyone performing sounds bored as fuck, as though they all collectively thought that “Girls All Pause” was beneath them right up until an Antra executive held guns to their respective heads, demanding a radio single “or else”. (I have it on good authority that the executive in question said that part using actual air quotes.)
13. YOUR GYRL FRIEND (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER)
Daz's beat is energetic and deserved better than to be attached to a song that is mostly about trifling bitches. Our host boasts about fucking your girlfriend, talking a gang of shit about all of the sexually transmitted diseases the ho is riddled with, and yet that doesn't stop him: Kurupt apparently has such low self-esteem that he'll fuck any girl who shows even the most minute amount of interest, and he'll probably go raw, too, because Kurupt. “Your Gyrlfriend” is the aural equivalent of buying a sports car or putting huge tires on your shitty truck to overcompensate for your tiny penis. I'm just saying.
14. HO'S A HOUSEWIFE (FEAT. Dr. DRE & HITTMAN)
I guess some rappers will do whatever it takes to have a Dr. Dre production credit on their album, even if the song in question is the same fucking track that appears on Dre's own 2001, which, as it happens, dropped on the exact same goddamn day as Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha. “Ho's A Housewife”, which goes by “Housewife” on 2001, isn't the exact same song, I suppose: during a pre-song interlude, Andre claims that he planned on re-recording his own vocals. But I didn't care enough to listen to both versions for a side-by-side comparison, as I've always felt that this was one of the weaker moments from the Dre comeback, and when presented in this wholly different context, it still elicits an air of indifference from me. Better luck next time, Ricardo.
15. I AIN'T SHIT WITHOUT MY HOMEBOYZ (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER, SOOPAFLY, BABY S, & CROOKED I)
Kurupt obviously takes that title literally, as Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha features so many guests that it's clear he believes he truly functions better as a part of a group. Over the playful beat (credited to both Daz and Soopafly), our host and his homeboyz (including a pre-Slaughterhouse Crooked I, whose own stint on Death Row Records overlapped closely with the implosion of the label) discuss the advantages of being a team player instead of a loner, and everyone manages to unleash some entertaining verses. Daz, especially, inadvertently cracked me up: during the intro he boasts about how he can count his “true” homeboyz on one hand, and then proceeds to drop approximately ninety-three names during his contribution. All together now: huh? Still, I liked this low-key track.
16. STEP UP (FEAT. CROOKED I & XZIBIT)
Since Crooked I hadn't yet left the studio, Kurupt gifts him with the opening verse on “Step Up”, which he pretty much destroys, leaving very little for anyone else to work around. Not that anyone else had a problem settling in: Kurupt and Xzibit both deliver great performances over a dope-as-shit Daz Dillinger production. An uncredited Daz even plays the role of ring announcer, introducing each act before scurrying out of the way: he doesn't add much to the proceedings, but the song wouldn't work without him. A late-game banger.
Kurupt labeled the following song as a bonus track.
17. LIVE ON THE MIC (FEAT. KRS-ONE)
I found Kurupt's intro kind of sweet: I actually believed that rhyming alongside KRS-One was a momentous occasion for him. Especially as KRS is the only guest on the project to not claim California as his home. So here's where I come off as a dick: if this really was a dream come true for our host, that dream must have been a wet one, because he spends all of his time in awe of his collaborator and has forgotten that he was supposed to actually rap. As such, Kurupt's performance is fucking awful: KRS pretty much dominates “Live On The Mic” without even trying all that much. Soopafly's beat is uncharacteristic, but feels more like KRS One's territory than anything Kurupt would ever call home. Groan.
The final song of the evening is a hidden track.
18. CALLIN' OUT NAMES
Kurupt ends Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha with a verbal attack on DMX and Ja Rule, X for daring to try to hook up with his then-fiancé Foxy Brown, and Ja Rule merely for being Ja Rule, I guess. The Fredwreck Beat is straightforward West Coast (and not bad at all), but Kurupt makes it a point to list New York-based acts that he has no beef with, such as Buckshot and the Wu-Tang Clan, lest this be misinterpreted as another East Coast/West Coast thing. Our host comes across as a but of a complainer, hating on pretty much everyone in the Ruff Ryders (save for Eve, probably because she used to be signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath label) because of their association with DMX, and The Firm, because of the Foxy Brown affiliation (although I'm sure Nas could give two fucks, and besides, The Firm was partly Dre's idea anyway, and I don't really know where I'm going with this). Sure, he actually calls out names, but big fucking deal: so did 2Pac, and he called out people that could potentially fight back. Ja Rule isn't going to retaliate at all, sorry. What strikes me most about this song is how little of an impact it had in our chosen genre: does anyone at this point even give a shit if Kurupt doesn't like them? Anyway, we're out.
FINAL THOUGHTS: For a good chunk of the time, surprisingly, Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha successfully recreates at least a fraction of the good-time vibes hip hop heads experienced when listening to The Chronic, Doggystyle, Dogg Food, and, to a lesser extent, Warren G.'s Regulate... G Funk Era: a bunch of friends talking shit and fucking around, but with track breaks. The music on this project is nowhere near as good as what was featured on those other four album listed, but a lot of it is still catchy enough. However, the main problem with Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, and whether this is a huge issue is up to you, just like I wrote above, is that it's a complete and utter failure as a Kurupt solo showcase, because the guy is forced to share the spotlight with, like, fifty other motherfuckers, thereby eliminating the need for him to work on honing his craft. As such, his lyrics, while nowhere near as shitty as his performance on Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive" from 2001 (which, again, dropped on the same goddamn day, making both albums fifteen years old this coming Sunday), don't hit nearly as hard as they once did. Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha is still fairly entertaining, though, especially if you treat it as an album-length posse cut from artists that you once gave a shit about. Not to say that nostalgia is the only reason that you two may find this enjoyable, but it'll further your mileage greatly if you were once a fan of Death Row Records.
BUY OR BURN? I'd suggest you buy this one, especially if you find it for cheap. It blows Kuruption! out of the goddamn water and is probably the last time you will ever find Kurupt's antics even remotely enjoyable. Yeah, I said it.
BEST TRACKS: “Loose Cannons”; “Step Up”; “I Ain't Shit Without My Homeboyz”; “Neva Gonna Give It Up”