The very title of Ricardo "Kurupt" Brown's third solo album, Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey, instantly repels consumers and hip hop heads. I realize that misspelling words in our chosen genre is par for the course, as rappers tend to jump at every opportunity to exert their own level of control over the English language (I'm looking at you, Boot Camp Clik). I also get that it's entirely possible that Kurupt flat-out didn't know how to spell the word "odyssey"; hell, I just typed it out and it doesn't even look correct to me. But the fact that there apparently wasn't anyone employed by his vanity label, Antra Records, that knew how to proofread shit? That's a piss-poor level of quality control I didn't even know existed until this album dropped, and that translates into the musical output, too.
After two albums of varying degrees of success (his debut, the double-disc Kuruption!, and its follow-up, the much-better Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, on which the only word not mishandled in the title is the one that is made up of only one fucking letter), Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey, released in 2001, holds two separate distinctions: it was Kurupt's first to not include any musical backing from his former label boss Dr. Dre, who must have been busy designing and building a better set of headphones (because there's no way a guy could become a fucking billionaire merely by slapping his name on some cheap-ass product, right?), and it was his last album released on his Antra label, which went under not even one year later, after Kurupt, feeling rejected by his peers (I assume) or yearning for some semblance of sadomasochistic pleasure (I'm just guessing here), re-signed with his former boss, Suge Knight, and his Death Row Records, a move I'm sure even he still questions to this very day. But that's a story for another time.
On the production end, Kurupt solved the Dre issue by recruiting Fredwreck to handle seven of the sixteen tracks featured on Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey, far more than anyone else was allowed to do. He called in a couple of favors from Death Row friend-of-a-friend Soopafly and, obviously, his Dogg Pound partner Daz Dillinger, as well as some other surprising industry figures (DJ Quik! DJ Lethal! Jon B.?). This, of course, led to a sound that wasn't "cohesive" as much as it was...what's that word I'm looking for? Oh yes, a "fucking mess".
The guest list isn't quite as stacked as Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha was, although Kurupt only appears by himself on one track on Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey (and doesn't even bother showing up for the rap album intro). Most of the guests are familiar names (Nate Dogg, Daz, Xzibit) with some quirky entries for good measure (Fred Durst? Seriously?), but, aside from one specific song, he limits the guests to a couple at most per track, so there wouldn't be a repeat of the only major problem Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha had, which was that it never really sounded like a Kurupt solo album, since he was always surrounded by, like, fifty people on any given track.
I know of many people who consider Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey to be Kurupt's second-best solo album, although the sales figures would seem to prove that nobody actually owns this album, so how the hell would they be able to form an opinion? (For that last sentence to work, let's all pretend that "downloading mp3s" doesn't exist.) Clearly Kurupt thought it was lacking, since he gave up and moved back in with his parents shortly after the album hit store shelves. But for the rest of you who must know, does Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey have any musical value left in it?
1. BLAST OFF (INTRO)
Sure, it attempts to set a sci-fi mood, trying to prove that the album title was chosen intentionally, even though the album title has more to do with weed than space, but still, was this shit really necessary?
2. SPACE BOOGIE (FEAT. NATE DOGG)
On which Ricardo pulls a bait-and-switch. “Space Boogie” fails to keep up the science fiction charade introduced on the now-entirely-useless intro, as producer Fredwreck lends Kurupt and his guest, the late crooner Nathaniel Dogg (R.I.P.), a generic West Coast instrumental that, admittedly, isn't bad, but pissed me off all the same because of just how non-”Space Boogie” this shit sounds. Lyrically, this title track of sorts also chronicles Kurupt's downfall behind the mic, as he trades his metaphors and (relative) complexity for easy, cheap threats and unimaginable misogyny: the first goddamn bar is, “I'm like, 'Fuck a bitch, and fuck you too'”, for fuck's sake. Even Nate Dogg's singing, which occupies the back end of the track after Kurupt's aimless verse that devolves into ad-libbed couplets, isn't very memorable. Hell, the only thing that sort-of works is Fredwreck's Dr. Dre-sampling beat. So much fuck this song.
3. HATE ON ME (FEAT. SOOPAFLY & DAMANI)
Kurupt has run out of things to talk about, and his apathy behind the mic has been mistaken for cleverness by guest stars Soopafly (who also produced) and Damani (a member of Soopafly's group Western Union, which I believe isn't called that anymore for obvious reasons), as they lend verses chock full of ignorance and disdain for the opposite sex when they're ostensibly supposed to be talking about their respective haters. And yet they still fare better than Kurupt Young Gotti, who, no bullshit, actually allowed the line, “I'll make a bitch blow balls like a ball”, to remain on the final cut. We get it, Ricardo: you hate women. But you didn't need to drag these other dudes down with you. Ugh.
4. ON DA GRIND (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER)
It only took four tracks for Kurupt to reunite with his Dogg Pound compatriot Daz Dillinger, and that show of restraint deserves kudos: at least Kurupt is making an effort to not go back to that Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha well too often on here. Too bad the song itself isn't all that special: the first of Daz's two beats for the project isn't bad (it comes across as Daz trying to mesh the Cali G-Funk sound against a Southern aesthetic), but lyrically, there's nothing to this shit aside from minor threats and statements of rap dominance, which would be outright laughable had our host not sounded a tiny bit rejuvenated while passing the mic to his partner. Not good by any means, but the chemistry is still there, so...
5. IT'S OVER (FEAT. NATINA REED)
Quite possibly Kurupt's worst song ever. Until “It's Over”'s horribly poppy beat began playing, I had successfully blocked out the fact that this shit was the only single released from Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey, and I have to imagine anyone that bought the album based on their impression of this radio-friendly piffle must have felt swindled once the title track kicked in. It's difficult to discern just who Kurupt was trying to impress with this awful song, aside from his then-fiancé, the late Natina Reed (who played the Left Eye role in the short-lived Left Eye-mentored R&B trio Blaque), who spits a middling middle verse while Ricardo acts like he just can't even. I'm sure they had a good time in the studio (they had a kid together, after all), but that doesn't mean the listener will give two shits.
6. CAN'T GO WRONG (FEAT. DJ QUIK & BUTCH CASSIDY)
After that horrendous detour, Kurupt looks to Compton legend DJ Quik to lend production duties to “Can't Go Wrong”, definitively shifting the focus back to the West Coast. Although the beat is okay enough, the drums clash with the attempted laid-back vibe, making it really hard to picture riding to this shit. Kurupt, at least, sounds like he gives a damn: his shit-talking approaches Dogg Pound levels, as though he were inspired by his choice in collaborators, crooner Butch Cassidy (who, oddly, has not experienced a career boost after Nate Dogg's passing, even though he works within the same circle of artists) and Quik himself, whose verse, while trite, is delivered smooth as hell, as is Quik's way. The audio track ends on an interlude in which Xzibit pops in to co-sign both the project and his friend, which was nice of him, I suppose.
7. ON, ONSITE (FEAT. LIL' 1/2 DEAD & SEAN CRUSE)
Producer Fredwreck returns to the party with some bags of ice for “On, Onsite”, and Kurupt celebrates by repeating his wordy, awkward hook four goddamn times toward the end of the track. Guest star Lil' 1/2 Dead, still best known for having his name dropped during Snoop Doggy Dogg's verse on Dr. Dre's “Lil' Ghetto Boy” (from The Chronic) and not for anything he may have done on his own, is limited to a measly two bars during Ricardo's tongue-twisting chorus. The beat was alright, but it would have clearly benefited from a less-stingy Kurupt as its figurehead: his domination in the vocal booth grows tiresome very quickly.
8. SUNSHINE (FEAT. JON B.)
The lead-in to this Jon B.-produced song for the ladies liberally borrows from Snoop's fictional radio station WBALLS (located at the hilarious-at-first-but-less-funny-now 187.4 on your FM dial), but fails to drop those call letters, as though Kurupt were somehow afraid of facing a copyright infringement suit from his boy all of a sudden. (Which is strange, since the station made an appearance on Kurupt's last album.) Now I know what you two are thinking: Jon B.? The “They Don't Know” guy? Clearly this was a bid for crossover appeal, right? Well, motherfucking duh. I don't know why Kurupt was even into trying to build a female audience, though: any women out there left who aren't appalled at his tendency to use “hos like tennis rackets”, as he helpfully described on Snoop's “Doggy Dogg World” (from Doggystyle), probably need to be avoided at all costs. And Kurupt's flow on “Sunshine” is aggressive as shit, so who knows who the intended audience was supposed to be. Himself, I guess.
9. THE HARDEST MUTHA FUKAS (FEAT. XZIBIT, MC REN, & NATE DOGG)
It's not really a shock that this is the best song on Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey, am I right? Just look at that guest list: of fucking course it is. Nate Dogg lends a chatty hook alongside verses from Xzibit, N.W.A.'s forever-underrated MC Ren, and Kurupt; the only way this could have been better is is Dr. Dre had descended from his high horse and produced it himself. Instead, we get a Fredwreck approximation with a simple drum beat and some elastic guitar licks that still sound pretty goddamn good. Lorenzo and X shine in their guest roles, even giving life back to our host, who actually seems to be enjoying himself for the first time on here. Who knew that was all that it took?
10. GANGSTA'S (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER)
Even with both Daz and Mike Dean, a Houston musician who is now better known for contributing heavily to Kanye West projects, sharing a seat behind the boards, “Gangsta's”, whose own title makes no sense as the track isn't about anything that any specific gangsta possesses, is boring as hell. Daz also spends time in the vocal booth, too, but neither he nor our host sound natural: Daz is trying too hard to sound chill while Kurupt's flow approaches that of comedian Hannibal Buress at times, and while I love Buress, it doesn't fit Ricardo very well. The hell was this stupid shit, guys?
11. BRING BACK THAT G SHIT (FEAT. SNOOP DOGG & GOLDIE LOC)
After a weird instrumental interlude (complete with Kurupt ad-libs) that leads absolutely nowhere, “Bring Back That G Shit” brings listeners the vocals of the high (no pun intended, but it's there, so fuck it, run with it if you wish)-exalted Snoop Dogg, whose mere presence lends the track credibility it wouldn't have earned otherwise. Also, Snoop proves that there sure are a lot of euphemisms for money that involve food products. Fredwreck's instrumental is a frustrating loop that annoyed the shit out of me, leaving the pressure on the shoulders of Snoop and the other featured guest, Goldie Loc. I would have included Kurupt on that list, but come on.
12. LAY IT ON BACK (FEAT. FRED DURST, DJ LETHAL, & NATE DOGG)
Professional ass clown Fred Durst, of rap-rock hybrid Limp Bizkit, was apparently popular enough in hip hop circles in 2001 to warrant a guest spot on “Lay It On Back”, a Fredwreck-produced concoction that wouldn't have been bad had Kurupt slipped in one of his fellow Death Row inmates alongside himself and Nate Dogg, who gets a verse of his own. The entire track is so indifferent that it's silly to complain about the inclusion of just one dude; hell, even Durst's fellow Bizkit DJ Lethal (also formerly of House Of Pain, a fact that will become important later) does okay with the scratching on here. But Fred Durst, man. Fuck that guy.
13. JUST DON'T GIVE A FUCK (FEAT. DJ LETHAL)
DJ Lethal sticks around to lend production duties (and scratches) to “Just Don't Give A Fuck”, which kicks off with a voicemail from Queens cutup Noreaga that you think will lead somewhere once Kurupt goes out of his way to mention how he's still friends with Nore (and Capone, too, for good measure), but those of you pining for cameos will be sorely disappointed. Instead, Ricardo rides the not-terrible beat for dolo, mixing a ridiculous hook that overstays its welcome with verses that actually sort-of approach what the man used to sound like. Maybe he was listening to Tha Dogg Pound's “New York, New York” in the car on his way to the studio that day.
14. AT IT AGAIN (FEAT. FINGAZZ)
Producer Damizza invites our host to the club, but you two will choose to stay in this weekend, as even if you are able to work your way past the chorus, on which guest Fingazz (I know, me neither) liberally borrows from Johnny Kemp's “Just Got Paid”, you won't ever accept a Kurupt Young Gotti who is comfortable enough to eschew gangsta shit for inane party rhymes that he picked up from that table at the swap meet that sells the off-brand lyrics. Bleh.
15. KURUPTION (FEAT. EVERLAST)
Kuruption! is the name of our host's solo debut, but it didn't contain a title track, so I suppose it's alright for Kurupt to finally do so on here. Fredwreck produces a serious number, on which Ricardo attempts to detail society's ills in an effort to prove that he's fully aware how fucked up the world is, while former House Of Pain member Everlast, who was in full-on crooner mode at the time of Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey's release, retreads his own unlikely hit “What It's Like”, except is far more violent in its outlook. Ever the pessimist, though, Kurupt, fails to provide any solutions to preventing the “fucked up shit” he sees “everywhere I look”, instead offering that opportunity to everyone else in the world, although he obviously has time to refer to his peers as “bitches”, because Kurupt.
16. FUCK DA WORLD (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER)
Was the part-time rapper Danny Boy so busy that he couldn't help make Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey a full-on unofficial House Of Pain reunion? Anyway, a skit at the end of “Kuruption” leads directly into “Fuck Da World”, the album closer and/or a battle cry from a desperate artist who longs for the critical acclaim he once enjoyed. Fredwreck provides his final instrumental of the evening, while Daz is recruited for chorus and ad-lib duties, but “Fuck Da World” is merely an excuse for our host to break out his book of rhymes and attempt to spit his ass off. Which he does. Still, even though he obviously decided to start trying again, it's too little, too late.
Depending on where you live on the planet, your copy of Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey may include some additional tracks after “Fuck Da World”. I don't have any of those, so my review ends here. You can leave your thoughts on the bonus songs in the comments, though.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey is an incoherent mess for the majority of its running time. It's almost as though Kurupt took the wrong lessons away from Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, choosing to create more radio-friendly tracks and to purchase only the weakest beats he could find (that's no knock on Fredwreck, mind you: for the most part, I like the dude, but his best work isn't anywhere to be found on this project). Lyrically, Kurupt fell off fucking years ago, so I won't bother you two by retreading all of my complaints about him again, but that's what makes his sparse attempts at actually giving a fuck on Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey that much more disappointing: it's like even he realized that he doesn't have it in him anymore. The rapping guests he chooses (and Nate Dogg) all run circles around their host, so at least he made some good selections there, but it's difficult to tell just who Kurupt was aiming for with the album as a whole. Middle America? Cali exclusively? West Bumblefuck, New Jersey? I can't come up with any rationalization for "It's Over" other than Kurupt probably wanted to get laid that night, and while DJ Premier and Method Man (and, to a lesser extent, Redman, DMX, and Swizz Beatz) have all managed to escape collaborations with Limp Bizkit unscathed (as of Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey's release date, anyway), it's different when you invite Fred Durst to appear on your album, and, well, that's all she wrote. Space Boogie: Smoke Oddessey isn't Tha Streetz Iz Still A Mutha, not even if you squint a little bit.
BUY OR BURN? The fuck do you think?
BEST TRACKS: "The Hardest Mutha Fukas"
There's a little bit more about Kurupt to be found here.