A few years ago, I managed to sneak a review for Inglewood, California's Dedrick "Mack 10" Rolison's debut album, Mack 10 (named, weirdly, after the weapon and not after himself), onto the blog within a post for a related Ice Cube project. No such luck today: we're going to take apart his sophomore release, Based On A True Story, without having anything else to fall back on, so it's sink or swim time for the Chicken Hawk, or whatever it was he called himself back in 1997. If you're intrigued by today's West Coast entry, feel free to continue reading. If you're wondering where that Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge write-up is, chill the fuck out: Twelve Reasons To Die II just dropped today, and ostensibly I would need to listen to the album in order to come up with some thoughts. It'll happen, though.
Based On A True Story piggybacks off of the minor success (well, actually, he did move more than half a million units, so "minor" is relative) of Mack 10's debut, as our host came into the project with a higher overall profile, thanks to the gold plaque leaning against his sitting room wall and his membership in the newly-formed West Coast supergroup Westside Connection (alongside Ice Cube and WC, his partners on the song "Westside Slaughterhouse", one of the many highlights from his debut), which was borne into existence as a vehicle with which to attack the then-dominant East Coast. The crew's debut, Bow Down, dropped in 1997 to heavy critical acclaim and some controversy with the prominent music magazine The Source, which was accused of giving the album a higher grade than it deserved simply because it was one of the targets singled out by Cube and company on the album.
But before Bow Down, we received Based On A True Story, Mack 10's extension of his debut. Like all rappers do, Dedrick had picked up some weed carriers along the way and decided that they deserved some spotlights on his sophomore album, because rappers. The guest list is stacked with much bigger names than Mack 10 was, save for Ice Cube, who guided this project into reality just as he did its predecessor.
You can both tell I'm tired, so let's just do this shit.
1. MACK MANSION (INTRO)
2. CHICKEN HAWK II
I still believe that someone pranked the California rap scene by making everyone somehow believe that the word "cock" is synonymous with both "dick" and "pussy", leading to goofy-sounding lyrics for years, even up to this very day. Anywho, "Chicken Hawk II", ostensibly a sequel to the song from Mack 10's debut, is a Tray-produced crime number that rings hollow, not just because of our host's Cube-like delivery (O'Shea himself has an uncredited cameo during the hook that only serves to underline the comparison) failing to emphasize him as his own person, but because the music itself blows. I imagine you two skipped past this shit fucking years ago. Although the song does earn bonus points for convincing Cube to spit the stupid-ass line, "In search of Super Chicken", so.
3. MACK 10, MACK 10 (FEAT. ALLFRUMTHA I & THE COMRADES)
Although it was probably far too early in his career for our host to have a song dedicated to himself appear on one of his albums, the motherfucker went ahead and did it anyway, bringing in his weed-carrying pigeons from the groups Allfrumtha I (Squeak Ru and Binky Mack, who also laid down the catchy old-school-flavored beat) and The Comrades (K-Mac and the terribly-nicknamed Gangsta), both of whom appeared on the "Hoo-Bangin'" remix that capped off Bow Down, to sing his praises while he brings up the rear. All of the endless gushing over Mack 10, which extends throughout the U.T.F.O. "Roxanne Roxanne"-aping hook, grows tiresome, and Mack 10 himself apparently couldn't be bothered to shout out his friends during his own verse, but the seat fillers aren't charity cases: they sound decent enough on their own. Or at least not terrible, anyway.
4. BANGIN' GEARS (INSERT)
5. BACKYARD BOOGIE
The lead single, which deviates significantly from the sound of Based On A True Story thus far in a bid for radio acceptance. While the music, provided by Bobby "Bobcat" Ervin, isn't bad, "Backyard Boogie" is pretty blatant in its efforts to please every audience, as Mack 10 tones down his violent braggadocio to instead party at a backyard barbecue, which in and of itself is hardly a bad thing, but our host sounds insincere in his efforts, offering lip service while casing the joint to spot its weaknesses. So, meh. I thought the callback at the end to the Westside Connection skit "Gangsta's Don't Dance" lent the man at least one ounce of consistency, though.
6. CAN'T STOP
Sounds a couple of degrees removed from everything else presented on Based On A True Story thus far, but for good reason this time: "Can't Stop" is actually an Ant Banks song that he produced for his own project, Big Thangs, that features E-40 and Mack 10. This is the exact same song, included on here because I don't know, money? Contractual obligations? Ant Banks (who contributed three additional beats to this album, including another track that also appeared elsewhere, which we'll get to in a bit) lost at a card game? Regardless of the circumstances, "Can't Stop" contains a Mack 10 performance that is more focused than usual, most likely thanks to the collaborators involved, so if this inclusion caused the song to receive wider exposure, there's really no fault in that. 40 Water's motormouth does get to be a bit overwhelming for novices, though. Just a pro tip.
7. TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT (FEAT. SQUEAK RU)
"Tonight's The Night" is one of those song titles that has been used so often that it's lost all meaning: whatever the hell the artist is trying to sell, we ain't buying. So Mack 10's effort pretty much falls the way you would expect it to: it's entirely forgettable and you won't give a damn about it. Ant Banks's instrumental just kind of hands there, as does our host's weed-carrying work wife Squeak Ru (from Allfrumtha I), who lends the track its hook. This already constitutes more words than necessary for a song that isn't worth it, so...
8. AQUA BOOGIE (INSERT)
9. THE GUPPIES (FEAT. ICE CUBE)
Because Ice Cube couldn't leave well enough alone, he convinced our host to craft an entire song around terminology that he came up with way back in the day to describe inferior beings, terminology that never truly caught on in the hip hop community (it's been used here and there, but never consistently), and yet it is still better than referring to vagina as "cock". Binky's instrumental has pop leanings, which is fine, since this song is silly as shit anyway: it's pretty difficult to repeatedly use the word "guppy" without cracking a smile at some point. Oh hey, I didn't talk about Mack 10's performance at all.
10. INGLEWOOD SWANGIN'
As you may have already figured out after reading that song title, this son of a bitch blasphemously and shamelessly jacks Kool & The Gang's "Hollywood Swinging", not unlike Ma$e and Puff Daddy, but somehow producer Bobcat has crafted a beat that is way worse than the Pa$tor's "Feel So Good" by slowing the sample down to match the cadence of Mack 10's lackadaisical, apathetic flow. To be fair, our host sounds alright enough over the course of the track, but this was still a bitch to actually listen to all the way through. I think you can hear my teeth clenching throughout this fucking paragraph.
A mostly-faithful cover of the N.W.A.-credited "Dopeman" that was really just Ice Cube's song. Mack 10 largely sticks to the script, tweaking a few pronouns and updating some references over Ant Banks's re-creation-slash-homage to the original beat, with an uncredited friend riding with the ad-lib shotgun, at least up until the final verse, where our host veers off course and tries to insert his own threats and put-downs, which ultimately was not a good idea. I believe this cover also appeared on Straight Outta Compton: N.W.A. 10th Anniversary Tribute, as well as on Priority Records' In The Beginning... There Was Rap compilation, and it's fine as a (sort-of) straight cover, but it'll never eclipse the original or anything.
12. WHAT YOU NEED? (DOPEMAN '97)
Immediately following his cover of N.W.A.'s "Dopeman" is Mack 10's then-current revision, "What You Need?", a Binky-produced update with the subtitle "Dopeman '97" just in case you don't respond well to being beaten over the head with subtlety. The beat, to Binky's credit, is actually pretty good, and doesn't sound like its predecessor at all, which was great, but our host's bars don't venture further than the original's, and after having already sat through one song about that shit, it's nearly impossible to get through another one. Oh well. I liked the music, though.
13. ONLY IN CALIFORNIA (FEAT. ICE CUBE & SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
"Mack, Cube, and Snoop rapping? Now how did that happen?" Some questions are best left for the universe to answer, I guess. This was really the only song I actually remembered from Based On A True Story, even though I recognized the title of "Backyard Boogie". Produced by Soopafly and, yep, Mack 10 himself, "Only In California", also released as a single, features our host alongside two West Coast veterans who excel at shit-talking over thumping beats. Cube and Snoop, who don't work together nearly often enough, do their respective things nicely, even when Calvin devolves into a man spouting lyrics from the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" (I'm not complaining, it's a great song, but these days I tend to associate it with Mariah Carey and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, as one should), and Mack 10, while not as gifted behind the microphone as his invited guests, still isn't a slouch. Proof that, as he moved further in his career, a little of Mack 10 went a long way. (See: Westside Connection's Bow Down, released about a month after Based On A True Story.) Side note: Snoop was still signed to Death Row when this song dropped, just in case you two were wondering why his nickname was written out in full like that.
14. GANGSTER POEM (INSERT)
15. W/S FOE LIFE
The overly-loud synths on "W/S Foe Life", a Binky / Ice Cube production that helpfully affixes the "W/S" to the title so as not to confuse consumers into thinking this is just a remake of our host's debut single, lend this track a West Coast horror flick feel, which is unnecessary and just flat-out wrong: it's almost like Cube and Binky took the wrong lessons away from the G-Funk 103 course offered at UCLA. It only runs for two minutes and forty seconds, but even that feels like it's too long. Ugh.
16. BASED ON A TRUE STORY
The finale is the title track, an Ant Banks-produced number that is smooth as hell, so much so that it even contains a Too $hort guest appearance at the very end that you would only know about if you pored over the fine print of the liner notes, as he isn't a featured guest. (I guess you could also find out the secret by reading this very blog. Whoops!) Mack 10 spends the length of the beat telling his story, the tale of his come-up in the rap game and the shit he encountered on his way to the bare minimum. You know, the "true" story that this song and album are based on. If you were ever struggling for an example of Dedrick's skill with the pen, look no further than this song, which is decent, but not great, but good enough for a Mack 10 album. Is that supposed to be a compliment? I'm not even sure anymore: I stopped keeping track years ago.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Although Mack 10 was able to scrape together an entertaining album for his debut, his follow-up, Based On A True Story, flops around like a dying fish or Elizabeth Berkley in that pool scene in Showgirls trying to prove that Dedrick Rolison is his own man, his own rapper, and not just one of Ice Cube's hobbies. Which is ironic, then, that Ice Cube's fingerprints are all over Based On A True Story, as though he was well aware that the Westside Connection would be a never-was if he didn't at least try to help out the one member of the crew that needed it the most. (One assumes WC never required any assistance, since he doesn't even bother acknowledging Based On A True Story exists, even though he had a fucking album with Mack 10 dropping later that same year. Some friendship, right?) It's nice that Mack 10 doubled down on his West Coast sound: at least this project doesn't sound exactly the same as his debut. But someone forgot to leave the entertainment factor in the recipe, because most of this album is boring as shit. He isn't a captivating-enough artist to hold one's attention for any extended period of time, his subject matter essentially never fucking changes (a piddling complaint, considering how rap music works, but it's still a valid concern), and the only songs on here that actually sound good-to-decent are the two Ant Banks-produced tracks that were created for entirely different projects, and also "Only In California", which is carried like a boy at his Bar Mitzfah by Cube and Snoop's shenanigans. To sum up, Based On A True Story is dull, and if you actually want to hear a good Mack 10 song from around the same time period that isn't a Westside Connection track, seek out "Nuthin' But The Cavi Hit", his collaboration with Tha Dogg Pound from the Rhyme & Reason soundtrack. That one knocks it out of the park: why Mack 10 didn't choose to put it on this album alongside "Dopeman" and "Can't Stop" is a mystery.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, but only if you don't have the heart to run across the street when you see it limping your way.
BEST TRACKS: "Only In California"; maybe "Dopeman" if you're feeling particularly nasty
There's a little bit more Mack 10 to see if you click here.