(Today's Reader Review comes from Sir Bonkers, whose own blog, Digging In Tha Crates, appears to be on hiatus, but if you're in need of more stuff to read, click the link. Anyway, he took it upon himself to review the next entry in Kurupt's solo catalog, Against The Grain, which is most notable for marking his (temporary) reunion with Death Row Records for some fucking reason. It also celebrates its ten-year anniversary in about a month, but I don't plan on buying it a present. It knows what it did. Leave your thoughts for Sir Bonkers below.)
You all already know the Death Row Records story, but it makes for a nice opening paragraph, so…
Dr. Dre left N.W.A. and started his own label with infamous criminal Marion "Suge" Knight. He popularized (but did not, I repeat, did not invent) the G-Funk sound with his epic debut, The Chronic, using that album to introduce a roster of future stars to the world, among them Snoop (Doggy) Dogg, The Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg, and the duo Tha Dogg Pound. Suge signed 2Pac a few years later, and they all happily sat atop the Billboard charts. Then Dre left the label, Pac was murdered, Suge got locked up, and everybody else bailed the sinking ship. From his cell, Suge released a whole stack of poor-quality label compilations with bullshit no-name rappers dissing former Death Row “inmates” for leaving, at least until the label itself went bankrupt. Death Row Records is now owned by a Canadian company who has done all sorts of cool stuff with the property, such as properly remastering The Chronic and finally giving us the full-length Crooked I album that was recorded and shelved way back when the label meant something.
One of the first to leave Tha Row was Ricardo “ Kurupt” Brown, one-half of Tha Dogg Pound (alongside Daz Dillinger), who finagled a reasonably successful solo career on his own ANTRA label, often collaborating with his old labelmates who had also found new homes after defecting. Kurupt is vexing as an emcee: he occasionally drops brilliant verses, but often is so stoned out out of his mind that he forgets sentences he just recited and, well, he once rhymed “bitch” with “bitch”. Anyway, when paired with vocals from Snoop, Nate, or Daz over beats from Daz or Dr. Dre, he usually, at the very least, sounds great.
In 2003, however, he completely lost his mind, severing ties with each and every one of his homeboys and signing back to Death Row Records with label CEO and professional artist-extorter Suge Knight. Theories about why he may have done this are numerous: perhaps Suge had some embarrassing snapshots from his S&M dungeon with Kurupt prominently featured, or maybe those years filled with 8-balls, gin and juice, and chronic smoke had simply taken their toll on Ricardo's brain (at the very least, this would explain his lyrical decline over the years). So, he was back on Tha Row from 2003 until 2005, and, of course, he was encouraged-slash-forced to dis all of his former partners-in-rhyme in song form.
The resulting album, Against The Grain, was completed just after Kurupt Young Gotti was finally brought back to his senses by Snoop’s West Coast conference (can you imagine the gangstas on The Chronic's guest list having a group therapy session?) and had jumped ship once again. At the time, Death Row projects were being distributed by Koch Records, and they were excited about releasing an album of freshly-recorded material for once in their distribution deal's lifespan: it even contained a bunch of verbal attacks against his former friends, which would have been great for stirring up publicity, right? However, Suge Knight found himself locked up once again, and, unable to conduct the day-to-day business in the office, Kurupt used the opportunity to secure a deal for a new album from Tha Dogg Pound, with one of the provisions in the contract being that Koch would remove all of the tracks from Against The Grain that attacked his boys (although some minor disses were left in, because heaven forbid the man ever re-record anything). Obviously, this pissed off Suge to such a degree that he called for a boycott of the first album of freshly-recorded material from his own label in seven years.
Anyway, the people Suge brought in (not Kurupt, because the man's creative input on here was limited to writing rhymes, most likely) to replace the rest of the Doggs and the Doctor are a bunch of complete unknowns, the vaguely-familiar rapper Eastwood, and, in an effort to make sure people knew this was supposed to be newly-recorded material, a 2Pac verse taken from the vaults. For the production, Suge signed on a few B-teamers, with Mark Sparks being featured most frequently.
It’s probably easy to imagine how this review is going to end, but I'm considered a Kurupt stan in some circles, so perhaps I’ll surprise y’all.
2. SPEAK ON IT (FEAT. VAL C)
Young Gotti starts off straight-talking over this neurotic Mark Sparks-helmed instrumental, referring to himself and his new extended family as the “Gestapo Gang”, of all the things in this world to choose from, while a guitar plays that would have been better suited to the background of shitty 1980's porn. He does have a point when he says there are no new 2Pacs or Biggies: however, shouldn’t an emcee such as Kurupt be able to use that statement in an actual verse? Anyway, while he eventually starts rapping after some two minutes, you’ll probably have already skipped to the next track, so you won’t ever know just how meh his verse is. Oh yeah, he barely disses Daz on here, for those of you who give a fuck.
3. ANARCHY ‘87
This track sounds like Dr. Dre made it in the 2001 era while he was fucking with a ringtone-esque synthesizer while on amphetamines. What I mean is, it's actually not too bad. Over the years, Kurupt has developed a way of putting in a lot of effort talking about nothing in particular, and that is in full effect here. Also, he barely disses Daz and Snoop on here, which must have been initiated by Suge, since Kurupt gets a lot more passionate when his heart is in it, like on the DMX dis from Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, “Callin' Out Names”. Anyway, this was a good song.
4. THROW BACK MUSIC ‘86
This one actually rocks. I’m beginning to believe this Mark Sparks guy yields some talent behind the boards. The bass and slight hints of crunchy electric guitar both bump and thump. Ricardo flows over it well enough, and despite there being nothing exceptional about his reminiscing on past times, he does sound somewhat similar to that guy who recorded that "New York, New York" song with Snoop back in the day. Also, he again gives another shout out to the Gestapo why?!
5. DEEP DISHES
During the hook, Kurupt rhymes “dishes” with “dishes”. which is a new low after his “Bitch n---a, you’re more of a bitch than a bitch!” rhyme on Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive". He also compares himself to both Osama Bin Laden and Adolf Hitler, which most of you may find to be ion very poor taste, but to be fair, Ricardo has never been all that politically correct to begin with. Also, while this stuttering instrumental isn’t really up my alley, it does enhance his angry delivery, but overall this was pretty fucking bad. By now I’ve officially given up hope that Young Gotti will give us anything quotable. From now on, the lyrics, except for when shockingly bad, will no longer be taken into consideration.
This paranoid Can-sampling instrumental by Sir Jinx is actually quite good. Kurupt doesn’t suck enough on here to actively subtract from it, but the girl on the hook does, so this still blows.
7. CAN U FEEL IT (FEAT. POTION)
This 1970's disco-ish beat is the clearest crossover attempt so far. What’s disturbing about this is that it makes me imagine Young Gotti dancing around in a shiny suit with Puff Daddy and Ma$e, which is quite unnatural...you know what, wow, never mind, that image, along with Ricardo’s lackluster rhymes, really ruined this one for me.
8. SLIDE IN, SLIDE OUT (FEAT. BIG TRI, EASTWOOD & YOUNG TONE)
Out of all four rappers featured, Eastwood sucks the least, but by a very small margin.
9. I’M BACK
This instrumental by one time Death Row in-house producers Tha Row Hittaz (who are best known for their poor execution of that 2Pac Nu-Mixx Klazzics album series, which was a bad idea anyway) features an interesting combination of strings and electronic bleeps. Kurupt sounds pissed off here, which, as usual, works to his advantage. It’s quite listenable, this.
10. JEALOUSY (FEAT. ROSCOE & M.O.P.)
Sparks rocks a nice combination of electric guitars and a sinister harps and the Mash Out Posse and Kurupt put in listenable work. Roscoe, however, is only featured because he is our host's brother. Also ,the hook is ass. Overall ,this isn’t that bad, but a song featuring just Young Gotti and M.O.P. could’ve actually been good.
11. THA PAST (FEAT. DAVE HOLLISTER)
The beat features some kind of Asian melody and some 1980's soft rock guitar, which makes for a surprisingly effective combination. It helps that the featured R&B singer, Dave Hollister (formerly of BLACKstreet), has actual singing talent. I don’t know if this song is a peace offering to Daz, but the lyrics weren’t interesting enough for me to further examine. This sounds a lot more interesting when you’re puffing on some good weed, which, for a lot of the songs on this album, isn’t the case.
12. MY HOMEBOYS (FEAT. 2PAC & EASTWOOD)
2Pac’s inevitable appearance is no worse than anything else Suge put released after he died. The Mark Sparks beat is good, and Eastwood turns in one of his better performances. Kurupt doesn’t embarrass himself, either. That said, it’s kind of blasphemous that they slightly sped up Pac’s verse so it’d match the pace of the beat, and, also, 2Pac and Eastwood weren’t homies because they never fucking met each other, but I’m not enough of a 2Pac stan to get pissed about it or to automatically like this song just because of his appearance.
13. BULLSHIT & NONSENSE (FEAT. SPIDER LOC & EASTWOOD)
The most interesting thing about this song is that Spider Loc would eventually get signed to G-Unit, while Eastwood ended up on The Game’s Black Wall Street vanity label (although both of them would get dropped without ever putting out an album). Anyway, that title is very appropriate.
14. CALICO (FEAT. THE DAYTON FAMILY)
I’ve never heard of The Dayton Family, but all of its members suck equally over this pseudo-derrrty Southern beat. (I can only remember one Dayton Family song, but not its title, from back in the day, but my recollection is about the same, which I'm sure some Michigan hip hop heads will contest in the comments section if they even bothered to read this far.)
15. HUSTLIN’ (FEAT. BIG TRI & YOUNG TONE)
Where did Suge find all of these chumps? Couldn’t he have used a leftover Crooked I verse to fill up this song’s running time or something?
16. IT’S A WRAP
This beat knocks, and Young Gotti sounds okay while spazzing out all kinds of random bullshit over it. The impact Cali chronic can have on a studio session, eh?
17. YOU FUCKIN’ WIT THA BEST (FEAT. DOMINATION & BANG ‘EM SMURF)
It’s funny how many people who sounded like absolute shit on this album got signed to G-Unit Records.
You could’ve just ended with “It’s a Wrap”, really.
Reader Review: Kurupt - Against Tha Grain: The E.P. (May 7, 2007)
When Suge was released from prison, he discovered that Kurupt had reconciled with his homeboys and had asked the label, Koch Records, to remove the blatant disses against Daz and Snoop, amongst others, off of the proper album. Never one to leave well enough alone, Suge released the songs on his own, without Kurupt receiving any compensation, on what he called Against Tha Grain: The E.P. (as opposed to Against The Grain, a title where Kurupt conspicuously utilized correct spelling; Suge had to destroy that shit, too). This spiteful marketing tactic could be considered a bonus disc if you're so inclined.
2. AGAINST THA GRAIN (FEAT. EASTWOOD & PENTAGON)
This title track (conveniently dropped from the actual album to languish alongside Snoop Doggy Dogg's “Doggystyle”, which also didn't appear on its corresponding project) contains many threats aimed at no one in particular. Perhaps Kurupt referring to himself as “the n---a who left Tha Dogg Pound” is considered a brutal attack by some: I merely think of it as him stating a fact about his career at the time. Anyway, there’s more “Gotti Bin Laden” and “Gotti Adolf Hitler” stuff on here, but after hearing those monikers pop up numerous times on the proper album, I'm not even curious as to why he thought that would be a good idea: I'm just numb to it at this point. As a piece of music, this just sucks.
3. U DON’T KNOW WHO U FUCKIN’ WIT (FEAT. KOKANE)
This is, save for Kokane’s contribution, not that bad. The beat manages to take the Neptunes sound and make it it menacing (something Pharrell & Chad rarely pull off, in my opinion). Kurupt sounds good spouting random shit as only he can. Kokane’s presence on here is curious since Snoop, one of the guys who probably gets dissed on here, was his primary employer at the time of this recording (and also because he just sucks, but that hasn’t been a valid reason to remove people’s verses from this album thus far). Overall, this was passable.
4. NO VASELINE PART 2 (INTRO)
This contains sound bites from people dissing Kurupt much like the intro to the original “No Vaseline” from Ice Cube, as well as Dr. Dre’s original “Here’s what they think about you” sound bite. It’s not a bad way to introduce a dis song, but it has been done before.
5. NO VASELINE PART 2
Kurupt starts on the offensive and and actually names names. Soopafly, Daz and Snoop all get it. It's too bad Kurupt still doesn’t drop any memorable lines, though, since I was actually looking forward to this after hearing Kurupt dissing Ja Rule, Irv Gotti and DMX on “Callin' Out Names”. On a musical level, this is one of the better tracks of the E.P. so far, with the beat switching a few times to more familiar hip hop instrumentals à la Cube's “Jackin' For Beats”. Sir Jinx gets a shout-out, so he probably produced this.
6. ONE THANG’S FO SHO (FEAT. DANNY BOY)
A quiet storm-type track about Kurupt fucking Snoop’s and Daz’s respective ladies. Snoop is called out as "a fake Eastwood", which makes no sense: calling Eastwood a fake Too $hort would be much more accurate, but whatever. Also, Kurupt gives Eminem his props on here after which he tells him no to talk about black people. *Yawn* And why is Danny Boy credited as a featured guest when he’s nowhere to be found? The instrumental was nice and mellow, though.
7. ONE THANG’S FO SHO (REPRISE) (FEAT. DANNY BOY)
This one does have Danny Boy singing to the ladies over the exact same instrumental as the previous track, which fits the music much more so than Kurupt's verbal attacks. Speaking of which, Kurupt only lends this reprise ab-libs, which, given his failed attempt of putting this beat to good use, is probably for the best.
8. HOLOCAUSE 3000 (FEAT. EASWOOD & GAIL GOTTI)
This instrumental, which sounds as though it were influenced by India or the Middle East, is actually really good. It reminds me of Ice Cube’s “Smoke Some Weed”. Kurupt and Eastwood ride it well enough, although lyrically, this is still ass. Everybody throws in a few disses to Snoop and company, but that wasn’t entertaining on the last few tracks, ans it still isn't on here, either. Gail Gotti is probably only on here for being Kurupt's boo at the time, but she doesn’t piss me off with her vocal tone like, say, Amil or Vita have done in the past. Plus it’s not like anyone else is doing a good job on here, so she gets a pass. Overall, this was decent.
9. JUST U & ME
The instrumental sounds like a Fredwreck creation, which it just might be. I have no way of knowing since I couldn’t find the production credits to this E.P. anywhere. Anyway, Kurupt’s out for blood on this track, but it’s never mentioned whose, and I’m not entertained enough by this to speculate.
Well, that certainly was lot of mostly underwhelming music. I’ma grab me a Red Bull before I finish this motherfucker. See you in a minute.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The songs mentioned below may be the best on Against The Grain, but they still can’t hold a candle to any of Kurupt’s career highlights. There has never been a definitive answer as to why Kurupt signed back to Tha Row, and this album (albums?) doesn’t provide one. Kurupt sounds like a shadow of his former The Chronic / Doggystyle / Dogg Food self, but, in reality, that's all he has done throughout his career up to this point, so I probably shouldn't be so disappointed. (Although he does tend to perk up a bit on Tha Dogg Pound's reunion albums and whenever he collaborates with DJ Quik.) Musically, this project fares a little better, especially a few of the tracks on the Against Tha Grain E.P. Still, there’s no need whatsoever to go out of your way to find them since there’s much more worthy music from Young Gotti you could be track down.
BUY OR BURN: Fans of Kurupt’s work from 1992 through 2001 have no business here: except for his smoky voice, there is very little left of the emcee who once recorded “New York, New York” and stood out on posse cuts like Dr. Dre’s “Stranded on Death Row”, 2Pac’s “Got My Mind Made Up”, and Daz’s “Initiated”. For those of you that want to know what a full studio album from within the past ten years released on Death Row would sound like, burn this shit. You’ll probably be left weeping about the unfortunate fate of the record label that once could do no wrong. For all of you wondering why so many people consider Kurupt and tha Row important in the first place, go look somewhere else.
BEST TRACKS: “Anarchy ’87”; “Throw Back Music ’86”; “I’m Back”; “My Homeboys”; “It’s a Wrap”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? You could keep them to yourself, but it's probably more fun to leave a comment below, right?)