November 27, 2017

Reader Review: Das EFX - Hold It Down (September 26, 1995)




(Today I'm running a Reader Review from frequent contributor shoe-in, who is in the midst of a Hit Squad appreciation project over on his own site, Boom Bap Reviews. I've sat on this submission about Das EFX's third album, Hold It Down, for probably three years now, but he was kind enough to update some of it for today's audience. Enjoy.)


A quick refresher:


The year, 1991. EPMD are basking the success of their third LP, Business as Usual. Passing through Virginia State University, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith judged a small local rap competition, helping two dreads that called themselves Drazy and Skoob Effects (or Das EFX) acquire a deal with EastWest Records. They were later added to the burgeoning collective the Hit Squad, which consisted of Redman, K-Solo, and EPMD themselves. The duo's first shot at rap stardom, Dead Serious, became a sleeper hit in 1992 and sold over one million copies.

EPMD broke up later that year, and each member took his share of artists with him. Parrish, who wound up with Das EFX, would attempt a second home run by executive producing their second album, 1993's Straight Up Sewaside, but the two snots turned away from their "sewage" style of rhyming (the “-iggedy” gimmick), causing radio stations across the country to immediately lose any interest whatsoever in the Das EFX brand. The duo would never receive another RIAA certification.

Fast forward to 1995. Drazy and Skoob realized that the only way they could continue to thrive in hip hop was outside of the mainstream, so they set out to create the ultimate underground rap album, entitled Hold It Down. With PMD once again on board as executive producer, Das EFX recruited a Who's Who list of underground producers to helm the album's beats alongside their usual collaborators Solid Scheme. The list includes big names such as Easy Mo Bee, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Showbiz, among others. In the rapping department, Hold It Down became the very first Das EFX album that featured guest appearances, including one big name from outside the immediate family.

Okay, let's put our rubber gloves on and wade through this shit.

1. INTRO (ONCE AGAIN)
Once again, indeed. Skip!

2. NO DIGGEDY
The first beat on the album that graces our ears is DJ Premier's first of two contributions. And let me tell you, this is 1995 Primo, so he wasn't fucking around: a fucking masterpiece of a beat surrounds our hosts, and when they start rhyming, you'll notice the “-iggedy” has returned. Whoop-de-fucking-doo. Took both of you shits long enough to cave in to criticism? You're not even doing it the same way: they both sound like they're using the gimmick for the fuck of it, which is just lazy writing. There is a noticeable step down in delivery from our hosts, which are not as manic as they did on first album nor as precise as on the second, but a deformed hybrid of both. The rhymes here really leave a lot to be desired, but Primo's beat carries the proceeding along, so at least they sound somewhat comfortable.

3. KNOCKIN' N----Z OFF
Next up on the 1's and 2's, Easy Mo Bee! I've always respected this guy for his molding of Biggie's lone classic album Ready To Die. Here, he crafts a home run. Skoob wakes the fuck up on his second verse and delivers his trademark punchlines effectively, but Drazy is a fucking lost cause on this track, with only the BDP line as his sole interesting reference. A small step in the right direction.

4. HERE WE GO
Solid Scheme's turn. I gotta say, I'm loving the diversity of the beats so far. The duo provide our hosts with familiar ground, and Drazy and Skoob immediately sound comfortable, even though the beats on the previous two songs were both slightly superior to this one. I'm happy to report that Drazy and his partner revert back to their second album flows, coming up with much more clever punchlines. Thumbs up for this one as well.

5. REAL HIP HOP
DJ Premier's back, and his second contribution is the lead single. I take back what I said in the "No Diggedy" track description about him not fucking around: unfortunately, this is a Primo 101 beat, the kind of lazy shit he tends to conjure up these days. The lyrics, however continue to improve. It's as if Das EFX are learning how to rhyme again step by step, after the coma that the commercial failure of their second album put them through. Skoob steals the show yet again.

6. HERE IT IS
I don't know who this Kevin Geeda is, but fuck me if he didn't produce a fucking banger of a beat. This is exactly the type of beat that I miss hearing in today's music. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this instrumental trumps every one that came before it. It seems our hosts recognize this as well, as they sound as refreshed as ever. This shit was nice!

7. MICROPHONE MASTER
I swear, after hearing this, I need to find Drazy and slap the shit out of him. He sounds like he's taking a sting of heroin as he's performing the fucking song! By comparison, Books is taking it very seriously, turning in another fine performance. Damn, Drazy. You're even sampled on the fucking song! Take a cue from your former self, why don'tcha?! The beat is Easy Mo Bee's second, and it's okay.

8. 40 & A BLUNT
This is a minimalist beat that’ll surely creep its way onto your list of favorite Easy Mo Bee productions. Seriously, it feels like you’re in the middle of a tunnel and you’re gazing at the sunlight beaming in from the exit. Interesting that Books throws a K-Solo mention your way, while Drazy pulls off a lounging mood successfully. A dope Rakim vocal cut, as well. I will say, though, that the Sadat X sample left him sounding even more annoying than I've ever heard him. Overall though, I had fun with this.

9. BUCK-BUCK
The obligatory Das EFX self-production. This sounds less like a song and more like a fucking freestyle. The hook is an abomination, and the lyrics are some of the fucking weakest I've ever heard from these guys. Wait, scratch that: this is literally their worst performance up to this point. I have nothing more to say about this shit.

10. INTRO
Are you fucking kidding me?!

11. CAN'T HAVE NUTTIN'
Um. OK. After a skit and two tracks of absolute shit, we get another unknown by the name of Soul G. producing a haunting beat that is very sorely needed at this point in the album. For their part, Das EFX must have felt they dealt their listeners somewhat of a bad hand, as they turn in their best performance on the album so far. As you know, I loves me a good storytime rap, and here they execute a perfect autobiography on wax. After hearing this, the first thought that came to mind was that Books In Reverse really stepped his storytelling game up. Drazy still outshines him, but this time it's much more of a contest. A much-needed step back in the right direction.

12. ALRIGHT
Easy Mo Bee returns to us with a somewhat better effort than his last, but still worse than "Microphone Master". However, the rhymes are a step further: Drazy's awake, so that's always a good thing, since Books can only do so much by his damn self. I loved Skoob's Lou Duva reference, since nowadays people never show enough respect to the legends. Overall, this shit does the job.

13. HOLD IT DOWN
The final Easy Mo Bee track on the album is a proper sendoff, as he turns in a booming beat that would rock any stadium in this world or the other one. That is, providing Das EFX can generate that much interest. Seriously, this, along with his first contribution on the album, ranks among the man's best work ever, and I've heard "The Points"! Lyrically, the hook is grating on the ear, as is the case whenever Drazy goes into one of his tantrums. But, the verses are entertaining enough, with funny bits hidden in the verses, like Drazy's Changing Faces references had me letting out a loud and earnest "HAH!" in the bathroom at work. Too much info? I don't give a shit. (Pun intended, unfortunately.)

14. DEDICATED
DJ Clark Kent graces us with his presence to cook up one beat which is a friggin' waste of time, and the sentiment's amplified by the fucking chorus. Seriously, hooks really fell the fuck off as the '90s progressed. Skoob is the victor yet again, although neither have anything to add to the conversation. A shame.

15. READY TO ROCK ROUGH RHYMES (FEAT. SOLID SCHEME)
That's right, you read correctly: Solid Scheme make their first and only rapping appearance in hip hop history, then promptly disappear behind the boards. How do they sound, you ask? Well, you wouldn't know that they produced such chaos-inducing hits such as "Mic Checka" and "Freakit", because as rappers, they are the antithesis of Das EFX. They're not bad, though. It works the same way pairing Guru with M.O.P. does. Das EFX are the roided berserkers of the bunch, while Solid Scheme keep the threats up close and personal in an excellent monotone. DJ Dice goes first, with a flow that sets the tone for the rest of the song, and Blitz follows up with the coldest verses on the album. Of all four MCs involved, his deep voice sounds intimidating and it leaves you with the impression that he's the one you better not fuck with. (It also helps that Drazy mentioned in an interview once that Blitz is the real head of the entire Das EFX movement. You get that hearing him rhyme. Believe me.) Of course, this doesn't mean that Das EFX are lyrically inferior to these two here, as their verses at the end swipe the rug from underneath the producers so badly that they never rhyme again. The beat is a very fitting companion to the proceedings, curiously sampling former group mate, Redman from the classic "Hardcore". People sure do love that song, and rightly so. Nice!

16. REPRESENT THE REAL (FEAT. KRS-ONE)
May I present the guest from outside the camp. The Blastmaster himself considered this song so good that he swiped it for his own project that dropped the very next month. Now if that isn't underground cred in 1995, I don't know what is. Lyrically, KRS steals the entire album from underneath our hosts, obviously, even if they put up a good fight. Fellow Bronx legend, crate digger extraordinaire Showbiz, handled the beat acceptably. It's not as good as his work with AG, but it does the job. Overall, a dope track.

17. COMIN' THRU
Well, it appears PMD is finally getting generous, as he lends the duo the services of the King of DJs (and third member of EPMD), DJ Scratch, who actually can produce a gem from time to time. His masterful beat, sourced from jazz and funk, provides the sense of gladiator arenas where Drazy and Skoob throw down, with Books failing to get the W over his partner this time. Drazy sounded pretty inspired here. Dope track, even with the crappy hook.

18. HARDCORE RAP ACT
The final Solid Scheme contribution is a healthy dose of nostalgia for the heads, sampling a plethora of Golden Era legends such as Rakim, LL and (surprise surprise) Erick Sermon. I'm surprised PMD didn't cut the track, because he sure sounded pissed at E-Double on his own solo debut. It's funny that the best lyrical contributions from Das EFX on the album usually appear on Solid Scheme productions. This was pretty enjoyable.

19. BAD NEWS (FEAT. PMD)
Those of you who were worried that PMD would stay pissed at fate for all of fucking eternity, rejoice! PMD has finally calmed the fuck down, which really shows in his focus and delivery, especially as he still mentions nothing about EPMD's breakup. Anyways, DJ Scratch provides us with yet another funky banger that samples a track from the pretty-bland-guilty-pleasure-of-mine PMD debut (it's still hugely overlooked in the beats department), specifically a 3rd Eye guest verse, on which our hosts utilize the short time to demolish the beat nicely and effectively. These three share a definite chemistry behind the mic (I heavily disagree with Max's opinion about this particular point) and it fucking shows. A slam dunk if I've ever heard one.

20. REAL HIP HOP (PETE ROCK REMIX)
One of the rare moments, in my humble opinion, that Pete Rock's take completely outshines DJ Premier's take on a track. Peter Phillips turns this snoozefest into a fucking anthem for 1990s music. The lyrics also sound much more impressive over this beat. Well, Books' rhymes, at least, as this was recorded smack dab in the midst of Drazy's out-of-it sessions. Overall, a definite improvement, and one of the best Pete Rock beats I've ever heard from the man. Well done, Mr. Phillips!

FINAL THOUGHTS: Hold It Down is a fucking long-ass album by Das EFX standards. At twenty tracks, this comes across as a stealth resume sent to competing labels to show off what they were capable of, even if there isn't much in the way of lyrical variation. The comparison between Das EFX and other punchline rappers, like their former group mate Redman, ends with this album, as Hold It Down marks the point where Skoob and Drazy stopped having fun with their rhymes, even if they are still technically sound. That said, most of the beats on here are awesome, especially from the unknowns, which act as a saving grace.

BUY OR BURN? You should go ahead and buy this shit, but only if you find it at a bargain price. The beats save Hold It Down from being an absolute chore to listen to, which is the very worst feeling I feel can come from listening to hip hop. Except for a handful of cases, in which I wish I could have been at the recording session to take out my anger on all parties responsible for the crap I was listening to.

BEST TRACKS: "Can't Have Nuttin'"; "Here It Is"; "Real Hip-Hop (Pete Rock Remix)"; "No Diggedy"; "Knockin' N----z Off"; "Comin' Thru"; all the posse cuts & Solid Scheme tracks (seriously)

REMIX TO TRACK DOWN: MICROPHONE MASTER (SEWA/41 ST. SIDE REMIX) (FEAT. MOBB DEEP)
This was a very welcome surprise. The mere presence of an in-form Prodigy elevates this track to an entirely new level, as he turns in the winning performance. Drazy's paired with him, so he also sounds inspired. The remaining two MCs sound generic and by the numbers, especially Havoc, who (blasphemy alert!) was never special on the mic, in my opinion. The track's maestro is R&B producer AllStar, and this is his rap debut, on which he does enough. To be honest, I was almost certain the beat was Havoc's. Go figure.

-shoe-in

(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)

13 comments:

  1. I might have to check this one out

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's pretty good, but a step down from the Straight Up Sewaside (which I think is their best record). There's some solid rapping, but they're starting to sound tired.

    Also, I dunno if Preme had no respect for Das EFX or something, but he gave them two of his worst beats ever.

    ALso also, it always bothered me that that track with KRS was on his self-titled album too with a slightly different title. I got this album all excited about the KRS track then realized it was something I'd already heard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on each point, except No Diggedy. As I said in the review, that Primo beat was a masterpiece.

      Delete
    2. Funny thing is, KRS-One’s eponymous album came out after Hold It Down.

      Delete
  3. That's not Sadat X being sampled in 40 & A Blunt, but Puba, from his verse in Brand Nubian's "Slow Down"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, fuck me if they don’t sound identical! Nice observation, though. Overall, I think this review is good but Drayz gets shitted on far too much.

      Delete
  4. idk man, real hip hop holds a lot of nostalgia for me. I get what you mean about 'lazy for preemo' type beat, but it's such a nostalgic anthem personally. hook is catchy af too

    ReplyDelete
  5. I only ever bought dead serious (because of a certain site called HHID), but this sounds worth a spin or two

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked Dead Serious, Straight Up Sewaside should be a no-brainer. Unless you’re all about the iggedy.

      Delete
  6. Three more remixes I can recommend: "Microphone Master (Dome Cracker Remix)" for a beautiful Ahmad Jamal loop, "Real Hip Hop (Solid Scheme Remix)" for a proper grimy version with a much better beat and "Real Hip Hop (PMD Remix)" for a very stripped down version of it (the beat is even lazier than the ones Parrish did for the "Shade Business" album, but it actually works).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe it’s because I burned the original Mo Bee beat too much into my brain, but I felt the Microphone Master Dome Cracker Remix was lacking. PMD’s Remix to Real Hip Hop was indeed good, but nobody’s touching that PR remix. Son turned it into a certified anthem!

      Delete
  7. How many times have pete rock and premier remixed each other? I can think of pete rock doing real hip hop, can't stop the prophet by jeru and the militia remix. I'm not aware of premier remixing any pete rock songs.. anyone else?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I want to say that Premier has absolutely remixed Pete Rock in the past, but when it comes to examples, I got nothing. So maybe he hasn't?

      Delete