Da Dirty 30
All of this helped to infect the short-lived group Cru with a bad case of ''right place, wrong time'' syndrome. The right place was Def Jam. The wrong time was 1997, when the famed label inked its legendary dea..
|CRU: Da Dirty 30
by DJ VERB
Just Another Case of Def Jam Mishandling
Hip-Hop heads always like to talk about
the "Golden Age" of 1991-1995 (or 1987 through 1989, depending
on who you ask) when they get to reminiscing about the old-school. The
late-90's, however, don't get a lot of scrutiny from either heads or non-heads.
This is largely because the explosion of creativity and sheer quality
that characterized the early-90's had mostly subsided, but I feel that
there was another factor at work.
Around 1996 was when hip-hop fans started
to split into two camps. On one side, you had the underground backpacker
cats who loved the lo-fi, often experimental sound of indie rap. On the
other, you had the street cats who liked their shit rugged, rough, and
flashy. For these guys, it's Jay-Z, Biggie, and DMX or nothing. Go back
to 1991 or 1993 and it was clear: Tribe, De La, Pete Rock and CL, Gang
Starr, Black Sheep and their ilk were all the Shit, capital S.
Nearly everyone, regardless of race, class, or creed, could agree on this.
In the late 90's, though, things done changed. Jay-Z was blowing up, and
hardcore Jigga fans were not necessarily feeling the "dusty but digital"
sound of Company Flow.
Of course, there were fans of both sounds,
but on the whole, the stratification of hip-hop heads along underground/mainstream
lines was becoming more and more pronounced. I could discuss this subject
in relation to this period's general increase in commercial appeal of
Hip-Hop (see The Score by The
Fugees, among others), but that's a whole other piece entirely.
All of this helped to infect the short-lived group Cru with a bad case
of "right place, wrong time" syndrome. The right place was Def
Jam. The wrong time was 1997, when the famed label was busy going platinum
with Foxy Brown's Ill Na Na and
inking its legendary deal with Roc-A-Fella and their flagship artist,
Jay-Z. All of a sudden, promoting the promising debut of a little hardcore
crew just wasn't very high on their to-do list.
The album's title is a reference to New
York City's investigation into the corrupt goings-on within the NYPD's
30th precinct. There's no thematic connection between New York's Finest
and the lyrics, but the group did manage to stretch the album out to an
astounding 30 tracks, for better or for worse. A good handful of those
tracks are skits and interludes, but the album still bursts at the seams.
There's much fat that could have been trimmed, but I prefer ambition over
under-achievement. Considering the fact that they never got a second album,
it was good that they got their all their licks in. Both musically and
lyrically, but especially the latter, Cru resemble A Tribe Called Quest
if they had the lyrical complexity (or lack thereof) and grimy instincts
of the Boot Camp Clik. Producer/MC Yogi (who's a bit of a Q-Tip sound-alike
and admits to being tagged as such) holds things down lovely on the mic
and the boards.
His lyrical foil, Chadeeo, is definitely
the Phife to his Tip. He's OK without being wack, and his scrappy, higher-pitched
voice provides a nice contrast to Yogi's smooth flows. Despite the Native
Tongue similarity, Cru like to keep their shit gully with simple and clever
thugisms like "now they baldheads cuz I'm pullin' wigs back"
(from "The Shit.") Rather than hire some true-schoolers to drop
science, Cru opt for guest shots from the likes of Black Rob (who rips
both "Wreckgonize" and the mad ill "Nothin' But"),
Ras Kass, and the LOX, who help to turn the bass-heavy old-schooler "Live
at the Tunnel" into a club-worthy street banger. Slick Rick adds
some throwback goodness to the classic single "Just Another Case,"
but his turn is tempered by Antoinette, who comes out of nowhere with
a gangsta verse on "Bluntz and Bakakeemiz" that makes Lil Kim
and Foxy Brown sound like Strawberry Shortcake and them.
As I mentioned before, not only is Yogi the group's most compelling lyrical
force, he's also the beat brainchild, providing all the production for this
album. The Tribe-meets-Boot Camp comparison also applies here, as Y-O excels
in both feelgood jazziness and the type of dark, menacing soundscapes we
normally associate with the Beatminerz. He starts right off with "Bluntz
and Bakakeemiz," pairing heavy drums with a tense, eerie guitar loop
dope enough to get the softest cats to throw they gunz. "Nothin But"
is another ill gem, centered around an atmospheric piano-type sound that
recalls European darkmeisters The Prunes.
On the flipside, he loops up a deep rhodes
snippet on the laid-back "Wreckgonize" and chops some whimsical
strings on "Bubblin." The latter sort of reminds me of the Liks
or Lootpack. Other jazzy highlights include "The Illz" and the
very Tribe-esque "Fresh, Wild, and Bold. I can't decide whether or
not his decision to sample Portishead on "Straight from L.I.P."
is a bad look. I usually require at least a five-year waiting period before
you can sample something. It worked for Brand Nubian on "Slow Down,"
so maybe I'm tripping. Regardless, I have to applaud Yogi's willingness
to jump on some whiteboy UK shit that most dudes would have fronted on.
He starts to lose the plot near the end with a handful of corny, ill-conceived
keyboard beats. Fortunately, he finishes crazy strong with "Armageddon,"
a hypothetical tale of mass rap execution with a beat that's pure hardcore.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Just Another Case," a fine
story rap made even finer by the emotional, evocative latin guitar loop
that anchors the track. Even if you don't remember a word, that sample
will stay with you for days. If you only listen to one track on this album,
make it this one.
Speaking of their beloved single, Cru ended
up being "just another case" of not-enough-of-either to stand
out. Their gritty flavor was perfect for the hard-rocks, but with hip-hop
trending towards "money, cash, hoes," Cru was just too underground
for the street dudes. On the other hand, being signed to Def Jam in '97
meant they were too caught up in the major label scene to truly penetrate
the fan bases of emerging DIY favorites like El-P, Atmosphere, and MF
Doom. In other words, they weren't underground enough. Word has it that
a third member of the crew got locked up in the middle of recording, and
without his crucial presence, Def Jam reportedly lost interest in the
project and left it to hang in the wind. Whether or not this is the case,
Da Dirty 30 still got a particularly
raw deal from Def Jam and deserved way more in the way of promotion than
it got. Flawed as it is, it remains high atop everyone's "underrated"
list to this day, with new fans getting turned onto it everyday by real
heads who knew the deal. If anything, Chad and Yo might be broke, but
they got a whole lot of respect. Now that Def Jam's got all the loot,
I think it's time for a special reissue package with bonus remixes and
instrumentals. Who's with me?
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