Album of the Week: 8Ball’s Lost (1998)

Wait, that album cover’s not crazy enough… hold on…

There we go.

Deeper than Encyclopedia Brittanica…

In 2006, XXL ran an online piece on the 90s label Suave House. Black Ice, the writer of the article, states that “starting completely independent in 1993 and then getting national distribution through Relativity Records and eventually Universal, Suave opened the floodgates in the mid-90s for Southern imprints to secure support from major labels,” and that the artists on the label lived in an actual house together.

Presumably this group included 8Ball & MJG, Memphis hip-hop legends who released their first four albums on Suave House, years before becoming immortalized on Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly”. Though they work best as a duo, I’ve recently found a lot to enjoy on 8Ball’s solo debut Lost. A double-album (technically a triple-album if you include the Suave House sampler bonus disc, which is not streaming) largely forgotten in the 90s rap canon, it is remarkably consistent in style and quality, with great guest features and an even better solo performance. In this way it reminds me of E-40’s The Element of Surprise, one of my favorite double-albums ever.

40 Water is present here, along with Goodie Mob, Busta Rhymes, and of course MJG. But Ball shines brightest. On single “My Homeboy’s Girlfriend”, he spins a tale that is both hilarious and tragic, and sings the hook. His storytelling is in full effect on this track and “Time”, a dramatic reminiscence on a friendship gone sour. There are straight-up bangers too, like the MJG-featuring “Let’s Ride” and the penultimate “Gett Bucked” (classic Memphis phrase right there). My favorite guest spot comes from Redman, who in the late 90s was just scorching every feature (see also: The Luniz “Hypnotize”).

This is one of those albums that is so long you really can’t mention every track. The production is all in-house and somewhat dated, and there is some filler here and there. But it’s worth a look, especially if you’ve checked out 8Ball and MJG’s high-water mark On Top of the World and want more.

Listen to Lost here.

Album of the Week: 2Pac’s 2Pacalypse Now (1991)

I’d like to dedicate this post to De La Soul’s Dave, AKA Trugoy, who passed away recently. On 2Pac’s 1995 track “Old School”, Pac reminisces on the incomparable times and artists who shaped him, and De La are namedropped in the first verse. I think that begins to illustrate how important and influential De La are, and Dave was a core part of that.

Rewind to 1991: Despite the goofy title, 2Pacalypse Now is a remarkably mature and political debut album from a 19-turning-on-20 year old soon-to-be-superstar, one that laid the groundwork for music like Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

As exemplified in Kendrick’s “Mortal Man”, 2Pac was incredibly prescient. His first single, “Trapped”, is a 5-minute story of racial profiling. Although it lacks some of the more profoundly emotional delivery of his later work, “Trapped” is a strong and unified lyrical display. It serves as not only a strong start to Pac’s rap career but a signpost of what may be his most overtly political full-length. You can hear the roots of Kendrick’s style on “Words of Wisdom”: it’s a jazzy interlude which finds Pac rewriting the etymology of the n-word and fast-paced rapping about America’s racial suppression.

During these nascent stages of Pac’s rap career, he was in the Bay area recording this album in Richmond. As he would go on to rap on the title track of his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., “I’m comin’ out of O-Town, bitch, fuck around”. That album would find Tupac at his most aggressive, whereas 2Pacalypse is more relaxed in production and delivery. “Soulja’s Story” employs the same smoky Isaac Hayes sample (“No Name Bar”) as Tommy Wright and DJ Paul would (separately) employ later for some defining Memphis atmosphere.

“I Don’t Give a Fuck” finds Pac with couplets that set 2Pacalypse firmly in the early 90s, rap’s Golden Age: “And now they tryna send me to Kuwait? / Give me a break… Who’s that behind the trigger? / A motherfuckin’ 90s ni**a.” It’s a blueprint for the young Shakur, one that he would re-shape and transcend until his death.

“Brenda’s Got a Baby” is probably the most popular song from 2Pacalypse, but in its intensely melodramatic presentation is also one of the most dated. Still, it’s a classic storytelling rap in the conscious style. This one and the Stevie Wonder quoting “Part Time Mutha”, with its strange placement as an album closer, are probably the only 2 tracks here I would skip.

For the amount of music he recorded and the impact he has on pop culture, it’s still mind-boggling how short 2Pac’s career was. Killed in 1996 less than 3 months after his 25th birthday, Pac had spent nearly all of 1995 in prison, a superstar missing in action. Listening to 2Pacalypse today is like watching a fuse get lit. It’s a reminder that even in the beginning, 2Pac was something special.

Listen to 2Pacalypse Now here.

Album of the Week: Az Yet’s s/t (1996)

Wtf happened last night? Oh, that’s right… Az Yet were making love… to you.

Even though most of the disembodied faces on the album cover look like they just dropped their phone in a sewer grate, Az Yet deliver the goods on their self-titled debut. Some people really can’t stomach the kind of intensely saccharine R&B heard on the opener “Last Night”, and I get that. But Babyface wrote or co-wrote 7/12 of these songs (I should also mention Keith Andes is credited on 5 of those), and he was no slouch in the 90s! While “Last Night” is not my favorite track on the album, it has the winning Babyface touch and reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Elsewhere, Babyface’s “Care For Me” glides with the same slow-jam arranging that carried tracks like “Red Light Special” and “Rock Wit’cha”. Singer Marc Nelson (the Chris Paul-looking dude on the cover) had previously been in Boyz II Men, which comes through on the almost acapella “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, which was written by and features Chicago’s Peter Cetera (what?). “Secrets” is another standout jam, courtesy of the legend Jon B. “Sadder Than Blue” takes the vibe into more jazzy hip-hop territory to good results.

I’m not really sure what happened to Az Yet, they seem to have gone fairly quiet after this album and then resurfaced 10 and 20 years later with follow-ups. I wouldn’t recommend it to Babyface n00bs as the place to start, but Az Yet is yet another winner on his CV.

Listen to Az Yet here.

Album of the Week: Linda McCartney’s Wide Prairie (1998)

Did you know that Linda McCartney recorded at Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark Studio in Jamaica? This unexpected tidbit led me to Wide Prairie, a posthumous compilation album and in a sense the only solo album from the late Linda. The Black Ark tracks, covers of “Mister Sandman” and “Sugartime”, are nothing mindblowing. However, they help Wide Prairie paint a picture of Linda as a versatile and fun-loving artist.

One thing I like about Paul McCartney’s 70s material is that a lot of it sounds like he was just hanging out and getting stoned (which I’m pretty sure is what The Beatles did too): see McCartney II and its bizarre single “Temporary Secretary”. Wide Prairie, with half of its 16 tracks culled from various 70s sessions and Paul’s voice scattered throughout, feels the same way. The title-track is half cinematic atmosphere, half honky-tonk. Standout “Seaside Woman” is a groovy reggae hit, and its cheeky counterpart “B-Side to Seaside” is included here as well. “Oriental Nightfish” has a classic soundtrack vibe with Linda’s strange narration on top.

As far as the post-70s material, it’s a mixed-bag, but “Love’s Full Glory” and “Endless Days” are both pretty little ballads. “Cow” is a weird drum-machine tune that sounds like a half-computerized lullaby with a wicked guitar solo – an awesome song. There are some stinkers here (I’m looking at “Poison Ivy” and “Appaloosa”), which might explain NME’s 2/10 rating back in 1998. Yes, Wide Prairie is an odds-n-ends affair, but it’s got hidden gems and is recommended for any McCartney fan.

Listen to Wide Prairie here.

Album of the Week: Soulja Slim’s Give It 2 ‘Em Raw (1998)

Crushed out tank on my neck / protect my chest like a vest / No more coke, no more dope / just alcohol and sess

I wish I could find a huge high-res version of this album cover because it’s just that good. White Flame is my favorite Lil B mixtape, and that cover is a take on this one. It’s just one example of the late Soulja Slim’s wide influence in hip-hop. Known as a teen for rocking block parties in New Orleans’ oft-namedropped Magnolia Projects (his home), he was signed to Master P’s No Limit label where he recorded Give It 2 ‘Em Raw at 20 years old.

A young man, it seems Soulja Slim had seen enough for 2 lifetimes (hence “You Ain’t Never Seen”), which could be the reason he has so much to say. Over 20 tracks, Slim raps like he’ll never be able to get everything off his chest. He repeatedly references a past life of snorting dope and the reality of doing time in jail. According to, he “was serving in prison on a probation violation in 1998 when… Give it 2 ‘Em Raw fell just short of selling the 500,000 copies needed for coveted gold-record status.” However, his debut seemed to lead him in a positive direction. Having sworn off hard drugs, Slim focused on music and continued to record up until his murder in 2003.

“From What I Was Told” busts this album open with a vocal energy that just keeps going and going. The explosion sound effects compliment Beats by the Pound’s cartoonish digital production. No Limit is really in full effect here. You have Percy on 5 tracks, 2 Mia X duets (of which “Anything” is superior), C-Murder, Silkk the Shocker, Mr. Serv-On, the then-No Limit artist Snoop Dogg(!), and an uncredited appearance from Mystikal on the standout “Get High With Me”. Another favorite of mine is “Getting Real” with Fiend, whose energy puts him among the best of No Limit’s best (and he’s still rapping 25 years later, god bless him).

If you can get with the somewhat dated production, it’s not hard to appreciate Soulja Slim’s gift. You can hear his influence on the GOAT Weezy, especially on a track like “Takin’ Hits” – early Lil Wayne sounds a lot like this.

“He would have you laughin’ all day, he would say somethin’ out of the blue to make you laugh.” -5th Ward Weebie

Listen to Give It 2 ‘Em Raw here.

Album of the Week: LaFace’s Boomerang Soundtrack (1992)

This is an album with Eddie Murphy on the cover. And that’s okay.

I wrote a couple months ago about Babyface’s Tender Lover, and how I adore Face and his music. As half of LaFace, he produced TLC, Toni Braxton and others. Babyface would later write and produce the classic Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, but I believe Boomerang was his first compilation album. I haven’t seen Boomerang the movie, which is a romantic comedy directed by Reginald Hudlin (who wrote and directed Kid N Play’s House Party) starring Eddie Murphy as a Casanova who may have finally met his match! But don’t quote me on that, like I said I haven’t seen it.

7 of the 12 songs on this soundtrack album were written and/or produced by Babyface. These include the smash opener “Give U My Heart”, a Toni Braxton duet with an amazingly 90s music video, Johnny Gill’s silky-smooth “There U Go” (oh!), and “End of the Road” – perhaps Babyface’s biggest hit of all-time. “End of the Road” is a weird one: melodically, it’s cripplingly beautiful. Even a YouTube piano tutorial of this song is enough to make me glassy-eyed. Depending on your tolerance for the saccharine you may or may not be able to endure its minor-key mushiness. But the reason I say it’s weird is because of the lyrics. The guys in Boyz II Men are essentially refusing to accept the ending of a relationship, and there is a spoken section that gets uncomfortably clingy. Let’s not bring that toxic energy into 2022, kings!

I also really like “Reversal of a Dog” by LaFace Cartel, which is essentially a pseudonym for Babyface and TLC. Left Eye does her thing, it’s a banger! Outside of the Babyface tracks, we have a great Aaron Hall and Charlie Wilson collab (shoutout Gap Band!), a P.M. Dawn ballad, a slinky Grace Jones track, a breezy a capella from one Kenny Vaughan, and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Hot Sex”. This track, which also appears on Tribe’s The Anthology compilation (but none of their albums proper) is perhaps most notable for Q-Tip’s “Where ya at!” line – one that’s been sampled many times. It’s not one of Tribe’s greatest songs, but I like the Phife verse a lot.

Excellent album right here. I wonder if Eddie Murphy listens to it. I know if my face were on the cover of a Babyface record it would be my most cherished possession.

Listen to Boomerang here.

Album of the Week: R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People (1992)

In high school I had a tape deck in my car and was looking for tapes to play. So in like 2012 I got this R.E.M. tape at a neighbor’s garage sale for, I dunno, maybe a dollar. I had listened to the album before, and I knew the hits, but it wasn’t until I drove around for a while that it really clicked with me. The deck changed sides automatically (heh), so I never really knew where the album started or ended because I wasn’t paying attention to the track titles on the tape. I thought “Ignoreland” was “It’s Your Land” or “Indoor Man”.

Okay, so this one isn’t exactly an underrated gem. People love R.E.M. They made pop music. I remember talking to a kid in my high school class, and he told me R.E.M. was his favorite band. I mentioned that I really liked “Don’t Go Back to Rockville”, and he told me he didn’t know that song. And this is not to sound holier-than-thou: if you told me you really liked “My Love Paramour” by Cocteau Twins, I’d be like “I don’t know that one”, because I don’t. But you don’t have to be an obsessive music nerd to know R.E.M.

Anyway, this became a really special album to me after all those hours in the car. Every song is great. I haven’t yet heard another R.E.M. album I could say that about. Elizabeth Wurtzel called this album “moody and introspective,” which is about right. “Drive” is like an elegy for rock music, as corny as that sounds. And it is a little bit corny, but it’s beautiful, like the rest of the album.

I want to point out the similarities between “Everybody Hurts” and “Love Hurts”. “Love Hurts” is a tender ballad originally written for the Everly Brothers that was also covered by the late Gram Parsons, and is most well-known as a hit by the band Nazareth. “Everybody Hurts” is the fourth track on Automatic, and it’s also a tender ballad. Talk about corny and beautiful. It’s been used in suicide hotline ads and animated kids movies. Like “Love Hurts”, I can’t really imagine playing this song seriously around other people. It’s one to put on when you’re alone and stare at the wall thinking about life.

“Star Me Kitten” is one of my favorite tracks here. It’s so relaxing. The organ creates a church-like atmosphere, despite the suggestive lyrics. It’s like a lullaby. Amazing. “Nightswimming” is a classic. You’ll be like, damn, this 32 year old bald guy really had me crying. It unlocks something. I want to live in this song.

The melodica melody on “Find the River” will stick in your head for days after the album ends. It reverberates. I like this quality in an album’s final track, where it sounds like it could be a beginning. And to me it is, because I used to just play this album over and over again. I love this album.

Listen to Automatic for the People here.

Album of the Week: 187 Fac’s Fac Not Fiction (1997)

Sometimes an album cover just pulls you in, y’know? When I saw Fac Not Fiction it was like, no question, I have to hear this. Not only are these guys lounging in their own personal hot tubs, but the tubs are in the San Francisco Bay. Amazing! I like the little sailboat in the background, too, good detail.

Enter 187 Fac. A weird name for sure, and it’s no great wonder this duo didn’t take off. But if you’re a fan of 90s Bay Area rap, you’ll find some gems here. As you can see from the cover they were tight with Spice-1, who executive produced. Ant Banks, who frequently worked with Spice and Too $hort, takes the wheel on production here, and the results are excellent.

Opener “Tha Frontline” sets the tone right, with a nice balance of ominous and chill. DJ Screw did justice to “Peer Pressure” on one of his tapes, and the original is great. One thing I like about 187 Fac is their quick flows, and over the g-funk instrumentals the combination is super smooth. They also like to say “facadelic”.

Would it be a Bay Area 90s rap album without a feature from someone in E-40’s Click? Of course not, and that’s why B-Legit shows up on “All Head No Body”. Unfortunately this is a weak track, just some ugly sex raps (this is one of the worst trends in west-coast hip-hop). “Graphic”, though, with what is as far as I can tell the only 187 Fac video, is a slapper. The bass lines are fat, and the mid-tempo bump suggests a lowrider with hydraulics.

“2 Geez”, the single, is a concept song about what the rapper’s personal lives might look like at the turn of the millenium. The guest (I believe it’s the brilliantly named Almon D) wonders if he will be “living like a Flinstone or a Jetson” in the year 2000. He fantasizes starring in a sitcom, “some shit that’ll make your mother laugh,” and owning a hovercraft. Excellent 3-year plan.

The closer “Paul Masson” is a redux of the Beasties’ “Paul Revere”, and we didn’t really need another “Paul Revere”, did we? This and the aforementioned “All Head No Body” are the only obvious skips to me. That means a solid, groovy Bay Area rap album. Since it’s a rarity, finding a physical copy can be expensive – Google the album and you will find copies offered for well over $100! In the year 2Geez, 187 Fac changed their name to DenGee and released one more album, DenGee Livin’. Rapper G-Nut passed away in 2018.

Fac Not Fiction is not streaming as of this write-up.

Album of the Week: This Mortal Coil’s Blood (1991)

If you love the 4AD sound anywhere near as much as I do, then you truly cannot go wrong with This Mortal Coil. Essentially the label’s in-house cover band, TMC formed in 1983 under the aegis of label president Ivo Watts-Russell (the namesake of Cocteau Twins’ classic “Ivo”).

One of their first songs as This Mortal Coil (and still their most popular) was the Cocteau’s (or 2/3, Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie) take on Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren”. Its popularity is really a no-brainer – a straight-up gorgeous track with one of the inimitable Fraser’s all-time vocal performances, “Siren” was used to great effect in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. He intended to use it even earlier for Blue Velvet, but that proved too expensive.

Although TMC’s “Siren”-containing debut It’ll All End in Tears is their go-to classic, this week I’ll be focusing on their last record, 1991’s double-album Blood, which is nothing to sneeze at. No Cocteau kids to be found here, but there’s no lack of talent: This Vulture article likened TMC to “a dream-pop version of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group”. Amazing.

The late Caroline Crawley of Shelleyan Orphan starts things off, breezing through the TMC original “Lacemaker” and owning it on their version of The Apartments’ “Mr. Somewhere”. If you’re going to check out one track from Blood, though, make it “You and Your Sister”. Holy shit this song is good! Written by Chris Bell of Big Star for his excellent solo album I Am the Cosmos (the title-track is also covered on Blood), it is masterfully interpreted by The Breeders’ Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly. With its heart-on-sleeve directness and honey-sweet vocals, this one even eclipses the great original version, and rivals “Song to the Siren” as the best TMC track.

Elsewhere, “Bitter” is a whirlwind mix of guitar solos, Colourbox-like sampling and lush vocals. “Several Times”, a standout from the lost ambient classic Sleeps With the Fishes, is included here with vocals and lyrics, a welcome update to a key 4AD instrumental. Oh, and back to that Colourbox-like sampling I just mentioned. It is very dated and not very good, which is why nobody knows about Colourbox. Take “The Lacemaker II”: why are there samples of a barking dog in it? And “Ruddy & Wretched” is about as good as its title implies. Safe to say the best TMC songs are rarely instrumentals.

On the whole though, the production stands the test of time. I’ve mentioned before (probably too many times) how I love drum-less music, and most of Blood is like this: straight atmosphere. “Late Night” is a Syd Barrett song suspended in air. “Inside me I feel / Alone and unreal”. No doubt. The country classic “Til’ I Gain Control Again” is a deep-cut tearjerker, helping to round out the back half.

Like most-double albums, Blood might be better if you pared it down to its best songs. But If you’re in no hurry, it’s one to get lost in.

Listen to Blood here.

Album of the Week: Love Spirals Downwards’ Idylls (1992)

It’s no big secret that Cocteau Twins are my favorite band, and this has been the case since high school. They have had their share of imitators, contemporaries and comrades over the years, but one album that really struck me in my initial obsessive Cocteau phase was Idylls. The comparisons are too easy: the phaser guitar, the female glossolalia, the drum machines. I’d venture to say it’s less varied than even the simplest Cocteau efforts, and that I think helped me sink into it back then.

Like many teens I smoked a lot of pot and that is the prime association here. I think more than any Cocteau album I paired Idylls with the hazy balm of weed smoke in an effort to, at least temporarily, rise above the bullshit that hounded my 17-year-old existence. And it worked. This is truly one to spark up and bliss out to.

Listening to it today, sober, it’s still outstanding to me. Give me some conga drums, early 90s atmosphere and a woman singing “sayyylaalooohah soooheyyyaahh”. Hell yeah. I imagine a lot of people find it boring. It certainly lacks the melodrama of say, Dead Can Dance, or the emotional heft of The Cure, not to mention the best melodies of Cocteau Twins. I would also call it front-loaded, with “Illusory Me” and “Love’s Labor Lost” as the key standouts – although the closer “And the Wood Comes Into Leaf” is tight too! Those Cocteaus always had killer closing tracks, just to bring up another parallel.

I never made it far past this one (their debut) in the LSD (heh) discography. I remember buying Flux (1998) on CD years ago but not being very moved. It had some electronic influences that in my mind connect with Slowdive’s Pygmalion – a great record! So perhaps it’s worth revisiting. The guy (Ryan Lum) is now a politician in Long Beach, or has at least attempted such a career. He still makes music as Lovespirals. The LSD discog wasn’t streaming for years, but now you can check it out in all its remastered glory. For a fan of shoegaze, dream-pop, and/or especially Cocteau Twins, Idylls is an album worth getting lost in.

Listen to Idylls on Spotify.