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: Black Rob’s Life Story (2000)

I didn’t know much about Black Rob before he passed in 2021, except his song “Can I Live” with The LOX, which has a beautiful beat and finds Styles P fantasizing about “hang-glid[ing] to the Alps with a fly chick”. One of Bad Boy’s most promising artists after Biggie’s passing, Rob was featured on Motown’s “I Want You Back ’98”, a Jackson 5 remix that dropped, strangely, not 30 but 29 years after the original. Why this track was made, I’m not sure, but rapping on a track with (the then-living) Michael Jackson must have been a promising early-career move for Rob.

What followed in 1999 was the recording of Rob’s debut Life Story, including the smash lead single “Whoa!”, which has largely held up well (other than the f-slur). The Buckwild beat is bonkers, and Black Rob sells the single title as a catchall response to anything remarkable. Also worth pointing out is the 8-minute remix with Rah Digga, Beanie Sigel and more. Whoa.

But Life Story is a surprisingly solid front-to-back album. The title track is captivating as a wistful growing-up-in-the-ghetto song (“living in this tenement, eating stale Entenmann’s”). Rob’s character is quickly established: a hard-nosed jailbird who perseveres through life struggles by rapping. Somewhat unexpectedly, CeeLo Green appears as the album’s first rap feature on “Lookin’ at Us”, and he kills it. Sometimes I forgot how good at rapping CeeLo is. Then we have a Bad Boy posse cut with Diddy, Mase and G-Dep on “Down the Line Joint”.

Later on, “B.R.” is some expert noir-rap with gritty rhymes and the beat to match. “Thug Story” is a Slick Rick callback, and “Jasmine” is steel-drum infected storytelling rap. “I Love You Baby” originally appeared on the Puff & The Family album No Way Out (1997), which went 7x Platinum. Things wrap up with some pep on “I Dare You” (that’s after the J-Lo feature). I really like this album. It’s packed to the gills but there is nary a garbage track to be found. God bless Black Rob.

Listen to Life Story here.

Album of the Week: Domo Genesis & Evidence’s Intros, Outros and Interludes (2022)

This release from two LA-to-the-core hip-hop artists is an overlooked joint project. It’s a merging of two different generations: The 31-year-old Domo Genesis cut his teeth as a member of Tumblr-era phenoms Odd Future, and the 46-year-old Evidence co-founded the group Dilated Peoples in the 90s. What the two have in common is a laidback, uncomplicated approach to rap music. While this trait may have kept both artists from achieving the mainstream success achieved by some of their peers, it rewards listeners as they age with confidence and consistency in their respective outputs.

Evidence and Domo first collaborated on 2017’s “Deez Nuts”, a Domo track produced by Evidence. A year later, Ev rapped on Domo’s “Fuck a Co-Sign”, from his brief yet excellent Arent U Glad Youre U tape. Evidence produced the entirety of last year’s Intros, Outros and Interludes, and his beats are absolutely lush. I find myself playing this album early in the morning as it relaxes me. “Trust the Process” finds Doms riding over a 70s soul sample, his lyrics unadorned observation: “This hash is in my lungs / a bunch of plastic in the ocean”. The sunny “Stay One More Day” sample fades in and out as Evidence proves himself a master beatmaker.

Ev’s one guest verse is smooth: “Drive slow, homie / Like my son is in the car / My summers as a kid in Brooklyn made me to a star”. This is a reference to canon hip-hop (Late Registration), a sly nod to his age, and a reflection on his come-up in one rhyme. Domo follows with “I never had a chance / I lose my life to seek a new one, look we movin’ through the dance”. It’s just two guys ruminating on how they got where they are, but in the context of the album it feels almost like a passing of the torch moment.

The beat on “December Coming” is heavenly, another delicious piece of a brief yet worthy album from two rap devotees. Here’s hoping they team up again.

Listen to Introshere.

Album of the Week: Jeremih’s Late Nights: Europe (2016)

It’s been a little while since Jeremih dropped a project. Despite some smash hits throughout the last 13 years or so, his last album was Late Nights in 2015. While that album was critically and commercially successful, I feel that its mixtape follow-up Late Nights: Europe is under-appreciated. Recorded largely on the road during a European tour, Late Nights: Europe feels like an off-the-cuff project that shows just how fire Jeremih was coming off the success of Late Nights.

Talking to Billboard in 2016, Jeremih said “in Europe… I brought my homie Soundz out with me. I was trying out new treatments while performing. After a lot of the shows, we’d set up small little booths in the hotel room, which I had never done before. Over the last week and a half or two weeks, we came up with a body of work, like 20 songs.”

“Amsterdam” was always my favorite song here. It’s one of 10 songs here produced by Soundz, who made Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo” (amongst other things), and the bass-heavy track provides ample room for Jeremih to breathe. It’s also a track that sticks closely to the theme, with references to the red light district and smoking weed (sounds like Jeremih had a good time in Amsterdam). indicates that Jeremih played a show in Beirut on July 9, 2016. Whether or not he played “Lebanon” there, it sounds like he had a good-ass time there too, as it’s one of the most fun and explicit tracks on the tape. “Belgium” features Chicago’s trademark juke production. “Paris” is a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, who appeared on the Late Nights album and would eventually make a full-length project with Jeremih (2018’s excellent MihTy). I really like that a song called “Oslo, Norway (feat. The Game)” by Jeremih even exists (and it’s good, too!) Things round out back in Jeremih’s hometown with “The Crib”, a tribute to Chicago, appropriately featuring G Herbo.

Some of my favorite YouTube comments on the Late Nights: Europe songs:

“I be listening to this while travelling Europe wit the love of my life” (“Czech Republic”)

“This tune is real UK underground… dance done… real road underground… dance hall business. it was prevalent in the 90’s Loose Ends, Cool Notes, Janet Kay, Matumbii etc there is a lot to name so I am most certainly not excluding the great artists of that period of UK Lovers Rock, so it’s nice to see that it’s reformatted for the 2000’s similar to what Vybes Kartel has done with Dance Hall basheee…. and Popcaan. The tune is tappa tappa.” (“London”)

“Ayyye” (“Amsterdam”)

“I know my ex playing this with some one else 😂😂😂😂” (“British Headboards”)

Listen to Late Nights: Europe here.

Album of the Week: Future & Zaytoven’s Beastmode 2 (2018)

Can I call this the last great Future project? I’m not mad at him for making 22-track albums that rehash the same territory he’s been in for years – his output from Pluto (2012) to 56 Nights (2015) is still unfuckwithable, and he’s earned the fandom that allows him to operate on cruise control.

But Beastmode 2 stands out among the mixed bag of Future projects over the last 5 years. Like the first Beast Mode (2015), Zaytoven – truly the Beethoven of trap-rap production – handles all the beats here, and the chemistry is palpable. Beastmode 2 is lean at 9 tracks, and holds up well in the era of bloated Deluxe editions.

I appreciate that Future, who had scored a massive hit in 2017 with “Mask Off”, included his OG Young Scooter as the only guest on this tape. “Doh Doh” bangs, and it helps Beastmode 2 feel more like a classic early 2010s ATL tape than post-peak Future.

Introspective Future is good Future: see “When I Think About It” (“I’m droppin’ outta school but that didn’t stop my education”). This is the first of three superb songs that close out the project. “Some More” finds Fewtch gliding over an icy, beautiful beat. And “Hate the Real Me” finds Future at his most compelling. Like “Codeine Crazy” and “Throw Away” he is reckless, remorseful, self-sabotaging, all over the most thrilling production on the project. It’s a peak that puts a bow on an outstanding tape with a lot of replay value. As Future himself puts it – the music special… it’s a part of us.

Listen to Beastmode 2 here.

Album of the Week: Slum Village’s Trinity (Past, Present and Future) (2002)

It can be easy to get stuck on Slum Village’s label debut Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000), one of the finest hip-hop albums of any era. With J Dilla at the helm, it bumps and grooves on a level that is strictly more beautiful than other records. It’s not hard to see why Dilla has attained a legendary status, but his absence from Fantastic follow-ups (he left the group to focus on a solo career several years before his death in 2006) leaves them relatively underrated.

Trinity is a great example of this. Take it on its own terms and it’s a very rewarding project. Despite a lack of Dilla’s production (only 3 tracks out of 23), the sound of Slum Village very much remains, in no small part due to the presence of founding member T3 on the boards as well as Detroit producers of the same ilk like Waajeed and Black Milk. Baatin’s trademark voice (similar to Q-Tip’s) carries along from the first album, and a young Elzhi (!) joins as a welcome addition to the crew.

“Tainted”, produced by Roots-affiliate Karriem Riggins and featuring Dwele, is an early highlight with one of the few classic SV videos. Elzhi sounds energized all over the project, with his verse on “La La” standing out as a particular scorcher. “One” has one of the wackiest Dilla beats I know of, with a twinkly piano sample and a punching drum. “Slumber” bangs with a beat courtesy of Hi-Tek.

At nearly 70 minutes, Trinity could have done with some trimming. I mean, there are 2 intros on this thing. Still, for fans of Fantastic and hip-hop in general, Trinity has a lot to give.

Listen to Trinity here.

Album of the Week: Allblack’s No Shame 3 (2020)

First off, I want to give a shoutout to DJ Fresh. For 15 years he’s been making killer beats for artists in the Bay Area and elsewhere. His Tonite Show series of full length collaborations with various rappers never fails to impress me. He only produced 2 tracks on No Shame 3 (“All My Children” and “S.H.E.”), but they both stand out.

I first heard Allblack on Nef the Pharaoh and 03 Greedo’s “Ball Out” (2018). That one’s a slapper, opening with an Allblack verse over a beat from DTB, who produced almost half of No Shame 3. Allblack is from Oakland, but he has a fast, punchline-filled approach that would fit well with the contemporary Detroit sound. Indeed, Detroit’s Helluva has 2 beats on here including the title track.

The vibe throughout No Shame 3 is fun, an impressive display of lyrical energy with distinctive Oakland swagger in both beats and rhymes. The aforementioned DTB pumps bass into tracks like “Pizza Rolls”, with its hilarious depiction of drug-induced paranoia (“I watched Silence of the Lambs and had a bad dream / I stopped smokin cause I caught my potna lacin weed”). Overall, I’d call it one of the more under-appreciated rap full-lengths of the last couple years.

Stream No Shame 3 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: NoCap’s Steel Human (2020)

In the streaming version, the eagle has a chain, too.

NoCap! If you’re unfamiliar, the name might be too ridiculous for you to commit to the music. But I implore you, if you’ve never heard “Ghetto Angels”, listen to it. The song is an incredible ode to the artist’s fallen friends, expressing a vulnerability (“I end up cryin’ on my best days”) that is often missing in hip-hop, over an appropriately heavenly beat.

It’s hard to say “Ghetto Angels”, from The Backend Child (2019) isn’t the young rapper’s best song, but lately I’ve been stuck on Steel Human, which as it stands is the most recent project from the 23-year old artist. Like a lot of newer rappers, Cap does the rap-singing thing. He stands out for a couple reasons: for one, he has a great voice and ear for melody. And lyrically, he has a unique and clever approach. The song that really sold me on NoCap (besides “Ghetto Angels”) was Lil Baby’s “Dreams 2 Reality” from 2018. Produced by frequent collaborator and fellow Alabama native Al’Geno, it features the NoCap line, “I’m on top of all these n****s, I can see when all these angels piss.” It’s such a weird way of bragging that it stuck with me.

Steel Human contains similarly confounding gems. “If I leave the game, will my Xbox love me?” “I’m a drunk boxer / I pour lean in my Hawaiian Punch”. “Playground love / I let her slide and she got mood swings”. The more you listen to NoCap, the more wordplay you uncover. As far as younger rappers with a pop/melodic sensibility, NoCap is one of the best. Also, all the features here are great. Here’s hoping for more from NoCap.

Listen to Steel Human here.