A Grossly Underrated Masterpiece - 5 STARS
, March 7, 2008
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If you're reading this, you are undoubtedly familiar with the legacy that Pete Rock & CL Smooth created throughout the early 90s. Personally, they created my favorite hip-hop album of all time with "Mecca & The Soul Brother". With that said, big time fans may be a bit discouraged by this LP. After all, aside from a few guest appearances, CL hasn't been the most active rapper since 1994. Also, some fans will simply dismiss this album because Pete Rock isn't in his corner.
Contrary to popular belief, Pete Rock was not the sole reason for the duo's cult-like following or popularity. And the more I listen to this LP, the more I think CL Smooth is the man that held them so tightly together. One point that nobody can argue is that CL Smooth is spitting ill rhymes and flows as if he's been recording an album every year since 1994. The amazing part is how good he sounds over these beats. This is where the controversy comes into play. Many fans will ignore this joint simply because Pete Rock isn't behind the boards (actually, he does stop by once).
The production credits are extensive: Mike Loe, Rsonist (Heatmakerz), Kaygee & Tramp, Squarta, DonJoe & Del, and Pete Rock. I'm not sure how long it took them to record this album, but CL Smooth is just fitting right in as if he's been working with them for years. The chemistry is boiling on par with the Pete Rock days. And to be honest, Pete Rock's beat is outshined a number of time by these relatively unknown producers. The mix never feels cluttered or overproduced, and sounds just as cohesive as a Pete Rock platter of beats - I know, hard to believe, right? That's the same conclusion I keep coming back around to after several listens.
The extraordinary introduction prepares you for CL's assault of outstanding talent. The title track rolls in with a fly guitar lick, a track masterminded by Rsonist. And CL Smooth is flowing over it like butter. CL's lyrics are a bit more political than usual, bringing up a few more topics that relate to the struggle of urban decay. But overall, his stance is similar to the old days - strong rhymes, solid flow & conscious lyrics. Mike Loe drops the addictive soundscape on "I Can't Help It". CL's flows match this production beautifully. Sounds like a hit to me. "Call On Me" boasts a seductive chorus from female vocalist Nazz. CL comes through with a set of warm soothing lyrics. A beautiful tune. "CL Smooth Unplugged" may be my favorite joint here. Squarta drops a loop similar to Air's "Moon Safari" production. Ultra hot chemistry here. Rsonist drops another dope beat on "Warm Outside", and CL, once again eases into it and enhances the feel. At this point in the mix, I'm thinking - is there any beat CL can't flow over? "Gorilla Pimpin" sounds nice, thanks to Kaygee & Tramp's dope hook. "The Impossible" boasts a little dirtier guitar riff that CL, as usual, works well with. "It's A Love Thing" is the lone track produced by Pete Rock, which will obviously be a fan favorite. As usual, Pete makes a beautiful and full soundscape (with soothing vocals by Denosh), that works perfectly with CL. It's on par with the best joints on the album, but honestly, there's better in my opinion. "Smoke In The Air" is another quality with memorable production. Rsonist (my favorite at this point) drops another banger on "The Stroll" to get the blood pumping just before the "Outro". We are treated with 2 more tracks at the end - "All We Ever Know" & "Heaven Is Watching You". Not bonus track per se, and they heighten the quality of the album nicely.
Regardless of what old school hip-hop heads will tell you, this albums deserves a healthy push as one of CL Smooth's crowning achievements. It's by far his most ambitious work to date, and how it gets labeled as anything but a classic (or perhaps near classic) is truly beyond me.