Monday, June 20, 2011

Recognize & Realize

In 1995, Bay area legend JT the Bigga Figga was starting to take off nationwide. He'd been putting out albums for a couple years, but by 1995 his album featured by stars like E-40 and Master P when they were at the pinnacles of their careers. Dwellin' In the Labb was the first JT album I picked up, and that was 1995, too. And '95 was the year he put out his first Get Low Playaz album, where he spotlighted whoever he was working with at the time on his label, Get Low Recordz. Really, the distinction between a JT album and a GLP album was pretty thin, since they were both largely compilation albums featuring different MCs over his production interspersed with multiple JT solo tracks.

Anyway, it was the final song on this GLP album (Straight Out the Labb) that featured the debut of one Black Nate, with his song "Recognize Me." That appearance was quickly followed up by Nate putting out his first EP, Recognize Me, on his own label, 4 tha Geez Records. I say EP, but it's sort of borderline... It's 9 songs, but one is a 20-second skit, and most of the songs are on the short side. So, maybe it's more of an LP, but it's a very concise listen either way.

My version's the cassette, but there are also vinyl and CD copies floating around out there.

The original "Recognize Me" isn't on here - that's exclusive to Straight Out the Labb. This E/LP features a new remix, not produced by JT this time around, but by Les G, who's done a lot of work with Bay-area artists over the years. Here, he speeds up the vocals just a smidgen and makes the whole thing a lot more high-energy.

Les handles pretty all of the production duty, and has gone on to work with Nate on future projects, too. Reggie Smith, another CA producer who stays working, and JT also get in a track each, however. The production is pretty much that Dre-inspired, studio-created, sample free sound you'd expect from a project like this. I mean, there are samples: "So Much Drama" samples a signature line from Marvin Gaye, for example; and "What Would You Do If You Had Mail"[featuring D-Moe tha Youngsta, fresh off his tough debut, Do You Feel Me?] uses a classic, filtered bassline that sounds great in the intro, but then is quickly drowned out by synths. "Black Nate Don't Playa Hate" also takes a classic soul sample and then drowns it out in other gangsta rap sounds... that's really the worst song on here; a failed fusion, like an experiment gone wrong; but it's also an anomaly, so I won't harp on it. Ultimately, though, you don't notice many samples and it all sounds like keyboards, slide-whistles and programmed sounds. So if you looked at this cover and immediately thought, "I hate that type of music," you're right - it's exactly that kind of rap music and you probably won't like it.

But if you enjoy the genre, it's a pretty dope example. Imagine a No Limit album, but without all the cheesy "Dear Mama"-sappy songs, crossover attempts, awkward collaborations, and embarrassing appearances by Master P exclaiming "UUGGHH!!" that ruined so many of their projects. Imagine instead what those albums should've been. Black Nate isn't the most attention-grabbing lyricist. He doesn't have a lot of stand-out punch lines or rap terribly fast or anything. Even JT has a much slicker flow. But he manages to do entire albums without saying anything corny and ridiculous, which is a lot more than most rappers seem to be able to say, including the biggest names of today. He just comes real with it, often autobiographical and earnest, no BS. There's a reason he stood out on the GLP album, even without any gimmicks. He's simple and straight-forward, but compelling.

And the production is solid, too. Yeah, it's all in that style I talked about above... but you can do that style poorly or you can do it well, and these guys know how to do it right. Plus the drums are nice and hard. I don't think very many heads could front on "Sticky Green & Vodka," with it's dark, cool vibes, and no hook. Even the staunchest New York purist might say the style doesn't suit them and would pass on buying the album, but they couldn't diss it.

So now you might be surprised to hear that Black Nate is still around. He's been putting out albums completely independently over the years: Debiase, The Natrix, Fully Resurrected, Time To Eat... He's done a few appearances and compilations, and he's pretty active now online: here's his twitter and facebook. He's still putting in work & releasing music, so, like, you know... recognize him.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this one Werner.
    I don´t understand why so many people are so ignorant when it comes to Bay Area Rap music. The Bay has such a rich tradition when it comes to dope MC´s/producers (Underground Rebellion, S.N.O.P., Andre Nickatina, Totally Insane....)that it should deserve more attention from anyone who likes good rap music.