Friday, March 22, 2013

Rodney, Joe and Pookie

Here's an underrated little effort from the west coast: the debut (and only) single by Tha Hitmen, off their debut (and only) album, Here Come tha Hitmen. This one's from 1994 on Psychotic Records, and it's a really an undercover Rodney O & Joe Cooley project. The group had a nice run of hit records on rotating record labels (Egyptian Empire, Atlantic, Nastymix); but ultimately they kinda drifted down to smaller, more indie material. General Jeff left the group, and they went on to release their openly bitter F--k New York record. And I guess at time it was decided that was about it for Rodney O & Joe Cooley, and if they were going to stay in the game, changes needed to be made. So they added a new guy to the roster, amusingly named Pookie Duke, and called themselves tha Hitmen. Afterwards, they parted ways with Pookie and went back to releasing obscure, indie projects as Rodney O & Joe Cooley (and Rodney also threw a solo album in there). But for one brief moment, they were tha Hitmen.

The changes were really, mostly superficial. Yeah, they had a new name and a new member; but apart from having a different voice on most of the tracks, their album sounded just like the Rodney O & Joe Cooley albums they released before and after this one. It's still all produced by Joe Cooley, using the same classic west coast styles, and the guys had the same deliveries. Pookie Duke comes off gruffer than General Jeff, but he's not exactly Ganksta NIP; and he basically fills the exact same role the General did. But that's just fine, because Rodney O & Joe Cooley albums are always good times.

The hook is interesting, because it's the guys doing an acapella rendition of Zapp's "Playin' Kinda Ruff." Yes, that means the music stops every time they come to the chorus. It mostly works, although they do lose a little momentum each time it happens. Most of the rest of the track is a heavy-handed use of another Zapp record with the misspelled word "ruff" in the title, "So Ruff, So Ruff." It's an upbeat track (it's even got some vocoder in the loop), with the guys spitting energetic fast verses over it; but the lyrics are surprisingly dark: "if you're sellin' dope you better have a master plan; watch your back because they're straight kidnappin'. Catch a fool layin' up in his [??], booty naked, shove a gun in that mouth, son; beat 'im down, peel his cap and then take the dope. They got the goods now they bailin' out the back do'. Pop goes the glock on the next block; I hear sirens so that means somebody got shot. Or could it be the gang bangers bustin' at the cops? I don't know 'cause they have the street blocked off."

Then the B-side is a Joe Cooley solo track, simply titled "J.O.E.," with Joe on the mic, behind the boards, and... not on the tables? Yeah, that's the only disappointing thing about both songs on this 12", none of Joe Cooley's world champion cuts. Joe's MCing is nothing to get excited about, but he's able to keep a song afloat, at least. And fortunately, the instrumental is excellent: a shifting, dark yet funky track, alternating between sample sets from a soulful Al Green track (the back cover credits the sample, but says it's "Love and Happiness," when really it's "Here I Am," the same loop The UMC's borrowed for "Any Way the Wind Blows"), and the most gangsta-sounding breakdown of The Ohio Players' "Funky Worm." Again, it's surprisingly hard for these guys, with Joe cursing up a storm, and it's even got a 90's shout chorus. The somewhat ironic highlight is when he (over)shares with us that he calls his penis, "Russell the Love Muscle."

So, it's just the two songs (both from the album), plus their instrumentals. "Sho Gettin' Ruff" is labeled as being a Radio version; but I don't think it's any different than what's on the album - I think they're just letting you know it's radio friendly because there never were any curses on that track.

This one isn't going to be anybody's favorite record; but it's really a nice single with refreshingly high replay value. It'll probably be even more appreciated now that they don't make hip-hop like this anymore; but even at the time, this was quite enjoyable if you were one of the few who were up on this. I wonder whatever happened to Pookie Duke.

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