Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A LOUD Misfire

Putting together The Dwellas' second album must've been a very difficult, contentious process. They'd pretty much secured a second album with the sleeper hit "Main Aim" on the Soul In the Hole soundtrack; but then it was a long time for the LP to actually surface. A seriously long time. Soul In the Hole (and the popular white label 12") was 1997. The first single off it came in 1998. The next single was 1999... and still no album. It wasn't until 2000 that the album, The Last Shall Be First, actually dropped.

During that time, there must have been a lot of creative back and forths between the artists, producers and the label. In fact, we know for certain that some changes were made, because this promo version I reviewed of it features an altered track-listing with different songs on it. And I bet there's plenty more songs that were recorded between the two albums still sitting in LOUD Record's vaults.

But what was perhaps most surprising is that even the song selected to be the single didn't actually make the final cut. When have you ever heard of that happening before? But that's what happened. While the B-side, "Stand Up," which was originally the lead single in 1998 (that's right, they released it twice, in '98 and '99), appeared as anticipated, the main track is absent. And that makes this 12" single - which would ordinarily have been just a standard two-tracker of album cuts in a long line of similar 12"s from LOUD Records - a compelling exclusive for Cella Dwellas fans.

I mean, granted, the song didn't make a huge splash. But it wasn't pushed either, so expectations couldn't have been too high, commercially. Considering it's a hardcore, lyric-flexing track with no pop-concept crossover appeal, I suspect this was meant more to make an impression through mix-tape DJs. They'd pick this up and put it on, so heads would get excited about the Dwellas again. You know, considering how long their album had already taken at that point.

So why wasn't it bigger? UG and Phantasm both come nice ("niggas don't get along with us/ niggas scared to get on a song with us/ 'cause niggas' lyrics ain't strong enough"), and while it's not going to be anybody's lifelong favorite song, the beat by Nick Wiz still bangs. I daresay it's better than a number of songs that did make the album, including "Da Ruckus," which was a last minute addition after the promo version. But part of the problem may've been the odd conceit of the title. The hook goes, "it ain't a game no more, son, get the money and run. No more ridin' the Benz, we rockin' to win. Plottin' to end all the gossip, straight hot shit, we rock shit, yo son, launch a rocket." It just sort of feels like a string of buzz words and phrases. Like, what do they even mean by "launch a rocket?" Release a good record, I guess, or a dope verse? A half-hearted spin on "drop a bomb on 'em," probably, but... eh. It's pretty limp. They even kind of swallow that last line. I remember when I first heard it thinking, why'd they call it "Launch a Rocket/" But then, ah yeah, they do say it there at the end.

And I mean, personally, I still would have preferred to see more "scripts & scrolls" type material on the album, since that's the style they invented and perfected, but I'm sure the label was shutting all of that down. So the album was going to be at least partially disappointing to many of us fans no matter what. But removing this was definitely a mistake, just like taking off "BQE" for an inferior Large Professor collaboration, which they wound up making the title track.

Let's face it, I'm a big Cella Dwellas fan, but I'll be the first to concede that LOUD was never going to score a big hit with this album no matter what they did. But it could've done a little better, at least, if they stopped tinkering and throwing bad decisions at it. I mean, just letting it come out in 1998 would've helped sales, I'm sure. In this very song Phantasm says, "took time off to raise my son;" but just sounds like an excuse to me.

But what the heck. We still have this song anyway. The 12" comes in a cool sticker cover and includes both instrumentals. You still have to cop the previous "Stand Up" single to get its Acapella; but for any Dwellas - or more generally Nick Wiz - fans, this is a nice little 12" keeper, that you can scoop up very nice and cheap, because no one ever expected this to have anything unique on it.

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