Uptown Saturday Night Track by Track
By Rob Parkour
What a Blaxploitation movie would sound like is the best way to describe Camp Lo’s sound. The mid 90’s duo Camp Lo hails from hip-hop’s birthplace, but their 70’s influences predate hip-hop. The title is lifted from the 1974 Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby film, and the cover art pays homage to the painting “Sugar Shack” produced by artist and former NFL player Ernie Barnes. The famous painting was also used for the cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic album I Want You and seen on Good Times during the credits of the final three seasons (most of the artwork done by JJ on the show was Ernie Barnes’ work.) Ernie Barnes played in the NFL for six years, had his paintings used by Marvin Gaye, Good Times, Camp Lo, and had countless other Professional Sports Franchises: what a life. Let’s turn back the clock and unpack Camp Lo’s debut:
“Krstyal Karrington” – The title of the song is a reference to a character from the 80’s TV series Dynasty. 90’s rappers loved referencing TV shows that 20 years later no one would remember. Camp Lo starts off with a gritty beat that transforms us into a world full of diamond heists, sex and drugs. The song acts as a backdrop for what’s about to come like an opening montage in a film. We’re introduced to Sonny Cheeba whose distinct voice and delivery make him instantly enjoyable. Then, we have Geechi Suede (named after Harry Belfonte’s character in Uptown Saturday Night) who’s more lyrical and dexterous with his flow.
Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede are so close in skill and complement each other so well that there’s no issues of wanting to hear one more than the other like some other duo’s I’ve reviewed. There’s a total of 8 verses on this song which sounds extreme until you realize that rarely on this album does either rapper give a full 16 bars. It isn’t a Jadakiss & Styles P bar for bar back and forth, but usually each rapper’s verses last 6-10 bars and flow so smoothly into the next verse that no hook is needed.
“Luchini AKA This Is It” – This upbeat, horn driven, optimistic track is the group’s biggest hit. The famous horns are sampled from Dynasty’s “Adventure in the Land of Music.” I hope this euphoric song is being played when I enter the Pearly Gates. If this song comes on and doesn’t make you immediately happy there is something seriously wrong with you. I’m sure as soon as the group heard the beat for this song, they knew they had a hit. Did Ski offer the beat to anyone (Jay-Z) first?
“Fallen pharaohs courtesy of Black Caesar, the convincer/Silky days, satin nights, taking flight, Donald Goines.” Dropping Black Caesar and Donald Goines in the span of two lines?! Incredible job by Sonny Cheeba, who even ends this four bar verse with a Searchers reference so white listeners feel involved. Sonny Cheeba also name checks Duke Ellington’s Harlem River Quiver. Other rappers had better gun, cars, girls and sports lines, but no one has more dope name checks than Sonny Cheeba. The 70’s inspired video looks like an Iceberg Slim novel brought to life.
I didn’t want to do this, but I can’t write about this song without bringing up it’s popular freestyle done by Red Café and Fabolous in 2010. Red Café is in the ‘your comedian’s favorite comedian’ genre of underrated rappers who ghostwrite. By 2010, Fabolous was washed up but managed to turn back the clock on this freestyle, sounding perfect over the beat and providing a hook that turned the freestyle into a song. This song turned out to be the highlight of a decade where Fabolous went through a disturbing mid-life crisis (calling himself Young OG & dressing like a teenager who has Supreme push notifications), released one cringe worthy studio album (the single “Lituation” from the 37 year old MC didn’t stick), several uninspired mixtapes, seemingly hundreds of bad R&B features, infected Dave East’s career, and got charged with domestic abuse for attacking his baby mother, who may be the hottest baby mother in hip-hop history. At least the decade provided us with that Friday Night Freestyles mixtape with Jadakiss?
When I researched this freestyle, I found there is a Wiz Khalifa “Luchini” freestyle and you’ll never believe this but Wiz’s flow sounds horrific and he steals Curren$y’s style. Also, there is an S.A.S. “Luchini” freestyle which is great because who doesn’t want to listen to two British dudes who were signed to Dipset?
“Park Joint” – Ski Beatz laces the duo with an old school type beat that harkens back to hip-hop’s birth in the early 80’s. Every hip-hop junkie has a producer who sticks out to them and becomes their personal favorites; they may not have the catalog of a DJ Premier, Dr. Dre or Pete Rock, but you argue they deserve to be in that conversation based on quality. Large Professor is my best friend’s personal favorite, even though Large Professor doesn’t have the quantity of credits of a RZA. Ski Beatz, now known as Ski, is my favorite personal producer. His beats flash you back to the vinyl era, smooth yet high-energy beats that sound great in the car, but are classy enough to play around your Aunt. Let’s take a quick look at Ski’s career and try to figure out what the hell happened and why he’s never listed on All Time Great Producers lists:
Pre-1995 – Ski produced and rapped for Original Flavor, a duo that included a rapper with the great name Suave Lover. Original Flavor was Dame Dash’s first hip-hop act, and their first two albums had moderate success. The second album featured Jay-Z on two songs and Sauce Money on another. After the group disbanded, Dame brought Ski back into the fold and Suave Lover was never to be heard from again.
1995 – Jay-Z “In My Lifetime” – Hov’s street buzz reaches an all-time high with the Ski produced single “In My Lifetime.” More on this song in a second.
“Your World Don’t Stop” – AZ. Great album cut from AZ’s classic 1995 debut Doe or Die
1996 – Jay-Z “Politics as Usual”, “I’m Feelin’ It”, “Dead Presidents II” and “22 Twos.” Good god those are four incredible beats. There was friendly competition during the recording of Reasonable Doubt: Ski and his mentor DJ Clark Kent were competing to get their beats to Hov first while Jay-Z was doing his best to keep up bar for bar with Biggie on “Brooklyn’s Finest.” Ski’s “pourin’ bubbly” sound went perfect with the ethos of Roc-A-Fella records in the mid 90’s: popping bottles, dressing fly, money, cars and laughs. Ski ended up having four (most on the project) of the better beats on Reasonable Doubt but it should have been five: “In My Lifetime” the single that gave Jay-Z buzz was curiously left off the final track listing. The Clark Kent Jaz-O Remix landed on the Streets is Watching Soundtrack but the original was never released on an official project. The cover for the single “In My Lifetime” literally had a champagne bottle on it and you’re telling me it wouldn’t have fit in with the rest of Reasonable Doubt?
This year Ski also produced a track each on two critically acclaimed albums by female MC’s (Lil’ Kim and Bahamadia). Ski also produced four songs for Outsidaz member Young Zee’s very underrated solo debut “Musical Meltdown” that was shelved for 19 years.
1997 – Ski produces nearly all of Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night which is critically and commercially acclaimed. Six months’ prior, Ski had the most beats on the debut for the hottest up and coming rapper, Jay-Z. So how many beats does Jay-Z enlist Ski for on his second album, In My Lifetime Vol. 1? A measly two tracks, “Who You Wit” and “Streets Is Talking,” which are two of the best tracks on the album. The Mafioso rapper traded his cigar and champagne for a shiny suit when he enlisted Teddy Riley and Puff Daddy for his follow up.
To be clear, I am a Vol. 1 defender. “Always Be My Sunshine” is obviously corny and Jay-Z raps inside a Rubix Cube in the video. “I Know What Girls Like” isn’t as terrible but is similarly corny and must have been very disturbing for fans in 1997 to hear that Jay-Z sold out by the third track. To be fair, Diddy’s Hitmen Production team also did “Imaginary Players” which is one of the Jay-Z’s best album cuts ever. “Lucky Me” doesn’t belong but it’s listenable and Teddy Riley does a good job on “The City Is Mine.” The real problem was having Diddy produce the singles. Had Diddy given Jay-Z more album cuts like “Imaginary Players” for the album and let Ski or Clark Kent do the singles we’d talk about Vol. 1 in the same breath as Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint and The Black Album. Unfortunately, the beginning of Jay-Z and Diddy’s disturbing relationship coincided with Jay-Z’s second album. As great as Blueprint and The Black Album are there’s nothing better than 90’s Jay-Z. Vol. 1 is a classic that management, A&Rs and Roc-A-Fella sabotaged from being a classic. It doesn’t take a genius A&R to figure out how to fix this: Replace the two singles and “Lucky Me” with “Only A Customer” (from Streets is Watching Soundtrack) and “In My Lifetime”(you may want to include the song the album is named after), and push “City Is Mine” as the single: just like magic you have a 13 track LP with no weak tracks.
1998 – “Cross Bronx Expressway” – Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz ft. Big Pun & Fat Joe.
“I Declare War” – Pacewon. Incredible beat made for the Outsidaz’ other member whose LP, like his Outsidaz’ groupmate Young Zee, went unreleased. 50 Cent, Tony Yayo & Lloyd Banks freestyled on this on the last installment of G-Unit Radio, and Sean Price freestyled over it on “Figure Four.”
“John Blaze” – Fat Joe ft. Big Pun, Nas, Raekwon & Jadakiss. One of the best posse tracks of all time: late 90’s hip-hop at its best.
Produced 7 songs on Sporty Thievz’ criminally underrated Street Cinema album. Had Ski just produced the whole album Sporty Thievz would’ve have gotten the credit they deserve. Regardless, there’s lots to love on this album.
2000 – “Ultimate High” – Nature ft. Nas. It’s fitting that one of rap’s most underrated producers did a beat for one of rap’s most underrated albums: For All Seasons by Nature. The album is a classic and if you haven’t heard it you need to lock yourself in a room and listen to it non-stop.
2001 – “People Talking” – Jay-Z. Hov reaches another level of fame post “Big Pimpin” but doesn’t let Ski produce on any of his studio albums. He did let Ski produce the only good song on his crappy “Unplugged” album. Jay-Z was the biggest rapper in the world for over a decade and he couldn’t throw his first producer a bone at any point? It’s not like Ski would have given Jay-Z a terrible beat.
On Jay-Z’s retirement album The Black Album, he was supposed to have a different producer for every song and everyone assumed Ski would be do a track. Ski didn’t have a track, but Kanye and Pharrell had two tracks each, including the “Change Clothes” single that aged like an Avocado left in the back of your kitchen cabinet. Maybe I could understand if there weren’t any bad producers on The Black Album, but Hov enlisted a teenager named Aqua whose claim to fame is doing the score for the George Lopez show. In other Jay-Z news, there’s long been a rumor that he strong armed Ski for the beat, flow and hook for “Feelin’ It.” God knows what other songs Jay-Z extorted from Ski back then; the fact that Camp Lo had to somewhat start over after this makes Uptown Saturday Night that much bigger of an accomplishment.
Dame Dash: “Hey Hov, I have a great idea. Let’s do an unplugged, live instrumental version of all your biggest hits. People won’t care that the concept is dumb and it’s a clear money grab, they’ll see MTV Unplugged and think of Kurt Cobain.”
Jay-Z: “I’ll only do it if I can wear my Che Guevera T-Shirt”
Dame Dash: “Wear whatever you want. I have one more idea that can really give us worldwide fame. I’m thinking of you doing a collaboration album with a rock band, no new music just fusing their singles with your singles.
Jay-Z: “Wait, why would you combine Rap and Rock?
Dame Dash: “Have you ever even listened to Linkin Park?”
2002-2009 –Ski was supposed to be in his prime during the mid-00’s but besides his work with Camp Lo, he only produced one Angie Martinez song and one Willy Northpole song during this seven-year stretch. This doesn’t count 2007 which must’ve been a very dark time in Ski’s life/career, because Pittsburgh Slim somehow convinced Ski to give him seven beats.
2010-present – Ski’s post 90’s career highlights came in 2010 and 2011 when he produced both of Curren$y’s Pilot Talk albums. This was before the entire hip-hop community decided all at once to stop listening to Curren$y. That’s just kind of the crappy luck Ski had: his best late career beats on are on projects by a rapper that no one will re-listen to. Ski released two albums under his name that had some great tracks on it, but were ultimately ruined by mediocre rappers. There’s a world where Ski keeps the momentum of his Jay-Z and Camp Lo projects and becomes recognized as one of the best producers ever. Based on quality of beats, Ski Beatz still deserves to be in on the short list of best producers ever.
“B Side To Hollywood” – Camp Lo opened for De La Soul on their Stakes Is High tour which lead to Trugoy the Dove from De La Soul being the first and biggest feature on the album. Biggie gets credit for his “stop your blood clot crying” (which Jay-Z bit on “D.O.A.”) from “You’re Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You)” but it was Geechi Suede who said the line first: Uptown Saturday Night released two months before Life After Death. Trugoy the Dove (never noticed how lame of a name this is, only De La Soul would think it’s funny to name yourself Yogurt spelled backwards) does a good job keeping with the themes of the album by rapping about Popeye, Rickety Rocket, Daniel Boone and Honeycomb cereal. Trugoy the Dove produced this song and received co-production credit for “Coolie High”
“Killin’ ‘Em Softly” – This song is Camp Lo’s version of Ski Mask music. Even on an aggressive track like this you root for Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede like you would two bad guys in a movie. Even though the song isn’t similar to the upbeat tempo of the other songs it still garners a response out of you. This isn’t an INI or Deda Pete Rock-produced album where you can passively listen to it: each track is making a statement that requires your attention.
“Listen to this super fly/Bumpin’ Black Caesar on high/Tuned to the Black Belt Jones.” For those scoring at home, Sonny Cheeba has three consecutive bars name checking three different classic 70’s Blaxploitation films that he’s already referenced on the album. I just want to find a woman who loves me as much as Sonny Cheeba loves Blaxploitation films.
“Sparkle” – They should have titled this song “Bubbly” because this is the decadent, spilling champagne with high rollers track Ski and Camp Lo do better than anyone else. It’s very rare you can get two rappers with such clear voices and good flows. This is rap music that is accessible, but ultimately not detrimental to the genre like House of Pain or Kanye. Camp Lo’s sound can’t be selling out because there isn’t anything quite like it. Jazz, funk and soul are three major sounds in hip-hop, and somehow Ski manages to mix all three of them together without leaning too far into one.
Like all innovative hip-hop artists, Camp Lo saw their sound influence many other rappers. None were bigger than Will Smith who enlisted the duo as the only rap feature on his mega-hit album Big Willie Style. When I first had this album as a child, I had no idea who Camp Lo was and it’s really trippy to hear Sonny Cheeba talking shit on a song that shares an album with “Miami” and “Gettin’ Jiggy With It.” Will Smith must’ve really liked Camp Lo but not enough to give either Sonny Cheeba or Geechi Suede a verse. Three cookie cutter Will Smith verses and not a Camp Lo verse in sight: it’s a crying shame.
“Black Connection” – The Van McCoy sample sounds like it’s from a montage in a Drug Kingpin movie. You know, the Blow/Scarface montage where they ship all the drugs onto the private island on mini-jets and the drug lord, surrounded by beautiful women feeding him fruit, enjoys his freedom that the viewer knows is fleeting.
This is the track where Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede are able to display their storytelling chops. It’s a Camp Lo story so you know there is going to be diamond heists, Italian clothes, sex, and celebrations on yachts in Europe. I can’t stress enough how impressive it is that Camp Lo maintains such a sparkling image in my head despite rapping about the same things that Kool G Rap raps about. They may be prone to the occasional jewelry robbery or massive drug deal, but Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede are two men you’d feel comfortable taking your daughter to prom.
“Swing” – The second big name feature of the album is by Butterfly of Digable Planets who the group also met on the Stakes is High tour. Butterfly has a really good guest verse and does a great job splitting the hook with Geechi Suede. This is the only song where Sonny Cheeba is absent which makes the listener realize how important he is to keeping the 70’s aesthetics of the album.
“Rockin’ it AKA Spanish Harlem” – I usually don’t like it when rappers force another culture’s music into rap i.e. the terrible reggae influenced songs in the late 80’s/early 90’s. This song has a Latin vibe to it even though the main sample comes from the British R&B group Loose Ends. This salsa like song sounds like it would be played at summertime BBQ in Spanish Harlem filled with unbuttoned shirts, cocktails, empanadas and smoking hot New York Latinas who have terrible attitudes. It’s a testament to Ski that he can blend many different sounds on this album and still maintain that New York sound.
“Say Word” – Really bumpin’ beat that sounds amazing in the car. This is the first of two guest verses by Geechi Suede’s brother Jungle Brown. This isn’t an act of charity or nepotism on Geechi’s part, because Jungle Brown can really rap. I did a Google search to find out what happened to Jungle Brown, and if he ever released any music, and there’s basically no trace of him, but now I know there’s a UK hip-hop collective called Jungle Brown who, stop me if you’ve heard this before, plans to restore the golden age feeling in hip-hop by going back to the smooth jazz instrumentals of the early 90’s. Why listen to A Tribe Called Quest when you can listen to three douchebags from England who weren’t born in 2Pac’s lifetime?
Fast-tempo songs like this are perfect for the duo’s knife through butter flows. Sonny Cheeba has a knack for starting verses off with vigor, jumping on this track saying “Cheeba Cheeba y’all” with a level of self-confidence that us mere mortals can only pray to reach. Overall, I enjoy Sonny Cheeba a little bit more even though he clearly isn’t as talented as Geechi Suede. I put a lot of stock into how enjoyable a rapper’s voice is, and Sonny Cheeba’s voice and delivery are A+. I’m not sure exactly why, but there’s something about Pusha T’s forceful voice and slick flow that reminds me of Sonny Cheeba. When I first came up with this comparison, I had that same aha moment I had when I realized Drake stole Phonte’s flow and style. I googled “Pusha T and Sonny Cheeba” to see if anyone agreed with me and came up with nothing which makes it a Parkour exclusive!
“Negro League” – The darkest track on the whole album comes from a genius sample from the soundtrack of the Twilight Zone. I’d be interested to find out Ski’s thought process and how he stumbled on this unique sample. The song features Crimewave’s Karachi R.A.W. and some guy named Bones who, in what’s becoming a tradition, has no information online, but searching for him I was introduced to a white rapper named Bones from Michigan who helped coin the subgenres Emo-Rap and Trap-Metal. Trap Metal?!?!
Karachi R.A.W. is a pretty good rapper whose destiny was to be a role player in hip-hop: good enough for two solid guest verses but not capable of carrying an album. This track threw a bone to all the hardcore NY hip-hop fans who wanted some grit on this shiny album. Once again, it’s a testament to Ski that he can incorporate different sounds into the project without messing up the flow of the album. Sonny Cheeba’s “In Madison Square drinkin’ Shasta” line always makes me laugh.
“Nicky Barnes AKA It’s Alright” – This song is amazing. Ski takes an Isaac Hayes song from the Shaft Soundtrack and speeds it up to make a beat that will make you nod your head. Geechi Suede starts off the song with a strong verse that includes the bar “I study clowns like sola god and Metu Neter.” According to my research, Metu Neter is a seven-volume series of books on the philosophy and spirituality of Ancient Egypt by Pan-Africanist scholar and musician Ra Un Nefer Amen. Geechi, I think you bit off more than you could chew with that line. How many of your fans do you think understood the reference? Jay Electronica, who was 20 in 1997, probably heard the line and thought Geechi Suede was the best person in the world.
The second verse features Geechi’s brother Jungle Brown who wins the Notorious B.I.G. Memorial Pause award for the most suspect line when he says, “Articulating these figures with these pretty brown niggas.” Maybe Jungle Brown was influenced by the previous year’s Pause award winner Fredo Starr for his “Sexy niggas get abducted” line on the Onyx’s classic 1995 single “Last Dayz.” I’d hate if that one suspect line was the reason Jungle Brown never resurfaced in the rap game.
Sonny Cheeba floats impeccably over the beat. “Sip Iceberg Slim, smoke the Goldie reefer” line seems like it was made just for me. Listen Sonny Cheeba, I’m already a big fan, you don’t have lay it on so thick by shouting out my favorite movies and authors. Sonny Cheeba gives us an idea of what a rapper from 1973 would rap about and sound like.
The song’s title pays homage to Nicky Barnes, a 70’s drug kingpin from Harlem who was nicknamed “Mr. Untouchable,” who eventually snitched on his organized crime syndicate because one of the members slept with his mistress. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays Nicky Barnes in the Frank Lucas biopic American Gangster.
“Black Nostaljack AKA Come on” – Another incredible up-tempo, feel good beat that uses a speed up sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “Tripping Out.” If they made modern rap beats in the disco era, I imagine this is what it would sound like. As you can tell, I’m a nostalgic type of guy so these type of beats make me happy. The songs are pro-fun but also pro-happy without coming off cheesy. Give Sonny Cheeba a beat this retro sounding he’s bound to go off: “Scored like 10 on my IQ test/Stay fly with the vines so I’m so funky fresh/I rocks to the east, I flows to the west/This Max Julien number one draft pick/A finger to the rest, here we go for the Knicks.” Everything about these bars is perfect: Cheeba starts off with self-deprecating humor, refers to his clothes as vines like he’s Sweet Jones from Pimp, uses his words-on-a-string flow to make a simple line sound cool, refers to Max Julien, the star in The Mack, as a number one draft pick, and tops it off with flicking you off as he roots for the Knicks. That’s a tour de force in how to make me a happy listener.
The next verse Sonny Cheeba refers to Geechi Suede as Errol Flynn’s kin. What Errol Flynn movies has Sonny Cheeba seen?! Geechi Suede fancies himself as Poitier, the director and star of the film Uptown Saturday Night. If I had the opportunity to interview Camp Lo, I’d spend the entire time asking them about their favorite movies.
While researching this album I found out that they shot a video for this song that paid homage to Good Times. I quickly jumped on YouTube and found it wasn’t there. Next I tried a Japanese site that almost gave my computer a virus, and after that I tried an MTV African website that didn’t work. Through hell and high water, I was determined to find this video. A 90’s hip-hop group paying tribute to Good Times in a music video is two of my world’s coming together in beautiful harmony, like if Werner Herzog were to make a documentary on the 2001 76ers.
I finally found the video on an MTV Spanish site. The music video is both a work of art and Camp Lo Fan Fiction. Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede (dressed like Cooley High extras) crash a Good Times episode and rap on a set that can’t be the real Good Times set but looks very similar: the concept is too good to be true. JJ and Thelma Evans are both playing their characters from the show, JJ sprays cleaning spray into whatever his sister Thelma’s attempting to cook. JJ looks fat and washed up but Thelma hasn’t aged and still looks incredible after all these years. I’m prone to speak in superlatives but when adjusted for era I think Thelma is pound for pound the hottest woman ever on a sitcom. My research also brought my attention to Thelma’s daughter who is also impossibly beautiful: the gift that keeps on giving!
“Coolie High” – This very smooth, mellow single from 1996’s Great White Hype Soundtrack gave them the exposure that lead to their record deal. The track is named after the film Cooley High which is wrongly classified as a Blaxploitation film. Cooley High is one of the 70’s best movies but a movie can’t be a Blaxploitation film if it eventually gets spun off to the TV series What’s Happening.
This single is so soft and laid back. Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Times Flies” from her classic Control album is sampled here. In hindsight it may seem clear that this song would translate into a laid back rap single but it takes a special ear to realize it in the moment. It’s impressive how “Coolie High” and “Luchini” couldn’t be any more different in tempo but both maintain that classic Camp Lo sound. Geechi Suede’s third verse reads off like a Camp Lo version of Mad Libs: “Cruisers and Rovers. Diamond crooks taking it over with Razors and cutters with the sugar and butters/Pimping Caesars in leathers, we live for Coolie High treasures and pleasures.” Sonny Cheeba somehow goes his first verse without mentioning any Blaxplotation films, before bringing up Super Fly, Cleopatra Jones and Dolemite during his third verse. Sonny Cheeba using Cab Galloway as a verb should be my favorite line on this song, but Cheeba telling a woman he’s going to “drench you in my Donald Goines” is the best line on the album and maybe the best line ever. Sonny Cheeba mentioning Donald Goines in both Uptown Saturday Night singles makes him an American hero.
“Sparkle (Mr. Midnight Mix)” – Basically the stripped down, drum-less version of “Sparkle.” The track sounds fine and I’m sure you could make an argument for it being better than the original but there’s no need for both of them to be on the album. The song’s biggest crime is its placement as the final track, which robs “Coolie High” of being the album’s lasting memory.
Had this track not been included, the album would’ve closed with “Nicky Barnes,” “Black Nostaljack,” and “Coolie High,” back to back to back. Those three songs flow so well together and would’ve been the perfect way to close out the album. Albums, even great ones, often end on a low note but Camp Lo flipped that and saved their best for last. Ending an album with three songs that strong in a row doesn’t seem fair. There can’t be more than a few rap albums in history that close up with three tracks that are all A+’s like “Nicky Barnes”, “Black Nostaljack” and “Coolie High”.
Uptown Saturday Night is a classic that somehow sounds fresh even though it’s over 20 years old and is influenced by the 70’s. It’s closer to a top 40 all-time hip-hop album than a top 75 album. It was the first classic album to be released in 1997, the year after the best year (1996) for the rap LP. Let’s see where it ranks against other 1997 hip-hop albums.
Albums better than Uptown Saturday Night:
Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
Wu-Tang Clan – Wu Tang Forever
Albums on the same level as Uptown Saturday Night:
Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Capone-N-Norega – The War Report
Ma$e – Harlem World
Puff Daddy & The Family – No Way Out
Albums a level below Uptown Saturday Night:
Scarface – The Untouchable
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – Art of War
Master P – Ghetto D
2Pac- R U Still Down? (This is Pac’s best posthumous release that largely uses original production. That said, I can only put a posthumous album so high.)
Missy Elliot – Supa Dupa Fly
Rakim – The 18th Letter
The Firm – The Album
Slum Village – Fan-tastic Vol. 1
Suga Free – Street Gospel
Three 6 Mafia – Chpt. 2: World Domination
Cru – Da Dirty 30
OC – Jewelz
Soul in The Hole Soundtrack
I’m Bout It Soundtrack
Good albums that deserve a mention:
Twista – Adrenaline Rush
Common – One Day It’ll All Make Sense
KRS-One – I Got Next
The Beatnuts – Stone Crazy
Wyclef Jean – Presents the Carnival featuring Refugee All-Stars
Diamond D – Hatred, Passions & Infidelity (Diamond D went from Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop to Hatred, Passions & Infidelity? What a bummer.)
Busta Rhymes – When Disaster Strikes
EPMD – Back in Business
MJG – No More Glory
TRU – Tru 2 Da Game
Juvenile – Solja Rags
B.G. – Chopper City
Will Smith – Big Willie Style
“Slept on” albums that I’ve yet to have a full phase with:
Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus
Alkaholiks – Likwidation
Organized Konfusion – The Equinox
Kool Keith – Sex Style
Artifacts – That’s Them
Latyrx – The Album (Two “The Album” in the same year??)
Killarmy – Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars
1997 turned out to be a transition year for hip-hop after the monster year of 1996. Rappers disappointed (The Firm), got shelved (Slum Village), were too young (No Limit & Cash Money), or past their primes (EPMD, KRS & Diamond D). You could make a strong case for Uptown Saturday Night being the third best album of the year. Gun to my head, I would probably pick Harlem World because it’s equally as fun and I’ve had a Ma$e poster hanging in my living room for over a decade. It doesn’t seem right putting Jay-Z’s fourth or fifth best album over Camp Lo. No Way Out may have highs that reach the same level as “Luchini” and “Coolie High” but the album doesn’t hold up track by track the way Uptown Saturday Night does. For hip-hop, 1997 can’t live up to any previous year in the 90’s, but Life After Death, Wu-Tang Forever, Harlem World, Uptown Saturday Night and In My Lifetime Vol. 1 is a strong starting five with R U Still Down? being the first man off the bench.