Sometimes a real jewel of a hip hop album goes unreleased for days, months and years while its reputation as a shelved classic grows to almost mythical proportions in the underground. Such is the case with Royal Fam’s debut album, “Black Castle” which has had two different release dates on two different labels, with nearly ten years apart! That Timbo King and his talented crew still was trying to get the LP out to the fans a decade after completion speaks volumes on how slamming this album was and still is. Between 1997 and 1999 the majority of the talent of the extended Wu-Tang family tree released albums that pretty much all holds up today. Releases by Shyheim (“The Lost Generation”), Sunz Of Man (“The Last Shall Be First”), Killah Priest (“Heavy Mental”), Cappadonna (“The Pillage”) were all successful LPs that followed the Wu-Tang tradition while still maintaining integrity and musical personality. It’s a damn travesty that Royal Fam didn’t get the chance to get their album out properly during this time, it would definitely be held in the same regard as the ones mentioned above. There was however one release by the Fam around this time, called “Yesterday, Today iz Tomorrow”, and corny titles aside this CD featured a lot of heat and was on constant rotation for me back in ’99. It was soon revealed that the album was a bootleg released without any permission from the involved artists. Timbo King tells a story of how a tape of that music was stolen from an office @ Wu-Tang Records and that the songs were unmixed and yet to be mastered. Some of the songs were unfinished but most likely these were tracks recorded for “Black Castle” – an official tracklist of what would be included on the album has never been released.
If you’re still unfamiliar with the group, Timbo King is the lead emcee whose distinct flow and well written lyrics has made him a favorite amongst Wu-Tang Clan heads. Mighty Jarett brought the reagge flavor to the crew and performs a mean toast. Royal Fam also consists of two additional rappers; Dark Denim and Sha Recka and while not an official part of the group their in-house producer Y-Kim could be considered something of an honorary member.
Timbo King had actually released an EP with a producer calling himself Spark 950 back in 1994, “United We Slam” which didn’t do too well commercially and did little noise overall. This would inject the emcee with a large dose of animosity against the way the record industry works, an experience similar to that of RZA and GZA/Genius. He used the bad experience as fuel and inspiration for the 12” single “Sumthin’ Gotz Ta Give”/“I Declare War” which was released on Capitol Records and was to be the lead single from the upcoming Royal Fam LP on the same label. “I came out as Royal Fam, but you heard just me, I was the first artist to come out with an imprint group, but as an artist, so I did that and at that same time these artists that were around me were developing to become artists.” The minimalistic and raw Y-Kim production with its low-key horns and piano samples with Timbo King’s aggressive delivery and on point lyrics made hip-hop heads all over take notice. The sound showed influences from groups like Wu-Tang Clan and Cypress Hill but there’s no question that it was an original record which proved Royal Fam was on the rise and someone to watch out for.
The songs recorded for the album on Capitol Records in the mid-‘90s followed the same structure. The criminally underrated Y-Kim The Ill Figure supplied banger after banger of stripped down, hardcore production with beats often featuring two distinct, almost separate, parts combined. On top of this we got lyrics dealing with shady A&Rs and how to avoid getting fucked by the record industry, 5% terminology, battle rap and even crime narratives – pretty much all the things you’d expect from a quality Killa Beez release. One main difference was however that Dark Denim, Sha Recka and Mighty Jarett was being heard on several songs, although Timbo King definitely dominated and rightfully so considering his skills. According to him the album got caught up in label politics, with Capitol not so willing to clear many of the main samples that made the album what it was. “The samples affected the main songs on the album that I wanted to put out as singles and the ones I wanted to really push. I am like damn! I like that song, I can’t just change it, we tried to change the sample and it wasn't the same shit, we can’t replace it like that, I'm like well fuck it then”, Timbo recently told Wu-International.
Eventually Capitol pulled out of the deal but since they had paid the studio time, engineers and whatever they demanded 2.0 points of sales if Royal Fam was to release the album through another label. This was a deal that unfortunately would make it extremely hard for the crew to find a willing distributor of the album for a decade to come. It was first in 2005 that independent label, Nature Sounds, picked it up and prepared it for release. How much of the album that was to be the same as the 1996 version, or if many of the tracks were recorded around 2005, is still unknown since no definite tracklist has been made available. However, the label released a promotional copy of the album, featuring 12 tracks and tagged as Timbo King Presents the Royal Fam. This advance included “Sumthin’ Gotz Ta Give”, “I Declare War” from the single as well as a few tracks that had previously appeared on the “Yesterday, Today…” bootleg. This indicates that it was indeed the original mid-‘90s album that Nature Sounds was to release in full. Also by judging from the sound, I would guess that all the songs on the sampler was recorded somewhere between 1995 and 2000. The main problem was again that the tracks clearly wasn’t professionally mixed down and mastered yet. But although the sound wasn’t all it should have been, the material of musical quality on the disc spoke for itself. Filled with soundscapes constructed around dark, paranoid and claustrophobic sample-based production, the LP sounds like something related to “Temples of Boom” and “Tical”. Timbo King has quotables on every track and verses like the ones on “I Declare War” and “Musical Chairs” sounds just as powerful today as when they first was heard. The presence of Dark Denim, Mighty Jarrett and Sha Recka as well as guests like Hell Razah, Prodigal Sunn and True Master makes it feel like a Family affair of greatness.
As you can guess, Nature Sounds too shelved the album eventually and an official release of the album is getting less and less likely with every day. At least we got the advance copy of it which I am of course sharing with y’all in case you don’t have it since before – it’s well worth your time. The first 12 tracks presented here are the actual promo CD with the proper sequencing with a running time of about 40 minutes; Timbo King is coming with his first official solo album this year, “From Babylon to Timbuktu” with productions by Bronze Nazareth, Lil' Fame, and an apperance by RZA amongst others so be prepared because I know it will be a banger for sure. Head over to Wu-International to read the full interview with the man himself in promo of that album, great interview well worth reading and a little something to listen to while you're listening to "Black Castle". Enjoy!
ROYAL FAM - "BLACK CASTLE"
ROYAL FAM - "BLACK CASTLE"
02. "Blame Us"
03. "Rules 101"
04. "Invitation Only"
05. "All The Kings Men"
06. "What You Think"
07. "Black Castle"
08. "I Declare War"
09. "Once Upon A Crime"
10. "Army Brigade" (Ft., True Master)
11. "Somethin' Gutz Ta Give"
12. "Musical Chairs" (Ft. Prodigal Sunn"