Whenever a new Pete Rock project is announced I automatically become a bit skeptical and doubtful. Not because I fear that Pete might deliver a weak album, but rather for the reason that it most likely won’t materialize at all. Therefore I didn’t think much when the legendary veteran duo from Brownsville known as Smif-N-Wessun announced that they’ve been spending close to a year working on a collaboration with The Chocolate Boy Wonder. It was no doubt a great idea on paper, but at the end of the day I was probably expecting a Cocoa Brovaz album with a maximum of 75% Pete Rock beats like the project he made with Edo G back in 2004. Either way, this would be enough to blow my mind if the trio all brought their A-game on the project but luckily I was completely wrong on the final involvement of Pete’s contributions. From the first track to the last song, Rock has crafted every beat on the album using his trusted MPC-60 with a few SP1200 beats thrown in for good measure. The album is not perfect but it is a straight banger if you ask me and you can tell they really took their time creating this body of work. While pushing it back several times since it was first announced in 2006, the final result is a very respectable LP to say the least.
People have been claiming for years now that Pete’s, who’s always been considered one of the top 5 producers in the game, output declined heavily when he switched from the vintage SP1200 machine (on which he created his most classic albums; “Center Of Attention”, “Mecca / The Soul Brother”/”All Souled Out”/”The Main Ingredient”, “Everyman For Himel”, “Soul Survior”, and about 75% of “Petestrumentals”) to the MPC-60. I think the whole discussion on that is absolutely ridiculous, that’s like saying it’s the machine and not the man behind the machine doing the real work which is just plain stupid. The MPC has of course a different sound, and while I don’t think Pete Rock has dropped a true masterpiece since 2001’s “PeteSrumentals” (the 2nd improved version) which features unreleased instrumentals of beats that was never released, but slightly remixed and also featuring five fantastic 2000/2001 vocal tracks that might very well be MPC material featuring the debut of one of my favorite underground crews from New York, in many years, The U.N. Since then he came through on the Edo G. album which I personally love and most recently “NY’s Finest”, an album I really liked for what it was. Heavy beats, superb cuts, and some top-notch MCing for the most part.
As for what Tek-N-Steele has been doing the last few years, I don’t feel to dwell too much on their past albums. Since “Dah Shinin’” and to some extent “The Rude Awakening”, the rest of their discography doesn’t add up to those two albums at all– except for “Monumental” which I personally hold as my overall favorite Smif-N-Wessun release since their 1995 debut. It seems to me that S-N-W works best in the context of working with one producer (or team of producers) for an entire album which was the way they worked on the two aforementioned albums.
Right from the introduction, The Chocolate Boy Wonda and The Cocoa Brovas, proves to be a perfect match. In my personal opinion, Pete who drops more street-orientated beats I’ve heard from him since the bulk of “NY’s Finest” seems to have really catered to the style and vocals the Brownsville duo has made name of. The production includes everything from hardcore tracks like the Sean P. assisted “That’s Hard”, a clear highlight on the album which features Tek, Steele, Sean Price and Styles P “The Ghost” all spitting firewater over a drum and bass heavy affair that centers on a sample alternating between viola and cello (which is basically a “bass-viola” for those who don’t know). Another absolutely fantastic joint at the beginning of the LP is “Prevail”, a Raekwon assisted joint to the fullest. Not only because he’s spitting a solid verse on here but after the first verse, the beat totally switches up as our production hereo takes on a rock solid remake of The Chef’s classic “Criminology”. After an equally rock solid verse from Rae; Tek-N-Steele trades bars over the second beat (the “Crimonology” revisit); one of the most classic songs in hip-hop history and a task not many hip-hop producers would dare to touch to try to recreate. Pete really incorporates most, if not all, elements of the original but as the super producer he is, he is also making it his own while paying big homage to the original. If anyone remembers the “Criminology II” that was leaked by Rae’s camp as a street single to his acclaimed “Ob4cl2” which was sub-par to say the least; but once I heard “Prevail” you’ll fully understan how amazing Mr. Phillips’ take on the song shown here relly is, I haven’t been able to stop wishing Rae would’ve let Pete Rock produce that street single and include it on the album in favor of one of the weaker songs. A clear winner!
The album is full of much more highlight than average tracks; i’d say in the end 85% of the music found on this disc is banging and certainly rewards repeated listens. Right from the start you can tell you’re in for a big treat; following a grimy intro (that’s also used as the outro to sew things together), we goes into the title track of the album. “Monumental” is a soulful story with some vintage Pete horn samples riding on the top of the beat throughout which really works and kind of give me a nostalgic feeling. The drums are of course not the old school Pete Rock but that’s a real minor complaint to me, both the drum pattern and bass meshes perfectly with the trumpet fanfares and lyrically it’s a great opener. This is one of only two verses Phillips himself spit on the project and right here you can tell he stepped his game up big time since we last heard him on “NY’s Finest”. Actually between this and “Night Life”, I think this is the most hyped and lyrically well constructed verses I’ve heard Rock spit since the “Soul Survivor” LP. Even the R&B hook by Tyler Woods (no clue who he is), adds to the overall sound of the record.
Throughout the 60 minutes album lasts, the duo of Smif-N-Wessun and all the guests featured touches on a wide array of interesting topics; making the project never become dull or cliché. We get a classic tale of their rise from out the hardships of Brownsville on the Memphis Bleek assisted “The Top of The World” and while it’s one of my least favorite songs on the album, I really never felt the need to skip it – which could be said for the entire album. One of my favorite tracks on the entire LP is the closing song, “Time to Say”, which deals with their relationship and strong friendship as P.N.C.’s in a touching, but far from cliché way, over a somber but hard-hitting beat that remains one of my faves and stands up as one of the best songs on “Monumental”. “Roses” deals with another serious and heartfelt topic, something a lot of heads should take notice too; that you should let the family and close people in your life know how important they are in your life and if you do so, that you love them, tomorrow it might be too late. The song features a dope hook by Philadelphia’s Freeway and the beat by Pete Rock with its heavy bass line, the reoccurring vocal sample probably taken from some taped Muslim ceremony and the drums while not the strongest he ever laid down, they are perfect for the track. All in all one of my favorite joints of the entire album!
Another song that I think will please a lot of old school BCC followers is “This One” featuring Top Dogg (formerly of O.G.C.) and ragga toaster Jahdan Black following in the tradition of S-N-W classics like “Sound Bwoi Burreill” and “Memorial to Name A Few”. In my humble opinion, it doesn’t hold a candle to those two aforementioned classics and sound a little bit forced. It’s not wack by no means, but to be fair I could do without it to be honest. I’m much keener on the following track. “Do It” featuring an absolutely fucking insane verse from one of hip-hop’s most underrated chicks ever in the appearance of Hurricane G. It’s an unorthodox track to say the least, with Pete Rock sampling the amazing ‘70s psychedelic Mexican “rock” song “The Mexican” by Babe Ruth. Since I’ve loved this sample source for years and years but haven’t heard it for a long time, I was absolutely blown away to hear one of my favorite producers reconstruct this in a very tasteful manner and hear this trio rip it up although the original is hardly a record you’d associate with a hip-hop track; only someone like Pete could make this happen in a tasteful manner. The Jay-Z sampling traditional Pete Rock musical intermission following the song is a monster too, showing that Pete creates joints as hot as the rest of the album only to use them as bridges between songs just like in the good ol’ days. This leads right into “Night Life”, another certified heatrock that also works as a posse cut as it features additional verses by Buckshot and Pete Rock that both deliver top quality verses on the New York nightlife when the thieves comes out; again over another a ill but different beat. Like most of the album, the drum and bass parts on this are straight up knocking and the sound effects and looped vocal sample with the low-key acoustic guitar makes this another stand-out track on an already really slamming album.
Browsing the net I’ve seen S-N-W’s lyrics on this project get dissed as too simple which I don’t agree with one fucking bit, these guys are clearly totally missing the point. I admit that the hunger from “Dah Shining” is long gone but it’s also obvious they still got their heart fully into this. The type of verses Steele and Tek delivers on this record is exactly what I want to hear when I put on a Smif-N-Wessun LP in 2011. The flow, delivery and lyrics are all there; not in a Rakim way, but in a straight, raw Brownsville style. The street element is an extremely important part in most hip-hop, and especially in this type of rap music and Tek-N-Steele got plenty of it as well as plenty of charisma.
Some have dismissed the excessive use of guests on the LP to be a cover up for Tek and Steele’s inferior mic skills. As I already touched upon, Smif-N-Wessun spits real and honest verses and their voices makes for a great marriage with these beats. They are however the type of MC’s who benefits greatly from including a lot of guests to create a proper balance, which they do successfully, especially on here. And besides, Boot Camp Clik has always been a family thing and for my ears it’s only good to hear S-N-W rhyme side by side with Sean Price, Rock, Buckshot, Top Dog and Jahdan Black. Another surprise for me in the vocal department, but a positive one, was Pete Rock’s microphone contributions. Usually I think he’s a weak rapper with horribly lame rhymes, but for his two verses here he really stepped up his writing and delivery game big time which really makes me hyped for a new “Soul Survior” project like the first where he rhymed a lot.
Production wise the Soul Brother #1 blesses the project with his signature sound and the chemistry between his well-crafted beats and the BCC duo’s voices proves to be very compatible. Musically it feels a bit like Pete picks up where “NY’s Finest” left off. There’s a good mixture of SP1200 and MPC crafted productions and a balanced ratio of heavy hardcore joints and soulful jams; all based on samples borrowed off older records and then stretched, chopped or filtered in the vintage Pete Rock tradition we all know and love. The end result is no less than stunning on the production side, and the beats he created for this is perfect for the Brownsville duo that always been one of my BCC’s faves. There are a few songs that might not quite cut it all the way, but overall this is a fantastic album and if you’re not feeling this while being a fan of these guys is just mind boggling to me. But to each their own of course -”opinions are like voices; we all have a different kind”.
“Monumental” is one of the finest albums of the year and should satisfy the hunger of any boom bap head for a while. Lyrically it’s great hip-hop with heavy street appeal; the guests are plenty and shine bright while at the same time making the few Smif-N-Wessun solo tracks stand out. On Pete’s behalf, he has managed to create a wide array of different sounds that both sounds like something you’d imagine Tek N Steele rhyme over and has that vintage Soul Brother sound. Another point goes to Pete for lacing the majority of the songs with A+ cuts that shows he’s just as talented a turntablist as, say, DJ Premier. The only Pete Rock trademark that I was missing was the traditional instrumental interludes that usually pops up every now and then on all his previous albums (save for the Edo G joint). There’s a few of them though, especially the Jay-Z sampling Brooklyn anthem interlude preceding “Night Life” stands out as well as some shorter ones. The greatest thing about the whole project is that it doesn’t sound the least forced, it doesn’t sound like a Smif-N-Wessun album featuring Pete Rock or vice versa. It simply sounds like great music naturally created for the love of hip-hop, as any good body of work should. That the three of them working together in a studio rather than sending beats and verses over the net back-and-forth is most likely one of the most important factor in the positive end result. That the 13 songs on here sound like a well-thought out and nicely sequenced LP rather than various dope songs thrown together, proves that the album format is still very much alive and kicking in a time when many rappers have forgotten about the art and importance of the LP. Now we just gotta get the people to support this real hip-hop by picking up copies of their new music, if you don’t do this you shouldn’t have the guts to complain about the state the hip-hop game is currently in. That’s if you call yourself a real hip-hop fan that is. Go on and support the trio by ordering the CD or 2xLP, whatever you prefer @ for example UGHH or Fat Beats; i'm still waiting for my wax but I ordered it from another bullshit site :/.