As individual releases, Showbiz & AG might not have dropped one of the three best albums of the year, but when viewing "Mugshot Music" as a three-piece project things start to look a little different. And I think, that is the way it is supposed to be viddied; different chambers of the same project, and as such I'm gonna review it that way. If you got a problem with this, sue me! As my friends and avid readers of The Lost Tapes can testify to, Show & AG has long been one of my absolute favorite groups; Showbiz bass heavy beats, dark MPC chops and synthesizer melodies coupled with the smooth delivery and always intelligent and thought provoking vocals and voice by Andre The Giant. Yet they never got the true props they so rightfully deserved, their MC/DJ formula is only rivaled by Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL; not saying that those are better, but they are on an equal level.
"MUGSHOT MUSIC: PRELOADED"
Now that we have get that out the way, needless to say I was excited when I heard that Show & A was returning to the scene after a long hiatus - they dropped the brilliant "Live Hard" EP in 2008, but prior to that their previous release dropped in 1998. On top of that, Showbiz 2011 album with KRS-One was a major dissapoint, while AG's Ray West produced "Everything's Berri" wasn't anything to write home to. But the thing is that whenever the duo get together, they bring out the beast in each other, which is exactly what happened on the first rleease in the "Mugshot Music", the free album "Preloaded". 15 tracks of pure D.I.T.C. hardbodie hip-hop; Show's production aching back to the "Full Scale" project in its heaviness and agressive drum programming. and his traditional MPC madness.
I've said it many times; AG is like a fine wine, meaning that he's getting better with each year, soemthing extremely rare in this genre of music. His style is thugged out, but he's not by any means a gangster rapper or one that glorifies crimes; instead he, in that clam, unmistakable voice that almost sound like he's conversing directly to you, The topics are varied; there's a few cuts that deal with hp-hop culture and his greatness as an MC, but when A really shines is when he comments on the horrible fates many meet in the black ghetto ("God is 4 Us", "Experince: The Show Remix") , black power messages as in rhw powerful opener "That Nigga Crazy, or when he goes into an original narration that's so far off most rappers imagination. A great example is "Walk With Me" where AG rhyme over a hauntingly beautiful Show producion with string an flute. A speaks on how we all are three people that will always influence all our deciisions; the person we are, the one we want to be and the one we once was. Its a clever concept that anyone can relate to.
Other stand outs are the neck breakingly hard "You in Trouble" and "South Bronx Shit", featuring some of Show's best prouction in years, complete with horns, hypnotic basslines and perfect scratch hooks coiurtesy of DJ Premier (who btw aced as the executive producer of the album, and mixed songs). "The Bond" is a very impressuve closing statement, a beat that's in two parts; one somber intermission without drums, rhoes and Showbiz speaking his mind on how the music business has fucked up so many frienships. and musical partnerships. Between these intermissions, the beat kicks in and A drops two solid verses on the same theme; "Insane, fame is a rollercoaster / Slick and Doug left after "The Show" was over/ Friendship gone, business replaced it/ That's sucess, that's the truth, let's face it/ I want sucess, The Bond so important/ Can't pay with my friends, a price I'm not afforded/ Don't be sad it's over, be glad that it's once was/ Signing off, Show & A, nigga One Love...". At 15 (or 18 tracks on the iTunes version), I've played this so much front-to-back that I already know the majortity of the lyrics live. All songs are absolutely excellent and with all original beats, rymes, full songs and no DJ shouts, this is really an album, no question about it. My only complaint, which really is quite minor, is the "Experience Remix"; the original track was probably the best song of 2006, while this remix really 1doesn't do anything for me. Even A's vocals, who's brilliantly written, are minimized in their effect due to beat being such dull. But that'sone song out of 18, so it's still pretty damn close to a true masrerpiece based on AG's vocals, Show's production, OC's two strong guest verses ("Wolves" and "Berri Love"), and even the arwor´j
"MUGSHOT MUSIC: PRELOAED - THE REMIXES"
A couple of months later, Show & AG continued the boom bap parade with a sister release to "Preloaed", exclusive to iTues. Featuring 14 tracks, including six remixes, seven brand new tracks and a short intro, all clocking in at just under 40 minutes. Neeless to say, I purchased it on iTunes as soon as it dropped, and didn't regret it a bit. The remixes are powerful stuff, "That Nigga Crazy" breathes new life into the song with a mesmerizing keyboard loop, a powerful bssline and the boom bap drums we ave come to especf from the D.I.T.C. crew. Other remixes that might very well be better than their respective origials are "Just Go Along", which flips the original beat into something even more soulful, yet adding some mystic that was missing from the original, The way Show flips the vocal sample gives even more insight into A's verses. Another remix that blows the original out the water to me is the "Suspended Animation" remix, which slows down the BPM slightly and once again add more mystique with some taunting keys that gives more weight to AG's verse. The original single was short but deadly, and ended right after AG's verse and the beat just stopped; Since the "Remixes" omits listing any features, I was thrilled when the beat stops after A's verse, only to return seconds after with a "brand new" verse from Muthafuckin' Party Arty; "You niggas don't want it with 80, I break 'em all off/ Guns from the Bronx to Haiti, I make 'em haul off/ Pump shotties, double barrellls, I get 'em sawed off/ I ain't waiting for you to set it, 'cuz I'm a stall off/ I ain't waiting for you to dead it, because you're all soft/ When it's on nigga, my dogs I can't call off...", the late P-80 rhymes with a passion, sounding alive and well, giving the impression that he actually recorded that verse to this beat. One of the best verses on the entire set, very powerful, and really makes you miss when Show & A constantly collaborated with The Ghetto Dwellas.
The finest part of the set, however, is the new songs; with only one exception (the boring "If I Met Me"), this is nothing short of classic Showbiz & AG. Three of the songs appeared as bonus tracks on the iTunes version of "Preloaded" but there's such dope cuts that it hardly matters. The title track "Mugshot" was most likely supposed to have appeared on the final album, it's a short but explosive joint with a progressive rhythm track underlying moe keys and a sgort horn sample. My least favorite cut of those exclusives were "Celebrate", but here luckily it appears in a different mix (which I suspect is the original version). Show's produciton is a lot tighter here, a guitar sample fades in and out, dark organ stabs can be hearc in´fhe background, while sinister synthesizer lines and soud effecfs. I guess it can be compared to the "Night Tyme Version" and "Day Time Versiion" of the classic "Next Level" single; this of course being the former. AG is in fine form here, taking a break from describing the struggle to focus on the joys in life.. LET'S CELEBRATE!
"Timeless" and "Trapped" with their darkness and breakbeat friendly production might just be the best ish on the entire set, but more about in the next section of this long review. As a sister album to "Preloaded" it's a great project, and it does stand well on its own as well, though it's not as good as its predecessor. Yet it's definitely worth the $10 dollars it will cost you on iTunes if you haven't already picked it up.
So after plenty of singles dating as far back as late 2010, one pre-album, a double-EP of remixes and new songs, and an instrumental album, "Mugshot Music" was finally released on D.I.T.C. Records on October 9 this year. Suprisingly, it's not even the best of the three releases to my ears ("Preloaded") is, though the best songs on "M.M." is some of the finest Show & A songs in more tha a decade. Three tracks from the "Remixes" project reappears here; the short, and slightly pointless introduction, and two of the aforementioned cuts that stand among the bst out of all three of these releases - "Timeless" and "Trapped". Besides those, the 13 remainning songs are all new shit.
As I had been so eagerly awaiting this project, when I first got it a few days before the actual release and played it through I was left slightly dissapointed; I felt there were too many sung hooks, and somewhat soft beats compated to what I'd heard on "Reloaded". But if there's one thing that really stands out about this release, is that it grows on you on every spin; and by now I've played it again and again, and really came to appreciate it a whole lot. AG drops plenty of interesting concepts, delivered in the most potent pattern whihch as usual sets him apart from his peers. For example, you got "Michele", a story about a girl and her struggles in life, going from selling drugs and her body, to making it out the hood, getting a good education and living a beautiful life - a true hustler as AG puts it. "I Luv Her When I'm High" is another joint that will take a few listens to before you get it, as its actually an ode to hip-hop and A's love for writing lyrics stoned at the same time as it's a story of the argument that many musicians probably can identify with; how an artists love for music comes before his wife or girl.
Show's production is more varied on the two preceeding releases, and sometimes it works better than ever, and sometimes it could have been stronger. For example, "One Way" features repetitive drums, a synthesizer hook that sound far away from anything D.I.T.C. and a rather corny hook by Frank V. On the other hand, "The Soul" also features a soulful hook by Frank V. and is a beautiful track from all point of views; Show's production is haunting with a low-key but effective bassline, hypnotic keys and what sounds like a vocal sample hidden in the background as a loop. The track is universal and one that any spiritual person could relate to; AG's final verse is mindblowing and it's great that he gives a shout to the late Keith Elam in there - "Soul to soul, divine sounds/ GURU in my thoughts, at least we know Keith is at peace/ What happened to the hood in you? Ain't nothing wrong with moving up, but your soul shouln't move/ I loose concious, transcended by the drums and the harmony/ When I wake it's a part of me, our bound is unbreakable/ We co-exist the same way nature do, You can feel it!"
There's a lot of old DITC fam that pops up here, OC drops by on both the album opener "Everytime I Touch the Mic" and "Don't Worry", two tracks that are as excellent as they are different. The former is one of the album's finest songs, one that truly screams D.I.T.C., with lyricists going at it,knocking drums, cuts ans stringsl T being another laid back joint where Show clearly is trying something new but comes off to great success. Party Arty reappears with yet another vaulted verse on the potent gutter cut "All Time Greats". A Bless appears on one of the LP:s hottest songs, "Walkin' On Air", a true school jam where keys and guitars lay the foundation for A and Bless to both perform two outsanding performances. In fact, this might very well be the illes A-Bless verse I ever heard; his voice is alot more ruffer than it used to be, even sounding slightly like P-80. "Ain't Shit Changed" closes the album on a positive note, Show's drum game is top notch here, which is a beautiful thing as the song isn't particular hardcore but works as a mix of the hard and the soft, the good and the bad, if you will. There's also an outro with a sampled voice discussing how hip-hop has been degraded from what it originally was, basically a joke of what it's supposed to be. This is set over a memorable Showbiz beat, making it the perfect and memorable closer to Show & A's fifth album.
So what's the verdict: "Preloaded" is a damn near perfect album to me, and if they choose to release only one of those albums on vinyl I would hope it's that one. "Preloaded: The Remixes" features several amazing songs and remixes but works best as a companion piece to the aforementioned LP, or possibly as a bonus disc if we ever get a physical release. Finally, "Mugshot Music" didn't sound what I had came to expect and inititally I was slightly dissapointed by it; but as is often the case with these types of album, it has been getting better and better with each listen. The album is not perfect, there's a few tracks I could have lived without, but at the same time there's really nothing that as weak or boring that I would skip anything. One thing is clear, Showbiz & AG is the artist of the year, releasing two and a half albums in less than a year, plus an instrumental album as well as producing and appearing on other people's records. I have one huge complaint though, although I always support Show & A, and I did buy these albums on iTunes a crew called D.I.T.C. NOT releasing their music on vinyl, or even CD, is a travesty. So please, if anyone in contact with them, a limited edition or something would definitely sell. Until then, I'ma keep bumping "Preloaded" and "Mugshot Music" while giving props to Show & A for still releasing quality music.