Artifacts between a rock and a hard place

Artifacts - Between a Rock and a Hard Place


DJ/Host of You Must Learn


In 90s hip hop, there was sometimes a need – whether by labels or by groups themselves – to find something small in the culture that would be used to define you.  No one personified this better than the Soul Assassins crew, who had a “weed group” in Cypress Hill, a “beer group” with House of Pain, and a “porno group” with Funkdoobiest.  And hip hop fans could spot those who lived that life and who didn’t, and that usually correlated with the quality of the music – if you didn’t need to spend time and energy pretending to be about a particular lifestyle, you could put more into the music.


Artifacts were the “graffiti group” of the time.


And, like the SA crews, this was legit.  El Da Sensei and Tame One were elder statesmen of the paint.  When they rapped about it, it was a biography, not fiction.  So in 1994, Between a Rock and a Hard Place came out on Big Beat Records and made the same indelible mark those two gentlemen left on trains around New Jersey.


Looking back, it’s a curious record with some interesting choices.  “C’mon Wit Da Git Down” and “Wrong Side of the Tracks” made their way around New York City underground radio shows – often with DJs playing both in the same show – which led to the wider release of what was essentially a double-A side 12” single.  Months later, the record leads off with those two songs back to back (after a mediocre intro), Give the people what they want right away, right?


Luckily, the people who played the rest of the album were rewarded for their time.  With the bulk of the production handled by T-Ray, with some sprinkled in beats by Buckwild, Tame and El know who they are and play their role to its fullest potential.  Are they the most skilled lyricists?  No.  But they also don’t try to exceed their limits, instead keeping a cool demeanor over that brand of Smooth Rugged beats that place the listener in a very specific listening space.  Later in the album, Redman produces and features on “Cummin’ Thru Ya F-Kin’ BlocK” (with the production credit going to Reggie Noble), and Busta Rhymes on the “C’mon” remix.


But even without that star power dropping by, tracks like “Dynamite Soul” and “Whayback” may have gotten into a few mix shows, but largely went unnoticed despite being highlight-worthy if they appeared on any of a hundred other anonymous albums at the time.  Truly a victim of a crowded field, the debut Artifacts record still holds up today – as the group’s name would indicate, if you’re telling the story of 90s hip hip, this is an important piece worthy of scrutiny by hip hop anthropologists yet to come.