By – KC (DJ of “You Must Learn”
The sophomore album was always a thing of anticipation during mid-90s hip hop. Would a group or artist continue on a path that they set on their debut? Or would a dramatic shift in what was current at the time find itself reflected in new work?
When Showbiz & AG dropped their major-label debut Runaway Slave in 1992, it arrived to massive fanfare based on some bouncy uptempo singles, with brash horns often contrasting a low bass tone, Showbiz would go on to become a critical member of the D.I.T.C. crew (Diggin In The Crates) with some of the heaviest hitters of the time. One could find joy and exuberance in his music. His rhyme partner, AG, was your classic punch-line rapper – going little beyond braggadocio and painting vignettes of what might happen if you messed with his crew. It was very time-appropriate music.
So, in 1995, the sophomore album was due to drop. Leading up to it, the single “The Next Level” comes out with two mixes – one by Showbiz, and a remix (called the “Nyte Time Mix”) by DJ Premier – and people took notice about one thing. It was no longer playful.
A few weeks later Goodfellas – now credited to just Show & AG – came out with a simple black-based album cover, which is indicative of the new mood. In between releases, hip hop had gotten a little darker and grimier. Groups like Onyx and Black Moon had released music that acted as a soundtrack for a gray NYC winter, and hip hop had gotten more Serious. Showbiz took his production in that direction. Gone were the flashy horns and playful piano. The music, tonally, was dark. It would be too far to say menacing, but that’s not to say that wasn’t the intent. He had some help on the production as well, from Dres, Lord Finesse, and Roc Raida, as well as the aforementioned DJ Premier beat which became sequenced into the heart of the record and Showbiz’ original relegated to the end of Side 2.
But, is it good? Actually, yes. While at the time, there were people who did fall into the classic “I wish you made the first album again” camp, this is a quality album with some glaring misses – most prominently, the need to showcase a couple of rappers in their camp, Party Arty and Wali World. Given the quality of emcees easily accessible within the circle of DITC, to give space on four tracks to them hurts the album for sure.
Clocking in at an economical 50 minutes for 14 tracks (one intro, two versions of “The Next Level” inclusive), there are definitely more than enough moments to make this worth a listen or two. The Lord Finesse-led “Add On” is probably the closest bridge to the older version of Show & AG, and “Time For” might not make any waves if it was released today, but it’s a very representative track for the time.
Ultimately, however, it’s probably best defined by the track that is included in this week’s show – “Got tha Flava” featuring Party Arty, Wali World, and Method Man. You get a great beat from Showbiz. You get a very good verse from AG. You get two forgettable verses by two forgettable rappers. And you get a half-assed Method Man verse tacked on at the end in response to the trend of the time. It’s so 1995, in all of the good and bad ways. Maybe the “I wish you made the first album again” people were right.