Underrated is hard to define. What may be an underrated album for one person may be an essential part of a collection for another. With that in mind, the albums I’ve compiled are in my opinion underrated in relation to the quality they possess. And also, sometimes to the price I’ve paid (an album is infinitely better if I buy it for a couple of dollars than full price, or third party price). These are not underground secrets, nor am I saying no one’s ever heard these before, but they are to me fringe albums that contain a beginning-to-end sturdiness that’s lacking in a majority of releases.
Gangsta “Wanted” (1995)
“Roll Through The City With Your Heat”
For a few years, every time I went to a Book Nook here in (metro) Atlanta, I’d see this album sitting there, with the mug shot staring back at me. There were 4 Book Nooks, and they were at all of them. I always passed it up, because I figured the music was as generic as the artist’s name. Gangsta. Not even Gangsta _______. Just Gangsta. And back then, everyone was trying to cash in on gangsta rap, so I had to be discriminating in my selection. I didn’t even look at the back, I’d always leave with something else, or nothing. And then, after hearing the Comrads on Bow Down, and then on their own self-titled album, I finally put two and two together and rushed out and picked it up. Luckily, after those years, it was still there, in the same spot, same bargain bin, like nothing’s changed. Except me. I was willing to open my mind, and not think that an album had to be Amerikkka’s Most or Chronic for it to be good. And most importantly, that albums could not be from a major label, or even could look cheap, and still be dope. This album easily slides into the mid-90s style of gangsta rap, in music and lyrics, as the name would suggest. It’s just hardcore, through and through (except for the sunny ode to all things West Coast, “Front and Back Side to Side” and the somber “Take You Round the Hood”). How can it be anything but gangsta when you have lines like “Wore a shit bag at 15/Charged for attempted murder at 16″? The strongest cuts are “N’ All Kinda Shit”, “Evil Side”, “OG-BG” and “Get Mine Get Yours” (which has a nice piano/organ/bass mix). But the standout track is “Roll Through the City With Your Heat” which, with it’s laid back beat almost necessitates that it be played at night. As the title suggests, it illustrates the benefits of always having your gun with you, with the chorus being “I’d rather be caught with a strap than without it”. I got the feeling that he came up with the name Comrads for the group, as the name is generously used throughout the album to refer to his homies. This would later be reissued as Gangsta from the Comrads “Fuck All Y’all” which is also hard to find/expensive if you do. He, along with Squeak Ru, were always my favorites from the groups spawned from Bow Down, and it’s nice to see a pre-Comrad Gangsta get a whole album to himself with just the underground to please.
Mr. X “Mr. X” (1996)
“Any Ole Sunday”
Unheralded g-funk isn’t new, it hit all parts of the US and was the preferred method of music for many. It’s easy to overlook when there was such a glut, and when many thought unless Death Row did it, it wasn’t worth the listen. But this album flew under the radar despite half the album being produced by one of g-funk’s best practitioners, QDIII. The music on this is like audio sunshine and palm trees, it oozes southern California in every one of it’s synth notes and bass hits. And the style on this is the softer side of it, as opposed to the harder hitting type found on “Uncle Sam’s Curse”, for example. Mr. X tackles all the standard fare, from police problems to “Puttin in Work” to just riding. And he does it all in rap or the sing-songy style of rap, which of course complements the smooth beats QDIII is providing. Which is really where this excels, as these are some of QDIII’s finest beats. In the 90s when this was released, it may have been dismissed as derivative, or just blended in with the many others clogging the market, but now this stands out as one of g-funk’s most underrated and best examples.
Mnmsta “Here For a Reason” (2007)
“Here For A Reason”
Being in an extremely underrated group, Foesum, almost necessitates being included on this when a solo album is dropped. And like every group ever, there are always solo albums. Foesum dropped of course the quintessential g-funk album “Perfection” in ‘96 and followed up with “The Foefathers” a few years later. But since 2000 they have really been active, with Mnmsta dropping 3 solo albums in that span as well as being the most recognizable voice of the group. This is his second album, and I dare say it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard since 2000 (which is how I separate all hip hop). The thing that would ordinarily drive me crazy about albums, which is a mix of different sounds, is a strong point on here. It starts with a skit of the aftermath of Mnmsta getting shot and then the title track about said shooting (I guess he got shot in real life? I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter). It’s also the best song, as the first verse recounts the shooting but then the second lamenting himself being a pallbearer the week before for one of his friends, all with some nice long flute notes echoing in my ears. “Do What We Gotta Do” is an uptempo song about basically, doing what they gotta do while “West Coast Pride” features fellow Foesum member T-Dubb and is a chunky, funky ode to the coast they have parlayed into international fame and money. Songs like “Everyday Life” which has a reggae beat and a sped up cadence shouldn’t sound like it would work, but it does. Bo-Rocc adds his crooning later on the album in a soulful song, and a talkbox actually contributes to the song “Trix of the Trade”. But of course, this is an Mnmsta album, which is never forgotten. His voice is very authoritative and confident on every song, which is a good combination as the dope beats supplied by DJ Glaze, DJ 2 High, Loops, Cigar Lee, Jammin James, I-Roc and T-Nasty could overwhelm a rookie. This album doesn’t have any bullshit on it, which is always a plus and seemingly difficult for some people to learn, and I think that quality control makes this an album to have in your collection. You might not see why if you’re not a hardcore West Coast fan, but if you are this hits all the right notes.
Bigg Tupp Wit 2P’s In It “Cap or College” (2013)
“My Crip Relative (feat. C-BO)”
The best solo gangsta album (imo) of 2013 might not be a title that hard to attain, given current quality, or even that desirable, since it’s such a niche group now. And certainly, it might not have the same status as if it were from the 90s. But this is a rare album in a sea of quantity over quality. Clocking in at 44 minutes, it doesn’t act as though the maximum fill time is a taunting dare from the CD. But it is thorough. For me to like a rapper, it’s not necessarily the subjects, but the way that it’s conveyed that set apart the dope ones from the ones that run up on you in a parking lot with a mixtape to hand out. And at least, for me, that’s where this stands apart. On songs like “A Mother’s Prayer”, “Cap or College” and “My Crip Relative” he’s able to impart lines (“they wanna know why I’m angry/I prefer to let the past explain”) that bring that reality to you in a way that shows he’s lived that life but doesn’t need to hit you over the head with gangsta cliches to prove it. The beats fit well to his voice, (perhaps best described as a gruffer Squeak Ru) whether it’s the echoing lushness of “Cannon” or the gunshot assisted “My Bulls Hat” (which features Mack 10’s classic line as the chorus), despite only being familiar with two of the producers (Six Million and Dae One). There are only four guests on the album, and they do what’s needed, which is add to and not detract from the main artist. C-Bo drops one of his best verses I’ve heard in a while on “My Crip Relative” and Big2daboy adds to “Bounce”. But what most impresses is that after the album, you have a good representation of who he is, that he’s able to bring that out and convey it to you through the lyrics. Which shouldn’t be rare in hip hop. As someone who has loved hip hop, and specifically gangsta rap for over 2 decades, I’m pretty cynical and finicky, but I was a fan of his before, and even more so after this album.
Dazzie Dee “The Re-Birth” (1996)
“Tha Ultimate Drive-By”
One could make a list of underrated rappers based entirely on their Lench Mob affiliation. In regards to quality vs notoriety, Threat, Yo-Yo, Da Lenchmob, Kausion, K-Dee and others all put out superior albums that still, for the most part, flew under the radar. But more so than those, Dazzie Dee’s “The Re-Birth” album is the most underrated of the bunch. Originally supposed to be “Where’s My Receipt?” on Capital Records, it later became this album on Raging Bull. In fact, it went so far as to have a single and video (Everybody Wants to be a Gangsta) with promo copies of the album pressed and even got a shitty 3 mic review in the Source before the plug was pulled on the whole division he was in. It was that Source review that put everything in a negative light that was a plus for me. So I got the single and was instantly in love with the b-side, On My Side (Solo Version). I went to the record store every Tuesday to see if it dropped, until eventually I came upon this version that is here. And was not at all disappointed. His voice, which sounds like a lighter, young Snoop, disguises the reality of 80s gangbanging that he grew up in and that shaped this record. And like most Lenchmob related rappers, he was deft with the storytelling, as in the opening track “Tha Ultimate Drive-By” or something simple, like juggling two women on the phone at the same time on “Sticcey Situation”. Since he later became an accomplished producer on his own, working with Quik, Suga Free and Mausberg, and with Battlecat contributing more than half the tracks, this album sweats out funk. In fact, as Dazzie explains “Funk? Westside got lots of it” Each and every track grinds out funk beats that are always hard hitting, the standouts being “Tha Ultimate Drive-By”, “Ain’t No Busta’s This Way” and “On My Cide”. Coming in at a concise 10 tracks and boasting appearances by ‘96 versions of Ice Cube, K-Dee, Coolio, CMW’s Tha Chill, Dazzie’s sister Squeek, Dolemite, King Tee, Mixmaster Spade and Toddy Tee this was well worth my wait. Hell, buy it solely for the guy getting slapped at the end of one song for not claiming Westside fast enough.