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CRU
Da Dirty 30
All of this helped to infect the short-lived group Cru with a bad case of ''right place, wrong time'' syndrome. The right place was Def Jam. The wrong time was 1997, when the famed label inked its legendary dea..
CRU: Da Dirty 30      by DJ VERB

Just Another Case of Def Jam Mishandling Their Artists...

Hip-Hop heads always like to talk about the "Golden Age" of 1991-1995 (or 1987 through 1989, depending on who you ask) when they get to reminiscing about the old-school. The late-90's, however, don't get a lot of scrutiny from either heads or non-heads. This is largely because the explosion of creativity and sheer quality that characterized the early-90's had mostly subsided, but I feel that there was another factor at work.

Around 1996 was when hip-hop fans started to split into two camps. On one side, you had the underground backpacker cats who loved the lo-fi, often experimental sound of indie rap. On the other, you had the street cats who liked their shit rugged, rough, and flashy. For these guys, it's Jay-Z, Biggie, and DMX or nothing. Go back to 1991 or 1993 and it was clear: Tribe, De La, Pete Rock and CL, Gang Starr, Black Sheep and their ilk were all the Shit, capital S. Nearly everyone, regardless of race, class, or creed, could agree on this. In the late 90's, though, things done changed. Jay-Z was blowing up, and hardcore Jigga fans were not necessarily feeling the "dusty but digital" sound of Company Flow.

Of course, there were fans of both sounds, but on the whole, the stratification of hip-hop heads along underground/mainstream lines was becoming more and more pronounced. I could discuss this subject in relation to this period's general increase in commercial appeal of Hip-Hop (see The Score by The Fugees, among others), but that's a whole other piece entirely.

All of this helped to infect the short-lived group Cru with a bad case of "right place, wrong time" syndrome. The right place was Def Jam. The wrong time was 1997, when the famed label was busy going platinum with Foxy Brown's Ill Na Na and inking its legendary deal with Roc-A-Fella and their flagship artist, Jay-Z. All of a sudden, promoting the promising debut of a little hardcore crew just wasn't very high on their to-do list.

The album's title is a reference to New York City's investigation into the corrupt goings-on within the NYPD's 30th precinct. There's no thematic connection between New York's Finest and the lyrics, but the group did manage to stretch the album out to an astounding 30 tracks, for better or for worse. A good handful of those tracks are skits and interludes, but the album still bursts at the seams. There's much fat that could have been trimmed, but I prefer ambition over under-achievement. Considering the fact that they never got a second album, it was good that they got their all their licks in. Both musically and lyrically, but especially the latter, Cru resemble A Tribe Called Quest if they had the lyrical complexity (or lack thereof) and grimy instincts of the Boot Camp Clik. Producer/MC Yogi (who's a bit of a Q-Tip sound-alike and admits to being tagged as such) holds things down lovely on the mic and the boards.

His lyrical foil, Chadeeo, is definitely the Phife to his Tip. He's OK without being wack, and his scrappy, higher-pitched voice provides a nice contrast to Yogi's smooth flows. Despite the Native Tongue similarity, Cru like to keep their shit gully with simple and clever thugisms like "now they baldheads cuz I'm pullin' wigs back" (from "The Shit.") Rather than hire some true-schoolers to drop science, Cru opt for guest shots from the likes of Black Rob (who rips both "Wreckgonize" and the mad ill "Nothin' But"), Ras Kass, and the LOX, who help to turn the bass-heavy old-schooler "Live at the Tunnel" into a club-worthy street banger. Slick Rick adds some throwback goodness to the classic single "Just Another Case," but his turn is tempered by Antoinette, who comes out of nowhere with a gangsta verse on "Bluntz and Bakakeemiz" that makes Lil Kim and Foxy Brown sound like Strawberry Shortcake and them.

As I mentioned before, not only is Yogi the group's most compelling lyrical force, he's also the beat brainchild, providing all the production for this album. The Tribe-meets-Boot Camp comparison also applies here, as Y-O excels in both feelgood jazziness and the type of dark, menacing soundscapes we normally associate with the Beatminerz. He starts right off with "Bluntz and Bakakeemiz," pairing heavy drums with a tense, eerie guitar loop dope enough to get the softest cats to throw they gunz. "Nothin But" is another ill gem, centered around an atmospheric piano-type sound that recalls European darkmeisters The Prunes.

On the flipside, he loops up a deep rhodes snippet on the laid-back "Wreckgonize" and chops some whimsical strings on "Bubblin." The latter sort of reminds me of the Liks or Lootpack. Other jazzy highlights include "The Illz" and the very Tribe-esque "Fresh, Wild, and Bold. I can't decide whether or not his decision to sample Portishead on "Straight from L.I.P." is a bad look. I usually require at least a five-year waiting period before you can sample something. It worked for Brand Nubian on "Slow Down," so maybe I'm tripping. Regardless, I have to applaud Yogi's willingness to jump on some whiteboy UK shit that most dudes would have fronted on. He starts to lose the plot near the end with a handful of corny, ill-conceived keyboard beats. Fortunately, he finishes crazy strong with "Armageddon," a hypothetical tale of mass rap execution with a beat that's pure hardcore. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Just Another Case," a fine story rap made even finer by the emotional, evocative latin guitar loop that anchors the track. Even if you don't remember a word, that sample will stay with you for days. If you only listen to one track on this album, make it this one.

Speaking of their beloved single, Cru ended up being "just another case" of not-enough-of-either to stand out. Their gritty flavor was perfect for the hard-rocks, but with hip-hop trending towards "money, cash, hoes," Cru was just too underground for the street dudes. On the other hand, being signed to Def Jam in '97 meant they were too caught up in the major label scene to truly penetrate the fan bases of emerging DIY favorites like El-P, Atmosphere, and MF Doom. In other words, they weren't underground enough. Word has it that a third member of the crew got locked up in the middle of recording, and without his crucial presence, Def Jam reportedly lost interest in the project and left it to hang in the wind. Whether or not this is the case, Da Dirty 30 still got a particularly raw deal from Def Jam and deserved way more in the way of promotion than it got. Flawed as it is, it remains high atop everyone's "underrated" list to this day, with new fans getting turned onto it everyday by real heads who knew the deal. If anything, Chad and Yo might be broke, but they got a whole lot of respect. Now that Def Jam's got all the loot, I think it's time for a special reissue package with bonus remixes and instrumentals. Who's with me?

 

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