Album: The Reunion
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Crimewave are serious about what they do. How do I know? Check out the list of producers on this, their first full length album – The Beatnuts, Alchemist, Buckwild, Armageddon… these cats have pulled out all the stops to make sure this shit bangs.
But who are Crimewave? How come you’ve never heard of them until now? The 5 man crew out of New York epitomize the whole struggle involved in repping underground Hiphop – squad leader, Shamus, did the whole independent thing back in 1996, rocking the underground and college mixshow circuit with his first single ‘Big Willie Style’ which shifted 10,000+. He went on to drop an EP, “Serving Life”, and introduced two new members into the mix, Flu and Maximillan. The charting of this joint on Billboard’s Hot Hiphop & R’n’B listings was a triumph for the independent “David” against the major label “Goliaths”, and led to work beginning on “Scripture Won”, backed up with the addition of the final two group members, Skar and Karachi-Raw.
And the sum of their collective efforts? Well…
After the customary intro, the albums kicks off properly with the second single ‘Think Big’. With its eerie piano loop, and ominous bass grumblings coming courtesy of The Smith Bros, its little wonder this has made major moves onto college and hardcore playlists. Its very New York in sound, with that hard gritty edge that a lot of the major players on the East Coast seem to have moved away from.
The next cut ‘Hard Times’ however, follows in the footprints of the very cats that ‘Think Big put to sh’We Thuggin’ bullshit – how could it be with Psycho Les from the Beatnuts on the boards? Maintaining that hard kick that the ‘Nuts have built their rep on, this would sound right at home on “Musical Massacre”. The female vocalist, Shantel, even sounds a little like Pepsi Riley, who popped up on that album. Thankfully, the Crimewave quintet aren’t bragging about fur coats and alcohol here – they keep it gutter.
After the ‘Fuck Y’all’ out-take, the pace picks up with the Wu-esque ‘Wild 4 Life’. Its an uptempo thumper which features a cascading piano loop and a gang of stabbing string samples, allowing the group to come hard again. Its typical NY thug bravado shit though – nothing outstanding – but does the job intended, and makes the album chug along nicely until the arrival of the Alchemist produced gem ‘Johnny’. A cinematic masterpiece, with its tales of gun, hustlers, and snitches, this one owes a huge debt to classic gangster flicks, but manages to pull it all off convincingly, thanks in no small part to the abilities of the crew to mesh perfectly with the Alchemist’s “movie score”.
As the album moves on, past the customary Timbaland-styled double timed staccato cut that every album seems to have nowadays, ‘Tell Me’, and the “telephone-call-to-homie-in-jail” cut ‘Dan Sin Teardrops’, it becomes clear that despite the fact that we’re retreading ground that’s already been covered thousands of times before, Crimewave have somehow still been able to make these often tired subjects sound interesting. Its also nice to be proved wrong sometimes too – after writing Shantel off earlier, she pops up again on biographical ‘It Ain’t The Same’ with a much more rootsy, much more soulful hook, that had me nodding.
Standout cuts though? Simple – the Buckwild-produced ‘What Side You On’ and the Eastern flavour of ‘Foreign Lands’. The first single, ‘What Side You On’ is easily the strongest joint on here, and features an extremely funky little loop with a distorted vocal running through it. The beat is a perfect stage for Crimewave to display their talents, and the five don’t hold back – coming off as a hybrid mix of Xzibit, Kool G Rap, MOP, and Black Moon. This is just sick. ‘Foreign Lands’ as already mentioned, has a strong Middle Eastern flavour, and features the talents of Armageddon on the boards. The lyrics here are extremely thought provoking, touching on the Twin Towers attack, the current situation with Iraq, and the threat of nuclear war. Dope as hell.
The last couple of cuts are also quite strong – ‘Don’t Talk About Love’ is an extremely articulate ode to loves had and lost, backed up by a jazzy saxaphone break and an uptempo beat that draws comparisons with the Roots. The closer, ‘Street Smarts’ takes it back to the rawness of the opening half of the album, but this time features an amazing two minute lyrical display that disappoints only due to the fact of its brevity!
Apart from the last quarter of this album, where the stereotype gets turned on its head, its mostly gritty, raw street tales. Nothing wrong with that when its done as well as this though, and with the demise of Mobb Deep as a true force after the disappointing “Infamy”, Crimewave are an apt choice to step in and fill the void. Couple this with the fact with the last few cuts on the album, they’ve show a superb ability to move beyond the boundaries that seem to have held back Havoc and Prodigy, and I’m certain that Crimewave should be getting the recognition they deserve sooner, rather than later.