REVIEW: Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal

Nocturnal

Artist: Heltah Skeltah

Album: Nocturnal

Label: Duck Down

Rating: 10 / 10

Reviewer: DJ MF

This is my favorite album of all time.

There. I said it.

I’d stop the review at that, because you REALLY should listen to this before I do it injustice with my words, but I’ll try to continue.

This was the third release out of the soon to be formidable Bootcamp Clik, and dropped after the record label forced breakup of the legendary Black Moon, which many had thought would mean the end of the Clik. Fortunately this wasn’t the case, and merely paved the way for the next wave of BCC members, which included Heltah Skeltah, and later on, the Originoo Gun Clappaz.

In case you don’t know, Heltah Skeltah is made up of MC’s Ruck and Rock, two residents of New York, and more specifically Brownsville. They met as teenagers, and found that their distinct flows complemented each other perfectly, and formed the group.

Before “Nocturnal”, the only time they’d been heard before was on some mixtape snippets,where they had teamed up with OGC to form the Fab 5. It goes without saying that this early work helped to build a massive amount of hype in the underground hip hop scene for their rookie LP.

One more note before the review proper – I can’t overstate how much the mood and the attitude of this album makes it the classic it is. This is even more impressive when you consider that it’s not just one producer handling the music on this, but a number of them, including Baby Paul, DJ Evil Dee, Supreme, and E-Swift of the Alkaholiks. Like the title of the LP would suggest, it’s very dark, very eerie, and when those beats are combined with the booming voice of Rock, and the intricate wordplay of Ruck, you get the classic that this is.

On to the fun.

1) Intro (Here We Come)
Dark dark beat, with the production fading the bassline a bit, giving a pretty cool effect. You won’t hear this properly until you hear it on a BIG system. “Here we come” is chanted over and over, with a short guitar lick being looped. The first voice we hear, as he tells us, is Starang’s (a member of OGC) who tells you what to expect on the LP. Louisville Sluggah then “brings forth Heltah Skeltah” and the absolutely booming voice of Rock enters the fray, and he destroys the mic with his lyrics, which basically give the gist of Heltah Skeltah. I’ve yet to hear an intro as good as this in my life, in terms of how well it sets up the rest of the LP.

2) Letha Brainz Blo
Some nice keys open this up, with some watery sounding effects behind. And then the bassline drops and overwhelms everything. Not in a bad way, since you can still hear the melodies. The slow paced bassline drives this track though. We hear Ruck for the first time here as well, as he wasn’t present on the intro. Lyric content on this one is strictly east coast thug ish, but like I said above, it’s the ATTITUDE that sets this apart, as Ruck throws out lines like-

“I spark marks when the big Ruck flips the Ark
The raw rapper jaw tapper Ruckus kick it wicked
Keep it real my Clik roll thick like acidics
Plus, “I’ll Be There” like Jackson, breakin your backs and
askin, who want more, that’s when my fat spins
So chump chill ‘fore my pump kill
You wanna ill still Ruck knock out your front grill”

3) Undastand
We get to the first track produced by E-Swift on the LP, and you hear the difference right away, although it still has a menacing feel to it. Some grimy sounding drums in a 4/4 pattern, mixed with a vocal sample, and some dreamlike harp sounds. Very peaceful sounding, but with the drums pounding behind, you get that sense of menace I was talking about. The song basically details who Heltah Skeltah is, and what they’re all about when it comes to the rap game-

“Undastand Heltah Skeltah only mean war, undastand
The war’s with everything outside your door, undastand
I be R-O, he be R-U, undastand
It can happen to you”

4) Who Dat?
Buckshot Da BDI weighs in with production on this one, and it’s very laid back, with a simple bassline and drum beat, and some synths accentuating the lyrics. Hard to explain, easier to hear :). Both Ruck and Rock drop freestyle type verses here, with the premise being that they’re just at their house with some friends (who you can hear in the background talking). Short but sweet.

5) Sean Price
One of my fave tracks on the LP, and of all time. Sean Price is the actual name of Ruck, and this track serves as a solo cut of sorts on the LP for him, even though Illa Noyz shows up with a short verse. It starts off with some fairly amusing off key singing by Ruck –

“I’m not sure anymore more
who is knocking at my door door
all the people that I knew
acted funny when big Ruck got some loot
But they can’t see B, let my parabellum fly fly
cause I be god cipher divine vine
And a nigga can’t test me an’ mine mine
If you wanna come feel it, nigga come but twice”

Coincidentally, this is also the chorus. Ruck absolutely kills his verses here, with the braggadacio style, and the beat is outstanding, consisting of a constantly moving bassline, some simple drums, and sparkly noises every once in a while. Awesome.

6) Clan’s, Posse’s, Crew’s, and Clik’s
Heltah Skeltah’s warning to all wack crews out there comes through on this song, as Ruck and Rock lay the law down for groups that think they have strength in numbers, even if they don’t possess skills. The beat is suitably menacing, with a staggered bassline that descends the note range as it loops, some fast paced drums, and intermittent atmospheric sound effects. The lyrics are the treat though-

“I rock heads from Bedrock to Yugoslav-ia
Robbin you and your crew blind yeah we do crimes
Find that Absolut’s fine, or into behind
Now you whine, but yo stop the blood clot cryin
Like Screwface, I in the mood to bash your eyes in
Devils does know who I am, madman from Heltah Skeltah
Mr. Flipster, Rock, Grandson of Sam”

7) Therapy
Woah. Big change of pace here, as we get an almost R&B style track. First time I heard the music here, I cringed thinking they were trying to crossover. My fears were not realized though. Over a relaxed beat with a slow bassline accentuated by a single piano note, and a female voice singing, Ruck and Rock perform an “artsy” track of sorts. Ruck is the psychiatrist, and Rock the patient here, as they tag team rhyme about life in the hood, and how to rise above it all. Beautiful sounding track, and Heltah Skeltah shows they can do more than just destroy other MC’s.

“Bust the prognosis, better yet Duke have a dosage
of prescribed poetry that people perceive as potent
I’ve been goin through your file and I found a conclusion
That you destined to be the best in this world of confusion
You lose when you fall victim to evil ways
I know crime pays but the rhyme slays nowadays
Take two of these and if you have a problem at all
I’m on call twenty-four hours to brawl, word is bond”

8) Place To Be
Another of the album’s highlights. It starts off with a sound effect that sounds like it’s getting closer and closer, until it finally hits you, and a deceptively simple bassline starts, with that same sound effect ringing constantly throughout the song. Incredible. And it doesn’t stop there, as you get a chime or small bell ringing on the verses too.

The track here is basically Ruck and Rock battling over the beat about who you should be backing, both in terms of them, and opposing MC’s. Great stuff, and some great lines from both. I still haven’t decided on whose side I want to be on though, but I do know I want it to be Heltah Skeltah. 🙂

“Yo and if you think that’s hectic it gets worse when Rock’s up in it
So somebody tell the fat lady she’s up in five minutes
Sh*t is almost finished right after I take care of witnesses
Roamin the premises not mindin they businesses
And b**ches up in your melon tellin you to jet
You know if you stay I might give you some chest pains like cigarretes”

9) Soldiers Gone Psycho
This cut probably has the darkest beat on the entire LP, and that’s saying a lot considering how dark this LP is. The bass is very low, and very evil souding on this one, and threatens to muddle up everything, but the Beatminerz manage to make it work by mixing in their sound effects high enough, which include what sound like sampled bird sounds, and another weird sounding effect. Eerie, eerie, eerie. The lyrics lack a bit on this one, but only when compared with the quality of the rest of the cuts, as Ruck and Rock declare their allegiances to the BCC.

10) The Square (Triple R)
Different start on this one, and unlike most of the album, this song is fairly fast. Supreme of Tha Reprazentatives laced this with some RZA-like piano keys, and the aforementioned quicker drum and bass patterns. There’s also a whistle with a varied tonal range thrown in there for the verses too. Complex production that sounds good. This track also feature Supreme and Lidu Rock of Tha Reprazentatives, and they don’t let down their BCC brethren, as they keep up with Ruck and Rock on their verses, especially Supreme, but it’s Rock who shines brightest once again –

“Yo, we blew through the door, I said it before
You asked for it, who want beef? Well here’s war!
We two emcee’s squared, equal four rated Triple R
Leave you pretty boy playas scared, trapped in cars
When will you pirahnas learn?
Bitin my shit,
Larry, you fish burn
Here in The Square, where you runnin, G?
You rather be trapped in a lion’s den with pork chop drawers, then in front on me”

11) Da Wiggy
In my top 3 songs of all time, even though many overlook this track. I can’t describe how much this song booms, so I’ll leave it at that. The bassline is so heavy it rattles EVERYTHING when I play it loud. The drums are 4/4, but the bassline and the various squeaking noises and flute samples make it sound faster. Add in the best vocals on the LP in my opinion from Ruck and Rock, and you’ve got a guaranteed 100% classic. It also has a funny element, as they’ve sampled Rock’s voice, but made it high pitched (almost like he’s on helium), and have it commenting on various lines in the verses, in addition to supplying the chorus. There’s too many lines to mention here, so I’ll blindly choose one verse-

“Send that guy to Rockness Monstah
stomp ya, split’em in half, divide and conquer,
I want ya, to test the irrantional Inflicsta
Rock pounds the ground while Ruck shakes the richters”

12) Gettin Ass, Gettin Ass
I’m not normally too fond of skits, but this one is incredibly funny, and I’ll give it slack since it’s the only skit on the LP to have it’s own track. It’s basically Ruck calling up a girl and trying to get her to come over, with Rock whispering to him in the background to get her to bring some friends. Too funny, and I’m not doing it any justice.

13) Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka
The second single from the LP, the second Fab 5 collaboration, and an absolute classic hip hop track. Fab 5 is Heltah Skeltah and Bootcamp affiliates the Originoo Gun Clappaz by the way. The five have yet to make a bad track, and this was no exception. Da Beatminerz once again lace them with an absolutely incredible beat, which although simple, dripped with style, and had a bassline to die for. Said bassline sounds almost dreamy with the effects they’ve used, and makes up the entire bulk of the track, as the drums are an afterthought here. Also thrown in there for the chorus are the dreamy sounding chimes I’ve mentioned before on the LP. Absolutely fantastic. As great as the beat is, it’s the lyrics that take the cake though, as all 5 MC’s lay wreck to the track. Again, there’s too much to point out, and everyone comes correct on this, so I’ll pick something randomly again –

“Eh yo next to snap a neck be big R-O-C-K
send MC’s to me in squads of three say
Rockness Monsta, is he for real? It can’t be
See him in action as he transform that man’s me
Enemies ain’t Kotter, ain’t no Welcome Back in my home or
knots get blown like cordless slots and payphones
Phone home or Return like Jedi
I bet I can without lie give yo’ stupid ass a red eye”

14) Prowl
Louisville guests on this one again, and teams with Rock and Ruck to make a track that’s pretty creepy sounding. The beat follows the same pattern shown on the track ‘Soldier’s Gone Psycho’ but with some nice extra touches, including a very crazy sounding guitar solo loop in the background, and what sounds like a mariachi guitar sample used in the chorus, which is a simple chant of, “Who we be, we be the B double O, T-C, A-M-P” repeated over and over. Great track, and this time Louisville shines, with lines like –

“I bring wreck in this game, and don’t shit change
I inflicts pain like a stressed brain having a migraine
Heads talk trash, walk in paths like anorexic
Patients, laced up, overdosed in the exits
And see, hears, these dumb, blind rappers
Who don’t know the meaning of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz
Many phrases, many ways you can explain this
Put on some rough, tough sh*t, huh, I’ll make you famous
So, step don’t stare, dare cross this path beware
Representativez and Foul Play out the rear”

15) Grate Unknown
In the same spirit shown as on the track ‘Sean Price’, this cut is a solo song for Rock, and he shows why he’ll always be a fave in my book, and that he’d be more than able to carry an album on his own if he wanted to. A sampled voice singing welcomes you to the “great unknown”, and the beat and Rock both start things off simultaneously soon after. The beat in question has a really weird bassline that switches up pitch and tone, but still manages to sound spectacular as it’s looped. Other than some atmospheric effects, that’s the beat, as the drums are pretty basic. The lyrics are amazing once again, as Rock shows off some lyrical dexterity with some great metaphorical lines in battle style verses, like-

“Fuck your Street Fighter, front if you want to get hyper
I’ll strap on bombs, and blow your face up like Striker”

and

“Who’s the crew with the jewels trying to front?
Your money, your life, and war’s all I want
Bring all beef to Bedrock I’ve got my gun
Niggaz as soft as burger buns”

16) Operation Lockdown
The lead single off the LP, and the track which paved the way for the success of Heltah Skeltah by opening up the ears of the hip hop masses. The cut is pure butter, with a goreous harp sample running throughout, and some heavy bass. Again, it’s kept simple, and it works beautifully. The harp sample in particular works nicely due to the way it contrasts so much with the gruff lyrics and voices of Ruck and Rock. The song is basically dealing with how the BCC locks it down in the music industry, and how they’re the best crew in hip hop. Rock in particular shines once again –

“Who wan tess y’all?
Mr. Malduke, a.k.a. Rockness y’all
Guard your chest y’all
Nothing can protect y’all
From Buckshot on down to the rest y’all
We runnin through your set y’all
Fuck the rest y’all, we be the best y’all
Yesh yesh y’all
I crack backs North South East and West y’all
We know fresh y’all
I did do I guess y’all
I didn’t say I doesn’t indeed sex I never measure
Ready to wet y’all
Place your bottom dollar bets y’all
Chest will become messed bored if you flex y’all
Nevertheless y’all
We out to save the ship before it’s dead y’all
Lock it down with the full court press y’all”

The final track on the LP is a “bonus track” of sorts, which uses the same instrumental as ‘Operation Lockdown’, but instead of it being a song proper, is just another skit. Pretty funny, but I usually skip it.

Along with the earlier BCC releases, Heltah Skeltah helped to revitalize a slumping East Coast, which was in the midst of G-rap at the time, and bring hip hop back to it’s essence- the streets.

That would be reason enough to call this a classic, but on top of that, the music on here was timeless, and the emergence of Rock and Ruck as the best tag-team in all of hip hop, puts this head and shoulders above anything else I own, or probably ever will.

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