REVIEW: Saafir – The Hit List

The Hit List

Artist: Saafir

Album: The Hit List

Label: Warner

Rating: 7 / 10

Reviewer: DJ MF

Saafir, aka Reggie Gibson, aka Mr. No No, aka The Saucee Nomad is among the top 5 MC’s in the world today based purely on lyrical ability. Not many with any background or knowledge of hip hop would argue this point I think. So now you’re asking, “Why hasn’t he blown up then?”.

The answer is pretty simple – loyalty. Saafir has dropped 2 full lengths before this one, in addition to acting roles in movies like “Menace II Society” (Harold). However, in my opinion, he’s kept himself from becoming a household name mainly because of his loyalty to his childhood friends and crew. Not a bad thing mind you, and actually something to be respected, but the truth is the truth.

The one thing that is always mentioned when speaking of Saafir’s earlier albums is the mediocre production. With his booming voice, and intricate lyrics, Saafir would constantly overpower anything he was on, and truth be told, the beats he was rhyming over were kind of weak. I think when comparing older albums with this one, you can see that that was an area that was worked on, and for the most part, they did good.

The album opens up with the lead single off the album, and the title track, ‘The Hit List’. Immediately, if you’ve heard other Saafir albums, you’ll notice just how clean the beat is. Very low bass beats, clean drums, and chimes ringing off in the background. A definite head nodder though. The subject matter for the track deals with a perceived “hit list” put out on rappers in the industry today, making note of the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie. Interesting topic, and Saafir doesn’t disappoint lyrically with lines like,

“The newspapers read
“De La Soul Is Dead”
The “Stakes Is Higher” than Hell fire
Shocking news travels like a live wire
To the Mississippi connect
Brought in from a club bathroom
Bartender slipped him a mickey
Everybody in hip hop is trigger itchy
One of the Pharcyde got smoked in a hotel in Pawkipsie”

The next track up, ‘A Dog’s Master’ utilizes a very cool sounding key loop that sounds like it was lifted off some 70’s police drama. Nice. Included is an echoed spacey effect interspersed throughout, adding some more atmostphere, and when the chorus drops, some nice jazzy horns pipe in. Inventive beat. The lyrics are delivered flawlessly, and subject matter revolves around MC’s who follow trends in music, just like a dog following their master. Nice metaphors.

A beautiful horn starts off the next track, leading to an almost southern sounding drum pattern (think Ha by Juvenile). I don’t know about this beat though. It’s fast paced, and it’s accentuated by some cheap sounding synths, and some nice sounding keys. Saafir switches it up a bit here, rapping a bit faster. Subject matter is about how people need to get their priorities in order –

“You was just gonna ball on the spot? Let’s be real,
You gotta stack dollar bills before you get a mil
Gotta handle business before you choose to chill or you fall
Crawl before you ball”

Up next is a track featuring the talent of west coast rapper KAM, entitled ‘Watch How Daddy Ball’, introduced by a jazzy guitar lick. This is a more laid back track, with slower drums, and a slow bassline that descends in tones. The guitar lick is very nice though. The chorus though, is straight booty. The track is a basic braggadacio song, but the chorus is just unimaginably bad with a bad R&B singer just ruining the menacing mood invoked by the MC’s.

Venturing onward and crossing my fingers for luck now, we get to ‘Slip Into My Eyes’, another track that received a lot of mixtape play when this album dropped. The beat is comprised of a high pitched flutey/electronic sound that is very calming. Following this cue, the rest of the track is laid back, and takes a back seat to the lyrics, which basically consist of Saafir telling us about himself and what he’s gone through in life. A great track, and the R&B chorus actually works here, because it’s simple, short, and the singer actually sounds like she knows what she’s doing.

Carlos Broady, known for his work with a large variety of artists, both east and west coast, including some of the Wu, produces the next track, ‘6 Digits’, and appropriately, it’s dark, has piano keys sprinkled here and there, and uses what sounds like the same whistle sound used in ‘Slip Into My Eyes’. This track also features Cutthroat and Mr. Doe, who pale considerably when compared to Saafir. An average track.

The second single off the LP, ‘Not Fa’ Nuthin’ is one of the highlights of the LP, and comes up next. Featuring Chino XL, it’s a lyricist lover’s dream, as he and Saafir do the tag team rhyming thing, destroying anything and everything with battle-rhyme similes and metaphors. Check it –

“I shine like Bruce Willis’s bald spot in the sun rays.
I’m a mad rappa, beat you like the editor of ‘Blaze’!”

and

“You fly cats is chickens, you featherless.
While you tryin’ to get millions, I’m trainin’ as a United States terrorist!
Drombin’ these bomb before your planes get off the ground,
blowin’ out the pilot and all flames that sound the same.
Y’all niggas is B-12 bumped up wit’ a pound of fame.”

Great stuff. And the beat keeps up by pumping some heavy bass, and a simple atmospheric loop in the background. Perfect for letting these two do their thing.

A simple beat makes up ‘Pokerface’ with what sounds like someone just hitting two piano keys over and over in a loop, and some dirty sounding drums. This track sounds like it belongs on Saafir’s older material. The beat is actually mixed down pretty low, and Saafir just kills it once again, doing the straight battle ish again.

’25 Ta Life’ the next track, features Mahasin, and again has a darker, grittier sound to it. As it should, being produced by Big Nous, a member of Saafir’s crew, the Hobo Junction. It’s a simple beat, but the background sounds are a treat, with a creepy shuffling noise in the background, and some scary sounding horns jumping in during the chorus. Very nice.

‘Mask-A-Raid’, features the “talents” of Jayo Felony, who I’ve always felt managed to suck and blow at the same time. Again, production is handled by Carlos Broady, and the beat is nice, with some faster syncopated drums, and chimes again in the background. Jayo starts off, doing his straight G-rap, “I’ma kill everyone” rap style. Ugh. Then Saafir comes in, and I swear, the difference is quality is so huge, one wonders why Jayo would want to be on a track with someone like Saafir, where he could be compared so directly. Would have been better without Jayo.

Another slow beat makes up ‘Liquid Ho Magnet’, and it’s actually very nice, and inventive. A bouncy bassline, combined with some synth sounds descending in tone, mixed with some noises that sound like they’re underwater. In addition, throughout the song, you get some instances horn loops, and some guitar chords. A very deep song in terms of beat depth. Nice, and unexpected, considering what Saafir’s beats used to be. The lyrics are standard, “I’m not going to let a woman take all my money” ish. Nothing special, although they are raised a notch by having Saafir do it.

The underground and geek hit ‘Smart Bomb’ is up next, and it’s the most inventive song on the LP, at least lyrically. The song deals with videogames, and much like GZA’s ‘Publicity’ or ‘Labels’, incorporates the names of games into the song. Great idea. In addtion to this, the beat sounds like it’s sampled a number of old games, like Pac-Man, and Galaga. Cool stuff.

The next track, ‘Bedroom Bully’ is a let down, especially after the last track. A slower beat again, and a pretty cool loop that sounds like a violin. In addtion, throughout the song you get various vocal loops, whose origin I don’t know, sprinkled throughout. The major problem here again is the inclusion of an unnecessary R&B type hook. A shame.

‘Runnin Man’ is the next to last cut on the LP, and opens with what sounds like a man running, and breathing heavy. A cool side note – if you listen in headphones, you’ll hear the man moving from left to right. A nice touch. A VERY cool beat starts up, and has what sounds like synth violins jabbing in and out of the beat. And every once in a while you get some noise that sounds like an error noise on a computer. The lyrics attack the beat, and are almost like a diary, as Saafir tells a story about running from the law.

‘Final Thrill’ ends “The Hit List”, and lives up to it’s title. It starts off with what sounds like music from “The Godfather”, and then some dark and grimy sounding drums enter the scene, ending the music abruptly and also introducing what sounds like a horror movie score. Innovative use of samples. The chorus uses some sprinkled keys again, if only for a few seconds. The lyrics are again, battlelicious, and I’m happy.

All in all, I think this was a great effort by Saafir to try and make his sound a little more accessible, without compromising his lyrics, and the spirit of his music. Like I said in the beginning, the major difference between this albums and the ones from before is the quality and cleanliness of the beats. Instead of sounding like it was recorded in a bassment this time, it actually sounds mastered.

If there is one nag I have, it would be the inclusion of R&B choruses in a couple of songs. They can be effective, but they need to fit the mood, and in some cases here, they didn’t. Other than that, a great album by Saafir.

Now, all we need is for him to get together with Ras Kass and Xzibit and record the Golden State Warriors album, and I’ll be in heaven.

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