Even if you weren’t intimately familiar with Canadian hip-hop, in 1997/98 it wasn’t hard to tell that “Cash Crop,” the second album by Vancouver crew Rascalz, was a landmark release for the scene. The production was on a consistently high level and songs like “Solitaire,” “Dreaded Fist,” “Clockwork,” “Soul Obligation,” “FitnRedi” and especially the post-album, guest-heavy single that would be included in the album’s ’98 edition, “Northern Touch,” determinedly pointed towards a brighter future for Canadian hip-hop, a fact that remains acknowledged to this day.
The release also provoked the greater public to take notice when the group refused to accept the 1998 Juno Award for Best Rap Recording because it was presented to them during the untelevised part of the ceremony. A year later they won again for “Northern Touch,” sealing their acceptance of the award with a live performance of the song. The same year they followed up with their third full-length “Global Warning.”
The reach this time was indeed wider, rapper Red 1 even proclaming, “Fuck one country / we plan to take over the world like Illuminati” and “We takin’ over shit, fuck democracy / My world you’re livin’ in – private poperty.” If nothing else, the Rascalz were confident about their place in hip-hop, attacking many of the tracks with a distinct battle attitude. “High Noon” might as well have been called “Shanghai Noon” with the Wild West theme of the lyrics being met by a Far Eastern influence in Misfit’s beat, which unlike similar RZA tracks was austere and unwieldy but still managed to create a Wu connection with a prominent Inspectah Deck sample.
The rocking and rumbling “Sharpshooter (Best of the Best)” prominently quoted Canadian wrestling superstar Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart (even listing him as a feature), and should easily satisfy fans of both genres:
“[ Red 1 ]
Get rowdy, go buckwild, show how we
stamina-rock even though the lung’s cloudy
Still first place, gold belt ’round the waist
Tag-team champs here to deal with your case
[ Misfit ]
Yeah, the best of the best, your arguments, I put it to rest
Step into the ring you big up your chest
when it comes time to flex you ain’t got nothin’ left
no game, no fame, no name, just left a total mess
[ Red 1 ]
So I suggest that you watch your step
watch your talk, watch who you disrespect
[ Misfit ]
And watch who you team with, cause you’ll need it
I’ll beat that ass down for any given reason
[ Hitman ]
(Without a doubt I am the best there is
the best there was
and the best there ever will be
You know it!)”
Only a little less rambunctious was “Can’t Relate,” the Psycho Les-produced Beatnuts feature. The Nuts put their debaucherous stamp on the track, Red 1 easily adapted, and even the less flexible Misfit sung to the rowdy tune (“Get it crackin’ like leather whips in a porno flick”) before they collectively ended the song with an old school tribute. The other US feature was KRS-One on “Where You At” (for which he used the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sample Kanye soon would use for Beanie Sigel’s “The Truth”), a hip-hop anthem that didn’t disappoint.
The single “Top of the World” invited dancehall legend Barrington Levy and fellow Canadian hip-hop artist K-OS for a hopeful number underpinned by delicate guitar plucks and xylophones containing just the right amount of spiritual and political undertones mixed in with the rap and reggae attitudes. If “Top of the World” got there with patience and persistence, “Gunfinga” attempted to take the world by storm. Red 1 and Kardinal Offishall teamed up on a spectacular Kemo beat that combined the grace of a tango with the pride of a military march, still resulting in the epitome of a sound clash between rap and ragga.
Even when he descended down into the underground, Kemo’s beats always stroke the required balance. Still it was when he escaped the comtemplative sound that things got interesting. Case in point, “Gametime” with is revving bassline, lashing, laser-like drums and sirens. Boasting bigger-than-life strings, “As it Is” (co-produced by Misfit and featuring Choclair) stood out intially as well, but the flat drums held the track back, resulting in yet another underground rap track that simply went through the motions.
Yet much more at fault were Misfit and Red 1 themselves. Generally dominant enough vocalists who could ride beats, this time they continuously lacked as lyricists, having dramatically less to say than on “Cash Crop.” Red 1 may have mastered the rebel yell with his sharp flow, but Misfit, a self-described “lyrical contortionist,” was a more abstract, meditative MC whose talents vanished in straight up brag rap. On “Cash Crop,” the Rascalz had adopted the light-footed, longheaded aesthetic of US crews like Boogiemonsters and Juggaknots. On “Global Warning” they seemed high off their sudden success, aiming for lofty goals that were not enough grounded in solid penmanship.
One notable exception was “Priceless,” a thoughtful, timeless track about the limitations of looking at the world from a strictly materialistic angle. Esthero provided subtle background vocals as the duo reasoned that “not everything can be bought or sold / certain things in this life money don’t control.” Misfit explained further:
“Life itself in this world is priceless
Word to my nephew, my niece, the way I hold mic devices
with innate skill, don’t be surprised, kid
There’s no denyin’, this the way it should be done, crisp
Yo, I could never be paid enough for this
So run the paper for which I might add be the bomb shit
Today the youth be mislead
by the facade of video life and what a wack rapper said
But understanding is priceless
cause it enables one to see both sides of the coin, kid
Cause even if you got a lot
the best things in life you might not got
Like knowledge… knowledge of self
Knowledge of God, knowledge of health
Sense of direction, steppin’ through, collect the pot of wealth
And that’s for real, the truth I can’t conceal
So I teamed up with Red just to let you know the deal”
The bilingual “TÃ©moin” (“Witness”) saw them team up with Montreal’s Muzion, while “Bordaline” featured Van City rappers Sazon and Consice. “Fallen” enlisted the talents of K-OS again as Red 1 remembered people in his past, not limited to those dead and gone. The Alchemist brought his late ’90s soulful hip-hop to “On the Run.” Jay-Rome and Bobby Brass Gerangco provided “Population Control” with Caribbean steel drums and clacking snares.
These songs ensured that “Global Warning” was musically much more varied and accessible than its predecessor. Unfortunately, for a crew that by its own admission represented “all elements relevant to hip-hop” (dancers Dedos and Zebroc made the group shot on the back cover), the tag team of FitnRedi lacked any lyrical creativity, which was a definite disappointment after “Cash Crop.” Nevertheless, gems like “Top of the World,” “Gunfinga” and “Priceless” can be discovered anytime.