One surefire litmus test if probing ’90s hip hop smarts is whether one knows that Ill Al Skratch is in fact not an individual, but rather a duo. While their name might inspire images of Chill Rob G’s broke little brother, it was actually a combination of the two Brooklyn MCs’ monikers, Big Ill and Al Skratch. After making modest waves with the single “Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way)” in ’94 they made perhaps their greatest contribution to the pop music canon by introducing the world to a certain Brian McKnight on the follow-up “I’ll Take Her.” Anchored by an orchestral street symphony and a PMD vocal sample, the young McKnight, later of “Back at One” fame, pleads his crude case (“If you don’t want her, don’t waste her time”) between the rappers’ hilariously raunchy verses. An auspicious beginning for an ambitious crooner it wasn’t, but it is a classic East Coast single:
“Yeah, it’s Al Skratch, that real smooth brother
The undercover lover makin’ moves on your mother
If I have to, it’s only natural, that I rap to
Any girl walkin’ through my hood if she’s lookin’ good
And if she’s somethin’ fine, I’ll be humpin’ hind
Let’s get it on, ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little bump ‘n grind
Now that’s what my man said
Sometimes I lay in my bed, and I dream of bein’ hand-fed
I made the jam, with my man, about the homies
But now I must remember all about my tenderonis
You’re lonely by your homey, baby, I know how you’re feelin’
You’re in the mood for some sexual healin’
Walkin’ to the jump, I spot you as the music’s blarin’
Starin’ but not carin’ about what you’re wearin’
You’re full grown with a mind of your own
I make you moan as my bone turn brick like stone
Whether you’re single we can mingle as you jingle
Swing low, with the black Mandingo
I be the dough money-maker rump-shaker
To the bedroom I said (Hmmm, I’ll take her)”
Upon hearing Al Skratch’s booming voice, one immediately formulates a strikingly accurate mental image of “the one with the voice that’s raspy”â€”a dark chocolate brother who, unless you play ball for a living, is probably significantly bigger than you. On “I’ll Take Her” he and his partner-in-rhyme position themselves as cockeyed opportunists, the type to “give your man a pound, then I’ll ask you what’s your name.” It’s a deeply humorous affair, however, with the less gruff but equally bombastic Big Ill trading lines with his compadre and Mr. McKnight providing a soulful if miles-over-the-top performance.
The album “Creep Wit’ Me” is a largely successful affair that tries to duplicate the singles’ brilliance for better or worse. The often brilliant production resembles that which you’d find on a concurrent Easy Mo Bee or Erick Sermon concoction, with luxuriously flowing grooves, thunderously rolling basslines, crisp percussion, and choppy horn samples provided by the LG Experience and LoRider. The similarities to Easy Mo Bee may be more than coincidental, in factâ€”LG is his little brother. The aforementioned “Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way)” features much of the mid-’90s street posturing exemplary of the era, a template the duo tends to limit their rhymes to, but also the pop sensibility that set them apart from many of their contemporaries. Al Skratch’s unmistakable voice is ideal for hooks over the lounging production, and while the lyricism is ultimately insignificant it’s a memorable track nonetheless that would probably be held in higher regard if not for the follow-up’s outshining it so.
“Creep Wit’ Me” is so concise and repetitive that, at times, it plays like more of a maxi-single than an LP. “This Is For My Homiez” sounds musically and lyrically like a carbon copy of “Where My Homiez?,” if anything a tad more contemplative, and in addition to the radio mixes of both singles there are full-length instrumentals. With the obligatory intro that makes for half of the album’s twelve tracks, the remainder of which are pretty hit-or-miss. Ill and Al are great vocally but quite limited lyrically, letting the production carry the bulk of their songs’ weights. “Chill With That” is forgettable, and the title track is the sole number to break the laidback pace, a frenetic aggressor reminiscent of a deep track from the Thug Life album. “Get Dough” is enjoyable and well-executed but unmemorable, followed by the run-of-the-mill posse cut “The Brooklyn Uptown Connection.” “Classic Shit (Ill’s Solo)” suffers from sparse production and bullhorned verses, but its counterpart “Summertime (It’s All Good) (Al’s Solo)” is a gem, suggesting that Al would certainly have enjoyed a more fruitful solo career than Ill. A lusciously smooth, R&B-tinged track, it sounds like something Coolio would have made a hit in his prime.
The sheer repetition of “Creep Wit’ Me,” right down to Ill and Al’s very phrases and hooks, is comical at times, especially given their lack of ambitionâ€”their tracks are strictly for the homies, by the homies, and about the homies. Many of the deep tracks feel like afterthoughts scrapped together to fill a compact disc after the acknowledged brilliance of “Where My Homiez?” and “I’ll Take Her.” It was certainly this lack of vision which doomed the duo to oblivion after the largely-unheard follow-up, 1997’s “Keep It Movin’,” yet “Creep Wit’ Me” is a meritorious album in its own right, a sweet if guilty-pleasure warm weather listen on which excellent production finds a good match in performers.