By the time he made his national debut in 1995, Lavell Franklin was already a veteran of the Kansas City rap scene. Having made the rounds as DRV (Def Rhyme Vocalist) in the later ’80s, at one point he hooked up with local DJ/producer Joc Max, with whom he recorded the song “Bust a Move,” which was pressed up and distributed by L.A. label Macola in 1989. Later still, now known as Vell Bakardy, he formed Tha Drunx with partner in rhyme Zeno Vellie. While living in Los Angeles, around 1993 he scored a solo deal with Wild West, who was in a partnership with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, providing Vell Bakardy with national exposure.
Although “Genuine Liqua Hits” had a West Coast-leaning sound and featured AMG twice, the album was ostensibly the product of Kansas City, MO:
“Tres-nueve, that’s where I came from
Kansas City where I got my name from
Strugglin’ daily but I knew that this would happen
That nigga Vell Bakardy gettin’ paid for the rappin’
Stackin’ up that scrilla; fire this doja
with the finest hoes, nigga I done told ya”
Tres-nueve would be 39th Street, one of the city’s main streets and frequently referenced location (“the Nine”) on “Genuine Liqua Hits.” Vell’s portrayal of KC isn’t particularly flattering. In the “Intro” he laments that “ain’t nowhere else to go but to the liquor store, sit on the side of the building and get drunk, you know – Kansas City, Missouri.” Consequently, the lead single was called “Drink Wit’ Me,” and it too stressed the apparent importance of alcohol in 39th Street’s social life:
“My rent is due, I need a brew
but all I have is a buck or two
Broke as hell but really that’s okay
I kick to the hood and get ripped anyway
They show me love and courtesy
Whenever they buy a drink, they leave one for me
Whether it’s Colt 45, St. Ides OE
the boys on the Nine’ll come through for me”
By the time Bakardy admits that the morning after he hears voices saying, “Vell, come back to the liquor store,” you know he has a problem. Well it’s not really a problem as long as he scoops up “Drunk Bitches” with AMG and T-Bone, and on the other AMG-produced and -featuring track, “Liqua Ndustry,” he actually describes himself as a happy drunk (“When I get drunk I don’t think crazy / just speak with more positivity”), but there is one very sober moment that suggests that Vell inherited his addiction to alcohol. The painfully detailed “F.A.T.H.A.” stands out not only on “Genuine Liqua Hits” but among a plethora of rap songs dealing with father absence:
“Never knew me as a person
Spent more time with his homie Thurston
Started cursin’, car searchin’, at bars thirstin’
Like mama said he, never fed me, never bathed me
Stacked up his ends but never paid me
No social security, no help through puberty
No child support, ‘Son, let’s go play sports, just you and me’
Replaced me for his friends and his cars
Not knowin’ that I’ll end up sippin’ gin at bars
When it comes to raisin’ kids I know who the best is
She bought me clothes, Big Wheels and videos, Kool-Aid and Cheerios
And told me, ‘Kleenex is where your tears go
when you’re cryin’, Vell
And don’t be lyin’, Vell
Never stop tryin’, Vell’
You’se a lucky person if you got your father there
Your ass should be thankful, cause you know your father care
He was there to spank you when you got in trouble
and when you needed assistance he was there on the double
That’s what I call a father and it’s too bad I never had one
Since the delivery table I been a sad one
And now that I’m grown with two sons and a daughter
I’m bein’ what you never was to me, and that’s a muthafuckin’ father”
That doesn’t prevent him from acting flat out irresponsibly on “Little Kids (Who’s the Man With the Master Plan?),” where he answers a children’s choir’s “Who’s the man with the master plan?” with “A drunk with a 40 in his left hand.” Where Devin the Dude is philosophical or Tha Alkaholiks and the Luniz were comical about the substance abuse that was part of their image, Vell Bakardy lacked the ability to put his debauchery into another context.
Still there is more to Vell than just Bakardy Slang (sorry Kardi, had to use that one). “Playa Shit” is backed up by a suitably rich funk sound and a female guest rapper (Agginy, who went on to appear on Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko albums). “Deep Shit” uses a car chase narrative to bring up police brutality (“Niggas in Missouri know police are so racial / try to talk back, I guarantee that they’ll mace you”). “Daddy’s Lil Angel” relates the story of a runaway child winding up in prostitution. “Came Up” is a musical thank-you note to the homies in KC. “Fantasy (It’s Reality)” is a wet dream turned reality, while the misnomed “Typical Day” almost begs for a bad pun about the smallness of Kansas City and the probability for incest.
A cut above are “Forever,” a pledge of allegiance to the hood and to rap that uses the same menacing Quincy Jones bass loop as Above the Law’s “Livin’ Like Hustlers,” where Vell conjures up that competitive spirit that must have kept him afloat all those years on the local level, and “Life’s So Hard,” a serious pros-and-cons discussion of the illegal hustle.
Midwestern hip-hop artists have always incorporated different outside influences while at the same time trying to find their own flavor. Due to the album being released on a West Coast label, funk and g-funk are the predominant styles. At the same time Bakardy has the uncontainable energy of an East Coast MC. If that sounds a lot like Kansas City’s most famous rapper, Tech N9ne, there’s definitely some Tech to be discovered in Vell – and vice versa.
In the end it’s the musical and lyrical main themes that prevent “Genuine Liqua Hits” from being a stronger album. Drunk may rhyme with funk, but when they’re both implemented rather unimaginatively like here, they don’t automatically make for dope hip-hop. Other than that Vell Bakardy was able to present himself as a promising rapper who would have deserved a second chance.