A little context is necessary to talk about Mic Geronimo. When Michael Craig McDermon released the Irv Gotti produced “Shit’s Real” in 1994, it was the perfect time for a rapper who sounded like a cross between AZ and Capone to drop a bomb. Geronimo accidentally or purposefully came across like Queens, New York personified on wax. It’s not exaggerating to say this song was tailor made for mixtapes either. The title personified exactly the flavor you were going for — that other shit’s fake, but this shit’s real. Thanks to a smooth beat and the melodic lilt of his vocals the song found permanent residence in the hearts of die hard East coast rap fans.
While Geronimo didn’t bank major figures off his debut album “The Natural,” he still had respect with those same hard rocks thanks to his no-nonsense lyrics and production from Irv, Da Beatminerz and Buckwild among others. You could call it a “hidden gem” and not find many people who’ve heard it that would argue the sentiment. We’ll get to that another day though. Right now we’re talking about the 1997 follow up album called “Vendetta,” and from the first single on something was incredibly wrong.
Despite the fact that Bad Boy Records and its celebrity CEO Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs had put the likes of Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G. on the map, there was growing resentment in underground circles of his commercial approach to rap music. If there were two sides to the NYC coin, Puffy was the shiny (suit) side while DJ Premier was the rusty, tarnished one. You might think that gleam would be more appealing but we rap fans are a curious bunch. We like things dirty. We like a little crackle in the samples. We like the drums to hit a little too hard. Mic Geronimo was the “grime under your nails” rapper that underground fans related to, so hearing Puffy all over “Nothin’ Move But the Money” was like a huge disrespectful slap in the face. It was too slick. It was too clean. It was too POP.
While the title track and second single off “Vendetta” re-established his grimy credentials with help from The Legendary Traxster, the damage had already been done. Fans were already looking at Mic G as the latest “shiny suit” rapper thanks to the music video and Puffy’s ad-libs all over the lead single. He wasn’t signed to Bad Boy or affiliated with them in any way other than his attempt to crossover but in an image driven business perception is often reality. “Street Life” featuring Monifah would have been a much better lead single. It’s still radio friendly thanks to the Atlantic Starr “Second to None” sample and the R&B crooning, but Geronimo doesn’t seem to be adjusting his vocals to Puffy’s production and sounds much more natural on the track. Chris Large gets props for lacing this one up just right.
And since I already used the term “hidden gem” to describe Geronimo’s debut album, there are no shortage of jewels on “Vendetta” despite the album flopping commercially. If you made a Venn diagram that showed the overlap between underground and commercial NY rap, nearly everyone on “Usual Suspects” would be right in the middle — Ja Rule, DMX, The LOX, etc. Irv Gotti probably understood the kind of tracks Geronimo should flow on as well as anybody he ever worked with, and this posse song is no exception.
is it any surprise that he also put together “Single Life” featuring Carl Thomas and Jay-Z? What’s funny about this to me is he did a crossover song better than Puff Daddy and it never got put out as a twelve inch either. Everything about the marketing and promotion of Geronimo’s sophomore album was wrong. There are some TVT Records executives who were seriously clueless in 1997 and deserve to be reprimanded for their ineptitude even this many years later. You had Shawn Carter on a track and you didn’t even TRY to put it on radio or MTV. That’s colossal stupidity.
The problem with “Vendetta” isn’t that Geronimo got more commercial, although that was certainly the perception at the time thanks to Puffy’s unavoidable presence. The problem was that every song on the album was better than “Nothin’ Move But the Money” and they focused all their effort on it anyway. I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s better than his debut album, but it definitely deserved to do better than No. 112 on the Billboard Top 200. The truth is it may be his most successful album in sales, but it could have done so much better if the effort he put into it wasn’t wasted by bad decision making. For grimy tracks like the Havoc (Mobb Deep) laced “Survival,” the piano laced Pete Rock funk of “Unstoppable” (I blast my speakers on this one), and Buckwild’s golden touch on “How You Been?” you should give this album the chance you might not have back then.