Crooked Lettaz :: Grey Skies :: Tommy Boy/Penalty
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Slowly but surely, the face of rap music is evolving. As time goes by, it will be increasingly harder for both music critics and simple-minded fans to classify rap as "East Coast" or "West Coast". What coast are you from when you hail from Michigan, Illinois, or even Mississippi? Yes, you heard that right: M-I-Crooked-Lettaz-Crooked-Lettaz-I; you know the rest. This group can't be labelled: East, West, North, South, none of them fit their sound or style. The only thing they can be labelled is dope.

Fronted mostly by MC's Veil, Kamikaze and David Banner but featuring an outstanding rotating family of guests, this group does for 'Jacktown' Mississippi what the Dungeon Family has done for Decatur. And they do claim allegiance to the South in their rhymes - with a difference. You will not find anything from No Limit, Suave House, Rap-a-Lot, or Cash Money on this album - you will not find anything that sounds remotely like it either. They don't really sound like anything you've ever heard before, and in a good way. Crooked Lettaz takes this outsider position to the established norms of hip-hop seriously to the highest degree - they take shots at gangster rap, cliched scientifics, the New World Order, and lack of self-love.

   I bust the same sad story, over manditory blunts and the liquor/ I'm thinkin back to them ancient times when we was once the victors/ In them wars fought on the shores of the Barbary coasts/ We went from a whole to three-fourths and that's what bothers me most/ In bottles we toast, success but y'all ain't tryin to succeed/ Fight for thangs you think you want but y'all ain't got what you need..Kamikaze, "It's Ours"

You will find everything on this album that should encompass the diaspora of hip-hop emotions: deep soul searching on "Tupelo", wild for the night partying on "Get Crunk" and "Fire Water", the search for a better world on "Chicken and Swine" and "Daydreamin'", true love on "A Girl Named Cim" and so on. Musically, the production from David Banner, Kamikaze and Phinga Print fits each track like a surgeon's hand to a glove. About the only thing I can find wrong with this album is that "Pimp Shit" is a misleading title for a song that seems to be the antithesis of playa cliches and more about the dawn of the Illuminati, where money doesn't exist and computer chips are embedded in your skin. As a description of how dope their lyrics are, it might fly, otherwise, it's just inaccurate. Since this is the only gripe that THIS reviewer can find with this album; I'm forced to give it an unqualified thumbs up. A million wack Pimp Trick Gangster Click type albums will come out this year, but dope groups like Crooked Lettaz on independent labels will go unheard and unnoticed. That is, unless you do your service to the hip-hop nation and buy a copy of this album - play it LOUDLY every chance you get so people can ask you, "Playa, what's that fresh shit? It don't sound like nothing I've EVER heard before." That's what hip-hop SHOULD be about.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: May 13, 1999