various artists :: No More Prisons :: Raptivism Records
as reviewed by DJ Fatboy

It's rare to see a hip hop compilation that isn't either a hastily slapped together soundtrack or a "best of" retrospective of weak pop rap songs from the early nineties. But "No More Prisons" is one of those comps that actually has a purpose: To raise money to fight the epidemic of prisons popping up all over the country like a bad case of chicken pox. And this isn't just "get some hot collabs together and rap about any damn shit" type comp. All 23 cuts are thematically linked together, as the artists explore the life in and around prisons on the daily. The concept sounds nice, but does it work out?

Well, when it's good, it's good:

"Dedicated" has a mournful acoustic guitar hook, with smooth vocals by Sister Asia and a good showing by Steele and Top Dog from the Boot Camp. "Evolution" follows the same formula, with Vinia Mojica lacin honey drippin vocals over a lazy bass groove. Last Emperor provides the roughness over muted trumpet blasts. The Coup come funky but intelligent as always on "Drug Warz," breakin down game on how ludicrous the "war on drugs" really is.

"Behind Enemy Lines" by Dead Prez rocks a haunting flute track and a dope drum break, as they spin stories about prisoners and the strife they and their families go through. "you ain't gotta be locked up, to be in prison. Look how we livin," they tell us. Chicago's Akbar comes through with "Battle Cry." A forceful rhyme chock full of vivid lyrical imagery, and a bangin chorus, this might be the best track on the whole joint. "Hold The Key," Featuring L the HeadToucha, K-Slaughta, God Wize, production by Ed O.G. of "I gots to have it" fame. It's also the last track Scientifik ever appeared on. The beat is hittin, and the chorus locks the song down, but is the one track on the album that doesn't really fit in thematically with the rest. Grandmaster Caz lends true old-school dopeness to "Too Much," and while the style may be simple, I'll be damned if the shit ain't effective.

But when this comp is bad....well:

The title track, produced by Rishi, sounds as if it's gonna come nice, the samples peiced together with care. But then Hurricane G starts yellin all over the track, and the whole mess descends into an exercise in irritation. Girl is just wack, period, which is heightened even more by the fact that Apani B. Fly Emcee had a track on right before her. Putting those two right next to each other is like setting a Technics SL 1200 right next to a Gemini BD10. Weak.

And while Dead Prez represented lovely earlier with "Behind...", they also dumped the nasty log called "Murda Box" on this comp. The beat is grating and casio quality, devoid of any funk or force at all, and the loud ass rappin don't work well, either. "M.O.V.E" by the rubberoom, while slower than Murda Box's 1989 tempo, is just as annoying with simple rhymes that don't sound any less uninteresting when screamed over the weak beat.

And there's a track by Deric Angelettie's group, The Reepz. "Locked Up" tries, but the flow is tired, and the beat by Vaughn doesn't move in the least, as it plinks along the path to boring. And while "Rich Get Rich" is an overall okay track, with it's acoustic beat, early mornin sound effects, and some fat verses by Ed O.G. and Chubb Rock, it features a horribly wack verse by Lil Dap that almost sinks the song.

The heart is there on this comp, and the follow through is almost complete, but it doesn't quite get to where it could have been. Another case of potential unfulfilled. But that's not to say this album isn't enjoyable. The good tracks outweigh the mediocre and just straight ass ones, and gems like "Evolution" and "Battle Cry," along with dope verses by Pri the Honey Dark, old schooler Daddy-O, and a spoken worder called "Let us Go" let this album shine a little. It's good for a few listens, some rotation in your box, if only to get you to think a little.

Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10

Originally posted: August 29, 1999