Akinyele (pronounced ock-aw-nay-lee) has been tagged as New York's own version of Luther Campbell for most of his career. In the beginning though he had a very auspicious start as one of four rappers featured on the Main Source classic "Live at the Barbeque." For those who aren't familiar with the track, it's the rap classic that introduced both Nasty Nas and Fatal to a national (and worldwide) audience. Despite the deceptively raunchy title, Akinyele's solo debut "Vagina Diner" that followed was a solid display of lyrical skills, narrative rhymes and deadpan hilarious punchlines. Produced by the genius of Main Source himself Large Professor, the album remains to this day an unheralded hip-hop gem.
In the years that came to follow, Akinyele painted his career into a corner which he couldn't get out of. While still immensely lyrically talented, his only breakout hit was 1996's raunchy oral sex ode "Put it in Your Mouth." Seeing his "Live at the Barbeque" peers ascend to greater heights of hip-hop fame and fortune than he did, Ak and/or the respective labels he was signed to decided to bank on what worked instead of chance what wouldn't. Albums like "Aktapuss" and "Anakonda" followed, with the talented MC doing his best to turn lyrical pornography into art while failing to recapture the success of "Put it in Your Mouth" or win new fans. Nas had a decade worth of gold and platinum albums, Ak languished in obscurity.
Titling his new album "Live at the Barbecue - Unreleased Hits" acknowledges both the unfulfilled expectations of his early underground fans and a desire to escape the box of being New York's raunchiest rapper. Ostensibly all material that got shelved and never released except for two new tracks ("Ak-nel the Great" and "In the Zone") produced by J-Zone, this album is the clearest indication of the different path that Akinyele's career could have taken. Large Professor blesses a few of these tracks, such as the stellar "In the World." It's the kind of no frills, solid boom bap that Extra P did for both Nas and Ak-nel on their debut albums, and Ak reps nicely on it:
"Makin money, gettin dough that was my style
I wanted to blow, like some juve, who didn't make it home from trial
Meanwhile I profile with two, guns that I'm holdin in
seperate hands, like I'm in the dancehall, bo-gglin
I know that's when I had visions of, livin in prison
No time to ask questions, no time to start quizzin
Talkin bout - IT'S HIM, IT'S HIM, IT'S HIM, IT'S HIM
I get on some Channel Live shit and start to +Spark Mad Ism+"
The album is packed with Rob Swift interludes, which is not surprising when you consider he was the DJ on Ak's "Vagina Diner" debut. What is surprising is how unrestrained and verbally menacing these tracks can be, revealing a side of Ak that far too few people know. The pounding Hotday produced "Stay Wild" is almost stream-of-conciousness in it's attack, with the gravel-voiced rapper spitting as nimbly as Twista or as verbally loquacious as Pharoahe Monch. It's not rated PG, but it is fuckin' fresh:
"Once again I return, leavin you hooked like worms
to burn punk rappers like some type of sick dick sperm
They say Ak is, so obnoxious, I sew motherfuckers like Osh Koshes
And insert cock in bitches crotches
Blaze by phony niggaz like fiber optics"
The tracks on "Live at the Barbecue - Unreleased Hits" range from seductively smooth to high-strung intensity. The Bucwild produced "Yo" sounds like a song ripped straight from "Vagina Diner" and left on the cutting room floor, although it clearly shouldn't have been. The Doctor Butcher produced "Enter" is a slumbering track with deep hits of Mobb Deep influence. CJ Moore's "Freaky" beat could ring any underground mix tape from the mid-90's to today, with more of Ak's trademark quips like "I'm so pro black I don't even pick the cotton out of aspirins." Neither the original or the remix version of "Break a Bitch Neck" with Kool G. Rap is to be missed on this release, and the pairing is a match made in underground rap heaven. You just can't front on tracks like "Fly Away" and "Off the Hook," where the Lefrak rapper busts more verbal nuts than he has on his last three sextified albums combined.
They may say "don't call it a comeback" since Ak-nel has been here for years, but if the new J-Zone produced tracks are any indication the rap world may at long last see the overdue rise of Ak to rap's upper echelons. At the very least, fans who have stuck with him since day one will be pleased, and those who only know him from "Put it in Your Mouth" will be surprised at just how fresh Akinyele is on the mic. Are these just Akinyele's "Unreleased Hits" or the sign of what hip-hop missed out on for all these years? Most listeners will lean towards the latter.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 25, 2004