Back in the nineties, the Gangstarr Foundation was at the top of its game. With Guru and DJ Premier as the ring leaders of a successful hip-hop movement, many affiliates achieved fame under their wings. Jeru the Damaja was recognized as one of the most talented underground MC's out there. Lil'Dap and Melachi The Nutcracker teamed up with Premier as Group Home to produce the classic album "Livin Proof." The Gangstarr logo was a brand that had the same appeal to the hip-hop world as the Nike logo had to sneaker kids.
Almost ten years later the Gangstarr foundation has been reduced to rubble. After a long period of silence towards the media Premier and Guru announced they will be pursuing their own personal careers for a while. They did not clear up if this break is temporary or definite. Jeru is still putting out records, but he hasn't been his former self ever since he left the shelter of the Gangstarr headquarters. Lil'Dap and Melachi have been missing in action, although Lil'Dap is supposed to be dropping a new album with a Polish record label.
This review certainly is not about the slow demise of an important NY hip-hop institution, but more about the rise of one of its most loyal lieutenants. Smiley The Ghetto Child has been a Gangstarr affiliate for more than a decade, and after appearing on several albums and some independent twelve inches it is time for him to shine and represent The Bronx to the fullest with his debut "The Antidote."
Smiley is a living breathing example of New York hardcore street music. Ever since he dropped his lines in 1995 on Group Home's "The Realness" his aggressiveness on the mic hasn't faded for a bit. His snarling voice provided him with a free Onyx lifetime membership, and his delivery sounds eager in a relentless way. He sounds like an artist who's had it tough, and now finally has the chance to strike back. On "Bronx Baby," produced by Showbiz, Smiley drops:
"For years I've been alone when I had to grow
Never was satisfied, things I had to know
Yo, achieve it on my own is what the Good Book says
Yo, you gotta seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave
When you hesitate then you stagnate
And in a shootout you're getting shot up in your face"
The Ghetto Child definitely made this record happen on his own. Instead of relying heavily on his GangStarr Foundation crew mates, Smiley decided to do most of the work independently. Apart from producing the banger "Wake Up Call" and doing a vocal cameo on "Everything," DJ Premier is nowhere to be found on this record. The production is mostly handled by up-and-coming talents like Chaze, Fanon Xp and Sebb from the G-Unit/Mobb Deep team. The last beatsmith on this list is the most disappointing of them all when providing Smiley with a beat on "Logic" that is almost an exact copy of a track that appeared on Prodigy's (Mobb Deep) solo album H.N.I.C. You might wonder whether it's Sebb on the boards or his Mobb Deep sensei.
Instead of the normal guestshot-o-rama, it is refreshing to see that only 1 other MC makes a guest appearance on this record. Surprisingly, this is not even an East Coast representative, but one of the veteran members of Westside Connection WC. Together, they make abundantly clear that it does not matter where you're from: it's tough on the streets everywhere.
Like a one-issue politician, Smiley is all about his love-hate relationship with those same streets. His universe consists of gun fights, crooked cops, coke dealers and enemies around every corner. Anyone out there who has seen the grim action flick "Sin City" will have no problems comparing one atmosphere to the other. After hearing Smiley's name for the first time, it reminded me of an 'urban legend' that has been going round for decades. A group of thugs hang out in the streets waiting for unsuspecting women to come by. They chase them and when the group has surrounded their victim they leave the woman with two choices: get raped by the whole group or receive a smiley. Horrified by the first option, the women all chose the latter. While they are in the assumption this is a pill of some kind, it is actually an incision of both corners of the mouth after which a punch in the stomach rips open the wounds violently. Not that I am accusing the Bronx native of this type of violent act, but if you listen to his debut it is a scene that could happen around the corner from where he lives. But if he has to, he can get violent, just like on the Green Lantern production "Pig Latin":
"I get my grown man on, a street God
You whipping me is like killing my first born
Never in a million years
Show the town to pussy
Leave him naked in the middle of Time Square
Let him eat dust, like the corpse on 'Hush Hush'
Or beat him with my mic until he's fucking unconscious"
"The Antidote" is as tough as they come by. People who are not into the thug way of rapping should stay clear of this album, but for all those hardcore fans out there: this could just be what you have been waiting for. With his aggressive growling and dramatic heavy bass beats to accompany him Smiley The Ghetto Child succeeds in living up to the hype he built up for himself.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 2, 2006