Suga Bear :: On the Road to Riches :: Big Block Records
as reviewed by Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez

The reason an artist like Suga Bear ever even landed on my radar had everything to do with bad journalism. Back before The Source spiraled into irrelevance they were a decent hip-hop magazine. While in no way approaching Murder Dog's thoroughness when it came to covering regional and independent music, The Source would occasionally surprise. In one issue I recall them spotlighting the bay area rap scene and specifically they focused on Suga Bear's "On The Road To Riches." Apparently, there was some local beef in the bay and someone from Suga Bear's Big Block Records had murdered someone from a rival record label. It was the type of article that postured a peaceful message, but in essence fed off the sensationalism of death and rap beef. It put Suga Bear's name out there, but was not about his music. Fast forward around 10 years and I finally decided to pick up Suga Bear's album. The main reason for the delay is that it became one of those "rare" extremely overpriced CDs you see on eBay. I jumped on it once the price fell below 10 bucks and can finally give my take on the man.

First thing is first and Suga Bear had a tight album cover. Consider it Pen & Pixel light as you get a picture of Suga Bear kneeling in front of some wack cars, but the road is lined with hundred dollar bills. The genius is that the extravagance is so subtle you almost don't notice the money road. Next thing to get out of the way are the guest spots. The only real "big" names to be found are Guce and Hitman of the RBL Posse. Guce didn't blow up until later, so Suga Bear handles his own business. The production is handled by Big Block who I have to assume is either the label or maybe the nickname of the man who fronted the record label. Big Block does a pretty good job dropping some bass-heavy, funky, and murky mob music. Suga Bear's style can best be described as a less skilled version of Spice 1, minus the rasta impressions. Suga Bear doesn't have the flow and presence of Spice 1 so at times he does stumble over his words, but his fast-slow-start-stop delivery is definitely engaging. His raps don't ever stray too far from the violent topics that dominated the bay at the time and that was reflected by The Source. "Thought It Was Safe" is a track warning his foes about Suga Bear's prowess with the guns. "Evil Ass Intentions" is self-explanatory, but does feature the mysterious Big Block Mask Man dropping a verse heavily influenced by Das Efx. "Road To Riches" keeps the violence down a bit and focuses more on flipping in the drug game. "Coming Out Of The Cuts" is the funkiest cut to be found on the album:

"I'm coming out of the cuts, niggas stuck
Standing still like a mannequin
You front on me with some funk?
I got to use my gat again
The dosia is in my head, I'm ready to let the glock cough up
And watch the body drop, I'm having the whole block choked up
The Bear take no shorts, I'm never feeling guilty
Like the glock, or crooked cops, down and dirty til I'm filthy
The creep is on a mash and four deep on
Old school buckets, I'm street sweeping and I keeps it on
Side by side, the city punks trying to pull me over
Cause they spot the fog in the mob and that's dosia
Me don't want to stop, they better catch me on the run
High speeding on the fluke, with a sac and my gun
I'm whipping and dipping and dodging
The mob is like a menace
I bust a few tight ones and was up out of my business
Serious about my fedi, it's time to hit the track
Never to fuck with suckers, if portrayed as dirty macks
The name is Suga Bear, young fools can't get with me
You thought I was a panda but found out I was a grizzly
So here's a little dose, just enough to get you perpin'
I get straight to your dome like a surgeon"

Nothing is especially groundbreaking about Suga Bear, but he delivers his gangsta raps quite well. "Suspects" is another tight song where Suga Bear and Guce trade verses and both show great potential. Suga Bear's schizophrenic flow sounds very good on the dark and ominous "Graveyard Shift." "Stop Slangin & Bangin" is one of the only tracks to show some sort of remorse about Suga Bear's lifestyle and is also one of the smoothest.

In the end, Suga Bear's placement in The Source was more of a curse than a blessing. I knew his name, but nothing in the article really motivated me to buy his CD. The story basically said that there was nothing of interest in the man's music, only in what the music caused or created. This couldn't be further from the truth as Suga Bear actually had something to say and a very funky way to say it. One could say it sounds a bit dated given the current trends in the bay, but with the hyphy focus lately Suga Bear sounds real fresh. Some fans may have "outgrown" the violence in his rhymes, but viewed as a fascinating sociological time capsule they should be appreciated by all. Fans of gangsta rap and bay area mob music should definitely add this CD to their collection.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: March 17, 2009