Now I can admit it. Yes, I watched 'Beverly Hills 90210.' Almost all of it. Having grown up with no TV at home, I was more or less defenseless against the trappings of TV land when I finally got one in my late teens. And even though my own European high school years were about to be over, I instantly fell for American high school shows, from cool ones like 'Parker Lewis Can't Lose' to corny ones like 'Saved by the Bell.' I always knew that 'Beverly Hills 90210' didn't really offer me much in any regard (if you ignore the lifelong crush on Shannen Doherty it burdened me with), but like many series and soaps, it lined up a cast you slowly but surely started to care about.
It's quite evident that Ed O.G & Da Bulldogs intended the title of their sophomore album "Roxbury 02119" as a response to the popular series. There the imaginary trials and tribulations of a clique of privileged kids in an upscale community, here the very real problems of adolescents in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. French rap duo Ministère AMER had the same idea when they named their 1994 album "95200." And though it may seem unfit to mention them in the same breath, both Wu-Tang clansman Genius/GZA (1995's "Killah Hills 10304") and rap outsiders Insane Clown Posse (1993's "Beverly Kills 50187") chose titles that alluded to the Spelling show, that's how much the Beverly Hills ZIP code inspired contradiction in rap circles. Ironically, the inclusion of that very ZIP code in the show's title indicated that the producers and writers meant to demonstrate that Beverly Hills is not just an iconic California scenery for the dream factory in neighboring Hollywood but a place where people actually live. If television had already reached that point, it would have turned the thing into a reality show.
Anybody who is familiar with 'Beverly Hills 90210' will confirm that the artificially prolonged lives of these professional teenagers were nevertheless somewhat detatched from real life, particularly in the later seasons. That doesn't mean that in cities as large as Boston, Detroit, New York, or Paris viewers weren't able to exactly relate to the show's cast and its characters. But for every lily-white villa in Beverly Hills and Bel Air there's an HLM in Sarcelles and a housing project in Roxbury. Rap music traditionally tends to care about the latter. Even acclaimed producer and Beverly Hills native The Alchemist makes music that evokes 41st Avenue or Crenshaw Boulevard rather than Rodeo Drive.
Edo.G (his label continuing the slight misspelling of his name after the first album) himself still represented Humboldt Avenue, even though he might not have been there as often as he used to: "Humboldt's the block that I grew up / and I still check my niggas since I blew up." From the get-go, however, Edo is intent on presenting a bigger picture. The opening "Streets of the Ghetto" is a continuation of the "Life of a Kid in the Ghetto" title track, only this time the first person account isn't autobiographical as he chronicles the rise and fall of a drug dealer. As a careful writer, Edo lets the events unfold in unspectacular fashion, congruent with the unglamorous ending. He keeps the theme of the title firmly in mind by always bringing the narration back to the 'streets of the ghetto': "Now I'm 50 with 50 go to / and I'll never see the streets of the ghetto no mo'."
"Roxbury 02119" introduced itself with the singles "Skinny Dip (Got it Goin' On)" and "Love Comes and Goes." The former is irritating in various ways. Boasting typical '93 horns, the otherwise subdued sound can't keep up with the sexual bravado. The lyrics themselves aren't terribly explicit, but these days only the most mindless rapper would be forgiven saying something like "Their legs keep partin' just like a little girl's hair." Even more stupefying are the shout-outs Ed and his DJ give to their daugthers. Inappropriate, to say the least. In short, "Skinny Dip" was a disappointing lead single. It would have been a disaster if the second single would have been a sappy love song. Instead, "Love Comes and Goes" remembers lost ones, among them the father gone too early to witness his son's coming of age. A top ten Edo song and one of hip-hop's all-time eulogies, "Love Comes and Goes" is a timeless combination of simple but gripping guitars and horns, very distinct drums, an Arthur Conley vocal sample, and Ed's lament for the early departed:
"We all makes mistakes, and these are the breaks
but I'm sick and tired of goin' to wakes
and seein' an end to my friend
So we kicked it the to L to get some brew and gin
Nobody said nothin', everyone was pissed
as we got drunk and reminisced
At your funeral your head we kissed
Didn't got the burial, but you'll be missed
That's if you didn't know from your true friends and not your foes
cause love comes and goes"
Labelmate Diamond D is responsible for "Love Comes and Goes," but the early guest-production gig doesn't stop there. The restrained, cinematic "Streets of the Ghetto" fits squarely with the lyrics' unflinching look. There are three more productions by the DITC maestro, but they all lack energy and inspiration. He used the bassline in "Busted" to much better effect a couple of years later on Tha Alkaholiks' "The Next Level." "I Thought Ya Knew" has seemingly everything to get your head nodding but forgets that rap listeners like to be forced into said movement. "Dat Ain't Right" opens with the same Dennis Coffey sample as Public Enemy's "You're Gonna Get Yours" but only takes on some life when the hook incorporates horns.
Joe Mansfield on the other hand successfully fights whatever inexperienced mixing or mastering might do to initially crisp beats. "Less Than Zero" features a virtually flawless incorporation of Stanley Turrentine's "Gibraltar" for a classic conscious song. "I'm Laughin'" is a lighthearted, relaxed ditty best characterized by the sampled Biz Markie hilarity and the smooth flute, completely in tune with Edo's looking on the bright side of life:
"Now I'm laughin'
at those who thought that I was becomin' a has-been
sayin', 'His record was dope, but nah, he ain't lastin''
But like Mahatma Ghandi I was just fastin'
layin' peaceful like the Pumas when you're splashin'
But now you're kept back so step back cause I'm passin'
all the classes you asses try to test me on
You see, my Dogs are first to me, so yo, the rest be gone
I'm laughin', not gigglin'
Small thing that I consider myself bigger than
So nigga, when you wanna step, you got to come again
I'm runnin' things like a track star that's out to win
A form I took but I won't vote for no Mayor Flynn
Too many friends got many sins, coffins they're layin' in
Tired of seein' it, tired of readin' it
but in the ghetto, yo, it's hard not to be in it
But I'm a artist, so I keep on craftin'
and through it all I gotta keep laughin'"
Mansfield also gets busy on "Go up and Up," underscoring Edo's argument for fist fights (to minimize the bloodshed) with the era's typical quick-paced, sharp blows:
"Back in the days you'd catch a fistful
but nowadays a pistol is the shit to fuck you up like Cisco
So why trip, what happened to black eyes and busted lips?
or are niggas just scared to use they fist?
I know the fightin' can't stop but the shootin' can
So put your guns down and put up your hands, show you a man
Unless the only scrap you got is a metal
But comin' from the ghetto you learn when you're young you gotta settle
scores, and fightin' was 'We can do this, what's up?'
So put down your guns and go up and up"
"Roxbury 02119" was not quite the strong album its predecessor was (nor as successful). Da Bulldogs remained an unknown, despite being cut down to three (DJ Cruz, T-Nyne, Gee Man) and getting their own portraits in the CD booklet. (They later released a couple of singles and even a full-length in 2003 entitled "Almost Famous.") In 1993, Edo and his musical support lacked the inspiration that made "I Got to Have It" or "Bug-A-Boo" so contagious and "Be a Father to Your Child" or "Speak Upon It" so convincing. The diversity was still there, but in a track-by-track comparison the sophomore effort pales considerably. Even the over-friendly radio song, "Try Me," polished as it may be, loses to the amateur charm of "Let Me Tickle Your Fancy."
To the credit of its creators, the album sounds exactly like an 1993 East Coast album is expected to sound. (At least one that didn't foresee "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).") Edo's always good for a laugh, can easily go from serious to playful and back - almost always coming from different angles (compare "Streets of the Ghetto," "Love Comes and Goes," "Go up and Up" and "Less Than Zero"). The stylistic update, though, comes at the expense of originality (the n word surfaces). Reportedly, Ed O.G & Da Bulldogs parted ways with their label the same year, and it took Edward Anderson quite some persistence to strategize his career and become "Boston's only undisputed," as he would put it ten years later.
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 5, 2009