"I love hip-hop – Not Rock 'N Roll/Yeah I'm a giant, and I got lots of soul"
From the outset of Showbiz and AG's 1991 EP lead single "Soul Clap," the Bronx natives asserted their stance as the progenitors of hardcore hip-hop, epitomizing the art of braggadocio rap with the rhythm and drums of boom bap beats. Their style was a natural transition from the freestyle battles on the block, which is how AG got Lord Finesse's attention, and helped formulate the trademark hip-hop produced by the DITC (Diggin' in the Crates) crew. Along with other artists Diamond D, Buckwild, Fat Joe, OC, and, last but not least, Big L, DITC became a staple to any and all underground heads, bringing forth that bass-heavy tempo and hard drum-lines interspersed with creative, looming samples to add some old school flavor to the new school age.
Enter 1995: DITC had already a plethora of solid releases from Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, and Diamond D a few years earlier, cementing the crew's reputation for simplistic yet booming hip-hop. However, the tides were seemingly changing and newer releases from 1994 onwards were indicative of a change in sound and speak – while effective in many cases, they were nonetheless stepping away from that sound typified in the DITC camp. The challenge for the underground kings, then, came to be to adjust and mould their signature groove with a new age feel. In stepped Show & AG. Although the name had changed, the crew was nevertheless the same and more than willing to change with the times, while hitting on all levels which they themselves had previously constructed. The result was "Goodfellas" – an album that fit well into that pantheon of hip-hop eras (1994 to 1996) and beamed as the penultimate cap to DITC's string of solid efforts.
On the lead-off song "Never Less than Ill," Showbiz re-introduces the audience to the group with thundering cymbals and horn flashes coupled with a minimalist one-key piano loop that beats you in the head – there's no song more aptly titled! However, the changes are immediately evident as Show reprises his MC role for only one bar this go-around, then hands the mic reins off to AG. A risky yet beneficial move, AG's skills were sharper than ever, and he demonstrated so right off the bat with this table-of-contents type intro:
"Next level is what it's Time For, '9-4 missed us
But check us, when 9-pound winds down
Forget the fame, because the aim is the riches
Even Robert De Niro – he ain't seen more witches
The streets are filled with chickens, some finger-lickin'
I need that queen that represents by all means
You're bobbin' your head, now watch it spread like cancer
On the move like go-go, burn you like Jo-Jo dancer
You can't relate because my raps are the roughest
Retaliate but your wrath is rough-less
Fear no human bein', seein' me is rare
Time has took its toll, I can tell by your tears
A man amongst children, and my records make a killin'
Like tobacco – I got a phat flow, worth a million"
Just as you barely take in the last word spoken on this one-verse barrage of battle lines, the rattling bass of "You Know Now" penetrates the echo and fully absorbs you into the "Goodfellas" experience. At this point, you understand that the more groovy and soulful rhythms prevalent all throughout "Runaway Slave" have morphed into much darker and somber melodies bent on feeling more criminal than being uplifting. But the duo plays this role extremely well, and Show's sullen bass and background whistles mesh perfectly with the high-pitched verbal attacks provided by AG, as he rips, "Hopelessly, cuz the dialogue is tight/ I rip it and split, never hog the mic/ Write with my brain cells not a pencil/ Can't survive what I've been through/ Or in space in my mental." Again, the end of the song is abruptly directed into the bells and drums of "Check it Out"; however, the following song, "Add On," recaptures that DITC essence, as the signature tambourine background to many of Finesse's songs compliments well the high bass and blazing horns throughout the beat, easily producing one of the most memorable joints here. Even though both D-Flow and AG prove more than capable of handling the track, it's the Funky Technician who impresses most and continues on his boastful rap agenda, showing the young ones who the pioneer was and, most definitely, still is:
"It's Lord Finesse the rhyme vet
Like Biggie, I'm 'Ready to Die,' but it ain't my fuckin' time yet
I bring the noise like static, I cause havoc
When I grab the mic, I pack a party like traffic
You know my style I got the hip sound
I should be a construction worker, the way I'd be tearing shit down
'One of the best,' you're off to shouting
I bust a ni$$a ass and don't give two thoughts about it
Word, I'll hunt you down
I got a million reasons, why none of y'all can fuck around"
And it just doesn't stop. Perhaps the most popular song off the LP, "Next Level (Nyte Tyme Mix)," follows and again demonstrates Premier's ability to make anybody, solo or group, even better than they already might be. The producer searches for that Showbiz & AG of old and hits them with that soul groove linked by the perfect scratches for the hook. Slow yet undoubtedly head-nodding, the joint changes the mood and lets you adjust your own tempo with ease. Not to be outdone, Showbiz features his original version of the song near the end of the album, but his use of Wes Montgomery's "Angel" sample allows him to create a more upbeat rhythm that truly changes the attitude of the song, while incorporating the same verse as on the Premier joint – that is how remixing is done!
The album's only true posse cut, "Got the Flava," features production assistance by Dres, and vocals by D. Flow, Wali World, Party Arty and Method Man, who steps in with a brief verse simply to show his respect for a classic group. The ending is linked to the proceeding joint by a beat too sick to be rapped over, so it's splattered with adlibs instead; but, still, it makes you wish. Nonetheless, the pining stops quickly as "Neighbahood Sickness" grabs your attention with the loud, angry vocals of Party Arty. However, it's AG that makes his presence more than felt:
"The best that ever did it, so back up and maintain
I manifest who I be on your chest just like a name chain
They think they know of me because of my poetry
You think you're nice, right? Then grab the mic and try to flow with me
It's a shakedown, no ends when I'm in town
Wear my fake smiles since I put them corny Timbs down
I'm hysterical when it comes to the lyrical
You want to get physical? That's a Goodfella ritual
Get with you? Yeah, I can get with ya
Step to me, A.G., it besta be for my signature"
It's this short stretch of solo joints at this point, though, that hints at the album's only weakness: lack of content. Although AG is an authority on battle rap and bangs out vicious lyrics, it becomes redundant, and since "All Out" and "Medicine" are straight-up, 3-verse tracks, the penchant to skim over these tracks is highly tempting. Thankfully, "I'm Not the One" provides a one-verse release as AG laments over a late-night attempted robbery where AG himself was the target. Show's layered melody offers a great backdrop to AG's story-telling, which is descriptive and happily finishes off on a point of irony. It would have added more to the album if he offered one more track akin to the aforementioned song. Nevertheless, the album flows seamlessly over to "Got Ya Back" featuring Wali World, where both rappers weave in and out on the fine points of being in the Goodfella family. The album fittingly finishes off with an AG-Diamond D collabo – "You Want It" – exhibiting the slowest beat on the album that is replete with horn loops, dull whistles and hard snares, all of which effectively allows the DITC representatives to articulate their final flares of machismo.
Indeed, the years 1994 to 1996 gave birth to several classic albums – "Goodfellas" definitely being amongst them. Although it might not be entirely perfect, beat or lyric-wise, it resulted in a potent blast of DITC flavor, draped in the more underground feel of those years. As stated previously, in this author's opinion, it shines as the peak of the DITC discography, encapsulating its environment, time period, and the stringent quality that was the key to the crew's releases. And, aside from Gang Starr, it represented one of the last producer-mc duos that held their own, and then some. The chemistry espoused throughout "Goodfellas" between Show and AG is rarely matched and a main reason for the album's fluidity.
Music Vibes: 9.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 29, 2006