If you remember the artist Hi-C at all (and that’s a pretty big if) you probably know him from his seminal 1991 release “Skanless.” According to AllMusic.com he released a follow-up called “Swingin'” in 1993, apparently on his own Skanless imprint. Either way his solo career has been dead for over 10 years. Being that he’s homies with DJ Quik, the Cali rapper/producer throws him a bone every now and then for a cameo appearance on an album. Most recently you can hear him on “Birdz and Da Beez” or “Ev’ryday” from “Under Tha Influence.” All in all saying that Hi-C has made a big impression on hip-hop is like saying Ricky Williams made the right choice to retire from the NFL.

The rapper named after vitamin fortified fruit drinks has not called it quits though or thrown in the towel (although in theory his name could mean he’s smoked out more than Ricky Williams is). He’s back one mo’ time in 2004 with “Hi-Life Hustle,” placing the Compton native on the roster of the Houston-based Rap-A-Lot Records. That’s a mixed blessing for the rapper. Home to a slew of popular Southern rappers like Devin the Dude, Tela, and Z-Ro as well as other acts from around the country like Do or Die (Chicago) and Yukmouth (Oakland), the imprint could be called “the last major indie” in hip-hop – still going strong over a decade after putting the Geto Boys and Scarface on the map. On the other hand Rap-A-Lot operates about as lean as possible, doing little to promote their roster other than word of mouth and the occasional lucky break with a music video. CD’s from the label also vary widely in quality. The recent release of Dirty’s “Love Us or Hate Us” abruptly ends in the middle of the album’s last song, making you wonder if anybody was paying attention before this album was pressed and distributed nationally.

Hi-C is making the best of the situation, and has called in a whole slew of West coast homies to rap on his album. The O.M. (original mack) Suga Free raps on “Say Woop.” G-Funk is in full effect on “I Don’t Wanna Know” featuring Nate Dogg. Of course you know DJ Quik is gonna be up in the motherfucker rapping on “Let Me Know,” one of several tracks he produced. And speaking of production, the Crawfdog (Hi-C’s other handle) is on point on beats for most of the album. This is particularly evident on the pounding bass and pianos of the simply named “Talk” featuring E-40 and rising West coast star Sly Boogy. They all bust some straight up lyrical pimp shit:

Sly Boogy: “I like to smoke on the fine lined sticky
You don’t really wanna try Sly Boogy (nah)
I got some niggaz that’ll ride right wit me
I’m not a homosexual, I like pussy (yup yup)
I make the hardest niggaz cry like sissies
I’m a live walkin sci-fi mystery
Come on and shine in the limelight wit me
Let’s make it stack, crackle and pop like Rice Krispies”

Hi-C: “Yeah you niggaz is fixin to get ya brains blew back
Sly Boogy (whattup?) Where the thang-thang at
Niggaz be killin me with these gangbang raps
I got homies so banged out they need a gangbang PATCH
Guns, knives, and baseball bats
Nigga! I come from the days of waaaaaaaaay back
And I’m still dope like Ritalin
Cause I keep shit stankin like a chitlin”

E-40: “Straight from the bottom of the gutter PEYIMP, but then I rose
Now it’s like bonus golf pimp, I got extra hoes/holes
I used to shovel that snow that powder yo’ nose
The first one on my soil my ninja to ride vogues
Now we rhyme and spit verses and rock shows
And pimp these broads for they purses mayne when I’m on the road
… I’m a fixture on my block
Before E-40, my name used to Hubba Rock”

It’s fucked up that Hi-C took over a decade to come back, but in that time his skills have definitely gotten sharper. Vocally his rap is a mixture of Suga Free’s pimping and DJ Quik’s high notes, still creating a distinctive sound all his own that matches his name well. Hi-C is not afraid to prove he can flip different styles as he does the triple-rap style on “Coochie Coochie” featuring Diamonique, goes lower and slower on “Big Girls Need Love Too,” pimps out some comedic sex raps on “Hit Me Where it Hurts” and comes banging hard as hell on “X Pills” with self-produced piano chords that sound straight up Daz Dillinger.

For the most part the topic matter is not going to be a surprise to folks or turn many heads, other than the occasional reference to gangs. Mostly this album is about sex and drugs, with the slightest hint of violence, but only when it comes to protecting his own turf. It’s still shocking though that Hi-C not only didn’t give up on hip-hop after all these years rocking on the down low, and “Hi-Life Hustle” could be called a comeback. If you’re a fan of West coast hip-hop, or of the musical style of DJ Quik (whose production style is clearly the basis for Crawfdog’s) then “Hi-Life Hustle” will for you be worth taking a chance on – just like Rap-A-Lot took a chance on him. Let’s hope it pays off for both.

Hi-C :: The Hi-Life Hustle
7Overall Score