By the time Rhino releases a compilation of your music either your career is dead or you are. That’s just the honest truth, it’s not meant to offend anyone. Rhino is not the record label looking to break the next fresh young act into the music business, they’re the label looking to give you back the old artist you remember and/or fondly miss. Let’s give credit where it’s due, they do a damn good job of it too. The five-disc Sugarhill Records compilation I bought from them years ago really was the be-all/end-all statement on the label’s importance in hip-hop history. Put quite simply, it was definitive.
Barring undiscovered and unreleased studio material or a “Born Again” style Biggie album with guest appearances cobbled together into new songs, “The Definitive Ol’ Dirty Bastard Story” tries to live up to that lofty title. Definitive. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions for definitive is “authoritative and apparently exhaustive.” For the most part the sixteen tracks of the music portion found in this release fit that description well. Any Russell Jones song you ever liked or considered a hit will be found on this compact disc, starting appropriately enough with “Brooklyn Zoo” as the first track. While it’s not clear if the music was actually remastered for this release, the songs do sound crisp and clear, which in itself is a statement considering how famously mushmouthed and unintelligible ODB could be. All the classics from his “Return to the 36 Chambers” solo debut are here: “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” “Raw Hide” and even the somewhat rare B-Side single “Give it to Ya Raw,” along with a unique “Brooklyn Zoo Clean LP Version.” There’s also plenty of material from his somewhat slept on “Nigga Please.” While most people remember “Got Your Money” featuring Kelis, he’s equally nutty and enjoyable on tracks like “Rollin’ Wit You” and “All in Together Now”:
“Who’s the Five Percent of the planet Earth?
Tell em Poppa Wu, well it sure ain’t Poppa Smurf!
Got to check your blood, take you to church
Ministers down with the nerds
Ever since birth
white man always tryin to take the black man’s turf
Black man built America
I named ya after Asia, you ain’t my MOMMA!”
To truly be considered “definitive” though we have to go back to that handy Merriam-Webster definition, that being “apparently exhaustive.” While including songs with memorable show-stealing cameos like Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” remix and his “Ghetto Supastar” duet with Pras and Mya is “apparent” it’s definitely not what one would call “exhaustive” since both are already well known. If this is truly ODB’s “Story” then it shouldn’t just include all the big shit. “Exhaustive” would mean including songs like “Dirty the Moocher” from the Hoodlum Soundtrack, the Studio Ton Remix of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” featuring E-40 and MC Eiht, and “Wreck (Mankind Theme)” from the “WWF Aggression” album. As for guest appearances, there are a lot of more obscure cameos that are equally as entertaining as the two included: “Bitches” by Insane Clown Posse, the Busta Rhymes “Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check” remix, and “Hip Hop Drunkies” by Tha Alkaholiks among MANY others. Unfortunately for Rhino Records this means that calling this album the “Definitive Story” is tantamount to false-advertising, as it would take a much more exhaustive and thorough two-to-three disc set to truly meet the M-W definition in whole.
Perhaps in the end that’s a futile expectation though, since Ol’ Dirty Bastard was for all his antics a seminal rapper with a (strong) cult following. The kind of “definitive” set that would satisfy these fans would also sell very poorly, given that such a hardcore base can’t be guaranteed to want to purchase a three disc set at a high price. Rhino is probably well aware of that and decided that if they couldn’t be “definitive” they’d at least provide a substantially good compilation that would be the next best thing. This set does meet that standard, and by set I mean that “The Definitive” also comes with a bonus DVD featuring Ol’ Dirty’s three music videos along with a bonus interview. While it’s only 17 extra minutes of material altogether, it does help to make this set a good value for the money to both the casual and the hardcore ODB fan. It’s possible that “Definitive” may in the end prove to be little more than a marketing gimmick, since it’s wide open for a more comprehensive collection to be released in the future, but if you like Russell Jones or just need a late pass on what his crazy drunken style was all about, this would be a good place to start.