The turn of the millennium saw a boom in hip hop compilations that managed to capture hardcore authenticity with commercial accessibility. Violator Records dropped two strong records, Rawkus had their stellar “Soundbombing” trilogy and a slew of DJs were pumping out CDs with tracklistings that made Dr Dre’s “2001” look like a solo album. DJ Clue, Funkmaster Flex and of course Tony Touch, were key figures during the late 90s when New York was smashing apart the charts with its blend of hip hop and R&B. Whilst the likes of Flex and Clue were predominantly focussed on the here and now, I always found “The Piece Maker” to be a concise mix of hip hop overall. There was the popular single “I Wonder Why (He’s the Greatest DJ)” that didn’t just borrow from Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer”, but brought a pleasant twist to the already heavily sampled classic. It was one of the few songs on the compilation that featured Tony Touch rapping, with most of the record featuring legendary rappers – the most memorable being KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap’s “Class of 87”. The sequel wasn’t quite as successful, and relied on a Sean Paul single to move units, which in turn led Tony to release a couple of records under the Latin-heavy “Reggaetony” moniker. As much as I admire Tony for honouring his heritage, I can’t help but feel relieved to tell you that “The Piece Maker 3” is a return to the hardcore hip hop.

Just as Gang Starr kicked off “The Piece Maker” thirteen years ago with Guru’s tribute to Tony atop a scratch-heavy DJ Premier ‘piece’, the third instalment sees Preem supply another banger. Unfortunately Tony’s rhymes aren’t great, and getting D-Stroy onboard appears to be so they could call the song “Touch & Destroy” more than anything. Initially, D-Stroy sounds way too aggressive (to the point of Sean Strange-level wackness) but the more you listen to it, it grows into one of the better underground street tracks from Premo’s endless vault of head-nodders. Tony reunites current fire-spitter Roc Marciano with former Flipmode colleague Busta Rhymes for a track that sees producer Dready provide a production to take you back to the days of Busta’s early work. “Hold That” features “modern Busta” though, putting delivery over flow – meaning that even relative unknowns such as J. Doe surpass the Flipmode leader. MOP’s “You Know You Love This” is your typical “fuck a hater”, ignorant style of rap we all know and love from Fame and Danze. It’s a shame then that Fame’s beat is mixtape fodder, devoid of the energetic horns or heavy scratches an MOP track thrives on. “VIP” is one of the better moments on the album, purely because it breaks up all of the gully, New York artists. With Xzibit, Kurupt and Too $hort providing gangsta charisma alongside a smooth Koolade production, it’s a shame fellow Cali-representatives Tha Alkaholiks’ “World Premier” (alongside The Beatnuts – billed as Liknuts) isn’t quite the sum of its parts. Devoid of any worthwhile lyrics, and with an incredibly disappointing beat; especially for a Beatnuts production; I’m no longer anticipating the Liknuts album as much as I was.

Sean Price surprises on “Random” with a decidedly sharp verse that has been missing from many of his recent recordings. He even gives a nod to Rakim with a 50 emcee take on his famous “twenty one emcees ate up at the same time” from “My Melody”.

“Bounce” proves Twista still has it when dispersing verses as quick as possible. There is a distinct Ludacris feel to the song, with Bun B’s unmatchable presence providing one of the better collaborations. Psycho Les delivers a fair few instrumentals on “The Piece Maker 3” but none as polished as “Bounce”. The same can’t be said for Tony Touch on “Brooklyn’s the Borough” – the musical equivalent of a shit wedding. Plodding bells and monotonous hood raps from Papoose and Uncle Murda makes the thematically similar “BARS” sound incredible. The LOX (despite being listed as D-Block, Sheek Louch, Styles P and Jadakiss = The LOX, to me at least) sees each member do their usual routine, but benefits from a much more interesting variant on church, the organ. Styles adds enough silliness to his rhymes (“I’ll stick you like a sticker”) to compliment the overly cocky Sheek, while Jada drops an admittedly disappointing third verse. Another track from 90s veterans RZA, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon (“Unorthodox”) is decent enough, but compared to the posse cut “Abduction” from 2000’s “The Piece Maker”, it’s incredibly lifeless.

Eminem is probably the biggest name to appear, offering up the psychotic “Symphony in H Major” which whilst short and lacking any direction, does see Em throw a few nice lines about – “Yeah I nailed J-Lo…to the rail road!”. This element of freedom is evident on “A Queen’s Thing”, where Action Bronson insists his “Queen’s thing” is anal sex and storing substance in her “poopie hole”. As graphic as Bronson can be, he knows how to provide a visual scenario in only a few bars. Kool G Rap assists but ultimately just goes through the motions. And that is what “The Piece Maker 3” is really, an (admittedly impressive) ensemble of 90s rappers who provide average attempts to convince us they can still catch wreck. The one song that sounded surprisingly fresh is “Let’s Go” from Method Man, Redman and Erick Sermon. I’ll be the first to admit that “Blackout 2” and the last EPMD album were some of their weakest efforts, but this joint has that “Da Rockwilder” bounce and verses that have an unusual hunger. Hopefully this bodes well for “Blackout 3”, and Erick can do more beats like this.

At twenty five tracks long, the record feels much more similar to Tony’s “50 MCs” mixtapes than the previous “Piece Maker” albums. The Beatnuts hold down 11 of the 25 instrumentals, giving the record a cohesive sound, but other than the more “album-like” songs – “VIP”, “Bounce” and “Let’s Go” – this is throwaway hip hop that just doesn’t live up to the calibre of the guests. Perhaps if this project was released ten years ago, it may have been more acceptable (and relevant), but as the majority of artists involved are already established, there is a distinct lack of effort from many, giving the record a second-rate feel.

Tony Touch :: The Piece Maker 3