The passing of a famous rap star has a way of making one reminisce about the past. It’s not to say that they’re necessarily the “good old days” because intentionally or not we all put on rose-colored glasses when looking back. Things always seem better in hindsight when we remember the things we enjoyed, while our memory selectively deletes the less pleasant thoughts. I’m going to take the glasses off and be real for a second — when DJ Clue’s “The Professional” came out in 1998, things weren’t exactly going my way. I was heavily in debt, making minimum wage, and regularly drinking 40’s and pitching the empties into the woods behind my apartment. I wasn’t a happy dude. Rap music was just about the old thing I could hold onto to keep any shred of sanity.
I remember the “Ruff Ryders Anthem Remix” hitting big right around that time, and I remember copping a copy of the album without a second thought just for that track. I figured that at over an hour long with 22 tracks in total, there’s be a VERY good chance I’d like more than just one song. It didn’t hurt that Clue was red hot at the time, with rappers damn near falling over themselves to work with him or be featured on his mixtapes. Even Bad Boy’s own Puff Daddy recorded an intro for “The Professional” where he admitted he wanted to merk Clue for leaking an unreleased Biggie song, then reluctantly confessed that Clue was the man and that we should all enjoy what he’d put together here.
Three tracks in I was fully on board thanks to the heavy Ruff Ryders representation, and the fourth was a revelation. Even though I’ve never been big on Cam’Ron, his presence on “Fantastic 4” with heavy hitter lyricists like Big Pun and Canibus made him step up his game. I can’t say it had that same effect on N.O.R.E., who was still suck on his “getting head in the whip” steez, but he did crack me up with the line “Aiyyo the President is like me, he smoke weed too.” Thanks to a dope Partridge Family sample (yeah I said it so what) the whole song is a certified banger.
You might think Clue couldn’t keep up that kind of momentum after three stellar back to back tracks to open “The Professional,” but damn it the man just wouldn’t let up. He immediately brought in Nas for “Queensfinest” and kept it Firm Biz with his trademark “Exclusive New Shit” featuring Nature. Now I want you to stop and think for a second about how much money Clue had to spread around to this point in the album, and keep that in mind when the very next song is “Gangsta Shit” featuring Jay-Z and Ja Rule. I don’t think anybody could afford to do a commercially released mixtape CD like this any more, and even back then, I’m sure Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella got a lot of deep discounts or appearances for gratis just because working with Clue was the best kind of promotion an artist could get.
Now that does bring up an unfortunate downside to this project — nobody new is getting to tap into that spotlight Clue had to shine on rap. That’s not to say getting to hear the all-star remake of EPMD’s “It’s My Thang” with Keith Murray and Redman spitting is less dope, or that his level of pull wasn’t incredible given that he got Mariah Carey TO DO A SKIT, but artists like the Flipmode Squad were already established AND had their founder Busta Rhymes pushing them hard from behind. “Whatever You Want” has a slick guitar riff and the Squad all represent, but the lack of new faces was becoming tiresome as was hearing Clue repeatedly shout his own name.
At this point “I Like Control” hit really weird for me. I was certainly a Missy Elliott fan and had no objections to hearing her put Nicole Wray or Mocha on (like Busta she was pushing her own proteges) but Clue and Ken Duro flipped the same “Miss Broadway” sample as Special Ed’s “Come On, Let’s Move It” in almost the EXACT same way. If you told me they just took the instrumental from Ed’s single and had everybody flow over it, I’d believe you. Just because it sounds dope doesn’t mean we can’t call it out for a complete lack of creativity.
The second half of the album is hit or miss, though generally more good than bad if I’m being honest. Most days I could skip Fabolous’ “If They Want It” (it’s not his best work) and “Bitch Be a Ho” from Jermaine Dupri and R.O.C., but Clue gets back to full strength for the title track thanks to Mobb Deep and Big Noyd bringing the heat. The lone Wu-Tang Clan appearance on the whole project comes next via Raekwon’s “Brown Paper Bag Thoughts,” so if you’re digging for deep Wu cuts, the only other place you can find it is Rae’s “Vatican Mixtape Volume 2.” If I’m being honest though I usually skip over it to play “Cops & Robbers” from Lord Tariq & Paul Cain.
If there’s any doubt that “The Professional” was only for the well connected though, that’s put to rest by “Made Men” from the group of the same name, whose sole claim to success is the dubious distinction of being homies with Benzino. (Who knows, he may have even told The Source to give the album four mics just because they were on it.) The album wraps up strong though with tracks from M.O.P. and Boot Camp Clik, so on the whole I can’t front on what Clue did with this mixtape. The first half is a nine out of ten, the second is closer to a six, but if you split the difference that’s still one hell of an effort. He was the DJ Khaled of his day — and by that I mean it didn’t matter what he actually did in the studio in terms of producing the songs on his album. His name alone made the people work with him. That’s power.