15 Years Later: Revisiting ‘Murda Muzik,’ ‘Ryde Or Die’ and ‘Soundbombing 2′
In 1998, the hip-hop community was recovering from the deaths of it's two biggest stars -- Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. -- but showed signs of renewed life via a slew of landmark releases from various rap acts. In 1999, hip-hop looked alive and well with an ever-growing popularity and consistent flow of quality releases. On April 27, 1999, three classic albums were released, all featuring different styles of rap and for a different sect of listeners.
The three projects: Ruff Ryders' album 'Ryde Or Die Vol. 1,' Mobb Deep's sinister fourth LP, 'Murda Muzik' and the indie compilation, 'Rawkus Presents: 'Soundbombing 2,' would go on to be considered among the best of the year and earned the elusive "timeless" stamp.
But we love to debate and rank things here at The Boombox and thought it was only right to definitely figure out which release was in fact the crown jewel of the three.
By 1999, the notion that Mobb Deep was the preeminent street rap group in hip-hop was nearly a fact. QB's murderous duo were coming off of two back-to-back classic albums, 'The Infamous' and 'Hell On Earth,' respectively.
So, after a two-year hiatus, Havoc and Prodigy came out blazing with their third album, 'Murda Muzik.' The street-certified LP more than satisfied the appetite of fans hungry for another dose of their Mobb stylistics.
As soon as you hear the grim lead-off track 'Streets Raised Me' it was clear that they had not lost a step or gained an ounce of remorse for their thuggish ways. Havoc had produced a majority of the tracks on the groups previous two albums and already had a number of classic beats on his resume, but 'Murda Muzik' saw him reach a zenith with his production. With his beats sounding more polished than ever, he added a few more notches under his production belt (most notably 'Quiet Storm') and solidified himself as a respected boardsmen.
The features served as more than just filler to round out the tracklist, but were utilized with purpose and made for some of the most memorable moments on the album. From Cormega's show-stealing appearance on 'What's Your Poison' to Nas leaving no witnesses on the cinematic 'It's Mine,' all the guests delivered standout performances that complimented the album.
But the star of the show was undoubtedly Prodigy, who deaded much of the lyrical competition with an endless string of quotables and one-liners. The Queensbridge rhymer turned in his most lyrically focused performance on any Mobb Deep album to date.
Powered by the Lil Kim-assisted lead single 'Quiet Storm,' the album would go on to be the dynamic duo's most commercially successful project, with over a million copies sold and positioned them as certified heavyweights in the rap game.
'Ryde Or Die Vol.1'
In 1999, there wasn't a more popular rap crew on the East Coast than the Ruff Ryders. To further showcase the talents of their roster, the label put together a compilation album titled 'Ryde Or Die, Vol. 1.'
Featuring a stable of artists including Aftermath castaway Eve and Bad Boy vagabonds the LOX among others, the album was nothing short of a coming out party.
Immediately grabbing the listeners ear with the high-powered lyrical free-for-all 'Ryde Or Die,' it was clear that the crew was more than just the Dark Man X and a bunch of stand-ins. The next four tracks continued the streak of undeniable bangers, all going on to be considered classic cuts in their own right. Drag-On took his rapid-fire flow national with his Dirty South-tinged 'Down Bottom,' while Eve scored a hit of her own with her catchy debut solo single, 'What You Want.'
The release wasn't strictly a family affair with the crew bringing in stars such as Jay Z ('Jigga My N----') and Big Pun ('Pina Colada') for added reinforcement. The MVP's of the album were DMX and Jadakiss, with each leaving their prints across the project in a big way. X's star continued to burn bright with clutch performances on the title track, as well as on his solo contributions 'Bug Out' and 'Some X S---.' Jadakiss raised his stock even higher (as well as fans' lust for an all-Jada album) with his solo cut 'Kiss Of Death,' as well as standout appearances on the aforementioned 'Ryde Or Die' and his gangster duet with Styles, 'Dope Money.'
A commercial and critical success, 'Ryde Or Die, Vol. 1' served as a great moment for hip-hop and signified the ongoing passing of the torch from the old guard to raps ever-growing crop of upstarts.
'Rawkus Presents: Soundbombing 2'
During the late '90s, there was a rage against the machine that was mainstream hip-hop. Fans of traditional boom-bap hip-hop were put off by what they perceived as over-the-top, uninspired tunes dominating the airwaves and video countdown shows. So, in hopes of promoting the kind of music that they felt was the purest form of hip-hop, Brian Brater and Jarret Myer founded Rawkus Records.
What started with a slew of 12" singles that caught fire on the underground scene turned into an independent powerhouse, launching the careers of artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Company Flow among others. After the labels growing success as an indie stalwart, the label signed a distribution deal with Priority Records. The first album released under this deal was the labels 'Soundbombing 2' compilation.
Featuring a who's who of the Rawkus roster as well as artists affiliated with the collective, the album contained no gimmicks, just top notch lyrics and boom-bap. Proudly waving the flag for the blue collar artist, 'Soundbombing 2' served as a rallying cry that woke the game up from its party-and-bulls--- induced stupor.
Although all deserve props as superior bodies of work from that year, for their to be a winner, someone has to play the loser. And in this case, that would be the Ruff Ryders compilation album, 'Ryde or Die, Vol. 1.'
While featuring a murderers row of opening tracks, the album is a hit and miss with a few great moments on the latter half of the album. The missteps start with the ill-fated Ruff Ryder's R&B experiment, Parl'e and their clumsy contribution 'I'm A Ruff Ryder.' Generic come-ons, albeit, with a thugged out twist that does nothing but turn the track from bad to worse. Ma$e and Jermaine Dupri show up on the atrocious 'Platinum Plus.' Those two tracks may be the only embarrassing selections on the album, but it's enough to knock it out of contention for the top spot.
That leaves us with 'Murda Muzik' and 'Soundbombing 2.' Both spoke to two drastically different sets of fans within hip-hop, with Mobb Deep as the street favorite and Rawkus representing the traditional underground leaning "backpackers." Both would make an impact on their respective demographics, but with the passing of time, we've come to the conclusion that 'Soundbombing 2' was the best rap album released that day.
'Soundbombing 2' is just too great of an album to be trumped in this instance. Despite going up against some of the game's elites and predictably losing the sales battle, the heart of independent hip-hop has become the victor sonically, winning the ears of fans all over the world.
Mixed by Babu and J-Rocc of The World Famous Beat Junkies, the compilation plays more like a mixtape than an album, with flawless transitions between tracks and masterful sequencing.
The collection boasts a lineup of talent including Sir Menelik, Shabaam Shadeeq, and Medina Green, as well as MPC kings the Beatminerz, Hi-Tek and Diamond D.
Among the album's highlights includes Eminem, who was at the cusp of mainstream stardom, and his infamous brand of dark humor on the Beatminerz-produced banger, 'Any Man.' Indie stalwart R.A. The Rugged Man comes through with the enjoyably off-brand 'Stanley Kubrick.' Common and Sadat X connect on the dreamy Hi-Tek-produced '1-9-9-9.' Fan favorite Mos Def connects with High & Mighty and Skillz on 'Boy Boy Document '99.' Finally, Medina Green and DCQ teamed up on the hectic 'Crosstown Beef,' as well as providing one of the albums high-points with ‘Next Universe.
Without the big budgets, star-studded guest appearances or a big single, 15 years later, 'Rawkus Presents: Soundbombing 2' remains major. And they did accomplished it all while still remaining an independent label.