Monday, July 23, 2012

The Rockaliser 30: U.D.I., Under Da Influence (1995)

[Welcome To the Rockaliser 30, a month-long series devoted to classic albums that have been eclipsed, forgotten, misheard, or otherwise not given their propers. This is Day Twenty Three. Archive here.] 

Under Da Influence is a truly unknown classic of '90s West Coast hip-hop. The album is an unappreciated example of what is sometimes called "Mobb Music"--a derivative of Dr. Dre's G-funk incubated in the San Francisco bay area during the early 1990s. While The Chronic and other G-funk standards mixed layers of synthesizer melodies with George Clinton samples, Mobb Music achieved a similar type of sound through live, sometimes improvised instrumentation. There is not a lot I could find on the Internet about U.D.I.--in lieu of a Wikipedia entry, the most detailed information about them can be found on their Myspace page--and their debut album seems to have slipped through the memories of even the most curio-minded hip-hop head.

Take it from me, then--Under Da Influence isn't just a "great rap album you've never heard of," it's a great rap album, end of thesis. Like OutKast's Southernplayalisticadillackmusik and Guru's Jazzmatazz records, this is an album where the emcees tailor their lyrical styles to the lush atmosphere of beats mostly created by a live studio band. Indeed, the instrumentation Under Da Influence also has the added benefit of being as catchy and flavorful (in a stoned, even psychedelic sort of manner) as anything from The Chronic, Doggystyle or other key G-Funk releases of the era.

There are three songs in particular on Under Da Influence that I still listen to regularly. The first is "All I Think About," a dance-oriented heavy bass number with the immortal chorus hook "I wanna get hiiiiiigh/I wanna get high/all I think about is endo." The two emcees of U.D.I., Dig and Quint, are not exactly lyrically distinguishable from each other, but they make a great tag team as they wax exuberant over the positive feelings that smoking a ton of reefer can provide. Another song on the album, "Da City Was Made For Me," is my vote for "hardest beat of all time." This aggressive city anthem is a monster of distorted bass and funky scratch guitar. The kicker, of course, is that the song is about San Francisco, home of a hip-hop scene that almost always lagged behind nearby Oakland when it came to "hardness." Next to "Da City Was Made For Me," Dre's synth blasts sound like PM Dawn.

Then there's another song on the record--"Brotha Luv"--that's a bit of a departure for the U.D.I. crew. Whereas most of their songs are either about weed or other cliched gangsta matters, "Brotha Luv" is a story song, and it's a weird one. Over a mellow, descending bass line, Quint and Dig tell a tale "back in the hood" where they knew two brothers, Abel and Cain. Already, it seems silly: when I first heard the song, I thought, boilerplate Biblical reference, I know where this is going--but no. In this story, Abel and Cain are two modern siblings who develop a powerful drug empire through the power of mutual trust and understanding. Over time, though, Abel becomes paranoid and starts partaking in in the drugs he and his brother are selling. Cain tries to protect his brother, but as often happens in Biblically-inspired crime narratives, he is pressured into killing the one thing in life that he loves. Why U.D.I. decided to rewrite the classic Genesis story by making Cain a tragic victim of circumstance, I have no idea. But it's a song that subverts expectations, which is a bonus even amongst the dozens of ornate beats and smooth keyboard funk melodies, which must number in the dozens, that characterize this A+ hip-hop classic.

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