The mix CD, and before that, the mix tape, have been staples in the Hip Hop game for years as a tool to create a buzz for new music. Enter Smif-N-Wessun into the new genre of the self promotional mix tape arena with Still Shinin…The Mix CD, concocted by the west coasts own DJ Revolution. Let me start by saying this, I am not a fan of the new breed promotional mix cd which showcases only one crews work, I grew up an era where mix CD’s were just that, a blend of various artists showcasing their new ish, mixed by the DJ to near perfection. I was skeptical when I heard that Smif-N-Wessun had hoped on the trend of self promotional mix tapes (cd), but when I was able to step off of my soapbox and listen, the Bucktown duo of Tek and Steele showed they can still shine, no matter the format.
To break down who Smif-N-Wessun is, probably isn’t necessary, but here it goes for some of you younger heads. Smif-N-Wessun stepped to the scene with their debut, arguably classic LP, titled “Dah Shinin” in 1995 on Nervous/Wreck records. Cuts like “Bucktown” and “Wrekonize” earned them the street credibility to be mentioned in the same breath as Jeru the Damaja, Gangstarr, and KRS-1, along with their own crew, the famed Boot Camp Clik. Backed by the production of The Beatminerz, who are widely recognized as creators of that grimy, rugged Bucktown sound, Smif-N-Wessun were part of an era that fathered the definitive sound of New York in the early to mid 90’s. Their second release, under the name of the Cocoa Brovaz (I’ll leave the name change thing for you as a homework assignment), was a highly slept on LP that restated their hardcore Brooklyn till they die stance. Stand out tracks included “Black Trump” “Won on Won,” and “Memorial” Their distinctive rudeboy flavored rhymes caught the attention of heads in a period when there where no clear lines between underground and above, so the question is, do they have a place in the current climate of the blinged out hip hop world?
Setting things off on Still Shinin… is DJ Revolution, announcing that there “ain’t going to be no screaming over the music,” taking a shot at the likes of DJ Clue and Funkmaster “I sold my sole” Flex. Damn, maybe I can spark some DJ Beef? Let me get back on task, Smif-N-Wessun hits you in the head from the start with “Criminology,” an infectious beat driven cut infused with a B.D.P. sample. Once the lyrics drop, you know its vintage Bootcamp. Yes the track is about gunplay, but the amazing thing is that even a tired topic like shoot’em up sounds fresh through their Brooklyn slanguage. S-N-W traditionally shine brightest when rhyming about gritty street tails, but also have shown the ability to kick heartfelt joints. Still Shinin… is no exception, “Family Portrait” and “Likke Youth’s,” are both Bootcamp gems, warning the youth about the downfalls of street life. S-N-W spits dead on lyrics like “…I know about pain and hunger, I got n*****s in the system doing football numbers” and “Young man, learn to be a man before you ride in a hurst, hit by a burst, reminisced in a rap verse…gotta stand for something or you fall for anything…don’t be a fool, use your brain...” Gritty beats are provided throughout, reminiscent of the aforementioned Beatminerz, though there is no listing of producers. Talib Kweli drops in for a guest spot on “We Came Up,” a Brooklynite verbal wordplay track talking about the life and times in the infamous borough. Taking me further back to my days of Magnum 40’s and chicks drinking Boon’s, is the golden era remix “I Love You” by Mary J. Blige feat. S-N-W. The smoked out lyrics by Tek and Steele flow lovely between the crooning of Ms. Blige. Simply put, it’s a classic track. Spread throughout Still Shinin… , are various freestyles, the highlight being the “Peter Piper” freestyle. Tek and Steele bring new life to the Run DMC original, displaying the chemistry they have developed over their 10+ year careers. On the negative tip, there are some skip-able tracks, and a few dated sounded hooks, but they don’t tarnish the overall product. Bootcamp fans won’t be disappointed.
Big up to Revolution for recognizing Smif-N-Wessun and providing a format to hopefully create a buzz for their rumored upcoming official release. As for their relevance in 2005, I see them having difficulty breaking into an increasingly commercialized rap game, but who cares? Smif-N-Wessun are underground staples, my suggestion (and hope); embrace your status and keep kicking that hardcore sound true fans are craving. Hillbilly hood and bling aren’t going away, but I’ll take my hip-hop Tim boot laced, salute to the generalz….