As much as it pains purists to admit, the mid-‘90s style of Hip Hop crafted by the likes of Gang Starr and the Wu-Tang Clan is more or less dead. And while many underground producers uphold the golden era’s spirit and venerate its veteran acts, few can match the subtlety of Lord Finesse and Large Professor when it comes to mashing MPC pads in carefully-crafted compositions.
Luckily for those few remaining stalwarts who would rather hear the return of the Funky Man than another installment of G.O.O.D. Friday, veteran underground emcee/producer Celph Titled feels the same way. The Tampa Bay emcee decided to team up with the legendary D.I.T.C. producer Buckwild for his proper debut album Nineteen Ninety Now. The results of this collaboration are nothing short of astounding, as both parties prove that golden era is far from dead.
If left in the hands of a less capable emcee, Buckwild’s array of previously unreleased mid-1990s beats most likely would have been utterly wasted. Fortunately for listeners, however, Celph Titled’s jaunty flow hearkens to a Muddy Waters-era Redman, while his devastating arsenal of punchlines is borderline Big L. This is not to say that Celph sounds derivative of these legends; rather, he comes off as a student steeped in the verbal aesthetics of the golden era. He sounds eerily at home rocking over Buckwild’s Word...Life-era production. From the album’s very opening track “The Deal Maker,” Celph asserts his verbal authority, spitting, “I’ll slice your neck with a Fugees CD / And stick Lauryn Hill with the coroner’s bill.” Celph is a throwback to the veritable glory days of hardcore Hip Hop, and his delivery is as fantastic as it is refreshing.
Like any proper ode to ‘90s hardcore, Nineteen Ninety Now finds Celph in full battle mode. Songs like “Hardcore Data” and “Step Correctly” captures Celph at his most gutter, saying on the later song that “I was a stick-up kid / It was fucked up but fun / 'Cause I used a Nintendo Duck Hunt Gun.” Other tracks like the Busta Rhymes-sampling “Tingin’” and “Where I Are” are verbal smack-downs that bruise on contact. Yet Celph doesn’t relegate himself to simply talking shit on his lyrical foes. Songs like “Fuckmaster Sex” find Celph donning a hilarious Kool Keith pornocore mentality, while “Wack Juice” proves to be one of the angriest sounding attacks on Hip Hop recorded since Crunk was mainstream. Yet it’s songs like “Miss Those Days” and “I Could Write a Rhyme” that prove the album with a greater personal grounding, making Nineteen Ninety Now a more well-rounded listen.
Although Celph more than holds it down on his dolo, the crew cuts featured on the LP make the album that much better. Chief among these collaborations are the Vinnie Paz-featured verbal gun show “Eraserheads” and the epic D.I.T.C./Brand Nubian connection “There Will Be Blood,” on which Celph more than holds his own against Sadat X, Grand Puba, A.G., O.C. and Diamond D. And if those collaborations don’t whet your appetite, Celph connects with his Demigodz family Apathy and Ryu on “Swashbuckling,” and even brings the likes of F.T., R.A. The Rugged Man, Chino XL and Treach from Naughty by Nature on other cuts. Except for the LP’s final track “Time Travels On,” which feature substandard verses from Majik Most and Dutchmassive, the album’s numerous collaborations drive home the golden era feel and make it one of the most exciting listens this year so far.
Buckwild’s production on Nineteen Ninety Now is nothing short of incredible. The Bronx, New York titan has always been a sonic juggnaut, crafting everything from O.C.’s “Time’s Up” to Black Rob’s “Whoa!.” Yet on this album, Buck goes into D.I.T.C. overdrive, pulling from musical landscapes with his MPC work. As indicated by the album's title and even its cover, these beats are from Buckwild's 1993-1996 years, which led to critical albums like Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous and Word...Life. He is a master of samples, compounding layers of minute horn stabs over lush and subtle grooves on tracks like “Eraserheads” and “The Deal Maker.” Buckwild shifts effortlessly between crafting threatening bangers (“Out to Lunch,” “Tingin’”) and more reflective fare (“Miss Those Days,” “Time Travels On”). With its crashing kicks and snares and dusty sampled grooves, Buckwild’s production on this album is the standard to which all Hip Hop producers should aim to achieve.
In an era where commercial interests control Hip Hop music’s every move with an iron grip, Nineteen Ninety Now is a stunning throwback to the mid-‘90s style of things. Armed with full, evocative production and some of the hardest bars heard by man, Celph Titled and Buckwild prove that the golden era isn’t dead by a long shot.