Hip Hop artists are notorious for having large volumes of music stored away in some vault or another. Whether it was a collabo that never came out because of beef, a song with sample clearance issues, or an artist is simply a studio rat (didn’t ‘Pac release another album this year?), there’s plenty of music that goes unheard. Sometimes, it’s better that way, as most music that’s left off of albums is done so for a reason. So under which category does Onyx’s Cold Case Files: Murder Investigation fall?

Meant to hold fans down until Onyx‘s [click to read] long-awaited Black Rock drops, Cold Case Files harkens back to the old days, as most of these cuts sound as though they’re straight from the early 90’s, and you all know what that means – rugged, raw rhymes with plenty of grime to go around. Such is the case early on, with “Ghetto Way of Thinking” and “O.N.Y.X.” being perfect examples of the gritty sound we all loved 13, 15 years ago.

“Evil Streets Remix” features Method Man, who fits the song perfectly as it sounds like it could have been left on the Tical cutting floor. The smoked-out, paranoid feel of the song just screams ’94, and Sticky Fingaz [click to read] acts accordingly: “A dick in the dirt is what I’m holding/Sporting mad Polo but only if its stolen/I got no morals my mind is in the gutter/Kid I’ll open up your face with my orange box cutter/Soak you when you least expect it/Before I met Russell I only had a jail record/Plus nothing ever hurt me when I was at home/These evil streets got a mind of their own”

Although it sounds great in the beginning, the tracks in the middle of Cold Case Files begin to drag for one reason or another. “Rock You” suffers from an insipid hook, whereas “Hydro” has awful production values. I know these are old cuts, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be re-mastered. “Purse Snatchaz Pt. 2” didn’t have to happen, as it uses the same beat as its predecessor, and doesn’t come nearly as hard. “I Don’t Want to Die” features some spastic, vicious lyricism, but the recreation of R. Kelly‘s “I Believe I can Fly” with the lyrics “I don’t really wanna die, all I wanna do is just get high” is just awkward.

As with all compilations of this sort, there’s bound to be a cohesiveness issue. Although we can only make educated guesses as to what years which songs were recorded, there are very noticeable differences in rhyme styles, and more importantly, production values. If these songs were released at the times they were respectively recorded, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, as it stands, it’s sometimes difficult to listen to them side-by-side on the same album.

Bottom line, this album is easily worth copping – if you’re an Onyx fan. If you’re not familiar with their music, you’d be much better served scooping up either Bacdafucup or All We Got Iz Us. Cold Case Files doesn’t really manage to distinguish itself from common issues associated with compilation albums. That being said, even cuts that didn’t make Onyx‘s albums manage to bring you back to the gritty early 90’s. With a gem or two nestled among these tracks, fans of that sound may want to check this.