Mr. Shadow - Till I Die
No one can deny that Mr. Shadow was one of the best voices in Chicano Rap. He dropped a classic anthem for the 619 when he came stomping through the underground with his biggest and most unforgettable song, "Till I Die". While I strongly adhere to the notion that his sophomore album is better than his debut, I must admit he had a solid first year under the wing of the legendary VMF.
Khool Aid from Pocos Pero Locos remembers a young Shadow driving up to the station and asking her to play his song on the radio and the rest was history (the interview was on YouTube for a while). When I first heard "Till I Die" play, the loud thump followed by (pardon my use of onomatopoeia for literary effect) bump-a-bump-bump-bump and then he begins with the perfect entrance: “introducin, seducing your mind, makin’ of the one they call stallion/ take Shadow, the one man battalion”, it totally blew me away. The instrumental was incredible, the production slammed and the lyrical prowess of an eager and young emcee flowing like a veteran, busting tongue twisters and holding his own left an impression. Some of you probably aren’t aware that the beat was recycled from an earlier VMF production for another San Diego rapper, LAZ (later sampled by some Norteños).
The second track isn’t as captivating as the titular track but it does emphasize Shadow’s lyrical acrobatics. He flips the script with a riveting might, “six letters in my name six thoughts up in my brain/ six shots from my slug got your flick up in the frame”. Just a play on 666, in case you didn’t pick up on that. I can’t remember what I didn’t like about "Can't Be A Player (If You A Hater)" initially, but for years I used to skip the song. Maybe because I thought it was a candy-ass beat, but sure enough one day I had the album in my stereo and I let it play all the way through. It donned on me. I had an epiphany. This was the jam. The Cameo sample of “Back And Forth” is a majestically composed party jam without sacrificing skill. Taking a darker twist, the fourth track features the ever popular Lil Rob still fresh off his debut for a satanic San Diego collabo. Among the most enjoyable songs was the O.D.M feature. The merger of 2 area codes lends itself to the name of the song: "61909" (when the I.E was for a short time 909). O.D.M lays down some dope rhymes, and makes a claim (one too many Chicanos like to toss around) about “I’m the fool that brought Mexicans to Hip Hop, I brought the pride to the browns, and introduced to new sound and now I’m about to put it down for the underground” take the claim with a grain of salt and let the debate rage on.
To this day, I still don’t feel "Me & My Shadow", I don’t know why. It’s not a bad song. But it doesn’t captivate me or have anything that I find appealing. The placing of the next song still boggles my mind. A quarter of the album heavily featured Ese Lil Rob, so I still don’t understand why "Excited" was even added, not once but twice on the album (the sequel appears as track 14). That was a snake move, honestly. But as far as the track goes, Lil One and Shadow dropped a gem, this is the barrio equivalent to "Ain't No Fun If The Homies Can't Have None", because all the hynas bumped this. Personally, I prefer the remix with the Tom Tom Club sample. The multi-talented rapper and producer Steve Vicious joins Shadow on "Nobody Does It Like We Can", they work so well together that they could have made a dope duo if they ever made a full length album. Sometimes I wonder if "El Matador" was aimed at Knightowl with all the warning and shit talking. Not my jam, I skip it ten-out-of-ten times.
Hitting hard with upbeat jams were the three consecutive Lil Rob appearances. "Go Ahead" was another party jam with a soft One Way sample (“Push Push” if I’m not mistaken) laced with that unmistakable synthesizer from VMF. Familia Records wanted to have Lil Rob and Lil One push a joint album (original concept for The Sickos) but it would be Shadow and Rob who would ultimately come together as the Mayhem Clique (hence the name of the song "Let The Mayhem Begin"). It is not my favorite song, the instrumental bugs me, they should have dropped rhymes over some funk samples (I really wish they’d have had a remix with a different beat). The magic picked up again on "Rumours", my boy Vicious laid down his funk on the keyboards while Mr. Shadow and Lil Rob traded verses about the chisme that spread about them.
It’s no secrete that coming up, Wop Town Krazy Boys (Amici Park Locos) on the Westside boasts two legendary rappers, Mr. Shadow and the veterano Knightowl. I’ve been around some homies who had friction with younger/ older cats from their hood, so it’s not completely unheard of when theirs in-house fighting. However, I always thought their pleito was unnecessary considering they both were repping for the same hood. On "Shadow Of Your Death", on the intro we hear several gunshots killing an owl then Mr. Shadow lays out some dirt about K.O being a ranker for not doing jales when the hood called for dirt to be done. I cracked up when I heard Shadow say “Knightowl you gotta give it up, you’re getting old/ you’re 34, your life ain’t shit and you’re acting like a hoe”. Also throws shade at him for biting his rhymes. Further in the song he moves on to talk about Rob, Royal and Feno by stating “it’s mandatory I kick the story about these bitches perpetrating in my territory”. Overall, the beat was weak and I wasn’t down with the use of the word “nigga” at the end of his verse.
Counting the previous song, the final quarter of the album was hella weak. This is where the album started to get lengthy and fall apart. It seemed this was more filler than substance. Continuing with the shit talking, "Excited 2" follows the same formula as before, but is, however, the best of the final quartet. You can tell both Shadow and VMF got lazy on "Nielson, Bundy & Clyde", I’ve never heard anyone say this was their favorite song. I really think Shadow is a gifted lyricist so when I hear a subpar beat waste his lyrical ability, it frustrates me because it downplays his talent. And this is how I feel about "Beware". To make matters worse, the sheer laziness on the instrumental sounds too similar to tracks 2, 9 & 11 with all the guitar strums and Latin sounding tinges. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were all recorded on the same session.
Half the album is composed of features, most of them being Lil Rob, while ODM, VMF and Lil One shared guest appearances. I’ve always liked the album, but it does run a little too long. The debut would have held a stronger standing if it had 10-12 songs with the omission of the last quarter and maybe tracks 2 & 9. I am not sure if any one else caught the awkwardness of dissing a member of your own hood along with the other person who appears most often on your first album. All in all, this was a great CD, it makes me proud that we hail from SD and that it added to the foundation of the most prolific time in Chicano Rap history.
01. Till I Die
02. What Goes Around Comes Around
03. Can't Be A Player (If You A Hater)
04. Apocalypse (feat. Lil Rob)
05. 61909 (feat. O.D.M)
06. Me & My Shadow
07. Excited (feat. Mr. Lil One)
08. Nobody Does It Like We Can (feat. VMF)
09. El Matador
10. Go Ahead (feat. Lil Rob)
11. Let The Mayhem Begin
12. Rumours (feat. Lil Rob)
13. Shadow Of Your Death
14. Excited 2
15. Nielson, Bundy & Clyde