Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ol` Dirty Bastard

One of the founding members of The Wu-Tang Clan, who recorded some of the most influential hip-hop of the '90s, Ol' Dirty Bastard was the loose cannon of the group, both on record and off. Delivering his outrageously profane, free-associative rhymes in a distinctive half-rapped, half-sung style, ODB came across as a mix of gonzo comic relief and not-quite-stable menace. Unfortunately, after launching a successful solo career, his personal life began to exhibit those same qualities. ODB spent much of 1998 and 1999 getting arrested with ridiculous, comical frequency, building up a rap sheet that now reads not so much like a soap opera as an epic Russian novel. At first, his difficulties with the law made him a larger-than-life figure, the ringmaster of rap's most cartoonish sideshow. Sadly, his life inevitably slipped out of control, and the possibility that his continued antics were at least partly the result of conscious image-making disappeared as time wore on. It was difficult for observers to tell whether ODB's wildly erratic behavior was the result of serious drug problems or genuine mental instability; bad luck certainly played a role in his downfall, but so did his own undeniably poor judgment. Despite being sentenced to prison on drug charges in 2001, it's worth noting that while he was running amuck Ol' Dirty's offenses were largely nonviolent; the saddest part of his story is that, in the end, the only person he truly harmed was himself.Ol' Dirty Bastard was born Russel Tyrone Jones in Brooklyn in 1969, and grew up in the neighborhood of Fort Green as a welfare child. As he got older, he started hanging out more and more with his cousins Robert Diggs and Gary Grice; they all shared a taste for rap music and kung-fu movies. The trio parlayed their obsessions into founding The Wu-Tang Clan, renaming themselves Ol' Dirty Bastard (since there was no father to his style), The RZA, and The Genius, respectively. The Wu grew into an innovatively structured hip-hop collective designed to hit big and then spin off as many solo careers for its members as possible. Buoyed by The RZA's production genius and a number of strong personalities, The Wu-Tang Clan's first album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was released at the end of 1993 and became one of the most influential rap albums of the decade. Earlier in the year, Ol' Dirty had been convicted of second-degree assault in New York, the only violent offense ever proven against him; trouble continued to stalk him in 1994, when he was shot in the stomach by another rapper in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn following a street argument.
R.I.P. ODB. Russell Jones a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard passed away on November 13, 2004!


Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return to the 36 Chambers (Mar 28, 1995)
As a member of The Wu-Tang Clan, Ol' Dirty Bastard's bizarre, free-form rants added both comic relief and a dangerous unpredictability to the group's chemistry. ODB's RZA-produced solo debut Return to the 36 Chambers stretches his schtick over a full album, which if anything makes him sound even more unbalanced. Long before the album ends, it's clear that ODB has emptied his bag of tricks — loose, off-the-beat raps that sometimes don't even rhyme, unbelievably graphic vulgarity, gonzo off-key warbling (which sounds a little like Biz MArkie as a mental patient), and general goofing off. Yet within that role as hardcore rap's clown prince of psychosis, ODB is pretty damned entertaining. His leaps in association are often as disturbing as they are funny, whether they're couched in scatological detail or not; they certainly don't make his widely publicized erratic behavior seem at all surprising. And, despite the unstructured feel dominating most of the album, there are a fair share of hooks, and two absolutely killer singles in "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Brooklyn Zoo." Certainly, there's no reason for the album to be as long as it is, considering the dull filler toward the end. But, even though Return to the 36 Chambers might not be the most earth-shattering piece of The Wu-Tang puzzle, it's an infectious party record which proves that, despite his limitations, Ol' Dirty Bastard has the charisma to carry an album on his own.

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Ol' Dirty Bastard - Osirus: The Official Mixtape
Listening to Osirus — the posthumous "official mixtape" released with the blessings of the late ODB's manager and mother — is as bittersweet an experience as you can get. Maybe it's not as hot as the slew of street-level mixtapes that have surfaced since ODB passed, but they've got the advantage of flying under the radar and grabbing whatever unlicensed classic, freestyle, or blend they want. What those bootlegs won't expose you to is how on fire Dirty was before it all came to a halt and how ready he was to take the hip-hop world over once again. Kicking off with the bouncy and Roc-A-Fella propping party tune "Pop Shots," Osirus causes a lot of excitement from the get go, and while the third and fourth quarter filler brings it down a bit, you can't help but note that the Bastard hasn't been this driven since Nigga Please. He wants it all back, bad. The great DJ Premier's helmed cut gives way to perfect party jam number two, "Dirty Dirty," overseen by producer MArk Ronson, who combines that good old jaunty piano ODB loves so much with a rock-solid beat and funky organ. The rapper delivers one classic line over the track, boasting and bragging, more on point than obtuse. "High in the Clouds" with Black Rob and "Dirty Run" with it's uncredited sample of Bowie's "Fame" round out the highlights and while they're all upfront, the lesser tracks towards the end trump anything on The Trials & Tribulations of Russel Jones. You can talk about Dirty's crazy past all you want, but Osirus is entirely pointed toward the future. Tragic the man won't get to see those Wu-heads bobbin' and digging his wicked return to form.

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Ol' Dirty Bastard - A Son Unique (Aug 9, 2005: Def Jam)
1 Lift Ya Skirt
2 Pop Shots
3 Operator
4 Back in the Air
5 Work for Me
6 Odb Dont Go Breaking My Heart
7 Stomp
8 How Ya Feelin
9 Intoxicated
10 Dirty & Grimey
11 Danger Zone
12 Skrilla
13 Dont Hurt Me Dirty

Ol' Dirty Bastard - Nigga Please (Sep 14, 1999: Elektra)
Hollywood may have Austin Powers, but hip-hop has it's own international man of mystery; his name is Ol' Dirty Bastard. ODB lives and suffers with the adage that any publicity is good publicity, since he hasn't spent the greater part of the last two years gaining widespread notoriety for the music he makes. Rather, he has spent a majority of that time turning up on local crime blotters from coast to coast, trying to raise bail money, recuperating from gunshot wounds, rescuing a kid who was struck by a car, and hijacking the 1998 Grammy awards. With that in mind, it should be obvious by now that personalities of ODB's magnitude come around once in a lifetime. And even though he is repetitiously contradictory with his neurotic ramblings, who cares? That's half of his appeal, as there is an irrefutable attraction to ODB's carefree and inebriated outlook on life. With rhymes frequently so garbled that they are barely decipherable, calling ODB a quintessential lyricist would surely insult the intelligence of any hip-hop purist. Yet the dirt dog is indubitably a distinguished emcee and a uniquely abrasive one at that, as he turns an array of voice cracking/bloodcurdling hooks into grisly masterpieces. Examples include the nonsensical crooning of his Rick James interpolations "Cold Blooded" and "You Don't Want to Fuck With Me," and the ridiculously addictive "Rollin Wit You." Despite that ODB's production chores are handled admirably by the Neptunes, Irv Gotti and RZA, the backing acoustics are hardly needed; ODB rarely stays on beat and there is little, or no structure to his rhyme sequences. Safely nestled away in his own little world, there is no containing ODB's free-spirited outlook on life. His is a world that is heavy on shock value, yet undeniably entertaining.

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Ol:' Dirty Bastard - The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones (Mar 19, 2002: D3)
When he wasn't busy running from the authorities in late 2000, Ol' Dirty Bastard haphazardly recorded vocals for his third album after escaping a court-ordered drug rehab program in Los Angeles. ODB's record label at the time, Elektra, didn't want anything to do with the rapper; in fact, when the infamous Wu-Tang Clan member was convicted of possessing 20 vials of crack-cocaine a few months following his notorious escape from rehab, Elektra released a best-of collection, despite there only being a grand total of only two albums in the ODB catalog. This crafty decision by Elektra partly intended to capitalize on ODB's legal problems while simultaneously ending the label's relationship with the obviously troubled rapper. However, given the lucrative parade of posthumous 2Pac albums in the early 2000s, it wasn't surprising when the crass D-3 label began assembling ODB's third album by any means necessary. First of all, D-3 gathered all the miscellaneous vocals ODB had recorded as a fugitive. Second of all, since there weren't many vocals to work with, let alone many quality vocals, D-3 hired a cast of guests to fill out the album and make the songs more palatable: C-Murder, Mack 10, E-40, Big Syke, Too Short, and more. Last of all, the label brought in the Insane Clown Posse for the album's lead single, "Dirty and Stinkin'," and recorded a hard rock version of the track as well. What all of this adds up to is The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones, a shallow album that substitutes exploitation for substance. Producers like RZA and the Neptunes made ODB's past work successful; not ODB himself. Unfortunately, the producers on this album aren't nearly as talented and don't have as much to work with here. ODB's rhymes are sloppier and more incomprehensible than ever, and the guests do most of the rapping. Furthermore, the 2Pac-esque "Trials and Tribulations" frame is nothing more than a frame; sure, there are many skits where ODB rambles illogically, but you're more likely to hear him narrate defecation — which, believe it or not, actually takes place late in the album — than speak rationally. In the end, it was perhaps smart of D-3 to bring in the Insane Clown Posse, since that's precisely the level that ODB has sunken to on this album — juvenile exploitation for disenchanted suburban white boys. For years, ODB seemed funny, but here the laughter is nowhere to be found, replaced instead by the disheartening reality that the most outlandish member of the Wu-Tang Clan had fallen victim to America's drug war and, subsequently, to crass commercialism.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

good lookin on these odb cd's I have all of em except the osirus mixtape. I was just talking to my wife about that shit last night. You got that piff homie.

philip

Anonymous said...

first 3 links not workin! =(

Sweet Time said...

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