I’ve been listening to early-mid 90s Cali rap a lot lately, from Quik’s records with II to None and the Penthouse Players clique to other Eazy-E-derived shit like Above the Law, never mind Cali OGs like Spice 1, MC Eiht, and C-Bo. Its started to get to me, like my vision of oppressive hot dusty LA weather: its a depressing existence, murder after murder, bodies piling up, 70s/80s funk subverted into the soundtrack for killings and drug deals gone wrong. When it isn’t reckless violence, its heartbreaking remorse and sadness, reality projected through the prisms of the people who sound like they’ve lived it. This isn’t Snoop and Dre party shit. So before I burn out entirely, I figured I’d throw up some shit about the South Central Cartel and the Murder Squad.
No Mobb Deep here; by some stratospheric coincidence, two 90s Cali gangsta rappers were christened Havoc and Prodeje, and they made up a group called the South Central Cartel. In ’95 Havoc’s label GWK Records put out SCC Presents Murder Squad, and its one of the better cali g rap albums from that era. SCC dropped some serious Cali-G classics on their own, like 1997’s All Day Everyday and the almost-as-hot 1994 LP N-Gatz We Trust (check the crazy posse cut “Gangsta Team” with 2pac, Ice T, MC Eiht and Spice 1). But of all the mid-90s Cali g-rap I’ve been checking lately, ’95’s Murder Squad Nationwide is the one I keep coming back to.
Speaking of posse cuts, this video is for “No Peace” and it features Ice T, Spice 1, Ant Banks, Boss and, of all people, Treach, who appears in the video draped with customary lock and chain.
To me Ice T is the most memorable, but its a fucking avalanche of all star appearances, up there with NWA’s appearances on DOC and ATL’s debut records.
“I been waitin in town a longtimelongcrimelongendslongcash yr talkin bout miiiine kid.
You did a bid and you came home cockY, yr 23 homie and yr talkin bout O.G.?
HUH I’m 34, I use gats to score, gaggin, tyin hoes in the backs of jewelry stores
G-rides I’m talkin about two, thought you knew
One to work, and one to ride on to the crew
But nowadays brothers wanna flip, and set trip
it ain’t even bloods, just straight crips killin’ crips.”
The opening track even features the Chi-Lites, weirdly enough helping Murder Squad cover a Brothers Johnson classic. Mid-album cut “Gunsmoke” calls on everyone to ‘listen to the gunsmoke.’ Shit burns.
So after nerding out on all this Cali g-rap everything in my life seems to take on a depressed, hazy sheen, like all of the ghetto paranoia and claustrophobia washed in dusty orange west coast heat goes right to my brain, leaving me hollow; in many ways this is just too much, and I don’t just mean the onslaught of violence and hopelessness; the whole aesthetic of 90s gangsta, the conflicted personas of the terrorized terrorizing and even the most exceptional shit starts to run together after awhile, grimey dirt-sienna aural oil paints smeared across my brain until I’m forced to listen to Papoose or some other lyrical New York cat. No song does this better than the Havoc feature “Ghetto Got Me Shadey,” a Havoc feature that ends admitting honestly “I’d rather be a punk O.G. than a dead O.G., doin’ all that time in county,” and repping the west coast to the end. Not to sound corny but these records are full of choices most of us should be glad we don’t have to make.