Inspired by a recent survey from the boys over at Take It Personal Radio (podcast), I figured I should finally get around to publishing this article I began all the way back in 2016 – January 8th at 10:15AM to be precise according to this draft history. While Take it Personal asked listeners which of OC’s albums they preferred: Word Life (1994) or Jewelz (1997) ?; I had the intention to highlight Jewelz as a classic album that never quite got the shine it deserved.
Before Hip-Hop heads and purists clog up the comment feed with expletives because I dare push OC’s debut album, Word Life, aside I will say this: Yes, Time’s Up is a rap anthem and anyone who disagrees should have their street status revoked and record collection repossessed. Also, as the Take It Personal crew mentioned in their debate, Word Life dropped in 1994 when a veritable tidal wave of classic rap albums were released and in heavy rotation (Illmatic, Ready To Die, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Hard to Earn, Ill Communication, Stress – The Extinction Agenda… to name a few!). Needless to say, it was a tough year to stand out in the crowd.
OC’s sophomore album, Jewelz dropped three years later in 1997. Rap music and the Hip Hop culture had evolved so much in such a small space of time. Young surburban teenagers like myself were now a key demographic of the fanbase and eager to listen to everything the culture had to offer. My personal opinion is that 1997 also signalled the demise of gritty street rap. I can pretty much pinpoint the exact day boombap rap suffered a mild cardiac arrest: July 1st 1997. On this day, Bad Boy and Arista Records released Puff Daddy and the Family’s No Way Out. Granted there are some bangers and guilty pleasures on that album, but real rap fans will tell you Puff Daddy and The Hitmen redirected Rap music into Pop(ular) music and the rough, rugged and raw emcees were no longer granted access to the Billboard charts.
With that historical milestone in mind, OC’s second offering, Jewelz, was a breath of fresh air for Hip Hop heads that still understood the value of real lyricism and crate digging. With a pristine white background and a jewel-incrusted pendant on display and a fairly regal logo font, OC could have been playing into the trend of untouchable bling. However, the ‘jewels’ OC offered were more like lessons on how to build a timeless body of work. OC collaborated with fellow Digging In The Crates Crew members Showbiz, Lord Finesse and Big L and producers Mr. Walt of the Beatminerz, Buckwild, DJ Ogee and DJ Premier. These collaborations guaranteed authentic rhymes and rhythms to nod your head to.
Jewelz opens with one of its heaviest tracks, My World, produced by DJ Premier. Preemo is always on point with the samples he uses to build his beats. In typical climatic fashion, DJ Premier loops a slow regal violin chant as OC introduces himself. Then the spooky spaghetti western synth begins and the bass and snare kick a slightly more upbeat yet melancholic melody. Seemlessly, My World blends in the second DJ Premier production, War Games with looped vocals, bare keys and a horn scratch. OC is joined by Organized Konfusion to spit layers upon layers of military metaphors.
Then you have the singles. Can’t Go Wrong produced by DJ Ogee and Far From Yours produced by Buckwild with an intro – that in my humble opinion is fire! – by DJ Premier (Again!). Can’t Go Wrong is real smooth with its American Tango (Weather Report) sample as the chorus and hook. OC analyses his relationship without sounding weak. If anything he sounds stronger which is cool because rappers usually lay bare their regret or their misgivings when it comes to sharing their space.
Far From Yours is slightly less refined than Can’t Go Wrong but that’s because it was a much more targeted mainstream hit. Yvette Michelle lends her soft voice to the backing vocals and Roc Raida handles the cuts. Even if most die-hard rap fans won’t claim Far From Yours as a favourite, it is irritatingly catchy and slips more into the guilty pleasure category.
While OC made sure to please the lovers, he also made sure the posses, clans and clicks had something to stomp too. M.U.G. and Win The G are duets with underground favourite, Freddie Foxxx (DJ Premier again and again!) but the real banger is Dangerous featuring fellow DITC member Big L (RIP). The snapping snare, fiery cuts and 7th Wonder key sample are the backbone of this awesome club banger that OC and Big L manhandle.
Rappers like to tell stories and OC is no exception. The Crow is a tale of unconscious encounters with Death and how these nightmare experiences force OC to reflect on his life. It’s a complex song that doesn’t spare on the vocab and descriptive layers. The beat is reminiscent of something Mobb Deep might rap to, just a little lighter.
You and Yours is DJ Ogee’s second track on Jewelz and if it isn’t as refined as Can’t Go Wrong, it’s still my favourite forgotten track off the album. Lonnie Liston Smith’s A Garden Of Peace has the hypnotic pull as an almost analogue sounding piano loop drives a good tempo. OC lets the listener know that he is the antidote to the bling era “Respect me like a Kennedy / Acknowledge my identity / O’s like a cure, I’m the source, the remedy—you know it”.
The last track I want to mention is the last track and title song, Jewelz. DJ Premier kils us with another amazing intro break before DITC Lord Finese takes control of the boards and OC serenades us out. The ascending Changing Faces sample by JJ Band and the chorus reminiscent of an Organized Konfusion hit (Stress) are catchy but it is really all about OC and his word penmanship that close the album.
“Yo, my movement motion smooth or rough as the ocean / Sometime, it slip away and I lose devotion / My judgement get cloudy, then I wanna get rowdy like Romania, terrorize like Saudi Arabia / My avians reflects my mood swing / Switch colors like a mood ring / Wifey telling me good things so I won’t strain.”
“Pouring rhymes like wine ‘til my cup runneth over / Temptation on my shoulder / I’m growing colder than a Polar bear / Thinking ‘bout a bank hold-up / I fall upon my lap and rest my head upon my kneecaps / Is it a crime that I be dreaming ‘bout the G’s, black?”