Thursday, 20 August 2015

Terror Squad (1999)

Terror Squad are probably best remembered for Lean Back, a massive club hit taken from an album with at least one eye on said clubs, not to mention radio, MTV, sound systems within cars that go up and down, and the ears of men with diamond encrusted teeth drinking Babycham from the fannies of pole dancers. True Story of 2004 was, generally speaking, a decent album, an achievement in itself given that Terror Squad had more or less imploded following the death of Big Pun back in February 2000. Like I say it's a decent album, but the real stuff was always to be found here, on the first one. This version of Terror Squad featured Big Pun plus his trusty sidekicks Triple Seis and Cuban Link, with the three of them representing a lyrically solid - in fact pretty much unbeatable - core to what was, I suppose, the Latino NWA, if we really have to go there.

In all seriousness, whilst Prospect and Armageddon may not quite have quite been first division, it didn't really seem to matter so much with Fat Joe and those other three on the team. The sum of the parts was great, although it should probably be kept in mind that, with this being an album of six guys who had cut their proverbial teeth battling lesser talents, threatening behaviour was always going to be the arena in which they would excel; so what I mean to say here is that for all True Story being a decent album and one that didn't really sound anything like we expected it to sound, what you actually want from a Terror Squad album is less club, and more in the line of disgruntled gentlemen explaining what's going to happen when they catch up with you and you don't have the money right.

In case anyone missed the memo, Big Pun was a fairly generously built gentleman - the Big qualifier being in no sense either ironic or symbolic - who some have identified as the greatest rapper of all time. Personally I'm not convinced he had the range in terms of subject for such a title, but on the strength of being able to stick a load of words together in delivery of promises and threats simultaneously both terrifying and hilarious, I'm not sure there was ever anyone better, or that there ever will be; so yes, he was definitely a giant in his field, and his presence alone makes this disc essential listening. Accordingly most of the album sounds like it was recorded with sepiatone film in a barber shop in one of the scarier corners of the Bronx, probably with some guy called either Beansie or Jimmy No Nose hanging around in the corner and due to get it sometime during the next three minutes. The sound, pulled together by the Alchemist, various Beatnuts and others, resembles faintly claustrophobic loops of Godfather or Goodfellas soundtrack pinned to the carbonate with a pleasantly solid bass set to the pace of walking quickly away from a crime scene before discreetly tossing a firearm once you've wiped the prints. It really does feel like that, and as such it's sort of exhilarating, which would be something to do with adrenaline and a dense lyrical barrage that never really lets up.

Well, I suppose maybe it does sag a little towards the end of the disc, the point at which it sounds like someone noticed how all the songs had thus far been about punching, hitting, shooting, stabbing, or keeping your mouth shut and doing your time - all metaphorically speaking of course - so there was maybe room for a few numbers about shagging, about how much the lads enjoy a pint followed by a spot of how's your father. I don't know - rappers talking about sex has always been a bit of a grey area with me, and here it's just kind of boring, maybe even a bit creepy following the succession of pugilistically themed tracks. Still, that's only a couple of numbers, and the whole holds together well providing you enjoy shitting your pants. I seem to recall the mags of the time greeting this one with a round of non-committal shrugs, which I suppose is typical.

High points make up most of the album, but the stand out is probably the terrifyingly cinematic War, showcasing Triple Seis and with hindsight highlighting what a tremendous loss both himself and Cuban Link were, following their estrangement in the wake of Pun's passing. I don't really know what the beef was between them and Joe, but it's a real shame it had to end that way.

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