Various Artists - The Ultimate Death Row Collection
With its DVD and t-shirt, this collection may very well be the
One of the brighter musical points of 2009 has been getting a glimpse at the long-guarded vaults of Death Row Records. At the same time, with the exception of two or three unreleased Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg collaborations, this material seems to have remained unheard for a reason. To close out their acquisition year, WIDE Awake/Death Row drops the The Ultimate Death Row Collection, a three disc box-set, which includes a t-shirt and DVD reel to satisfy novice and die-hard supporters at once.
The sequencing of the Ultimate Death Row Collection is peculiar. The first disc contains exclusively the same tracks from 1992 to 1996 that Death Row has compiled repeatedly to make money over the last 13 years. Hits from Dr. Dre, Snoop, 2Pac, Tha Dogg Pound appear in a nice, remastered format.
The second disc is where things start to get interesting. WIDE Awake focuses a lot of the 1997-2002 period at Death Row. With an incarcerated Suge Knight and a slain Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg was trying launch his first rendition of Doggystyle Records. Prior to Da Eastsidaz and Doggy’s Angels, it was the LBC Crew. “Doggystyle 1996” features a stellar chip-chopped DJ Pooh beat, with estranged 213 member Warren G lending a vocal assist to the lyrical tag-team. Bad Azz’s trademark rasp shows, just like his work on the Makavelli album, that the Long Beach indie veteran had a lot of spit to match his gangsta shit. Original Snoop protégé Kurupt appears to have been working on a solo effort at Death Row before being one of the smoothest departures of the close-knit imprint. While “Everybody Needs To Slow Down” suffers from limp production, “These Reasons” is much more of a Chronic style than the Young Gotti that dumbed it down on Space Boogie: A Smoke Odyssey. In all, disc two is a bunch of scraps that appear to have had no album to live on. From the spoken word “Sunday” sermon of interlude master Big Pimpin’, to a handful of Danny Boy and Jewell cuts, fans get only a minor glimpse of the could-have-been factor at Death Row.
The third and final music disc clears that up. Two Dr. Dre productions appear. The first and presumingly more authentic is “Midnight Hour” with Lady of Rage. Dre utilizes harp lines and repetitive drum programming, while Rage makes a track after her 1995-1996 hiatus in what must have been one of Dre’s final Row compositions. The effort is a complete rough draft, which is why it was omitted for overdue 1997 Necessary Roughness album. “Real Thugs” however, is the truth. A late ‘90s, early ‘00s Crooked I track, the effort is reportedly produced by Andre Young (an almost guaranteed erased tape from an early ‘90s shelved track). Regardless, the Long Beach emcee shows that he’s packed lyrical heat since Beat Street with one of his most gangster-minded verses heard in years. Lesser-known emcee Swoop G also checks in, and while the Long Beach street rapper is mostly remembered for being a mouthpiece that attacked Master P and Dr. Dre on Suge Knight Represents The Chronic 2000, on “All We Do” interpolates the Stevie Wonder classic in remembering his friend and onetime collaborator Tupac Shakur. Had positive tracks like this been released in their day, the Death Row emcees during the late ‘90s may have been embraced by fans and peers more than blackballed in an offended industry.
One of the of the most musical talents to ever sign with Death Row adds two gems that make disc three glimmer. Onetime Dogg Pound third member Priest “Soopafly” Brooks drops “This Type Of Flow” and “Ain’t No Trippin’.” With an overt EPMD influence, the session keyboardist throughout Death Row’s glory days comes correct on the microphone with a style and cockiness that met Daz and Kurupt in the middle. An accomplished producer, Soopafly and Crooked I were the delayed saviors of Death Row at one time. Sadly, energies went to artists like Petey Pablo, Ray J and compilations, ignoring the true talent that resonated with longtime fans.
With its DVD and t-shirt, this collection may very well be the “ultimate.” Repackaged greatest hits remain a draw, and ideal for gift-giving and CD library-filling, but hardcore fans – a smaller number indeed, want the goods. WIDE Awake/Death Row has done a stellar job balancing their bottom line with making a fan-friendly experience. Hopefully, more will come in 2010, as we can now better understand the potential in young Crooked I, solo Kurupt, and why Dr. Dre likely snuck out of the label with his unfinished work when he founded Aftermath – as Ronin Ro's Have Gun Will Travel book accounts. Death Row is one of the few Rap brands after the '80s that create a feeling inside those who were there to watch and listen, and their fall was just as interesting as their trumphic and melodic rise.