“The Desolate One” is a turning point in Just-Ice career. In most Hip Hop circles his first two albums are considered classics or extremely influential at the least. On his last album, “Kool & Deadly”, he really defined his identity and sound, plus had what I assume was his biggest hit, “Going Way Back”.
On the other hand, “The Desolate One” barely gets mentioned these days. I’ve even come across Just-Ice fans that don’t like this record. I recently had a debate with someone about whether or not it was good album. I admit then I didn’t have a strong argument to defend it. I hadn’t listened to it in awhile, yet I still play the first two albums quite regularly, so I’m part of the problem. It was really revisiting this album that inspired me to do a week dedicated to Just-Ice. I believe his 3rd, 4th, and maybe especially his 5th album, are a bit unfairly judged. There are certainly varying degrees of quality amiss his catalog and I’m not going to try to convince you they are all equally important or entertaining, but they each have notably moments. Furthermore, they are better than “history books” would have you believe.
KRS One is still at the boards as the producer for “The Desolate One” and it’s probably his most abstract production to date. There are a lot of interesting things going on and it doesn’t even completely sound like the beats KRS One was doing for Boogie Down Productions at the time. The production style had grown and there are more layers and textures. The end result is that the production is technically better on a lot of the tracks. All of that is probably because the actual credits say “Produced By KRS One and Just-Ice” and “Co-Produced by DJ Doc & D-Nice”, so those additional hands probably added to the differences. However, the change in sound might have been the issue. Many people preferred that raw stripped down version of Just-Ice. It seems so much more fitting for his in-your-face style. That was probably the other issue. Although, for the most part, he maintains his intimidating nature, this album is decidedly less aggressive in content.
The album starts with the title track and content-wise it has that rugged intent, but his delivery is relaxed, with more melody than growl. From the moment it starts there’s a touch of mystery. KRS One comes in with some dialog to introduce the track and ends saying, “Now McBoo is going to say something?” and McBoo says…nothing. Not sure what that is all about. Then the beat plays on for quite some time. Just-Ice doesn’t start his first verse until about the 1:20 mark. However, if you listen in your headphones, at points you can here Just-Ice faintly in the back rhyming at parts and there are some louder dubs that appear thru out. It leads me to believe that there is actually another full verse that they just turned into a Dub Version, assumingly as a nod to his Jamaican Roots.
“And Just For All” is probably the track that best maintains the vigorous approach” of “Kool & Deadly”. This track is also the perfect example of that abstract sound I referenced early. It sounds like the same drum kit from “On The Strength”, but there’s a lot more going on. D-Nice is on the tables cutting up T La Rock saying “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Breakdown” on the breaks and even under the lyrics. In the background you randomly here T Ski Valley doing his legendary, “A ha ha ha ha” from “Catch The Beat”. I would undoubtedly call this the stand out track on the record.
The oddest thing about the track comes in the form of a request from KRS One. At the end, he asks Just-Ice to “Let’s hear some of those old rhymes… give me something we heard before already”*. Why would someone request that, particularly in the middle of a new song…Ha. Unsurprisingly, it’s a verse from “On The Strength”. Regardless, this song is RUFF!
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/02-And-Justice-For-All.mp3|titles=02 And Justice For All]
“Hardhead” speaks to those who don’t like to listen, but love to talk too much. At least, that’s the main premise, but he tends to topic drift a lot. Definitely, the best parts are when he’s on target with the motive. The highlight of this track is the bugged transform scratch that gives the track distinctive character. It’s also the only track giving sole credit to DJ Doc for the production.
Another thing that seems noticeably decreased from the last album is profanity. After spitting out one of the sparingly used expletives on the record Just-Ice immediately follows, “It’s not cool to use profanity/People might think I’ve lost my sanity…” The song is “It’s Time I Release” and it has a few contrasting views/moods. It’s sort of single-handedly embodies the battle of differences between “Kool & Deadly” and “The Desolate One”. I always assumed this was a transitional period in his life. A lot of his press in the late 80s was centered-around his problems with the law. Yet he regularly spoke on conscious and positive thoughts in music, albeit surrounding by a stream of tough talk and violent images. It seems likely that he was having a bit of internal war with self and this song reveals that.
This song also has another issue, Just-Ice reserves the best verse for his first and the quality of lyrics dwindles down as the track goes on, not heavily, but recognizably. I feel like this happens on a couple tracks. In any event, I’d rock this track to hear that first verse, even only to hear him say, “Dealing with intelligence on a rhyming level/It’s a mother, man, and it’s a hell of a/way to express yourself, for real, no toy/Ignorance causes death, that’s the deal boy/Stick your tongue into a jar of acid/Pour it in your mouth, die slowly, now relax it/Slow death is what it’s like/When you test the rhythm and the rhymes of the one Just-Ice…” As for the beat, I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard it used for a tropical vacation commercial…
Musically, “In The Jungle” follows that same path. The more I think about it, a 1/4 of the production of this album might be a big part of the problem. The remainder, like I said before, is KRS and crew at their most creative, but the rest are just “OK” at best and definitely not tracks I would feel best suited for Just-Ice. Perhaps due to the un-inspirational beat, Just-Ice doesn’t put much effort in the lyrics. Wouldn’t surprise me if it were a pure freestyle.
Things pick back up with “Hijack” in terms of energy, quality and tempo. The track is still a bit playful for Just-Ice’s standards, but once again a highlight is the several different vocals and sounds cut up by the DJ, possibly DJ Nice. Ironically, he contradicts one of my points above with, “The first verse to me is always weak/By the second verse you know I get deep.” I don’t necessarily agree with the statement, but it makes for a dope line and the lyrics stay at least equally impressive for the remainder of the track, making it an album highlight for sure. I suppose it competes with “And Justice For All” for the most rugged on the album. I’d say sonically “And Justice For All” is the winner, but in terms of brutal lyrics, “Hijack” takes the crown.
The album contains a shortened version of “Na Touch Da Just”, so at a second thought perhaps the single was strategic released to build the bridge between “Kool & Deadly” to “The Desolate One”, I’ll accept that theory... I still suggest checking out the full-length version rather than this shortened version for the complete effect.
One of the surprises of the record is the last song, “Ram Dance Hall Session”, an all out Reggae jam featuring the styles of the great Heavy D (R.I.P). Heavy D might not be whom you immediately think of when it comes to Ragga-Hip Hop, but he was definitely doing his thing early on. Him and Just-Ice make a great pairing, even in the contrast of Heavy D being the “Nice Guy” of Hip Hop and Just-Ice, “The Gangster”.
Taking a similar approach to the last album when it came down for single selection, The label released the A-Side, “SomeS**tByJustIce” for one of the only singles for the album. The only one I believe you don’t can’t the aforementioned “Na Touch Da Just”.
“SomeSh**ByJustIce” is not on any of his albums and It’s unfortunate it’s not included on the CD reissue. It’s arguably better than anything on the album. It’s got some great basslines and piano. Just-Ice starts off flipping back and forth between the chatting and b-boy lyrics until KRS interrupts, “Hold on Just-Ice it’s supposed to be rhyming” and Just responds, “No chatting (NO!), then that’s fine then” and then next few minutes kicking lyrics calling out all the sucker MCs and rocking the party, before sneaking in some more chatting towards the end.
On the B-Side of the single is the album cut, “Welfare Recipients”. Here Just-Ice takes a critical, humorous, and challenging look at the Welfare system. As he said at the end of the second verse, “There’s a problem in the society with these welfare recipients”. It seems the main point he’s trying to make is that people should be putting more effort into getting ahead and on their feet, rather the relying on welfare and/or hand-outs. Despite your feelings on the subject, it’s hard not to listen thanks to the enchantingly weird backing track.
The final verdict is that “The Desolate One” is a good album with a handful of some really solid tracks. It’s definitely worth a listen. Tomorrow we take at his 4th outing, “Masterpiece” produced by Grandmaster Flash!!
*Just-Ice had a habit of doing that. On “Going Way Back” he starts off with an old verse from “Cold Getting Dumb“, before KRS cuts him off and ask him to drop the “rhymes you were just kicking a while ago”. Then he regularly re-did songs over and he also commonly re-used phrases. Perhaps that’s a tradition dating back to his Old School foundations, where they relied heavily on their signature catch phrases and classic routines.