Album

What Went Right With… Dah Shinin’ by Smif-N-Wessun?

A parody of The Shining movie font showing the title Dah Shinin'. A review of the Smif-N-Wessun album by whatwentrightwith.com

A year after Black Moon’s classic “Enta Da Stage” was released, the Boot Camp Clik’s second group Smif-N-Wessun dropped their début album “Dah Shinin’”, the last LP from the collective to be released on Nervous/Wreck Records. This album shares a kinship with “Enta Da Stage”, not only because Smif-N-Wessun and Black Moon were friends, label-mates, and part of the B.C.C., but also because the two albums were produced by the same production team. Brothers Evil Dee and Mr. Walt collectively known as Da Beatminerz once again produced the entire LP, and with added member Baby Paul, the trio offered much grittier beats than their previous offering.

Black Moon’s “Enta Da Stage” was rough and boisterous but Smif-N-Wessun’s “Dah Shinin’” sounded more dusty and dirty, their aesthetic was much darker and yet somehow much more refined. Unlike Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun’s Tek and Steele were much less rowdy too, they had a relaxed menace and their opposing vocal tones made for a very unique sound. These distinctions are what made the Boot Camp Clik great, they were the same yet individual, they were part of a group yet each member had a unique identity; in terms of voice, flow, delivery, and look.

The B.C.C. undoubtedly made the East Coast Hip-Hop scene sound credible, they also helped mould the style and fashion of the day with their dreads and Timb boots. Smif-N-Wessun not only sounded up to the minute, they looked cool too which was a step up from the more adolescent Black Moon. With Steele’s dreads popping out from the top of his bandanna, the rapper’s style was very popular in the underground, I remember that the pair posed for a print ad for Walter Davoucci which had me looking everywhere for a similar outfit. Steele and Tek personified cool in the mid ’90s.

Whilst on the topic of the B.C.C.’s style, the album begins with the track “Timz N Hood Check” a title which promotes hoodies and Timberland Boots. With Tek rapping “Tie up ya Timbs and make sure ya don’t slip” the duo made the work-boot a Hip-Hop fashion staple during the mid ’90s. Produced by DJ Evil Dee, this song features heavy scratching, and without any real bass, this atypical sound gives the first track an understated and light feel.

The second track “Wrektime” again gives another nod to Timberland with Tek rapping “Got my hoodie on and my Timb boots, troop”. This song also features a classic chorus “I am what I am, and I do what I do what I do. Puff mad lah, catch wreck with my crew” and the duo give a decent back-and-forth third verse. This is followed by “Wontime”, a classic Hip-Hop song that takes me right back to the winter of ’94 and ’95 every time I play it. There’s a screech that sounds like metal grinding on metal and the brilliant music video which references Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” reminds of the good old days of “Yo! MTV Raps”. Fellow Boot Campian Rockness Monstah provides a mean sounding chorus; “One rhyme for the snitch droppin’ dime, one time. One rhyme for the heads doing time, one time. One rhyme for the crooks committing crime, one time. One time for your motherfucking mind”…

The next track “Wrekonize” contains a classic chorus; “All heads realise, recognise. Real heads on the rise, recognise. You better recognise”. The song sports the sound of a chime giving the song a lively Jazz feel. Fans will recall that there was a different version of the song referencing Bill Withers’ “Just The Two Of Us” that became the single, incidentally that version was produced by Steele himself…

Like Black Moon’s début, this album also has the inclusion of Jamaican reggae, notably on the next track “Sound Bwoy Bureill”. The song incorporates the haunting sound of wind along with some understated and sparse production. Jahdan Blakkamore features on the chorus making for a quintessentially New-York-Caribbean Boot Camp sound. Steele’s younger brother Top Dog and Starang Wondah of Originoo Gunn Clappaz also feature on this track wetting the appetite for a future O.G.C. album. With Starang rapping “Starang coming like a hurricane licking shots, more untouchable than niggas with the chicken pox. MCs get lifted when I’m spliffted, nigga guard your grill ’cause Louieville packs the biscuit. In the session, Smif-N-Wessun, O.G.C., Gunn Clappa Numba One with with my nigga D-O-G” he promoted the Originoo Gunn Clappaz and also made fans yearn for a solo LP. A slightly different version of the song was made for the single which reworked the chorus to sound more melodic…

“K.I.M.”, a brighter and more upbeat track then follows. The song is head-nodding and Tek has some decent lyrics “We comin’ through, all you hear is Timb boots stompin’, got you shittin’ in you’re drawers, just starin,’ lookin’, watchin’. What’s our next move? Hope it’s not in your direction, cause you know you’re fucked up and left home without protection”.

Next up is “Bucktown” another upbeat song containing a typical “Black Moon chorus” with a group vocal shouting “Bucktown!”. The song features some dark elements but these lyrics are juxtaposed against Jazzy production; “Playing tough, staring down the judge with my hands cuffed. Standing there with my nappy hair and my dirty gear, Au revoir yeah now I’m up outta here. Pigs look me up and down with a frown, Is it ’cause I’m brown or is it because I’m from Bucktown?”

The next song “Stand Strong” contains some beautiful production courtesy of the sample from Isaac Hayes’ “The Look Of Love” against a dusty snare drum. The track contains the classic Brownsville-referencing chorus “I do or die, and I never ran, never will”.

“Shinin… Next Shit” is pre-empted by a short tropical-sounding interlude that marked the start of the second side of the cassette (it sampled “The Jam” by Graham Central Station). The track is mellow thanks to a piano sample from “So You’ll Know My Name” by Roland Hanna Trio. With Buckshot rap-singing “Stoned is the way of the walk” toward the end of the song, the Black Moon member (now without his “Shorty” byname) gives the song a very smooth feel.

The following song, “Cession At Da Doghillee” is a fantastic posse cut with both Heltah Skeltah and Originoo Gunn Clappaz (collectively known as The Fab 5) featuring on the track. The song wavers between the relaxing and even friendly pan-pipe during the chorus and the meaner bassline with echoing vocal during the verses. Once again Buckshot provides an easy-going chorus; “Why you wanna fuck with my Boot Camp? Boot Camp, survive in the creek you can’t”. Heltah Skeltah member Rock steals the show with his perfect flow and his trademark enjambment; “Bringing forth Heltah Skeltah, (I) be the big Rock, God help ya, I beats more ass than mom-dukes leather belts ya. I gets open like doors when I be droopin’, trademark be bootin’, baggy pants droopin’. Hoopin’ and hollerin’, nigga shut ya mug, ’cause I might have ya swallowin’, a whole bunch of slugs. ‘Cause I’m bugged in my dome piece, roam in the streets, Wit my chrome…”. Steele also gives a great performance showcasing his flow; “All up in ya muthafuckin’ grill, I be Steele, Comin’ through wit’ my wrecking crew, so I reckon you keep it real. If not, I’m blowin’ spots, on whoever be showin’ Glocks, and what nots, walkin’ around fakin’ mad rocks”.

“Hellucination” contains some amazing production by DJ Evil Dee as he slows down the sample from Minnie Riperton’s “Only When I’m Dreaming” giving the song a soothing sound. With the use of a Soul sample, Evil Dee brings his trademark “Enta Da Stage” sound to this track which has no chorus and a slight narrative. This song simply sounds great, in fact I played it so many times on my Walkman back in the day that I almost wore out the rewind button.

“Home Sweet Home” has a very mellow yet foreboding sound thanks to the chorus, the song references Roy Ayers “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” and even the album cover (with members of the B.C.C. looking down at the camera) is a pastiche of Roy Ayer’s album “He’s Coming” (by Roy Ayers Ubiquity)

After “Wipe Ya Mouf” in which the duo tackle kiss-arses and door mats, there’s the penultimate track “Let’s Git It On”. This song sports a nice bassline, woodwind and brass samples, and a classic chorus (“Smif-N-Wessun and we do it like this, let’s get it on!”). There’s even a slightly more aggressive delivery from the pair…

“P.N.C. Intro” and “P.N.C.” is the last song on the album which ends on a more brighter note thanks largely to the sample of “Get It Over” by One Way. The song sounds very summery and even positive but the lyrics speak about friends who have passed and taking part in crime.

Before I go on, I have to acknowledge that since this album was recorded in the early ’90s, there are numerous utterances of derogatory terms such as “Batty Boy” (on songs “Wrektime”, “Sound Bwoy Bureill”, and “Bucktown”) and this may now be a reason that this album isn’t mentioned by the mainstream when they speak about classic Hip-Hop LPs. But, without defending the group or the term itself, it has to be said that casual homophobia was everywhere in Rap, Rock, Reggae, TV, Film, and in other forms of entertainment during this time; this little blip doesn’t stop the brilliance of the album.

With 16 tracks, 15 songs, and at 1 hour 8 minutes long, this LP is just the right length and it never overstays its welcome. The album is of course a classic and much of the success of the LP is down to the flawless production from Da Beatminerz. There isn’t a single misplaced beat or scratch, everything has the right amount of grit and rhythm to compliment the duo’s dark lyricism and street-centric aesthetic.

It has to be recognised however, that this album was grossly underrated at the time of its release (and even in the present day) outside of the underground Hip-Hop community you don’t hear that much about “Dah Shinin'”. Some publications however, recognising their undervaluing of this LP, now seem to be retrospectively cleaning-up and amending their dodgy history. “Dah Shinin’” was grossly underrated by The Source Magazine for example, a reviewer gave this LP a paltry 3 mics out of 5 but now on Wikipedia it states that the magazine gave this album 5 mics which is simply a lie. Not acknowledging the brilliance of an album at the time of its release and then changing an entry on an online Encyclopaedia is revisionism at its worst…

The original review from The Source versus the Wikipedia entry for Dah Shinin'

The original review from The Source (left) versus the “Professional Ratings” shown on Wikipedia (right)

“Dah Shinin’” was released in the winter and much of the soundscape compliments that season, but because this LP made so much of an impression with fans, it was played well into the summer, into the next winter, and even the following summer. The album was recorded in ’93 and ’94, released in ’95 but listened to well into ’96, and because of that, “Dah Shinin’” is an album that sounds like the best parts of the ’90s. This was definitely a classic album back in ’95 despite what critics at the time said, but over the years, “Dah Shinin’ has become a thing of legend. The high-ranking status of this LP may partly be due to the fact that the group failed to repeat the relative success and sounds of “Dah Shinin'”, leaving this as their magnum opus. With the group being sued by firearms maker Smith & Wesson, the duo became known as the “Cocoa Brovaz” for a time which undoubtedly affected their marketability and even the coherence of the band. Thankfully they’ve gone back to their original moniker, but name changes aside it has to be said that it was this LP that was the crowning achievement of Smif-N-Wessun.

The ’90s seemed to be the time for classic début albums, and along with the Wu-Tang Clan, Gravediggaz, Nas, Mobb Deep, Onyx, Blahzay Blahzay, and of course Black Moon and Heltah Skeltah, Smif-N-Wessun made a brilliant first album that will forever be remembered when it comes to the golden age of Hip-Hop. All of these albums have aged very well, they are not only a time capsule of the greatest era of Hip-Hop, they’re also an example of Hip-Hop music without hype and music without care for the mainstream. “Dah Shinin'” is a fantastic album, if you haven’t heard it you should definitely stream it, and once you’ve streamed it, you’ll want to buy it.

Shining Bright.

Beats: 10/10

Rhymes: 9/10

Overall: 10/10

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