Camp Lo, a Hip-Hop duo consisting of rappers Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba epitomised the slick, multisyllabic lyricism of mid-nineties rap music. The group’s impressive début album “Uptown Saturday Night” was released in 1997 and it introduced us to the pair’s unique style juxtaposing elements from the 70s with 90s East Coast Hip-Hop. Fusing the old with the new made Camp Lo stand out from the crowd; they weren’t Mafioso gangsters and they weren’t street thugs, they rhymed about sex, drugs, and diamond heists, mixing topics and making for some very surreal, sometimes nonsensical, yet brilliantly delivered lyrics. But, like many other superb albums from that era, surprise, surprise, the mainstream didn’t take to the group all that much. This album made it as high as number 27 in the US charts but that wasn’t anything compared to other rappers who seemed to effortlessly crossover during that time.
“Uptown Saturday Night” borrows its title from the 1974 Action Comedy directed by Sidney Poitier. The movie stars Poitier along with Bill Cosby, and the pair’s other two films “Let’s Do It Again” and “A Piece Of The Action” were also borrowed by Camp Lo for the title to their second album and a song from their demo tape respectively. Even the name “Geechie” is a character played by Harry Belafonte in “Uptown” and the album cover is a pastiche of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 LP “I Want You”. Safe to say, Geechi and Sonny were products of the 70s, at every turn this group and this album contain references and little nods to that decade here and there. Having said that however, the duo managed to subtly include these elements from the past without them looking like a gimmick, and in doing so they created something that sounded very new and very 90s. This wasn’t really Jazz-infused Boom Bap, this wasn’t 80s-sampling P Diddy-style Hip-Pop, this was somewhere in-between, something unique to Camp Lo.
“Uptown Saturday Night” opens with the track “Krystal Karrington” which kicks off with a sound of a rattle shaking and moving between the left and right speaker. With a humongous bass-hit this track solidifies Geechi and Sonny’s powerful yet effortless musical style in the ears of the listener. As soon as you hear the catchy chorus (“On and on and some try to do this, yes y’alling to the Camp-a-Lowa”) you know this album is going to be super fly.
From the first track to the last, “Uptown Saturday Night” is a smooth and consistent listen. Almost entirely produced by Ski Beatz (now known simply as Ski) the production on the album is a nice mix of Funk, Soul, and Jazz blended seamlessly with Hip-Hop to create a very accessible sound. There’s lots of borrowing and blending of styles; “Sparkle” has a laid-back lounge room sound, “Rockin’ It aka Spanish Harlem” contains a funky Latin-esque beat, “Black Connection” features a weeping sample from Van McCoy’s “Love Is The Answer” and a head-nodding rhythm, and “Park Joint” has a stripped-down overall early 80s feel, but a guitar with a wah-wah pedal makes that “waka-waka” sound for a 70s-Funk-sounding chorus.
“Luchini aka This Is It” is another fantastic upbeat song with a 70s feel, thanks largely to the horn sample from Dynasty’s “Adventures In The Land Of Music”. There’s one hell of a catchy hook (“This is it, what, Luchini fallin’ from the sky, let’s get rich, what”) plus there’s an example of Geechi Suede’s brilliant flow on this song. This was the duo’s most well known track and also their best received single (it reached number 74 in the UK Chart, number 50 on the US Billboard 100, and number 5 on the Rap Singles Chart). Relatively this was the group’s biggest hit, although in my opinion it should have been much bigger considering its potential crossover appeal.
“Uptown Saturday Night” is jam-packed with songs of varying flavours and moods, there are a few understated tracks such as ““Killin’ Em Softly” but for the majority of the runtime the songs are strong enough to evoke a response from the listener; this album can make you want to chill out, nod your head, and even get up and dance.
“Say Word” featuring Geechi Suede’s brother Jungle Brown (who should have made a solo album) is one of the stand-out tracks on the album, it has a faster tempo and the key change during the chorus adds to the buoyant mood. “Negro League”, another stand-out track contains a much darker sound with a dirty piano or xylophone sample, not to mention a brilliant flow from Suede. The song also features distinct verses from Bones and Crimewave’s Karachi R.A.W.
“Black Nostaljack aka Come On” is a very 70s sounding song thanks largely to the sample of “Tripping Out” by Curtis Mayfield. This is a great track on its own but with the accompanying music video referencing the TV show “Good Times”, it really made for a heady mix of upbeat 90s Hip-Hop and 70s nostalgia.
“Coolie High” the penultimate track, takes its title from the 1975 Blaxploitation flick of the same name (although the movie is spelled differently as “Cooley High”). The super-soft, mellow sound of this song (which samples Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies”) takes me right back to 1996 when Yo! MTV Raps used to play this track from “The Great White Hype” Soundtrack before this LP ever existed. It was this song that made everybody yearn for a début album from the Lowa…
“Uptown Saturday Night” ends with the unneeded “Sparkle (Mr. Midnight Mix)” a drum-free remix of the sixth track, in my opinion it would have been better if this album had closed with “Coolie High”, arguably the best track on the LP. This is a little criticism, for the most part “Uptown Saturday Night” contains great track after great track. The best songs for me are “Say Word”, “Negro League”, “Luchini aka This Is It”, “Black Connection”, “Krystal Karrington”, “Black Nostaljack aka Come On” and of course “Coolie High”, but having said that, the other half of the LP contains some very accessible and entertaining music.
Camp Lo is one of the greatest Hip-Hop duos of all time, their flow and delivery is second to none and their suave, unconventional lyrics and throwback sound is very distinctive. Their especial style was theirs alone and yet somehow they were relegated to the underground by an unaccepting and uninformed public. Geechi Suede in particular has one of the best lyrical styles in the business and yet he never gets mentioned when Hip-Hop fans speak of great flows, Sonny Cheeba too has one of the best voices and deliveries in Hip-Hop, the pair were and still are very underrated MCs.
The Lo I have to say still sound better than 99% of the rappers out today and the pair are still releasing satisfying albums such as 2015’s “Ragtime Hightimes”. In comparison to today’s mainstream artists, Camp Lo have far superior skills, in fact when DJ Needles played their song “Luchini” over Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” it proved that with contemporary beats Suede and Cheeba outdo all these new under-skilled rappers…
The duo from the Bronx were new and distinctive in 1997, but to me their album sounds just as fresh today as it did in the 90s. With only Trap in the charts and a resurgence of Jazzy Hip-Hop in the underground, it’s nice to listen to something that is neither. “Uptown Saturday Night” was an album that looked to the past but 20 years later it too is part of history, and strangely its two decade old sound which referenced four decade old elements is still enjoyable and holds up in today’s indistinctive musical climate. This is Hip-Hop when it was allowed to be unique and individual, this is Hip-Hop before a fully fledged takeover and commercialisation, this is an album that is both accessible and credible. I recommend this album to everyone, it should be in your music collection regardless of which genre appeals to you, and it’s a must for any fan of Hip-Hop.