What Went Right With… On The Way Uptown by Camp Lo?

A review of the Camp Lo album On The Way Uptown by

“On The Way Uptown: The Uptown Saturday Night Demo” was released last year in late December and it acts as an accompaniment to Camp Lo’s début album “Uptown Saturday Night”. The album cover for “On The Way” features silhouettes of the four dancing characters from the “Uptown” artwork thus showing the connection between this release and their original classic. In that respect this album is a revisiting and reintroduction to Camp Lo as we the listener are given the opportunity to hear what the duo sounded like in 1994 and 1995; before their deal, before their first LP, and before their successes.

“On The Way Uptown” features unreleased songs and demos from the pre-Uptown Saturday Night era and this album is pretty impressive given the unfinished and unrefined nature of these songs. Similar to Mobb Deep’s unreleased music from the 90s, theses songs are just as good as their finished studio counterparts. This isn’t just a collection of inferior tracks best left in the vaults, these are songs that compliment Camp Lo’s other golden era greats from “Black Nostaljack” to “Luchini”. With eleven new-but-old bona fide songs and six demos, this album is a mixture of rough and polished, but either way this is a must for fans of Camp Lo and fans of mid-nineties Hip-Hop music. Some of these songs are so great in fact, that it makes you wish they had made it onto their original début album.

Given these tracks were originally used as a demo for Profile Records, quite a few sound surprisingly high quality. Produced by Ski Beatz (who also produced their first LP) many of the songs are typical of Camp Lo’s style and they fit right into the “Uptown Saturday Night” vibe as soon as you play them. That being said, there are a few average songs such as “Superfly” (mainly due to the uninspired chorus) but for the most part the first ten tracks are well worth a listen, many of them on-par with songs from the pair’s début LP.

The first half of the album contains many great tracks, there’s the pleasant “Short Eyes” (which shouldn’t be confused with Camp Lo’s 2001 EP of the same name) and there’s the decent “Sugar Streets” with its twinkling sample from “Feel Like Making Love” by Bob James. Another good track is “Coolie High Is Life” which shares its sample from “Lady In My Life” (by Michael Jackson) with LL Cool J’s “Hey Lover”. Speaking of familiar sounds, the satisfying “Hollywood At The Disco” shares its sample from “Rain Dance” (by The Jeff Lorber Fusion) with Lil Kim and Lil Cease’s “Crush On You”, it also contains some lyrics by Sonny Cheeba that would later become the song “Park Joint”.

For an album with only eleven fully-finished songs, there are quite a few stand-out tracks; there’s the upbeat “Camp Lo (Bust Ya Down)” and the laid-back and smooth “World Heist” for a start. Then there’s the brilliant “Bubblin’” which samples the best part of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up In The Rapture”, the great head-nodding “Piece Of The Action”, and the fantastic “Crystals & Istols” featuring Karachi R.A.W. which bumps along thanks to its sample of “Gotta Make Love Tonight” by Surface. With the superbness of these particular songs, it really was a crime not to include them on the original Uptown LP. On a side note, songs like “World Heist” and “Get It Inta You” which feature Geechi Suede’s brother Jungle Brown also make a case for a solo album from the rapper, record labels really did drop the ball in the latter half of the nineties.

With newly-shot videos to two of their old songs (à la The Legion’s “The Lost Tapes”) “Piece Of The Action” and “Sugar Streets” may be new to the listener but they both sound classic, and that epitomises many of the tracks from “On The Way Uptown”…

As an LP, “On The Way Uptown” would be a near-perfect album in its own right if all the demos (tracks 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17) were removed or put on a second disc. But as it stands the LP goes from remarkable to unremarkable after the two-thirds mark but I guess that’s to be expected since the obvious demos and the unreleased songs are split in this way. With the demos just slightly differing from their final versions they’re probably only for the hardcore Camp Lo fan, but the first set of tracks are pretty wonderful and they instantly invoke the early-to-mid nineties; they’ll transport you back to the “Coolie High” days in a matter of seconds. On the topic of unreleased tracks, I have to say that there’s still no official release of the song “Mercedes” (it was only released as a white label vinyl). Of course “Mercedes” was recorded later and therefore it’s not included with these collection of songs, but I have to say that it was one of Camp Lo’s catchiest and most radio-friendly tracks, but I digress.

It’s perplexing to me as to why Camp Lo aren’t widely praised, especially since their songs have the ability to appeal to the radio-slash-mainstream Pop crowd and Hip-Hop fans alike. There’s not many rappers who have that kind of allure and it’s still a mystery therefore why the pair didn’t become more successful. The only reason I can think of as to why Camp Lo aren’t more well known is that they weren’t marketed as much as say, The Notorious B.I.G., I assume Profile Records didn’t have as much money as Bad Boy. Marketing aside, it’s still strange to me why music critics and journalists never talked up Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba when their style and sound could potentially have appealed to a broad range of people. For me Camp Lo’s aesthetic was far superior to many nineties Player-slash-Mafioso-Rappers and in some cases they may have even pre-empted some of their styles since some of these songs were created in 1994.

Back to the subject of this album and its tracks, I can’t help thinking that there was a perfect 10/10 album somewhere between these songs and those on “Uptown Saturday Night”. Maybe if a few of the songs from “On The Way” had replaced weaker tracks from “Uptown”, Lo’s début album would have been better received and possibly even become a credibility-restoring, cross-over, game-changer for the Hip-Hop genre which was becoming overly commercialised in the late nineties. If you make a playlist mixing the best tracks from “On The Way Uptown” with the best tracks from “Uptown Saturday Night” you can make a perfect tracklist – if this had been done back in 1997, we would have had an utterly flawless album.

B Side To Hollywood.

Beats: 8/10

Rhymes: 9/10

Overall: 8/10

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