Ever since Smif-N-Wessun’s debut album Dah Shinin’ dropped, Tek and Steele have been making their own brand of credible underground Hip-Hop music (although I’ll be the first to admit that not every release since their 1995 LP has lived up to the duo’s original classic). The All is the pair’s sixth studio album (not including their unreleased Rawkus LP) and this is another satisfying release that simultaneously makes you thankful for new music as well as feel nostalgic.
The All is an album that sounds mature, and in some ways that’s the album’s strength and its weakness. There’s no more gritty “Wontimes”, no uplifting “Wrekonizes”, and there’s no upbeat “Won On Wons”, and that may be somewhat understandable considering the time that’s passed since their old LPs but that being said, sounding “old” and the stereotyped aesthetics that come with such a notion are what makes this kind of album sound aged and even lethargic. This album from beginning to end, at least in terms of tempo, sounds sluggish. Sure, the angelic samples in “The Education Of Smif-N-Wessun” and “Illusions” make for a mellow and relaxed feel but in places this LP sounds more humdrum than heavenly. The “hardest” tracks are “Let Me Tell Ya” (which features Rick Ross having a dig at that sellout Kanye) and the title track which bumps along with a head-nodding beat.
The Bucktown duo have made a decent album here but there are a few problems. Firstly, there’s too many features from non-Boot Camp rappers making The All sound like any random Hip-Hop album rather than a B.C.C. release. There’s a few mediocre R’N’B choruses in “Ocean Drive” and “Letter 4 U” (which is reminiscent of 2Pac’s “Dear Mama” but much less emotional). There’s also an extremely corny sounding hook in “We Good” and let’s not mention the dodgy-looking “hiding one eye” pose on the album cover.
That’s not to say that this release is vastly disappointing either. “Dreamland” is a sentimental rap track that you want to go back and listen to again. There’s lyrics in “Let Me Tell Ya” (“Heltah Skeltah means war” and “Sound Bwoy Burial”) that reminds the listener of old-school Boot Camp Clik and the Jackson 5 sample punctuates the track nicely (“One Time” also relies heavily on remembering the good ol’ days with its B.C.C. lyrical references). “The A.L.L.” (which utilises a vocal sample in a way that invokes Stoupe of Jedi Mind Tricks) is very different for Tek and Steele but generally this album isn’t unique or distinctive.
In my opinion, the standout tracks are “DreamLand”, “Let It Go”, “Let Me Tell Ya”, “The A.L.L.”, and “StahfAllah” and the opening and closing songs are also worth checking out.
Okay, so the sounds are consistent and the album does generally flow well from beginning to end, and yes, 9th Wonder’s steady, soulful sounds are perfectly fine but they do sound a little tired these days, considering that his particular style has been doing the rounds for the past decade and a half. The overall soundscape of The All therefore, makes you wanna get Da Beatminerz back in the studio with these two to make something akin to material from their heyday.
I’m all for a change of direction and notions of positivity but The All does this in a way that isn’t completely enjoyable, at least not all the way through. I will acknowledge that Smif-N-Wessun have been making music for around 25 years so a change of pace is to be expected but with rappers such as KRS-One maintaining their original style for much longer, it’s not like it can’t be done. The All therefore, isn’t 90s Smif-N-Wessun, this isn’t the youthful Boot Camp Clik that we grew up with, this is a couple of veterans of the game showing their growth and maturity, unfortunately “mature” can sometimes be a synonym for declining or waning. So if like me, you were hoping for another Shinin’ you’ll be disappointed. Not that an MC or a group should churn out the same thing again and again but when you’ve created something as memorable as Dah Shinin’, you’d hope that its creators would attempt to make something similar at some point in their career (and with the close of “We Good” using the same sample as “Shinin… Next Shit”, it makes you wonder what could have been). As Tek says in “Testify”: “they said take ’em back to Dah Shinin’ but they don’t know the shape that my mind’s in”. I guess fans will have to take this album as intended: not as a sequel to anything the duo have made before but a new chapter in Smif-N-Wessun’s career.