Wild Pitch Wednesday: OC – Word… Life
Though it’s a fine line between ’94 and ’93, outside of 1988 hip hop’s finest year may just belong to 1994, lets take a sec to think back. Illmatic, Ready To Die, Sun Rises In The East, Hard To Earn, The Diary, Southerplayalistic, Tical, Stress: The Extinction Agenda, Ill Communication and the list goes on. What tends to bother me though is when truly defining albums of that particular year are glossed over in favor of what most would consider their more worthy counterparts. Omar Credle’s debut Word… Life fits that category, rarely if ever mentioned alongside 94’s more noteworthy solo debuts from Nas and Biggie. Due in large part to the drained financial coffers of Wild Pitch at the time, OC’s debut somehow slipped through the cracks having never been given the financial support that it rightfully deserved.
OC is a Brooklyn native by way of Queens who found himself living across the street from Pharoah Monch, he debuted on Organized Konfusion’s “Fudge Pudge” way back in 1991 which in turn caught the ear of MC Search who was working for Wild pitch Records. His affiliation to Organized Konfusion has continued to this day but it’s his role in New York’s Diggin In The Crates collective that brought him the most shine. According to folklore it wasn’t actually Buckwild (who produced most of Word… Life) but Fat Joe that secured his eventual membership in DITC by giving the final ok to OC’s induction into the all-borough collective. Now back to Word… Life.
Elevated lyricism, jazzy loops and hard drums are the key to Word… Life, a benchmark release for East Coast rap. It’s easy to compare this album to Illmatic in that both were overseen by MC Search, both were solo debut’s dropped only months apart and both were underpinned by phenomenal single’s, It Ain’t Hard To Tell and Time’s Up respectively. Thats where it ends though, Word… Life for my money probably shares more similarities with Gangstarr’s Daily Operation. Check the title track, i used to bump this joint every Friday night way back when.
I mentioned “Time’s Up” before and its hard not to when talking about anything OC related. Times Up is without a doubt one of the greatest and most profound statements any MC has ever made. Strangely enough it was actually the second single, behind the more commercially oriented “Born 2 Live” which see’s O taking a friends we lost along the way kind of approach. Regardless, Times Up is the centerpiece of this album in that almost everything revolves around it. Roc Raida’s (??) perfect use of Slick Rick on the cut, Buckwild’s rolling down tempo bass and stabs and OC declaration against all that is fake and fraudulent within rap, there hasn’t been many better songs made since, not to mention how heavily jacked this track is, almost every second line can be heard sampled or scratched on someone else’s record which is probably the highest compliment this song can be payed.
Here’s the clip. It has to sit alongside Raw and Shook One’s pt2 as one of the most sampled hip hop songs ever not to mention it’s possibly DITC’s greatest single released.
While Word… Life is probably producer Buckwild’s greatest body of work it also comes with a few healthy assists from DITC alum Lord Finesse and OGee, as well as Organized Konfusion. The Lord Finesse produced “Ga Head” deals with subject matter rarely heard outside of an Eminem song, when was the last time you heard an MC of OC’s status and caliber discuss having his wife leave him not for another man (wait for it) … But for a woman?!?! I said it earlier, elevated lyricism, the perfect wordplay be it battle oriented bravado or introspective philosophy. Check it for yourself.
It’s OC’s everyday approach to the sport of rapping that makes him so appealing. While Nas was touted as the second coming of Rakim pre-Illmatic, O gives you that humility Nas lacks, his voice says that even thugs crack a smile. While Nas might tell you how he snuck an uzi on the Island in his army jacket lining OC would probably describe how impossible it would’ve been to get that uzi onto the Island (of Riker’s i’m presuming) so he left it in the car instead. No posturing, no posing, no fake thuggin just a little mean muggin to make sure the point gets across. Point O Viewz follows Time’s Up and is one of my favourite joints on the album. Buckwild takes a splash of Roy Ayres for O to get loose over and drop some of that everyday i was just talkin about.
Thanks to Fatbeats Distribution Word… Life saw a rerelease back in 2004 to mark it’s 10 year anniversary, in the 10 years that’ve passed since then OC’s debut has begun to finally get the props it deserves. Looking at it in the context of 1994 a lot was happening, hip hop was still riding high off of 1993, Doggystyle and Wu-Tang’s reverberations were still being felt and then along comes Illmatic and Ready To Die. Word… Life today is widely regarded as a must have for any rap fan’s collection but it was actually OC’s PayDay released sophmore album, Jewels from ’97 that brought the attention back to his at-the-time overlooked debut. Unfortunately a string of patchy releases followed which also included a stint on the west coast based Hiero-Imperium label but those missteps wound up culminating in 2012’s OC & Apollo Brown collaboration Trophies, easily O’s greatest and most cohesive album since the 90’s.
Word… Life mighn’t be a masterpiece but it’s pretty close, it’s as solid as any release in DITC’s lengthy catalogue and the fact that OC has managed to stay putting out music for the past 20 years is worthy of accolade in it’s own right. OC has continued to showcase his diversity and lyricism in the many years that’ve followed but Word… Life is a declaration and definitely one of the top 5 releases of 1994 irregardless of where it sits in most of those (ahem) ‘wanky’ blog lists.