Heltah Skeltah
Nocturnal


3.5
great

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
February 17th, 2013 | 31 replies | 2,298 views


Release Date: 1996 | Tracklist


#100: Heltah Skeltah, Nocturnal (1996)

I am writing this review as the first in a projected one hundred reviews of Rateyourmusic.com’s top hip-hop albums of all time. The viability of such an undertaking can be debated--I encourage you all to take bets on how long I’ll last--but it seems to me somehow significant that this album slides in at the very bottom of the list. Nocturnal is, by my count, the single album out of the hundred that I had never heard of prior to looking it up; it barely outpaces Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell (1986) and Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale (2006) on the list and falls one spot behind Digable Planets’s Blowout Comb (1994). It is by all means a footnote in the history of its genre, not really indicative of a tectonic shift in ideology or sound or much at all, really, outside the immediate aesthetic and lyrical inclinations of its two creators.

But Nocturnal, ultimately neglected though it may be, also has a lot going for it. Much of the album’s charm lies in its intangible qualities: not its rapping, necessarily, or the production, but the way these two bounce off each other and the spaces created between them. Rappers Ruck and Rock are both strong, businesslike rappers, impressive but almost never exhilarating. Their production is muted and spare, only occasionally grasping at the heights reached by fellow 1996 releases ATLiens and Endtroducing..... What makes the whole thing work is the interestingly paradoxical aesthetic carved out by all those involved. The rhymes go typically “hard” (“Watch the nine millimeter brain beater / You won’t be beefin’ and your heart won’t be beatin’ neither”) but the beats, packed as they are with ambient keyboards and smooth basslines, go interestingly “soft”.

This is an aesthetic previously explored by Heltah Skeltah affiliates Black Moon on their single “Reality” (1994), one of my favorite hip-hop tracks of the mid-’90s, in which chants of “Killin’ every nigga in sight” seem both to contend and to beautifully coexist with a yearning and airy musical backdrop. (Interesting tidbit: the guy who produced “Reality” is named William Rosario. One of his projects prior to producing for Black Moon was a 12” EP titled Mood-Vibes [1992].) On the appropriately-named Nocturnal, that sensation is stretched to album length, reaching an early peak on the gorgeous single “Therapy,” which enlists R&B obscurity Minia Vojica to gild nervous, confessional verses by the duo.

The track seems like a compressed version of the album as a whole: subtle, unexpectedly beautiful, and with its creative focus aimed at interesting places. Nocturnal is an album concerned not with sensationalistic portrayals of street life but with what comes before and after; the two rappers recognize this sort of existence not as a set of discrete, unlinked events but as something that just goes, from when you roll into town shooting to when you arrive home tired, headphones on, sinking away to sleep. “Time keeps on clippin’, see?” Rock raps to his imaginary therapist. He’s right, and the album is better for it. Quickly slipping away from our collective memory though it may be, Nocturnal seems crucial in its ability to mirror our own motions as human beings: always looking inward, always moving forward.



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user ratings (43)
Chart.
4.2
excellent
other reviews of this album
DakNasty (4.5)
An unsung east coast classic....


Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


next: blowout comb

PorkchopExpress
February 17th 2013



387 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Awesome album. Good review too. That's quite the task you've taken on, but it's cool that you're doing it regardless of how far you get into the list.

Gyromania
February 17th 2013



15480 Comments


good luck!

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


it wont happen but lol i just wanted to listen to more hip hop classics that i veb een ignoring

Hep Kat
February 17th 2013



15311 Comments


boot camp clik sean price steady mobbin 4eva

Digging: Botany Boyz - Forever Botany

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


undastand is so good

Gyromania
February 17th 2013



15480 Comments


i should check this out. i'm still missing out on a lot of hip-hop classics but there's just way too much to check out. i actually haven't even gotten around to ghostface killah or nas yet.

Gyromania
February 17th 2013



15480 Comments


oh btw, typo here:

Rappers Ruck and Rock both are both strong


robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


thanks fixing

also nas - illmatic is my favorite rap album of all time--mostly because it was my "first"--and ghostface - fishscale is similarly fantastic. most people think supreme clientele is his best though

PorkchopExpress
February 17th 2013



387 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I actually prefer Fishscale to S.C. too.

Out of curiosity, I'm not familiar with rateyourmusic, and I was trying to find their top hip-hop albums list just to see what's on it/where they rank. I failed. Do you have a link to it?

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


http://rateyourmusic.com/customchart?
page=1&chart_type=top&type=album&year=alltime&genre_include=1&include_child_genres=1&genres=hip+hop&in
clude_child_genres_chk=1&include=both&origin_countries=&limit=none&countries=

lol link but hopefully that works

the list is probably hella dumb but i just wanted a list easy to work off and so

Gyromania
February 17th 2013



15480 Comments


url tags!

and yeah, everyone always tells me to check out supreme clientele but i'll be sure to check out fishscale too.

PorkchopExpress
February 17th 2013



387 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks. The top 10 is uncannily close to mine, actually. Replace DJ Shadow (which would still be up pretty high) with "The Infamous", move "Cuban Linx" in there, and put "Mecca and the Soul Brother" in place of Madvillainy and it's pretty much my own.

Speaking of Mobb Deep, I'm glad to see "Hell on Earth" make the top 100. It's become really underrated as its gotten older. But honestly, it's a decent list if you don't pay attention to actual placement.

Gyromania
February 17th 2013



15480 Comments


ugh, this is just making me realize how much i'm missing out on. brb finally playing illmatic.

Xenophanes
Emeritus
February 17th 2013



10592 Comments


I'm probably the only one who thinks this, but you are sorta the standard that the other Contribs should aspire to. Really interesting style that is very pretty but also not superfluous. Whether or not I like you as a user or person remains to be said, but as a reviewer I am a fan. Pos.

GnarlyShillelagh
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



6085 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

interesting plan, hope to see you follow through with it to the end.

idk how reputable the list is though, but this album is great.

Digging: Your Old Droog - Your Old Droog

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


gonna try and review blowout comb tonight--it's sounding sadly a little weaker than i remember it as i'm listening right now--and we'll see where this goes. if i go through with it i think i need to draw up a plan

fish.
Contributing Reviewer
February 17th 2013



21778 Comments


That's quite a dedication if you stick to it. It's the kind of thing that'd drive me crazy and I'd probably hit myself for making myself commit to it

Gyromania
February 17th 2013



15480 Comments


I'm probably the only one who thinks this, but you are sorta the standard that the other Contribs should aspire to

95% sure you're not the only one who thinks that.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2013



15008 Comments


D'aww I don't deserve that type of praise but that's very kind



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