It should come as no surprise to most readers that the 90s is considered as the most prolific period for Hip-Hop music as far as classic material goes, and many albums have been somewhat left behind and forgotten as time passed by, buried under the flock of undisputable classics in the vein of Ready to Die
, Me Against the World
and many others. As far as these "forgotten classics" go, Uptown Saturday Night
in particular is one that is very sparsely mentioned, even though it is without a doubt in my mind one of the strongest albums to come out in the late 90s.
Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Sonny Cheebah and Geechi Suede are the two members of Camp Lo, mostly known for this album, which is their only one to ever receive much attention and critical success. On Uptown Saturday Night
, the duo has one of the best chemistry to have ever been witnessed on a hip-hop record, a back-and-forth tour de force akin to Mobb Deep's, A Tribe Called Quest's or Binary Star's finest moments. Much in the latter's fashion, both MCs have similar voices, but there is still a distinct difference in the style of both MCs, Sonny Cheebah serving as the more aggressive and in-your-face nemesis to Geechi Suede's laid-back and somewhat tantalizing voice. This difference enables them to create a dynamic between the two styles, which is one of the stronger aspects of this LP. Both Geechi's and Cheebah's flows are very slick and smooth, and it is a wonder how much aggressivity they can put in their delivery while never losing that laid-back and smoother-than-ever aesthetic.
As you can guess from the album's title and cover, Uptown Saturday Night
is centered around partying, and is much less in the vein of most hardcore rap albums at the time, which focused more on the toughness of the streets than on the finer moments in life. Although the street feeling and the violence stemming from it is still very clearly present, what we hear more about is the description of a party atmosphere, full with champagne flowing ("Sparkle" in particular), girl-chasing and generally having a good time. However, contrary to other fun albums at the time such as the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride
, the delivery and tone is still pretty serious, staying very hard-hitting and focused from beginning to end. The lyrical part is almost an afterthought here, it certainly isn't bad but is clearly a vessel for entertaining rhymes and devastating flows. This is a very singular rap album in that while the party vibe is present throughout the whole album, it is nowhere near being club music or anything remotely close to it, as the beats, provided by legendary producer Ski for the most part (You might know him for having produced much of Jay-Z's classic Reasonable Doubt
, as well as Curren$y's Pilot Talk
series more recently) are very much in the vein of the jazz-rap style of that era, staying in that lane of soulful samples and jazzy rhythms. In the end, it is closer to an Illmatic
than a Tribe's kind of vibe, as the street grittiness is still very present, in the beats as much as in the delivery of the rappers' lines. Party songs like "Luchini", "Rockin it" or "Black Nostaljack", with their use of cheerful brassy tones are perfectly complemented with sinister and even menacing songs such as "Negro League" or "Krystal Karrington".
What makes this album so special stems from the same thing that makes it somewhat forgettable compared to the other classics I cited earlier: It is a perfect blend of pure hardcore street-rap and sophisticated jazz-rap. The fact that it so perfectly executes a proven recipe from beginning to end is what makes it so strong and such an enjoyable listen, but it being a continuation of the style that sparked many classics before Uptown Saturday Night
can make it unremarkable as far as originality and freshness. However, I still consider this as a must-listen for hip-hop fans, as it is very rare for an album to capture an atmosphere as well as it is done on here, and there are extremely few missteps to lower the entertainment value, which is very high thanks to the combination of top-notch rapping and high-quality beats. This album is the culmination of the jazz-rap movement, just before it faded out of the mainstream sound, and can be mentioned in the same breath as "The Low End Theory", "Do You Want More?!!!??!" and other classics of the genre.