The legendary Sam Sneed has had a rough career, despite the cult success of his debut single, “U Better Recognize” with Dr. Dre, from the Murder Was The Case soundtrack. While Sneed, along with partner J-Flexx, were integral to helping craft some of the early Death Row classics, shake-ups at the label (which you may have heard about) kept his completed 1995 debut album, Street Scholars, from ever seeing the light of day. With the 2011 release of the album of the same name, Sneed unearths some of those unreleased classics, along with ten newly recorded tracks.
“U Better Recognize” is included here, as is the familiar “Lady Heroin”, which was remixed in 1996 with J-Flexx and Lady of Rage for the Gridlock’d soundtrack, with this earlier version sounding almost like a track ghostwritten for Dre. We do get other fleeting moments of brilliance from the classic Death Row era, such as the G’d up Eric B. & Rakim rip, “Goin’ Hollywood” or the ominous “Drug Related” where he threatens “Suge and Dre don’t play / cross ‘em and hang by a rope / packaged and distributed dope by Interscope”. The album’s best moment though is right at the beginning with “Cold World”, something that sounds new, but calls back to his early, sinister style.
But most of Sneed’s newer material doesn’t fare quite as well. None of it is particularly bad, but more like the generic production of today’s rap world and less like the sound he helped pioneer. The drippy R&B stylings of “Marriage” and “Weather Man” are easily interchangeable with today’s radio drivel, which might be good for his career, but won’t win over his longtime followers. The aforementioned tracks both spotlight Money Ink, who also appears on the murky “I Keep A Check”, that reeks badly of YMCMB cloning.
Sneed’s most honest moment is “The Survivor”, where he recounts his battle with a cancerous brain tumor, which acted as a turning point in his life. Here, he alludes to being given “another chance” and positive change in his musical direction, as heard on this LP.
While we are thankful to have Sneed with us, like Dr. Dre’s similar change of heart on Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath, he was at his best during those pioneering years. While his newer material might not be our cup of tea, we only wish him the best.
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