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The Underrated: The Firm's The Album



By @CherchezLaPorsh



Tracklist
1. Intro
2. Firm Fiasco 
3. Phone Tap Intro 
4. Phone Tap
5. Executive Decision 
6. Firm Family
7. Firm All Stars
8. Fuck Somebody Else (Intro)
9. Fuck Somebody Else
10. Hardcore
11. Untouchable 
12. Five Minutes To Flush (Intro)
13. Five Minutes To Flush
14. Desperados (Intro)
15. Desperados 
16. Firm Biz
17. I'm Leaving 
18. Throw Your Guns 

I love hip hop for many many reasons, one of those being collaborative projects. In fact, more often than not, when amazing rappers come together on one album, it’s almost guaranteed to be a fan favorite, but what happens when it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves? That’s where I come in, to highlight all the aspects that made the album great and what we failed to praise at the time of the release. Today, we’re talking The Firm and their one and only album, titled just that, “The Album”. Before I get into it, I have to point out all the elements that made this a masterpiece conceptually.

Running off of his song “Affirmative Action”, which had heavy mafia references, Nas takes that one track and brings it to life... literally. He teams up with Dr. Dre as the creative geniuses behind the scenes and bring in Trackmasters and Chris Taylor for beats and sound production. Nas recruits AZ, Foxy Brown and Cormega initially, but Mega would very soon after be replaced with Nature prior to recording. From here, the supergroup “The Firm” was born.  Yes, the name is said to be inspired by the John Grisham novel, but personally I think it’s a mirror of Eliot Ness’ “The Untouchables” (Dre even name drops him in California Love so this isn’t far fetched), with a sprinkle of other mafia references.

“The Album” plays out like an hour long audio movie, as it has characters (Nas Escobar and AZ Sosa) it has plot, theme, drama, twists...everything to make this engaging, entertaining and alluring to listeners. Let's look at the tracks that made this an incredible album and easily one of hip hop’s most “slept on”.

Right from the jump, the opening instrumental on the Intro sounds like a feature film score. With the use of whispers, spanish dialogue, and the piano, it feels like we’ve been taken to a Colombian kingpin’s estate. Short, sweet and very fitting.


The first actual song “Firm Fiasco” builds on that. The spoken introduction is the first glimpse we get into how this is about to play out like a movie. Nas starts us off with an introduction to “Sosa” (AZ) and intermittently we hear from each member, and they name drop each other and develop their characters. Anytime Dre has something to do with beats, you know it’s going to fit well and that’s exactly what you can expect here. Incredible accentuation of how this “Fiasco” is about to play out. They stay true to the mafia theme perfectly, here take a look:

Nas’ Spoken Intro:
“I can remember when I first met Sosa, it was a glorious time
There were wise guys everywhere, we were around
Twenty one, twenty two at the time...”

AZ:
Play low style/ 
Guteians change my whole profile/
Left the dope pile/ 
Bet the guard be around for awhile/”

Nas:
“Die for this Firm, live for this Firm
Niggas learn, never should come before your fam/
From ki's to ported grams/"

Foxy:
“Fuck and take the chair for 'em, whoever dare cross us
The thoughts that thoughts across a bitch's minds/
pops the nine/

The word play is great, the imagery is fantastic and beat production is on point. No matter how you look at it, this stays true to the concept, plays out like a movie and gives you variation. Nas is a perfect compliment to AZ and both mesh well with Foxy. Very well done so far.

Next we’ve got the plot twist, the “Phone Tap (intro)”, and Nas knows exactly how he wants this to play out, and as any “mob movie” fan knows, there has got to be some police presence. The title is self-explanatory and immediately after, we get the actual track “Phone Tap”. This is my favorite song on the album, well one of them, and the reason is more characters are added. This is our first exposure to Dre, who is on chorus and he plays the role of the police, and then we have Nas, Nature and AZ as the fugitives. This track alone is so well put together and flows so well that you can visualize the scene. They truly did a flawless job with this. They play off of each other and the Nas storytelling is laced throughout. It builds perfectly and seamlessly from the intro immediately before it with Nas getting ready to answer his phone, This picks up where that left off:

Nas:
"Yo this Esco, who this"?

AZ:
"What's the deally/ 
I just touched grounds down in Philly/ 
Brought a pound with me/
Feds floatin around silly/"

Nas:
"Yo Dun, I'll hit you right back cause the static is thick"

Chorus-Dr. Dre:
"We got your phone tapped, what you gon' do/
Cause sooner or later, we'll have your whole crew/ 
All we need now is the right word or two/
To make all it stick like glue/"

Nature:
"Yo son some other cats tried to ruin our plans/ 
Sendin two decoy bitches with pictures of you and your man/ Askin your whereabouts - I gave 'em no leads/
For all the niggas know them hoes fuck with police/"

That is the first verse we hear from Nature. He’s such a treat because his voice and flow are in line with both Nas and AZ. Beats and jazz samples are true to both mafia and hip hop, so once again the coherence is impeccable. Before we get on to the next track, I wonder if anyone noticed the John Gotti reference? It's much appreciated and very well taken.


Now that they got rid of the police presence, we get to “Executive Decision”. I’ll get to the lyrics in a second, but I have to talk production and samples for a second. This is the first song that Trackmasters produces, and I can never stop raving about it. I think this is one of the only rap songs in history that has used a sample from a song released by a Corsican French actor/singer in 1944. It’s an incredibly unique sound and very fitting in “Godfather” like mafia scenes so the use reiterates the concept. This track features the 3 men of the group and they come together in a half singing half melodic speaking sort of way. As atrocious as that sounds, it actually works. Throughout this album, the use of imagery has been a forte and it shows again here, I’ll leave you with these lines:

“Diamond cut vocals carved sculptures
Buying whips/ Cheating like fiver ricks requirements/ Psychics predict that I'll be dying rich/
Until then catch me chillin flying in a giant six/”

“Filthy rich we caught the coach smiths/
You must have lost sense/
My whole firm we walk with offense/
I push a Porsche bent/”

I was almost going to skip over “Firm Family”, but I won’t. I don’t know who the mastermind was behind the angle of this song, but yet again this is much appreciated. For all us who are familiar with notable literary works, you will recognize this instantly as the opening line is “A Tale of Two Cities”. Nature is the only one from the crew rapping on this and he does an excellent job. His references to the upper middle class are true to mafia as well as in line with “A Tale of Two Cities”. In terms of flow, Nature is great! He carries the song well and of course Dre kills it. A dope addition to the theme.


“Firm All-Stars” follows and features Pretty Boy. This isn’t my favorite track at all and I don’t really know who or where “Pretty Boy” came from... oh right. He’s Foxy’s brother (Gavin Pretty Boy Marchand), so it’s understandable that he was given a shot on here. This is the song you would see playing in the scene where mafia bosses and their entourage would be carrying bags and bags of money to the bank. It’s got a bouncy beat and no lyrical depth, so it serves as a filler. Every mob movie has this type of scene so I can see why it fits well.

I’m going to take the liberty of skipping over about five tracks. Trust me, they all serve to make this album flow in line with the theme. Foxy has her solo song as well as a track with Nas. Remember how I said I think this whole concept of the “The Firm” and this album was a mirror of “The Untouchables”, well track 11 stands to confirm that. Now moving along..

Lets get to another one of my favorite tracks on “The Album”, number 15, “Desperados”. This has everyone on it including Canibus, which I absolutely love. The song starts off with Nas’ soft, chilling sounding voice when he says “Ever dance with the devil under the pale moonlight”, which is an exact quote from the Joker, so clearly we are seeing the villains coming through. As much as I appreciate everyone in The Firm, Canibus has my favorite verse on here, I think his lyrics are great and his voice is simply added variation. Some of the lines he says leave me wide-eyed and surprised, like this one:

“Fuck my record label I appear courtesy of myself
Let me explain/ 
How I maintain/
Thresholds to pain/
I walk across the Sun barefoot lookin for shade/”

Canibus gets so much critique, but the guy raps with aggressive passion and clever wordplay. I truly feel the negativity is misplaced. Nature and AZ deliver well also. This track serves as “lyrical flexing” against a very soft, easy to listen to instrumental. This track is definitely a fan favorite.

Immediately after, we get the only true banger on this album and what I would call the “victory track”, as AZ, Nas and Foxy kill this. Dawn Robinson is the featured vocal. Her voice is glamorous. I don’t know how else to explain it, when I hear this track, I think bright lights, sparkly disco balls, champagne flutes, hors d’oeuvres, while the members of the Firm show up in all black attire with some black Versace shades to match. “Firm Biz” captures all of that. This is where the victory comes in, after the Fiascos, phone taps, decision making, and family business, which are all part of the mafia lifestyle, we get to see the high roller, glamorous side as well. It’s nothing but celebrations here. Very well thought out and very good on track placement.

Mafia celebrations are always cut short, so next song we are back to business. Nature and Noreaga team up on “I’m Leaving”, as the beat is bouncy and fun, something you can always except from a Nore track, but what stands out here is ease of dialogue between him and Nature.

Noreaga:
“Hey yo they left me/
Right hand damaged and I ain't lefty/
Couldn't bust when I's supposed to pull/
What I'm supposed to do?/”

Nature:
“I woulda never thought we'd ever get caught in this way of life”

Like I said, their dynamic is great and they treat this like an outro. Anytime Noreaga is on a track, I know it’s good and this one is no different. Amazing!!

We are at the end of this movie! The last track is “Throw Your Guns” as this one features Half-a-Mil, and once again I’ve never heard of this guy before this track. His flow sounds like a hybrid between RZA and AZ, which is interesting. I love the beat on this track, but Half-A-Mil’s flow isn’t the greatest and doesn’t do this track any favors, however the lyrics save the track. They keep in line with the running theme. Where this track comes up short overall, it doesn’t act as an “outro”, so maybe one should have been added to end it smoothly.


So there we have it, from beginning to end, “The Firm: The Album” of the eighteen tracks, I could do without maybe one. That to me is a sign of a solid album and a very well thought out concept. Nas and Dre truly did a fantastic job with this and carried it out well. Again, I don’t know why this wasn’t received well by fans at the time of the release. All I see is 4 solid rappers, excellent lyrical ability, great production, a couple dope features and all the components that make this an audio mafia flick. This was nothing short of entertaining and a true gift to hip hop and one of my favorite albums. Although The Firm was dissolved after this release, each artist went on to pursue successful solo projects, so even though we won’t get to hear them as a collective, we still get to hear their dope releases.

-Porsha

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