Oct 15, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday: Doe Or Die - AZ (@QuietAZMoney); A Niles P. Joint

Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible to have a bonafide classic/genre defining album and still be one of the most criminally underrated rappers in Hip Hop history. Such is the case with AZ

Born Anthony Cruz, the BK emcee used his guest appearance on NasLife’s A Bitch (from the legendary Illmatic) as a launching point for his own career. His 1995 debut Doe or Die celebrated its 20th birthday a week ago. It is regarded as a classic by those in the know and definitely plays a pivotal role in the genre’s history. However, despite selling a million copies, I still feel that the album mirrors AZ’s career as a whole inasmuch as it is slept on by far too many people. So for this Throwback Thursday, we’re going to revisit Doe or Die for the fans and hopefully put some new people on to a classic.

The album actually starts on a gritty note, as the intro soliloquy spills into Uncut Raw which is the darkest song on the album. The gun sound effects built into the beat make it the musical version of rolling up on your enemy with a black hoody on.The scene shifts completely with Gimme Yours. Nas comes through on the intro and chorus while AZ raps about his desire for the finer things in life. As a kid listening to this I always imagined this song playing while you were laid up with a naked chick in some expensive ass hotel room eating lobster provided by room service. That still applies as this song is the epitome of decadence, albeit peppered with AZ’s trademark wisdom. Speaking of which, the Buckwild produced Ho Happy Jackie works as a story of a fictional gold digger and how to avoid real ones. Peep game because the money saved might be your own.

Rather Unique has AZ flexing lyrically over an easygoing Pete Rock beat. Every rapper needs a track where he both tells and also shows you how ill he is with the wordplay. This is that track. The tempo kicks up a few notches on I Feel For You.  Erica Scott provides omnipresent backing vocals and AZ takes a moment to briefly feel sorry for the competition. The instrumental fits his multi syllables like a glove, mostly incorporating fast paced drums and a periodic bell. Sugar Hill was the album’s most popular single as far as charts and radio goes. Appropriately enough, it features legendary NYC radio personality, Miss Jones and very capable singer on the hook. This is another one that gave me visualizations of a champagne-induced pool party at a Spanish-style villa. Those thoughts were triggered as soon as I heard the beat (exquisitely concocted by L.E.S.). The album contains a wonderful paradox in Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide because while the lyrics are violent in nature, DR Period cooks up a swanky beat built around an O’Jays sample. They contradict in theme but it ultimately works, especially when you have AZ and Nas trading bars.  As an added bonus, a short song called Born Alone, Die Alone is hidden within the song. The title says it all when it comes to the lyrics, as it’s the most dour track on the album in mood, with rain sound effects and simple drums.

The title track invokes feelings of the old show “NY Undercover” partially because AZ mentions it in the song intro. Overall, the vibe would fit right at home on any 90’s cop and crime-related tv show.  We Can’t Win is a thematic departure of sorts because it deals with Five Percent Nation ideology in addition to conspiracy theory type bars in order to explain the plight of the Black community. Amar Pep provides the beat, intro, first verse, and chorus. While I wouldn’t necessarily label this song as conscious rap, it definitely fits as the proverbial change-of-pace track. Ski laces Your World Don’t Stop with a popping snare drum and pulsating piano chords. AZ raps from the perspective of a prisoner and details the harsh realities of life behind bars. In spite of rugged conditions he remains optimistic that life will go on, hence the title. This would be the perfect closing track, but instead it becomes the penultimate one as we get another added bonus in the remix to Sugar Hill. This one is tougher than the original but still excellent and stands the test of time.

This album is a classic not only in sheer quality of music but because of where it stands in Hip Hop’s timeline. It’s a companion piece to Illmatic and essentially bridges the gap between that and It Was Written, gradually taking the setting from the projects to a lavish life. It’s also the thematic cousin to Raekwon’s masterpiece Only Built 4 Cuban Linx as they both came out in 1995 and popularized Mafioso rap, which was a staple that later gave way to the bling era and whatnot. Viewed as a singular project, Doe or Die is absolutely sensational. AZ manages to walk a very thin line between the streets and a more opulent lifestyle, all while staying believable. His bars have substance and he manages to fit multi syllables into every song without falling into the realm of becoming the dreaded “Rappin-Ass-Rapper” who says things just because they fit schematically without having much relevance. Throughout his career AZ has had one of the best ears for beats in the business, and it all started here as nothing is out of place musically. Doe or Die was the starting point for a very solid career for one of the most unfairly slept on emcees in the rap game. In recent years, there have been talks about releasing a sequel to his debut album (something that’s been popular lately in rap). No matter what happens though, AZ can take pride in the fact that he made a perfect album. Take a trip with me and revist the classic Doe or Die below.

Niles Cavanaugh
Niles Cavanaugh

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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