Hailing from the Bronx, the rap duo of Sonny Cheeba (Salahadeen Wilds) and Geechi Suede (Saladine Wallace) slid into the rap game with their debut record Uptown Saturday Night (inspired by the Poitier film of the same name). With the cover being the crew’s twist on Ernie Barnes and Marvin Gaye joined with rhymes and beats oozing with love for the ’70s, the duo came with a unique sound and swagger at a time in Hip Hop when acts were either original or bust. Of course, emcees were biting but they weren’t ones to prosper in this genre anytime in the ’90s or early aughts. The album was released on Profile Records (and distributed through Arista Records) peaking at 27 on the 200 and 5 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. The group’s first single was Coolie High, even with the title giving nods to a blaxploitation classic, it only peaked at 25 on the Rap Singles Chart. It dropped a year before Uptown on the OST to the sports comedy film The Great White Hype. It was Lo’s first official release but didn’t do much to generate album buzz. The excitement came in ’97 when the group dropped the monster of a f****** track Luchini – This is It (which peaked at 50 on the Hot 100 and 5 on Rap singles). To this day, Luchini is still a 90s anthem that oldheads and young fans alike hail as a Hip Hop gem. For real, cats love this joint.
I do too, but I was late to the get down. I fell into this album a few months ago and almost smacked myself for failing to find this s*** after being such a self-proclaimed Hip Hop head and music connoisseur because this album is honestly great. This album has been flooded with a wave monsoon of critical acclaim as years have passed and I guess I align with the majority here. I guess. But unlike other publications I don’t think it’s the perfect Hip Hop album, I don’t think it’s the best duo project ever, and I don’t think it’s the best jazz and funk-influenced rap album ever. I don’t like the mindset that because something is overlooked that makes it a masterpiece, that’s toxic as f***. Let an album be great and lost to time. Underappreciated works don’t become the s*** because of time, the music is why they’re the s***. DOOM isn’t the s*** because of time. It’s because he has Mos Def running around praising his s*** like he’s the most high and he’s his faithful disciple. His rhymes are tight, that’s why he has the cult following he has today. If his s*** was wack, it would be crickets.
Anyways back to Geechi and Cheeba. For starters, these two have impeccable chemistry for any rap duo but especially a debut. You’d think they have been rhyming together since the first times their pens hit paper but Geechi and Ski Beatz (aka David Willis, who is credited on 14 of 15 tracks) worked with one another first – the traditional emcee and producer gig – when Geechi was around 15-16, before Cheeba came into the picture leading to C-Lo Lost Boys Camp Lo’s formation back in ’95. The crew began doing tracks right after high school allegedly around 4 to 5 daily before being signed to Profile by a demo of tracks that never made their debut. All this grinding and creativity likely led to the album we were given in ’97 but having a producer who just a year prior to Uptown worked on one of Jay-Z’s most acclaimed albums (4 of 14 tracks) doesn’t hurt at all. Still with a $12,000 budget and verses littered with 70s slang, it’s surprising the album came out as good as it eventually did. Now let’s dive into one of ’97’s best albums.
First off, big ups to these two for not doing a skit for an opener (With the exception albums like Linx and Marauders, that s*** is almost always unbearable and pointless). They bust out the gate just rhyming, the beat is in your face but not exactly abrasive which is fitting because these two are aiming for suave and not grit. The beat knocks and the rhymes are tight with Geechi outshining Sonny pretty easily. It becomes apparent that Geechi is a better emcee than Cheeba but Cheeba isn’t a “weak link” in the duo either. Geechi’s first verse is straight-up nasty though.
I get Krystal Karrington ice rock gritty
Carlito influenced tea flashers, Acapulco homicide scene
Second to catch it
First to feel it when I peel it
LUCHINI – THIS IS IT
When the horns come in it’s a wrap! This song lives and dies by this sample and it’s a certainty that Ski knew that when he produced it. He just lifted the Dynasty track and threw drums on it and I’m not mad at Ski at all and I’m sure nobody else is either. There’s no question as to why this track blew up how it did. The braggadocio, the swagger, the groove, and the chemistry between Cheeba and Suede culminate in what can only be called a classic track. I would kill to see how people reacted to this back when it dropped. It’s a party anthem through and through, I can honestly see it as the backing track to the cover. If Camp Lo had a bat signal it would be this. There’s nothing more to say, classic track.
This beat is funky as f***! Here is where you can tell that regardless of their verses, these two have crazy confidence on the mic. The hook is nice, one of the better ones on the album (some of these are so f****** lazy, especially where guests are concerned) but the real spectacle of this track is the chemistry on display between Ski, Geechi and Sonny.
B-SIDE TO HOLLYWOOD (WITH TRUGOY THE DOVE OF DE LA SOUL)
This track is the first hitch in the tracklist. It’s also the start of the problems this album faces when it comes to guest inclusions on tracks. It’s this simple, Suede has by far the best verse on the track, whereas both Cheeba’s and Trugoy’s verses are weak as hell. Trugoy’s being so empty that it could be cut and make no difference in the quality of the track. Cheeba’s isn’t as bad as Trugoy’s but it’s still mediocre. This is a prime example of how Geechi is a better emcee than Sonny. It’s no surprise because he’s been rapping longer and doing it alongside a producer but still sometimes he raps literal circles around Sonny.
KILLING ‘EM SOFTLY
The most nocturnal, “ominous” beat on the album. The baseline is killer, the flows are smooth and the duo is on their criminal s***. References to stick-ups and burners have been sprinkled around the album so far, but this track is the first that is laser-focused on that angle. The hook is short but sweet. Yet again, Geechi’s opening lines grab my attention almost instantly.
Ja Merk with me
I just finished heat in the mercury
But he was screechin’
My aim wasn’t accurate, off two degrees
Most of the songs on the album exemplify the atmosphere on the cover. The packed party scene with every dude trying to leave with a woman under his arms. This track is a perfect example of feeding into that s*** too much. F*** this track. The hook is lazy and trying too damn hard to be “sexy” and “smooth”. Plus Cheeba drops a gay slur his second verse that woke me up from my indifference for a quick eye roll. There’s much more charismatic and interesting party songs on here than this. Skip this deadass.
Just how Luchini all depends on the strength of its sample, Black Connection does too. Ski deserves credit for his production on this album, his sample choices are original and his beats make these tracks as great as they are. Especially when he makes something like this. Sonny using the hook for Softly as filler in his first verse pissed me off on my first listen. Because I really thought they were about to re-use a whole hook on me like that s*** was cool. All goes well though because Suede swoops in with the best verse on the album. Murked Cheeba, peep the kid.
I got the wire
Ignored it, then poured it real slow in Tekida’s glass
Her radiance, radiance smiling, diamonds, Giorgio splash
The Suede is arousing
Caressing Caribbean gems
The squeezing of jizza is stimulating
Now on my bend
Lent symphonies, left a crystal rock, I copped at Tiffany’s
She sniffed heron, let her hair down and paced the balcony
I scraped the well
That’ll have her on the score for years
But backed to the hawk
Who pulling shiest maneuvers on my camp, yeah
SWING (WITH ISHMAEL BUTLER)
They booted Cheeba off this muhf*cka. He doesn’t appear for a verse, hook or ad-libs. Geechi could’ve went with a solo on here and it would’ve worked well but instead he teams up with Ishmael Butler on this song. They do extended verses rather than the around 4 to 8 bar ones laced on tracks where Geechi and Sonny go back and forth. The song is fine but isn’t a highlight.
ROCKIN’ IT – SPANISH HARLEM
Real quick, god pronounced Mardi Gras as “Mardi Grass” so hold that. Anyways, this track is a**. I guess the “Spanish Harlem” in that title alludes to the Loose Ends sample and the pieces of Spanish in the verses (senorita, bonita and papí chulo all make unwelcome appearances). There is no Spanish culture, style or representation in this track. I understand that they planned to simply highlight a community in New York and to show love to its people but it could be done better. This is a dry, awkward and effortless party track that’s trying to pander to Spanish listeners. Next!
SAY WORD (WITH JUNGLE BROWN)
This instrumental has an urgency that is lacking from the other songs here, plus the hook has a slick a** beat switch that keeps the whole affair from getting stale. The hook pales in comparison – as most do – to tracks like Luchini and Park but the verses are good. They lose some quality as topics and references keep getting revisited and re-hashed making some lines sound repetitive or just like straight copy-pastes.
NEGRO LEAGUE (WITH BONES AND KARACHI R.A.W.)
I thought this was gonna be the blackest s*** I’ve ever heard and it wasn’t even f****** close. Yo, honestly f*** this song. It doesn’t do anything for the album because Bones and Karachi sound like they dropped in from a whole different project. Bones’ voice is the worst s*** ever, the dude sounds like a 60s cartoon villain. His lines are weak and go absolutely nowhere and while Karachi’s voice isn’t head-bashingly awful, his lines aren’t much better. The hook is generic and unluckily done by the guests, who don’t have a tenth of the chemistry of Lo. These two become so problematic that I forgot that Lo is even on the track. I might hate this more than Sparkle.
NICKY BARNES – IT’S ALRIGHT (WITH JUNGLE BROWN)
Consider this the palate cleanser. Geechi comes correct as always accompanied by a silky hook along with a funky and layered beat. BUT f*** Brown’s verse yo, he sounds half asleep and adds nothing exciting to the track. He does however drop the second gay slur on the album, so that’s something. Personally remove Brown and this track is stellar, with him though it’s still great.
BLACK NOSTALJACK – COME ON
Ayo! That Mayfield sample! Those horns!! This s*** had me going stank face. Screwed up grill on this f****** sample. Curtis blessed this f****** beat! G******! I got no complaints here. This track makes me feel like the baddest m*********** on the block, and even with Coolie as the closer (that Sparkle remix don’t count for s***), I wouldn’t minded having Curtis serenade us to the end of the record. Spin this s*** daily for real.
The first single from Uptown closes the album in an excellent way. Tracy Amos’ vocals come as pieces to the instrumental rather than additions to the performances and make the whole track real soulful. It lets the beat be layered while leaving room for Sonny and Geechi spit their verses. The whole track is great, with the hook being infectious as hell. This track is fantastic but it’s easy to see how Luchini stomped all over it when it came out a year after. Luchini is more upbeat and more lively but this track is still a great first single. Hopefully, my review can help give it some much-needed love because all the elements are here for a quality piece.
SPARKLE (MR. MIDNIGHT MIX)
I don’t consider this track a closer at all. It’s a remix through and through. Same verses, different beat. The beat is worse than the original in every way because there’s barely a beat to begin with. For a track that’s supposed to be “sexy” and “smooth” , this instrumental doesn’t fit at all. It belongs to some introspective come-up track, not a track about bubbly and the function. It’s so empty that this could just be a f****** Sparkle acapella honestly. Let’s all pretend the label forced this addition or that Lo was looking out for the titular “Mr. Midnight” because Coolie High is the real closing track. I don’t even have this s*** on streaming and neither should you, just let the album end with Coolie. You’ll thank me later.
This album is great, but not a classic. The 70s fandom that’s painted all over this album distinguishes it from its contemporaries along with the funky and soulful instrumentals and abstract lyricism. With these factors, it effectively carves out its own place in Hip Hop history but it’s not in the pantheon. There are speed bumps of course – all albums have them – most being from unnecessary collaborations. None of the guests elevate the tracks in any way. Even Trugoy is lacking heavily with his feature but that doesn’t break the album. 5 out of 14 (or “15”) tracks have features so the guest appearances aren’t plentiful but they feel worse than they are due to the sequencing. Even still the album doesn’t break under the presence of these other voices. Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba’s swagger, flow, unique lyrics and defined style power this album from track to track with Ski guiding them along. Even though Sonny is never able to compete with Suede lyrically, he is still able to hold his own with this confident delivery, smooth cadence and ability to bounce off of Suede as well as he does. When the album is at its best, it’s funky and soulful. When it’s at it’s worst, the album is punching under its weight with dull instrumentals and lackluster performances. Luckily for the group, those are outnumbered by the number of tracks that are either great or fantastic. It might not be the best album of 1997, but depending on who you ask, it could be one of them.
SPIN IT OR BIN IT?
Stream it, buy it, and put on a friend.