Anybody who's been reading my work for any length of time is aware of my love for the year 1996. Granted all of the 90s supplied quality tunes (well... almost all... they also supplied the No Limit Soldiers), 1996 stands out as the year where it seemed like everything clicked, and I don't mean JUST in the hip hop genre although it is seen by many as the best year for rap.
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One of the big wig industry leaders of the time was Sean "Puffy" Combs and Bad Boy Records. His centerpiece, Notorious B.I.G., already became one of the biggest charting emcees ever, and backed up by up and coming talent like Ma$e, Craig Mack, The L.O.X., and others. With hip hop clearly succeeding, Combs also expanded into the R&B and soul charts, led by acts such as Big's fiance Faith Evans, fem-group Total, Mary J. Blige, and, at the time, a little known group from Atlanta called 112. Due to the strength of its lead single "Only You" (and its remix featuring Biggie and Ma$e), 112's debut album, 112 dropped late in the summer and would climb to #5 on the Billboard charts. Nothing could stop Bad Boy in 1996.
The "Only You (Bad Boy Remix)" acts as the centerpiece of the album and a classic in the 112 catalog to this day. I still regularly bump it, which opens with one of Biggie's most memorable verses ("Je-sus, the Notorious just... please us with your lyrical thesis" and what would become the song's hook ("Room 112... where the player's dwell"). The song has a very smooth, laid-back bounce that will please both R&B and rap audiences. The album also ends with the "Only You (Clean Radio Mix)" as a bonus track. This was followed by two singles "Come See Me" and the harmonic "Cupid", one of the best songs on the record.
The biggest criticism that I've heard thusfar about 112 as a group is that they're nothing more than a Boyz II Men clone (in the mid-90s, Boyz II Men were massively huge) but making that statement you have to say Boyz II Men is a New Edition clone. A soul group is a soul group. A boy band is a boy band, regardless of anything (then again, would that qualify the Wu-Tang Clan as a boy band?). To me, it doesn't matter. 112 as a whole were made to be in a group; their voices are harmonic and meld with each other perfectly, to the point where its hard to tell them apart. But who cares as long as the MUSIC is good! Q, Daron, Michael, and Slim may never have achieved the critical and financial heights that Boyz II Men did, but they were far from a throwaway clone.
The second biggest criticism is that all of the songs on 112 lack creativity and somewhat blend into each other. Now I can certainly understand this statement although I don't feel it is entirely true. What you get with 112 is basic pop-R&B ballads, mixing romantic seduction with bump-n-grind-esque sex anthems. To me, the real genius behind 112 is Stevie J (Steve Jordan, not "Flash" the AngryMark), who acts as song-writing consultant and primary producer. In fact, Jordan is one of the real geniuses behind Bad Boy as a whole, having a heavy hand in the construction of some of the label's biggest successes. But I digress, my opinion on the matter is that 112 is VERY much like Mobb Deep's Hell On Earth. Now naturally Q doesn't spend time chatting it up about putting holes in rival gangs, or Daron Jones making threats and talking about taking trips to prison. What I mean is YES every song blends in together, but to me thats a strength of 112, NOT a weakness. You can literally put the CD in, hit play, and jam. In fact, 112 is one of the few albums that you can pop in and make love to all the way through. If this was the intention (and I do believe it was) - they hit a home run.
Even the breakup songs like "Now That We're Done", "I Can't Believe" and "Pleasure & Pain" offer up a seductive vibe, almost as if they are "getting back together" anthems rather than goodbye songs. Even the INTERLUDES are actual SONGS, just very short ones, often featuring random crooning. But it fits. Again - you can pop it in and just press play. "Call My Name" is another highlight, probably the most up-tempo cut here. "Why Does" is a song that fuels the folks who consider them Boyz II Men clones - the song sounds identical to a Boyz II Men song, to the point where I wondered if I was playing the wrong record. Still, it's a great song!
As I said before, 112 is one of the few albums you can pop in and press play and proceed to satisfy your lady friend for an hour. It's a very simple release and I'm OK with simple as long as its good. 112 would go on to produce four more albums as well as a handful of solo records (which didn't do as well as the group records) and then split off. But now in 2012, a reunion tour is apparently in the works. Will it happen and be successful? That remains to be seen. But in 1996, Room 112 was open for vacancy.
Track List & Rating
1. 112 Intro (****)
2. Now That We're Done (****)
3. Pleasure & Pain (****)
4. Why (Interlude)
5. Cupid (*****)
6. Call My Name (*****)
7. Come See Me (*****)
8. Sexy You (Interlude)
9. Can I Touch You (****)
10. I Can't Believe f/ Faith Evans (*****)
11. Keep It Real (Interlude)
12. Only You Bad Boy Remix f/ The Notorious B.I.G. & Mase (******)
13. I Will Be There (****)
14. In Love With You (***)
15. Just a Little While (****)
16. Why Does (*****)
17. This Is Your Day (****)
18. Throw It All Away (****)
19. Only You Clean Radio Mix f/ The Notorious B.I.G. (****)
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