54th Platoon

All or N.O.thin'

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54th Platoon, a Southern rap group that is one the first signees to Fubu Records, get some great support on their debut album, All or N.O.thin'. The four New Orleans-based rappers don't host an army of guest rappers like many of their Southern peers tend to; instead, they handle practically all the rapping themselves and get the great support from a top-notch stable of producers, most notably Lil' Jon, Ty Fyffe, and N.O. Joe. These are surprisingly big-time producers for an up-and-coming group without any major-label affiliations, but Fubu (a firmly established urban clothing brand on an expansionist quest) has spent its budget wisely. Above all, the major-label-quality production here really makes 54th Platoon sound great. For instance, there's even some East Coast-style soul sampling on the hooks à la Just Blaze's work on Jay-Z's The Blueprint: "V.S.O.P" appropriates Regina Belle's "Baby Come to Me" for a laid-back, soulful vibe (the recitation of trademark Notorious B.I.G. lyrics on the hook helps as well), while "She Like" does the same with Evelyn "Champagne" King's "I Think My Heart Is Telling." These productions, as well as those on "Holdin It Down," "Pimpin'," and "You Don't Wanna," in particular, are so well-crafted that they could make any rapper sound radio-worthy, and they certainly help 54th Platoon shine here, even if the foursome confine themselves to run-of-the-mill Dirty South themes. Imaginative or not, T.L., Big Nut, Nu Black, and J.S. can flow well and trade off bars well among themselves. You can tell they're a tight group, and that goes a long way in 2003, when so many rap collabos seem less than sincere, manufactured for mass-market appeal. The superstar guest rappers here -- Lil' Jon, Eightball, and Jazzy Pha -- are definitely welcome and help make 54th Platoon seem even more credible. And credibility, of course, is all-important when it comes to rap success, so All or N.O.thin' has all the makings of the breakthrough album Fubu is undoubtedly banking on. If anything though, All or N.O.thin' is much more than just another Dirty South release, mostly because of its impressive production, and that itself makes the album noteworthy and deserving of more than just regional attention.

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