Since the release of 21 and Over in 1993, the members of Tha Alkaholiks have carved out a niche for themselves in hip-hop. Known for their wordplay (but not to the same degree as comrades Dilated Peoples) and for rhyming about 40s and blunts (but not on the level of someone such as Mack 10), Tha Alkaholiks have always maintained their appeal to both ends of the hip-hop spectrum. But they have neither found the mainstream success that fellow Likwit Crew member Xzibit enjoys, nor have they attained the underground respect that Likwit members the Lootpack received for their classic debut, 1999's Soundpieces: Da Antidote. Over the years, it has become evident that Tash, J-Ro and E-Swift may have marginalized themselves with the very gimmick that made them famous, leaving critics and fans wondering how many albums about Bacardi and Heineken the group could produce.
It appears this concern has weighed heavy in the minds of Tha 'Liks themselves: They announced that their fifth album, Firewater, would be their last as a group, and they would part ways on good terms afterward. Ever since the 1997 release of the near flawless Likwidation, it's been apparent that they were on the verge of exhausting all musical angles from which to approach getting drunk. As the members approach their mid-thirties, I understand it's time for their party antics to come to an end. But in some ways this still saddens me, because albums such as 2001's X.O. Experience have become essential listening at parties for me, my friends, and anyone else willing to drink with us. Tha Alkaholiks' final effort is an hour-long tribute to the group's history and its previous four albums, taking a little from each and mixing it into another beast. Maybe this is the most appropriate way for the group to say farewell, because as enjoyable as this album is, its reasons for success are not because it offers something that past efforts have not.
"Get Into It" and "Party Ya Ass Off" would play out perfectly on Likwidation, with their use of dirty, bass-driven samples. The Danger Mouse-produced "Chaos" would be right at home on 21 and Over, with its heavy drums, crashing cymbals and Tash's classic lyrical dexterity. "The Flute Song (La La La)" and "Do It" pay homage to Coast II Coast with the use of jazzy, soulful samples and boom-bap drum tracks. X.O. Experience is not forgotten either: "Popular Demand" and "On the Floor" characterize Tha Alkaholiks' move into the "digital instead of dusty" sound that marked an evolution for the group. Tha Alkaholiks still make better skits than most, and "Faded" is an entertaining one-minute interlude. But the fact of the matter remains: As solid as it is, we've heard it all before.
Perhaps in an ironic twist, it is the members' attempt to change-up their sound that creates mixed results. "Poverty's Paradise" is a definite winner; E-Swift incorporates R&B crooner Pooh into more than just the hook of the song. But while it's one of the album's best, its sound and subject matter are atypical for Tha 'Liks, who once again are trapped by the persona they have created. "The Get Down" and "Over Here" are an attempt at the minimalist synthed-out production that has been controlling the airwaves lately, but these beats don't match the ' Liks flow or style at all. They come off as unspectacular songs that would encourage no listener to continue drinking.
After thirteen years of wandering somewhere in between obscurity and the national spotlight, it seems Tha Alkaholiks might be a bit weary and jaded by the label politics and the industry's bottom-dollar mentality. J-Ro's line in "Do It" sums it up best: "Major labels are greasy like Kentucky Fried Chicken/ Give me one rap career hold the ass-lickin'/ I'm sick of the bitchin'." The members of Tha Alkaholiks may not have wrapped up their stellar career with the bang many had hoped for, but I'll still drink to this.
Likwit Crew Web site