Intro inscribed illiodically by Zilla Rocca.
The Firm’s self-titled album sold a million copies…and was universally considered a colossal failure, so much so that Eminem took a shot at it when he ghostwrote Dre’s verse on “Forgot about Dre”. The project was such a travesty that it fractured the relationship of one the most talented crews in rap history, to the point that almost none of them collaborate nor speak to each other anymore. How did this happen?
In 1997, everything was in place. The key players:
- Nas: Street dreamer, horizontal Benz wagon dragon, owner of the #1 album of the summer of 1996. Name a rapper that he ain’t influence.
- AZ: Highly verbose and stylish wingman who got a deal and went gold seemingly off one sixteen on Illmatic.
- Foxy Brown: Mami with the slanted eyes who got Jay-Z his first big ghostwriting check and cemented Def Jam as the house of hits with her platinum debut Ill Na Na.
- Steve Stoute: Mastermind behind It Was Written’s sonic direction and propelled Nas and Trackmasters into superstardom
- Trackmasters: The most successful production duo of the ’90s. Went from selling beats to Pudgee tha Phat Bastard to making “Getting Jiggy Wit It” in a 6 year span.
- Cormega: A mythical and fierce hoodlum whose pen game could hang with Nas. Technically a member of the Firm for only two songs: “Affirmative Action” and “Affirmative Action Remix” available on the Street Dreams single.
- Nature: The Other Guy, but oh so much more. Laced countless DJ Clue tapes with illiodic verses. The consolation prize for Cormega bouncing and signing to Def Jam.
- Dr Dre: In 1997, Dre was in a transitional space after leaving the kufi smack-compound that was Death Row Records. Started Aftermath Records, put out a so-so compilation, and hoped to strike gold with The Firm album.
The build-up and cross promotion to a full fledged Firm album was similar to what Marvel pulled off with The Avengers. Two years of name dropping, countless group freestyles with DJ Clue, guest appearances on three successful albums from the core members, and word that of “One Love” fame was out of prison and entrenched in the crew’s plans only made The Firm more intoxicating to rap fans. There was real camaraderie, from the Nas & AZ Wild Style-like Sprite commercial, to the opening vows of “Holy Matrimony (Letter to the
Firm)” on Ill Na Na.
Foxy, Nas, and AZ had smooth deliveries, and the tracks they picked as solo artists and a crew on mixtapes strengthened the aesthetic; it sounded like intimate ivory pillow talk with a burner under the mattress. By the time recording started though, the beats were not
dipped in ’70s solid gold nor ’80s throwback blockparty beats. Mega was out. Nature was in, as was guest appearances from new mixtape heavyweights Canibus and Noreaga. Trackmasters, largely responsible for the sonic identities of Foxy and Nas to that point, only threw in six tracks. Pretty Boy (Foxy’s brother), Half-a-Mill (AZ’s weed carrier RIP), and Wizard (Nas’ weed carrier) had cameos. Nas rapped on 6 of 13 actual songs. First single “Firm Biz” reeked of Bad Boy worship. In retrospect, we were lucky to get “Phone Tap” and “I’m
Leaving” out of the entire project.
AZ stated on the Combat Jack show recently that the album suffered from too many chefs in the kitchen. And that’s why we, the Wrecking Crew (Curly Castro x Has-Lo x Small Professor x Zilla Rocca), decided to revisit the Firm in their heyday, from 1996-1998, with a few newer
gems thrown in for good measure. Philly’s finest beat documentarian Nex Millen put together our handpicked favorites into a continuous mix, with a dash of rare interview clips for good measure. The Firm’s art of war is known now: milk the whole cow, split the growth.
1.Cormega – Interview Intro
2. The Firm -Affirmative Action
3. Nas – Escobar ’97
4. Cormega- Stretch & Bobbito ’96 Freestyle
5. AZ – What the Deal f Kenny Greene
6. Jay-Z & Foxy Brown – Aint No Nigga Live
7. Foxy Brown – Letter to the Firm
8. The Firm on Rap City
9. The Firm feat Half-a-Mill – Firm Biz Remix
10. Nas feat Lauryn Hill – If I Ruled the World
11. Nature – Nature Shines
12. AZ feat Nas the essence
13. Foxy Brown – DJ Clue ’97 Freestyle
14. The Firm – Phone Tap
15. The Firm – DJ Clue ’97 Freestyle
16. Foxy Brown on Rap City
17. Nas and Az – Sprite Commercial
18. The Firm – The Welcoming (DJ Clue Freestyle)
19. Noreaga feat Nas and Nature – Blood Money 2
20. Nature & Noreaga – I’m Leaving
21. Nature & 50 Cent – Too Hot
22. Foxy Brown and Nas – DJ Clue Freestyle
23. Nas – Silent Murder
24. Nas – Street Dreams
25. Nas feat R. Kelly – Street Dreams Remix
26. AZ feat Nas – Mo Money Mo Murder
27. AZ speaks about The Firm