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Boston area rapper Scientifik recorded at least two LPs in the 90s. But it is Criminal, which was denied a proper domestic release due to industry politricks, that lives on in the boom-bap afterlife of folklore, vinyl bootleg, hissy dub, and mp3 download. Criminal boasts a mid-90s dream team of producers – deities RZA, Buckwild, and Diamond D contribute beats – as well as a tragic, dramatic back story. Police theorize that Scientifik shot his girlfriend to death and then turned his gun on himself in late 1996, but the case is still officially unsolved due to incomplete evidence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this record retains a cult following. It ain’t hard to tell why the music is still captivating. On the mic Scientifik is certainly competent, and by 1994 standards he operates correctly, dropping jewelz and relating crime sagas in a soldierly, commanding voice that flexes just enough to reveal his famished intensity. It doesn’t hurt that some of the beats are absolutely tremendous bangers. The mid-album string of “East Coast Jungle,” “I Got Plans,” and “Lawtown” is as good as it gets; each song typifies that ol’ brooding, moody, Gotham City at midnight hardcore rap sound that safe harbor mixshow DJs and their insomniac fans once coveted.
Criminal is a work teeming with skills that successfully panders to the consensus of aficionados; this is the album’s primary strength and its ultimate weakness. Even if we adjust for the era’s overflow of beloved gems and our current nostalgia for the cerebral street music of yesterday, we are left with mega-quality sans distinction. Guest verses from hugely magnetic legends Diamond D and Ed OG only accentuate Scientifik’s dearth of album-carrying charisma. Criminal lacks the dimension and enjoyability of similarly shelved and/or sabotaged mid-90s projects like Jemini the Gifted One’s Scars and Pain, even if its standout songs shine brighter.