Industry Rule #4080 was still in effect throughout the 90's, but for at least a brief period during this time, there seemed to be a slew of fascinating label acquisitions that saw a rather wide-breadth of talented MC's and crews that nevertheless went nowhere commercially. Before shiny suits and thug cliches became an easy cash-cow for rich label execs, a more open-minded attitude regarding hip-hop personalities made for an interesting landscape of talent that at least left some great material behind before typical industry incompetence and/or bad luck befell their careers.
Top Quality was an MC down with Parrish Smith (a.k.a. PMD) of the legendary EPMD, who had just a couple years before gone through a very public split. While Smith's partner-in-rhyme Erick Sermon saw some solid success on the solo front, and great acclaim as a producer and talent scout (see his Def Squad band-mates Redman and Keith Murray), PMD's career stalled rather abruptly. Quality, acting as a protege to Smith, dropped one album (featuring some production assistance from Das EFX producers Solid Scheme and early Bad Boy producer/MC Jesse West, a.k.a. 3rd Eye) and three singles before disappearing, and his lack of success in the banner year of '94 is rather unfortunate considering the guy has a smooth, solid flow and some well-honed charisma. I always loved the jazzy beat on this one, which changes up slightly for each verse while never stumbling under its slick flip of the "Ashley's Roachclip" break.
An incredibly underrated crew out of North Carolina, Yaggfu Front dropped one album (Action Packed Adventure) and some cult-classic singles before mysteriously disappearing like many under-appreciated groups at the time. "Left Field" follows in the footsteps of the Pharcyde's perennial classic "Passing Me By," only in the case of the characters sketched out by the Front dudes, their lack of success with the ladies has to do with their tendency to be "hard," "shy," and "stupid" rather than just victims of crappy luck. Essential listening.
Some hip-hop acts were known more for their affiliate with the producers who groomed them for potential stardom rather than their own skills behind the mic (did anybody want to hear Group Home without DJ Premier behind the boards?). World Renown fell under the care of Marley Marl and his prodigiously talented student K-Def, and while both MC's in the duo are serviceable, if incredibly average rappers, the production was another matter. The underrated K-Def in particular outdoes himself on their second single "How Nice I Am," the gorgeous piano loop layered flawlessly over some classic 90's boom-bap percussion. An entire LP was recorded for Warner Brothers with Marl and K-Def behind the boards, but it was never released, which is unfortunate considering it would've no doubt been an essential study for budding beat-smiths.
If you ever wondered what that song is playing in the background of the interlude before "Glaciers Of Ice" on Raekwon's Only Built For Cuban Linx album, here it is. KGB's remix of "Bless Ya Life" makes for some some dope flavor from this obscure crew with production from Wu affiliate 4th Disciple. Other than this and a few other singles released on the indie route, I can't find much on these guys; solid grimy NY flavor not be to ignored.