Happy 20th Anniversary to Royal Flush’s debut album Ghetto Millionaire, originally released August 19, 1997.
I grew up in the ‘90s, which means that about 80 percent of my youth was spent in shopping malls, with that time primarily split between visiting Sam Goody and Foot Locker. The decade of complex lyricism, boom bap soul production, and Timberland boots to match my oversized Champion sweatshirts has since morphed into random, nostalgic social media posts for “Throwback Thursdays.”
Now, having finally reached the “get off my lawn” stage of adulthood, I can proudly scoff at the mumble rap generation by boasting that I’ve forgotten about more dope music than their era has created. A statement that I stand by and recently doubled down on when I happened upon the now two-decades-old debut LP by Royal Flush, Ghetto Millionaire.
When I reflect upon the best hip-hop albums of 1997—which encompassed the second half of my freshman year in high school and the early months of my sophomore year—I immediately recall Life After Death, Wu Tang Forever, and The War Report. But I’ve typically overlooked the Mic Geronimo affiliate who not only lent his vocals to memorable hooks on classic tracks like “Masta I.C.,” but also stood his own alongside O.C. and Geronimo on “Men vs. Many,” both featured on the latter’s The Natural album released in 1995.
Stepping out from under the shadow of his fellow Flushing, Queens native Mic Geronimo, Flush began building his own strong reputation, particularly with Ghetto Millionaire’s first single “Worldwide,” which circulated across the New York mixtape network throughout 1996. The surprising commentary, which surfaced during the height of the infamous East Coast/West Coast tensions, took aim at fellow New Yorkers instead of the Los Angeles area natives who had become more vocal in airing their grievances against the Big Apple based radio stations and record labels.
Flush’s hardline stance against some of NYC’s Finest on “Worldwide” was perhaps the very first voice of the growing frustration toward New York’s hip-hop community for the perceived reluctance to verbally defend the Empire State. “Man you sensitive, how you let these cats shit on your residence? / with fake robberies, who shot who wit no evidence / I’m bringing it, tired of niggas sittin’ back and seeing it.” With the shock value of such a brazen verbal attack, along with another solid lyrical showing, the L.E.S. assisted street corner anthem grabbed everyone’s attention, especially with such a sinister use of violins over a deliberate drum pattern.
Flush’s second single “Iced Down Medallions” was more upbeat and formally introduced the theme of the entire LP, with the title and catchy hook delivered by N.O.R.E., who was still enjoying the success of his recently released War Report album with his partner Capone (who also happens to be Flush’s cousin). The track was Flush’s was his second consecutive example of choosing brilliant production, this time from EZ Elpee who crafted one of the understated beats of the decade around a horn sample of Gwen McCrae’s “I’ve Got Nothing to Lose But the Blues.”
In its celebration of diamond adorned necklace pendants and with 20 years in its rearview, “Iced Down Medallions” now stands out as a tribute to my beloved decade and the fashion that helped define it. In the era before Nike Air Max and Penny Hardaway sneakers became retro, nothing accentuated an outfit like a Cuban Link necklace inside a bubble coat or Avirex leather.
As unbelievable as it may seem now, many survivors of the ‘90s risked life and limb for the high stakes of appearing to be “Ghetto Millionaires,” during a time when the flaunting of a “Jesus Piece” medallion gave birth to an entire criminal subculture. 20 years later, the look and feel of hip-hop and the neighborhoods that inspire its content have obviously evolved. But in 1997, an investment—however ill advised—in a piece of “truck“ jewelry was the ultimate projection of one’s social status and street certification.
Apart from Flush’s gritty rhyme style and superb beat selection, his debut album illuminates the late-night underworld where chain snatching was a frequent occurrence, even for celebrities, if they allowed themselves to get caught slipping. On “Shines,” Flush expounds upon his own safety measures as he insists on high posting in the city that never sleeps: “Official facts, I walk around heavy wit two gats / so niggas can't snatch what's mine, I watch my back / the whole world schemin’ on a way to get trap / I ain't mad at that, take what you want, but not mines black / seen a lot of cats get yapped (for all of that).” Flush’s cautionary tale is further illustrated by an early display of sound room proficiency by DJ Hi Tek who loops Roy Ayers’ 1976 classic “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and adds the vocals from Mobb Deep’s “Just Step (Prelude).”
Aside from avoiding the ‘90s style jux (robbery), Flush does enjoy the fruits of being a Ghetto Millionaire, taking the time to pop bottles with his Hollis, Queens neighbor Ja Rule—years before his string of hits as a Murder Inc mega-star—on “Niggas Night Out,” one of three tracks produced by Buckwild of D.I.T.C. fame. Another notable Buckwild appearance is “Makin’ Moves” which reunited the formidable trio of Buckwild, Geronimo and Flush, who first collaborated on “Masta I.C.” nearly two years earlier.
Another reunion of the dynamic Flushing duo is “Regulate,” assisted by the LP’s leading production specialist, EZ Elpee, who helps Geronimo and Flush subtly interpolate Warren G and Nate Dogg’s 1994 hit single of the same name.
A revisit of Royal Flush’s Ghetto Millionaire is not only one of the most vivid reminders of the slang and fashion of the mid to late ‘90s, but also the bravado that gave the music its rough street edge. The album’s drift into obscurity isn’t at all a reflection of poor quality, but rather a testament to the dynamic musical landscape where good albums were overshadowed by certified classics during a time when bars and beats mattered.
Give Ghetto Millionaire a second look or first listen, this strong 3-and-a-half star album from two decades ago easily crushes 85 percent of today’s output.