Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Who Are the Sons of Light?

I mentioned the Sons of Light when I was writing about Jae Supreme and 2 Deep not too long ago.  Well, let's take a proper their actual album.  The Sons of Light is his indie Queens, NY group he was pushing but never quite broke out.  This would come after both his 2 Deep period and "I'm a Villain," well into the 90s.  The first time most of us would've heard of them is probably when Jae released his Life's Work compilation last year, which featured two Sons of Light tracks ("Hold Me Down" and "Slash Dot Com").  But there was also a very rare (test pressing only?) 12" from 1996.  And what Heavy Jewelz and Gentleman's Relief Records have put out is essentially the unreleased album that single would've been off of.  I say "essentially," because Heavy Jewelz' Facebook officially describes this as, "the 3 tracks from their impossible-to-find 1996 12", plus 16 more demos and unreleased tracks, mainly from '95-'97."  So I guess this wasn't technically conceived as an album proper, but close enough.

Now, the Sons of Light consists of four members: Jae, Syl Drama, Lord Pharaoh and Chico Son.  That's four guys, but you may've notice there's just three dudes on the album cover.  That's because Jae takes more of a back seat as the producer than one of the main MCs.  He does rap a couple of times on here, on "Who's da Man" (also featuring a guy named Hardy Rock) and "Drinks On Me."  And even from those appearances you can tell, though he's definitely drifted pretty far from "I Didn't Do My Homework," that Jae has a more old school and less edgy style compared to the other members.  It sort of reminds me of MC Serch rhyming on Non-Phixion's first records.  Fans of Jae/ Serch will be happy to hear him and wish for even more contributions, but they'd probably just be holding the group back from finding their newer, younger audiences if they'd insisted on more of a front-facing role. 

Because this is like Jae's Private Investigators; going for a decidedly more gritty, authentic street vibe than when he first came out.  The Sons of Light don't smooth it out as much as someone like Bee Why, but they weren't definitely designed to plug into that pure Queensbridge criminology set.  And they're at their best when they come hardest, on songs like "Get Money" or "Can't Fuck Wit," which actually features Cormega and G.O.D. Pt. III from the Infamous Mobb, and get serious lyrically, like on "Crescent Moon," "flip the script on the government and indict the feds for the murder of Chris Wallace and Tupac Amaru Shakur.  We at war, but what we fightin' for?"  But, while I appreciate their nods to Hip-Hop's roots, like the hook to "Handz In da Air," I could do without some of their material on partying and girls.

When the beats are tight, though, they're on fire; but after a while, they can sound a bit simplistic and loopy.  For example, "Zero Vaccine" uses the same main piano loop as Josh Martinez's "Breakdown," but a direct comparison really makes you appreciate how much more producer Jesse Dangerously did with it than Jae, the beat for "Ya Don't Stop" is a bit irritating "Let it Go"'s heavy use of Teddy Pendergrass's "Love T.K.O." (after songs like KMC Kru's "Let Her Go" and Steady B's "Let It Go") would've been tired even in 1996.  I appreciate the variety in their material on one hand, having an R&B singer do a hook for one song, smooth another out 'till it almost sounds west coast, then switch to an upbeat party song.  "Project Life" is deadly serious, then "Remember When" is a name-dropping ode to the history of Queens rap... like some other songs we've heard, but probably the only one to list 2 Deep as a highlight.

But I think they hurt themselves a bit trying to prove how diverse and versatile they could be, and work best when they stay in their lane.  There's a whole lot of songs on here, and they probably would've made a better impression if they trimmed the fat a bit.  But for us die-hard aficionados, I definitely appreciate the impulse to release everything, since this is probably the last chance heads would ever get to hear it, especially on a proper physical release.  Just think of it as a really tight 12 or 13 track album, with a bunch of bonus cuts mixed in.

And when I say "a lot of songs," how many am I talking about?  Well, it depends which format you cop this one.  There's 19 tracks on the vinyl version (a special edition double LP in a picture cover, limited to just 300 copies): 17 songs, plus 2 instrumentals.  Then there's 20 on the CD (which is limited to only 150 copies).  But it's not quite as simple as the CD having one extra bonus track.  The CD actually has three additional songs: "Project Life," "Keep It Hot" and "Remember When," but loses the two instrumentals.  Finally, there's the cassette, which is super limited to a mere 50 copies and includes 22 tracks, meaning it has everything: all of the songs from the vinyl and CD, including the instrumentals. So, just in terms of track-listing, the tape's the best, but naturally a lot of listeners are going to want this on vinyl.  And all the best songs are on that, so you don't miss out too badly no matter which version you get.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Secret Meetings of Fatboi Sharif

Fatboi Sharif is an exciting (and I don't throw that term around loosely) new Jersey MC.  I first heard him on Shawn Lov's last album, where I have to confess he really didn't make much of an impression at all on me.  So I almost didn't bother checking out his new online material, but I'm glad I did, because that stuff definitely made an impression.  His style and content feel very influenced by UG, but with a softer, Scott Lark tone to his voice and delivery, and lyrics reminiscent of early Jedi Mind Tricks, back when they were creative and packed with Children of Babylon members.

And this is his debut solo EP, Ape Twin.  It's available on an official, pressed CD through Fatboi's Facebook here.  Of course there's a digital version, too, which is considerably more accessible.  And there's a previous digital album, Age of Extinction with another MC named Sydetrak Imperial.  It's not uninteresting, but Ape Twin is the much more polished and cohesive work, so I'd really recommend just starting there.

It's a tight EP: eight tracks including skits and songs that average two and a half minutes or so.  And there are a couple of guest MCs, neither of whom I've heard of (Light the Emcee and Nick Jackelson), but they do a good job fitting in.  It always sucks when an artist is making something original and a couple of guests phone in completely generic thug verses like they'd given no consideration towards what project they were being asked to contribute to.  Here, everybody's on the same page: "you can hit the bullseye and still not know how to throw your darts right.  Stand tall over all like my name was Bill Cartwright.  I spark light more than the sun, moon and stars might.  Knock you on your feet like the mutant named Arclight.  Vertigo, Avalanche, the tree of life, grab a branch.  Teleportin' Nightcrawler to the Savage Lands.  This the battle plan, load the mutants in the caravan.  A surgical mystic like Dr. Strange with damaged hands."  Consequently, the listening experience is constantly shifting, always crazy film and comic book references and strange visual imagery, so it's the sort of CD you can just let loop indefinitely, a surreal experience.

So does that mean there isn't any substance to anything he's saying?  Well, there's definitely a "what the hell is he talking about" aspect to his work ("the city from Children of the Corn, mistrial, rumors of kiddie porn.  Prisoner escaper, conspiracy on paper, JFK affair with Elizabeth Taylor").  If you're hoping for direct metaphors like mermaids represent one socioeconomic group in conflict with another, a la "Planet E," I'm not sure it ever gets that one-to-one.  And it doesn't help that he has a tendency to slur some key words.  A little more enunciation and a few less pop culture references would be welcome.  But if you roll with it, it's really not so impenetrable.  There are definitely themes of personal growth and transformation that are probably more than just accidental.  Like the Marvel-themed guest verse I quoted above can be more than just a comic book rhyme, but a relatable invocation of talented artists going out to make their way in the world.  You get it.  And the fact that the lyrics are indirect and a little difficult to discern makes repeated relistens rewarding, where the pieces slowly fit together and his meaning becomes each little bit clearer.

Musically, yeah he's a younger artist, but he's not on some mumblecore, sloppy tip.  His production's the sort of light boom-bap you would've expected to find on an indie 90s CD.  That fits, as Shawn Lov produces one track, and one of his regular collaborators, Raiden, does two others.  I can't say this EP's for every head, let alone mainstream audiences.  You've got to be a bit of a backpacker to bask in the lyrics and rhyme schemes; and if you're not going to do that, you won't find enough else to sustain you.  But I hope Sharif finds his audience with this, because the right people aren't just going to "get" Ape Twin, they're going to be surprised how much they enjoy it.  And I definitely look forward to hearing more from him.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Compton's Most Wanted Ultramagnetic Diss You Never Knew About

I've gotta share some credit with Marc of Black Pegasus Records for this one.  He asked me recently if I remembered a time Compton's Most Wanted took a shot at The Ultramagnetic MCs, sort of suggesting they were out of touch old school.  And it did sound sort of vaguely familiar... like I could hear MC Eiht saying "Ultramagnetics" in my head, but that was about all I could remember.  He thought it might've been on the remix of their 1991 "Compton's Lyncin'" 12", which was one of the later singles off their second album, Straight Check N 'Em.  It's one of those generic diss songs, where it's going pretty hard but not really directed at anyone in particular.  They're cutting up the Ice Cube line, "last year I was Ruthless, now I'm Lynchin' motherfuckers."  I generally think they peaked with their first album, but they never really fell off, and this was one of the better singles off this album for me.  Especially the remix, which comes with a tighter sample that Special Ed had already used for "Ya Wish Ya Could" the previous year.

Anyway, that was easily checked, but it wasn't there.  I even checked the instrumental, in case there was a little hidden shout out at the end or something.  So then I started listening to other CMW songs from around that period.  "They Still Gafflin'" because it was the B-side to "Compton's Lynchin'," and other more diss-oriented tracks, like "Duck Sick 1 & 2" and even the extended version of "Rhymes Too Fonky."  No dice.  I was starting to wonder if I'd ever actually heard what Marc was talking about, or if I just let him put the idea in my head like some kind of autosuggestion.  So I kinda gave up on it... and then I found it by accident.

So, on that "Compton's Lynchin'" single, besides the remix, instrumental and B-side, is a shorter Radio Mix.  It's a Radio Mix of the remix, meaning it uses the newer remix instrumental rather than the album version.  But the album version and remix both have the same vocals.  The Radio Mix, though, is one of those where instead of bleeping the curses, or cutting to silence, playing them backwards or whatever, Eiht recorded all the vocals over with adjusted cleaner lyrics.  So, you know, "I don't give a fuck," becomes "I don't care jack," etc.  Basically the same rhymes, just with little substitutions.

But I guess one line was too radio unfriendly that a simple, single word change or two would do, and so that felt they had to swap out the whole thing.  Or maybe they were intentionally tucking it away in the Radio Mix to be a little coy.  I couldn't say either way, but the whole song is the same, minus a few phrase swaps, until midway through the second verse.  I was only listening to it because I'd already given up searching and was just letting the record spin while I was on the computer.  Then I heard the lyrics go from, "the motherfucking power after hour.  No air to breath, cause all the suckers we devour," to "with your played out rhymes, you can't forget it, 1970 Ultramagnetics."  It is real!


So, to be clear, the whole song's not an Ultra diss.  Again, the rest of the verses are unchanged from the original version, none of which have any reference to those guys in them.  And I don't even think the line is even meant to be taken as a direct diss at them, per se, though it's definitely insulting to them.  I think the idea is the generic, sucker MCs they've been talking about the whole song are, in this line, being called tired and hackney, like played out Ultramagnetic 70s rap.  Not that Ultra were a thing in the 70s, of course; their first single was in 1986.  That means this line would've come at them even before their second album, when they signed to MCA (Funk Your Head Up was '92).

So it's a little harsh, no doubt, and completely pointed, since he used their name specifically.  But I doubt it was an indication of a serious beef.  Just a fun little shot that makes an otherwise completely skippable radio mix worth checking out even in 2018.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Awesome Foursome You've Never Heard

(Before they were The Audio Two and Kings of Swing, they were The Awesome Foursome.  And before 2018, these songs were sitting on a shelf somewhere, unheard.  Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

White Boys, You Know They're Down By Law

So, I got an email a couple weeks ago asking if I knew about the 80s rap group known as the White Boys.  And I gave 'em a quick answer, but I thought their story would make for a fun post.  They had an album called ...On a Mission on Polydor in 1988, with two 12" singles.  They obviously look more like a rock group than a Hip-Hop outfit, but apart from a few Run DMC-influenced rock twinges, they're definitely on a straight rap tip.  Like, just to give you an idea, the opening and title track is a straight up "Mission Impossible" inspired jam (yes, sampling the famous theme) about how they're being sent on a mission to overcome the "plan by unfriendly elements to undermine the efforts of the Hip-Hop generation."  Yup, it's pure 80's cheese, completely reminiscent of other "Mission Impossible"-themed raps like The Bad Boys' "Mission," World Class Wreckin' Cru's "Mission Possible," Mellow Tone's "Mission Is Possible," etc.  Look, nobody's calling it an original or great concept, but my point is it's nothing like when Faith No More or whoever started mixing rap into their rock.

So, who were these guys?  Well, as you can see there's three of them.  From left to right, on the CD cover, it's M.J. Precise, M.C. Exact and Mr. Ed.  M.J. Precise is the main guy, who put the group together, does half the lead MCing, produced most of the beats and did the DJ cuts.  MC Exact was his friend who he brought in to be the other MC, and Mr. Ed plays guitar.  I said "produced most of the beats," by the way, because their album also has beats courtesy of Marley Marl and Cutmaster DC.  So yeah, there's actually kind of a reason to pick up their stuff besides the novelty of the picture covers.

With that said, though, Marley just produced one song and I wouldn't exactly say he gave them his top shelf material.  It's okay, but actually some of the best production comes courtesy of M.J. himself.  "Some," because this album is all over the map.  They have upbeat songs, harder songs, a token sappy love song and a cover of "Play That Funky Music White Boy," because of course they do.  The times they do touch the 80s metal sound, like on "We Live To Rock" or their single "This Is Hardcore (Is It Not?)," are often their best moments, not because I'm much of a fan of rap/ rock hybrids, but just because that's clearly when they're playing to their strengths, and Mr. Ed actually has something to do.

On the other hand, some of their more pure hip-hop tracks like "Continuation" and "Running the Show" (the Marley Marl one) are pretty fun, too.  Their rhymes are straight corny ("Your toe is tappin', your hand's movin' back and forth.  I'm takin' a stand, like Oliver North!"), but the production's pretty polished and the cuts are nice so long as you don't try and take anything seriously.  They really only run into major trouble when they try to stretch themselves, like with more pop songs, the love ballad, or their goofy reggae-style message song called "Human Race."

I've actually read two conflicting origins for the group's name in interviews.  Either they were originally trying to go by another name, but everybody who booked them where ever they played just called them "the white boys," so they decided to adopt the moniker...  OR, they shared management with The Fat Boys (they were both on Tin Pan Apple) and The Skinny Boys, and they insisted on giving all their acts the most obvious, uncreative names possible.  Either way, I gathered the point was they didn't want to shoulder responsibility for their cringey branding.

So, unsurprisingly, the group didn't last long.  But you can see the talent in the group is MJ Precise.  I mean, I don't want to get into splitting whether Precise or Exact was the better rapper - half the album they're doing that 80s "say all our bars in unison" thing - but you could tell Precise knew how to make a professional rap track.  So, it's still definitely surprising that any of The White Boys continued on in the industry, but of any of them, it makes sense that it would be Precise who'd go on to become the thoroughly credible producer known as T-Ray, member of DJ Mugg's Soul Assassins who produced solid material from legends like Kool G Rap and Percee-P to artists like OC, Double XX Posse and more mainstream acts like House of Pain, Cypress Hill and Mick Jagger.

And if you're wondering what he's been up to even more recently, since he doesn't seem to be doing much as T-Ray anymore either, check this link out!  Yeah man, I've gotta say, it looks like he's had a pretty fun career.  I wonder if he ever got MC Exact to guest on that show.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Let's Get 2 Deep, Part 2: Did Thomas On Time Just Diss the Juice Crew?

...Continuing on from Part 1, there's a lot of key info I didn't even get to you about 2 Deep.  The first big thing is that they were on Cold Chillin' Records.  Throughout the 1980's, Cold Chillin' meant one thing: Juice Crew.  From the very beginning, every single record released on Cold Chillin' Warner Bros (and there was a lot) were from members of The Juice Crew.  Seeing the Cold Chillin' label on an album's spine was the same as seeing the Juice Crew Allstar logo once you opened it up.  And 1990 was the first year they strayed at all from that, with two artists outside that family: Grand Daddy IU and 2 Deep.  And those two acts were barely outside the Crew.  IU was being produced and managed by Biz Markie and Cool V.  Honestly, the reason I sprang for 2 Deep's album after copping their "Homework" single based on the video was seeing that Cold Chillin' logo in the stores; it meant "must have."  These guys had to be some kind of Juice Crew affiliates!  And what was 2 Deep's connection?

That leads us to the other major point I left out of Part 1... who was the other half of 2 Deep?  Jae Supreme was pretty much the lead and only MC, and based on his later career, clearly played a major role in the production.  And the guy doing all the dope scratching seemed to by that DJ K-Slim dude (2 Deep's liner notes really sucked in terms of giving proper credit).  But there's obviously two guys on all the album covers and in their video.  So who's the other half of 2 Deep?  Thomas On Time.

If that name rings any bells, it means you were a rap nerd like me reading all the credits in your rap tapes.  He came up a bunch in early Juice Crew projects, seemingly in a largely technical capacity.  You'll see him listed as an engineer or mixer, and his name stood out, because he had a nickname.  Here, for example, check out the credits to Craig G's first album, where he's featured quite prominently.
...Okay, not as prominently as Marley Marl.  But still, you can see he seems to have been a pretty big player on that album.  And he worked on a bunch of Juice Crew/ Cold Chillin' projects.  So, I assume that's why 2 Deep got an album.  He put in his time behind the scene, spent years working on their projects and they finally decided to give him and his partner a shot to shine for themselves.  They probably also pressured them into doing a school about "Homework" they could market to the kids.

But like I said, that was the only Kid 'N' Play-type song they had.  The rest of the album was more traditional, going for a pretty smooth type of vibe over all.  They had a couple house songs, because of course they did, and yes, the token whispery love ballad with a rather underwhelmingly sung hook.  One song had guest production by Larry Smith, but otherwise 2 Deep produced everything, usually together, but each had one solo effort, too.  It's got a lot of familiar samples other hip-hop artists had already used - plenty of James Brown staples - but always with a unique little spin to it, and a very polished, professional sound.  They might not have been pushing the envelope, but these guys knew how to make a quality record.  And yeah, Jae was really the front man, who did all the rapping.

Except on one song (well, two if you count the posse cut I wrote about in Part 1).  Deep into side 2, Thomas On Time takes the mic for a solo joint called "For Those Who Dissed Me."  It's a harder track, again with very recognizable samples: "Funky Drummer" mixed with the classic "Take Me To the Mardi Gras" bells.  It's sort of like a more hardcore "The Vapors," where the T.O.T. just goes off on everybody who didn't support him, and how they must all feel bad now that he's a big success.  It's pretty straight forward and starts off safely generic:

"There's not a soul to blame,
Just cold cash to gain.

So when you hear my name?
Add fame.
Thomas, p.k.a. I'm the T.O.T.
For all those who dissed me!"

We get it, right?  But as he gets into it, there are lines where it starts to sound like he's got someone specific in mind:

"Run! Run and hide, you dirty maggot!
These nineties I'm claimin' - watch me bag it.
Put me down those times I begged for support?
Now excuse me, hold that thought.
...
You didn't want me around like some low-life;
Cut me from the crowd you ran like a sharp knife.
Bet you those old days you regret,
Wouldn't let me touch your set.
Now, peace my man, I hope you live longer;
Things you did just made my pride stronger."

Things are sounding a little more personal, but still, it's fairly generalized.  Could be just some generic artist he didn't get along with one day in the studio.  "A composite, like New York Magazine does!"  Except there are some lines that really seem to be singling out somebody in particular:

"Yeah, you played yourself.
Now you're low in health, poor in wealth.
Never thought I would succeed - the last one picked.
But I stick.
Seems to me that your daily plan
Was to mentally destroy this man.
I got a life to live, a lot to give,
And you're a fucked up man with how many kids?"

Okay, he's definitely talking about somebody, right?  This isn't just a general record for all the people who didn't think he'd become somebody, this is aimed at somebody.  But who?  Unfortunately, there aren't enough clues for me to quite figure it out.  But there are a few specific lines, so maybe if we all put our heads together in the comments we can figure this out.

"I admire a child that has a goal,
And not one selling their soul,
Sucked in by those nickel and dime days;
You'll be in debt for life thinking crime pays.
I'm not mad, but hot enough to cause a heat wave,
So stand up tall and be brave.
I'm not trying to be a teacher,
A preacher,
Heal you like a doctor,
The one that shot ya."

So, someone in the industry who Thomas worked with, who's now falling on hard times, fathered a bunch of kids and did some dirt.  An artist who wouldn't let him touch his set, and who got... shot... by a doctor?  I swear, that's what he's saying; he's got a pretty clear delivery, plus the lyrics are typed out in the J-card (though they're a little inaccurate, and I've had to correct them here and there).  So who the heck could he be talking about?  Most of the rest of the song is just him talking about his own success and plans to "make g's at ease from beats that keep the crowd intense."  But there's one more line where he really tips his hat:

"I got a show to do,
There's no time for you
And your crab-like No Juice Crew!"

He's going at The Juice Crew!  Or at least somebody from it.  Marley?  Maybe a rapper like MC Shan?  Or someone more on the business end, like Fly Ty or Lenny Fischelberg?  I don't see why he'd be going after Cold Chillin', though, when they just put him on and gave 2 Deep their album.  I could see them coming out later and having beef with those guys, but not right in the middle of their album.  The stuff about not letting him touch his set and going broke sounds more like an artist than a label executive, anyway.  But this album shouts out the Juice Crew artists (and the Cold Chillin' staff) in their liner notes, and I couldn't spot any conspicuous absences.  Jae even name-drops most of them at the end of "Rain Dance."  In fact, this song ends with shout outs, and T.O.T. doesn't name any Juice Crew guys, but he does shout out Lenny and Ty, so they have to be in the clear.  There is one line, though, in the shout-outs that aren't included in the printed lyrics: "A lot of people in Queensbridge... there's also a lot of people out there who did diss me, but I said I wanna give thanks to those who didn't."  So it's someone from Queens?


I mean, again, it's possible he's thinking of different people who dissed him during different parts of the song.  It's even possible that he meant that Juice Crew line to be like, "we're down with the Juice Crew; you're in the No Juice Crew," which would be corny as Hell, but possible.  Maybe it is all just referencing a hypothetical nonbeliever.  It's just that some of those lines sound really pointed, like he's zeroing in on some specific guy... who sired a lot of kids.  And him burning bridges here would explain why Thomas On Time never seemed to appear in any liner notes after this.  Somebody must know the answer to this mystery!  2 Deep had one more single off of this album (the love song... god knows whose decision that was), and that's the last time I've seen his name anywhere.  As we know, Jae Supreme moved on to other things.  I kinda feel bad for T.O.T.  There's no lost masterpiece here, but even in 2018, Honey, That's Show Biz is still pretty listenable.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Let's Get 2 Deep, Part 1: Jae Supreme's Kiddie Rap

Look, okay, I know this post is about some easily dismissed kiddie rap.  But hey, I was a kid once, so yeah, I used to rock this stuff and it had an impact on me and probably a lot of people my age.  Like, you know how a couple years ago, DWG discovered Fifth Platoon's killer B-side, "Hallelujah, the Fifth Is Here?"  Well, I'll confess.  The reason I was already up on it isn't because I was the world's greatest digger of the finest, most obscure random rap.  I'd bought that single back in the day for the silly A-side, where they exchange goofy stories about meeting girls on a party line.  "Well, excuse me.  (Excuse who?)  Excuse me.  (Well, who the Hell are you?)  'Ey yo, they call me BooGee.  (And what do you need excusin' for?)  Because I have to speak.  (About who?)  Vanessa.  (Vanessa?)  The light skin freak that I met on the telephone.  (The telephone?)  Yeah, that's the one that won't leave me the Hell alone.  (Oh no!)  She's a tight freak that calls me twenty-five, eight days a week.  (Well, I can't recollect her.)  Man, open your mind.  (Oh yeah, that's the freak that you met on the party line.)"  I just typed all that out from memory, and I could keep going.

Anyway, it may not be a good look now, but as a little kid it was all good.  Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" was the cutting edge topic in grade school classrooms.  We played The Fat Boys and kept the volume down so our parents couldn't hear Eazy-E or 2 Live Crew.   I still remember being torn because I had Young MC and Gangstarr's first tapes in my hands at the music store, and I couldn't afford both.  We would go back and forth over whether "Principal's Office" was better than "Bust a Move" because it was funnier.  Plus, I'm from the suburbs, so songs like "Turtle Power" and "Parents Just Don't Understand" were the hits I could talk to the other kids about, because nobody else seemed to be excited about Lakim Shabazz's "Black Is Back."  And this was the kind of time when even artists like Craig G had songs like "First Day of School."  So yeah.  I say all of that just to explain why 2 Deep's 1990 debut, "I Didn't Do My Homework," was a Day 1 must have purchase for me.

Because this is about as cornball kiddie rap as it comes.  Like it's title says, it's a light-hearted narrative rap about a guy who should've done his homework, but didn't feel like it, and now has to pay the price.  The 12" mentions special appearances by West and Will, whoever they are.  I'm guessing they're the guys who do the character voices, because the during the breaks, we get little skits with "Mrs. Buttercup" chewing out our MC, Jae Supreme, for not having done his homework.  It's absolutely Fresh Prince/ Young MC knock-off territory:

"It was a Friday afternoon and the only thing on my mind?
Huh, was having a good time,
At the party tonight.  But then I quickly woke up
To the sound of Mrs. Buttercup.
She said, 'okay class, you've been good this week,
So I'm only gonna give you two hundred pages to read
Over the weekend: chapters one through twenty.'
I wasn't laughin', 'cause there was definitely nothin' funny
About staying in the house with my nose in the book.
I was waiting for the joke, the hook.
But she was serious;
I got delirious;
See, I got the same from six classes previously.
There goes the weekend, and all the fun I planned.
How can I get out of this jam?
Missin' one assignment couldn't hurt.
I wonder what would happen...
If I didn't do my homework?"

Oh boy, you'll have to listen to the whole song to find out how this gripping drama ends!  Spoiler alert, though: it's never as clever or amusing as the more popular records they're emulating.  But maybe you noticed something.  Did that name, Jae Supreme, ring a little bell?  Maybe you remember a lost Nas classic called "I'm a Villain?"  Yeah, this is that Jae Supreme!  This is his beginning in the industry, producer and lead rapper of the short lived rap group 2 Deep.  He became known for producing a lot for Cormega, and Heavy Jewelz & Gentleman's Relief Records recently recovered his lost 90s album with his crew Sons of Light.

But Jae didn't produce "I Didn't Do My Homework;" some guy named Tuta Aquino did.  Don't feel bad if you don't recognize that name.  I had to look him up myself; he really wasn't a Hip-Hop guy.  This was an exception in his career, which mostly consisted of a lot of dance and pop stuff, including Sinead O'Connor and Duran Duran, and more known for engineering and remixing than production.  It's actually not a bad track, though.  It's a little too smooth to have been quite the break out crossover hit they were obviously looking for with that song, but it makes it a little easier to revisit this song in 2018 without cringing.  In fact, 2 Deep have some really nice cuts by DJ K-Slim on the hook.

So as you can see above, the 12" comes in a full color picture cover and it splits the song into a slightly shorter Radio Edit, the Deep Vocal Mix, and a Kingston Regga Muffin Mix.  That last one really isn't as dramatic as a change as it suggests, there's no new reggae-style hook or anything.  The instrumental is just a little more reggae influenced and a lot more forgettable.  If you've got the album, you don't really need the single for any of these mixes.

Finally, the last song on this 12" is "Simply Done (LP Version)," a posse cut featuring his crew, the S Double R Posse/ Tore Down Posse.  The line-up (pieced together from the album's shout outs, since they're never properly credited) are Jae, Enforcer L.D., Troop and Rob Well.  Rob Well's the only one of those who seems to have recorded outside of this endeavor - he had a split single with T-Wiz on DNA International that 2 Deep also produced.  Anyway, "Simply Done" is a pretty cool, darker groove with backwards drums like a Paris track.  They're all going for a fairly similar smooth but hard style, and they each prove rather adept at it.  It's not mind blowing, but it's a respectably solid effort and a world away from the preteen targeting material on the A-side that probably pushed away as many potential fans as it attracted.  In fact, their whole album turned out to be fairly removed from that kind of stuff.  But we'll get into all of that and delve into the less public face of 2 Deep in Part 2.

Monday, June 25, 2018

2 Black Across 110th Street

Okay, I've got some crazy records I'm looking at blogging about in the near future.  Some kinda unconventional, even silly or legitimately kinda wack stuff.  So before I sunk too deep into mode, I thought I'd get something real in the bank first.  I've written about 2 Black 2 Strong MMG before, but this right here is their best record.  They'd gotten a lot of controversy with their debut EP, but I think this single better represents them: "Across the 110."

2 Black 2 Strong MMG's name can be a little confusing, and I don't think I really cleared it up before.  "2 Black 2 Strong and the MMG" would make more sense, because 2 Black 2 Strong, a.k.a. Johnny Marrs is the front man, and MMG, or Mad Motherfucking Gangsters, is his crew.  So yeah, it's really just the one guy rapping, and the production is by... Chill Will of The Get Fresh Crew.  I guess Chill Will had another side of himself he wanted to express after doing all the soft, party records with Dougie, because he also produced the classic, hard rock single "Begs No Friends" by Strickly Roots.  ...Or not, that was Chill Will From the Eastside, the mixtape guy.  See the comments.

So, the title is in reference to 110th St, famous for being the dividing line between Harlem and the gentrified Central Park.  There's a classic, gritty 70s film about it called Across 110th St, which sparked the even more famous Bobby Womack song of the same name.  So this is kind of the rap version of that (though Pretty Tone Capone also made a pretty terrific "Across 110th St"), though it doesn't make the obvious choice of sampling any of it. Instead it flips a super tough break from a Lyn Collins record produced by James Brown and his band.

And really, the break makes this record.  It sounds incredible.  Really abrasive instrumentation and slow, smashed drums.  The subtler smooth bassline sounds like it's taken from somewhere else, but it's the same sample.  Then the dusty horns come in on the hook; it's perfect.  Because, honestly, Johnny doesn't exactly have the nimblest, most impressive flow.  He's no Rakim; he gets most of his vocal strength just from yelling.  Not that he doesn't make it work.  I described him before as a cross between Public Enemy and Willie D, but here he's on more of an early Fat Joe meets Freddie Foxxx tip.  And lyrically, he doesn't have much to say besides you better think twice before stepping onto his side of the 110 and shouting out every single member of his crew.  But that's all you need; this is a killer, no fucking around record.

The 12" makes it look like it might have some interesting remixes with titles like "Uptown's In the House Mix" and "Harlem Radio Mix," but really they're just minor edits of each other.  You also get the Instrumental and Acapella, which is nice.  And the B-side is the album track "Only the Strong Survive," also produced by Will.  It's a much faster, higher energy track with a killer "Funky Drummer" break and a dramatic piano loop.  It's pretty hot, too; and his flow's a little tighter when he's forced to rhyme twice as fast.  There are album, radio and instrumental versions for that one, and it comes in an inconspicuous sticker cover.  It's one of those records I really feel doesn't get the attention it deserves, probably because MMG got overshadowed by their own controversy of the previous record.  But it's too bad, because this is the one that really stands the test of time; a legit Harlem anthem.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Back On Tilt

(A new On Tilt album means the return of Vrse Murphy, with raps by Luke Sick and QM!  Youtube version is here.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Silver Fox Is Back, Back Again

About this time last year, I made a video about the comeback single of The Fantasy Three's Silver Fox, the MC probably best known as being the inspiration of Kool G Rap.  It was a little 7" on the new label Hip Hop Be Bop Records, a new venture from from hiphopbebop.com.  Obviously, I've already espoused on that record in said video, but I was really happy with how it turned out.  And now, as the title says, he's "Back."

Again on Hip Hop Be Bop and again with the same, virtually unknown producer, Clandestine, this one's a little different; and I think a lot of heads might actually like it better.  Where the first one reached back to the Fantasy Three-type of records Fox was known for, this one still definitely has an old school throwback feel, but not in that upbeat early 80s way.  There's nothing like those kind of upbeat, electro synth riffs looping loudly over the beat.  This is more of hardcore, battle-style track, you could imagine the Grind Mode Cypher guys taking turns on, except faster and more high energy.  And that energy is tripled by DJ Credit One, who's going ham on the turntables the entire time, cutting up the vocal samples for the hook and just randomly getting busy almost the entire time Fox raps.

And Fox handily keeps up with the pace.  He doesn't go for punchlines, but he's definitely flexing his skills on this one.  Where "The Buck's Still Here" had a lot to impart socially intertwined with the more fun, freestyle rhymes; this one has nothing to say but "we hittin' the door like a wrecking ball."  It's just a fierce flow, constantly playing with syllables and how he chops up his bars.

In my video on his first record, I neglected to comment on the remix, or "Rawmix," on the B-side, where the new wave-style loop is pulled back and the drums hit more prominently.  Well, I won't repeat that mistake, because this one has a remix on the B-side, too.  And the strategy is similar: removing some of the samples to let the break dominate the track a little harder.  They do add another little string sample to this version, though, and Credit One's cuts are the same on both mixes.  In both cases, I prefer the A-sides, but the the remixes are valid enough that I can easily seeing people preferring them instead.  It's a close call each time and I'm glad to get both versions on wax.

Like "The Buck's Still Here," this is a 7" release that plays at 45 and comes in a plain sleeve.  It's technically still a pre-order, but the release is tomorrow, so assuming there aren't any delays (and since I have my promo copy safely in-hand, we can probably assume it's safely past the pressing plant stage), it's basically out now.  I also can't help but notice that the catalog number here is HHBB-7-003, and the last one was HHBB-7-001.  Is HHBB hiding another interesting 7" up their sleeve?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Brooklyn's Disgrace... The Weirdest 3rd Bass Diss You'll Ever Hear


(Here's a weird one for you.  3rd Bass get dissed by someone named MC 29.  I can't even tell... is he meant to be funny, a la Biz Markie or Busy Bee, or an actual joke, like MC Pillsbury or Rappin' Duke?  Listen and decide for yourselves.  Youtube version is here.)