Saturday, May 21, 2016

No, The Other Shug & Dap

In 1994, Gangstarr was really getting their Gangstarr Foundation acts out there with features and record deals. Big Shug and Group Home, which consisted of Melachi and Dap, were just putting out their first records and building a big buzz. And right at that same time, probably out of oblivious ignorance, but possibly in a deliberate and shameless attempt to mislead the public and score some easy sales, Giant Records put out their brand new hip-hop group Shug & Dap. Either way, it was a bad decision, because everybody's initial excitement over seeing a Shug & Dap tape appearing in their local music store's Rap section immediately deflated seeing it was some unknown girl group with a borrowed name. At least they put their pictures on the cover so we found out on the spot rather than after we paid for it and brought it home.

But who actually were the other Shug & Dap? They only put out this one single, "Anotha Man," on Giant Records in 1994. The back cover promises this is from their forthcoming album, First High, but that never happened.  This single is it.

Well, Shug & Dap were an R&B/ hip-hop combo act. Shug, on the left, sang; and Dap rapped (you can tell just by their hairstyles). And on this song - which, again, was their only song - that left Dap with very little to do. Because they didn't go with the one-raps-while-the-other-sings-the-hook formula, but the burgeoning style of the day: a full-on R&B song with a little, token rap verse at the end. So this is practically a Shug solo project with a guest spot by Dap.

And it's not bad but it's pretty boring, to be honest. Shug's a good singer but she doesn't exactly blast us out of our seats with this low key number. The music isn't particularly sample based, there's a lot of bass and keyboards that don't manage any particular catchy riffs. There's also a "Creepin'" remix, which has some really dated G-funk/ Troutman slide whistle effects added to the mix. Organized Noize did the remix, which is interesting, but doesn't actually make it any better.

Conceptually, the song's about how they cheated on their man, but want him to take them back because the guy they slept with was "just anotha man." There's sort of a weird disconnect between the verses (both sung and rapped) and the chorus. The bulk of the lyrics are regretful and apologetic, full of lines like, "I didn't know what I was doin'," "I know I blame myself, but what can I do now?" "I was wrong and now you're gone, and without you in my life, I just can't go on," and even "my body lost control, and oh no! Got caught up in the ho stroll." But the hook is all, "just anotha man, a quick hit. Just anotha man, didn't mean..."

Now, first of all, we could look at the logic in making your big lead single a song where you have the cut out a key section of the chorus. It's one thing to quickly splice out a quick curse or two from a rapid-fire rap verse, but the last word in a short and repetitive R&B song? Who thought this should be the single. But moving past that, you know, there's like two songs here. Either a sappy, "I'm so sorry, take me back" love song or a sassy, "I'm gonna turn the tables on conventional sexism by treating men like the sex objects!" Either one works, but here it feels like they just couldn't decide. It actually might've been a fun, if trite, opportunity to give Shug & Dap more distinct identities by having Shug be sad and sorry and then Dap give it the female playa spin at the end. But nope, they're both sorry until except on the hook.

I doubt that hurt them too much, though, since I'm probably the first person, including the song's producers, to actually listen and think about the lyrics. And like I said, First High never came out and the group quietly dissolved. But Shug(the singing one)'s career actually kept on. She became known as The Truth Hurts (not to be confused with and signed with Dr. Dre. Remember that R&B song with Rakim that everybody - including Rakim - was going to lead up to a Dre produced Rakim album? Well, it didn't work out for him, but she actually got her Aftermath album, including a couple more singles with guest rappers.

You'd think she would've squeezed Dap into that line-up somewhere for a quick cameo. Or at least gotten her onto her 2004 independent sophomore album, but nope. I guess the book is closed tight on that partnership. So I don't know what happened to Dap. She's not down with Truth anymore and she's not a member of the Gangstarr Foundation; that's all I know.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ice Cube and Chuck D Go Back To Hell

Run DMC go full new jack swing and Ice Cube and Chuck D show up on the B-side? Why does nobody talk about this wild record?
(Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Made Men's Unreleased Film: The Soundtrack

So, you guys remember The Made Men, right? Originally from Boston, there was a big group called The Almighty RSO that put out records in the 80s and early 90s. And they had a weed carrier group called The Wise Guys/ Legion of Doom. Then they streamlined the crew to just the top three guys - two from RSO and one from Wise Guys - to make the late 90s outfit The Made Men? And of course the head guy was Benzino, who became co-owner of The Source Magazine for a long time, had that major beef with Eminem and now runs Hip Hop Weekly.

They've got a pretty rotten rep... I won't get into all the drama about editorial staffs quitting and criminal arrests, because that would take a book, and all that info's out there if you want to find it. But actually, these guys go way back, all the way to The TDS Mob and The Body Rock Crew (from Boston Goes Def), and RSO was putting out records as far back as 1986. And good stuff, too. People don't like to say that, because they made a lot of enemies and kinda played themselves out. But even into the 90s, they had joints. Remember "Hellbound?" I used to play that tape all the time in high school. That was dope, right? Somebody let me know, 'cause I'm kind of scared to dig out my old copy and find out it's corny and embarrassing now, but I remember that being a tough record.

But here's something I bet you didn't know. At the height of The Made Men using The Source - when they had multiple full page ads in every issue, Source Awards in their pockets and their reviews rewritten late at night - there was going to me a Made Men movie. Here's a big spread [right] they ran in a summer 1998 issue, advertising it as "THE FIRST FULL HIP-HOP ACTION FILM OF THE DECADE." I don't know how far along the movie actually got - did they hire a director? Were any non-Wise Guys actors case? Was any footage actually shot? - but ads for it ran for a couple of issues before quietly disappearing. But some people were at least somewhat seriously invested in this... I've got an unreleased Made Men single, "music from the forthcoming movie Made Men!"

This is from 1998 on Surrender Records, which was Benzino's own label that put out a whole bunch of Wise Guys and Hangmen 3 (Benzino's production crew) records. It's an unreleased promo-only cassingle that I'm not sure ever made it outside of The Source offices of a Made Men song called "W.G. For Life." You might've actually heard it, because it later wound up on the sole Made Men album, Classic Limited Edition, under the expanded title "Wise Guys for Life" a year later.

It's not a bad song. It features Wise Guys member Man Terror and is produced by L.E.S. and The Trackmasterz, who just loop a solid but recycled sample and let the guys ride the funky bassline. Omniscence had already rocked it a lot better on "My Main Man," and guys like Rahsheed and Tracy Lee had already used the sample to make instrumentals that sounded exactly alike already, so it was hardly a ground-breaking song. Recycling popular beats was really one of RSO/ Made Men's weak points, 'cause they did that all the time. But hey, it still sounds good.

Lyrically, they play it super safe, saying nothing interesting but riding the beat acceptably with all the expected cliches about "dime-piece women," "sipping Perrier" and "gunplay while wearing Gore-Tex," yadda yadda. Cool Gsus's verse is alright, though: "we're from the city where we don't squash beef." But the other guys totally phone it in. There's also a girl singing a lazy chorus near the end. It's very generic. Still quite listenable, Man Terror's grimier voice helps keep things from getting too boring, but you wouldn't go out of your way to buy a copy.

A movie did come out in 1999 called Made Men, starring James Belushi and Timothy Dalton. I'm sure there was no connection, but the fact that it beat them to the punch with that title may've helped put the group's film to bed. But man, I can't help wondering what the Made Men's movie would've been like. Would we have gotten to see them "go to war in silk pajamas?" Oh man, internet, please tell me somebody's sitting on an unreleased workprint. Youtube needs that on its servers right away!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Father MC Is World Wide, Y'all

So, a couple years ago I found a Father MC test pressing I was pretty excited about, because it was a rare, unreleased Luke Records 12" that was virtually unknown. But Father had one other single on Luke, which wasn't quite test press only, but it is a promo-only 12". In fact, it says it's a test pressing on the label, but there's so many of these around, I suspect that maybe they just left that printed on the promo label? Anyway, regardless of all that, it's still pretty obscure that even most Father MC fans never even heard, so let's talk about it.

See, Father moved to Florida after his Uptown Records phase. So he and Luke sound like a pretty strange combination, but I guess it kinda made sense. Considering he recorded at least two 12"s worth of material for Luke, I assumed there were plans for an album and a proper it was a proper artist signing. But of course the bottom fell out of Luke Records in the 90s, so whatever might've happened didn't. The two songs on this single wound up being included on a quick cash-in 1997 compilation album called Luke's Peep Show Compilation Album Vol. 1 (there was no Vol. 2), which is more than you can say for the test press 12" songs, which never turned up anywhere else.

So how is it? It's not terrible, honestly. Father, who also produced this single, has a tradition of using tried and true samples that always work, and he does that again here. This time he's rocking over Freedom's "Get Up and Dance," the same loop used for Grandmaster Flash's "Freedom," De La Soul's "Buddy," The Crash Crew's "High Power Rap," Boogie Down Production's "You Must Learn" and so many others from Big Daddy Kane to The Wu-Tang Clan. So it's a very safe groove, and he doesn't change a thing. So, it's very listenable, but also very low risk/ low reward. How excited are you going to get by hearing someone rock that beat again? Not at all, but you're also not gonna be like, "turn that shit off."

And how does he rock it? Well, that's the bad news. He kinda phones it in. He doesn't have anything to say but generic "I'm such a playa"isms, and he doesn't really match the energy of the track. His delivery is alright, and he does put some effort into the delivery of his lines. But the hook is downright laconic; it'll cure your insomnia.

There's just the Radio Edit and Instrumental on here, but he doesn't curse much anyway. He says he's "fucking girls" and "copping mad shit" once or twice, which gets muted; but it doesn't change the listening experience very much. I suppose you could track down the Peep Show compilation to hear them uncensored. You're even more devoted to the Father MC oeuvre than me if you go that far, though.

There's a B-side, too. It's called "Give Me Love," and it doesn't use a classic sample. Or any sample, I don't think. It just sounds like standard sounds from a "producer tools kit" CD or something, with fine drums and a generic, plodding bassline. There are a few sounds on top of that, but it's really just boring. Father MC's flow sounds alright, and it's interesting that he's rapping against managers and A&Rs, but he can't save this beat. Also, the hook is sleepy and terrible again, where he just says, "this goes out to Canada because they give me love," which he repeats a hundred times, but swapping out the location. You know, how rappers will say the names of different cities so local DJs will hopefully be inclined to play it on the radio? Yeah, it's absolutely that; but he says it all so lazily, and mixed down low under the track that I don't imagine any DJ would try scratching that into their mix.

Again, it's a Radio Mix, but I didn't noticing him cursing or getting anything censored at all on this one, anyway, so there's no difference. It also lists an Instrumental, but it's really a TV track, with all his background ad libs and the hook on it. That's fine, because I wouldn't want this instrumental anyway. If you're Father's #1 fan, you might want to listen to the B-side once or twice to hear what he has to say, but otherwise I don't recommend anyone messing with "Give Me Love." The A-side's alright, though. I mean, it's pretty generic and average at best. But it's at least alright as album filler.

Overall, pretty disappointing. He also didn't adapt to Luke or Miami at all, which might be for the best. But him rapping over a 120bpm booty record might've at least been novel once. But yeah, this is one of my least favorite Father MC records. It got me curious, but it didn't follow through. I suspect there wouldn't have been an album even if Luke Records was plush. Give me more Home Team or Bust Down any day.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Melle Mel In Spaaaaace!!

Here's an interesting record that doesn't know where it's from. The label says "Made In the U.K." and the back of the picture cover says, "Made In Germany." It's also a 10", one of those rare, nebulous records that lives somewhere in between the common 7" and the ideal 12". But who cares? It's a neat, obscure record by possibly the greatest rapper of all time, Grandmaster Melle Mel.

Well, as you can see, it's not just by Mel. It's also by Keith LeBlanc. If you don't recognize that name, he's the drummer from the original Sugarhill Band/ Fats Comet, and who's been involved with a ton of projects since then, including this one. This single's on his own imprint, Blanc Records, and all the B-sides are by him without Mel, so even though Melle gets top billing, I suppose this is really more of a LeBlanc record. But his name comes first, 'cause he's the man we're all here to hear, right?

All of Mel's records were of course on Sugarhill and backed by the in-house band, so he's no stranger to working with LeBlanc. But it gets a little more complicated when we flip this record over and see on the back that the song is actually credited to Interference, featuring Melle Mel and Bee La Key. Interference is a duo LeBlanc formed with a UK DJ named Tim Simenon. And Bee La Key is some guy who also sang vocals on Interference's previous record a couple years before. Basically, he's the hook guy here, Mel does all main verses, LeBlanc does the production and percussion, and there's some very sparse scratching by Simenon. Also in the credits you'll notice bass is played by Doug Wimbash, who's also from the Sugarhill Band.

So what's this song like? It's pretty cool! Melle Mel was sort of working his comeback around this time... not that he ever entirely left the game at any particular point; he's always kept his name in there. But this was right before his album on Str8 Game Records with Scorpio, and well before Die Hard. He was already resurfacing to do guest verses here and there, but this was something we weren't getting from him. Really serious, conceptual raps that weren't just "hey it's me, here to represent the old school" tag, but a song with a message and creative ideas. This was a real, new Melle Mel record proper.

It's about, uh, the world order and the dangers of dystopia, I guess. It reminds me a lot of Afrika Bambaataa's Time Zone record, "World Destruction." Not quite as punk, but kind of a futuristic theme in the instrumentation, ominous vocal samples and warnings about "the hand that reaches across the land." There's a lot of imagery, religious references you have to be pretty plugged into to get fully and plenty of poetic license (like, I needed google to figure out that "the man that shares his birthday with Nimrod" means Jesus Christ), so I don't know if it's possible to take it as seriously as the artists probably want you to. It feels more like a science fiction experience when we're meant to be relating to the problems of our times (he's actually rapping about real social issues, of course, not beings in outer space); but Mel shows he can still paint some vivid pictures with his words. His style reminds me of his most famous verses from "Beat Street" and "The Message," and it's not any worse for being dark and spacey.

And the instrumentation has to take more than half the credit or blame for the futuristic vibe anyway. It's pretty original, with a lot of live guitar and stuff, but thankfully never straying too far from a traditional hip-hop groove. The cuts are nothing, though. I mean, there isn't anything wrong with them, but they're so minimal they barely have the opportunity to enhance or distract. They could've just sampled a little scratching sound and pressed the button once every two and a half minutes and gotten the same effect.

And that takes us to song #2. No Melle Mel this time, unfortunately. It's just an instrumental. But it's still worth a listen. This time it's not Interference, but just a LeBlanc solo record: "Point Blanc (A. Sherwood Remix)." I've never heard the original, though I looked it up. It's from his 1992 album, Time Traveler. Anyway, it's another dark, semi-spacey kind of track, but a bit more down to Earth. The hook comes from a recurring Rakim "Let the Rhythm Hit Em" vocal sample, and there's some rudimentary scratches. But it's mostly some interesting drums and keyboards and stuff. It kind of works as a cool "What Order" reprise, though it doesn't actually technically reprise that instrumental.

Then the B-side is a bunch of original, not very good break beats. Listening to them once was more than enough for me. But side A I recommend. Side A is dope and interesting. Instrumentally, what these guys were doing strayed a little too far from the hip-hop formula to ever be a hit record. But Mel killed it, and these guys gave him some pretty compelling background music. It's definitely not for the mainstream, but if you've ever wished Mel kept making serious records and not just token efforts and name checks, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by this. Something a little off the beaten path.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Ultimate Underrated Shake G

A blind buy turns up aces, inspiring me to go back and review a totally slept on rapper's career.(Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Another Phat Tape For Your Backpack

Alright, I'm still in a 90s throwback frame of mind. But how can I get even more 90s than Y'all So Stupid? I had to do some serious digging in my crates cardboard boxes, but I believe I've found it. This is the 4-song cassette-only 1998 debut of Sev Statik* called Tha Pointman EP on Tunnel Rat Records. Sev Statik is a Christian rapper, but - whoa! Wait! Where ya goin'? Hang on, I was going to say yeah, he's a Christian rapper, and he does definitely drop references to being saved and refers you to specific bible verses ("don't let the index attack/ check Romans 3:23 before you do that") But his ethos - at least on this EP; I'm not going to try and speak for his whole career - is more focused on real, underground Hip-Hop, or "preserv[ing] Hip-Hop's true essence" as he writes in the liner notes. In other words, you can totally nerd out on the 90s backpacker vibe without having a vested interest in any particular religion.

This EP opens with a fantastic loop that can go head to head with the best samples dug up by any of your favorite 90s producers, on a song called "Speak Life." By the way, there's also a song called "Speak Life" on Sev's first full-length CD, 2002's SpeakLife. But that's actually a totally different song, both lyrically and instrumentally. He references that song in this one, though ("and Romans 3:23 is still in effect"), so really, you could consider that one "Speak Life part 2." It's not bad, the beat's cool but not as hot, and that version's got a sung hook which is thankfully absent on the original, which you should seek out instead.

Production-wise, "Speak Life" is the song you're going to rewind again and again, but if you're here for 90's underground hip-hop, then "Linguistic Weaponry" is going the song you're going to home in on. I mean, you can tell just from the title. "Hip-hop brought me through back spins, graffiti pens and record bins." And like all truly great, nostalgic 90s rap, it doesn't age so gracefully. Lyrics that impressed me as a young man back then now have me cocking my head and poking at the weak spots. Punchlines like "coming strapped like a brassiere" are pretty creaky, and you could make a drinking game out of all the times he pats himself on the back for being a white rapper with skills:

"I got Five Percenters saying, yo, that devil's no joke!" 

"Some say, due to my exterior, it's not in me to serve the lord or speaking life is not in my nature... got 5% of y'all believing all caucasoid MCs are deceiving you."

"When the next man says, yo, you rhyme good for bein' white,"

"Go on home, son, tell your mom who ripped it. Don't be ashamed to tell her this Anglo Saxon did it."

...In fact, the whole song "Rebuild" has a hook that goes, "white lies, under these blue skies, blurring my vision. I keep it ill and rebuild." And I think the "white lies" he's referring to are meant to be of the "white guys can't rap" variety.

But there's actually some strong, compelling writing as he tackles major social issues and soul searches, "like OJ, white people lookin' for a lynchin', all angry and shook, now there's something wrong with the justice system? While this man's life seems not fair at all, now you know what it means to say free Mumia Abu Jamal." And he sounds good even when he's just spitting freestyles. There's a low-fi quality to his sound which is probably 100% due to the circumstances of recording his earliest homemade songs, but it only adds to the atmosphere of a nice, underground rap tape with crispy drums and crackly samples.

And Sev Statik is still doing it to this day.  I've heard a little of his subsequent work, but I'll be honest, I haven't followed his whole career to really address it thoroughly. Apparently he fronts a rap rock band called Goldtooth? Yeah, I don't need to hear all that. But I'll still hang onto this tape. Even if he was a little young lyrically and even if times haven't been the kindest to the the ultra-earnest backpacker era, it still sounds good to me. So keep an eye out for this one in the wild; I think you'll find it's worth picking up if you see one. And if you're a collector of this period, man, it's gold.

*I was googling around, and some sources say this is actually his second EP. If that's true, the first one must be some super rare "had to have copped it off him personally" kind of release. But more likely, since they call his supposed previous EP Speak Life, and "Speak Life" is the first song on this EP, I think they might just be referring to this same tape.