Saturday, February 10, 2018

Candyman's Xzibit?

(Would you buy an album for just two good songs?  What if it was super cheap.  Taking a look back at west coast rapper TNT on Pump Records.  Experimenting with a new webcam and my teaching myself FCPX for the first time, so pardon any technical shortcomings.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

That Time Havoc Kicked Coolio and Blondie Off Their Own Record

Say, did you guys watch Kendrick Lamar perform with U2 the other night on The Grammys?  Me either.  Who ever wanted to see those two collaborate?  More big money, bad idea, cross genre noise pollution that's, hey, just like today's record!  But unlike last week's post, this is a real collaboration that actually happened, and not a patch-worked fakery.  I'm not sure if that necessarily makes things any better... in fact, given my choice, I might prefer more Hip-Hop artists faking their team-ups with rock bands rather than actually going through with it.  But in this case, it at least made things a little more lively and interesting than Wyclef's sleepy mess.  I'm talking with Blondie's comeback single "No Exit" featuring Coolio, Mobb Deep, Inspectah Deck and U-God.

In a way, this is more awards show generated nonsense, since the big performance of this song took place on a 1999 broadcast of The American Music Awards.  But they did release an properly studio-recorded version of this as a single on Beyond Records, plus as the title track of the Blondie comeback album (their first album in 17 years according to Wikipedia, who I'll trust, because I don't know or care about these non-Hip Hop groups) and even a music video.  But the only version most of us are apt to care about is this particular 12" on LOUD Records, where Havoc decided to take things in hand and make a good version of the song.

So let's talk about the main version first.  Strictly speaking, this 12" draws a distinction between The Loud Rock Remix and The AMA Performance Version, but the latter is really just a slightly extended version of the former with about twenty extra seconds of instrumentation.  Basically they're the same song.  And it's a pretty eccentric song, which I suppose makes sense when you think about the personnel.  Unlike the Small Soldiers version of "Another One Bites the Dust," this song clearly features the band members playing their instruments on the song, which definitely injects a lot of energy into the song if nothing else.  I mean, they're talented musicians, so it's not bad in that sense, though they make some really weird choices, using riffs from "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and Bach's classic Phantom Of the Opera theme, with a loud, distorted rock guitar style.  It's actually very much like the Goblin soundtrack for Lamberto Bava's Demons, to the point where I honestly believe they're deliberately cribbing.  But at least that's fun.

So Deborah Harry not only sings the chorus, she raps.  And her rap style hasn't changed at all since we last heard it on 1980's "Rapture."  As you can imagine, when on the same track as Mobb Deep and them, that flow comes off pretty stilted by comparison.  And she's followed by Coolio, who sounds kinda silly warning us against putting "whimpin' and simpin' up in your pimpin'."  Then the rest of the song is Harry singing the hook between verses by Havoc, Prodigy, Deck and U-God, none of whom deliver career-topping performances, but all come off a lot slicker and more listenable than Deborah and Coolio.

That's the version most people have.  In fact, I think there's actually an even more milquetoast version that features Coolio but none of the other guests.  But if you're a real head, the only worthwhile version is on the B-side.  Havoc produced The Infamous Hip Rock Version, which actually aims to please some Hip-Hop fans.  First off, it's got an stripped down, pure Hip-Hop beat, with none of that guitar noodling or any other live instrumentation.  It's a classic, 90's New York street style track, with a break beat and a bassline and that's pretty much it.  It has no connection to Blondie's music at all, which is A-O-K with me.

Even better?  It jumps right to the Mobb and Wu.  Blondie's rap?  Deleted.  Even Coolio!  Deleted.  Off the record.  Perfect!  Now it's just a Mobb Deep record featuring some second string Wu players (collectively dubbed the "LOUD Allstars" on the sticker) that sounds like it was recorded for any of their mixtape projects from that time.  Harry's chorus is still used for the hook, and there is a brief guitar solo tagged on at the end; but if you just heard this version you'd never suspect it was an off-shoot of some bizarre goth rock hybrid record.

Unfortunately, if you remember Mobb Deep's Koch Record solo albums from that time, though, you remember they were a little lackluster and the production was pretty dry.  So even this version is no awesome masterpiece.  So don't come in expecting "Shook Ones" meets "Protect Ya Neck."  It's closer to some Golden Arms Redemption material... but it would definitely be one of the better songs on there.  No Greatest Hit, but actually a record Wu and Mobb fans might want to have in their collection, unlike the A-side.

As you see, this 12" comes in a sticker cover, and also contains both instrumentals, not that you'd really want either.  Also on the B-side is a Talvin Singh Rhythmic Radio Edit of another song from Blondie's comeback album, called "Maria."  No rappers on this one, and Blondie barely even sings.  It's mostly four minutes of synth-y ambiance over high bpm club drums.  I suspect the original was more traditional pop rock song with guitars and singing, but I don't intend to find out.  It's the exact opposite end of the spectrum of what anybody buying this record wants to hear.  They should've included the "No Exit" acapella instead; and then I'm sure we would've heard the LOUD Allstars on a lot more mixtapes.  But, oh well; no great loss either way.

This is the kind of record you can always find dirt cheap, and for that price, I recommend it.  Fans will be pleasantly surprised by the B-side, and the A-side is at least a novelty, which I guess is all the AMA's really wanted in the first place.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wyclef and Canibus Spendin' Spielberg Money

Major record labels just have too much money.  That's the only records like this exist: "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen with additional vocals by Wyclef Jean featuring Pras and Free.  Or the way it's credited on the version I bought: Queen/ Wyclef Jean featuring Pras, Canibus and Free.  I don't know jack about musical genres outside of Hip-Hop, but even I'm familiar with Queen's rock classic "Another One Bites the Dust" from 1980.  It's the one that reprises the bassline from Chic's "Good Times," which Grandmaster Flash famously mixed together on "The Great Adventures Of..."  But this one's from 1998 on Dreamworks Records.  DreamWorks is the label Steven Spielberg co-owns with two other media moguls.  DreamWorks is much better known for their DreamWorks Pictures division, which makes blockbuster movies.  But yeah, they have also have a record label for nonsense like this, when their films aren't burning through enough cash on their own.

Now, the way they write that: "Queen with additional vocals by..." sure makes it sound like a historic rap/ rock collaboration of the giants, along the lines of when Bob Dylan made a record with Kurtis Blow, or more recently when Kanye West teamed up with Paul McCartney, when Eminem remixed "Stan" with Elton John, that time LL Cool J made "Accidental Racist" with Randy Travis, or... wait a minute.  These collaborations aren't historic; they're terrible!  Massive miscalculations of celebrity culture and ego that should always be shot down at the conception stage.  But hey, this record isn't actually one of those; it's a fake rap/ rock collaboration.

Not that it was a serious hoax.  Anybody who'd be interested in laying down money for a Queen record would know that the band's lead, Freddie Mercury, had been dead for years.  And another core member had also passed away before this record.  That just leaves two guitar players or whatever, and I'm pretty sure they didn't play on this record either.  It doesn't sound like there's any new, live instrumentation at all.  Really, this is just Wyclef remixing Queen's old record to put himself on it.  That was really his entry way into hit records... after Lauryn's "Killing Them Softly" - which was cool but still kinda pointless as far as I'm concerned since Roberta Flack still sang it better - he just started doing "covers:" "No Woman, No Cry," "Gone 'Till November, "We Trying To Stay Alive," etc.

I know Hip-Hop has a legacy of making rap songs out of big records that were hits at the time, like Spyder D and Nu Shooz.  But I honestly think the fun of those records was that audiences were of course fans of those songs, and it was fun to hear the raps on the breaks.  "Erotic City Rapp" was made for fans of Prince's "Erotic City."  But in the 2000s, making hits off of records that were decades old, feels pretty sneaky, selling them to kids unfamiliar with the original.  The people most impressed with Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage" were the people who'd never heard of Lakeside.  So when I see Wyclef releasing "Guantanamera" as a single, it just feels like he's trying to pass off another song writer's talents as his own to kids who are encountering that chorus for the first time.  Especially since, like "Fantastic Voyage," he was just making versions worse than the originals.  Like, I'd rather listen to "I Can't Wait (To Rock the Mic)" than "I Can't Wait," because that's adding all these great rap elements which I love.  But Wyclef barely even raps; he just kind of mumbles a few low energy lines over the lulls.  I'd certainly rather hear Freddy Mercury belt out the lines, "how long can you stand the heat" than 'Clef, wouldn't you?

But okay, maybe that's just me being sour because I don't really vibe with Wyclef's energy.  Here, he obviously uses the instrumentation of the original, including its iconic bassline.  He chops it up, and swaps out the drums for a more traditional breakbeat.  But he is definitely trying to make it sound like he recorded this in the studio with Mercury, which is weird.  He'll say "Freddie Mercury, where you at, yo?" and then some old acapella of Mercury's vocals will play, as if the two were standing right next to each other in the vocal booth and 'Clef just cued him to sing his next line. The whole thing just feels like a strange endeavor.

And why is it on DreamWorks of all labels?  I mean, it probably took DreamWorks to buy Queen's name, and release it like a new Queen record (it even later wound up on one of their greatest hits albums, if you can believe it).  But Wyclef and Pras were signed to Columbia, and EMI had Queen.  DreamWorks were involved in this instance because this song is from the soundtrack to Small Soldiers, a CGI children's movie about action figures coming to life in a kid's bedroom, like Toy Story.  If I ever get the chance to interview Joe Dante someday, I'm just dying to ask him if he insisted that his film needed a song by Queen and Wyclef on it and made it happen; or if he even had any say in his movie's soundtrack at all?  What was he thinking as he saw this project unfold?

But yeah, this is already a long post, and I've got so much more to go into, so let's keep things moving.  Like I said at the top, there are multiple versions of this 1998 cover, with or without Canibus.  This came out just as Canibus was blowing up (and before his career just as quickly deflated), so there was still a craze to own every 12" single with his name on it.  But you had to be careful to get the version with the run-out groove PRO-A-5118 instead of the one with PRO-A-510, because that one doesn't have Canibus on it.

See, originally, the song featured Wyclef, Pras and Free.  That's what's on the soundtrack and the original single.  I said that Wyclef just mumbles some lines, which he does through the bulk of this song and much of his output; but to be fair, he does have a full rap verse on here, as do the other two.  These guys are pretty all over the map.  Wyclef starts shouting out "the kids on the blocks shootin' at the crooked cops," which gets cut out of most versions, because Small Soldiers is a children's movie like Toy Story, and what was he thinking?  But really, nothing he says in one line connects to what he says in the next, talking about Idi Amin, then doing a Woody Woodpecker impression.  It's like he's just stringing together buzz words for an easy pay check.

Meanwhile, Pras and Free are dropping terrible lines like, "believe me, you gotta let me fly like R. Kelly. Bite another dust with my man Freddie Mercury," and "I don't go down 'cause I'm a vegetarian," respectively.  I really don't understand why Free didn't go back and say write me another line that isn't a third grade schoolyard blowjob joke for my big major label debut.  Because it's painfully obvious, with bars like, "practically, I tactically destroy; deploy more decoys than a presidential convoy," that she's just delivering another verse written for her by Canibus.  Another "Patriots."  I was interested in her as an artist and hoping for an album until I realized she was being puppeteered like A+.

Anyway, that's the version on the soundtrack album.  This 12" features a bunch of remixes and alternate versions, including some where Pras is taken off the song and substituted with Canibus, who was the only reason to care about this song in 1998.  So, first version on the 12", LP Version, is the same as on the soundtrack, but the Small Soldiers Video Mix is the one with Canibus.  Yes, there was a music video for this song, too.  I never saw it back in the day - I don't think the Hip-Hop shows ever played it; but it's on Youtube.  It's a weird, silly video where Wyclef is a security guard at a wax museum with a display dedicated to Queen.  None of this has anything to do with Small Soldiers, by the way; but at least the video doesn't try to keep up the charade that Queen actually somehow recorded this track with Wyclef; they recognize that he's passed on.  Anyway, a dance party breaks out because this is a music video after all, and the Freddie Mercury statue gets stolen.  So Wyclef goes on a secret spy mission to recover it.

You actually need to know that to understand this version of the song, because otherwise Canibus's verse doesn't make sense.  A lot of it is him doing his typical, complex battle rap with exotic imagery schtick like, "My rhymes cut through the radio waves like machetes; the predator becomes the prey in the Serengeti."  But he's the only one who plays along with the movie saying, "I'm a small soldier."  And later he talks about how, "I breach national security purposely to safely return the statue of Freddie Mercury."  I'm honestly not sure if he wrote that verse on the set of the music video to make it actually relate to the song, or if maybe the director heard that line in Canibus's rap and was inspired to make the video about that.  It's got to be one of those; it's too much to be a sheer coincidence.

But either way, it's kind of a shame, because Canibus spoils his own verse with these crazy, silly tangents.  You just can't get lost in a fierce, sick lyrical attack when he's talking about Small Soldiers.  But the whole mess has way too much talk about shooting and murdering people for little kids to just enjoy it as a silly theme song to their movie like Will Smith's "Here Come the Men In Black."  So it's like a song for nobody.  In the music video, the song is censored to pieces, with long stretches of protracted silence over the instrumental, which just adds to the feel that Wyclef is half asleep the whole time.

Anyway, there's also a Team 1 Black Rock Star Main Pass mix on here.  It's the Pras version again, but this time with the instrumental varied up a bit, thanks to Wyclef's cousin, Jerry Wonda.  It's a little more interesting, because "Another One Bites the Dust" is so over-familiar even the first time you hear it; but the bulk of the song is still based around the same basic bassline and all.  There are also both instrumentals, a clean edit of the Black Rock mix and an A Cappella (With Pras, not Canibus).  Now in the days of discogs, it's easy; but back in the 90s, it was tricky to find this particular 12" version with Canibus instead of the normal one.  Unfortunately, now that the Canibus craze has passed, I can also see it wasn't really worth it.  But at least it makes for an interesting curiosity piece.  The Small Soldiers soundtrack also featured a song with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Black Flag, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers... and I believe they actually did record it together for real.  I don't know if anybody actually likes that song either, but what else was DreamWorks going to do with their excess millions?  Give to charity?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Chino On Metro

So I thought I'd follow-up on my recent Chino XL post, about his brief stint on Warner Bros with this one about his one 12" on Metro.  So, like I said then, Metro is the indie label he wound up putting his second album (I Told You So) out on after Warner Bros, well, changed their minds.  Essentially, Metro didn't bother with any singles for that album, since Warner Bros had already done that job for them.  They just released the CD.  But there was this one, little promo 12" for "What You Got."  And the B-side?  "Let 'Em Live" with Kool G Rap again.  What makes this 12" interesting, besides being the only way for serious Chino fans to get "What You Got" on vinyl since I Told You So was CD-only?  Exclusive remixes.  But before yo get too excited, let's have a closer look.

I'll start with the A-side, since A comes after B, even though I'm sure we're all much more interested in "Let 'Em Live."  But "What You Got" is actually a pretty fun track.  It's just Chino going off showing off his skills in full braggadocio freestyle mode, naturally packing in as many punchlines as he possibly can.  Yes, that gets a little corny.  "Give ya more blood clots than two Jamaicans arguin'," "what I do to push your hairline back Rogaine won't help," "I'll turn on channel 2 if I wanna see B.S.," etc.  I mean, that last one might get a pass in some kind of politically minded song where he was actually commenting on the media; but here it's just a cheesy pun that has nothing to do with anything, thrown in because he fills his music with every pun he can think of.

Despite that, though, it's actually a pretty good song.  Like "Let 'Em Live," the beat is again created by Nick Wiz without any instrumental samples.  I specify instrumental samples because the hook actually makes use of some great vocal samples from Carlito's Way, which is a huge part of the song's appeal.  The rest of the track is carefully constructed studio sounds.  It's got more of a catchier, upbeat feel than "Let 'Em Live," but it's the same kind of thing.  And that upbeat feel might throw you off at first.  It sounds like something better suited for a junior member of Terror Squad to boast about his bling on than a battle rapper like Chino.  But I kind of like the unexpected merger of a hardcore rapper over a poppy beat; like Yah Yah with 5th Lmnt.  A pop rapper over a pop beat is crap; but there's a cool contrast on songs like this, with Chino flowing ruthlessly over the track, both elements feeding energy into the other.  It works.

It's obvious why Warner wanted it to be his next single.  I mean, I'm not sure it would've been a great idea even if they had done it.  Putting Chino on more of crossover track would smell like mainstream appeal to a corny label exec, but I think a more savy Hip-Hop A&R would realize the two elements would probably cancel each other out commercially.  The kids who were making "Wobble Wobble" and "Whistle While You Twurk" the #1 rap songs of the year weren't going to latch onto Chino XL rapping about how, "at a lynching I smile, cut myself down, murder your guest list."  But the whole thing's too damn jiggy for the underground screwfaces and purist backpackers who would've been interested in listening to complex battle rhymes.  Especially with that music video.  No wonder why Warners quickly drew back like whoa, we made a mistake with this one.

Oh yeah, did you know there was a music video?  As far as I know, it never aired, but it was included as an Enhanced CD bonus on Chino's next album, Poison Pen, which came out in 2006 on another short-lived indie label, Activate Entertainment.  I got the autographed "2 DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION" there (sorry, the shiny silver lettering doesn't scan very well), but the video is on disc 1, so even if you've just got the standard release, you've got the video.  And by the way, I've got a lot of shit to say about Poison Pen, but that's a whole 'nother blog.  So for now, just take a look at this video:
And yeah, that image is the full picture quality.  We're talking about an mpg hidden as a bonus track on a music CD in the year 2000, so it's relatively decent.  But the actual video?  It's clearly where all the label's budget went instead of clearing samples, with a dozen bikini models dancing in sandals around a rented mansion's swimming pool and driving around Miami in a company sports car.  Who would have listened to Here To Save You All and thought all it needed was a "Pumps and a Bump" make-over to blow up?  Well, somebody did.  It ends with a giant "© 2000 Warner Bros Records, Inc" screen, making you wonder if it was even legal for Activate to put it on their CD.  Probably not.

So, finally what we're really here for: the exclusive remixes!  Both songs feature Beat Shop Mixes in addition to the Album versions ("What You Got" also has the Instrumental), and despite the billion and one "Let 'Em Live" remixes I talked about last time, these official remixes aren't online anywhere.  Beat Shop is an alias a producer named Taurus occasionally used around that time, and he produced some stuff for guys like Guru and B-Real, so I assume he did these remixes.  Here's the thing, though.  They use the exact same instrumentals (and vocals, naturally).  Basically, they just beat juggle a little bit.  Like at the end of "Let 'Em Live," when they're saying, "knock 'em out the box, Chi?"  Well, now "Let 'Em Live" has about twenty seconds of that at the intro before going into the first verse, too.  That's the only difference.  It's maybe a one percent improvement for "What You Got," and I actually prefer the album version without that bit on "Let 'Em Live."  So don't all rush out and track this 12" down for the exclusive remixes.

The only other thing on this record, is at the end of side 2, is a short track called "Beat Shop Samples."  It's just little vocal soundbites that you used to see on those DJ battle tools records.  Like, a line from South Park and the sound of a gun shot.  None of these samples were used in the Beat Shop Mixes of the two songs or anything; they're just a random little bonus tacked on at the end.  So, all in all, an interesting footnote of a record, but not much more.  I don't know; it might seem like I'm bagging on Chino a lot here and last time, but I enjoy his stuff.  I bought his records for a reason.  Maybe I've grown out of them somewhat;...I think the whole genre's grown out of that jokey punchline simile style; but I wouldn't be going back to these records if I wasn't enjoying it.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Have a No Limit Christmas, Everybody!

(Happy Holidays, everybody - let's all have a No Limit Christmas!  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas in your culture, just give Master P and friends a chance to change your minds.  🎄  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Star Wars Rap!

So, hey, big surprise what the number one movie is this winter: another Star Wars.  This is their tenth movie, not even counting the weird DTV Ewok flicks, holiday specials, and what not.  So yeah, Stars Wars TV commercials, Star Wars McDonald's cups, Star Wars on every aisle of your super market.  Well, I hope you haven't come here hoping for a little break from Star Wars franchise marketing, because that's what I've got for you today.  Except, this isn't officially licensed merch, this is that off-brand, underground Star Wars rap, just barely flying under the litigation radar.  This is Walkmen's 1998 single "Fortruss" on Cybertek/ Atomik Recordings.

So, let's start with who the heck the Walkmen were.  Well, they were a Florida group managed by Celph Titled (who's all over this record).  In fact, Atomik was his label, and almost all of their releases were by The Walkmen and his own group, Equilibrium (with fellow MC DutchMassive a.k.a. Autologik).  According to their official bio, the leader of the group was Tino Vega a.k.a. Bloodsport the Spanish Prince.  And on this single, there's really only one other guy: Storm Trupa the Arch Angel.  I think he later got replaced by Murdoc, and maybe a couple other guys who were either a part of the group or just down with it; it's not entirely clear (a la Cappadona or Killarmy's relationship to the Wu).  Even their bio doesn't attempt to break down the line-up, just calling them an "ever changing collaborative crew" that has "gone through many transitions since then."  But for the purposes of this single, the Walkmen are a duo: Tino and Storm.

So yeah, these cats were from Florida, but they're nothing like The Jam Pony Express or that whole genre of Hip-Hop.  This is like anti-Miami bass, strictly representing very pure, traditional east coast Hip-Hop.  And for "Fortruss," of course, repping Star Wars 100%.

Produced by Celph Titled, the track is made up entirely of Star Wars soundtrack.  Little clips from the movie serve as the intro and outro, the instrumental is a blending key moments from John Williams' score, and the hook is more Star Wars soundbites being cut up by DJ Kramtronix.  It's seriously fresh what he does to R2D2.  And if you know Celph's work, you'd be right to expect a very polished, addictive sound.  He seamlessly blends some of the most famous, bombastic moments from "The Imperial March" (a.k.a. Darth Vader's theme) to these light, exploratory flute riffs... all over boom bap beats, of course.  I've already covered other examples of Star Wars rap, but if you want to hear Star Wars music turned into rap beats, this is the quintessential track.

What's interesting about this song, lyrically, however, is how much these two guys are not on the same page.  Now, I don't know the Walkmen well enough to say whose verse is whose based on their voices, but I'll guess by their names and subject matter that Tino is up first.  He just spits basic battle raps, not even making slight references to Star Wars like "I'm a lyrical Jedi" or anything like that.  As far as he's concerned, I guess, this is just a basic rap record that just so happens to have a Star Wars-based instrumental. But Storm Trupa (again, I'm assuming) has just dived 100% into full Star Wars rap mode:

"While my squadron stands in a tight formation on the platform of an Imperial battle station, TIE fighters stand by for aviation... Then I annihilate.  Cloak my ship to investigate; jump into hyperspace, headin' back towards Echo Base.  This is my fortress, this is my place where we integrate with any other alien race.  Scouts give chase.  The Storm Trupa illuminates like a flare.  There's no despair when the Seventh Squadron is there!"

It's a weird oil and water combination, especially on the third verse, where they split it 50/50, and neither one is willing to give an inch.  Tino even brings in lyrical references to other franchises in his parts, "control your mind like a Sega, Street Fightin' all opponents like Vega."  Maybe nobody told him what song they were recording his vocals for?

There's a B-side, that isn't Star Wars themed at all, which is both a disappointment and a relief.  It's disappointing, because most people who copped this single probably bought it because it's Star Wars rap; and so for them, the second song doesn't deliver.  But objectively, I'd say it's a better song, and so it's a relief that the Walkmen get to be more than just a gimmick, and they've made something you can listen to while taking yourself a little more seriously.

"The Countdown Theory" is again produced by Celph Titled, and this time he raps on it, too.  The beat is smooth and this time more original, making nice use of Method Man's verse from "How High" for a hook.  There's also a remix of "Countdown," also produced by Celph, but it's not as good.  They get Kramtronix to add some more cuts, which is a plus, but he doesn't shine like he does on "Fortruss."

So the vinyl version features those three tracks, plus the three instrumentals on the flip.  I'm sure a lot of DJs appreciate getting the Star Wars beats to make further use of.  But here's the bummer: it only has the censored Radio Edit of "Fortruss" where the curse words are replaced by Star Wars sound effects.  That's actually a little amusing, but still I'm sure most heads want the uncut version.  Well, it's not on wax, but there's at least a CD single that put the uncut version into the world.  It has Street, Radio and Instrumental of all three tracks; so nine as opposed to the 12"s six.  It also gives us a picture cover with photos of The Walkmen (further confirming that the group = just the two guys at that stage), since the record only came in a plain sleeve.

The Walkmen only released one other single after this one: "The F-L-A-Team."  Get it?  It's like the Florida A-Team.  And yes, they created the instrumental out of The A-Team television theme.  I think that really shot them in the foot, because it made it look like they were a total gimmick act, only releasing music based on famous soundtrack themes.  Plus, it doesn't sound half as dope as the Star Wars stuff.  Celph produced it, too, and Kram did the cuts.  Storm Trupa's not on that one, but Murdoc is, plus a couple other guys on the B-side.  I can't say the end of The Walkmen was a huge loss.  They sounded alright, but Celph's a better rapper and even when they were doing Star Wars raps, their lyrics were kinda basic, "like Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, in any confrontation, I pull out my light saber."  You could get your little nephew to write that stuff.  The reason to get this single is Celph and Kram's slick re-working of the Williams score.  You know, listen to it on your way to see The Last Jedi in the theater, and then put it away 'till next year, when they release that Han Solo movie.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Chino XL vs. Kool G Rap

Alrighty.  This 12" has been high on my "to write about" list since I started this blog over ten years ago.  But I just keep putting it off and pushing it back in favor of something else.  Why?  Because I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this record that I've still never fully settled.  And if you can't tell from the picture, I'm talking about Chino XL's "Let 'Em Live" featuring the great Kool G Rap, a 12" single from 2000 on Warner Bros.  After his time on Ill/ Def American, Chino was very briefly signed to Warner Bros.  There was the white label of "Last Laugh" and this 12", both singles for his upcoming album I Told You So.  But he was already dropped by the time album came out, which wound up being a CD-only release on a little label called Metro Records.  So mainstream audiences that weren't copping promo vinyl wouldn't have even seen it, but there was a hot second when he was on Warners.

So we've basically just got the one version of the one song on here, which is the same as what wound up on the album.  I mean, yeah, we get Instrumental, Acapella (which is why there's so many amateur remixes of this song on Youtube) and all that.  But just the one set of vocals over basic instrumental, produced by Nick Wiz.  And the beat is... ummm... not amazing.  I like Nick Wiz.  Hell, everybody likes Nick Wiz.  And on one hand, I do like this track.  It suits the high energy battle rap style these guys are kicking, and it's got some dark atmosphere I know both of these MCs like.  But it's also that kind of sample-free, stock sound effect, big horn stab track that you expect to hear terrible rappers use in a Youtube battle.  Wiz is talented enough to lay some nice touches underneath it all to hold everything together and blend the vocals to the track.  So it pulls you into the lyrics, which is great.  But this is never a song you'd play because you want to hear that instrumental.  So yeah, I'm a little conflicted about it.  I guess, at the end of the day, it's a track I'd concede in any debate isn't very good, but I still kinda like it.

But that isn't the half of the conflict I feel over the record that's made me keep pushing it off.  It's the lyrics.  Kool G Rap unquestionably kills it on here.  I mean, I know some people are sick of the gangster topic from him, and in that regard, this is absolutely more of the same.  He raps about a mugging, gang warfare and the glittery drug life.  I get it if you've had enough of that.  But if it doesn't matter that he does it spectacularly well, I don't know what to tell ya.  On a technical level, on a delivery level, in terms of cleverness... I could listen to his half of the song all day.

Unfortunately, he's only on half, or even slightly less, of the track.  And that brings be to Chino XL's part.  I've been a fan of his, too; and a hardcore battle rap track over a Nick Wiz beat?  That's his home court right there.  But god, his punchlines can make you cringe.  "keep shit in a bag like a colostomy; I'm pro, you're junior varsity," "you'll retire like Seinfeld, waiting on titles that I've held.  Rock and roll like Dennis Leary, blastin' assassins sent to kill me," "more Colt 45 than Billy D collectin' disability, I'll shoot out with Bill and Hillary, still won't run out of artillery."  Those are just a couple of examples from a single song ("Nunca," also off I Told You So).  I don't even get that last one.  Is there any reason to throw in the Clintons' names besides the fact that they're in the zeitgeist and Hillary rhymes with artillery?  At least Jerry Seinfeld had recently retired from his show at the time.

G Rap's verses are very clever in terms of grammar and construction, but they never get corny like that, full of gags and arbitrary pop culture similes.  To be fair, though, I was grabbing examples from another song because I think Chino realized you don't get that jokey on a duet with Kool G Rap.  And when it comes to sick wordplay, Chino can spit with the best of them.  Here's a little taste of his actual bars on "Let 'Em Live:"

"Universally disperse a cursed verse, controversial;
Illest on earth so,
Out of this world like Captain Kirk's ho.
Get Patty Hearst dough;
Commit you to the dirt slow.
Even worse, though,
High yellow Chino'll leave you needing what a nurse know."

Okay, wait.  There's like three jokes and two celebrity name drops in there, too.  But all those lines at least kinda work, and the fact that they're embedded in a wild rhyme pattern really helps sell them.  But compare that to G Rap's material, where his rhyme scheme is just as mind blowing, coming up with ingenious ways to rephrase ideas we've heard in a million other rap songs to make them fresh, and yet none of the shtick:

"I spit my shit like a flame thrower,
The frame blower.
Came with the brain exploder
Inside the Range Rover.
Load the six-stain holder;
Lay you and your dame over.
Banging your main soldier
'Till my aim strain my shoulder."

And those are just from his quick introductory bars.  Also, just as a fun fact, it's also not his only reference to Range Rovers in the song.  I guess he just likes the way the phrase sounds over this beat, because he also has the line, "one hundred and twenty five grains rearrange your Rover."  And sorry to go off on a tangent mid-point, but that brings me to something else about this song: they're hard to catch.  I looked up the lyrics on OHHLA, and it's chock full of errors, most of which I think I'll be happily able to correct for you today (fairly certain it's not, "one hundred and twenty five grange we arrange the rover").  Rap Genius's take is barely any better (they clearly scraped OHHLA), and the only other version I found was even worse, but I won't link it 'cause I think English wasn't their first language anyway.

So like, Chino's line in his first verse should probably be, "start kneelin' and pissin' in bed" not "start nailing and pissing in bed," and in the chorus, I'm sure he says, "you'd be holding your breath forever tongue kissing a fish," not "your fist."  And I've got some other corrections I'm dropping in the quoted verses.  But it's tough.  For the life of me, I can't figure out what the last line of G Rap's first verse is, though I'm sure it's not, "nigga trade ya rover for the redrum stains you sober."  So if anybody can figure that one out, please post a comment.  It's been driving me nuts for years.  Oh, and the only other line I can't quite figure is Chino's, "blow dinero like Ferrigino?"  There's a reference I'm not getting, but I'm sure it's not "blow Deniro like oregano," as was previously guessed.  I'm certain he's bragging about spending money, not giving sloppy oregano-flavored oral sex to the star of Meet the Fockers.  😂

So where was I?  Oh yeah, so Chino spits pretty hard, but doesn't quite manage to avoid the one-liners.  And to be fair, that's what he's known for, and a lot of his fans would be disappointed if he left them out.  And I'm not mad at all of them.  I'm good with "the best MC's always float to the top unlike the son of John F. Kennedy," because it's just so cold.  I respect that.  His closer, I'm more of two minds about: "catch a L in the circle like a fuckin' Lexus logo."  Like, that's really clever, and I know it's one of his more popular lines.  I wouldn't've ever come up with it.  But it's still pretty contrived.  At the end of the day, I'll take it, but you can see why half the time I could just listen to an edit of this song with just the G Rap parts, right?  You have to be in a certain mood to play a song where the MC suddenly sings, "Dah da na na na - watch me change to Super Niggaro!"  But you don't have to be in any particular mood to be blown away by G Rap's verses:

"Yo, don't fight the heist if you treasure your life,
'cause my trife is measured in ice;
Put your wife at the edge of my knife.
And it'll be my pleasure to slice;
The bitch'll be forever with Christ;
Get hit twice with this real nice
Berretta device,
Nickel plates to your North Face
Put feathers in flight;
Let my lead strike and sever your life,
Leaving you red and wet in the night;
Head bright from infrared sight;
Cock back, squeeze and let it ignite.
Placing your body where the bedbugs bite.
Baby you thug, right?
A slug might open your mug like
I'm checking your blood type.
The drug life,
We hop in the Rolls,
Shoppin' for clothes,
Rockin' our foes,
Put you in a coffin with the top of it closed, you know?
Put a fuckin' glock to your nose!
Run up in your spot for the O's of blow;
Shove cock in your ho.
We 'bout to blow,
Nothing stopping the dough;
Most popular flow;
Like ice, I'm at the top of the globe."

And seeing them typed out doesn't even begin to do justice to the way he says them.  Like, when he comes back to, "put feathers in flight" you're like, holy cow, is he still knocking out that first multi?  He never lets up.  It's almost always a bummer when MCs recycle their own material and spit the same verses on more than one song.  We've heard guys like Common and Krs-One do that, and it's disappointing when you bought a record 'cause they're on it only to realize you already own those raps.  But in this case, I really wish G Rap would take what he wrote for this collaboration and flesh it out into a full song.  Because that shit would be incredible and I'd always be in the mood to hear it.

But that said, I'll always keep this record.  Because sometimes I definitely do want to hear what all three of them - Chino, G Rap and Nick Wiz - created on this record.  And since I Told You So turned into a CD only once it went indie, this 12" is a great way to have it on vinyl.  Comes in a sticker cover to boot, and since Warners made it, you know they pressed a ton and you can cop it dirt cheap.  You can even use the acapella and make your own remix.  Although, after having just gone on a jag listening to about twenty of them on Youtube, I'll advise you right now, don't mix your main sample so loud it overshadows the vocals.  Just about all of those cats did that, and it's wack.  Really, if you want to appreciate Nick Wiz's work a little better, just listen to everybody else fail to make the track work like he did.  Although, admittedly, some of the weirder ones, like the G-Funk remix, were dubious ideas that I think were doomed to fail from the start.

Anyway, that's "Let 'Em Live."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who Were The 2 Smooth M.C.'s?

Sleeping Bag Records had a great pedigree?  I don't know how well it treated or paid their artists, since almost everybody on the label seemed to jump ship to another label as soon as they blew up, but when it came to discovering Hip-Hop acts, these guys had it down.  Almost everyone they touched were hot, from Mantronix to EPMD and Stezo to Nice N Smooth to Cash Money & Marvelous to Just-Ice to Tricky Tee to T-La Rock to Mikey D and the LA Posse.  They might not have all crossed over to the mainstream, but they all made great, must-have records.  MC EZ and Troup turned into Craig Mack and 12:41 turned into Boogie Down Productions.  Even Bonzo Goes To Washington turned out to be a secret Bootsy Collins project.  And one of the label's last remaining hold-outs, King Doe V, finally got some of the attention he deserved this year with some lost 90s bangers being recovered by Chopped Herring Records.  Everybody they touched seem to have a lasting legacy.  Except for one group, with one 12" you just look at and say, "wait, who the heck are these guys?"  2 Smooth M.C.'s.

Well, the answer's not going to amaze you.  I'm not about to reveal that this single comprises the shockingly slept-on debut appearances of Lauryn Hill and Drake.  I'm pretty sure these two songs are the only ones 2 Smooth M.C.'s ever put out in any capacity.  But have you heard this record?  It's dope and right up to par with Sleeping Bag's pedigree.

Conceptually, 1990's "The Inventor" is a lot like Pete Rock's "The Creator," a rapping producer just flexing his multi-talent skills over a thumping beat, even going to the extent of starting a duo's discography with a solo song.  It's a confusing listening to 2 Smooth M.C.'s for the first time and realizing, "I'm pretty sure this is just one dude."  The other guy does turn up for the B-side, though.

So yes, 2 Smooth M.C.'s produce their own material, too.  And "The Inventor"'s strongest point is its production, no doubt.  There's an obvious Marley Marl influence here.  It opens up with a sample from "The Symphony," including Marley's voice, but then immediately shifts into an ultra-funky James Brown sample, chopped and looped exactly the same way Marley used it on "Duck Alert."  I suppose you could say the track's weak point is a lack of originality; but then they mix in some extra, deep horns into the track, and it's so perfect.

But just who are "they?"  Well, the liner notes tell us the writing, production and mixing credits go to two brothers: Calvin and Dennis Moss.  Calvin, who goes by Big Cal on the record, is the one who goes solo for "The Inventor."  And his older brother (I only know he's the older because he mentions it in his lyrics) shares the mic with him as The D on the B-side, "Give It All You Got."  And at one point they say the line, "XL, Herb and Mike makes up the crew," which isn't the most illuminating but I guess tells us something.

"Give It All You Got" isn't as strong as the A-side, but it's still good.  Like Run DMC's "Together Forever" they loop crowd sounds to make a studio recording sound like a live track.  Although this loop sounds so inauthentic, it might've been a strictly musical decision.  But I'd call it a slightly annoying mistake either way.  Still, the rest of the track is some tight, sample-based production that grows on you over repeated listens; and forgoing the traditional verse/ hook/ verse format to just have the two MCs passing the mic back and forth is a very cool choice.  They might not be the most adept lyricists, but they know how to sound good over their own beats.  You can see why Def Jam didn't scoop these guys up, but it's definitely a shame they didn't put out at least a couple more records.

There's just the two full songs on here, no dubs or anything, and as you can see above, it comes in a sticker cover.  It's not a historically important record; it's one of Sleeping Bag's few Hip-Hop records that aren't.  But it's better than a lot of records that are.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Disturbers' Negusa Negast Is Real, I Swear!

So, I got a little curious about The Disturbers the other day... they're definitely a group that merits curiosity, as we'll get into later.  But I was just doing a little googling for myself and found out that, apart from my humble, little Sacred Hoop page, there is no record of their third(?) album existing online.  Like, okay, it's not on discogs; that happens.  But there are none of the typical forum posts of people looking for a copy, expired Ebay auctions, or blogposts with dead Rapidshare links.  Just search for the phrases The Disturbers and Negusa Negast, and literally the only results that pop are my site and a broken Russian mp3 page for a different group called The Disturbers (some Canadian rock group or something).  It's enough to make you think my listing is some kind of mistake or that I just made the whole thing up.  So here we go with a big, revelatory post about it to today just to assure any doubters fans out there that this album actually exists, and to tell fans what it's like, since I'm guessing most never got to hear it.

The biggest question you might have about The Disturbers is just who the heck are they, exactly.  That's kind of why I was googling them in the first place.  Obviously Luke Sick, front man of Sacred Hoop, Brougham, Grand Invincible and a hundred other rap groups, is the main MC.  But who else is there?  Their first album, 1998's Anansi Spider, is often listed online as a Luke Sick solo tape, which it basically is.  It even reads, "this is a punk rock m.c.'s 4-trak[sic.] practice tape," and he's pretty much the only guy rapping on it.  By the way, my copy has a sticker on it labeling it as a "Limited Edition 'Pissed On J-Card' Issue;" I don't know if there are any alternate versions.  But my version doesn't give any production credits or anything.  Besides Luke Sick, I can't say for sure who else was involved with this album.

But their next two albums do have more detailed liner notes.  Or what I'm labeling their next two albums, anyway... it's a little debatable what counts.  See, also in 1998, Sacred Hoop put out a scrappier than usual album called Moe's Strange Hobby.  It's got Sacred Hoop's name on it, anyway, and Luke Sick does the rapping.  But when Atak re-released it on CD with some bonus tracks in 2004, it's clearly called a Disturbers album right on the cover.  So, is it a Hoop album or a Disturbers album?  Well, I think Miasmatic/ The Hoop were starting to use the Disturbers name as a sort of junk drawer collective for any project of theirs that they felt didn't quite live up to being a proper Hoop album, and wasn't necessarily entirely produced by Vrse Murphy.  After a certain point, even I'm not a big enough nerd to get hung up on the classifications.  But there is one other collaborator who seems to be a pretty key member of The Disturbers.

When I interviewed Luke Sick for Rebirth Mag, he referred to, "[m]y boys from the disturbers most namely Unbreakable Combz and Curator."  Well, Unbreakable Combz is an MC down with FTA (Full Time Artists), a Cali group who Sacred Hoop used to do a bunch of music with.  I know he has a song on Feed Them Art and appears on Pilot Rase's solo album.  But as far as I can tell, he just rapped on one posse cut called "War the Fuck Up" for The Disturbers, on their 2000 album Kefu Qan.  But Curator, he seems to be the guy.

Curator has an "all songs produced by, except where noted" credit on Kefu Qan, and yeah, he raps on "War the Fuck Up," too.  And Negusa Negast, the album that seems to have slipped off the face of the Earth?  He has some production credit on there, too, plus a lot of engineer credit, as well as a "music stolen from Curator" credit on one song, and he raps on here, too.  I think, like Grand Invincible = Luke + Eons One, Dankslob = Luke + G-Pek, Grand Killa Con = Luke + Brycon, Rime Force Most Illin' = Luke + Rob Rush, and Get the Hater = Luke + The Dwarves, The Disturbers = Luke + Curator.  Again, Anansi Spider has no credits, but I'm speculating that Curator at least did a bunch of tracks on that tape.  If so, it all adds up pretty nicely.  If not, I guess we revert back to the :junk drawer" theory.  But even then, Curator has to be given a lot of credit for Kefu Qan and Negusa Negast.

Certainly, there's a strong "junk drawer" element to Negusa Negast (which means "king of kings," by the way).  This album lists 41 entries on the track-listing, and the actual CD has 43 tracks.  The extra two can be accounted for because tracks 1 and 2 are the same - the intro just plays twice in a row, and track #43 is just four seconds of silence.  Luke has always leaned into the scrappy "punk rock m.c." aesthetic on his Disturbers projects, and this is no exception.  It's a real, crazy, disjointed mess.  Songs and skits often seem to get cut off early, which I'm guessing is an aesthetic choice.  They've got some good stuff on here, though nothing for the Greatest Hits collection, and some crap.  Fans will be rewarded for digging through all this stuff, but casual listeners will probably be ready to turn it off about half way through.

The first half of the album sounds like a scrappier Hoop album.  It doesn't have the polish of Vrse's stuff (although Vrse does contribute one song on to the proceedings, called "The Ruin Me Girl"), but there's some cool Luke material on here.  He edits himself into a Donnas song rather effectively, and has some solid, hard tracks like "Rimp Raps" and "I Don't Feel Better" that are up to par with the rest of his catalog.  And yes, this CD is 41/ 43 tracks long, but a lot of that consists of skits/ vocal samples to set the tone and are only a handful of seconds long.  So it's a long album, but not insanely long.

Actually, most of those skits are from the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer, which turns out to be a strong influence on this album.  Some of those vocal samples wind up becoming hooks on the songs and seem to have inspired at least some of the lyrics.  Luke even does a punk rock (that's right, he occasionally drifts out of pure Hip-Hop and experiments with singing and guitar rock on this album) cover of Sandler's famous "Somebody Kill Me Please" song from the movie.  And speaking of covers, he also covers a Nirvana song; although in that case it's all raps over a very traditional Space Travelers break-beat.  It's actually pretty cool.  But then there's something like "Dreamland," which the liner notes describe as, "Luke covers the Bunny Wailer classic - music stolen from The Upsetters."  I can't even listen to that one all the way through.

So I'm sticking to my Disturbers = Luke + Curator theory, but it's not all just the two of them.  Besides that Vrse song, there's several produced by somebody named Swamp Boogie, and one produced by Tiff Cox, who's co-produced a couple other Hoop songs.  DJ Marz and DJ Bobafett do some mixing, and Rase appears on one track.  Then, towards the end of the album, come three Curator solo songs, "made on his own time in his own personal hell."  Another song, called "Louder Than Death," contains the first verse of what would later become the Sacred Hoop cut "Larry Boy Burial," and a rough, original version of "Car Crash," which Sacred Hoop eventually released as one of their very last songs in 2013, turns up on here as well.  Overall, there's more than enough really good content on here to make it worth tracking down for the fan who has everything, but new listeners won't have the patience to sift through it all.  I wouldn't even ask most people to consider it, but I'm glad it exists.  Which, I promise you, it does.

Monday, November 13, 2017

World Renown 1.0, 2.0

(Is World Renown actually World Renown, or just some group called World Renown?  And if World Renown isn't World Renown, then who is World Renown?  Come take a ride, 'cause Werner's caught Remake Fever!  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This Halloween, You Cannot Escape Bigfoot!

(A Bronx horrorcore MC nobody ever seems to talk about.  Happy Halloween!  Youtube version is here.)