Monday, July 15, 2019

Ladies HaveAComplicatedRelationshipWith Cool James

(Six female MCs issued four answer records to LL Cool J in 1987, and they each had a distinct point to make.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dig On That

Look out!  Werner's just been spotted writing out in the wild again!

Have you guys ever heard of Dig Mag?  I don't mean the corny lifestyle website that first pops up when you google "Dig Mag," I'm talking about a dope little magazine about crate digging and hard to find music, i.e. just the kind of stuff anybody looking at our humble site here would be into.  It's relatively new - they've got five issues out so far - and they get a lot of cool DJs and music writers to contribute tales of finding rare vinyl.  And, well, I'm in it.

They publish out of the UK but they get writers from all over, and they cover all genres of music.  You can imagine I don't have a lot of stories to share about obscure Salsa 45s, but they've just come out with their first "Dig Deeper" special issue, focusing exclusively on Hip-Hop, and appropriately enough, that's the issue they reached out to me for.  You can see all the contributors in the picture, including some familiar names to regular readers here... I mean, there's Oxygen, an artist I was just writing about a couple posts back!

Now, when I called this magazine "little," I mean that literally.  It's the exact size and shape of a CD. It's 32 full color pages (I think the average issue is 24, but the special's 32) and the layout is really slick.  See how it's like a record in a crate?  The crate is a plastic cover, and the issue slips out of it.  You'll see.  Anyway, I have a 2-page spread in this issue.

And obviously I'm not a big mp3 guy, but the other thing about Dig is that each issue also includes an online mix of all the music talked about in the issue.  Not all of it's super rare or anything, but for example, DJ Format included an unreleased MC Shy-D I was excited to hear for the first time.  And for my part, I won't spoil the exact record I cover, but I'll just say I had to figure out a way to rip a full quality, white label-only DITC-related track.  And no, it's not Ground Floor, but if you put together that guess, I'm proud of ya.  😎

Anyway, I think it's pretty cool, and not just because I'm in it.  They're also putting out their first 7" record, too... although I'm pretty sure the guy behind Dig has released records before under a different label name.  Anyway, I'd recommend starting with the Hip-Hop special, and then check out the rest if it's up your alley.  It's definitely more of a thing, I'd say, for serious enthusiasts than just casual music fans.  It's just coming out this week, plus you can get back issues and reprints of the first couple issues that've already sold out at digmag.co.uk.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Newark Denominated Clik

A long time ago, I did a video about an important underground Jersey single by the Newark Anonymous Clik.  They're best known for Outsidaz affiliation, with AzIzz and the legendary Slang Ton as featured members.  Some of the other guys in their crew made names for themselves on the solo tip, i.e. Omega and Supreme C.  But here's a lesser known single by a lesser known NAC member, U'Seff Majjid, which definitely deserves a little more attention.  Released in 1999, this came out on Landlord Entertainment, the only other record they put out besides the Clik's.

For whatever reason, before I heard this record, I'd gotten the impression it was some sort of pop jazz infusion thing or something.  And that "featuring Incogneto" was some kind of sax player.  But nah, I don't even remember where I got that notion from, but it's way of base.  This actually a fairly rough and very dirty record.  Yeah, of course with "dance floor" in the title, it's on the club tip.  But Majjid is still coming with a skills-forward flow.  It's basically a shamelessly explicit sex record, produced by the one and only King Shameek.  Like, think of something The Terror Squad would put out; it fits in that sort of thin vein between the streets and radio.  And Incogneto is actually a female MC, there to throw every sex reference back in Majjid's face, only to double down on it.

"Down at the chateau, shakin' my ass like a rattle.
I love it in public spots; it gets me hot.

(You lickin' my cock?)  Only if you lickin' my twat!
And my clique robbin' while the crowd's heads bobbin'.
Gettin' ya nob slobbed? My nigga is out robbin',
Mad as fuck 'cause he couldn't get in the club,
Thinkin' of partyin' while I'm on the dance floor fuckin' the thugs."

But don't get me wrong; it probably sounds like I'm really impressed with this track, but not really.  Like I said, it feels like generic Terror Squad to me, not one of Big Pun's lyrical masterpieces, but just one of those records a couple of the junior members would do together.  It's passable, but the reason I felt this record is worth looking at today is definitely the B-side.

"Gunz and Ammo" is the 90's hardcore kinda joint fans of the NAC would be looking for.  The A-side was just an attempt at a little crossover buzz, and the B-side is the real.  Still produced by Shameek, this one just has Majjid going off.  He's definitely no Slang Ton in terms of clever wordplay, but he has his moments here, "somebody should speak to y'all before you be speakin' to God."  The beat's a little flat, and the hook is stiff, so this isn't like a hit-worthy underground track, but we're on the right track.

Because there's one more song to go.  The labeling makes it look like it's a remix of "Gunz and Ammo," but it's actually an entirely different song called "Newark Killa'z," which is definitely the best of the three.  It's spelled out as the "Raw Anthem Mix w/ Love," but it's not like there are other mixes that've been released anywhere else.  Love I guess is just the guy speaking on the intro, because the song is just Majjid going hard solo, and this time the track is (produced by Heavilee Armed, a low-key street alias of The Hollywood Impact).  Who knew he could make a rugged, ominous beat like this - it thumps - and Maj really impresses here, finally proving how worthy he is of standing alongside his better known Clik members.  This would've drawn attention on mixtapes back in the day, but I don't think many DJs ever heard it.  It's for sure the song to cop this 12" for, and it can usually be found super cheap.  NJ aficionados shouldn't sleep.  It comes in a sticker cover, and we get dirty, clean, instrumental and acapella versions of both "Sex" and "Guns," though just the one version of "Killa'z."  Googling around, there seems to be a CD version, too, with an identical track-listing; but why wouldn't you choose the vinyl?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Divine Beings are Winner!

On Three Times Dope's somewhat maligned second album, they flipped a killer sample from a Curtis Mayfield/ Impressions classic called "We're a Winner."  It's just one of those loops, with a perfectly subtle bassline playing underneath a completely catchy guitar, horn and... xylophone(??) riff.  You know, just one of those loops that blows your mind and makes you want to hear it over and over again.  But lyrically, though EST is of course a great MC, it's kind of a flat narrative rap about relationships.  Not exactly the kind of hyped up, skill flexing flow you want to accompany such a fresh, high energy break.  So I was excited two years later when Ali Dee, the white kid from The Next School who became one of The Bomb Squad, wound up using it for his lead solo single, "Who's da Flava."  He's on a higher energy tongue-flipping freestyle flow like you'd hope for, and it's got a pretty funky scratch breakdown.

Let's face it, though, Dee's a bit corny.  So I was excited to buy the cassingle, but once I really dug into it, it fell a little short.  I still played it a bunch (it helped that he had G Rap drop a guest verse on the B-side), but it could never really hit the spot.  Someone still needed to come around and really rock the track right.  And that's when the Divine Beings came out.

The Divine Beings are the two people you see on that picture cover up there: The Wizard (the dude on the right) a.k.a. Air Smooth and Da Gr81 (the girl on the left).  They were a duo out of Philly who dropped their first indie 12" in 1992.  I never discovered that record until many years later, though, thanks to the internet.  I, like most of us, first encountered them when they were briefly signed to a major and came out with this "Funky Ultimatum" single on Warner Bros' Reprise Records in 1993.

There's actually a step in between their first single and their Reprise single, but again, I didn't know about it at the time.  They first released this 12" on 4x4 Records.  Then Reprise picked it up to give it broader, nationwide distribution.  The 4x4 had an exclusive B-side called "Sounds of Hip-Hop," but this one had a cool picture cover and more mixes of the title track.  And the title track was the one I was amped for anyway, because that's the one over "We're a Winner," with the best MCing to date.

The Wizard, who co-produced this with Kwame, does the majority of the rhyming, and I believe, the cuts.  He's on a fun, tongue-twisting freestyle tip very much in the same vein as Ali Dee.  But apart from a few limp, dated punchlines ("we make more noise than Bugle Boys"), he's just a little nicer on the mic, and definitely less corny.  Then, to really sell this song, Gr81 comes in and kills it with a smooth if not downright sultry, jazzy vibe.  Think of Jean Grae on those Herbalizer records, when she was still known as What? What?.  Just a short verse but it's niiiice.

At least on the Extended Version.  The Single and Radio Edits, also on this 12", and even the one they had the video for, actually cuts out Gr8's verse.  It's just like when they cut Ice Cube out of "Express Yourself" - The song still works without it, but seriously why??  Anyway you cut it, though, this is one must-have single, and thankfully their easiest to find cheap, because of Reprise.

Unfortunately, though, it wasn't the break-out success it should've been, and Reprise dropped the Beings.  Gr81 wound up appearing on Kwame's last album.  In fact, I asked about her in my interview with him, and this is what he said: "Oh, the GR81. She was an artist outta Philly that I was trying to develop. She was dope. I was working with this AIDS awareness repertoire group that I did some appearances with and music for. And she was one of the kids in the group. Well, she wasn’t a kid, but she was one of the people in the group. I thought she was kinda hot, so I said come on this album and let’s do a duet. That’s how that one happened." And that's about all we got from the Divine Beings... until Dope Folks released a bunch of tracks from their shelved album on vinyl a couple years ago.  Kwame's on the intro and one of the tracks features an early appearance by Black Thought.  All the Divine Beings stuff was dope, and it's a real shame they're still barely recognized to this day.  They're certainly the best to ever rock this "Winner" loop.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Nice Little Rarity from Oxygen and Edan

Jamille Records is back, and if you haven't seen it yet, check out their amazing documentary on old school Milwaukee Hip-Hop.  This time, though, they've broadened their coverage to reissue some rare music from Staten Long Island artists Sputnik Brown.  Although, actually, their last record - MC Just Divine "Get Right," back in 2015 - was from them, too.  It's a little confusing if you're not a devoted fan, so I'll quickly clarify: the lead MC of the group Sputnik Brown is Oxygen a.k.a. MC Just Divine a.k.a. Jon Shaft.  So nowadays, you see those names getting tossed around interchangeably because they're all the same guy, except for the fact that Sputnik Brown is the group, so it also includes members E the 5th, plus Tres Best and Musa from the House of Reps.  You've probably seen their projects being brought to you by labels like Diggers With Gratitude and Slice of Spice.  I've covered 'em a couple times in the past.

Now, this right here is their latest, but if you're familiar with Jamille, you know they primarily specialize in reissuing rare and lost music, and this is no exception.  The title track "U Havin' Fun Yet?" is the opener from Sputnik's 2007 12" single on High Water Music.  The 12" was a group project, but this particular song was an Oxygen solo cut.  Anyway, it's not suuuuper rare, so I'm a little surprised to see it repressed on 7" already; but it's a super funky head nodder, with a powerfully addictive bassline and upbeat flow, so I'll allow it.  It's a short song (just over two minutes), so even on the 7" they include the instrumental on the same side.

But this certainly doesn't render that original 12" obsolete, as it leaves off the group's two B-sides, "Unadulterated" and "The Brownout" (plus their instrumentals).  So if you're a real fan, you'll still have to track that one down and cop it.  And they're all good songs.  But of the three, I'd say "U Havin' Fun Yet?" is easily the best.  So if you're just looking for a nice little 7" with a hot song, this'll do ya.

The draw for more serious collectors, though, is surely the B-side: "Idealism" featuring Edan on the turntables.  "Idealism" is a song Oxygen released as Jon Shaft on 12" in 1992, but that only featured alternate mixes.  This particular version is the only one with Edan, and was never pressed on wax until now.  It's actually a live recording, performed in-store at Academy Records.  Up 'till now, it's only been available on super rare cassette tapes that Oxygen self-released of the entire night's performance.  Here, the song's been isolated and mastered as a single.  It is a live recording though, so sound quality isn't crystal studio quality.  For the most part, it's pleasingly clean, but you'll definitely hear the sibilance crackle when the volume peaks.  But it's the absolute best we're ever going to get until the invention of time machines.

And hey, if that still isn't enough for you, this record also includes a tight radio freestyle Oxygen kicked in 2006.  So it's a pretty packed little 7".

Like basically everything nowadays, this is a limited release, but not too limited.  There are 500 copies available on traditional black vinyl, and an additional 100 pressed on colored goldish brown wax.  It comes in a nice sticker cover, replicating the original 12" artwork.  And it's not one of those $100-type limited releases; this is priced to move and getting a surprisingly wide release for Jamille Records, i.e. Fat Beats has it.  So hopefully this record introduces the crew to some new fans.  For a tiny 45, it's got something for everybody: newcomers just discovering these guys for the first time, and die-hards who already have all the old stuff.  Good deal.  👍

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Season Of the Sickness

(This one took a while!  One Sick man has released more dope music in a single season than many do in a decade.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

My Afro Should've Been On Fire In '93!

When I first heard of The Outlaw Posse's lost album finally getting released, my first thought was: I don't even know who these guys were!  But then I realized this is the original name of the duo Brothers Like Outlaw, who were out on Gee Street in the early 90s.  They were a UK group who never really broke into the US market, so even still I didn't know 'em too well.  But I at least remembered their video for "Trapped Into Darkness" and having one or two of their older songs, which I recall being fairly well produced, on a compilation album from back in the day.

So yeah, their story in short is that it's two guys: MC Bello B and producer K-Gee (not actual brothers).  They had a couple 12"s first, but their debut album was My Afro's On Fire!, which I don't think was ever released stateside.  Their second and last album, The Oneness Of II Minds In Unison, at least made it into US stores.  But it was one of those tapes you'd see on the shelf and just leave there because you didn't really know who they were.  So anyway, they broke up after that, K-Gee went on to produce for other artists (like Me Phi Me and K7, then later expanding out of Hip-Hop to guys like All Saints, George Michael and Rod Stewart) and Bello was that guy who rapped on The KLF's techno hit "What Time Is Love."

Well, they had one last, third album together, which they'd recorded back in 1993; but Gee Street never put it out.  So in 2018, they released My Afro's On Fire Vol. 2 digitally, and even pressed up a 7" single of two of the tracks.  And now in 2019, they're finally making the whole LP available on wax (including those two songs from last year's 7") via Hip Hop Be Bop, that label who's been putting out those Silver Fox and Sugar Bear singles.  It's available on black, white (white) or orange vinyl, all in a slick picture cover with stickers; or on a CD, which includes a bonus track called "Funk It Up."

So, if you're not already a fan, you might be looking at the above credits I listed and thinking, Me Phi Me, K7, The KLF... not the most alluring track record.  I mean, Me Phi Me actually wasn't so bad; he just needed to ditch that twangy acoustic guitar.  And K7 had some interesting production... But you know what I mean.  You don't want to hear an album by the "What Time Is Love" rapper, right?  But this is doesn't sound like all that.  It doesn't even sound like the Brothers Like Outlaw album; it's better.  It's almost hard to reconcile that these are the same dudes.

A couple songs, like "Ghetto Child," sound like the kind of stuff they were doing for Gee Street at the time.  And that's not a criticism; it's got some creative, smooth but jazzy production with samples you won't recognize right away.  But most of the album sounds like some Hip-Hop purist stuff that I never would've expected from these guys in '93.  Although, now with the power of hindsight and google, I realize it does match up more with their first UK album, that was more on that tighter tip.  So it makes perfect sense they've called this My Afro's On Fire Vol. 2.

The production does outshine the vocals a little bit.  The only criticism you could give the poor true school sounding material here is that you will recognize a ton of the samples.  The only "Yeah Ha Ha" uses the same funky bassline as Kid 'N Play's "Bounce," though had this album come out when it was supposed to, they would've beaten them to that punch.  "In Trouble" sounds fantastic, but no better than all the other Hip-Hop records that looped up "Nautilus" the same way, like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Jazzy's Groove," Lord Shafiyq's "My Mic Is On Fire," PRT's "Word Is Bond" or even Soul II Soul's "Jazzie's Groove."  But usually, when you've heard the samples, you haven't heard them like this.  "Hey Mr Officer" uses CMW's classic "This Is Compton" piano roll and drums, but transforms it by adding very different musical elements.  "Ready 4 Action"uses the same Marvin Gaye loop from Scarface's classic "A Minute To Pray," and many others, but here he turns it into a high energy with some upbeat horns and really fresh cuts.  In fact, K-Gee's slick incorporation of the turntables may be this album's secret weapon.

The MCing on the other hand won't threaten anybody's Top 5.  But don't get it twisted; if you've only heard him on "What Time Is Love," he definitely sounds more nimble here than that.  He has a healthy versatility that's able to leave the clunkiness of that song behind and adapt to a variety of tracks, be it playful freestyles or substantive songs with a message.  At his worst, he's a little stiff, but still able to slip into some earnest feeling and nuance into his delivery.  On "Enforce the Positive," he slips into a style reminiscent of Master Ace's "I Got Ta," but then on "Freestyle Poetry" he's surprisingly able to step up to the plate and live up to skill flexing style of the time.

It helps that there are no skits or filler here.  And we're not being overrun with a pack of guests. "Freestyle Poetry" features MCM from Caveman, and that's it.  It's just ten solid, well produced songs that probably would've garnered them some new fans if this had managed to come out when it was supposed to.  So it's nice to get this now, but I'm kind of bummed to've miss the chance to catch this material naturally when it was supposed to have come out.  I'm sure it would've inspired me to go on the hunt for Vol. 1 ...which, remember, wouldn't've been easy in the US before the internet.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The War On Vanilla Ice!

(1991 was both a great and a terrible year for the ice man...  April Fool's Day!  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tragedy's LA Drive-By with Str8-G

Now here's a rapper I haven't thought about in a super long time: Str8-G.  I copped his album on cassette in '94, played it some back then, and then that's kinda been it.  But just this week Ben on Twitter suggested I talk about his stuff with Tragedy, and it all flashed back for me: oh yeah, Tragedy was on that album!

Str8-G, for those who missed out, was an LA/ Compton rapper very much in the vein of the early DJ Quik crew, which is what sold me on him back in the day.  He had a high pitched voice, laying in the cut between more traditional gangsta rap and light-hearted sex rap stuff with plenty of post-Chronic G-Funk influence.  His first record was a shameless knock-off of AMG's "Jiggable Pie," with a couple more serious B-sides.  And that's what got him signed to a major for his one album.  He even got Quik to do a remix of his single, "Bring the Funk," which turned out to be his career peak.  You could tell he was really patterning himself off these guys and aspired to roll with them, and honestly, he had a nice flow that would've sound really good on Quik's albums if that had ever blossomed.  But he was a little let down by slightly flatter production by Dazzie Dee and some generic studio house producers.

So with all this west coast talk, who's the last guy you'd expect to turn up in the album credits?  The man who dubbed Queensbridge the new Kuwait, Tragedy.  But yeah, he's got two songs on Str8's album, as a producer, writer and vocals, including the original version of "Bring the Funk" that Quik remixed for the single and video.  It's actually pretty interesting, with a dark, East coast sounding core vibe, including deep bass and "Skull Snap" drums.  They also make great use of a Humpty Hump vocal sample.  But then they lay this syrupy Troutman/ Dre G-funk electronic whistle thing over it, which really hasn't aged well.  But yeah, it's produced and written by Trag, and just in case you might be thinking this might be some other random dude calling himself Tragedy, he speaks on the intro of the song.  This is definitely our Juice Crew Allstar.

And their other collaboration is even more interesting.  Once again, it's written and produced by Tragedy, and vocally he contributes a bit more, though he never kicks a proper verse.  No, this one's called "Drama" and it's a pure East coast sounding-track with squealing horns, a screeching Prince vocal sample (the same one Esham used to use) and a dark street vibe.  Sonically, this would've sounded right at home on Black Rage.  But lyrically it's a narrative on some LA Boyz N da Hood shit, except instead of a proper gang it's Str8-G and his boys, and Trag.

"Three oh-motherfuckin' clock in the mornin';
I'm lookin' at my nigga Tragedy and he's yawnin'.

I'm puttin' on my dickies and yo Trag, it's on.
(Went into the drawer and got the motherfuckin' chrome!)"

...The parenthetical bits being performed by Trag himself.  In the song, they get in their Caddy, pick up their boys and do a drive-by.  "I said 'oh shit, what you doin'?"  And Trag says, "man, that's some nigga my bitch was screwin'!"  And it's all about this gun fight that's gotten out of control.  "And now I'm lookin' for Trag 'cause he's not on my ass, thinkin' about the niggas that's blast - in' on me.  No, it's not me, 'cause the niggas never can see Str8-G.  And no I'm not from they set, and now them niggas don't look at me in a 'vette, 'cause I'm creepin' like a motherfucker.  And I don't give a fuck because I'm not a fuckin' sucker."  This is definitely not the kind of song you expect to hear The Intelligent Hoodlum on, though I guess it ends with his kind of moral, since Str8's character gets shot, and I think we're supposed to conclude that they never should've gotten involved in that drama.  But even for Str8-G, this is pretty hardcore, as a guy who seemed much more comfortable doing songs like "Pussy Time" and "Everything's Fine (In the Summertime)."

And of course it's all the more ironic because the very next record Tragedy would release is "LA, LA," where he rallied his Queens based against the west.  But if you're wondering how these two got together, I think the answer's disappointingly simple.  Str8-G was signed to Tuff Break Records, which was a short-lived division of A&M Records, which was Tragedy's label.  In fact, this was the last thing he did before splitting with them and going indie.  And Str8's only other single was a remix (that leaned much further into the G-funk sound) of his title track with Barry White singing the chorus... Barry was also briefly signed to A&M at that time; so clearly they were just shoving all their artists into studios together.  In fact, that big sticker you see on the cassette case is advertising Barry's appearance, because A&M didn't know enough to be putting DJ Quik's name in big letters on the front instead, even though that's who we were really excited to hear in '94.

But yeah, that was about it for Trag and Str8-G's involvement with A&M, a label which never seemed comfortable with the Hip-Hop genre.  Str8-G pretty well disappeared after that one album.  There's a new guy calling himself Str8 G, but it's a totally different person.  Poking around discogs, I noticed that the real Str8-G did come back to do one song with B-Low O of The Mackadelics in 2007, and he actually came off really nice on there.  It's a shame he didn't get to do a little more with Quik and those guys, but oh well.