Sunday, November 29, 2020

Keep Troopin' In a Place Called Four Wing Island

This was well-timed.  I've been in the mood for something new... not just in the basic sense of a song I haven't heard before, but some really new Hip-Hop.  You know, it's an easy trap to fall into when you're a little bit older where you just listen to old school Hip-Hop in your comfort zone.  And then you just listen to the biggest, dumbest pop rap song "the kids are listening to" and immediately recoil saying, okay, nothing but TDS Mob for another four years!  So I looking for a little shake-up, and as fortune would have it, this one found me.  Four Wing Island by an independent London MC named Joejas.  I mean, just look at that cover.  If this one doesn't fit the bill, nothing will.

In a sense, this feels like UK equivalent of Odd Future, scrappy, young and entirely self-made.  "All music," we're told, has been "written, recorded and produced by JoeJas."  The artwork and everything's all done by him, too.  There are no guests except for a single other voice that pops in to back him up on a couple hooks.  But where Tyler and co. came out dark, bordering on horrorcore, Joejas comes out as light (or at least un-sinister) and defiantly childlike as his artwork suggests: "just another nigga to these cops, aight, with my limbs stretchin' out my drop-top tike.  No license, registration, parents tryna pull me out said 'it's only meant for kids to play in'!  Said fuck that then I got weighed in, woke up later and my brain moved places.  Already got a mortgage and a lame whip.  God damn, bro!"

His singles (at least the ones I checked out on Youtube) are all pretty strong, though the album as a whole drifts into some weirder, more conceptual areas.  You know, like Kwamé's second album, except that album lost control to a series skits that were meant to create an over-arching narrative about a hard day at Polka Dot School or whatever.  Four Wing Island doesn't have any skits, but it tends to get lost in over-repeated hooks and esoteric references.  Like, for an obvious example, what the heck is "Four Wing Island?"  The title track tells us repeatedly that it's a place where he feels safe, and the liner notes hint that the island is a kind of reference to how each song has a distinct (isolated) tone.  But I'm not sure we're meant to have any idea where the Four Wing name comes from or what it might mean.  Like a Greenthink record, we're just left to guess at a lot of the insular references.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you should be forewarned going in, because they're the sort of unsolvable poetic mysteries that will frustrate as many listeners as they might intrigue and delight.

But don't get the wrong idea.  It's not as hopelessly artsy-fartsy[to use a technical term] as I may be making it sound.  Don't look for any familiar samples to latch onto, but there's a lot of emphasis on creating relatable moods (one track is a essentially a piano solo over a Hip-Hop beat), talking about just drifting around on his bike, eating alone feeling heartbroken or "stay bumfy reading comics in my undies."  "4wingkilla!" is just a fun opportunity to go hard over an aggressive beat, "even in these bright ass clothes I'm still seen as a threat... make me wanna wile out Mortal Kombat 'finish him,' uppercut rip a shin, adrenaline kickin' in."  That's a pretty tight flow there, and the lyrics are consistently well written throughout, no matter the subject.

So this is the first I've heard, but it's actually Joejas's third album.  It's out on CD in an attractive digipack with a full-color booklet of lyrics from his website.  And, as of this writing, his previous two CDs (Planet and Gappy) are still available, too.  Of course it's all streaming everywhere, too, like all music is nowadays, which is probably good, because I'm sure you'll want to try before you buy.  But I'm very glad to see there's a solid physical release for those who decide to get on board.  This reminds me of the Atak days, with a catalog full of mystifying scrappy young idealists releasing tape after tape, pushing the envelope and being just a little too "out there" for the undaring.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

LA's Finest Dopest Rhymers

Oh man, you have no idea how excited I was when I came across this one!  A split 7" of rare and unreleased LA Rap on a small subscription service label called Ximeno Record Club run by Danny Halloway.  Meaning, you can only get one of these records by subscribing to the whole run, or as in my case, finding someone willing to sell their copy second hand.  But I think your odds for that may be better in this case as it's the only Hip-Hop record in the line-up, which is otherwise comprised of all funk/ soul and reggae stuff from the 60s and 70s.  So I imagine there were several collectors who were happy to dump "the rap one."  Or maybe the label itself is just selling overrun spares.  Either way, there are copies online as of this writing, so you better jump on it or you'll be kicking yourself.

Side A gives us "On the One" by legendary Project Blowedian Medusa.  This is her first vinyl release since the "Fiend and the Fix" 12" with Nobody in 2000.  Produced by Evan V with some fresh cuts by DJ Drez, originally appeared on her rare 2012 CD-only Whrs the DJ Booth? album on Jthesarge's label, One Wise Studios.  You can tell Halloway was choosing a favorite on the first listen, because song stands out with its upbeat blaxploitation-style funk guitars and catchy horns.  Medusa is in full force with her clever, deep-voiced lyrics, "first of all, I don't speak in no whiny tone. What I wanna do that for?  Bitch, I'm grown.  Diamonds?  Nah, leave well enough alone.  Stylish and classy, ain't nobody like me.  Men find me sexy, women exciting.  They stand on by me, just in the Walmart tampon shopping."  Then, as she's wont to do, Medusa goes full R&B to sing the hook with Drez mixing up some "Mona Lisa" and "Public Enemy Number One" behind her.  It's one of those songs you want to replay as soon as it hits its last note.

But I was even more amped for the B-side, the never before released or heard anywhere "In My Niggahood" by Vooodu.  The label tells us this one was recorded in 1993 during his ferocious True Sound stint, which of course was Halloway's label.  This is something a little more serious than the fast-paced battle rhymes he was spitting back then.  He slows down Chic's "Good Times" just enough to give it a creepy, ominous vibe with a patchwork of other samples slipping in and out, all to match his own sinister voice as he kicks some street stories about his youth in South Central.  Vooodu was a master, and it's a crime so little of his work has made it out of the vaults, making this record essential.

According to their website, Ximeno is gearing up for another year ("Series 2") of releases starting this month.  Let's hope they take the opportunity to crack open the True Sound vaults of classic unreleased LA rap once again, and we Hip-Hop heads can get our hands on a few copies.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Juice Crew All Stars Was My Boys

Here's an interesting one!  It's a "Juice Crew Law" remake by the All Stars, but not the Juice Crew All Stars you'd think.  There's a new Juice Crew in town, yes even newer than Juice Crew 3rd Millennium: a Shanghai-based B-boy crew.  And this is a record by DJ DSK, a British expatriate now based in China who's assembled a pro tem super-group of English Hip-Hop artists collectively known as the All Stars, released as a tribute to the crew.  The All Stars and "Juice Crew Law" are obviously throwback references made to the original crew in fun, but the connection runs deeper than some punny names.

Musically at least, this is indeed a remake of MC Shan's original "Juice Crew Law," with the All Stars rocking Marley's original instrumental.  Well, at least they use it as the base.  DSK mixes in additional musical samples, and the All Stars layer a wealth of turntablism over the top.  Not only are there cuts in the hook like you'd expect, but the segment that would traditionally be the third verse is dedicated to just a killer stuttering slaughter of The Choice MCs' "Beat Of the Street." Yep, the All Stars aren't all MCs.  Specifically, they're MCs Chrome and Whirlwind D (who I think I might've mentioned here once or twice before) and DJ/ producers Specifik and Mr. Wonderful.  I'm not 100% certain, but from what I've been able to glean, I believe DSK produced the track and Specifik and Wonderful do all the scratches. 

This is a pretty fun update on a classic.  You might ask who needs a new "Juice Crew Law" when we have the original, a question that usually brings most remakes to their knees.  Even assuming the remake's good, why listen to it when you can listen to the classic, right?  Well, this one adds a lot, with additional instrumentation flushing it out and the cuts are killer.  Not that the original didn't have any good ones, especially the 12" version.  But there's definitely enough fresh elements in the mix to make you yearn to relisten to the this version specifically.

Plus, let's be honest, Shan wasn't above the occasional corny line ("my rhymes say more than a tasket, a tisket. Too clever, yo, I never go out like a biscuit." "The same theory if the words don't fit; got the nerve to get on stage and wanna sing that ____? Wait a minute, wait just a second. You know that's not my style.  'Sorry, just checking!'").  While rhymes praising break-dancers by their nature don't hit as hard as aggressive battle rhymes directed towards Krs-One, I'm happy to report the verses are 100% free of cringe moments.  And I don't know about you, but while I have been able to overlook some infamous examples in my childhood favorites, that's a pretty crucial standard to meet for my listening enjoyment of any song at any time.

Still, if all of this isn't enough to compel you to seek out a copy for your own yet, let me tell you about the B-side.  DSK has another song for us, "Check Out the Technique" featuring Akil of Jurassic 5 (making this a tri-continental effort) and London MC Mystro (here billed as Mysdiggi).  This has similar themes, but is more of a general tribute to Hip-Hop, rather than any specific crew.  As Akil details, "no matter the element, the culture pushed excellence, dedicated freshness, hard work and messages.  We pushed the limit: go all out to win it.  From start to finish, we get in it, we created our own lane of genre, built it up proper, B-boys and poppers, DJs and lockers, MCs and graf writers, Soulsonic fire fighters; we loved it, we lived it, built it like an empire."  This time I assume the cuts - which tend more towards rhythm scratches and some Premier-like juggling of a line from Jay-Z's "Threat" on the hook - are by DSK himself.  This track's a little slower and funkier; a cool head nodder though lacking the dynamic energy of the A-side. 

"Juice Crew Law" is a 7" record that plays at 33 and comes in a plain black sleeve.  It's released by DNA Records, DSK's own label, not to be confused with the famous NY label.  The A-side also names B-Line Recordings, Specifik's label, so I gather this is a joint release to some degree.  I'm not sure if this is limited to a specific pressing amount (they don't say as much).  It's already sold out from DSK's bandcamp even though it just dropped like two weeks ago, but a lot of the usual online record shops seem to still have it, at least as of this writing.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Graveyard Terror

(This Halloween, we examine the last outlier from The Fear soundtrack, Terror. Who was he? Let's journey into the graveyard and find out. Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Monumental Wreckage

Oh yes, it's another gem from Vendetta Vinyl.  This is the latest release by Drasar Monumental entitled Lifetime Of Wreckage.  Each song is layered with samples that feel like they were always made to be layered together.  Busy but never over-crowded.  There's a lot of change-ups, too, which can make it a little confusing on the first couple of spins to determine which song you're on.  But you'll catch on quick enough.  The back cover credits spell out concisely, it's a one man show, "beats, rhymes and scratches: Drasar Monumental."  And it opens with Drasar catching wreck over an equally murderous track.  Hard battle raps with a creative dramatic flourish, and even a tinge of righteous fury:

"Rhymes give you more than a slight chill; my mic's type ill, you're just another sucker that I might kill.  You know the drill, my skill gives 'em nightmares, equivalent to getting thrown down a flight of stairs!  Wake 'em up, tapin' 'em up, my box cutter will taper you up.  I don't give a fuck, rhymes spray in all directions.  I slay competitors.  Hated and vile enforcer, ultra-violent sorcerer, bringin' ya horror straight from Sodom and Gomorrah.  USA, home of the Satanic; I set you on fire at your pagan gatherin', and leave 'em staggerin', babblin' and mumblin', my only mission is to murder 'em."


After that, the subject matter starts to get more complicated.  "Scavengers" smooths the mood out slightly, but still remaining pretty hard, like that feeling you'd get when Big Daddy Kane got on a posse cut.  Drasar sets it off on the kind of people he doesn't like, "waitin' on a hand out.  Runnin' ya mouth but your plans never pan out."  But the more serious matters are still to come.

"Fratricide 1993" goes in on how, when faced with political oppression, we're more likely to kill each other than unite against the greater corruptive forces, "grew up Baptist, now you're a savage.  I can tell from your ways and actions.  Grew up from a B-boy, skating rink to Cuban Link.  Never thought I'd see you in the Clink.  Must've been a plan: the way we crumble, cops cuff you.  Caught up in the struggle, we scramble and shuffle.  But it's all meaningless.  Penny pinchin', but end up dying penniless. It features an MC named Hogon Plus, who worked with Drasar previously on Box Cutter IV.  He has a similar voice and flow to Drasar, to the point where, when I was first listening to this I was wondering when he was going to appear... until he name-checked himself and I realized he was already on the mic.  That's not a criticism, though, because Drasar sounds pretty great here, and Hogon mixes in his own style of tongue twisting wordplay without sacrificing the gravity of the topic.

The last track is "Black Calculus Part 3" (Part 2 was on The Box Cutter Brothers' III CD), the catchiest, most head nodding of the beats.  But the racial injustice laid bare in the lyrics is still as raw and pertinent as ever, "uneven playing field, inequality.  Fighting over turf but we don't own the property.  They make a mockery of our misery, rewrite history; it's all lies and trickery, fuckery and deception.  In 2020, your mind is your strongest weapon.  Born leaders never meant to be followers, we're descendants of gods and goddesses."  This material is gripping and compelling to the point that I don't think we can keep Drasar in the box of a producer who can also rap competently, a la Diamond D, Large Professor, and so on, but a lyricist who needs to be heard in his own right.  His production just happens to be brilliant, too.

This is a perfectly tight EP with just four songs and the instrumentals on the flip, so there's absolutely no fat.  Every passing second is a killer.  And as you can see above, this is a proper 12" record in a cool picture cover, though I believe there is also a CD option if you find that more convenient.  But I think this is one you're going to wish you had on wax years from now; this feels like a project that's going to stand the test of time.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Many Returns Of the Liquor Store Laureate

(Wow. It was only like a year ago when I made a video about the insane amount of projects Luke Sick had released.  Multiple albums collaborating with multiple producers... Well, here he goes again!  Youtube version is here.  Also, apologizes for repeatedly calling Wolfagram "Wolf Pack.")

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Outsidaz' Family Vacation

As any of you who've been with me for a while surely knows, I'm on a perpetual Outsidaz watch.  So just because it's been almost exactly twelve years to the day since I've written about it, it should be obvious that I haven't put down the torch for Yah Yah's lost "Collaboration" album from 2005.  Well, except I sort of am, just now, because I'm pretty sure I just got my grubby little hands on it.  In case you've forgotten, Yah is Young Zee's younger brother who had some killer moments on the Outsidaz' albums before moving from NJ to Florida where he had a brief excursion with a little known label called 5th Lmnt.  Back in 2008, I posted a quote from their now long departed website that talked about it.  "Through a series of events, THE 5TH met up with Yahyah, formerly of the Outsidaz and recorded two albums... Sage [one of their in-house producers] and Yah got together on a collaboration effort and after crankin out some of the hottest tracks you'll ever hear, started bumping heads in the production process. This creative control issue is what eventually lead to Yah's departure."  I was excited at the time because I uncovered a CD single from an album that I was beginning to wonder if it had ever truly existed.  I've found another official little 5th Lmnt write-up online that adds a little bit more: "For all you hardcore Yahyah Fans you can get your copy Here of the 10 track Album Featuring Yahyah and Sage Lee."  No, you don't seem to be able to get your copy there anymore, but it does give us a couple clues about this album... which again, may be in my grubby little hands right now.

I won't try to draw out any undue suspense, since you can see it in the photo at the top of this post anyway.  I've scored an 11-track Yah Yah CD from 2005 called Appetizers, which I'm at least 90% certain is the album I've been referring to as The Collaboration.  Worst case scenario, I'm wrong, and I've just uncovered an entirely separate, third Yah Yah full-length CD from the same label and time period, which would be just as rewarding, so I'm happy no matter what.

So, that quote refers to two Yah Yah albums from his time with 5th Lmnt, the label he hooked up with when he moved to Florida.  We already know the first one is Lord Of the Underground.  It's only natural that this is the second of the two, supported by the fact that it tells us it's entirely produced by Sage Lee, the named collaborator, except for one song, which he still gets name checked on.  Further more, they specify that it's a ten track album, and Appetizers is eleven tracks, one being just a twenty-some second intro.  Plus it's dated 2005, and the MasterLab manufacturing credit matches the other 5th Lmnt CDs.  All the pieces fit; a perfectly solved puzzle!  Except a few details do make me 10% unsure.

The Lion Clan Music Works is Yah's own little label that he used for some later mixtapes.  So this being some kind of joint release with 5th Lmnt doesn't throw me, especially since 5th L is name-checked on the album.  But the "E.P. Give Away" bit does.  And the intro tells us specifically, "we the good people here at Lion Clan Music Works, we just want to get y'all ready for the plates. So y'all, don't worry, don't worry, you ain't gonna be charged for this.  This is gonna go along with your order. We like to call this the hors d'oeuvres, The Appetizers."  That naturally had me thinking this was a different, distinct promo disc.

But thinking about it, it doesn't seem like there's likely to be two complete Sage Lee collaborative albums that would both been ten songs long in 2005, especially when both songs from the CD single are featured on this but no songs from Lord Of the Underground are.  Also, that quote makes it sound like Yah recorded two 5th Lmnt albums before he did the one with Sage Lee, which actually suggests a whole third or fourth album is floating out there and makes me question the veracity of all their details.  At the end of the day, I can't be sure, and I'm still keeping an eye out for more, but I think this is the whole rest of the story.

And how is it?  Pretty great!  Just about everything I wrote about the CD single can be extrapolated to the whole LP.  Sage Lee has a very studio-bound, sample-light sound that I ordinarily wouldn't gravitate towards, and doesn't sync at all with the kind of music The Outsidaz made otherwise (except maybe for some of Rah Digga's worst singles), but somehow the extreme contrast between Yah's gritty style and the Southern pop beats really clicks.  Also, that guy who sung the hooks on those two songs?  He's all over this album; singing on more than half the tracks.  Again, not the sort of thing I'd want to hear Yah have on his album on paper, but the guy's good and it all strangely gels.  And listening to the album, I now know his name is Mister C (albeit guessing on the spelling).

Not that all of the songs here are just like the two on the single.  Clearly one thing they're aiming for is variety.  Some songs are clearly made for Yah to just flex his skills, while others slow things down to get more serious.  But most of it works.  It really is a weird hybrid of a NJ and FL album.  Guests aren't credited, but "Das How You Like It" is a bit of a posse cut with Jus One and Critical Madness, and "Without Struggle" is a sociopolitical duet with an MC I can't place[I almost want to guess Ill Bill, but nah... right?!]; and yes, both of those also feature hooks by Mister C.  Oh, and speaking of Mister C, he even gets his chance to rap with Yah on "We Ride," which is probably the worst song on here, trying to push Yah into a more west coast: the only experiment that doesn't really work.  But it's not C's fault.

The only song not produced by Sage is that "Without Struggle" track, which is produced by someone named 1 Spade for Beatwave.  This song and "What's It All About" slather on the R&B elements, but because they can do it so well, and Yah and still make it entirely his own, they wind up being some of the best tracks on here.  Yah shifts his subject matter up just as much as the instrumentals, gliding smoothly between punchline-laden battle raps, surprisingly earnest messages, and the Outz' unique take on street life, "niggas think they tough 'cause they got out of jail; take some shells, let's see if you can get out of Hell."  Yeah, this is that real Outsidaz shit we love!

I'm also happy to report that the glitch from the CD single is gone, so the end of "All I Need Is Some Love" (here simply titled "Some Love") doesn't futz out at the end of the song.  So complete, undamaged versions of this song do exist.  But I really wish more people had ordered directly from 5th Lmnt back in the day when we had the chance, so we'd actually know how much music there even is out there... and maybe even enough fan interest to get those guys to put it back out on the market.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Unlocking the Whirlwind Demos

I've been covering the vinyl releases of Whilrwind D for a long time on this site; but this is something different.  His latest LP, Original Breaks To B-Lines, is a collection of rare, mostly unreleased tracks, remixes and demos, spanning the run of his solo career, from 1990 to 2019.  So some of these tracks are repeats, but many will be new to us, even if they're not brand new recordings, or at least appearing in new versions.  I imagine keeping track of what's new could be pretty overwhelming if you're not a seriously dedicated fan, so this is absolutely the kind of album I'll have to break down track by track... although I am happy to report that he writes some personal notes about each song on the back cover, so listeners and follow the narrative.  And for the record, the sequence is largely, but not completely, chronological, taking us essentially on the journey of his career.

1) 'How I Get Ill' Live at the 02 Bournemouth supporting P.E. - We start out with a live recording, the only one on this album.  It's pretty short, and though it does give us a full verse over a nice head-nodding beat, it acts more as an intro to show what the kind of artist he is and what he's stayed up to even when he wasn't putting out records than a song to collect for its own sake.

2) Battle Tipped Rhyme - long unfinished Solid N Mind (his collaborative effort with producer Johnny F) track that was eventually completed and released on 12" in 2010, which I've detailed here.

3) Centre Stage - Another Solid N Mind track, made for 1991, but not released until 2009 as a Liberty Grooves 12", which I covered here.

4) Butta Funk (Pt. 2) Demo - This is an essentially unreleased track, only put out on an incredibly rare cassette from 1997 entitled Son's Rise.  According to D, there was only "around 50" made, so I think it's safe to say you've never heard this before even though, technically, those tapes are out there.  This one finds him kicking flirtatious love raps and a more light-hearted flow over EPMD's "It's My Thing" instrumental.  And no, I don't know where or what Pt. 1 is.

5) Son's Rise Demo - Another one from Son's Rise (obviously), although apparently this is an "alternative edit," so even if you are one of the fifty people with the tape, you haven't heard this version.  This one sounds a bit muddy, but that might just be the low mix, as this features super deep, Cheetah Records-level bass notes rolling over a bucolic strings sample and some abrasive cuts at the end.  His style here sounds surprisingly Slick Rick-influenced, though not his lyrics: "Sun arrives early in the morning; I'm mourning over time and a new day is dawning.  Words yawning, tired of tireless texts, others always fighting and knowing what's best.  But what's best is a matter of judgement, different assumptions and life's great sentiments.  And then feelings are borne from these; sharks infest murky waters, and seized, diseased, bereaved families lose belief."  This was probably a fairly experimental excursion for him, and it turned out pretty cool.

6) Brainwash Demo - Now we're back to the Whirlwind D we know and love with an early, never before released SnM track from 1990 with some slightly pitched up vocals and a wailing "UFO" sample.  The liner notes say the production was "never really finished," so I don't know if that means this is a reconstruction, or if it's missing some elements and tweaks that were meant to be implemented before it was finalized.  But hey, either way, no complaints here.  This is the kind of candy we rap kids clamor.

7) Carpathian Dreams Demo - This is a slower, more thoughtful track with some heavy bass (though not quite at "Son's Rise" levels), lyrics laden with vivid imagery and some subtle instrumental recurrences of "It's My Thing."  This definitely feels more clean and polished following the previous songs.  And that's because this demo is much newer, an unreleased originally intended for his 2012 WD40 EP, which I wrote about here.  We're definitely shifting, rather dramatically, from era 1 to era 2 here, although we discover a foundational consistency throughout this album, too, which is impressive since it covers nearly thirty years and some deliberate shifts in style.

8) Stronger - This is an album track from his 2014 Nomansland LP, which I covered here, itself an update of the song "Strong" from WD40.

9) Labels - Comes from 2018's Beats, Bits & Bobs EP, which I made a video about here.

10) B-Line Business Remix - This is an unheard remix of the song originally released as a Tru-Tone 7" single (which I covered here), that was also included on the 2016 album Other Side (which I covered here).  Again produced by Specifik, it features the same strumming bassline, lyrics and cuts, but essentially lays some extra instrumentation on top of things, making it both busier (as you'd expect) and hyper (which you mightn't expect).  You can permanently replace the original with this superior version as far as I'm concerned.

11) Doin' It Again - This is a new remix of his 2019 7", "Doin' It," that I wrote about here.  This time Beattrix is reworking Djar One's work, keeping some of the fundamental elements, but slowing things slightly and making it a little funkier.  "Again"'s production fits the vocals a little more naturally and is probably the better version of the song in a vacuum, but the original has a more hectic energy that's still fun to go back to.

12) Written In Pen - This is an unreleased track from 2017, produced by Specifik.  It's another nostalgic homage to his recording history with his label ("B-Line history written in pen"), which feels like we've heard from him several times already.  But the rhythm rides nice and tight and Jabba the Kut creates a really fresh hook.

13) Creature - But if you want something more interesting lyrically, you only have to wait for the next number, another unreleased song, this one written as recently 2019.  Produced by Crease, this has a slow and murky beat as D literally takes on the persona of some kind of creepy swamp monster.  But we slowly begin to realize it's actually some kind of anthropomorphic metaphor for the rise of the alt right: "rising from the deep like a beast no longer asleep, scales and fish tails mark the menace from the keep.  Rising, thrashing, churning, churning.  A creature from the deep, that's what we're all observing.  The horror of the scene is complete capitulation, poshest ones' greed now scorched upon the nation.  Jingoistic, nationalistic attitudes reign.  Every politician has to fall in line and do the same."  I'd call the song great fun except the subject matter is a grim reality.

14) Falling Down - Finally, we have a song taken from his 2017 EP Falling, that I already covered here. A bit anticlimactic, but it is some really great, moody production and a grim exploration of modern times stood out as a highlight when it was first released.

So that's eight new songs or remixes (if you count "Butta Funk") and just five repeats.  Those five make this album a stronger, "greatest hits"-like listening experience, but fans who've been copping his releases all along would probably have preferred five more demos.  Still, if you're a big enough fan to have all those old, limited edition singles, then the unreleased material will make this a must-have anyway.

Original Breaks To B-Lines is a single LP on the German Britcore Rawmance label, limited to 200 copies.  100 are pressed on white (white) vinyl, the other on standard black; and both come in a stylish black & white picture cover.  It also comes with an insert, illustrating his entire discography and a Britcore Rawmance banner ad illustrating their own.  The sound quality is pretty bold and clean.  Only the demos are a little rough.  "Butta Funk" sounds like it's from a rough source and has a good deal of background noise, and even then, the vocals sound pretty clear on top of it.  "Brainwash" has some definite hiss behind it, but not enough to sap any of its energy.  Suffice to say, this is a high quality pressing of some high quality music.

Friday, September 18, 2020

4 Tracks, No Mics

I just received the latest release by SF MC QM.  Long time readers of this site will know him as one half of On Tilt, a group I've covered here several times before (and, spoiler: will be doing so again very soon).  But as I already explained in at least one of those entries I just linked, his career spans back a lot farther than his current partnership with Luke Sick.  But 4 Tracks & S 20's is a different sort of release even from his other solo albums; it's an entirely instrumental album... EP?  It's eleven songs, but each track averages under a minute and a half, so I'll let you work out that classification for yourselves.

QM has, I believe, had a hand in the production of some of his previous projects, but he's definitely better known as a MC than a producer.  So I guess this is him striking out a bit.  His brief description on bandcamp just tells us that, "[a]ll tracks were were played live and recorded in real time on the 4 track in one take."  And as you can see on the cover there, this is "hosted by Young Ivy," his young daughter.  If that sounds like it could be annoying, don't worry.  It's sweet, and she's used sparingly, not to mention pretty low in the mix.  If the cover hadn't clued me in, I would've thought it was just some movie sample occasionally getting sprinkled into the mix.  It's not like that time MC Shan put his wife and kid on his record.

Anyway, let's talk about the actual music.  This EP is more about creating a classic, Hip-Hop groove than breaking new ground.  It's packed with familiar samples, like a chunky loop of Salt-N-Pep... err, the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," or the opening track, which is 70% "Children's Story" with an extra little sample or two laced on top.  Things get less recognizable in the second half, and often I'd be thinking I recognize a bassline from, say, Positive K's "Shakin'," but not whatever new elements it's being mixed with.  It feels somewhat like it's taking us on a gentle tour from the late 80s and 90s through to a more modern, indie Hip-Hop sound.

It is strictly instrumental, so there's less to hang your hat on in a way.  I'd be interested in a couple of these being turned into full songs down the road, although for the most part, I think these work best as they are.  But you know, I can't imagine getting in the running to become anybody's favorite album or anything.  This is more of a mood; something to nod your head to as you work in your office only to be surprised how much time flew by.  Keeping the tracks short prevents it from slipping into the "and it just goes on like that" sand-trap that plagues a lot of instrumental Hip-Hop, where a basic loop gets run into the ground quick without anyone flowing on top of it.  In fact, it almost feels like one, long song with a lot of change-ups than an EP or LP.  I suppose the single take recording plays a part in that as well. 

4 Tracks & S 20's was originally released in July with a very limited production of just 50 copies, which yes, has already sold out.  But there's a second batch now, that's still available as of this writing from I Had an Accident Records.  The cover is slightly altered (red border = 1st printing, green = 2nd), but it's the same track-listing on both tapes, with the same cool Fostex/ Akai print on the tape itself.  It's a very inexpensive little release; just something to cop when you're looking to catch a relaxing vibe.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Unforgotten Heard


(Some groups are revered as much now as in their hey-day: BlackStar, The Fugees, Tic and Toc... But for whatever undeserved reason, Unspoken Heard seem to have faded somewhat from the conversation.  Well, maybe we can give 'em a little nudge back into the popular discourse.  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Crazy Story of 1979's Other Hip-Hop Lady

You all already know that 1979 is a critically important year for Hip-Hop since it's the first year rappers started to actually release records... Fatback and King Tim III kicked open the door, and suddenly everybody from The Sugarhill Gang to Kurtis Blow came pouring out.  This is real basic, 101 stuff.  And for historical first female rappers on wax, everybody names the obvious ladies: The Sequence, Paulette & Tanya Winley, and of course Lady B.  Lady B's the radio DJ from Philly who released the classic "To the Beat Y'all;" but there's another Lady who rarely gets talked about: Lady D.  We all know those other ladies' stories, but what about Lady D?

She came out with her first and only record in, yes, 1979: the self titled "Lady D" on Reflection Records, a disco label that dipped into Hip-Hop a few times.  In fact, it's a split 12" with "Nu Sounds" by MC Tee, who actually went on to have the longer, more notable career.  No, this isn't the same MC Tee as the guy from Mantronix.  In fact, as a kid, I knew him best as that guy who disappointed me when I bought his record and he wasn't the rapper from Mantronix.  But in retrospect, this MC Tee was alright, too.  He developed a soft, whispery style, signed to Profile Records and put out several indie singles throughout the 80s, some better than others.  Here, though, he doesn't really have the whisper thing going, sounding younger and more fresh-voiced.

But what's notable about this pairing is that they're both rapping over the same funky disco groove with a deep, catchy bassline and a lot of funk guitar.  So it's sort of like that Psycho vs. Iriscience 12", where it's two different artists' take on a single instrumental, although nothing on this record suggests they're trying to make it a competition like those guys were.

Lady D has the A-side and is my preferred version overall.  It's a fun narrative rap that turns into a little message about being wary of guys only out for one thing.  She meets a guy named Eddie (which I assume is a reference to Eddie Andre, who produced this record for his own E.A. Productions) who drives a Mercedes and quickly charms her.  It's mostly just a fun rap about their date... they go to Studio 54 and watch a kung-fu flick ("we saw kung-fu fighters fighting to the end - one fell down and got up again!").  But at the end of the night, he makes a move and she kicks him to the curb, when a chorus of male voices join in for a chorus, "don't try to see her ever no more!"

MC Tee's isn't really a conceptual song like Lady D's; he's just freestyling on the mic.  He's introducing himself and rapping about rapping at first, but it slowly evolves into a rap for the ladies Big Bank Hank style, explaining his love-making skills.  And though he never veers off into Blowfly territory, he takes it surprisingly far: "You hide your pride, you take a ride, you put the grease on the meat, that means I slide your hide."

MC Tee has writing credit for his song, but Lady D's is written by King Ronnie Gee, a rapper with his own singles on Reflection Records who went on to form the group G-Force and contribute to the epic legacy of "Roxanne, Roxanne" answer records.  His single "A Corona Jam" is particularly noteworthy because, besides also coming out in 1979, he's rapping over the same instrumental as Lady D and MC Tee!  In fact, looking at the catalog numbers, his single came out first.  So, really Lady D and MC Tee are using his "Corona Jam" instrumental, that's also of course produced to Eddie Andre.  And did I mention that it's also a split 12"?  The other side is "Spiderap" by an MC named Ron Hunt, and you guessed it... he's also rapping to the same instrumental!

Crazy, right?  Well, Reflection Records put out more rap singles in the early 1980s, but they only had one other in 1979.  It's a novelty record called "Take My Rap... Please" by Steve Gordon and the Kosher Five.  It's basically the same gimmick as The 2 Live Jews and M.O.T. but decades earlier, where the joke is that they're rapping while being Jewish, and stringing along exaggerated stereotypes to sell the premise ("let's boogie until we plotz!").  But that's not the most ridiculous part once you know the whole story.  The most ridiculous part is that he's doing his joke raps over the same instrumental, too!  They use a different series of catalog numbers for this one, but I'm pretty sure, chronologically, this came after the Ron Hunt and Lady D records.  And by 1980, the other Hip-Hop singles on Reflection had new, unique instrumentals.  But it's crazy that for a whole year, this label just kept on releasing rap songs over that one, damn track!

So I guess that's why we don't hear about Lady D these days... she was just one in a long line of rappers hired to record alternate versions of the same record.  But she was pretty cool, and hers was better than most - or even arguably all - of the other guys' who got to take their rap careers further.  Why not her?  Just another indication of how it's always harder for women in the industry, I suppose.  But I wish we could at least find out what the D stood for.