Friday, April 11, 2014

Deep Into the Blackwatuz

See how "1. Radio Edit" and all are
off-center? I bet there was a 3. Inst
removed at the last minute.
In yesterday's post, I mentioned that "you might not've heard of" Blackwatuz. Well, you see I never intended to just leave you hanging there, because today's post is going to explore the depths of the Blackwatuz, particularly focusing on their only other 12" single, "Da' Kitchen" on Cipher Records and Echo International.

So, yes, Blackwatuz (as in "black waters") was a Jersey crew; it consisted of Vegaroc (MC and producer), Cyklopz (MC), Nasteeman (MC) and Greg G (producer). They produced the entirety of that Imperial Guardsmen EP. Dahead Beatuz Productions team (here credited as Da' Head Beatuz)? Yeah, that's Vegaroc and Greg G, and naturally they handle all their own production on this single, too.

This single here predates The Imperial Guardsmen (1999), and interestingly, it also features Sakinah "Sah-B" Britton. In fact, that connection is what first lead me to their record back in the day. Unfortunately, she doesn't really have a verse; she just does part of the hook, and her classic, high pitched voice sounds pretty watered down and generic here. In other words, they could've gotten any girl to fill her small role; they didn't tap any of her potential, so it's not a 12" to pick up if you're just a Sah-B fan.

So it has to rise or fall based on the strength of The Blackwatuz themselves. And it mostly rises. The production isn't amazing, but it's effective enough (and interestingly, not in the style of the Imperial Guardsmen stuff). The concept of the A-side is strong, talking about making love through the metaphor of a soul food kitchen. "Can I cook in your kitchen, baby?" However, some of the lines ("the way you slob on that corn of the cob makes me throb") really fall short of their ambition here by being just too juvenile and on the nose. But if you can get past that, it works; and it has a really cool instrumental vibe that helps sell it despite its lyrical missteps.

"No Boundaries" is the harder-edged B-side you've gotta package a high concept song like "Da' Kitchen" with to keep the heads happy. Everybody's rapping harder and faster, kicking just raw freestyle rhymes. But the instrumental is still unusual, with a very slow, atmospheric vibe and a sung chorus by Lil Debbie (no relation, of course, to the White Girl Mob's latest starlet). Not the kind of thing you'd expect at all for a rugged street-targeted B-side, but it's pretty good. And the MCs definitely come off more impressively here as traditional spitters than they did saying lines like "I'll go diving for fish; won't need a knife and fork when that fish is on my dish" on the A-side.

For what it's worth, the track-listing here is a little off (typical Echo!). The label lists Radio and Street versions of "Da' Kitchen" on side A, and Radio and Street versions of "No Boundaries" on the B-side. Really, both Radio versions are on side A, and both Streets are on B. So you get all the right stuff, just in a different order; no biggie, just thought I'd point it out.

I'm sure they recorded some more, unreleased tracks; but I don't think Blackwatuz out anything  out after this and the Imperial Guardsmen. I think that's less about how strong they were as artists, however, and more about how they just got to the game a bit late. By 2000, the market for indie 12"s like this was being shut down by the internet, and the tides were turning towards glossier, pop rap dudes. And this isn't any amazing, mind blowing, next level stuff; but Blackwatuz did manage to make some respectable random rap for heads to uncover if they're feeling venturous.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Jersey's Imperial Guardsmen

This is an interesting record right here, especially for Jersey heads; but really anyone into the 90s indy vinyl scene should be intrigued by this line-up: Raggedy Man, Sah-B, Blackwatuz (okay, you might not've heard of them) and Nocturnal (the same Nocturnal I posted an interview with a couple months ago). They all came together to release The Imperial Guardsmen in 2000, an indie EP on Tribal Child Records, the label Raw Elements used to be on in the 90s.

Now the production, provided by the mysterious Dahead Beatuz Productions team, is... interesting. It seems to be based on just looping single, big chunky samples over a beat. I kinda like it, but it's not the kind of thing that impresses you and makes you want to seek out more of their stuff. It's enjoyable, and is more effective on some tracks than others... Overall it's pretty engaging, if a bit low-fi sounding.  But that's how we like our indie 12"s, right?

First up is Blackwatuz and Sah-B with "Black Summa," and if your mind is immediately leaping to Sah-B's debut single, "Summa Day," you're on the right track. Instrumentally, it's pretty dissimilar, but conceptually and lyrically it's like "Summa Day" part 2. But of course, this time it's got the Blackwatuz guys on it, and lyrically it might even be a little stronger. The production's at its catchiest here, too; and there is a singer (Judith LeTemps) adding a hook, but it's only in the background behind the Watuz doing their own hook. She winds up sounding more like a sample in the background, which is cool.

Then the Blackwatuz return for "Da Floods," which is their lyrical skills flexing track. The beat loops up a classical record, sounding like a Stoupe beat, even with a similar change-up in the music every so often. No Sah-B this time, disappointingly, but otherwise it's all good.

Raggedy Man's track is next. His was my most anticipated song before I actually heard this, but now that I have it, it's my least favorite on here. I could still see it being some peoples' favorite, though. It's a bit different, going for a more playful, Grand Puba vibe. The beat's a nice rolling piano and Judith LeTemps is back doing her chorus behind the MC's own chorus vocals, but this time she doesn't sound like background. The track is a nice rolling piano loop I haven't heard used before, and Raggedy is bringing the clever wordplay and personality... but maybe it's the drums? I'm not sure; for some reason it's just not clicking for me.

We end with "Money-N-Power" by Nocturnal, featuring Vega (of Blackwatuz). Nocturnal comes off on this one and the track has another Stoupe-ish feel (though not as close as "Da' Floods"). So it's a good, solid way to end the EP.

You get all the songs on side R, and then clean, radio edits of each on side PG. It might take a little searching, but overall, this is a cool, sleeper 12" I'd recommend for most fans of the indie 90s 12" days, with an added appeal of historical interest for this into the Jersey underground scene.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What To Get the Madd Blunted Fan Who Has Everything

"Rock It-Don't Stop It" first appeared on a 1994 Vision Records compilation Bass In da Hood, before later turning up as an album track on Madd Blunted's full-length debut, A Day In the Life Of Madd Blunted in '95. Madd Blunted is essentially a two-man pair... like a lot of hip-hop groups, guys they're down with seem to drift in and out as semi-official members; but the heart of the crew is essentially Phat Daddy, formerly of Balli & the Fat Daddy, and ragga MC Don Ugly. There's no difference between those initial '94 and '95 versions of "Rock It" except that A Day In the Life adds a vocal sample of a countdown at the very beginning of the song. But then they released it again as their second single, this time as the Rasta Remix.

"Rock It-Don't Stop It" is actually a pretty good song, but not very memorable. It's comprised of Miami bass cliches, both lyrically and instrumentally, to the point that if you're hearing it for the first time, you'd think you'd heard it dozens of times already in the past. Plus, it sounds a lot like Madd Blunted's first single, "Shake It." Similar verses, similar choruses (I think at one point, a "shake it, shake it" chant in "Rock it" might even be a direct lift from "Shake It"). Both use heavy doses of "Planet Rock" (hence the title of "Rock It") and other standard Miami bass record sounds. The only real reason to tell them to apart, unless you're intimately familiar enough with the songs to know the lyrics to the individual verses, is that "Shake It" features Fresh Kid Ice, and "Rock It" doesn't.

It's definitely not a song I'd play for somebody who'd never heard Madd Blunted before; they've got way more interesting stuff than this and anybody who isn't a big Miami bass fan would probably dismiss it pretty quick.  But if you don't dismiss it, I think you'd have to admit it's a pretty well produced and solidly constructed song. It may be full of old samples, but they're proven to work and are used to their best effect here. There's also a scratch break-down by DJ Spin which is really impressive. I mean, just that little thirty-second clip alone would make the record worth buying. And while Phat Daddy really doesn't bring any noteworthy lyrics, both he and Don at least bring enough energy and enthusiasm to the track to keep up with the high bpm.

So you can see why they'd release it as a single. A well-crafted club song designed to fit like a square peg into a square hole of the Miami hip-hop market.  But you can also see why, especially since it's following up their very similar "Shake It," they'd have to smack it around and reconfigure before dropping it as their second single.

So the first change you'll notice right away, is that the original "yeah, Madd Blunted's in the house" intro, which segues into the first hook, has all been removed and replaced with a new intro by none other than Disco Rick. He doesn't kick a verse or anything, just the intro, but just having him on the record at all is a very noticeable distinction. After that, the most obvious change is that they use a lot more of Don Ugly ...which makes sense for a "Rasta Remix."  On the album version, he just as one kind of chorus/chant in the middle of the song. Here, that segment is used as the main, recurring hook (replacing some more generic "bounce that thang" and "work that thang" chants), and he now also has a reggae-style verse midway through the song.

Musically, it's not all that different, though it has been tweaked... the "go 'head, baby" chant during DJ Spin's scratch segment, for example, has been replaced with female porn samples, though his cutting itself is the same. The changes are primarily in the vocals, which have really been reworked. In fact, Phat Daddy's first verse on the album version has been replaced with an all new one. It's tempting to consider this more of a "Rock It Part II," except a lot of the vocals, including Phat Daddy's second verse, are unchanged. But it's certainly a very substantial remix that at least succeeds in making it sound more distinct from "Shake It." I can't really say this mix is inherently any better than the original, but it definitely has more of its own identity.

There's two mixes on the 12", but one is just a clean edit of the other. Flip it over, and you have another album track, "Gettin' High," which is a catchy and upbeat song that's not really impressive but will definitely have you bopping along anyway. It has two versions: Smokin' Blunts Mix and the Radio Mix, but the Smokin' Blunts Mix isn't a new remix; it's just what they call the main LP version.

So, overall, it's a decent 12", but nothing to go out of your way for. There's much more interesting material on their album, so I wouldn't recommend it for the casual listener (unless they're big turntablism fans willing to buy it just for a very brief DJ Spin moment). But it is interesting if you're a serious Madd Blunted fan, and an engaging companion piece to the album. That's why I'm calling this post: What To Get the Madd Blunted Fan Who Has Everything.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Questionable Lyrics #4: Trigger Warning: Robin Givens

In 1989, Kool Moe Dee wrote a very angry record directed at women because he gathered that they were all out to cozy up to him only to later steal his cash. Mind you, he wasn't just out to deflect specific women he perceived to be gold diggers; for him this applied to all women. As the chorus said, "No, I ain't got no girlfriend. No, I ain't buy no car. No, I ain't got no babies. A lot of ladies? Nah, they want money." That's a... strong stance. I mean, that means he's celibate now, right? Well, anyway, it's actually another line from this song, a  small section from his second verse, that stood out to be as particularly interesting:

"I know the game; it's old and lame.
You're holdin' a flame for my name and my fame.
Livin' like Givens schemin' on Tyson;
But she got lucky, 'cause he was a nice one.
But I ain't nice, and I don't play that."

Mike Tyson - the convicted rapist famous for biting the ear off an opponent in a boxing ring, in addition to multiple convictions of assault -  was a nice one? It could be, in the words of McBain, "that's the joke." Or maybe it's just that Tyson was going through a brief period as a hip-hop hero (which I've discussed a bit here, but is probably due for a post of its own). And, after all, this preceded pretty much all of his arrests and controversies (specifically: the cases of sexual assault in 1990, rape in 1992, two assaults in 1998, two assaults in 2002, another assault in 2003, possession in 2006, DUI in 2007, and an assault in 2009), so maybe we were all just a little more naive in 1989.

But the line isn't really about Tyson, it's about Robin Givens, best known for playing a high school student in the network sitcom, Head Of the Class. Well, the reference is of course that she was married to Tyson for about a year (married in 1988 and divorced in 1989, then remarried to someone else years later), backing out of the marriage claiming assault. Apparently Dee couldn't bring himself to believe that Mr. Tyson was the violent type, and that Robin Givens must've been lying and "schemin'" to get him for his alimony.

It's infinitely beyond one line in one rapper's song, though. What's struck me is how many other rappers felt compelled to use the exact same line in their own songs. You thought rappers couldn't stop biting each other's Tinactin references? Wait'll you get a load of this. I spent the last couple nights trying to remember Robin Givens lines, and here's what I came up with:

"So how ya livin'? Like a turkey on Thanksgiving?
Or like Robin Givens?"

That was perhaps the most memorable is Big Daddy Kane's question on "Another Victory."

"It's in my nature to keep robbin' like Givens."

And who can forget the above quote from Rock on "Headz Ain't Ready?"

'Success ain't nothin' without someone to share it with,
Except a girl with a Robin Givens Starter Kit."

Positive K obviously shared Moe Dee's views on "Minnie the Moocher."

"Like Robin Givens, I'm concerned about your plastic."

Common, back when he was Common Sense, had a little diss song for the ladies called "Tricks Up My Sleeve."  It featured some random female rapper spitting game back to him towards the end of the song, and she tied it all together by also referencing "the head of the class."

"Catch Tyson for half that cash like Robin Givens."

Certainly an unforgettable example is 50 Cent's classic "How To Rob." What's interesting to note is how long after Moe Dee's record came out, this line was still alive. This one dropped in 1999, a full decade later, and it's not even the most contemporary example we'll see.

"Like Robin Givens, skins want to make the big toast."

Maestro Fresh Wes gets in on it for his under-rated underground single, "Mic Mechanism."

"Now you look booty like that bum Miss Givens."

Oh yeah, and LL Cool J took that shot on "Junglin' Baby." It's not about her divorce, though, just her looks.  Is that... better?

"Now you're sayin' I'm missin'
True love, huggin' and kissin'
Like Tyson and Givens, that's the condition."

BWP have some fun by gleefully adopting the persona of a heartless gold digger on "We Want Money," and couldn't resist taking Robin down with them.

"But the bitch was scandalous like Robin Givens,"

MC Eiht jumped on the dogpile on "Can I Still Kill It?"

"Takin' over spots like my name was Robin Givens."

Rah Digga kept it simple on "Break Fool." 

"I'm livin' to destroy Mikes like Robin Givens."

Red Hot Lover Tone adds an extra pun to the concept (mics/Mikes) on his single "#1 Player."

"A Brooklyn Queen rushes Russell Simmons?
That's like Tyson rushin' Givens!"

Pete Nice inverts the reference (sort of) on his 3rd Bass hit "Brookyln Queens."

"I bring turmoil like Mike and Robin Givens."

I remembered Erick Sermon had a line about her, but I looked it up online and it was actually a compliment unrelated to her marriage, "more flyer than Robin Givens" ("Bomdigi"). But then I realized that wasn't the song I was thinking of, so I kept looking until I found the above, from "We Don't Care." Even that, though, doesn't push her as an iconic gold digging totem like the rest.

But I knew there was a lot more. Rappers have made Robin Givens into a hip-hop boogeyman, a legendary figure who could appear at any time, in the guise of any woman, to take you for all your money. An evil witch to be feared. So I went google crazy - in the process discovering that Smoke DZA even wrote an entire song called "Robin Givens" - and came up with a ton more.

"Ain't no room for Robin Givens."

Says ESG on "How We Swang."

"Me so blinded, ain't see the Robin Givens in you."

Beanie Siegel dresses down a "crazy bitch" on "Bread and Butter." Notice this Givens thing doesn't turn up on many PC songs...

"I call it Robin Givens:
Flo Rida extort ya, take you Pinto to Porsche."

And speaking of un-PC, you know Flo Rida's gotta have one ("Roll"). I like how he speaks as if he coined something original, too, deep in this long line of the same simile, and his being one of the most recent (2008, twenty years after Moe Dee).

"A lot of women is real, some bitches Robin Given.
I never give ‘em no liquid, no pot to piss in."

Wale and Rick Ross teamed us to bring us that lyrical treat on "Play Your Part."

"Dodging Robin Givens, balling like I’m Roger Clemens."

And Rick Ross dipped into the well again, with John Legend on "Who Do We Think We Are."

"And the bitch who fucks with my cash,
Robin Givens, I'll whip your ass!"

Kid Rock has a whole verse on "Pimp Of the Nation" going at famous women from Rosanne Barr to Tipper Gore, and of course you know who that includes and why.

"And yes I know the rules: never marry Robin Givens."

By the time Lil Wayne got to it on Bun B's "Damn I'm Cold," it was a codified rule.

"And I see them rappers is actors, boy, they so Robin Givens."

Ace Hood adopts it as a standard adjective and applies it to MCs on "Have Mercy."

"I don't know no Robin Givens, plus we can't get that involved."

Chamillionaire's "Playa Status" was just aching for a Givens line, and it got it.

"Scandalous like Robin Givens,"

Kane and Abel (specifically Kane) cite among the "7 Sins" on their song with Master P. P has another Givens reference on a different record ("Watch Deez Hoes" off his Ice Cream Man album), but he goes the Sermon route by having his guest Mr. Serv On dropping another line complimenting her looks, "I ain't trippin if some hoes look like Robin Givens."  I mean, you know, as big a compliment as a line can be that still refers to "hoes."

"Material girl in a material world,
Don't try to play yourself, you only slay yourself.
So when a guy says, 'Yo baby, how you're livin?'

I'm not livin' like Robin Givens!"

Even Ultimate Force shared the sentiment on their song called "Girls."

"First you look at me wrong,
Like uh uh, no he didn't.

Then you turn into Robin,
Only you start to give in.
Get it?"

Oy vey. Yes, Wiz Khalifa, we get it. ...That was from "Friendly."

"Bitch, I got a sister who schooled me to shit you chickens do:
Tricking fools; got a whole Robin Givens crew that I kick it to."

Even Jay-Z threw down on this trend, on the predictably titled "Bitches and Sisters" on the Blueprint 2. He had a related line about Tyson on "Holy Grail," too.

"The Famous story of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens:
The Biggest niggas get beat Senseless by little women."

Curren$y still touting the narrative on "#JetsGo."

"And Robin Givens, she's still tryin' to play me like I'm Tyson."

Bizzy Bone might be expressing some delusional - even wishful - thinking on "Less Fame."

"I hope you more like Anita Baker than Robin Givens.
No, I don't know that lady, so let me quit it."

Forced rhyme aside, Andre3000 gets about as fair as anybody's prepared to on John Legend (his second appearance on this list!)'s "Green Light."

"Don't diss me, 'cause I'm the reason why you livin'.
This ain't Mysonne and Ness, nigga; this is Tyson and Robin Givens."

Of course there can't be a stupid lyrical trend with Royce da 5'9 saying "me too!" The song is called "Y'all Must Of Forgot," although the correct expression would be "must have forgot ...ten."

"Niggas in Compton'll make your ass see sparks like Robin Givens."

MC Ren represents both NWA and Mike Tyson on King T's "2 G's From Compton." I think. I don't actually get why Givens would've seen sparks.  I get he means gunfire for Compton,  Someone help me out here.

"They momma said,
'Only fuck with niggas that's paid,'
On some Robin Givens shit."

Ho-hum... Bishop Lamont also said the same shit every in rap has else said, on Reality's "Look At California."

"You can take a lot from this mic like you Robin Givens."

Fred the Godson copies Red Hot Lover Tone's punchline mic/Mike pun on "One Time."

"Hey yo, we fuck the mics up like Robin Givens."

And so does DJ Drama's Willie the Kid on "Desire Washington."

"You think you livin',
Tryin' to dress up like Robin Givens."

With Kool Keith, it's hard to tell if he's just being perverse or what here on "Sideline," but I'm pretty sure he's basically just accusing another theoretical girl of adopting the same role everyone else is referring to when they cite Givens.

"The punch line king, on the run from Robin Givens."

No, Lloyd Banks, you can't have the Punchline King title with tired lines like this from "They Love Me In the Hood."

"Getting money like a bitch - um, Robin Givens."

And of course Lil Wayne just had to come back for seconds in order to use it in that shitty, sentence then subject punchline style gimmick that was never cool on the Rich Boys song "Bigger Than Life." Ugh.

There's two aspects of this rubbing me the wrong way here. One is the whole "He Man Woman Haters' Club" feel to all of this. And I'm no Robin Givens supporter - I don't follow all this celebrity gossip junk and I don't think I've ever been particularly impressed by her as an actress. And it's also not like I'm shocked to see a little misogyny expressed in my rap music; I don't even necessarily mind it in most cases (music is art, after all, not an instructional guide). But it's so relentlessly unanimous. How about a little diversity? I mean, do rappers making the reference today even feel like they have a particular insight into the Tyson/ Givens marriage, or a serious opinion on it at all? Or do they just say it because everybody else says it, and tumblr has replaced critical thinking in the 2010s?

Then of course, there's just the plain old, basic "every MC is writing the same damn punchline" issue. Like, how do you feel like you're any kind of pop song writer, let alone a poet contributing to the art form, when you're writing the fifty billionth punchline where the gag is that Robin Givens is a gold digger? Do you really believe your competition is gonna be shook as you're etching that into your book of rhymes? Even if the worst is true about Givens and you loved the line when you heard Kool Moe Dee drop it, this has still turned into a creatively bereft lyrical garbage dump where everyone's biting even the most useless fodder.

For once, I'd like to see an MC take a slightly feminist stance and use Tyson as the negative reference and give respect to Givens for getting out of a frightening, abusive relationship. And before anyone says it, no, I don't know for sure what happened in their marriage behind closed doors, and if Givens' allegations - or Tyson's counter-allegations - are true. But neither do any of the MCs taking Tyson's side, so why not one person show a little guts and suggest the alternative (and seemingly much more likely) scenario?

Or just stop stuffing all their rap verses with vacuous celebrity references in the first place.  Someone could do that, too. But what the hell, at least it was fun brainstorming all these examples. So congratulations if you made it to the end of this monster piece. And god knows how many I missed (please post 'em in the comments!). But before you give up on humanity entirely, let me close out with two nice Robin Givens lines, both from The Wu camp:

"I love my black women, from Erykah Badu to Robin Givens."

Prodigal Sunn on The Sunz of Man's "For the Lust of Money/ The Grandz."  And:

"It was amazing, I seen Robin Thicke and Robin Leech,
Robin Williams, Robin Givens and Meryl Streep."

- Shawn Wigs describing his ideal of "a real award show," on Ghost Face Killa's "White Linen Affair (Toney Awards)."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Natural Elements, Old To the NEw

Chopped Herring, I think I love you. Continuing their divinely inspired partnership with the Natural Elements crew, they've now dropped their third jewel-laden Elements EP. Thus one's called All Hail NE; and it's noteworthy because it's mostly new material, though they still manage to maintain their tradition of getting NE's classic material still desperately in need of a proper vinyl transfer onto wax too.

If you caught their latest video on Youtube, you may've spotted a link to a new 7-song EP on ITunes. Well, I don't know who gives a crap about some mp3s (heh. Okay, I guess some people do), but I was infinitely more excited to discover that there was also this vinyl version quietly being released by Chopped Herring. The track-listing's not exactly the same (more on that later), because, again, Chopped Herring's dipping back into the vaults, whereas the ITunes EP is 100% new material.

So, what have we got exactly? There's definitely some interesting material to parse here. Considering how their past releases of odds and ends and bootlegs have made the Natural Elements catalog pretty confusing already, I'm going to break this down track by track:

1) DoNE - Natural Elements put this song online back in 2011. For a long time, NE had been operating on divergent paths, either as solo artists or in smaller groups. So this was an early (the first?) reunion to have their original producer Charlemagne back with them behind the boards, and that as hot as a lot of their separate ventures were, they were strongest together. A real return to the classic NE sound.

2) All Hail NE - The title track, "All Hail NE" is a Scram Jones produced joint they released sometime early in 2013, but just recently made a video for. A really strong track to coincide with the EP releases.

3) DoNE (Instrumental) - What's a vinyl release without exclusive instrumental tracks, right? This one's pretty self-explanatory.

4) Survive - This is one of their original, OG tracks pre-dating their first EP,. It's been hiding in the shadows all these years... on their earliest snippet tapes and bootleg releases. It got its first official, cleaned up release on that crazy anniversary album; but of course that was CD only. So this is its (non-bootleg) vinyl debut.

5) Off-Beat Bop - This was a mysterious DJ Sebb ("B-Boy Document")-produced song that wasn't from their Tommy Boy album but still popped up on that anniversary album. Again, that was CD only, making this its vinyl debut, boot or otherwise.

6) Turning Tables (Acapella) - WTF? Well, "Turning Tables" was a cool new song NE put out online early last year, an ode to hip-hop's great DJs (it's a pun; get it?). But even though the song's never gotten a proper release, Chopped Herring's decided to only include the acapella? I mean, sure it's a treat for acapella collectors and remixers; but not putting it the actual, proper song on here first? That's just weird.

So, we have some very interesting choices. The ITunes EP features exclusively new material, so basically they only have two tracks in common: "All Hail NE" and "DoNE." That one doesn't have the instrumental or acapella version either, though they do include the complete "Turning Tables" song, as well as some other new NE joints. The biggest loss in the translation for me was "Competition is NoNE," my possibly my favorite of the new Charlemagne-produced NE songs to date. Yeah, it's gotten flack for sampling some teeny-bopper song, but since I don't listen to that crap, the association doesn't bother me.  I just appreciate it as the killer NE groove that Charlemagne turned it into. I would've loved to have it on here, especially in place of, say, a random acapella.

But at the end of the day, this is another terrific Natural Elements release. Maybe it's not the ideal track-listing I would've personally assembled, but you've gotta put aside what could've been and look at what is. And "what is" is another essential, must have slab of wax for any Natural Elements fan.  I'm especially pleased to report that their new music is totally up to par with their 90s material... Sadly, that's very rarely the case with artists like these. But Natural Elements have really mastered the retention of everything that we fell in love with - in terms of lyrics, vocal stylings and production - while still keeping it fresh. A tremendously rare feat.

And considering this is already Chopped Herring's third Natural Elements EP, I guess it's not too unrealistic to hope that any song we wanted but didn't get here may still turn up on volume 4, right? "Competition Is NoNE," Knick Knack"... You know what the world needs, Herring. But in the mean time, I'm gonna sit here and be super happy with what I just got.  :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RapMasters 7: The Best Of the Laughs

If you were a kid who loved in rap in the 80s, you've gotta remember the RapMasters tapes. Sure, there were a cap ton of compilation albums with no exclusive material, even back then. But they all tended to have the exact same songs.  If you wanted "Rapper's Delight" and "It Takes Two," the world was your oyster. But if you were ready to delve deeper, you didn't have many options outside of finding all the original records. So RapMasters was a welcome alternative. Sold cheaper than your average cassette and so widely distributed, you could pick them up at delis and comic book shops. And sure, they contained the same over-exposed songs every other compilation did. But since it was an on-going series that eventually reached fifteen volumes, they were forced to get more creative with their song selections just to fill all that space.

(Behold: the whole lot!)
And that they did. Some relatively underground stuff, like the Too Kool Posse, old Just-Ice, Schoolly D, Ultramagnetics... They actually gave you a nice selection of what was available from the genre, and whoever was making the selections had some really good taste. Priority Records put these out, but they had a surprisingly New York bent. Each one was tape was loosely based on a category, like The Best Of the Rhyme, The Cut or The Old School. Some were pretty distinct - The Best of Hard Rockin' Rap featured all songs with 80's metal guitar riffs - but others, like Best Of the Jam, were pretty generic and arbitrary. On the inside they listed all of the volumes with all of the track-listings of each tape, and you could tell the budget went up for the later entries, because the last four tapes had an extra fold out that included each song's writing credits and copyright info.

Since this is April 1st, I've opted to focus on RapMasters 7: The Best Of the Laughs. It's actually a pretty well-thought out line-up. While every song definitely can be seen as a sort of "funny" song; it's not a collection of hip-hop's goofiest novelty rap records. No Rappin' Grannies or Rodney Dangerfield cheesiness. Rappin' Duke is on hand, and so is Joe Piscopo's crazy "Honeymooner's Rap" with Eddie Murphy (curiously billed here as Lost Episodes, as they were on Laff Attack, even though that name doesn't seem to appear anywhere on the original records); but most of the songs are by credible artists. Whoever put this together was definitely concerned with making a genuinely good listening experience for hip-hop fans, not just stringing along a bunch of silly foolishness.

Like, if you were assigned to come up with funny rap songs from the 80s, would you have come up with Chubb Rock's "Caught Up" or the unexpectedly adult "That Girl's a Slut" by Just-Ice? But, yet, they're certainly humorous raps. There's two Fat Boys songs: "All You Can Eat" from Krush Groove and "Chillin' With the Refrigerator" with William Perry, probably their most novelty-style record. There's also two from Bobby Jimmy and the Critters (not only was he hip-hop's own "Weird Al "Yankovic, but he'd just signed to Priority), naturally. Doug E. Fresh & MC Ricky D's "La Di Da Di" fits the bill very appropriately, and you also have T-La Rock's obscure album track "Tudy Fruity Judy."  ...Yeah, there's a lot of human beat boxing on this tape.

So if you're looking for a good, silly mix to celebrate this April Fool's Day with, don't forget that golden b-boy stanced figurine from your youth. He always brought The Best Of everything.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dope On Plastic

Dope Folks has been killing it for a while now. So much so, that I've acquired a lot of records from them I've wanted to blog about, and have been. But I don't want this blog to get too Dope Folks heavy, so I've been spreading them out and putting them off. So today I've assembled...

 The Five Dope Folks Records I Got And Have Been Meaning To Blog About, But Hadn't Until Now
...into one super post.  Ready?  Here we go!

Cage 1: Straight Out the Cage EP If you haven't seen Gentle Jones' in-prison interview with Pooch from Cage 1, go watch it now. Seriously, just do it. Now you should glean this from the vid, but real quick, Cage 1 is a Delaware group who released one killer, "random rap" 12" all the way back in 1989, and a small run of a CD album called Park Legend. It was hardcore, put also political and on some rough street shit. Sorta like 2 Black 2 Strong, but tighter. Also being from Delaware, Jones felt compelled not only to interview Pooch, but to lace Dope Folks with some of Cage 1's unreleased tracks. So they released this four tracker - both tracks from the original, grail 12" and two unheard tracks that are just as strong. Don't sleep on Wilmington, this is great!

Earplay Entertainment: '96 Brooklyn EP - Producer Tommy Gibbz released a pretty rare, 5 track EP on his own label, Earplay Entertainment, with his brother in.... guess what year. It featured five different NY artists: Oliver Twist, Khénya, HitMan, Dezert Storm and Strictly Homicidal. Some really nice, raw street level shit with strong influences from Biggie and Mobb Deep. that wound up on a lot of want lists. Plus, there's a female MC who steals the show on a single track like Essence did on Natural Elements' "Shine", or What? What? did on Natural Resource's "Negro League Baseball." Well, Dope Folks repressed almost the whole EP - they left off one track, as is their wont, to keep the original collectible - and added four additional, unreleased cuts from that camp to make it into a pretty hot LP.  Two more HitMan tracks, one more from Oliva Twist and an exclusive remix of "Cognac," a track Gibbz put out through Echo Entertainment in 1999 (no relation to Freddie Gibbs' "Cognac" song).

Plush Bros: The Plush Bros. Jr. Album - I guess it's a "Jr. Album" because it's only four songs? Anyway, the Plush Bros are a killer, indie Philly duo who put out some really killer 12"s in the late 80s and early 90s. One of their highly sought after 12"s was this 4-track EP, which Dope Folks repressed in 2012. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed and initially passed on this one, because it's just a simple repress. I mean, I know you can't just pull amazing unreleased bonus tracks out of a hat, but I when I first heard Plush Bros was coming from DF, I was at least hoping they'd include their other, rare and brilliant songs from Pay Hill. But, what can you do? It's a must have EP, and unless you've got $600 lying around for an OG, you've gotta give it up to Dope Folks, this is a very welcome and repress filling a big void. And maybe they'll round up all their other music for a follow-up.

Killed By Def Vol. 1 - I'm not sure what the Killed By Def title is all about. I think it's just Dope Folks way of grouping together some random, unconnected tracks on the same record. They dropped this in 2011 and they've only just recently come up with a Vol. 2. This is simply two, very rare, high dollar "random rap" one-off 12"s repressed and combined onto one nice, little EP. The A-side is "We Got Pull" and its instrumental by Paint It Black, a Connecticut duo (Russ Bee and GMan) from 1992, made famous by a DJ Azeez mixtape. It features almost the same instrumental (certainly the same root sample) as Larry Larr's "Da Wizzard Of Odds," but they rip it harder. The B-side, then, is a North Carolina record by a crew known as The Servants from 1994, entitled "Ripper (Hardcore Mix)." Plus its instrumental, too. I don't know if the song lives up to its title, but it's a phat, dark beat that's possibly more desirable than the vocal version. The A-side is the real treasure here, but the B-side's a nice companion.

Bolaji: Outer Limits - We're ending with one of their more recent releases, Bolaji was an overlooked Long Island MC on Zakia Records - the same label as Eric B & Rakim dropped their first classics on before they signed to a major. They also had King Sun and a bunch of "Roxanne, Roxanne" answer records. Anyway, Bolaji fit right into that roster, his records were dope and hardcore; but for some reason he never broke out like the rest. He's since resurfaced a number of times... In the 90s, he was collaborated on some solid indie vinyl on High Council Records, and he's actually been making good use of the internet through the 2000s - look him up on CDBaby; he's got a bunch of albums. I don't think he's ever reached the heights of his original Zakia singles, but Dope Folks have managed to compile an EP's worth of rare and unreleased of material by Bolaji from the late 90s. A couple of the songs appeared on a very rare CD called Project S.C.A.R., but they're making their vinyl debut here; and a couple songs feature some of his High Council compatriots. Again, I still prefer the earlier music, but it's hard not to enjoy this EP, thanks in no small part to Bolaji's original, head nodding production and very 90s lyrical aesthetic.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Written Off Your Psyche

You might remember me ranting about how excited I was by a couple really great releases by an underground NJ rap group called Written On Your Psyche a couple years ago. Unfortunately, by the time I'd discovered them, they'd already split up. So even though you could still go back and pick up their old records, it was definitely a bummer. But just because they split up doesn't mean they quit music. In fact, what I have today is All Of a Sudden, a solo CD by Psyche's Poet Substratum, now going simply by Poet, released by Delinquent Soundz in 2008.

Right off the bat, this is not as good as the WOYP material that got me so excited in the first place. But that's a very high benchmark; and taken on its own terms, it's a pretty neat, underground album.

Poet is definitely playing from a weaker position without Bolical Jenkins to rebound off of, but he's hurt more by the lack of Saheeb Bad Health on the boards. The lush, vibrant music of the later WOYP is not here, and that's a shame. Really, if you haven't picked up Grounded and the "In Control" 12", you need to do that shit. But, just because this album isn't playing on that level doesn't mean it isn't worth your time; so let's look at what we actually do have on here.

The music here is provided by a variety of producers. I don't know who DefDom is, but he provides two very nice tracks that come close to matching the Psyche sound. One of those tracks is hampered by a sappy, sung chorus; but that's the only corny hook on the whole album. Venomous, another Delinquent Soundz artist, loops some great samples on two more tracks. And DJ IRIS concocts a wild, percussion-heavy beat with a really funky old school vibe. Custodian of Records cooked up two chunky tracks in his traditional style (always a good thing); and WOYP's DJ Priority is back to provide some nice cuts for this album.

So that's about half the tracks - definitely worthwhile. Two more are just skits you'll definitely want to skip. Then the rest are more generic, indie hip-hop fare. Decent but not too exciting. On his own, Poet definitely sounds thinner. He does get a bunch of guests to help out - including Venomous, Phonetic, Skitzo & Victor KJ. They basically all wind up occupying the same space as Poet, though, so it doesn't feel like much is changing when the mic is passed. Only Skitzo really manages to bring a welcome shift in energy towards the end of the album. 

Lyrically, it's alright. Not much stands out as exceptional, and only one song (the juvenile "Please Don't Go") stands out as poor. The best verses are cool; the rest just equate to filler. Nothing wrong with it, nothing compelling about it. Here's a random sample: "Miss you as we wish you all bon voyage. Yo, my doctor says my lungs look more like London fog. Phonetic brought a bag and I brought my bong. Yo, we're patterning our philosophies on Cheech and Chong." Like... it's kind of clever? He comes off better when he's writing a conceptual song, like "Motivation," which is really a solid effort on all fronts. But most of the time he's just spitting verses it's hard to muster a strong opinion on.

The album ends with "Written Tape." I don't know if it was recorded for this album or (as the opening skit implies) dusted off from their vaults. But either way, it's a proper WYOP song, with Bolical back to trade verses with Poet. It's produced by Chicken Sandwich (uh?), who also did Written's early, pre-Saheeb material. It's fresh, and the hearing the pair reunite sounds as good as you'd hope. It's a really great, fun song.

So it probably reads like I'm pretty tepid on this album; and you might even wonder why I bothered to write about it. Well it's true, I am tepid on this album over all; but the highlights are high enough that they should be checked out. Hell, I'd get this album just for "Written Tape;"  But songs like "Motivation," "Cleaning Wit the Custodian" and "Lookin One Way" really are first class, solid songs, too. And even the rest is at least decent album filler. And even though it's a six year old, super indie album; apparently it can still be found new from CDUniverse of all places. Or you can probably just find it online to download. So give it a shot; I'm glad to have my copy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Whirlwind LP

Now on B-Line Recordings (a young but prolific UK label), Solid'N'Mind's Whirlwind D returns with his first, full-length LP, Nomansland. This doesn't carry over any of his earlier singles; it's all new material, except it features a new remix (or "Refix" as it's labeled here) of "Star" off his Bristol Built 12" from last year.

I've talked about D's adult approach to our genre of hip-hop which is sadly typically written off as a genre for and by kids before, and he certainly hasn't put that down. "Old man rap" are literally the first three words we hear on this LP. But fortunately, he stops short of entering Pitman territory (ha ha). In fact, while he certainly has a variety of topics and things to address over the course of this LP, the energy seems more directed at just making a bumping, mass appeal album.

As such, it sort of rises and falls based on its production. Not that it really "falls," mind you. It's lowest points are still good stuff. But the waves of how much it pulls you in are generally based on how funky the beats you are. For example, "How I Get Ill" doesn't really come alive until Beatrix's scratches at the end. In fact, this album is filled with excellent scratching, which really elevate the proceedings. Then you also have "Gain My Perspective," which, lyrically, is one of the message-iest songs on here: "children die each day because of another man's cause."  That kind of song by almost any other artist would be a drag, but it turns out to be a real high point, thanks largely to the super deep bass funk groove sampled and hooked up by Mr. Fantastic.

It's songs like "Run Fast" where D trades verses with Phill Most Chill over a hyper, high energy cut or the aggressively paced posse cut "Stronger" that really grab you. Or "Stories From the Battlefield," where DJ Spatts' production (including some excellent use of "The Bridge") and DJ Tones' cuts fuse perfectly together to create a track so alive it wouldn't even need vocals. I really can't say enough about the turntablism on here. There are multiple DJs contributing to different songs: Theory 77, Sir Beanz OBE, DJ Tones, Specifik, Beatrix, Mr. Fantastic and Miracle; but they all feel perfectly at home. Seriously, if you're into the art of scratching, this album is a must-have. Other recent artists have pulled it off on a track or two, but across a whole album? I think this is the best example of how it should be done that we've had in years.

"Night Time" feels the most like a classic Whirlwind D song, in terms of his previous work. It's got another deep, compelling groove (and yes, more nice scratches); but this time they really feel like they're there in support of D's song-writing, where he narrates nightly visitations of anxieties and regrets like ghosts when he can't sleep. It's evocative and atmospheric, like a more sophisticated "Play This Only At Night."

Oh, and that "Star" refix? It's okay. Produced by someone named Phil Wilks, it's driven by a computery bassline which will have your head-nodding. But it just doesn't feel as organic or... necessary as the original. It's the weakest spot on the album, and I kind of prefer to think of it as just a "bonus track" stuck on at the end. It's not bad, but it does sort of undercut the superior tone of the rest of the LP and probably could've been left off. Save it for an extra 12" B-side for the completionists. It's not that it's bad, but that everything else all along had been better.

And if we were grading records strictly on physical presentation, this would have to be contender for album of the year. It comes in a full color, picture gatefold cover with all the lyrics inside, and includes a glossy insert with more artwork and the man's discography. At £15.99, you're certainly getting the most bang for your buck in terms of the physical product. At a certain point, there must be a lot of pressure on you as an artists just to make music of high enough quality just to live up to the record you're putting it on. You know, for a thin little white label EP in a generic black sleeve, you can feel comfortable spitting any ol' guff over a crappy beat; but when you're putting together a big, fancy gatefold, I know I'd be thinking, damn, am I capable of creating what it takes to live up to this packaging? But fortunately, Whirlwind D is. and he's assembled a line-up of DJs and producers who go above and beyond. This is an album you'll not only appreciate on the first listen, but want to go back and play again and again.