Friday, December 24, 2021

A Vessie Merry XMas

(It looks like there's one last little treat in your stocking.  Merry Xmas, everyone!  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Whirlwind D and the Music That Binds Us

Just like I couldn't let the year end without one more Father MC review, Whirlwind D couldn't let it end without lacing us with a new record.  He's consistently put out at least one new vinyl release every year for the past decade, and not even these crazy hard times have been able to stop him.  So let's dig in.

Produced by Djar One, "Without Music" has a lush, funk/soul vibe with packed samples, replete with (non-verbal) looped, female vocals and big horns.  It has an addictive, uplifting vibe - it's the kind of instrumental you want to put on repeat as soon as it's over, like Large Professor's "Key To the City."  It makes perfect sense that this is the backing for a literal ode to music itself.  "Without Music," is all about what music has meant to them and their gratitude for never having to have gone through life without it.  I say "them" because the D's joined by guest MC Micall Parknsun, who lays it all out in the end, "this is all I got to give. Struggling to pay this rent, 'cause we don’t even own our shit.  But this made it all make sense.  And even when I’m deep in debt, and we ain’t even broke even yet, you were always there, when nobody even cared.  You’re the reason that brought me here, 'cause you’re always near.  Every bar is so sincere, so every word in the verse must be crystal clear.  Every line in between each kick and snare.  I’m defining my life what I hold so dear."  But it's still D who lands the deepest hits, "when I hit my lows and my first family broke, bars and beats tapes my heart and mind spoke solace in a verse, unrehearsed, just a burst... In the good times too, not just when I’m blue, rhymes add color and definition to every hue; paint pictures of my past in the ether that will last: reminders of the journey and the places that I’ve passed."

For the B-side we have "Labels," the Smoove Mix 7" Edit.  Originally produced by Djar One, you may recall "Labels" was originally the lead track on D's 2018 Beats, Bits and Bobs EP, and it was also featured on last year's Original Breaks To B-Lines compilation.  This one's produced by a UK producer named Smoove a.k.a. Ultragroove, who goes way back (though I think this is his first collaboration with D): he produced the UK remix of Digital Underground's "No Nose Job."  And that explains the title, because when I first saw "Smoove Mix," I was fully expecting some low key, Smooth Ice, Grand Daddy IU, "How Kool Can One Black Man Be" type of vibe, and this mix is definitely not that.

It's actually another lavish, 70's funk-soul explosion, this time with more of a faster disco vibe, with even more big horns (there's a great, subtle line he only slips in near the end of the second and third verse) and major replayability.  Now, I've already talked about the lyrics and concept in my Bits and Bobs video, so this is an excellent opportunity to talk about scratching.  Anyone familiar with Whirlwind D knows his records are some of the most reliable sources of killer scratch hooks; he always works with amazing DJs.  On this record, it's Specifik on both the A and B sides.  And like I'm sure most of you guys reading this feel, I love scratching.  I love complicated DMC Championship routines, and I love super basic, slow "zugga zugga" rubs on early 80s records.  This is Hip-Hop, I want it all!  A rap song with scratches is automatically one letter grade higher than one without.

But what deserves extra credit here is how well it fits into the music, like Specifik was somehow part of the bands they've sampled back in the 70s.  And that's even more impressive with "Labels," since these are the same scratches as the original mix which had a very different instrumental bed.  Like, if you think of some classic 90s DJ Premier scratch hooks, they always sound brilliant, but they also sound like him doing his cuts on top of a beat.  What's extra dope here is how it all feels of one, pre-designed piece.  I guess part of that is just down to the style of music they're sampling, which is busier, giving the turntablist something to repeatedly disappear into and then dynamically pop out of.  But I also the producers had to have known what they were doing.  There's a part in "Without Music," where they drop the bass out as D's second verse starts, and it sounds like Specifik's last scratch cues it.  Maybe it's just fortunate happenstance, but either way, the result is a pair of instrumentals you're going to love.  I actually prefer this "Labels" to the original, which is saying something, as it was one of D's stand-out tracks the first time around.

So this is a 7", specifically a small hole 45.  It comes in a stylish full picture cover, and a plain white inner sleeve that I only mention because a lot of 7"s seem to skimp out on those.  As of this writing, it's already sold out on D's bandcamp; but it's available at most of the usual online retailers like Juno, HipHopBeBop and RareKind, so there's still time to join the celebration.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Father MC's Presteege

The year's almost ending!  The economy's collapsing.  The human race is succumbing to a deadly pandemic.  I must... add... one more... Father MC post!

Yes, there's still more to cover.  This is another late 90's R&B collaboration, along the lines of his projects with Teez, Kym Rae and Bishop.  Once again, it's on NJ's own Echo International that actually seems more directly tied to his time in Florida when he was working on his unreleased Men With Millions album.  Specifically, this is "Waiting - Anticipating," the only record by a female singing group called Presteege, released in 1997.

Like, all of these slightly low energy R&B joints, it's a little on the bland side.  The singers are pretty good, but they won't shock you awake with unbelievable notes, and the instrumental's boring.  I suspect this is somewhat inspired by Heavy D's "Got Me Waiting," but it's certainly different enough that you couldn't call it a knock-off or anything.  And if you really pay attention, things get a bit interesting.

First of all, it doesn't really fall into your traditional chorus/ verse/ chorus/ verse format.  It starts out with Father's rap, which is a little longer and deeper than your standard MC guest spot on an R&B joint.  And lyrically, it kicks off intriguingly outside of Father's wheelhouse.  He's rapping about being some kind of drug kingpin and, well, I'll let Father tell it, "'Ey yo, my spot was hot; 5-0 rides up on my block. My soldiers dropped rocks as they load up their glocks."  This sounds like a Children Of the Corn joint, except he's still rhyming slow and calm over a twangy R&B groove with Presteege crooning "I need your love" in the background.

Anyway, his point is that he's older and wiser now, and he only lead his life of crime for love.  "I'm nasty and my attitude smells like Hell.  Oh, you're missin' the realness, society fell.  I guess I'll take you back, 'cause you're my baby blue true.  Deep down inside, everything I did was done for you."  So it comes around to eventually being the sort of love song you'd expect, but some of these bars might be the most street declarations Father's ever made.  And so anyway, that's like the first two minutes, and the rest of the song is handed over to one member of Presteege to sing all the lead vocals, with the other members singing back-up.  But again, there's no chorus or anything really.  She just sings her bars about how "my love is you'll ever need" until the end of the song.  Some weird keyboards kick in just as the lead vocalist reaches for her highest notes, which kind of obscures and undercuts her biggest moment, but oh well.  It's a pleasant enough song once you get past the part about society falling to a criminal underworld.

There's also a B-side called "Do You Recall?"  Interestingly - unless this is a label error, which really wouldn't surprise me - it's this B-side that doesn't feature Father that he has a writing credit on.  Yeah, this is just a solo Presteege song.  They're asking "do you recall the days of yesterday when you wanted me," which is kinda what they were singing about on their last song.  The group comes together a little better on this one, but they're still pretty low-key, and the instrumental is basically just one repeating loop for the whole five and a half minutes.  And this one does have a chorus, that they repeat a little too often.  In short, Presteege are trying, but this is super boring.  I'm not sure another appearance by Father could've helped much either.  Both songs are produced by somebody named Almighty, and they're pretty limp.  Put these ladies in a booth with somebody a little more enthusiastic and they might've gone somewhere.  Too bad they never got that chance, but hopefully the members were able to go on to record more in some other context.

There are no instrumentals or anything, just the one song on each side.  Pretty much for completists (read: me) only.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Kool Moe Dee's Worst Hits?

I've been itching to revisit these tracks for a while.  See, at the end of his bounteous run with Jive Records, Kool Moe Dee sealed his contract with a Greatest Hits album.  It'll go down in history for including his famous and powerful posse cut, "Rise & Shine," with Krs-One and Chuck D, in the track-listing, but the song isn't actually on the album.  One of the great rip-offs of the ages.  The only reason I'm over it now is because I had the original Funke Funke Wisdom album already.  In fact, I had all his albums already.  Really, the only reason to cop this album for us dedicated fans was that he slipped a few new, exclusive songs in between the classics.  Four, to be precise.  And buying a whole album for four songs is already less than ideal, but it was made so much worse when it turned out they sucked.

At least that's how I remember them, and how they've been pretty much written up in history.  But the last time I listened to these songs was the very same year I checked them out and filed them away in disappointment: 1993.  A big part of the problem is that this is the first project Moe Dee made since his Treacherous Three days without Teddy Riley.  But, still, Kool Moe Dee is one of the great all-legends, and it's been 28 years.  Maybe if I go back with slightly less exacting standards, I'd find some pretty decent material I'd written off just because it wasn't on the exact same level as his all-time greatest hits they were sandwiched with.

So new track #1 is "Whosgotdaflava."  Even that title is a red flag.  It's absolutely of its time and feels like something a couple of cornball studio executives would decide rappers liked to say.  And the same could be said of the whole song.  It just feels like this is the year Kool Moe Dee lost touch with the movement, turned his baseball cap backwards and asked, "how do you do, fellow kids?"  But then again, if we're casting blame, producers Hula & K. Fingers have to raise their hands.  These guys rode the line between R&B and Hip-Hop, giving things a pop jingle kind of sound.  You might know them best for doing the last two Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince albums or Gerardo's second album (that's right, he made more than one).  They did a lot with Mr. Lee and R&B groups, and really it's not so much that they were untalented; just the worst possible fit for Kool Moe Dee post "Death Blow" and "Rise & Shine."  You might as well have asked Young MC to write Bushwick Bill's solo album.

Not that it's super soft.  In fact, there turns out to be a little truth in the idea that there might be something worth revisiting here.  It starts off with some nice cuts and thunderous samples.  No DJ is credited - did Hula or K do 'em themselves?  Okay, I'm impressed.  But then it starts to get cornier.  The "four or five guys shouting in a studio" for the hook and back-up ad-libs sounds super dated now, and even in 1993, just didn't fit with Kool Moe Dee.  Again, this feels like Dee trying to play catch up with the trends instead of just being the microphone master he naturally is.  But he does have a fast, syllable-packed flow.  He can still kick it like a pro.  He doesn't have anything to say beyond, "let's make the party bounce," and the instrumental never really grabs you after those initial fifteen seconds, but it's respectable album filler.

Track #2 is "Can U Feel It," again by Hula & K.  And this is the one where they really indulge they're sappy R&B predilections.  It has a bunch of soft studio instruments instead of samples, including a fake G-funk slide whistle kinda thing.  And it has a sung, poppy chorus of both women and men asking if we can feel it.  But it has a smooth bassline, and Dee seems eager to show he can ride a different kind of rhythm than he ever had before.  And he does have a funky, catchy flow where he waxes nostalgic about his early days with a vibe that's probably trying to replicate their only successful Fresh Prince collaboration: "Summertime."  So, on one hand, I can understand why they chose this to be the single.  Yes, they pressed one of these Greatest Hits exclusives up as a 12".  It has an exclusive remix that's veritably identical to the album version.  It's well done, but just such bad taste.  Some Jive exec thought this and "Boom! Shake the Room" were going to fly in the year of 36 Chambers?

Track #3 is "Gimme My Props" and now KMD is producing his own stuff, though he has two credited "Co-Producers," (Keith Spencer and Dale Hogan), so who knows exactly who did what?  It's got some tight drums and a cool bassline, but boy, all that shouting "ho" in the studio stuff grates.  Dee sounds great here, though.  He's coming hard and aggressive, like another "Death Blow," but swift and with a clever rhyme scheme.  But the Joe Tex "give it here, don't say nothin'" hook feels like it's been cut and pasted from another song.  And if he's going so hard, you kinda wish he'd just take it there and make it a proper LL diss.  But nah.  It makes me think these are left-overs from his previous album rather than new material recorded for this compilation.  I could see this song almost making Funke Funke Wisdom but getting cut to make room for something tighter.  But these verses he's rocking over this nice track are at least worth preserving.  I'm glad this track was saved.  Cut the studio posse buddies and replace them with some nice DJ cuts and you'd have a killer, top shelf Moe Dee track you'd want to own on 12".

Finally track #4 is "Look At Me Now," another ostensibly self-produced vehicle, but with Keith and Dale in tow again.  Vocally, this sounds like an older Moe Dee style, and I swear he's rapped over these same drums on a couple other records.  The hook is a variation of "How Ya Like Me Now," and it's got a cool sample to it, but this is no "How Ya Like Me Now."  The "fellas say 'ho,'" stuff feels out of step again.  In the second verse, he starts flipping different styles and damn if he doesn't get your head nodding.  But like the other tracks here, the song never fully congeals into a proper song.

A strong producer could've pushed this material across the finish line and left us with some solid Kool Moe Dee bangers as he strutted away from Jive.  Just listen to "Good Times" he made the same year for the Zebrahead soundtrack with LG Experience.  But instead these feel like failed experiments left wriggling on the laboratory floor.  As a fan who grew up with Kool Moe Dee, I'm glad now that they were released so that we can sample them, if only as curiosities.  There's promise in each of them.  But they're still as unfulfilled as I remembered them.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sunday, October 10, 2021

On Tilt, The 5th Album

Besides the insane amount of other projects Luke Sick manages to keep releasing all the time*, On Tilt - his partnership with QM of The Rec League - has managed to put out an album a year for the past five years.  And here it is for 2021, the fifth album, fittingly titled The 5th Album, which is also a reference to a fifth of alcohol, because of course it is.  But if that sounds dismissive or nonchalant in any way, then you guys haven't figured out how impressed I am with these guys' talents yet.

The 5th Album sets itself apart right away.  Entirely produced by San Francisco MC/ producer Bank Notes, a.k.a. Wordsmiff, this entire album has a single, distinct tone.  No upbeat song followed by a posse cut, followed by a moody and depressing track... this is all going for a smooth, laid back west coast chill vibe.  Like classic 2nd II None, but a little more mellow.  They even attempt singing on the hook of "The Remedy," but they make it work with their fierce dedication to the ambiance.  That can be a bit of a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, if that's what you're after, this is the perfect tape to put you in that mood and keep you there.  On the other hand, if you're looking for more bounce or something aggressive, it can put you right off.  In other words, unlike the previous albums, you have to be ready to meet it half way.  But if it happens to be up your alley, or it just catches you at the right time of day, it could be your favorite yet.

I'm a bit split on whether it's my favorite yet... but maybe.  I'm absolutely enjoying it and fully appreciate what they're going for, with each listen better than the last.  It's the most consistent, and yeah it's low-key, but it's not exactly chopped and screwed music, which I admit I don't really have the patience for.  "Drank Season" is the ideal opener to signal where we're headed, "drunk ass youngins in the bars with an open nose, keep bumpin' broke blow thinkin' that they're Romeos.  Every night drankin', flossin' in a Beamer.  Suckers to the side, I'm comin' through with the motherfuckin' Seagrams, and player QM rollin' with a cold 12.  Ain't nobody drankin' if the fade ain't flowin' well.  Sellin' solo K cups, two for five, but snobs actin' like they're way too good for the Coors Light.  If you don't like it, you can hit the sto' and come back; and while you're there get the Rossi and the blunt wraps.  People gettin' pushed in the pool with their clothes on.  Pour a shot and kill it, now you're really in the drank zone.  We see the sun and we get drunk, no other reason.  It's summertime, but On Tilt call it drank season.  In one hand, the other hand holdin' dank (true!).  It ain't a thing, I ain't goin' in to work today.  I see the sun, and we get drunk, no other reason.  It's summertime, but On Tilt call it drank season."  Luke and QM have the perfect personalities to capture this elusive attitude, and the album's chock full of cool out, creative samples to match.

"Beer With My Friends" is super funky but still slow and easy, featuring the album's only guest MC, Gurp City regular TOPR, who's a little gruffer, which acts as the song's perfect seasoning.  "Just Think" is a slick corruption of The Roots' "Proceed."  The 5th's sole weakness is that the low energy can get a little sleepy by the time you're halfway through, even when songs like "Life On Tilt" or "Relax" would still be a highlight on any other tape.  Fortunately, DJ Traps drops by for a really tight (though still fitting with the overall mood) DJ cut to shake you up in the final third.  And it ends with a really strong closer, "We All Gotta Go," featuring one of QM's best verses and a choice Nas/ AZ vocal sample.

This is another limited edition, joint venture pro-dubbed cassette between Megakut and I had An Accident Records, but it's a bit challenging to figure out just how limited.  Megakut lists it as limited to 60, I had An Accident lists 90, and QM's personal bandcamp presents a second pressing of 30.  Does that mean there were originally 60, then a second run of 30, for a total of 90?  Or Megakut was allotted 60 and IHaA got 90 for a total of 150, followed by 30 more, bringing us to 180?  Is there a fourth listing somewhere else I haven't found with another number?  Who knows, but however you cut it, these are very small numbers.  So if you're interested, you'd better act fast.  As of this writing, all three listings were down to their last 2-4 copies.  So don't fuck around.  If you miss this one, you'll wind up regretting it.

*Recent months have also yielded the latest Grand Invincible LP and a collaborative instrumental double album, Snake Mountain Crew, with two accompanying vinyl singles.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Friday, September 3, 2021

Nick Broomfield's Repeated Attempts To Crack the Biggie & Tupac Murders

You know, there are like a million feature film posthumous documentaries about Biggie Smalls and 2Pac:

  • 2001's Tupac Shakur: Before I Wake
  • 2002's Tupac: Thug Angel
  • 2003's Tupac Resurrection
  • 2003's Tupac 4Ever
  • 2004's Tupac Vs.
  • 2006's Remembering Makaveli
  • 2006's So Many Years, So Many Tears
  • 2007's Notorious B.I.G.: Bigger Than Life
  • 2008's Notorious B.I.G.: Business Instead of Game
  • 2009's Tupac: Reckoning
  • 2009's Biggie Smalls: Rap Phenomenon
  • 2011's Tupac: Thug Angel 2
  • 2015's Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders
  • 2017's Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.
  • 2021's Biggie: I Got a Story To Tell

And that doesn't even include their segments in Beef or other documentaries where they're just part of a larger story (Can't Stop Won't Stop, Inside Death Row, etc etc), or episodes of series like Autopsy or Unsolved that've covered the crimes that took their lives.  A&E ran a whole miniseries called Who Killed Tupac? in 2017.  Raise your hand if you've seen them all.  Hmm... nope, I don't believe you.

Anyway, there's two in particular I want to write about today, both made by the same man nearly two decades apart: Nick Broomfield's Biggie and Tupac from 2002 and his latest, 2021's sequel: Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac.

Nick Broomfield is an interesting character.  He started out in UK during the 70s making quite good, earnest films like Juvenile Liason and Behind the Rent Strike.  But he started slipping into trashier territory (Chicken Ranch), and his late 80's doc, an authorized behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway show that fell apart before it ever got performed, turned him into a different type of filmmaker.  The only way to salvage his film about a show that wound up never existing was to make himself and the disaster around trying to make a movie without a subject the actual subject.  So there's lots of himself on camera, recording his phone calls about the budget and arguing with the show's producers.  Contemporaneously, he and Michael Moore popularized that kind of semi-autobiographical journey-to-get-the-story documentary, where there's more footage of them being kicked out by security guards than actual interviews.  But, with his bent towards trashier subject matter, he wound up going the more tabloid route, making films about Heidi Fleiss or Sarah Palin where he's really the star.

But his films are still often quite compelling.  It's hard to say what his two documentaries about serial killer Aileen Wournos are about, exactly, but they're fascinating.  And you can see how slightly more credible and establishment-friendly filmmakers like Louis Theroux were kind of born out of his legacy.  So there might be a billion Tupac and Biggie documentaries fighting over the same scraps of legacy footage, but Nick's are unique.

Tupac and Biggie starts out with Nick being refused an interview with former police detective Russell Poole, who he explains retired over not being allowed to investigate fellow LAPD officers possibly involved in the murders.  Broomfield travels back and forth between NY and LA, looking like a bit of a sad sack carrying around his boom mic and sound recorder trying and failing to insert himself into the story.  Lots of footage of their neighborhoods is shot in passing through his car windows, and we get scenes where he walks into a barber shop asking if they knew Biggie and they tell him they don't want to be filmed.  He goes to a supermarket where Biggie worked as a kid and clumsily asks, "was he a good, uh, bag packer?"  He tries to buy unreleased 2Pac songs off a guy on the street, but the cassette breaks so we never hear what was probably a scam in the first place.  And he consistently mispronounces 2pac's name ("two pack") through the entire film.

Still, Broomfield eventually gets some credible interviews.  He asks his mom if his reference to growing up on a one-room shack in "Juicy" was true, and she tells us, "oh, well, to me, that's a part of an alter-ego, that's the rags-to-riches person that he wants to sing about."  Lil Cease turns up later, and they do end with a prison yard interview with Suge Knight, but only with the understanding that he wouldn't comment on Biggie or Tupac, and merely deliver his message for the kids (which boils down to, essentially, "people make mistakes").  Broomfield doesn't wind up with much evidence at all, or put what commentary he is given under much scrutiny; but he eventually lands on a theory based from the small handful of ex-cops who would talk to him: that Suge had some off-duty police officers perform both hits.  And sure, maybe, but it's pretty much all speculation and conjecture.  There's a lot of talk about highly valuable, damning documents that never quite turn up.  Frankly, it's not one of Broomfield's better films.  It's kind of boring, because it feels like Nick is never making much headway towards his goal, or even facing interesting opposition.  He just spins his wheels a bit then calls it a day.  So I was honestly quite surprised to hear he'd returned to the subject for a sequel, which is still playing in theaters now.

In the opening of Last Man Standing, Nick explains that since Suge has been put away, "people were now opening up to things I couldn't get answered before."  And... I guess?  We've got a lot of low level gang bangers eager to talk about how criminal Death Row Records operations were, but not so much about Biggie or Tupac.  It's all anecdotes from former bodyguards and ex-girlfriends about how Suge had one girl beat up another girl in his office, or bodyguards pretending some guy in a club had a gun just so they could rough him up and take his chain.  He doesn't really talk to any major players.  Suge's message was his biggest get in 2002 (and he replays that whole segment in this film), and this time I guess it's Danny Boy.  He doesn't have much to share besides background on Death Row, but at least Nick got him to come in to the studio.

Yeah, interestingly, this documentary takes a different form.  Rather than lots of footage following Broomfield down streets and into offices, this is mostly talking heads-style sit down interviews.  And there's lots of recycled footage from the previous film.  It isn't until about an hour in that we get to the night Tupac was shot.  Broomfield's theory has changed to a rival gang member having killed him, though he still thinks Suge had ex-cops kill Biggie.  In fact, he basically just replays Poole (who has since died after the first film) making the same allegations.  In terms of new revelations into the crime, I'd say Broomfield hasn't uncovered any big, new evidence or noteworthy information.  The point of this film seems to just be to make a correction to his first film, bringing it up to date with the current data and theories.  That's fine, but I don't think any of Broomfield's output is a particularly crucial source of information in these crimes, so I'm still left feeling a little puzzled as to why he felt compelled to revisit the topic.  If you trim away all the repeated footage, old clips and tangential filler, there's barely one documentary's worth of movie between the two.  But at least it feels like Nick's edged closer to the truth over the years.  Combined, the pair of films at least leave you with a decent overview of the facts as we know them.

It might be worth mentioning, too, that the Biggie and Tupac DVD features an audio commentary and interview by Broomfield, plus almost 45 minutes of deleted scenes.  But considering the large amount of padding left in the film, I can just imagine how inconsequential what they cut out is.  Actually, some of it's probably in Last Man Standing.  I'm sorry to say, even if you have a keen interest in the murder of Tupac and Biggie, and/ or consider yourself a Nick Broomfield fan, you probably shouldn't waste your time with either of these efforts.  There are plenty of other films to choose from.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Biz Week, Day 5: ...And He Rocks

Let's conclude with a really great single by Biz Markie that isn't featured on any of his albums, "...And I Rock," produced by none other than DJ Premier.  It came out in 2001, on Next Level Recordings.  That's a Japanese label, and they reason they have it is that it was originally recorded for an original compilation they put together called Next Level Vol. 1 (to date, there is no Vol. 2) that features both American and Japanese Hip-Hop artists.  There were some other good songs on there, including the original debut of Lord Finesse's "Down For the Underground," so you might want to track down the whole thing.  But even with stiff competition like that, Biz's song is a highlight.

And that's an important distinction to make, because not every Biz appearance is the joyful masterpiece you might expect.  I was originally planning to make a post about the Biz Markie guest spot disappointments, discussing things like the the feeling I got opening up the latest Beastie Boys album, seeing the Biz's name in the liner notes, only to finally hear the song and discover his contribution is just a vocal snippet of a live performance or some background ad-libs.  You know, depending which Beasties albums with a false-promising Biz appearance we're talking about, because there were several over the years.  You know, it's one thing when it's obviously going to be a skit, like when Biz is just one of many voices who appear on the series of brief "Phone Check"s on MC Lyte's Lytro album which were obviously not going to be actual songs, but it's an entirely different experience when you buy a DJ Riz 12" because the B-side is a track called "Riz Meets Biz," only to find out that it's just another telephone skit.  I decided against it because Biz Week is meant to celebrate, not bum us out further; but suffice it to say there are enough let downs, like Def Squad's "Just Rhyming With Biz" where, no, Biz does not in fact rhyme with the Squad, to bear in mind they're not all good, so we should appreciate them when they are.

And this one's a treasure that belongs in everybody's crates.  There's a decent B-side, too: "Interview" by Sadat X.  And no, it's not a phone conversation masquerading as a song, but a tight production by Da Beatminerz, also from Next Level Vol. 1.  It had actually been previously released on his famous Wild Cowboys album years before, so I don't know why the heck Next Level put it on their thing.  Even the instrumental had been released on 12" before.  So "Interview" is a cool song, but the Biz is why we're here. 

This is really the period where fans and artists alike were sitting by the phone, waiting for Premier to call with a new track.  Each one was a killer, he was pairing up with the hottest artists, and it was before he started spreading himself too thin and started letting some sub-par beats into MCs' hands.  And this is a perfect example of everything we wanted: instantly catchy, funky loops with slick but not too complicated scratch hooks.  Don't let the title fool you, this isn't some electric guitar-laden experiment with Ted Nugent or anything.  Just tight drums, a funky little pager sample and big, big horns.

And Biz is just kicking light, freestyle rhymes, including a story about battling Superman that feels like a throwback to the days of "Rapper's Delight" and "Jam On It."

"Me and Superman, we had a fight;
I punched him in the face with all my might.
Punched him so hard he fell to the floor,
Picked him up and ragged him some more.
Turned around and who did I see?
It was Lois Lane, she was lookin' at me.
She said, 'yo, Biz Markie, you are the best,
'Cause you knocked the S off Superman's chest.'
She took my hand and led me to the room;
We smoked three joints and cracked a quart of brew.
I looked at her and thought she was fine;
I knew the deal: what was on her mind.
We took off our clothes and clicked off the light,
And rocked the bed 'till the sky was bright.
When it came to the break of day,
She said, 'yo, Biz Markie, why don't you stay?'
I cooked her some breakfast and orange juice;
That's one thing I couldn't refuse.
After I ate, I kissed her goodbye.
She said, 'woo, Biz Markie, you're one Hell of a guy!"

But this isn't just a collab between Biz and Preemo; verse two features another MC, someone called Black Indian.  Who's that?  He's a rapper from Washington, probably best known as a member of the jazzy rap crew Opus Akoben. He had a brief solo outing on MCA Records at the time.  And this was when Biz was connected to MCA through his membership of The Flip Squad All Star DJs; so that's probably how they came work together.  Anyway, Black Indian and the Opus guys were pretty dope, but on here, he just feels a little boring and out of place.  I'm sure everybody would've preferred constant Biz from beginning to the end of the song with no one getting in between him and Premier, but oh well.  He doesn't ruin it or anything.

But before we sign off on Biz Week for good, well, you know here at Werner's we like to dip into the more obscure end of the pool.  And this song made a pretty big splash when it was released.  So let's dig a little deeper.  Did you know Black Indian's MCA solo LP, Get 'Em Psyched!! The Album, also featured Biz Markie?  It actually came out first in 1999, so the story probably goes: MCA got Biz to appear on BI's album, and then Biz turned around and put him on "...And I Rock."

However it came about, this Black Indian song is pretty great, too.  It wasn't released on 12", but the album was released on CD and vinyl, so you can you can get it on any format so long as you're willing to spring for a whole album to add just one song to your collection.  I mean, the rest of the album's alright, too, so it's not like you're buying trash, but it's kinda forgettable overall.  Songs like "Hoe Card" and "3 Strikes" are kinda limp gangsta material, but the lead single/ title track and "Fight Song" perk up when they get a little more energetic.

But the crown jewel is easily "Makin' Cash Money," where Biz is also the co-producer, alongside somebody named Monty.  It loops that unforgettable, bassy Herbie Hankcock riff that Digital Underground used for "Underwater Rhymes," Busy Bee used for "Kiss My Ass," etc.  So you know, it's just a tried and true, classic old school groove, which is exactly the kind of track you'd want for a Biz guest appearance.  You know, some of his other stuff is a little more street, but this is definitely Biz's kind of song ("together we be rockin' most definitely"), and yes he gets a proper verse, not just some background stuff or a silly hook: "I get cheers like Norm but don't drink no beer; soon to be elected MC of the year.  I'm not Billy Dee, or R. Kelly, or Markie Dee, or B.I.G.  I'm a little somethin' like Heavy D, 'cause the girls, the girls, they love me!"

So if you were already hip to "...And I Rock," there's another fresh Biz Markie joint you can track down.  And if you haven't already got it, stop sleeping immediately.  My copy is clearly a promo, but there's also a more widely distributed retail version with a sticker cover and the same track-listing: vocal and instrumental versions of both songs.  It really should be on one of his Greatest Hits albums, but for some reason it's not, so...


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Biz Week, Day 4: Biz Markie & DJ Polo

Imagine if things had gone a bit differently, and instead of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, the pairing was with another Juice Crew All Star, Biz Markie.  We've been given a quick glimpse into what that reality might've looked like thanks to a 1998 song called "Calander[.sic] Girl."  Of course, this isn't the first time the two collaborated, with Biz famously appearing on Wanted: Dead Or Alive's "Erase Racism."  But here we finally get the two alone, to see what sort of music they might've created if left to their own devices.  Or maybe not, but it's still an interesting curiosity to add to your Biz collection.

The only worse solo breakout than Eric B from Rakim has to be Polo's from the Kool Genius.  At least Eric stuck to trusty soul grooves and Freddie Foxxx as a ghost writer.  DJ Polo decided to hitch his wagon to porn star (and now alleged sex offender) Ron Jeremy?  But actually, listening all the way through his 1998 album, Polo's Playhouse, it's not all bad.  He has a nice scratch intro and does use a few familiar grooves, like Eric B, though this time recycling some of his own hits by reusing the classic beats to "Road To the Riches" and "Talk Like Sex."  And he has some good guests, including Roxanne Shante, Melle Mel, Scorpio and yes, Biz Markie.

Actually, I want to talk some more about this project overall, because it's weird.  First of all, just like Eric B, when he went solo, Polo also became the lead MC on his project.  If you look at the list of guests, you could be forgiven for thinking he's just the producer/ DJ/ host of his album, but no, he's the lyrical front-man now, too.  One of his most prominent seeming guests is Ice-T, right?  But actually Ice just ad-libs a few words between Polo's verses.  And my god, what is up with that MSPaint album cover?

It also has to be pointed out that there are two versions of this album.  Polo's Playhouse only came out on CD overseas, via the German label Black Jam Records (the same label that put out the alternate version of Big Daddy Kane's Veteranz Day).  In the US, we got a couple singles, with the lead Ron Jeremy track "Freak Of the Week" getting the broadest distribution, plus the music video and everything.  But we didn't get the full album until the early 2000s, via Bunny Ranch Records, when it was reworked, losing a few songs and gaining a few.  These CDs are pretty rare, as you pretty much had to order them via snail mail through the Bunny Ranch website, though CDBaby handled the digital distribution and may have sold physical copies through their website at some point, too?  I'm not 100% sure on that.

Anyway, this one's been retitled Bunny Ranch Volume 1 (there has yet to be a Volume 2), and all this Bunny Ranch stuff is about a Nevada brothel that was featured for a time on an HBO series called Cathouse.  So this album drops a few of the more street-sounding songs from Polo's Playhouse and replaces them with more goofy party sex songs featuring Ron Jeremy, plus some radio guys named Budman and Boomer.  See that woman on the left?  That's Madame Suzette, apparently a prominent feature on the HBO show, and she actually has a solo song on this version of the album.  She's as awful at rapping as you'd expect, but I don't imagine we're meant to take this whole project too terribly seriously.  I mean, I hope so, because Ron Jeremy fucking sucks as an MC.  The only credible addition to the cast is Greg Nice, who appears on "Goin' Down On the Bunny Ranch" along with Polo and Jeremy.  It doesn't appear to be online anymore, but there was actually a music video for that one, too, which I downloaded back in the day.  Anyway, it's the worse version of the album, but it's the rarer, so you might want to snatch it up if you come across a copy in the wild.  And anyway, "Calander Girl" is on both.

You probably noticed from Biz Week, Day 3 that a lot of peoples' big idea to make use of Biz Markie is to have him sing old songs.  I guess comically.  We'll see more of the in Day 5, too.  And yes, "Calander Girl" is a modern day Hip-Hop remake of the old 60's Neil Sedaka song.  But in a happy surprise, Polo doesn't have Biz sing that song for the hook.  Instead he samples it and mixes it into a funkier Hip-Hop track, reminiscent of the kind of song Mr. Mixx would produce in his prime, and actually lets Biz rap.  But not first.  Polo takes the first verse, doing a seemingly deliberate (since he even names drops him) Fresh Prince impression.  He actually does a decent job capturing that playful kid-friendly style, and then comes back at the end of the song for a more natural, smoother verse.

But Biz steals the show with the central verse, which is by far the best.  The song's got a really cool bassline and catchy samples that anyone could sound good over, but Biz's personality and humor shines doubly through:

"What's your name?
It's Biz, I film my TV shows in Cali;
Still meetin' girls like When Harry Met Sally;
But I never met a freak this fly
As a calendar, calendar girl, who represented in July.
I met her at this club and she couldn't dance,
But her implants made my bulge jump in my pants.
I wanted to take her home and kick it solo,
But she had a friend so I called my man Polo.
Ooh! You shoulda seen how we did it;
Those two freaks of the weeks, they be wit' it.
The lovin' and bonin' and hittin' the skins.
Well, these are a few of my favorite things.
Yo, we took 'em home, you better believe that it was cool;
We did the wild thing, drinkin' Snapple by the pool.
The calendar girls got busy for a while,
As me and Polo did it (How'd ya do it?) New York style."

Even thought his song was recorded for and included on the 1998 version of the album, you can see that Bunny Ranch material was already ingrained in that original version, and Biz was happy to play along.  It's certainly a novel glimpse into the far more playful alternative universe where Biz and Polo had made their albums together.  Their sensibilities seem much more aligned than the mafioso direction G Rap wanted to go in, though maybe Biz would've wanted to keep things a little cleaner than dirty-minded Polo here.  The song even has girls (presumably some of the "bunnies" from the ranch, but who knows?) providing sexy voiced ad-libs throughout the whole thing.  Unfortunately, this song wasn't included on any of the singles, because its own of the few highlights really worth owning.  They should've made a little "street" vinyl EP with the Melle Mel, Shante, scratch intro tracks and this song.  But oh well.  You can usually find the Black Jam CD pretty cheap, and it's still worth it for the highlights, especially this song.