Thursday, June 18, 2015

Back On the Battle Tip

Whirlwind D is back once again, with a new vinyl single (his last one was just a few months ago) of contemporary Classic Hip-Hop. And yes, once again he's got some fantastic scratching and strong production along with him. It's another 7", but it comes in a high quality picture cover; and it's always great to see the b-boy vinyl game marching on.

This one's called "B-Line Business," referring to his label, B-Line Records, even though Tru-Tone Records is the name printed in giant text on the actual record. It's pretty much an anthem for the roster, where everybody's name-checked and mission statements are codified. It's the style that really brings you in, though: quick and high energy with tough cracking beats and rhymes mixed with a instrumental produced by Specifik. Specifik's been making records in the UK for a while now, but you guys will probably remember him mostly from having contributed to Whirlwind D's last couple records. It's got a bumping, head-nodding bassline; but once again it's the ill, dynamic turntable choruses that really steal the show, this time vigorously provided by JabbaThaKut, who uses at least a dozen different records for a single hook. Those scratch breaks just make you want to listen to the song over and over again, but it wouldn't work if all the elements weren't coming together and firing on all cylinders as they are here.

The B-side is "Battle Tip 2015," a follow-up to his killer Solid 'N' Mind single that was pretty much lost in 1991 and remastered and re-released in 2010. When I first heard it, I assumed it was a sequel song, with with D spitting similarly themed rhymes over a new but reminiscent track. But as it played on, some of the more creative, colorful imagery started sounding awfully familiar, and I realized it's all the same lyrics as the original. So this is basically just a remix, produced by Waxer this time instead of Johnny F (interestingly, the back cover specifically adds "based on an original Liberty Grooves production" to his production credit).

I feel a bit funny dismissing it as "just a remix," though; 'cause it's pretty great. It naturally retains the rapid-fire drum style of the original, since that's key to the song; but it's otherwise quite different, giving it a dark and freshly atmospheric tone with dark, ominous bass notes straight out of a horror movie. And Waxer's name is dubbed in over Johnny's name during the line that originally went, "Johnny F cuts with blaze of fury," but not, curiously, the line "Johnny F drops an original break." I wonder what the motivation was to redo this in 2015? On the one hand, I feel like the original knocks just a little bit harder, and if I had to choose which one to take on the lifeboat with me, that's the one I'd choose. But on the other hand, this is really fresh. Where the original was comprised of samples we'd heard on other rap classics already, this is unique and unfamiliar, made with sounds I've never heard before. After his impressive work on Whirlwind's previous projects, I'm always up for another Waxer original, and when it's for a fast, hardcore rap track like this, all's the better. But why "Battle Tip" instead of an all new song? Oh well, both versions are different and good enough to be worth owning anyway, and since Whirlwind D's records are always so reasonably priced, there's no reason to make a Sophie's Choice scenario out of it.

Yeah, it's only £6.00, which I guess is still standard for a 7", but it feels like a bargain now that we've gotten used to paying "limited" prices for our wax in recent years. It's a small-hole 45 (the preferable option, unless you're that dude with a jukebox in his man-cave), and like I said it comes in an impressive picture cover. Fans of D's previous work will definitely be pleased with this release, and probably already had it on pre-order since it was first announced on forums anyway. But even if you haven't been following his work, this wouldn't be a bad one to cut your teeth on: maybe not his ultimate masterpiece, but an engaging, slick little record.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Before There Was Raw Produce, There Was... Eddie Bone

Raw Produce released their debut 12", "Cycles," in 1995. And we've already looked at the very first record they worked on, 1993's New England Massive EP which they produced on. But there's a record in between those two, and it's actually on a fairly major record label: Tommy Boy Records. Pitch, on his own, produced the first and last single by Eddie Bone in 1994, the self-titled "Eddie Bone."

Now, looking at the name, picture cover and title, you might expect this to be a pretty terrible pop rap song best left forgotten. That's probably why, even though he came out on Tommy Boy, pretty much nobody's ever heard of him. But it's actually pretty interesting.

Eddie Bone is actually from Texas, and he's on some smooth shit, sort of a cross between Q-Tip and the Penthouse Players Clique. This is a two-song 12", and Pitch only produced the first song. The B-side, "Check the Game," is a more traditional gangsta rap track. The girl singing the hook on the A-side is credited, but the Nate Dogg-lite guy who sings this chorus is uncredited. Could it be Eddie Bone himself? I don't think so; but I'm not ruling it out. It's not brilliant, but it's got a pretty cool, light gangsta rap vibe; that'll at least having you nodding along to it.

But of course, we're all here for the A-side, "Eddie Bone." Eddie doesn't come off as well here as he did on the B-side, but Pitch has cooked up a really interesting instrumental for him. It's jazzy and pretty unusual, not exactly like the stuff Raw Produce would later make for themselves, but it hints at it for sure. And I get the logic behind naming an early record after yourself to market yourself. If all the kids are singing "Eddie Bonnne" after having listened to the radio, they know what CD to buy. Makes sense. Ultramagnetic did it, Stetsasonic did it, Public Enemy did it... The problem is it just comes off so silly and corny. Eddie sounds like an executive-crafted rap act (which he probably was) when he says lines like, "this is something for you G's to ride to," but it's the chorus that really kills it. Ramona DeBreaux is the girl unfortunately taxed with the duty to sing "Eddie Bone, ya loves ta' bone" over and over on the chorus. And she freestyles it a bit at the end, but her singing on the main chorus is really flat, like she's just saying it rather than singing it. There's no way heads were going to take this seriously in '94 and give Bone a career.

So, sorry Eddie Bone, that's the breaks. That hook was a real shot to his own foot. But again, the instrumental is pretty lush and groovy. It's got kind of a g-funk slide whistle thing in it, which is a little heavy-handed and I could live without; but it's a pretty great track. And fortunately both instrumentals are provided on this 12", so you can buy this just for Pitch's quality work, sort of like how all the Large Professor collectors still buy that Kid 'N Play 12" about not doing drugs. Pitch's production is really on that level. And if you're in the mood for a light-hearted guilty pleasure, you can play the vocal versions.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Most Obscure Kool Moe Dee Song?

Like the title says, today I'm going to talk about what I believe to be the most obscure Kool Moe Dee song. Now, this isn't his rarest song; it's actually very easy to find nice and cheap, since it was very widely distributed by a major label. But it's still probably the least known or talked about by hip-hop heads. And it's surprising because it's from 1988, exactly when he was in his prime as a solo artist and each record he was releasing was bigger than the last. The song's called "Get Up 'N' Dance" from the Scrooged soundtrack on A&M Records.

Scrooged was a late 80s Christmas Carol update with Bill Murray and Bobcat Goldthwait. So, no, it's not a particularly Hip-Hop soundtrack, and in fact Kool Moe Dee is the only rapper on here. The rest of the record is "Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire" by Natalie Cole, a Buster Poindexter song (of course, it was the 80s), a duet between Annie Lennox and Al Green, and a "We Three Kings" song putting Miles Davis together with Late Night With David Letterman's Paul Shaffer. So, after that run down, I trust your expectations are appropriately tapered. Still, though, this is Kool Moe Dee in his prime, and once you've gotten all of his albums, where else are you going to replenish your supply?

So naturally, the question is: is it any good. And the answer is, um, yeah. No, it isn't produced by Teddy Riley, but it is produced by LaVaba, who did pretty much all the songs on Moe Dee's albums from that period that Teddy didn't. And that includes some big ones like "Let's Go," "Get the Picture"... actually, it could very well include all his biggest hits, since his first couple albums just say they're co-produced by Riley and LaVaba, without breaking down who did what on which songs. He has at least co-production credit on singles like "How Ya Like Me Now," "Wild Wild West," "Go See the Doctor," etc. So, seeing that a Kool Moe Dee song you've never heard has been produced by LaVaba is not a bad sign.

But the song's title is a bit of a giveaway that this might not be more of a throw away than a masterpiece, not to mention a betrayal of the sentiments he expressed on "Don't Dance" the year before. But the basics of what you want from Moe Dee are here: he raps fast and forcefully over a tough beat. These aren't his greatest bars, but they're strong enough. Really, the only weak spot is that they keep laying a 50s beach rock guitar sample over the track. You know, the kind of thing Mr. Mixx was famous for bringing into hip-hop. And Mixx made it work, it sounded fresh. But one thing you don't want your hardcore New York rap legend's records to be is "inspired by the 2 Live Crew."

Honestly, the rest of the track is pretty dope. There's a little bit of the "How Ya Like Me Now" horn stabs, nice scratches, and big drums that double as their own bassline. There's some Egyptian Lover-style heavy breathing looped into the music, but it's low enough in the mix that you hardly hear it. It could use a better hook, which is basically a couple lame vocal samples, which I guess are Scrooged specific references? Like, the main one is some bored sounding white guy saying, "what a lame party, let's get outta here." That could definitely be improved upon, but they don't ruin the record. Moe Dee and whoever's doing the cuts (Easy Lee?) save it. But I'd really like to hear this record without that guitar sample. They wouldn't even have to replace it with anything else; the track is enough without it. Just delete that stupid beach guitar and it'd be good. But, stuck with it as we are... it's still okay. But just okay. Even the guitar doesn't sound terrible; it just makes the whole thing sound like a cornier attempt at crossing over to a less hip-hop audience, which is probably exactly what it was.

Oh, and this song has nothing to do with Christmas. I don't know if that's a pro or a con, but it's not. He's just rapping about how you should dance to the music and the feelings people experience while dancing. His flow's on point, but the lyrics are light on actual content.

So it's no lost masterpiece, but if you're wondering next Christmas what to get the Kool Moe Dee fan who has everything?  This could do the trick. It'll still make a big Kool Moe Dee fan happy, so long as he knows not to expect an unheard classic. And you won't need to say anything because the big, goofy album cover will tell him that. Or I don't know, maybe as the 80s get further and further away I just get more desperate. haha

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Father MC Wants You Back

It's been a while since my last Father MC post, so it's time to fire up the turntable again and get into another one of his 12" singles. Today, I've chosen the second of only two singles off of his third album - the album where he followed in MC Hammer's footsteps and dropped the MC from his name, to be known as just Father - Sex Is Law. That also makes it his last release on Uptown/MCA Records. Everything after this would be his odyssey through a sea of indie labels, from Spoiled Brat to Luke. So how did he go out? With a bang or a whimper?

Well, one important thing to note is that while there were cassette and CD singles, there was no 12" single except for promos. But the promo 12" has a couple exclusive remixes, so that's what we're looking at today. His album and first single ("69") were released in 1993, but this one's from 1994: "I Beeped You."

Remember when beepers weren't just the in thing, but rappers kept making songs about them? Sir Mix-A-Lot had "Beepers," Candyman had "1-800-Sky-Talk," Tribe had "Skypager," Gucci Crew II had "Beepers," and so on? That trend blew by fast, but not before Father could jump on it. But apart from the lyrical gimmick of rapping about beepers, he actually plays it pretty safe, with an old school instrumental and an empathetic twist on the subject matter to make it about relationships. DJ Eddie F's instrumental loops up a classic and still very effective Jackson 5 "I Want You Back" sample, basically looping the entire core instrumental, but adding a nice little "Atomic Dog" panting in the percussion. It's definitely a hip-hop staple, made famous in Eric B & Rakim's "I Know You Got Soul" remix, Marley Marl's album, one of Derek B's first singles, and so many others. The Ultimate II even specifically made a "I Want You Back" rap record. Oh, and Eddie F even gave it to Heavy D for his first album, a couple years before he brought ti back for Father here.

So yeah, no one was interested in breaking new ground here. But it's still damn catchy, with a chorus of girls berating Father, "'ey yo, I beeped you; why you ain't call me back?" for a chorus. And going with his more pimp-themed persona he was adopting at this point in his career, his verses are all about how he's too busy playing other girls, but the general concept of, "when my Skypage beeps, I get the creeps, every day, all day, all you do is just beep," where you have people you just don't want to call back is very relatable.

The first remix is the Who Beeped Me? Mix by Mark Spark. It starts out with a little sketch where we hear the old, automated skypage operator's voice, which gives a little extra nostalgic kick. It keeps the "Atomic Dog" pantings, but throws out everything else. This one's got a super rugged bassline and kind of a funky sample that feels more like a Midnight Marauders groove. It would've worked a lot better for there, because it's a cool sound but really doesn't match up with the very upbeat dance song about beepers. I mean, it's okay; it's not total tissue rejection, but I think the instrumental by itself would've been preferable.

Next we have DJ Kay Love's Leave Me Alone Mix. Kay Love starts out with some scratching, which is cool; but then we slide into an even slower, smoother groove. It's another track like the Who Beeped Me? mix where it would sound great somewhere else, but really doesn't fit the tone or the tempo of this song. It keeps the pantings, though, and this time adds a lot of sleigh bell. It's interesting, and has a lot of good elements; but just doesn't come together. Oh, and both remixes add Father going "I got my mind on my money and my money's on my mind" as a key counterpoint to the chorus. That doesn't work so great either.

Finally, there's the Instrumental, which isn't labeled as any particular Mix or credited to any different producers. So you would think it's just the standard instrumental to the album version, and it does start out that way. But no, soon it starts mixing out the Jackson 5 sample and replacing it with another safe, old school staple, Maze and Frankie Beverly's "Before I Let Go." There's really never a bad time to revert to "Before I Let Go," but it sort of weird to have it randomly slide in and out of this instrumental.

Overall, I still think it's a good, enjoyable single. It certainly doesn't aim high, but at least that means it doesn't mix. But if you've got the album, that's enough, because the remixes are interesting for the particularly curious; but none of them can replace the original. Even if it's totally played out, it's version you'll replay if you replay any. So, Father certainly didn't go out with a bang; but at least he didn't go out with a loss. He just added one more decent song into his catalog, which his fans appreciate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Young Zee and Lady Luck, Representing... Brooklyn?

This is kind of a random, little 12". It's a duet between Young Zee and Lady Luck that came out in 2003 featuring a Smack Entertainment. The song may've been intended for an unreleased Lady Luck album, since it wasn't her first 12" for Smack (she had a not even on discogs little rarity called "No Matter What"), and, well, Lady Luck has a legendary history with unreleased albums. It's produced by someone I've never heard of before or since named Jae 1; and it kind of came and went rather quickly with no fanfare. It only showed up on my radar at all, because of course I never let any Outsidaz material get by me.

Anyway, this Jae guy didn't do a whole lot besides lay a little piano/ xylophone loop over the top of the instrumental. Because, except for that, they're just rhyming over "Top Billin'." You might say, well Werner, that just means they've used the "Impeach the President" break; it's not like Audio Two invented those drums. Everybody's sampled that break. But no, they're using the whole "Top Billin'" beat, even the repeating Stetsasonic vocal sample. So two quintessential Jersey artists are rhyming over a track that's repeating "go Brooklyn, go Brooklyn!" the whole time, which is a little odd.

But I guess they just wanted to make another in the genre's long line of "Top Billin'" updates, because in addition to using the same track, the song is full of lyrical references to Milk Dee's old bars. Luck starts things off with the lines, "MC delight, people call me Luck," which is of course a variation of "MC am I, people call me Milk." And Zee starts out his verse, "I get money, money I got," which is an exact quote of Milk's famous line. There's also, "clap your hands, your hands ya clap. If your girl's out of line, it's your girl I'll smack," which is another "Top Billin'" line. Curiously, they also make references to multiple Special Ed lines, including "in the hood, I'm a super-duper star; every other month I get a brand new car," which is just a small variation of Ed's line from "I Got It Made," "My name is Special Ed, and I'm a super-duper star; every other month I get a brand new car." And later, they share another Ed line with Luck saying, "we got the cash 'cause money ain't nothin'," and Zee following up with "make a million dollars all the haters we be pumpin'," which is of course a play on Ed's "I got the cash, but money ain't nothin'. Make a million dollars every record that I cut."

I mean, the "I Got It Made" connections make thematic sense considering the concept of the song is simply fun boasts about the cash they've got. There's an uncredited lady singing the hook, "y'all have whips, but you'll never have whips like this. Furs and shit, but you'll never have jewels like this. Had some dough before, but you never had chips like this. Haddd sommme money, but y'all never had chips like this." Now I'm not one for the perfunctory R&B choruses, but whoever she is, she sounds really good on this track; and it's a good contrast to Zee's grating style. And when they're not quoting old school hip-hop, both MCs are coming with some nice, much more modern, back-and-forth wordplay, like, "I spit it out like Listerine, get y'all hooked like nicotine, then I come blow niggas to smithereens. Shrimp cocktails, this pimp's got mail. You get locked up, we gone come and pay y'all bail."

I could hear this getting play on New York radio; but I'm not sure it quite made it. It definitely has that sound, like part of a classic Hot 97 mix. You know, those moments where Flex would let a little Mobb Deep slip in between the R&B divas. Zee and Luck really pair well together, especially the third verse, where they go back and forth, trading off lines. This is much more of a collaboration than the modern "you record your verse and I'll record mine; and we'll both email them to this producer I talked to online" style we tend to get today. They must've recorded together and written together, and that pays off. The little loop Jae added doesn't sound as hot as the one added for Mary J's "Real Love" or anything, but it sounds alright. Anyway, you can't go wrong with the root "Top Billin'" instrumental.

There's just the one song on here, presented in four versions: the main dirty version, a clean version which would've suited the radio stations who missed their opportunity with this one, plus an accapella which is cool to have. But then they include a TV track instead of the clean instrumental, which is an odd choice but whatever.

All in all, it's just a nice, little underground 12" that can usually be found pretty cheap and is worth a pick up.  Especially for 2003, when you usually think of that well as having run pretty dry. It's never gonna make anybody's greatest hits or top ten lists, especially since rehashing classics just makes you look weaker by comparison. They probably would've done better leaving Ed and Milk's records alone and just doing 100% their own thing (and maybe representing their actual home state). But everybody comes off nice here, so it's worth a spot in your collection.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Old Ca$hflow Tape

So, if you've been paying attention to my twitter (and if you haven't, you might as well just go jump off a bridge now, because you've just missed out on all the precious moments that make life worth living), you know I've been looking back through my tape collection recently, pulling out the stuff I bought decades ago and have since forgotten what they sound like. You know, some timeless albums you go back to again and again, and others, even if they're not bad, you just keep passing over. So you know, recollection, nostalgia, reevaluation... good times. This one I pulled out I decided was worthy of a whole blog entry, so here we go.

It's the self-titled 1986 debut album (they had two) by Ca$hflow. These guys weren't really a rap group, but they did sometimes rap. In fact, I think that's why they got signed... to sort of bridge that gap between the burgeoning hip-hop movement and R&B/funk groups like The Time and Cameo. Especially Cameo, because Larry Blackman was personally involved with Ca$hflow.

Now, they didn't rap on every song, but they rapped on several of them. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to revisit this album was to hear for myself how many songs they did actually rap on here; because all I remember is that I was disappointed they didn't rap as much as I expected, but it was more than none. And, well, the answer is three. Not that much, but remember, this is back when albums didn't tend to have so many songs on them. The first side of the album is just 14 minutes long. Ca$hflow had seven, making it almost half. And when you consider a lot of the really old school hip-hop albums (by groups like Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow and The Sequence) used to load their albums with singing songs (because rap was still just a fad back then), Ca$hflow was pretty close to the mark. Although there is still a pretty key distinction: on those rappers' albums, their rap songs were basically 100% rap. They sang on other songs, but when they rapped, they really made full rap songs. Here, Ca$hflow is doing the more mainstream sung pop songs with rap verses. So I still wouldn't actually call these guys a rap group; just a group who sometimes rapped.

If you'll indulge in a little speculation, I think part of why Blackman got these guys is because they'd already had success with adding a rap verse to what turned out to be one of their biggest singles, "She's Strange" but were reluctant to get pulled further down the hip-hop road. I mean, later Cameo hits like "Word Up," "Single Life" and "Back & Forth" sound like they were created by God to house rap verses, but they just don't go there. Maybe the label was even pressuring them to, but they didn't want to. So basically they signed Ca$hflow and said: that can be your job! You guys can be the group to bridge that gap. If it works, everybody gets rich, and if rap blows over, Cameo distances themselves, credibility untainted.  ...Or maybe not; that's just my little pet theory. Maybe it's the opposite, and Blackman always wanted to really jump into being a rapper and his label and band mates never let him, so this was his way of getting closer. But I find that harder to believe.

Anyway, let's leave the speculating and get to what's actually, factually there on the tape. The album starts out with one of my favorite songs, "Party Freak." Being one of my favorites, you know it's one of the ones with a rap verse; and this one's extra special, because the rap is performed by Cameo's Larry Blackman! It's a fun rap about how he picked up a girl at a bar, but she turned out to be such a party freak, she stands up in his car and starts break-dancing "on highway eighty-fiiiiiiive!" Otherwise, the song's okay. It's a pretty basic party funk jam with some good instrumentation, but it all lays a little flat. Like, it's on par with the work of their peers, but if it weren't for Blackman's rap, none of those groups would have made it a single, more like decent album filler that really needs a catchy horn or keyboard riff to put it over the top.

Their biggest hit, I guess, was "Mine All Mine" which does bounce a little more, especially thanks to a classy horn line; but it's still a little limp. Like it feels like an early single that should've led to a lot more, not a career pinnacle."Spending Money" is my favorite song; maybe it helps that it fits with the group's theme, but I think it's just an overall better song. It's got a slightly silly chorus that goes, "spending money. I like spending money. On youuuooooooooh." Plus it does have a catchy keyboard riff. And even though they're going for a smoother vibe, it all just flows more naturally and engagingly. Blackman's one verse is all we get for his rapping, so the duty now falls to lead vocalist Kary Hubbert. He's not the rapper Larry was, and his verse feels more generic and amateurish; but he's so damn cheerful it's hard not to go along with him; and any weaknesses are more than made up for by having a better song all around it, anyway. I really think this should've been a single; I think it would've caught on for them, even more so than "Mine All Mine," but oh well.

What else is on here? "Can't Let Love Pass Us By" is pretty good, but it sounds like it was made for hair dressers and dentists' office waiting rooms. "Reaching Out" is their slow song, and it's boring. "It
s Just a Dream" is their most funk-ish song, with more of a 70s vibe. And finally "I Need Your Love" is their most rappy song, with a legit rap verse, a quasi-rap intro, and plenty of electric drums, handclaps and other 80s hip-hop elements. Pretty fun, but the singing is weak on this one. I didn't like "Reaching Out," but I thought it showed he could sing a lot better than he does here. Oh well.

Overall, I guess this album still matches by faded memory: okay, but could've definitely been better, with a lot of waiting for the next really enjoyable moment. They're a good band, but even if you're not as much as a specifically hip-hop devoted purist as I am, it's a lot of sifting around looking for the good parts. I can see why I ultimately found it wasn't worth it and put this album aside for more consistently strong albums from beginning to end.

The only other Ca$hflow song I have is "Big Money" from the 1987 Disorderlies (The Fat Boys' movie) soundtrack. On the one hand, they sound more like they're trying to sound like Cameo on it. On their first album, they may've been under Blackman's wing, but they felt more like their own group. Now they sound like they're trying to be Cameo. But it's also a lot more upbeat and danceable, with another fun rap verse. In fact, I think Kary's gotten better at rapping since the debut album. And I guess they knew it was working for them because they wound up titling their second album Big Money in '88. I never got that album, though. I should check it out.