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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Authorized Wu Fam Material From the Vaults

The Wu-Tang Clan have a lot of spin-off acts, to the point where I'm not sure I could list them all if I tried, and I'm not going to. But some of those spin-offs wind up coming off a little tighter than the actual original Clan, especially when you consider how corny or lazy some of the main members have been known to get at times. It's especially true if you allow yourself to cheat and compare vintage 90s spin-off material, from when they were still coming up and exciting, to some more contemporary Wu efforts like, I dunno, Pro Tools.

Well, so anyway, one such spin-off group was Othorized F.A.M. They got less attention than most, even though their connection is pretty strong in that member Lounge Lo is actually Cappadonna's brother. It didn't help that they kept recycling their lyrics, like "Caught My Eye," which was their debut single in 1994. Then they used the same rhymes in "Dime Piece" in 2001 and yet again in 2007's "You Shine." It's all the same song, with just slightly different instrumentals. Or take "Money Getters" from 1994, which is the exact same song as "Easy" from their 2007 album, including the instrumental. But then on this record I'm about to talk about, there's a song called "Easy" with completely different music and lyrics. It's damn confusing and surely puts off a lot of potential followers. Plus, Remedy took a lot of the novelty shine off being "the white Wu-Tang guy," so they couldn't count on the random publicity that might've brought them.

Okay, let me get to the record in question already, because it's some of their best material, and it's mostly unreleased from 1995. It's called Mugshots Vol. 1, and it came out on Heavy Jewelz last year and is still available on their bigcartel. It's a five-song EP, and some of the song selection seems a little random - it includes two of the songs from their rare 1995 12" single but not the third - but that's probably because a Vol. 2 is planned, which would combine into a more complete collection.

"Pictures Of Life" is their second, quite rare, promo only 12" on Red Line from 1995. I don't have that record to compare this to, but Mugshots has "Pictures" mastered straight from the original DAT, and it sounds great. It also features "The Plan" from that 12", but this is a different recording of it with an alternate verse. And then there's that "Easy," which like I said doesn't seem to be the "Easy" FAM previously released. I'm not entirely sure what it i, honestly, except a decent, dark and slow-moving track of crime stories.

The other two songs are completely unreleased tracks, and two of the strongest, especially the title cut, which is an old demo that got played on Stretch and Bobbito but never came out except as a tape rip of a radio recording that's been floating around the 'net in much worse quality. These are pretty much the highlights, although getting the 12" tracks cleaned up and affordable is a big boon, too, 'cause the OGs go for big money.

As you can see above, Heavy Jewelz has released this is a phat picture cover. It's limited to 300 copies, 150 which are on red wax, and 150 on standard black. As of this writing, the red seems to be mostly sold out, but you can still order it in a combo pack with a black copy. Or there's just the regular black vinyl version by itself. This is a seriously high quality release with excellent sound quality. Any Othorized fans, or just Wu appreciators in general, should be really happy with this release in all regards. I'm actually surprised it didn't sell out ages ago. Come on, folks, do you want them to make Vol. 2 or not?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

When Common Cheated On Just-Ro With Saukrates

In 1996, Common was in his prime. His last album out had been Resurrection, after his early "wacky" Can I Borrow A Dollar flow material and well before he started turning off fans with his Electric Circus "it's me and my R&B singer girlfriend against the world" stuff. 1996 was the year he leaked his "Bitch In Yoo" diss track to Ice Cube on white label vinyl. You couldn't get more credible and respected than Common at that point, so it was a big deal when he did a guest appearance on a pretty obscure 12" by an indie Chicago MC named Just Ro. And it felt like an even bigger deal when he rapped the same verse he kicked on that record on Saukrates' record a little later in the year.

Now, granted, this isn't the first time a rap verse had been recycled by an MC. You can trace it back to the very oldest rap records, like when Melle Mel repeated his greatest verse from "Super Rappin'" on "The Message." Busy Bee almost made an annual tradition out of telling us the story of how he won the lottery with his fly limousine "and the space antenna on the back of the car." And very shortly after the Common incident, you started to see a lot of credible MCs do the same thing, like Kool G Rap and Krs One. And obviously (and sadly) there have been a ton of MCs taking guests verses by deceased artists and including it on their own projects, like Chino XL re-purposing Big Pun, Trapp jacking Biggie and Tupac or Royce da 5'9 using them all. And all those crazy fake 2Pac albums with a million and one producers trying reusing the same handful of acapellas over and over.

But when this happened, it was pretty rare. It was at the time when miixtape freestyles started outshining everything else on mixtapes including the mixes; and you started having freestyle compilations like the Wake Up Show's and Tony Touch's "50 MCs." And you invariably heard those freestyle verses turn up on the artists albums a couple months later. So I guest reusing those same freestyle verses on song cameos was just the next step. But it was surprising when it happened; it felt like we'd sorta caught someone in the act of getting away with something they shouldn't. In the past, the rare rap songs with repeated vocals tended to be intentional references or semi-sequels to past songs. Sure "Tanji" and "Tanji II" repeated lyrics. But this kinda felt like: hey! He can't do that! And frankly, even now that those doors have been long open, it's still pretty dodgy.

So "Souldiers" b/w "Confusion" was Just Ro's debut, so nobody outside of Chicago had heard of this guy before this record. We all bought it really for Common's verse. He put out a longer cassette and CD release at the same time or shortly after, too, called Make It Happen (where he changed the spelling to the more conventional "Soldiers"), which featured the songs from the 12" plus a couple others. But it didn't really get out there like the single, because again, it was really moving on the strength of Common's contribution. It helped that 1996 was before Common and most 90s MCs, really started flooding the market with guest spots on smaller rappers' indie label singles. Fans would still be excited at the prospect of "ooh, another Common song!" at that point.

Fortunately, it turned out Just-Ro was pretty good, and he made a solid beat, too. Even the song without Common on it was worthwhile. I'm so used to getting burned by mediocre to worse MCs when I pick up a 12" for a guest spot. Still, there's no question who out-shone who on the 12", and I can see why audiences continued to Common rather than Just down the line, though the fact that it took Just Ro four years to put out any kind of follow-up surely didn't help his career.

Meanwhile, Canadain rapper/ producer Saukrates (pronounced like Socrates, get it?) was having a surprisingly successful come-up. He'd just dropped his split 12" with Choclair where his song "Father Time" got a lot of buzz. And at the end of '96* he dropped what is still probably to this day his signature release, the Brick House EP. It included "Father Time," again, along with a new remix, and a songs with big and highly respected American MCs: Masta Ace, OC and Common. But the song with Common, "Play Dis" featured a surprisingly familiar verse:

"Stimulated by a tree of drama,
I advance on a branch of respect and honor.
A patient of the Ill state
Centered in trauma. Never been one to side with homi-.
For Armageddon, I'm gettin' armed plus armor.
The karma of a martyr on the rise like the temp
In this Southside sauna.
The preface to the book of life states to pack human.
To it I react by staying strapped with the mac of courage.
Parallel to a carrousel of murders,
I prefer to make a life than take a life.
Stopped at the street called Wise and made a right.
Sort of how I play my broads is how I play the mic:
First I cuff it, then finger fuck it.
Check it, spit something rugged, other niggas be reluctant
To touch it after me.
Passively they strike, never matchin' me.
Rapidly though placidly,
I fabric the verbal tapestry;
Tap the keg of you conscious;
Navigate niggas like Farrakhan with a compass."

One thing that's interesting is that the two songs have pretty different tones, and yet the verse feels at home on both. You can also tell, from Common doing adlibs or mentioning Sauk's name on the song, that he actually went into the studio and recorded specifically for both songs. No one just took a finished acapella and ran with it.

And Just wasn't totally short-changed; Common actually laced him with two verses on "Confused," so only one turned up on Sauk's record.  Unfortunately, it was kind of the most impressive and memorable verse, not just on that son but from Common in a while...although to be fair, part of the reason it's so memorable is probably that we heard it on two consecutive songs. That's a bit of an unfair advantage. But, still, did Just know Common was going to lease the same material out a second time? For that matter, did Sauk know the material he was getting was used goods? If not, no matter how much some of us might hand-wave the practice, they must've felt ripped. I felt ripped, and I was just a fan.

Both "Confusion" and "Play Dis" feature additional - and unique - Common verses, though. So if you bought both records solely for Common, at least you'll be getting some new material of his on both records. In fact, Brick House also has a "Play Dis" remix which not only features a catchier instrumental, but even another, more playful bonus verse from Common. So it's by far the definitive version, to the point where Sauk really could've left off the original entirely.

At the end of the day, I tend to favor Just Ro's "Confusion." but the Brick House is really nice all around. Just Ro comes off more as the street dude with realer things to say and rawer tracks. Sauk has a more polished and fun feel, and he served up a great EP. So despite Common having been the biggest draw on both records, and despite him repeating the same material on both, both records are really worth having in your crates. And, hey, if you have to hear a verse twice as often, this is a good pretty good one.

*There's no date on the label. Discogs puts it at '07 and diskunion listed it with a release date of 1/1/7, but I kinda remember it dribbling out a little before that.  So I say '96, and either way, it was certainly right around that time.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sorting Out Our Scientific Shabazzes

Back at the very beginning of the year, you may've noticed Chopped Herring released a Shabazz the Disciple record called Lidushopahorraz: The Unreleased 90s EP. And you may've been a bit puzzled that a lot of the titles on it seemed pretty familiar. I didn't cop it right away, because I wanted to see if someone online would break down what was what here before I made a purchasing decision. And then I remembered that was my job.  :P

I didn't get it until I heard the title track, but the name of this EP, Lidushopahorraz, is an alternate spelling of "Little Shop of Horrors." And "Little Shop of Horrors" was the last song on his old EP with Supreme Kourt in 1998. What are the odds it's the same song? "I'm Breathing for You" also seems to match up with "Breathing for You" off that EP. "Organized Rime" and "Crime Saga" are familiar songs. Weren't they on that album The Vault? Or The Becoming Of the Disciple? Or The Book of Shabazz? Or The Passion Of the Hood Christ? Has Shabazz just been repackaging the same old songs over and over again for decades? Why is the room spinning? Are you my doctor? Help!

Okay, let's break this down track by track and try to approach things scientifically...

1. "Organized Rime" - This title is surely ringing a lot of bells, but you're probably thinking of his 1997 12" single, "Organized Rime (Part II)." Shabazz has a weird way of sequelizing [not an actual word, but it should be] his songs... His first single was "Death Be the Penalty," and his second one was "Crime Saga (Death Be the Penalty - The Sequel)." But there's also a "Crime Saga 2?" Shouldn't that be "Death Be the Penalty 3," then? It's confusing. So when he released "Organized Rime (Part II)" despite there never having been a "Part I," most of us just assumed it was another semi-sequel to "Crime Saga" or something. But it's not. "Organized Rime" is its own song, and it's being released for the first time here. Awesome, right? Well, kind of. If you got the 2006 CD/DVD combo The Passion Of the Hood Christ, this song was actually on there. So it's not actually unreleased or debuting on here... But this is its first time on vinyl.

2. "Lidushopahorraz" - Right, so like I said, it's really "Little Shop of Horrors" which is on the old Supreme Kourt EP., based on a line from Kool G Rap's "Ill Street Blues." Except the credits here say it's produced by C-12, not Supreme Kourt. How can that be? Because this is a remix. Or maybe this is the original version, and the Supreme Kourt version is the remix. Either way, it's the same vocals but set to a different instrumental. I'm not sure which version I prefer; this one is a little more conventional, but both tracks are dope. The biggest disappointment is that this is a shorter version, missing the second verse and skips from the first to the third. So overall, the original is definitely preferable. But this is at least a decent companion piece for people who already have the full version. And this version at least is completely unreleased.

3. "I'm Breathing For You" - Right, so "I'm Breathing For You" is obviously "Breathing For You." But once again, it's an alternate C-12 version. And this time it's got all the verses and I think it's doper than the one from the old EP. This was released already, however, on the 2008 CD The Vault (Hidden Safiyahz). And the old EP version is the one labeled "I'm Breathing for You" on The Becoming Of The Disciple: 94 B.C.- 00 A.B. So, another case of: not really unreleased, but at least making its vinyl debut.

4. "Crime Saga 2" - So, right. "Crime Saga 1," was "Death Penalty 2," his second single on Penalty Records. There was also a remix on that 12", but this isn't that. So is Part 2 really debuting here? Not really. It was on The Vault (Hidden Safiyahz), where it was titled "Crime Saga 2 (The Struggle Continues)." But again, vinyl debut at least.

5. "The Souls Journey A.D. (After Death)" - This one's entirely new to me. The label says it's another C-12 production, though it sounds different from his usual work - lyrically, it's an ill, spiritual imagery filled story along the lines of his early Gravediggaz verses. Lovin' this one, and again it seems to be quite old but completely unheard.

6. "Ya Exodus (Instrumental)" - Well, the full song, "Ya Exodust," was featured on The Vault (Hidden Safiyahz), but this is the instrumental version. Exclusive, but just an instrumental (with the full hook on it).

7. "I'm Breathing For You (Instrumental)" - Pretty self-explanatory. Obviously, this is the instrumental for the version of the song featured earlier on this record, not the old EP. And it's an exclusive instrumental.

So, has Shabazz just been repackaging the same old songs over and over again for decades? Well yeah, kind of. But he has a big back catalog, so there's not too much repeating going on throughout his releases. Usually each song just comes out 2-3 times.

This particular EP isn't nearly as unreleased as the title would leave you to believe. But does feature at least one seemingly completely unreleased song, which is pretty great, and am unreleased remix. Plus two instrumentals. And its all making its vinyl debut. So alright, if you're a vinyl head just looking for some ill 90s music, this is it for sure. But if you're a serious Shabazz fan expecting a full EP of songs you don't already own, be prepared for some disappointment. But at least you'll get "Souls Journey."

The sound quality is nice; "Souls Journey" definitely does not sound like some crusty old tape rip. And it's all given Chopped Herring's usual high quality treatment: sticker cover, limited to 350 copies, 75 on gold colored vinyl, 75 on silver (silver), and 200 on classic black. This is probably more for serious vinyl heads than people who already have all the CDs; they should be very happy with this, even if we have had the bulk of these songs before.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's Broaden Your Horizons Day!

Remember Cheese Steez? It was a mixCD of hip-hop from the Netherlands I reviewed a couple years ago by Chris the Wiz and DJ Fozx. It was a fun mix of stuff most of the world wouldn't have been familiar with, and a nice upbeat education. Well, they did a sequel in 2013, called Cheesesteez Vol. 2, and anyone who appreciated that one should be just as happy with this one. This one, which also goes in chronological order, encompasses a shorter period of time: 1988-1993, which gives the disc a more consistent tone.

This volume is also free of skits and has zero Dutch language songs (the last mix had 1), so there's even less reason for English listeners to feel left out. Admittedly, there was a song or two where I had to listen pretty closely before I realized they were rapping in English, because the cadence was so un-American. But yeah, it's 100% English friendly.

Another interesting aspect of this mix is that they've broadened the scope of music they've included from Dutch hip-hop released on vinyl to include rare cassette and demo tracks. So this time even the most plugged-in Dutch listeners won't have heard it all before. Speaking for myself, I'm sure I wouldn't have recognized anything they might've included unless it was "Holiday Rap." And no, this time Miker G and Urban Dance Squad aren't on hand, so they're pretty much all unknown acts (in the USA) this time around. But even having never heard of any of these guys, I'm sure you'll find a lot of familiar elements here, with the artists often rhyming over familiar beats, like D.C.O. using the same base sample as Partners In Kryme's "Undercover" (though they laid a little extra music on top of it), DJ Knowhow and Rudeboy Remmington freaking Kool G Rap's "Talk Like Sex" break, the Pleasure Posse rocking the classic "It Takes Two" loop, or Next of Kin spitting over the bassline to "Groove Is In the Heart."  Plus, as you may've noticed from that last sentence, some of the acts are recurring from the first Cheese Steez mix.

I'm not sure how many of the records spun here will actually inspire you to run out and track them down for your crates, but to hear as a part of a mix full of interesting songs you've probably never heard before, they're consistently compelling. There's less silly stuff this time around, like the last CD's song about pizza, although the Zombi Squad's ainti-Nazi song will probably sound over the top to audiences where neo-Nazis never achieved any traction or credibility. Maybe the strongest selling point is all the nice scratching on hand. Couple that with some high energy deliveries and hype tracks, it's a really dope mix even if rappers aren't quite up to your favorite MCs. Seriously, even if you're like, "ah, I don't give a crap about Dutch rap," I recommend giving it a listen - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Like the first volume, this CD is a limited edition. But you can still cop it, as they're selling brand new copies directly through its discogs listing. And if you have any interest in Dutch hip-hop at all, you should check out their site, as it's a pretty great database, including bios, photos and songs from the Netherlands' old school hip-hop scene.