Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Nobody Ever Talks About Warp 9

I used to love Warp 9 as a kid, but these days they seem to have been completely memory-holed.  I guess that's because they made more break dance music than strictly Hip-Hop.  But I dug that stuff, too, and I used to play their tape to death.  And honestly, they did both.  There are songs where they're straight-up rapping, the DJ's cutting... sure, it's electro disco-era stuff.  This is not made from the staple two turntables and a microphone, and you weren't checking for their MC's skills.  Even for 1983, nobody would put them alongside the Grandmasters Caz or Melle Mel.  And they're not delivering a serious "Message."  It's just a fun, "we're chilling the most" good time music, somewhere in between Break Machine and Newcleus.  In fact, if you appreciate Space Is the Place, you'd be totally in It's a Beat Wave.

And we'll get to Fade In, Fade Out, but It's a Beat Wave is what it's all about.  It's so good.  Every song on this album was a single!  These guys were a studio group, put together by their label like Timex Social Club, but their stuff is really well done, and pretty versatile.  Connie Cosmos, Dr. Space and Mr. C (not that Mister Cee) on the turntables.  The production on "Nunk (New Wave Funk)" is a killer, with a little help from Jellybean.  "Beat Wave" and "Master Of the Mix" are my favorites, if only for being the most straight rappy cuts.  I think Connie actually left after "Nunk" and it's a new girl, Ada, on the rest of this album.  But she sounds real cool rapping on "Beat Wave" regardless.  "Master Of the Mix" is all about the DJ skills, and no, the cuts aren't amazing.  But this was the era of "Rockit," well transformer scratches were invented, so this was about all you could hope for.  The fact that they put scratches up front at all was exciting.

"Light Years Away" is low-key pretty fresh, with a spacey vibe, their most Newcleus-y song, even dropping in a vocoder to deliver some words from the future towards the end.  But the songs on side 2 definitely got lighter and a little more mainstream pop.  "No Man Is an Island" is easily my least favorite, basically a flat out disco song, but it's still upbeat and catchy with a zippy little breakdown.  It's all well crafted.  But honestly, half the time I would just rewind side 1 back and give the side 2 stuff a pass.

But yeah, the second album was a disappointment.  They basically pulled a Whistle, who lost their main rapper guy, then later their DJ, and just carried on with the singers.  In this case, Ada left and the other guy took a back seat (he's just credited with Additional Background Vocals along with five other people now) for a new female singer, leaving the new official line-up of Warp 9 to be Katherine & Chuck.  I think you're meant to see those two on the cover with the shadowy drummer figure in the background and assume it's the same trio, but it's all different now.  Three years had passed since their 1983 album and they'd switched labels from Prism to Motown, too.  The older white couple who produced the group (Lottie Golden and Richard Sher) stayed the same across the album, but otherwise Warp 9 was just a totally new beast on a totally different vibe.

It's not bad, mind you.  The music is still well produced (I spotted The Sugarhill Band's Doug Wimbish playing bass in the album credits) and the new pair could still sing.  But they're just aiming for a sappier, duller R&B thing.  Their one single, "Skips a Beat" is probably the best song, that or "Big Fun."  The rest is pretty boring.  "The Cutting Edge" has a cool, little breakdown, but you can tell the musicians are on more of a rock vibe.  "King of Hearts" straight up sucks.  But otherwise, you could totally bop along to this in your car on the commute to work.

Apparently, I wasn't alone in being disappointed.  Fade In, Fade Out was the end of Warp 9.  Everybody went on to other projects in the music industry, though.  After all, it was a studio group.  But nothing else really Hip-Hop.  I wish we could've gotten a couple more "Beat Waves" while they were in that sweet spot, but I can at least hang onto what they did give us.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Saukrates Says Freeze

(Unreleased, unheard Saukrates music from the late 90s, courtesy of a(n admittedly unwitting) rap publication legend!  Check out The Underground Vault here.  And Dig Mag here.  Youtube version is here.)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Contemporary Rhythmic American Poetry

Last year, when I had a little technical problem with the Brandon B CD I was reviewing, he was good enough to not just send me a replacement copy, but hit me off with a CD of his first album, Rhythmic American Poetry, from 2018.  Of course, when I say first album, I mean as a solo artist, because of course he's had plenty of albums as a member of different Gurp City groups like The Yole Boys and Official Spill, actually going all the way back to Supermarket with their famous, underground Dump Koch album in 1996.  So the history goes way back.  But lately he's been striking out more on his own as well.

The title of course comes from The D.O.C.'s "The Formula," where he devised the perfect acronym for rap.  And if you're familiar with Brandon, you know he's not just the MC but the producer.  So this album is essentially all him, albeit with a healthy helping of guest spots, from those you'd expect and even someone you wouldn't.  Luke Sick, yeah, he's on here, as well as fellow Trunk Dank member Eddie K.  And Z-Man appears twice.  Official Spill's Dev Rambis is also here, Philo from The Flood, Jaymorg, fellow Gurp MC TopR and DJ Quest.  So those're all the usual crew guys you'd expect.  And Equipto, who's been collaborating a lot with these guys.  And production-wise he's got some help from DJ Eons One, Brycon, Elliot Lanam, Philo and somebody named Uncle Buck.  That's a lot of people to call an album "all him," but Brandon still manages to make this feel like a distinctly personal project.

I mean, nobody bridges the gap from early Electro-Hop to the classic 90's 4-track era like Brandon.  This is the direction Gen Z should've taken Hip-Hop, instead of whatever they've done instead.  Hearing the intro track, "A Little Wine Cooler" on a new record is pretty mind blowing, and damn catchy.  Honestly, this album is a fat collection of highlights.  I was already familiar with the track "The American Riviera," a mellow anthem for his hometown he'd made a music video for.  It's super laid back and inviting.  I mean, hell, it makes me want to go there.  "Rhymes Too Funky (Live At the Pointe)" is a funky, upbeat posse cut, and yes it's a homage to Compton's Most Wanted's classic.  It has a different, more electric track; but if the adlibs didn't already bring the CMW version to mind, the ending where they cut up "man, fuck my neighbors" erases any doubt.

This album is full of vibes.  "Midday Wasted" sounds exactly like you'd expect from the title, "California Livin'" is a fun party record and "Dark Blue Camaro" owes its hook and its spirit to a classic Click joint.  My favorite, which is saying something on a packed project like this, is "It's Like Vegas."  It has a hype, old school dance vibe with big horns and some funky intoxicated vocals by TopR and Z-Man, "fuck a Motley Crew, we're the party crew; we'll sedate you with liquor and barbecue.  I may be on Adderall but I'm all for 'shrooms, and I'll do 'em both at once like some mom would do.  I'm armed with two, placin' all bets with cheaters 'cause I'm full of a lotta liters out in (Gurp City!).  A lotta pre-drinking before the weekend evenings.  Yes, I am recording in my forties drinking a forty, pouring another forty, yeah I'll tell 'em a story: about a culture with low self esteem, American dreams, veteran MCs with liver disease."  It's both celebratory and tragic with serious dance-in-your-chair energy all at the same time.

Oh, and didn't I promise a guest you wouldn't expect that?  Yeah, this album closes out with a banger called "Cash In Advance," which is at once smooth and high energy.  It's got a fast, funky groove that Brandon rides excellently.  And its hook?  Sung by Michael Marshall, the main vocalist of The Timex Social Club!  And damn, he sounds just as good now as he did in '86.  This album is a strong recommend, even if you're not sure about Brandon, give this album a chance and you will be.  And as of this writing there are still exactly 2 copies of the CD available on his bandcamp.  Get 'em!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

New Jersey's Own Soul Kingz

First a little history.  The Soul Kings are an indie New Jersey crew fronted by MC Nicky Dee who were featured in The Source's Unsigned Hype column in 1990.  Dee put out a pretty obscure album called Rap So Hot It Will Make You Sweat under the name Soul King on Big City Records, before forming Soul King Productions, which was him and Hasskills.  The pair released an incredibly rare cassette-only album in 1993 called Trace Ya Stepz.  Online bios mention several other members, but it's basically those two on all of this stuff and on the album cover (the two girls on the ends are models).  Anyway, there was also a 12" single from that album in 1994, under the name Soul Kingz, that's been a minor grail for collectors.  For a more extensive history, and an interview with the Soul King himself, I highly recommend you read this blog post on TheGoldenEra.

That's the backstory.  Now, in 2016, Dope Folks put together an LP of tracks from Trace Ya Stepz, which they titled Guess Whooz Back, after one of the highlights from the album.  The Dope Folks release is meant to act as a companion piece - in addition to, rather than instead of - to the original 12", so they left those songs off.  That leaves us with nine hot tracks only previously available on that original '93 tape.

The first track is "Word To Ya Mutha," which features a funky guitar loop and a DJ cutting up Big Daddy Kane on the hook, but then it cuts out for a deeper, darker bassline driven track for the verses.  And it sets the tone for how these guys are coming right off the bat, "hittin' hard like a hammer, but not the Hammer that dance, though.  'Cause all that dancin' shit is for them niggaz that can't flow."  "Kick a Verse" is just a cool freestyle rhyme joint over the same basic instrumental as Master Ace's "Brooklyn Battles," but "Lovezs Runaway" is more than your typical token rap love song but a serious, socially conscious track about broken families.  "I'm Feelin' It" starts with the same sample as the Jazzy 5's "Jazzy Sensation," but slows it way down, then throws it out for a hardcore NWA-style beat.  They make up for what the lack in nuance by coming hard over great sample choices, though they cut loose a little on "Xtacsie," which uses that wacky little guitar loop from Roxanne Shante's "Knockin' Hiney" as they kick stories about their girls and clumsily sing on the hook.  Overall, it's a pretty rich, varied experience but with a consistent vibe from the duo.

Still, Dope Folks had to shave off a couple album tracks to fit everything they could onto a single record.  Four of those were just little intro skits, which add to the experience but are no great loss.  But that also means another hot, full-length song was left exclusive to the original tape.  "Grab the Mic" is a wild, hardcore track full of high pitch whistles and constant scratching as Hasskills lays down a challenge to his fellow producers, "reppin' beats from the 60s and the 70s, too.  Too smooth for words so you can't compare or get near, so why even dare come out your face with your played out breaks?  Why don't you try a little originality?  Everybody knows your beats come from Music Factory.  It's no mystery, check your rap history, some beats are classic like 'Impeach the President' and 'Substitution.'  But that's no excuse for you to keep usin' em.  But that's another lesson, so I'ma cut this short.  Too smooth for words and I'ma tear shit up."  I'm surprised Dope Folks chose this one to forgo, because it's tighter than a bunch of the ones they chose.  I mean, the instrumentals tend to outshine the MCing on all these joints, but these guys always come tough enough to hang in there (I guess it should be no surprise that the production is the star of the show on an album by Soul King Productions).  And they really shine when they're angry and have something to say, like on this one, where the beats and rhymes are both batting a thousand.

And I say it "was left exclusive" because now Hip-Hop Enterprise has come out with a Trace Ya Stepz CD, with everything from the original tape: "Grab the Mic," the intros and all four 12" tracks, including the B-sides that weren't even on the original tape.  One is a remix, the Jeep Mix (Beat Squad Jointe) of the title track "Trace Ya Stepz," which is a cool alternative with a groovier bassline.  But the other is a bigger deal: the angry music biz salvo "The -N-tertainer" the Nicky describes in his interview.  The way it's written on the 12" label and how it's listed on discogs makes it seem like it's another version of "Catch Wreck," but it's not.  It's a completely separate, dope ass song, based on his frustrations with the Rap So Hot release.

So vinyl heads can combine the Dope Folks with the original 12" to get most of this.  But the Hip-Hop Enterprises release is the only truly definitive collection with all the Soul King Production songs, though of course it's CD only.  But at least we have options.  The Dope Folks is limited to 300 copies (50 on red wax and 250 on standard black) and the CD is limited to 350; but both are still available from their labels as of this writing.

Now it might be fun if somebody reissues that Rap So Hot album.  Apparently it includes the songs that got them into Unsigned Hype in the first place.

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Lost(?) Grand Daddy IU Album

Losing Grand Daddy IU a few months back is one of the ones that hit me the hardest, and pretty much purely for reasons of meritocracy.  You know, sometimes it's hard to explain why it strikes you so much when a particular famous artist passes.  Maybe something corny they released came out when you were a child and left an over-sized impact, or something in their private life just happened to sync up with yours and it became an inspiration.  I did get to interview the man once, so there was a bit of a personal edge to it.  But mainly it just hit me because he was one a disappointingly small handful of artists who I was a huge fan of growing up and was putting out music just as good today.  There's plenty of artists I was a fan of then, and still a decent amount I am now.  But not a lot where I was just excited to get a new album from in the 1990s and the 2020s.  Especially with no disappointing missteps in between.

And it's not lost on me that I've got an album of his that seemingly nobody else has.  I mean, they should.  It was sold online, seemingly exclusively, on a site called The Catacombz that lasted years selling mostly underground CDs, but also the odd tape, record, magazine and even "Herbalz."  Essentially the Canadian version of outfits like Atak, Foolblown and AccessHipHop.  So I always feel like a bunch of other people must've been copping stuff there semi-regularly for them to have stayed in business.  But I've never seen it even hinted at online anywhere other than my own content, and when I brought it up to IU, even he was surprised.

It's simply called I.U. Volume #1.  I'm pretty certain there never was a Volume #2.

Is it a bootleg?  Hard to say...  It's a CDR in a slim case with a cheap cover and sticker label, but that's true of tons of indie and self-released music from those days.  I've gotten OG Day 1 releases on Maxwell tapes and Office Max CDs.  And IU was in no way signed to any kind of label, even a little indie one, in 2002 when this came out.  It's marked as "Steady Flow Ent.," which was his own imprint that many of his later releases that we know are legit came out on.  But it features a ton of exclusive material never released online or anywhere else, so it's not something just anybody out of the loop could've thrown together.  Obviously, IU telling me he'd never heard of it is a huge red flag ("Wow… Who in the fuck did that? That’s crazy. Somebody dipped in my stash. Wow… Holy shit" is a direct quote), but if this was a tour CD or something he spread around a little as a demo, it makes sense he might've forgotten years later, or just didn't want to acknowledge on the record.  Especially since he was planning to release some of this music on upcoming projects, as he wound up doing.

Anyway, those are the facts as I know them, so now you know as much as I do.  The official description Catacombz wrote for its listing is, "The 'Smooth Assasin[.sic]' finally returns w/ a bomb underground album chock full of joints spanning from after 'Lead Pipe' to present. The whole CD is good, I.U. has skills no doubt & is a vet in the game. The guest spots are few but quality such as: 2Pac Shakur, DV Alias Chryst & more!"

Does any of that sound familiar?  Didn't I say IU released some of this stuff later?  Yes, the 2Pac guest spot is "Ghetto Blues," which came out on his 2007 album Stick 2 the Script.  But while he's worked with DV a couple of times, the song here isn't any of those.  This one's called "Get Your Doe."  It's a killer, smooth and dark track.  DV sings on the hook and also has a proper verse.  An uncredited female also sings on it a little, and there's a crazy Chinese vocal sample blended into the mix.  Honestly, I think it's better than any of their collaborations that were released.

At the end of the day, almost all of this album is still exclusive.  "One Night Stand" later came out on his 2012 mp3-only album Self Made Man, and there's a track called "Spitting," which according to a name drop, was produced by The Mole Men, but it's not "Face Down" - maybe it's a from a mixtape?  Basically everything else is original, and even those songs had never been released before when this came out.  A couple of these songs did come out on the 2008 J-Love mixCD Return Of the Smooth Assassin (so I guess that's one other person with a copy of this album) - "Spittin" and "Mind Over Matter" - but that's about it.  Four songs and this album is nineteen tracks deep.

And it's pretty damn tight.  A couple tracks use that early 2000s club style, which isn't the best, but even then he comes hard and makes it work.  Like "Ya Know," has this kind of boop boop beat with handclaps and a few software pack samples.  But it also has slow, deep bass notes and IU flowing like crazy in duet with an MC named Scuzz.  And plenty of his other tracks, like "Time Is Hard" and "Stop Fronting" just have his classic, stripped down sample-based production style we come to him for.  There's only one track I'd label weak, "Surfing Shit" featuring somebody called E-Zae, where they're clearly just having fun flipping some weird surf music record and turning it into a down south club song with a corny hook ("let me see you do that wave, girl.  Now do that wave, girl.  Now shake your thing, girl.  Now what's your name, girl?") Even then, it's listenable and kinda catchy, but it's way below IU's par.

The last track is one of the illest: "Conspiracy Theory."  It's got cracking drums and a tight piano sample, pure underground NY, but then this low humming and Malcolm X speeches come in for the hook.  And IU is coming hard and angry, though without getting "We Got da Gats" shouty.  And he's speaking on some serious, controversial topics, like "white folks feel like niggas need 'em, how egotistic/ when we ruled the planet before Europeans even existed" - I can definitely see every label telling him there was no way they were touching this track!  Admittedly, as a pretty agnostic dude, the religious angle doesn't land as hard for me; but this is a serious side of IU I wish we'd gotten to see more of.

"This shit is listed, go look it up if you feel.  In fact, open your fucking' bible, I'ma show you what's real!  In Genesis 2-6, God brought the rain down.  In Verse 7 he formed Adam from the dirt of the ground.  But dirt and rain make mud, which means Adam was brown.  Now can you handle that?  Knowin' the original man's black?  ...Once you acknowledge I'm right, than you must have to admit that your preacher and your history teacher was full of shit!"
  And he's not just mad about ancient history.  "While these crackers still mad screamin' OJ did it, JonBenet Ramsey's parents is walkin' and they nanny got acquitted?  Coppers kill blacks all day and get acquitted, and all that fuckin' tax we pay?  Them niggas split it!  Why is it less time for powder cocaine than crack, and the only crime you hear about is black on black?  You never hear about white on white crime, or Jew on Jew crime; but all that'll change in due time!"  It's wild that this song has gone virtually unheard.

So how about actually getting some of this unreleased stuff out, you ask?  There's not just this album, but all kinds of killer songs he either just released for free, or were mp3-only (try finding a copy of his 2000s ITunes only EP Long Island's Finest anywhere on Earth today), dating all the way back to the Cold Chillin' era.  Well, it's been tried.  DWG reached out to him about putting out an EP of their favorite unreleased tracks, but they were never able to work out the deal.  And more recently I tried to talk Dust & Dope into it, and they were game; but IU wasn't interested because he just wanted to focus on his new music "and let that old shit lie."  Now that he's no longer with us, who can we even go talk to?  Has someone inherited the rights to his catalog and/ or his masters?  If that's you and you see this, definitely reach out to me or somebody, because I promise you there's interest.  I'll help for free, because his fans deserve to hear this stuff.

But then again, maybe a bunch of you are sitting out there with your own copies of this.  Because it was openly for sale for four years or so.  🤷  I'm really missing IU, and you know, I kinda miss The Catacombz, too.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

If You Can't Take a Joke, Don't Play This Record

I first heard Luhuru's "In Jail" on Macola Records' Street Kuts: The Posse compilation album in 1989.  They put out a bunch of these tapes: Prime Kuts 1 & 2, and The Posse 2, all about the same year, showcasing some of their better and lesser known Californian 12" releases.  It was a good way to get the stuff that wasn't on proper albums of their own, especially in those days when malls across America weren't selling vinyl anymore, and I wasn't quite old enough to make the treks to New York or Philly yet.  Anyway, it was a fun song, and I had no idea who this guy or group was, but I sure wanted to.  The inner J-card notes were no help; the artist and writing credits both just said "Luhuru."  How had I never heard of 'em?  What other records had Luhuru put out?

Well, it turned out none.  There's just the one 12", and it's not terribly elucidating as far as the artist's identity.  But we get at least one more song on the B-side, or "Serious Side," strictly speaking.  Because, yeah, while I wouldn't classify Luhuru as a novelty act like MC Pillsbury or Pitman, Luhuru makes it perfectly clear that "In Jail" is intended as a joke song, prominently displaying a warning on the label's, "Joke Side" that "[t]his record is meant to be funny. If you can't take a joke, don't play it."

Because, yeah, "In Jail" is a James Brown diss record, released right after his arrest in 1988 where he was sentenced to six years for, as reported in Time Magazine, "carrying a deadly weapon at a public gathering, attempting to flee police, and driving under the influence of drugs."  It's got a pretty hard if by-the-numbers programmed beat and bassline, and Luhuru has a sort of Compton LL Cool J-inspired flow, but he sounds good, with plenty of energy as he relentlessly clowns James for three verses.

"Now you're sittin' in jail for resistin' arrest,
Givin' the cops a race.
You were the king of soul,
Now you're the king of Cell Block H.
You'll be wearin' the stripes,
Headed upstate;
Instead of making records,
You'll be making license plates,
Crushing rocks,
Eating bread and water.
James, you're a has-been
And, yo, I think you gotta
Watch your back,
And don't pull your pants down,
Or you'll come out of jail as
Miss James Brown!"

He uses the famous Yellowman "nobody move, nobody get hurt" vocal sample, sped up just the way Eazy-E had used it the year before.  And there's an on-going skit throughout the song, where the contestants on a game show called Word 2 the Mutha (note: that's also the name credited as Executive Producer on the record label) are prompted to guess "where James Brown will be for the next six years."  Actually, it turns out, Brown only had to serve three years of his sentence for good behavior, though he'd go on to be arrested a few more times throughout his later years.  Anyway, at the end of his song, he prompts his DJ (it sounds like he's saying "DJ Shock?") to reveal the correct answer, and he cuts in the Fat Boys singing the hook from their record "In Jail."  You could look at this like: who's this nobody daring to about the Godfather; but as the label makes clear, we're not meant to take it so seriously.

And yeah, there's another song that didn't make it onto any compilations or anything, but it's pretty good, too.  It's labeled the "Serious" song, but it's not terribly serious.  It's called "Men's Game," and it's a song warning girls about the tricks men will play to get them into bed.  But even that makes this sound more serious than it is.  If you notice the label credits "Naive Chick Played by Anita "Sweet Neat" Hurd," and she's on the hook if this song arguing how her man can't run a game on her, before Luhuru gets on the mic again to break down another con.  The beat has a slick drum track and a slow doo-wop kind of vocal loop playing over the whole thing.  So the whole song is rather playful and catchy, with Luhuru still flowing hard while he spits lines like, "girls don't realize they're gettin' bit, right between their legs - that is the target!"  It's a bit of a gem.

Unfortunately, the record label doesn't tell us much more than the Street Kuts card.  My copy here is the promo version (as you can see my the giant, pink "PROMO" text emblazoned across it), but the only difference is that the retail has full-colored labels and comes in a proper Macola sleeve instead of the plain, white sleeve.  Besides the two songs, we get an instrumental of "In Jail" and acapella of "Men's Game," including the doo-wop humming thing, because I don't think that's a sample.  The notes just credit everything to Luhuru, no proper names, and the label is Luhuru Recording.  The run-out groove is no help.  I'll note, however, that their logo is a map of Africa, and I googled it - there is a village named Luhuru in Tanzania, so maybe that's the origin of the name.  At any rate, this seems to be a One and Done by a mystery artist, but it's pretty fun and worth adding to your collection, especially on this holiday.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Larry Larr Meets The Fat Boys!

Okay, he met one Fat Boy.

It's been a while since I've written a proper post on here, so I'm coming with what I'm sure you're all demanding: Larry Larr's love song.  "Larry, That's What They Call Me" was Larry's big single from his 1991 debut album, Da Wizzard of Odds on Ruffhouse/ Columbia Records.  There was a video and everything.  But unfortunately it didn't blow up and by 1992, he was unsigned again.  But there was one more single the label before Columbia gave up, proof positive that the label didn't know what to do with this raw talent: "Confused," the token love song every rapper had to do for a major label to prove they were versatile.

That said, Larry was versatile, and he was able to make this song swing.  It's not one of those slow, whispered, "hey girl, you know I love you, girl, from the night until the day, girl, until you're mine forever, girl" songs everybody started making since "I Need Love."  I mean, he does lay down a bunch of cliches interspersed with the word "girl" a lot in the first verse: "girl, I hate to strut you inside my rap, but girl, you got me hooked; you're all that.  I love the way that you look, the way that you walk, the way that you dress and the way that you talk.  Girl, I'd like to have you for my own.  Girl, I can't help it, let me take you home."

But he's rapping fast on a high energy track with that hard P-funk "zoom" effect X-Clan used to love being constantly cut in by his DJ Mad Ice.  It's like a hardcore new jack swing track with live funk guitar and this girl Stephanie Miller singing her heart out for more than just a repeated hook.  She gets to delve into some back and forth, reminding me of Kwamé's "Ownlee Eue" or the songs Grand Puba used to do with Mary J BligeChuck Nice produced most of the album, but two guys named Craig "Make The Gruve" Caruth and Rob Williams did this one.  Which makes sense, since this isn't the kind of Philly street track Larry was the real master of.  But honestly, this song works and even manages not to feel out of place on the LP.

If you want to hear an out of place song on that album, check out the CD version which has an exclusive house song called "Get Funky."  Wow.

Anyway, that's "Confused."  It's super 90's.  Like, check out this exchange, "(Larry, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to hurt you.)  Girl, I'm cooler than the cat in the Cheetos commercial."  But the writing gets better when they get into the meat of the song and why it's called "Confused."  It's about young, capricious lovers cheating and naively wounding each other.  Stephanie really killed it here.  I tried looking her up online but apparently she didn't take off like she really should've.  Discogs links one or two credits many years later, and I'm pretty suspicious that it's a different Stephanie Miller.  But it surely didn't help her that Columbia kicked her off the single.

Yeah, "Confused" is an album track, but the single is notable because it has exclusive remixes that it puts first.  I have the CD single, which has all the same versions, but the 12" single has a B-side called "Keep On Y'all," which is right off of the album.  The back cover credits vocals by EST, but disappointingly, he doesn't rap on it; he just comes in to do the shout outs at the end.  It's a slick song, though, and the kind of thing Larry's fans really wanted from him; it makes a lot of sense to see it on the B-side.  Alternatively, the CD-single just has a bonus radio edit.  Otherwise, the two's track-listing's are the same.

So let's get to the Fat Boy already!  Yeah, who's an artist you'd least expect to turn up and remix Larry Larr?  Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention?  Well, it fits considering this is a 1991 new jack love rap.  Yes, the two Marks have gotten on board not just to remix but "Remake" it.  They'd already started making a name for themselves producing this kind of stuff for Father MC, but this was before "Real Love" and before they came out with any of their albums and people had really caught on that Prince Markie Dee had reinvented himself outside of the Fat Boys.  But they've turned it into a real Soul Convention song, with their signature piano and completely replacing all of Miller's vocals with their own whole group of uncredited R&B girls.  And honestly, they're good, too, riffing and crooning behind all of Larry's verses besides just the parts in between.  They've turned it into a sweeter song, though they keep some of the original percussive elements and "zoom" effect, stretching it out to over six and a half minutes with lots of solos and extended choruses.

They even made a music video for it, though I don't remember ever seeing it on Rap City back in the day.  It's cut down considerably to a more traditional radio-friendly length (and yes, shorter than the Radio Edit on the CD single).  So you don't really get the Soul free-for-all vibe of the full-length version, which lets the girls open the song acapella and take over the last few minutes until it's almost a gospel song, except instead of professing eternal love for Jesus, they beg for Larry's forgiveness.  It's actually kind of epic.

There's also a Hip-Hop Mix of "Confused," also by Mr. Make the Gruve.  Instrumentally it's pretty dope, just layering in a bunch of classic breaks and samples.  It's got the famous Lyn Collins "Think" break, famous as Rob Base's "Woo! Yeah!" "It Takes Two" beat, as well as the "Mardi Gras" bells.  It's got some "Let's Dance" in there and that sick shredded electric guitar sample Professor Griff used for "Pawns In the Game."  It's dope, even though Larry's relationship raps don't really fit.  But it really falls apart when they try to lay Stephanie's vocals on them and they don't gel at all.  It's pure tissue rejection.  Too bad they didn't set Larry's "Get Funky" vocals to this instead.

But anyway, yeah, this didn't work out for Larry Larr.  He got dropped.  But things went better for Prince Markie Dee, who'd go on to produce a host of A-list artists and sign to Motown to release his own albums with the Convention.  It's a shame he didn't reach back out to Larry and fit him into Love Daddy somewhere.  But then again, they probably wouldn't've been able to recreate the magic they got here.  Because this single's surprisingly good.  So actually, maybe it would've been better if Stephanie Miller joined the Soul Convention.  Then again, maybe she did.  I don't think those girls tended to get all their credits on those albums.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Back In the UGSMag

The new issue of UGSMag is out, and guess who has another feature article in it!  Good guess, but no.  I'm actually talking about me!  I've got a big, seven-page interview with renowned NJ producer The Custodian of Records.  And it's not my usual career-spanning kind of interview.  This time I wanted to talk about something specific: the business of releasing music today.  Pressing vinyl, CDs, streaming platforms, working with indie labels vs doing it all yourself.  I feel like I've been studying it for so long from the consumers' side, I wanted to understand it from the artists' side.  And he's got some good stories.

There's some other good stuff in there, too: a Noah23 interview, book reviews, a whole interview with Charli 2na about his action figure and my personal favorite: an interview with the head of Hand'Solo Records.  It actually compliments my piece really well.  And yes, I'm already working on something for issue #4.

Oh, and I trust you guys all know about this by now.  If not, get on it!  I'll do a proper video on it when my copy arrives; but yeah, it goes right alongside Young Zee's Musical Meltdown as a project I'm excited to have played a small part getting out to the world.  And yeah, it's not the last project with the Dust & Dope guys either.  😎

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Blackface In the Crates

This is the kind of shit I don't write enough about.  What I have for us today is a tape I'd long forgotten about until I was just aimlessly perusing my own collection.  It's a single I bought in the 90's for a pretty simple reason: Fat Joe and Showbiz's names on the cover, especially since this was back before Joe started doing all those jiggy club records in the 2000s.  In fact, flipping it over, we see that Showbiz produced their track, too.  So okay, I had no idea who this Blackface was, but it was still a no brainer.  At least back then.  I wouldn't buy a tape (or record or CD) for just a guest spot now, as a wise and wizened adult.  But I was more reckless and naive back in the 90s.

Anyway, it worked out, because Blackface is pretty dope.  He's actually a Florida artist (his label here, Backstage Records, is based in Miami) who had an album and a couple singles through the late 90s.  But somehow he wound up connecting with the DITC guys enough to get a feature on his debut 1996 single ("from the South Bronx to South Beach").  They didn't do anything else with him.  The rest of his album and other singles all seem to be by the one producer, Hugo Boss, who also did the A-side, "Cornbread."  But dude is definitely on the NY tip; this isn't like if Showbiz and Joe teamed up with Dem Boiz to perform another "How Much Boodie."

But let's start with "Cornbread," because it is the A-side, after all.  On the album, the title is extended to "Cornbread Style," and it's just a colorful way to announce he's from the South, coming "cornbread style, collard greens style."  Still, though, he's got that NY style, and Boss provides him a pretty unique, head nodding sample to rock over.  This really sets you up for something like Down South's "Southern Comfort," but it's just hardcore battle rhymes with some pretty clever rhyme schemes:

"I have you all leapin' like frogs.  I'm sayin', dog, why ya got to be a playa hater?  Let me be a playa now, and nigga, hate me later.  I'm a greater nominator with bites of an alligator.  You need some seasonin', playa, your style got no flavor.  I thought you woulda followed that recipe that I gave ya, ya non-writin' rhymer, ya damn two timer.  I'ma beat ya bad, beat ya bad, beat ya when I find ya.  This flow is for my shitty niggas that understand.  If you don't like it, I don't give a jigga-jigga-damn.  Slammin' punk niggas on the hard concrete.  I got more rhymes than the whole world got crimes.  I break mics, rappers, bones and even back spines.  A nigga's gettin' paid and it's about time."

I seriously was not expecting this guy to come that nice.

So now let's hear him rockin' over some Showbiz.  On the album, by the way, "Sessions" title is shortened to just "Session."  Anyway, it turns out the front cover is a little misleading.  Showbiz doesn't feature on "Sessions;" it's just Joe and Black.  Although yes, he does produce.  It's got some nice drums and a simple but catchy piano sample.  Blackface handles most of the verses, with Joe coming nice and hard on the hook ("yo, black, pass me the motherfuckin' heat!") just the way he sounds best.  He talks some crime stuff and even a bit of a serious message, "ain't no secret I won't tell about night fall, the black ski mask I keep is raw.  Like creepy critters huntin' for food in the dark, gun shots ignite the flame the metal sparks, like fireworks, but it's not the fourth of July.  Every second, every minute, one of my peoples die."  But Fat Joe comes in at the end to kick a solid, tough verse repping Terror Squad and "New York, New York, the big city of dreams."  Lyrically, Black owns this song, too, but Joe's voice sounds great on this track, so I'm glad he showed up for more than the hook in the end.

Together, both tracks add up to a surprisingly dope single.  Now, as you can see, I have the cassingle.  There is a proper 12" that comes in a full color picture cover with a couple additional versions: Instrumentals, a Radio Edit, even a remix of "Session."  That's the preferable version for sure.  But I'm good with the Showbiz version of "Session," so I've never bothered to upgrade.  But going back to this tape does have me wanting to cop his album and maybe some of his later singles.  I can see why Blackface never got much recognition, coming out of left field like he did, and without a major label to push him into everybody's face.  But it's too bad, because if that happened, I think a lot more people would've started checking for this guy.  Blackface did not get his due.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Even When They Were Crossing Over, De La Soul Was Great

So the Judgement Night soundtrack was a pretty big deal when I was in high school.  The movie itself wasn't, but the soundtrack was.  It paired many of the biggest Hip-Hop acts of the day with the biggest rock bands of the day.  I remember being excited for it, because I was a big fan of many of the MCs.  People still reminisce about how great it was, but honestly, I didn't really care for it.  Some of the songs, like the Fatal one, swung the pendulum too far in the rock direction, where it felt like, okay, a rap artist may've technically been involved, but they just made a full-out rock song.  Some of the acts - like House of Pain, Cypress Hill (of course they had two songs on there), and Ice-T - I was already kind of over by '93 anyway.  And even songs where they struck the balance better, like the Run DMC and Boo Yaa Tribe songs... I just felt like I'd rather hear them without these bands.

Honestly, there was only two songs on there I'd go back and replay.  But at least they were on the tape back to back, so you could play the last song on side A, flip it over to the first song on side B, and then you'd be almost cued back up for the first song on side A again.

One was the Del song, which was with a band called Dinosaur Jr.  They mixed Del's raps nice and loud, and gave him a pretty genuinely funky back-drop.  And the other song, of course, was "Fallin'" by De La Soul.  Oh and some band called Teenage Fanclub.

I had at least heard of every rock band on the Judgement Night soundtrack except for these guys.  I couldn't escape the hit singles by groups like Pearl Jam as much as I wanted to, and I'm not sure I've ever actually heard a Slayer song, but I've certainly seen the t-shirts.  But Teenage Fanclub were a new one on me.  Looking at their Wikipedia, they're a Scottish rock band and their biggest single in America was "Star Sign" in 1991.  It peaked at #4.  Listening to it now on Youtube, nope, new to me.

I was familiar with Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," which this song takes its name from and samples for their hook.  I feel like the teacher would play it every day in art class for two years straight.  It's a real ear worm alright; I still remember it clearly.  He kept whinging about a "good girl" who LA guys (half the song is name-dropping LA locations) would hit on, and this would send him "free fallin'" in despair.  Real incel energy, except the music video make it look like "free fallin'" was about a skateboarding move... Not that the image of a goonish, middle-aged folk singer leering at teenage models in a California skate park is much more appealing.  And okay, look, I fucking hated that song through the peak of my adolescence, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair to it now.  But I'm never going to listen to it again to give it another shot, so don't @ me.

The point is, I did not exactly go into De La's "Fallin'" with an open mind.  But they kick it off with this ill, slowed down Soul II Soul sample while making an Ultramagnetic reference, and the Fanclub's playing, I have to say, is super smooth and reserved.  And they make a big deal of Tom Petty's role in this song in the liner notes (he gets a co-writing credit right alongside De La and Fanclub), but all they do is sample the titular line (it's also the only sample they credit).  None of the instrumentation or that catchy little "do do doo do" riff that really drives the song comes from him.

And Pos and Trugoy's writing is both more amusing and poignant than anything Petty cooked up, kicking fictitious verses about falling off in their careers that's both funny ("I knew I blew the whole fandango when the drum programmer wore a Kangol") and melancholy ("but look what you're doing now.  I know.  Well, I know").  The whole song really captures a thoughtful mood, putting it even farther ahead than Del's song, which was mostly just catchy but empty.  I mean, Pos does get a little carried away with the Six Million Dollar Man references (I remember as a teen wondering who the heck is Oscar Goldman, a famous record producer or something?), but I guess being playful is one of De La's charms you wouldn't want to scrub away.

The film producers must've known the guys were onto something with this one, too, because it's the song they play during the opening credits, and they play it again during the travel montage.  Then they bring it back a third time for an encore over final shot and closing credits.  None of the other soundtrack songs get a fraction of that much love, most of which you just hear snippets of mixed low behind action scenes.  And thankfully, Immortal Records released it as a 12" single.  If they threw on the Del song, too, I could've chucked the whole album, but oh well.  The 12" features the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella and best of all, an exclusive Remix.

As much as any of us may've managed to get over the hippy-ness of the song, it's still pretty nice to hear that De La Soul gave us a pure Hip-Hop version without Teenage Fanclub or the Petty sample.  Only the "you played yourself" portion of the original hook survives, now mixed with a little "Flash To the Beat" routine.  The same vocals as before now flow over deep bass notes and hard drums with some simple, old school scratches.  No twangy guitars, no crooning and it's the only version that doesn't censor Trugoy's bad language.  To be clear, I really like the album version, Petty and all; but I'm definitely grateful to have this alternative when I'm not in the mood for any Teenage Fanclub.

R.I.P. Plug Two.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Who the Heck Is Skitzo?

Here's a mystery I've been living with for almost 30 years now...

This is a split white label 12" by Skitzo and S.O.S..  I'll come back around to S.O.S., because they're interesting, too.  But for now I want to focus on the A-side.  For one thing, it's why I bought this record.  This record came out in '95, give or take, and I can't remember now if I spotted it at Beat St Records, or maybe Sound of Market in Philly.  But the whole reason I picked it up in the first place is because I thought it was a new release by Tony da Skitzo.  But as soon as brought it home and put it on the turntable, I heard that it was definitely not.  In fact, I have no idea who it actually is.  At least I was in a Hip-Hop-specific store, so I didn't wind up with a punk rock 12" or something.

Now, S.O.S. I know for certain is a Brooklyn group, better known as Science of Sound.  No great detective skills on my part, they make their name pretty clear in the song.  They had a four-song 12" in 1995, and A Tribe Called Quest was on one of the songs; Phife was on another.  There was an unreleased full-length album that was leaked around the internet, which HHV eventually gave a proper release in 2020.  Their song here, "No Diggety" is okay, but not their best.  It has a sappy sung R&B hook, and it's one of the four songs on their official 12", so if you're interested in them, there's no need to mess with this white label, just get the proper 4 tracker (or, now, the whole album).  I checked "No Diggety" on both releases, and this is not a rare alternate remix or anything.

So back to the two Skitzo songs.  These definitely sound east coast, and actually, it didn't make a very good impression, so I didn't play it much for many years.  But going back to it more recently, I appreciate it more, especially the first song.  And now, paying close attention to the lyrics ("meet me at the corner of Utica and Atlantic"), I can fairly confidently surmise that they're also from Brooklyn.  I use the word "they" because it sounds like two guys, although it's possible Skitzo is one guy with an uncredited guest.  As you can see above, there are no credits of any kind on the label except the main artist and song titles.

So who are these guys?  No, they're definitely not the Skitzofreniks.  I have a bunch of their records and you can easily tell the difference.  Discogs links their listing to an MC named Skitzo who did a guest verse on a 2009 Latin Gangsta Funk album by a west coast artist named JKnuckles, but I find that hard to believe.  Googling around, I stumbled on another rapper named Skitzo who had a record out in 1995, but he's from Atlanta and it's clearly not him either.

I actually talked to the Written On Your Psyche guys over Youtube (back when they had private messages, which YT has tragically gone and erased all trace of... but hey, it was worth it to get Google+, right?), and I asked if the Skitzo who appeared on a couple of their songs made this record.  They actually said yes, but I think there was some miscommunication, because comparing the Poet tracks that Skitzo is on doesn't sound like this 12" at all.  Plus, I think that guy's white, and they're throwing the N word around pretty freely on this single.  Not that I've never heard a white MC throw it around... but no.  I'd be really surprised to be assured this is the same Skitzo.  Very different styles.

The Skitzo here is definitely not on the underground, lyrical, backpacker or battle rap kind of tip.  This is street stuff.  The first and best song, "Livin' Life On da Edge" is all about dealing dope and street life.  It's got a really cool track, though, with a main sample sound I can barely describe.  It's maybe sort of like something DJ Spinna would put out in that era, but harder and more grating.  Like someone slowed down and looped a car alarm or something, but then with super deep bass notes and a real subtle, almost west coast keyboard sound behind it.  It actually sounds really cool, and some of the writing on this song is actually pretty interesting, too: "and we back to my buildin', steppin' over children 'cause these public housing bitches make babies by the billions. We walk into my crib, it's like another world: 52 inch screen on plush carpet colored pearl."

The second song has some nice production, too.  It's got great horns mixed with big drums, chunky piano notes and almost a DITC vibe going on.  But it has a shout chorus that doesn't work too great.  Worse still, though, are the lyrics.  "Need da Gees" is just what it sounds like, about wanting to get paid.  But it's not just the cliche subject matter that holds it back; there's a gimmick, where they also say they "need the cheese" and just make non-stop Kraft/ Velveeta puns through the whole song.  If you don't follow the lyrics, it's a dope song.  But when you listen closer, it's pretty corny.  "Livin' Life," on the other hand, works on both tiers, and now that I can see this as more than just the "not Tony da Skitzo" record I bought by mistake, I realize this Skitzo's alright.

But who is/ are they?  The only other clue I have is that the run-out groove says "Tommy."  Was this released as radio/ DJ service for some acts Tommy Boy was planning to release?  Or maybe S.O.S.'s DJ Beetle's real first name is Tommy and he did the beats for both groups?  Who knows?  These are just shots in the dark.  Maybe this 12" is just a total bootleg made by a random college kid named Tommy.  But the fact that both groups on this 12" are from Brooklyn makes me wonder if they have more of a connection, leading to them being on a split 12" together.  If anybody has any ideas, please leave a comment below.