Friday, January 18, 2019

Learn Along With Werner, part 10: The Last Thing Whistle Ever Recorded?

Guys, this is why I let the internet live.  Yeah, sure, corporations invade your privacy, hackers collapse governments, and people started DJing with mp3s instead of records.  It's been pretty awful, but then a thing like this happens.  I'm just poking around discogs and stumble upon a record I've never heard of by a group I've been a fan of since I was a kid.  And in this case, though it may be just a guest spot, it turns out to be a final chapter in their career.  I'm talking about Whistle, and this record from 1993 (their last album was in 1991, with one last single coming out in 1992) would appear to be the last thing they ever recorded, at least that actually got released.

The actual guy whose record this is, though, is M.C. Boo.  I'm fairly certain this is not the same M.C. Boo who was down with Magic Mike and the Royal Posse, or the junior member of BDP.  This is yet another MC Boo who just put out this one single record on Studio Records, a Maryland label best known for putting out novelty records like "Are the Redskins #1? Hail Yeah!!" and "Karate Man."  Not a good sign, but happily this is not a joke song but a sincere musical endeavor.

As you can probably guess by the title, it's a essentially a rap version of Stevie Wonder(who also gets a writing credit on the label)'s "I Can't Help It."  You could do a lot worse than chunky Stevie Wonder sample, and MC Boo's maybe not going to blow anybody's mind, but he's certainly a capable rapper, sort of in the category of Little Shawn.  He's kicking somewhat simplistic love raps, but with an ear towards more respectable lyricism and wordplay.  You know, by very early 90s standards, "I'm shakin' and breakin' and movin' and makin' the heart that you made me. I'm movin' and groovin' and soothin' the tempo you gave me.  The bass is kinda light and your eyes are kind, too; I guess that's why I can't help but to love you.  Yea, that's it.  I think I'm goin' crazy bein' round your sexy ways.  Your love is like a puzzle, but better yet a maze."

The only disappointing, but totally predictable, aspect is that Whistle are just here to sing the hook, not actually contribute to the MCing.  It's predictable, of course, because that's the direction they were always going in, away from rap and towards R&B, so of course they ended with a sung chorus instead of a verse.  And they sound good, although there's no moment where Terk comes in to really belt some more impressive notes or cuts by Silver Spinner.  It's a calm, laid back track with a mellow groove they just lay into.

There are a couple tracks on this 12", but they're all just variations on the one song.  There's the aptly titled Regular Version, the Instrumental, a mix with some extra (live) piano called the Piano Mix, and two shorter dub mixes called Doo Boo and Boo Beats.  By the way, it might be interesting to note that the label still says "Whistle appears courtesy of Select Records," so even though they didn't release anything further, Select was still hanging onto Whistle on their roster.  And not only is this Whistle's last record, it's seemingly M.C. Boo's first and last, which I'm... pretty ambivalent about.

He was decent enough, but not somebody I got excited about and would need to track down more of his discography.  I just bought this for Whistle, and honestly, unless you're a completist, it's not worth buying for them either.  They sound fine, the production's fine, Boo's rapping is fine, the concept is fine.  It's all just fine.  Not mad at it, but you're not gonna run out and slap it on a mixtape.  Once I put this away, I probably won't go back to it until I've completely forgotten what it sounds like and I see it on my crates and go, "what's this M.C. Boo record?"

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Father MC and the Broadway Star

It's a brand new year and it's well past time for another deep dive into the extensive career of Father MC.  So here's one I don't remember reading about in The Source: 1991's "Everyotherday" by Or-N-More on EMI Records, featuring, of course, Father MC.  1991's an interesting year for Father, because it's really his break out year, when his earliest hit singles broke and he came out with his first album.  The only guest appearances he had out by this time was the work he did on that one Ray Parker Jr. album.  So you could really describe him as a rising star at this point.

So who the heck are Or-N-More?  Well, as you can see in the picture above, it's that blonde lady and her boyfriend(?) standing behind her.  She's Or and he's More.  Or more specifically, she's Orfeh Or and he's Mike More.  She sings and he does the music, basically. They originally had a music video that used to get play on MTV under the name Genevha, because it had the gimmick of using old public domain movie footage.  Then in 1991, they became Or-N-More and put out one self-titled album, and this one single.  Father's the only guest rapper they seemed to've worked with, and Or-N-More kinda disappeared in a flash.  But what's more interesting is that Orfeh went on to become a pretty substantial contender on Broadway, getting nominated for a Tony in 2007.  You can check out her website here.  Meanwhile, More doesn't seem to have done as much, most notably producing Freedom Williams' C+Cless solo album in 1993.  But he also has music and writing credits on Orfeh's solo album almost twenty years later, so I guess they've held onto their connection, which is nice.

So let's get to the song already.  Well, "Everyotherday"'s a pretty straight-forward pop song.  The hook tells you directly what it's about, "every other day, you steal my kisses, boy, and then you just throw them away."  And the verses are basically all about how she's leaving this guy because he won't commit.  It's a very high energy, R&B/ dance hybrid.  Like a Madonna song that leans even a little further into the club vibe.  Or has a pretty deep and powerful voice, but this song doesn't exactly push her to challenge herself.  There's a few "dayyy-ee-ayy-ee-ayyy"s, but not exactly hitting any notes to make you say wow.  And the music's okay, with an upbeat hip-hop tone, but it never marries itself to the chorus in a catchy enough way to really resonate.  It sounds well made enough when you're listening to it, but it's immediately forgettable.

The fact that the song is structured so the vocalist is singing to a generic "you" boyfriend is the perfect set-up, though, to drop in a rapper to speak as the other half, "I never filled your head up, so now you wanna gas, and talk about Father like trash."  It definitely adds a more interesting battle of the sexes dynamic with conflict, where listeners can choose and relate to one side or the other.  In fact, it would be a much more interesting song if Father and Or traded verses back and forth, accusation followed by counter-accusation, like an authentic arguing couple.  Think of some really successful R&B/ rap hybrids like Grand Puba and Mary J's "What's the 411" or even Kwame and T Bone's "Ownless Eue."  But unfortunately they relegate him to the traditional, single quick in and out on an R&B song guest rap.

Oh, and there was even a music video for it with a bunch of dancers and Father doing his best Pete Nice impression in a spinning barber's chair.  Interestingly, Father has an extra vocal part, where he introduces himself mid-song, "yeah baby, this is the man women hate to love, Father MC.  I never told you I love you."  That extra bit isn't on the album version or any of the 12" remixes.

Remixes?  Oh yeah, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't get into the stuff on the 12".  The 12" has a slightly extended Power Mix, a tighter Radio Edit, a Dub and all of that.  But the most important mix here is the Hip Hop Mix by Dallas Austin, a major R&B producer in the 90s.  I mean, he still is, but the 90s is when he was making huge hits for groups like TLC and Boyz II Men.  Like, if you don't know, just look him up; he's a major player.  So, anyway, this version toughens up the instrumental a bit, making a lot of use of The Fat Boys' famous "Brr, Stick 'Em" vocal sample and some fun little horns.  Most significantly, this version features an all new, completely different and actually much better verse from Father, too.  "Ya see, girl you told me that you'd be there to support my needs, but now I look in the window.  I thought I'd found love, 'cause I didn't dream of me and you forever.  I never thought of the ups and downs, the excuses you gave me."  It's more thoughtful and less cliche, reminiscent of his best lines in "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated."  Unfortunately, this new verse is instead of, not in addition to, his original one, so it doesn't really fatten out Father's role like you'd hope for.  But it still adds up to an overall superior version of the song.

There's also a Club Mix and a House Mix that add extra piano riffs, sounds and a proper house beat.  They go a bit too far in my opinion, though I have to say the Club Mix is funkier and more dance-able than the original album version.  Orfeh sounded like she was going for that house diva kinda tone in her vocals anyway.  And finally there's an Underground Mix, which at first sounds like it's going to be more of a stripped-down Hip-Hop version, with Father's verse coming right at the start; but then it just basically turns into a slightly altered Club Mix with a few extra vocal samples and stuff dropped in.

I mean, it's still what discogs describes as electronic electro synth-pop with RnB/swing and house elements added to the remixes, so I'm not actually recommending this record to any of you Hip-Hop enthusiasts.  And it's not a catchy enough pop record that I'd recommend it to kids or anything either.  But it's definitely an interesting little nook in Father MC's career that's at least worth knowing about.  Any day I can find a hidden Father MC verse tucked away on an obscure 12" single is a good day in Wernerville.  😎

Monday, December 24, 2018

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Guess Who's Made a Comeback? You'll Never Guess, So I'll Just Tell You!

Even as another year fades away, it marks one last interesting development in Hip-Hop.  You guys'll never guess which old school MC just made a comeback with a brand new record.  Well, except those of you who looked at the picture on the right.  That's right, it's Sugar Bear, the Strong Island MC who only put out one, exciting and highly regarded 12" single back in 1988 on, well... it originally came out on an indie label called Coslit Records, but it's far better known for the more broadly distributed second pressing by Next Plateau Records.  Red Alert blew it up on his classic We Can Do This album.  I wrote about it a bit here, in a post on KC Flightt, as Sugar Bear was the one who actually beat both him and Chuck Chillout to the popular "Once In a Lifetime" break, but at some point, I should give that record its own post, because it has an equally great, "Once In a Lifetime"-less B-side.

But anyway, yeah.  That was a great record, but that's all he ever put out.  He did a couple guest spots, most notably on producer Richie Rich's I Can Make You Dance album, "Coming From London" ("can't you tell, from the way I walk and talk, I'm coming from New York? But what brought me to London: a homeboy that was really somethin'").  Apparently in the 90's he also did some token rap verses on R&B songs, none of which I'd ever heard of before until I checked out Sugar Bear's discogs page.  So I guess he did keep his hand in it for a while.  But even so, it's been a very a long time, and he has to be one of the last guys I was expecting to see jump dramatically back on the record with a brand new single.

And you bet your ass it's on vinyl.  "It's Hot" is the latest release from Hip Hop Be Bop Records, the guys that delivered Silver Fox's comeback last year.  If this becomes their regular schtick, mounting hot comebacks by the genre's most neglected legends, I will remain permanently enthralled.  I am 1000% on board.  Oh, and by the way, you may remember me mentioning in my post about their last record, that their catalog numbers curiously jumped from HHBB-7-001 to HHBB-7-003, which raised the question, what happened to the elusive HHBB-7-002?  Well, this is it - the single that was evidently originally planned to come out between the two Silver Fox 7"s.

Now, getting down to business, The Powerful Powerlord sounds as good as ever.  His distinctive voice sounds just the same, energetic as ever, and he's kicking a style very faithful to his '88 debut.  He hasn't missed a beat in all these twenty years.  "Stop sweatin' me; you're runnin' out of towels.  Who?  Look at you; now you're an owl.  This is the new kind of style, comin' from Strong Isle, so let's get biz.  You think it's a game and I bet that you're havin' fun; but there will only be one Powerful Powerlord Sugar Bear in the atmosphere, so you can't tear up nothin' but a piece of paper. There's no excuse for catchin' the vapors.  Gonna rip up the contract, do my contact and you best believe that I had to come back."

Production is once again provided by Clandestine, who knows just the kind of track to lay down for Sugar Bear's vocals: hardcore, but with a focus on high energy rather than street gruff.  Fresh drums, a heavy classical music-type loop and a deep horn tone reminiscent of The UBC Crew's ominous sounding "UB Style."  There's also a remix which is pretty cool when you focus on it, but overall feels a little flat.  The one thing that keeps this single from quite hitting the heights of the 1988 record is the samples.  This feels more made up of studio-created elements than raw, chunky samples; so it doesn't really have the soul of the original songs.  But the fact that it's still the original Sugar Bear holds it all together.  And of course, one element that really sold Sugar Bear's old school stuff was the tight scratching sequences he included on both songs.  And thankfully, that's just as present here, thanks to DJ Credit One, the same guy who also did Silver Fox's joints.  His cuts are really slick to the point where I don't understand why I'm not coming across him on more records; he should be getting a lot more work.

So this record's a 33 1/3 7" and comes in a colorful picture cover that recalls the logo and artwork from the original Coslit cover (even more rewarding for those of us who only have the Next Plateau version that came in a generic label cover, which is most of us).  I definitely recommend this for anyone everyone who's been bummed for decades that Sugar Bear only ever had the one single.  And Hip Hop Be Bop's got me on the edge of my seat for what they're going to come out with next.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Labels and Other Bits and Bobs

(Ready for something new? Check out the latest "EP" by Whirlwind D. Youtube version is here. And the "Labels" music video mentioned in my vid is here.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First REAL Beastie Boys Record

This is a record I've been meaning to get for a long time, and then, after I finally scratched it off my Want List, it's a record I've been meaning to cover here for an even longer time.  It's a fairly famous record, even legendary in fan circles, but also not quite so rare as it's often made out to be.  It's the kind of record people probably wind up overpaying for.  It's the Beastie Boys first record for Def Jam, even predating "She's On It" from Krush Groove and the MCA solo single, "Rock Hard."  It's so well known because it's the song that wound up getting left off of the album, or any wide release, because they got sued by AC/ DC for sampling their song "Back In Black."  So it's a semi-unreleased classic Licensed To Ill-era Beastie Boys song, and it's good.

Now, I call it the first "real" Beastie Boys record because it's not actually, strictly speaking, their first record.  They put out two indie singles on a tiny little punk rock label called Rat Cage Records: "Polly Wog Stew" (1982) and "Cooky Puss" (1983), later repackaged with a couple unreleased demos onto a compilation album aptly titled Some Old Bullshit (1994, on their own Grand Royal label).  "Polly Wog Stew" is a pure baby punk band record, straight out of The Decline of Western Civilization (part 3).  Then "Cooky Puss" is a silly "Buffalo Gals/ Hobo Scratch" parody, with the famous "all that scratchin' is making me itch" line becoming, "these pussy crumbs are making me itch."  They're at least starting to venture into Hip-Hop territory, but it's just a cheap novelty record (without any rapping) where a few copies were pressed up to make a local teenage crowd smirk for a hot second and that's it.

But 1984's "Hard Rock" sounds exactly like the Beastie Boys we know and love.  Sonically, it would have fit right into Licensed To Ill, and even have been a popular track.  Admittedly, though, I've always been a "Dope Beat" (a.k.a. "Hope Beats") man myself.  That's the early Boogie Down Productions record that chops the same "Back In Black" sample in pretty much the exact same way.  I generally prefer Krs-One's more natural voice and flow, and I love the way the beat strips itself and breaks down throughout the song.  I know everyone focuses on AC/ DC's guitar licks, and the song certainly wouldn't work as well without them, but I just love how they freak the drum machine on that joint.  Compare it to Stretch Armstrong's remix of Eminem's "My Name Is," for example, which also uses "Back In Black," and that's just a simple loop that repeats and repeats almost to the point of irritation.  "Dope Beat," on the other hand, keeps pulling out elements until sparse bass hits are just floating out there by themselves.

Other noteworthy uses of the same "Back In Black" licks include Hard Corps, a short-lived rap/ rock hybrid group who did a straight up rap cover of the song in the early 90s, and of course the great MC Player.

Anyway though, if you go back and revisit "Rock Hard," it actually does a lot of dope, percussive tweaking like "Dope Beat."  Those massive, bassy beats lifted off the AC/ DC record.  That's probably Rick Rubin's influence, because yes, he was already down by then.  In fact, during this brief period, The Beastie Boys were officially a four-man group, with Rubin the fourth member going by DJ Double R.  He does some scratching on this record, and he's no Mixmaster Mike, but for 1984, hey, it at least jives with the rest of the music.  In fact, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on instrumentally, with some flavor no doubt being added by editors The Latin Rascals.  Plus, there's a lot of live guitar on here, besides just whatever they lifted off the AC/ DC record, probably being played by Ad Rock, who brags "I can play guitar - not just B-boys but real rock stars" in the lyrics.

And that's another thing about this record, the lyrics are, for a Beastie Boys record, strangely cohesive.  Usually, when I think of Beastie Boys lyrics, I think of an endless string of Greg Nice-ish non-sequitors.  Not that all of their songs are like that... "Fight For Your Right To Party" is a very simply themed, direct song.  But you know, they're generally credited for throwing in a million references, but they're almost never substantive, just throwing in arbitrary mentions of old movies and their girlfriends.  Like, "I'm as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce; you've got the rhyme and reason, but got no cause. But if you're hot to trot, you think you're slicker than grease, I've got news for you crews, you'll be sucking like a leech. Well I'm Dr. Spock, I'm here to rock, y'all; I want you off the wall, if you're playing the wall..." and so on.  That's from "So What'cha Want," but it could be from almost any of their songs, right?  Most of their records are just like a lyrical stew, where one sentence doesn't connect to the next or previous one.  Why bring up "Spock" except that it's an obvious rhyme with "rock?"  Anyway, that's my general little Beastie Boys rant.  I only bring it up to say this record isn't like that.  It's no epic poem like "The Illiad" set to music - the guys are basically just telling us how awesome they are at rocking the show - but it's at least a cohesive song that flows together.

After "Rock Hard" is "Party's Gettin' Rough," which is basically just a crazy, extended dub mix of "Rock Hard."  It extends the instrumental, adds a lot of ad-libs, including a long shout and call sequence of random syllables, but no actual rap verses or anything.  It's cool if you're digging the instrumental enough that you want it stretched out into a ten minute song, but it doesn't stand on its own.

More interesting, though, is the B-side, "Beastie Groove."  In fact, one curious aspect about it right off the bat, is that it doesn't feature any AC/ DC riffs, but was still left off of Licensed To Ill or any subsequent official release, including the bajillion times that album's been officially reissued.  Why?  I don't know!  Maybe they just didn't like it as much, possibly thought it sounded a little too old school?  It does feel a little rougher than most of their Def Jam work, but it's pretty solid with just classic early 80s beats and a hook that throws back to The Treacherous Three's "Heartbeat."  They really sound good over the track, and again, they're just doing standard braggadocio rhymes, but they're not on that random non-sequitor tip.  Ad Rock even flexes an impressive "New Rap Language" inspired flow for his verse.  But the Beastie Boys definitely give their record an updated, tougher edge, especially for its time.  "Beastie Groove" might not be Greatest Hits worthy, but I'd take it over most of their post-"Pass the Mic" indie rock junk, that's for sure.

The 12" wraps up with the instrumental.  So this was an early Def Jam 12", so it's a little on the rare side.  Like, you won't find it in a 99¢ bin.  But it's not like copies were recalled from record shops after the lawsuit, so copies are out there.  And it's been bootlegged plenty, sometimes with slightly altered track-listings, with fake Grand Royal labels.  And there's even a European Def Jam repress that came out in the late 2000s (music licensing laws seem to be a little different over there), all of which probably helped bring the original 12"'s market value back down to Earth.  So yeah, it's not that impossible to find an O.G.; you can own it if you want it.  And I think it's definitely worth it.  I've only sprung for a small percent of Beastie records over the years - most of it just feels like hipster bait to me - but this single is one of the essentials.

Friday, November 16, 2018

EC Illa, the Kanye West Recordings and So Much More

This is an interesting one.  Indie Chi-town MC EC Illa is back with some new music, and some old school rarities finally debuting on vinyl.  Let's start with that vinyl.  Pictured above you see The Grade School Dropout, a brand new limited 7" single featuring production by none other than Kanye West (hence the College Dropout reference in the title).  It's a two song single of "Strugglin'" and "Mask & a Pump," both beats by Kanye and verses by EC.  They're not entirely previously unreleased.  In 2004, EC released an independent CD called Underground Classics which assembled a collection of then unreleased recordings EC had made between the years 1995-2003.   And this would've been a fairly rare CD even for its day unless you were really following EC... Like, for instance, Sandbox and HipHopSite didn't carry it.

So getting these tracks on a legit physical release is pretty rare, and this is their definite vinyl debut.  And yes, these two songs are the only Kanye-produced tracks from that album or any other EC Illa release.  The liner notes for Underground Classics marked them both as being from 2002.  That places these songs firmly in the period where he was adopting west coast gangsta rap influences, even changing his recording name to Whitefolks; and where I as a fan had already pretty well checked out.  The EC Illa I fondly remember was a scrappy underground Hip-Hop purist representing breaking and graf in his videos with banging production and nice DJ cuts.  Like "On Ill" or "Every Hood In the Ill?"  Those are the classics to me.  This "nigga, neva trust these scandalous hoes" period just struck me as a following of trends that never should've happened.

But with that said, going back to and listening to this material now, it's really the production that lost me more than the MCing.  EC always had that street edge to his lyrics, so I'm not really mad at him shifting away from always rapping about having skills.  And actually, him adopting a fast, tongue flipping Crucial Conflict element into his flows was kinda slick.  It was really the instrumental side that let the later music down for me.  And guess what?  The two Kanye-produced really stand out as superior to everything else on Underground Classics.  Not better than "On Ill," but these songs really do deserve to be singled out and rescued from obscurity by being preserved on vinyl.

Because, I'll be honest.  I had mixed emotions when I first saw this release.  EC Illa is an important Chicago artist with a legit place in Hip-Hop history.  And seeing Kanye's name being bandied about as the selling point certainly makes obvious commercial sense, but also rubbed me the wrong way.  As if listeners today should only be interested in these two songs because EC once rubbed shoulders with the celebrity we all know from Keeping Up With the Kardasians and the MAGA hat photo-ops.  I don't like the thought of EC getting relegated to a footnote in his shadow.   But now that I've taken the time to properly revisit this material, I've relaxed into it.  This record should come out now, and people should cop it.

Even if you've never heard these songs, you can probably imagine what to expect.  Yes, EC's in Whitefolks mode, but his delivery is definitely nimbler than his early material.  And Kanye's early work is a good fit.  Yes, we get some chipmunk soul, chopped piano loops, catchy samples and snappy percussion.

"Ya ain't gotta walk fast, sweetie,
I ain't tryin' to steal ya purse;
I'm a home owna,
I just wanna bone on ya.

There's no corna
On any block, in any city,
In any state,

Not bumpin' Whitefolks e'ry day."

This single's limited to 200 hand-numbered copies (mine's #15).  As you can see above, it comes in a nice picture cover, pressed on white (white) vinyl.  The back covers are personally signed by EC himself, and and for the ultra nerdy vinyl enthusiasts, I feel compelled to point out that even the inner sleeve has a nice, plastic lining inside the paper.  It also comes with a neat little Chicago Hip-Hop 45 adapter (since this is a "big hole" 45 7").  And it comes with one more special treat.
Okay, just the one on the right, but I added my copy of Common Sense's (yes, as you see, he still had the "Sense" on this cover) cassingle to show you what that artwork's riffing on.  "I Used To Live H.E.R. Pt. 2: Beautiful" by Griffen featuring EC Illa.  Who's Griffen?  I'll be honest; I had to look him up.  He's an up and coming Chicago rapper.  A lot of his stuff is slower, definitely not mumblecore, but not entirely free of those modern influences either.  I listened to some of his songs online, and I definitely liked some more than others.

Anyway, though, EC's been largely retired; and so the exciting part of this new cassingle is that he's come back to spit a verse on this sequel to Common's classic.  Now, this isn't the first time someone's made an unofficial sequel to this song... a couple artists had songs with titles like "I Still Love H.E.R." and "Death Becomes H.E.R.," all continuing the metaphor of addressing their relationship with Hip-Hop as if it was a girlfriend.  And I think I would've preferred it if they numbered it correctly as like, "Pt. 7" or whatever it would be.  But anyway. this one uses Common's line, "she was fresh, yo, when she was underground" as its hook and jumping off point, talking about it from more of a distinctly underground Hip-Hop angle.

Griffen has a very simple, slow flow that's a little too Future for my tastes, though he's clearly consciously doing that to marry his vocals to the track (he sounds livelier on some of the other songs I heard), which is a smooth, relaxed instrumental that manages to convey a genuine sadness.  But EC steals the show when he gets on for the middle verse, "if you hadn't fallen off, I'd probably dick you still; make you take me down your throat just like a delicious pill.  You used to love her, but me I used to bang it out, up in the studio or when we was just hangin' out.  You once was a down bitch, now you just a clown, bitch.  Can't believe all the phony studs that you get down with."  It's just cool to hear something new from EC.

As you can see in the picture, "Beautiful" is a blue tape that comes in a cover styled off of Common's original.  The cassette features four versions: the main mix, the instrumental, a slightly extended version and a clean edit ...which kinda sucks because they curse in the hook, so they have to really butcher the song to keep it clean.  But the other mixes are uncensored so it's all good.  The whole pack, The Grade School Dropout and "I Used To Love H.E.R. Pt. 2," are available directly from ecilla.com.  He also has a slightly pricier version that also includes an instrumental LP, called An Old Soul, which comes in a picture cover and is also signed by EC.  200's a pretty slim run, so if you're interested, I'd jump on it.  Like I said, I was a little mixed on it when I first saw it; but now I've come down fully in support of this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Half Pit Half Halloween

(This year, I decided to scrap together all of the info I could find about the inscrutable horrorcore duo Half Pit Half Dead.  Just who were they?  Did they have any other music?  What was The Army from Hell?  I'm still left with more questions than answers, but I definitely found more to their story than one 12" single.  Youtube version is hereHappy Halloween!)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Perfect Kaotic Diamond

Kaotic Style first got on my radar in 1995 when they released a 12" featuring Cella Dwellas, Smooth & Trigga, MOP and Heltah Skeltah.  I had no idea who Kaotic Style even were back then, but it didn't matter because I had to have it because those were the elite, cutting edge guests to get in '95, and here they were all together on a single.  Unfortunately, this was the the very early days of the internet, before discogs or even Sandbox, so I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy until years later.  I did pick up their subsequent 12", though, "Get In Where You Fit In," released the same year on Nervous Records.  It was pretty hot, though I wasn't a huge fan of the artificial grime they were adding to their voices.  Then I found their earliest 12", when they were going by Kaotic Stylin' back in 1990, and I was even more impressed with them because they sounded ahead of their time... plus, no grime.

One release I never got of theirs, because it was one of the rarer ones, is their 1994 EP, Diamond In the Ruff, on Beat Scott Records.  But thanks to another joint venture between Dope Folks and Gentlemens Relief Records, I've been finally able to correct that... plus a whole lot more.  See, as rare as it was, that EP did come out.  But there's a demo cassette version that never really made its way to the public, and that has a bunch of extra, unreleased songs.  Effectively, it's gone from an EP to a full-length LP, and Dope Folks has released the whole thing - the stuff that was on the '94 EP and the stuff that wasn't - this year on vinyl.

And this LP is pretty choice.  It's harder and more modern their first two singles, which are quite nice but admittedly have a bit of an old school feel to them.  But... it's before that grime gimmick, so their voices are completely natural over classic indie 90s NY tracks.  Sick jazzy samples, subtle scratches by DJ Shazam and tight street beats.  Think DITC, Freestyle Professors, etc.  And this impressive production, like almost all of their releases, is courtesy of KS themselves.  Admittedly, they're never quite "next level," advancing the art along the lines of, say, Natural Elements, or some of their other cutting edge peers of the time.  They're not going to be anybody's Top Five.  They're just doing things other artists had pretty much already done, but they're doing it really damn well.

And the good news is that the five unreleased songs are just as good as the four previously released ones.  It's not one of those cases where you say, "oh, I see why they left these off."  Only one song fell a little short for me, "You Know the Name."  The production's killer and the guys still sound good on it; but lyrically they're pushing kind of a cheesy name-dropping gimmick, inspired, no doubt, like gimmicky successes of its day like "Labels" and "Pink Cookies In a Plastic Bag."  Yeah, it's one of those.

But didn't I mention GRR, too?  Yeah, what I just described is the vinyl release from Dope Folks, but Gentlemen's Relief are issuing a limited CD edition, which includes all of the above, plus four additional bonus tracks.  What are these?  They're the last two Kaotic Styles 12"s, from 1996 and 1997.  They're a little more smoothed out.  One song features Jaz and another has Memphis Bleek.  They feel a little trendy (for their time), and I wouldn't rank them as highly as their earlier material.  The chorus for "Da Ones" is a flat retread of the classic PE hit and there's a "Top Billin'" remake which is especially pointless.  But don't get me wrong, the production still sounds nice and these guys can still rap.  It's still good music that would fit well into anybody's collection, especially anyone partial to that 90s sound; it's just not as tight as their earlier material.

So the vinyl is limited to 300 copies, 50 on red wax and the other 250 on traditional black, both in a plain sleeve.  The CD naturally includes full picture artwork and is limited to just 250 copies.  If you're a CD collector, it's a nice way to get all that material, but heads who've already got their late 90s 12"s will only need the vinyl to score all the unreleased material.  These two guys kept putting out single after single from 1990-1997, jumping from one indie label to another.  It's about time they've finally got a proper album to their name.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Gurpy Dozen

So, there's a new album from the Gurp City crew.  If you follow this blog, you know who Gurp City are, because I've covered a whole ton of their releases already.  But just in case you don't, Gurp is the label/ collective of the Bay area family of artists including Luke Sick, Z-Man, Brandon B, QM, TopR, Eddie K, Eons One, Lightbulb, DJ Quest, Brycon...  it's always struck me as a somewhat loose knit affair, and it's not always clear who's actually a member, and who's just a frequent collaborator of some or all of them, or who's dropped out over the years... White MicG-Pek DJ Marz?  It's pretty amorphous.

Anyway, it may be hard to believe considering how long these guys have been assembled under the banner, but apparently this is the debut album from the whole gang as a pack: Rap Camp, Vol. 1: The Flood.  Previous compilations like Fresh Out Gurp City didn't count?  I don't know; their press sheet calls this their debut.  And like all music these days, it seems to be primarily a digital release; but I'm happy to report that there are actual physical copies in existence.  You might have to contact them directly to cop a CD, or corner one of them at a show, because I can't find any place to order it.  But they exist!

And how is it?  Well, I'll be honest, it's overlong and I was a little disappointed with it at first.  It reminds me of the Shady Records Re-Up album, where it feels like a bunch of artists you're a fan of have gotten together with some you're less familiar with to pound out a lot of songs pretty quickly.  It starts out okay, with "Guess Who's Back," including some cool scratches on the hook, an enthusiastic posse cut vibe, all three MCs sound good riding the beat, and it's exciting when Luke clicks in at the end like a king.  One thing I have to say about this album right off the bat is that the biggest names are heavily featured.  You know, if you buy a D12 album, you don't want to find out Eminem's only on one song and you've wasted your money.  That's definitely not an issue here; Luke and Z-Man are all over this.  The only artist on here more than them is Eddie K (Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters), who's on every song but one... I wonder if this song started out as an Eddie K album?

Anyway, back to Re-Up, or Rap Camp.  The problem is we've got a lot of lyrically shallow verses over some pretty bland beats mostly by producers whose names I don't recognize as opposed to the more atmospheric or exciting work we've gotten used to on Gurp City projects.  Tracks like "Drop It" sound like old strip club rap songs the genre left behind years ago, and others like "Mad Scientist" just don't have the energy to lift off the ground.  A couple songs in, and the album starts to feel like a slog to get through.  I don't mean to overstate my criticisms - things here never actually get bad per wack (though "Drop It" probably gets the closest), they just never aim high enough to hook you when there's so much other music out there you could listen to instead.

But, but, BUT!  If you have the patience to stick with it, things pick up.  The best stuff is mostly in the second half of the album, and there are some real gems.  "Tribe & Brew" is a crazy duet between Eddie K and Luke Sick where they meld their Gurp styles with the instrumental and vocal stylings of A Tribe Called Quest.  Even diggers who would normally pass over these guy's best stuff should at least check this song out; they'd get a real kick out of it and it's genuinely real funky.  "Cups Up Off the Wall" is just a fun, old school throwback with a Kool & the Gang inspired chorus, and "Young Throats" has a smoothed out addictive track you're going to want to go back and replay immediately.  They have moments where they take the alcoholic theme to interesting places with lines like "high tolerance but I ain't proud of it," you can just feel these guys' talent pushing at the seams to burst out.

So, ultimately, I'd say if you're a serious fan of these guys, you'll want to get this album, too.  Again, like if you're a big Emzy fan, you'll want all his side projects and be happy finding all the points where he shines to appreciate.  But if you're looking for the masterpieces, this ain't The Slim Shady EP; don't start here.  Check out On Tilt or Yole Boys instead.  Either way, though, at least go to their bandcamp and check out that "Tribe & Brew" cut; I'll really be surprised if you guys don't like it.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Infinite Stezos

Look at the picture above and see if you can spot any similarities.  Ha.  Okay, I was just messin' with yas.  Those two objects have nothing in common; it was a trick question.  Oh.  Well, except, looking at it now, I suppose you could say they're both CDs... by the same artist... with the same photo on it.  Okay, actually, I guess they're very similar, except one is from 1996 and one is current, from 2018.  So what's the deal?  Well, Dope Folks - as you should know from reading this very blog, - has been putting out rare and unreleased Stezo tracks for kind of a while now.  And now they've put out this CD version, limited to 250 copies (there's a purple cassette limited to just 50 copies, too), that compiles a bunch of that stuff and adds some more.  And that includes pretty much everything from his rare EP, Where's the Funk At.  Hence the referencing covers.

So let's break it all down and see what's what.  If you have all the previous Dope Folks vinyl EPs, do you need this album?  And yes, at eighteen tracks deep, I'd call Bop Ya Headz a full-length album.  And an alternative question, if you have all of Stezo's vintage, indie material, do you need this album?  Because this release definitely dips into both wells.

So what's on here?  Okay, first up are all the seven songs from Dope Folks' Unreleased and Rarities EP, which I covered here and includes the three previously unheard kick-ass demo tracks, and all four tracks from Where's the Funk At.  So, to be clear, those four tracks appear on both the Unreleased and Rarities EP and the original Where's the Funk At CD, as well as now Bop Ya Headz.  Stay with me, it gets a little complicated.  Because then it also features the four instrumentals from Where's the Funk At, which were on the original 1996 CD, but not the Dope Folks EP.  So if you've just got the Dope Folks EPs, you don't have those.  But, one thing Bop doesn't have is the "Where's the Funk At" remix, which I believe was newly recorded in 2015 specifically for Dope Folks' Unreleased EP.  So getting Bop doesn't completely invalidate Unreleased.

And just to clarify further, and hopefully not confuse the issue, I should point out that there was also a different "Where's the Funk At" 12" released back in the day on Funktown Flav Records.  That, and its B-side "Figure It Out" are both the same songs featured on the aforementioned Where's the Funk At EP and, by extension, the Unreleased and Rarities EP.  All the same versions of the same couple songs.

But that's not where Bop Ya Headz ends; it's just the first half.  It also features all five songs, from Dope Folks' 2017 More Rarities EP.  All five of those songs had been previously released on two indie Stezo 12"s, "Bop Ya Headz" on Funktown Records in 1994 and "Mr. S" on Funktown Flav Records in 1997.  And Bop also throws in the two instrumentals from the 1994 12" (though not the ones from the 1997 12").  Those are the same two instrumentals they put on More Rarities, so nothing different there.  Except More Rarities had another, different remix of "Where's the Funk At," which is exclusive to that EP.  And I'll just mention that those two 12"s were top shelf Stezo material, even better than the Where's the Funk At EP, so if you dug the other stuff, you'll definitely like these tracks.

So that's it.  Let's tally up.  If you just get the Dope Folks' EPs, the only thing you'd be missing out on is the "Mr. S" instrumentals and the "Where's the Funk At" acappella, which was on the Where's the Funk At EP... which explains how Dope Folks was able to make those remixes.  Bop Ya Headz nets you everything except those new mixes and the "Mr S" instrumentals.  If you just have the original records, you'd not only be missing those new remixes (which I have to say are pretty good, though, especially the Handz Remix from More Rarities) but the three 1990 demo tracks.  So you'll want to get at least one of these newer releases for sure; but you may not feel the need to spring for everything here.  This is more of an easier way for Stezo fans to get all that stuff Dope Folks was putting out for the last couple years in one convenient album, and obviously more for CD/ tape collectors who would've given the vinyl a miss.  If you're all caught up on wax, there's no new music to be discovered on this one.

Getting all this compiled feels a bit like they're wrapping up, a final summation.  But could there still be more vintage Stezo in Dope Folks' future?  We know there's still more unreleased demo tracks out there that could make for a pretty sweet release or two.  We'll just have to wait and see...