Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Z-Man's Show Up Finally Shows Up

Ah yeah, six years later and Z-Man's Show Up Shut Up and Rap has finally arrived at my front door. Yeah, Show Up was originally an mp3-only album Z put out through Machette Vox's bandcamp page. But now in 2016, it's been resurrected and pressed up as an actual physical release. CDs can be copped from accesshiphop and probably other places.

At eight tracks, this is either a long EP or a short LP; but either way, it's classic Z. This is the album with "Cupcakin'," the song he had a video for. It's an ill look at adult relationships through the unique perspective of Z-Man, "I'm tryin' to raise hell; you tryin' to raise kids." It's like "Passin' Me By Ten Years Later," with all the frustration and thwarted dreams that implies. It's also got a really ethereal vocal sample contrasted over killer 80s drums; it sounds sick. DJ Eddie Def adds some subtle but slick cuts, too. If Z-Man was on a major, it would've been one of those few hip-hop songs that was huge but still artistically credible.

Most of the rest of the EP is hot, too. Produced by DNAE Beats and Boac, it's a wild mix of old school and trendy contemporary elements, that gives the album a real timeless feel. Eddie Def and his turntable show up on a couple more tracks, too. One or two songs, like the posse cut "Gurp Logo," about their t-shirts, falls a little short. But the MCs are strong enough that you won't actually skip over anything.

But it's the songs where Z-Man really goes in lyrically that are naturally the highlights. "Yell Ho!" is essentially the title track despite technically disqualifying, with Z getting introspective about his career:

"I should be on the road,
But I'm writing you a verse,
Just to let you know it was exciting at first.
Now I'm sittin' here fuckin' dying of thirst
Of my own spit; I need to hear, yellin',
'Show up, shut up and rap.'
They're fuckin' paying me to do it!
Shh, focus on that."

Eddie Def cuts up a couple other songs as well, and Bored Stiff show up on "I Gotta Go." And Boac takes the mic for a verse on "Progress," which is thematically along the same lines as "Yell Ho!" But Z-Man doesn't need help; he always the best part of his albums, and this is him unfiltered and pure hip-hop (as opposed to some of those rock/ dance kinda projects he's done, like One Block Radius or Motel Crew).
And I never blogged about it at the time, but if you missed it, be sure to cop his 2015 album Flea Circus with producer Tahaj the One. It might be an even better disc over all, and it's a crazy concept album, too, where they really follow through on the "flea circus" idea. It's a trip. Not a lot of guests on that one, though White Mic shows up on one song, along with some guy named Shag Nasty. But Tahaj takes the mic a few times and proves himself a capable MC as well. Plus, again, Z doesn't need guests, he stays interesting enough on his own.

And if that's still not enough for you, I have good news. The back of Show Up promises a new album called 6 Pack of Dynamite "coming soon." Sounds like 2016 is gonna be a good year for Z-Man fans.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Your Definitive Guide To the "New Jack Swing"

"Rump Shaker" was a big mover on the charts, but Wrecks-N-Effect will go down in history for one song, the anthem of an entire genre of music, and even fashion, "New Jack Swing." It was the flagship song of Teddy Riley's movement. But it was purely a rap song, so he couldn't give it to his group (Guy), so instead he gave it to his brother's group. And a lot of people think that was their first record, but that's just one of several popular misconceptions and confusing details about this song. I've been meaning to tackle this one on my blog for ages, but it's a lot to get into. Today I'm doin' it, though. Let's break it down.

Wrecks-N-Effect started out as a four-man group on Atlantic Records. They were fronted by Keith KC, who was their also the established credible MC of the crew, as he was an original member of The Masterdon Committee. Then the other three were Marky Mark (Teddy's brother, Markell Riley, not Mark Wahlberg, who used the name second) A-Plus a.k.a. Aqil and B-Doggs, but Keith did the rapping on pretty much every single song. They had a strong go-go influence to their sound, which probably came from Teddy, who has musician credit on every single song and also had go-go beats on some of his earlier work (like "Wong"). Teddy had musician credit, but not production credit, which went to Markell and Gene Griffin for GR Productions. Their first EP had a couple singles and at least one music video, but when their brief period on Atlantic ended, Keith broke out.
So Wrecks signed to Motown in 1989 without Keith (although Mark and Aqil both thanked him in the liner notes, so I guess there was no bad blood), and Aqil took over as the lead MC. I think they just had a single, but that single was "New Jack Swing," so when that blew up, they put out a self-titled album (which is why many think it's their debut). Actually, you could argue the title is meant to be New Jack Rap, since that's written on the spine of the cassette version. Anyway, another thing that's interesting is that Teddy Riley isn't credited with any production. Markell has a few tracks, including "New Jack Swing," but the most are by Redhead Kingpin. Also, see that gryphon logo on the second cover? That's a GR Productions thing; Guy used to have it on some of their covers, too. Gene Griffin was the president, and Teddy Riley was the vice president of GR.

Anyway, let's get off the album and back to the single, which dropped in '88. Prepare for more confusion, because there's actually more than one version, with completely different track-listings. I remember being confused when I first bought the single and it was totally different than the song I heard in the music video. Fortunately, the video version turned out to be on the album in '89. But it wasn't until years later and I was an adult that I realized there were different 12"s.

This is the version that came out first. A lot of it's the same naturally, including all three verses and the same core breakbeat (a killer loop called "The Village Keepers") and the James Brown snippets. It even has an extra recurring "tear the roof off the mothersucker" vocal sample. But it doesn't have the dramatic keyboards that layer over the whole song, and it doesn't have Teddy Riley's bugged out super-villain laugh and random improvisations like, "everything is made by man" and "all you have to do is polish your nails!" Enough of it's there that any "New Jack Swing" can rock out to it, that one break is really the crux of the appeal; but it's not the whole song and feels a little lacking once you've heard the video version.

So then this came out, still in '88. This has multiple mixes. The 7" Version is essentially the video/album version, and the 12" Version is a longer edit of that. The Percapella is what it sounds like, an acapella but still with the percussion, which makes for a pretty funky, stripped down mix actually. But then, flip it over, and there's the Club Version, which is another different version. This has new adlibs and stuff by Teddy, and I think this is where the remix versions took those "polish your nails" lines from, because here there's twice as much. I think he just took the mix and decided to say whatever randomly popped into his head over the track. So I suspect they made the original version, then this crazy club version, and then used both for the remix we're most familiar with. There's also a Bonus Beats track, which is kind of fun, because they start rubbing in Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," which of course was one of Teddy's biggest hits.

On Wrecks' next single, "Juicy," which is the one that famously used Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" sample before Biggie Smalls, they had a "New 12" Remix of New Jack Swing" on the B-side. And, just as a fun fact: Teddy produced an R&B version for an artist he produced called Zan, also in '89, called "Love Juicy." It uses the same loop, too, but very watered down and smoothed out. And there's a "Love Juicy" mix of "Juicy" on this 12", which is like a hybrid of the two, with Zan's singing and softer music, but still with Wrecks' raps. Zan's gonna come back again, in a minute. Anyway, the 12" Remix of "New Jack Swing" here is basically the same as the 12" Version on the second "New Jack" single mentioned earlier, with just minor variations.

So as the lead vocalist, Aqil does two of the verses on this song. And Teddy Riley himself, does the third. I remember as a kid I thought I was pretty smart for figuring out that when he says, "yes, T.R. is my name," that's who it was, since Teddy's not even a member. But some other lines of his verse are even trickier, since it's very inside baseball. Look 'em up online, they're all wrong. Like, for example, most lyrics sites write, "yes T.R. is movin' it, right?" When actually he's saying, "yes, G.R. is movin' it," because now he's referring to the production company not himself. Also, a lot of the lyrics are contrived and awkward ("some beat medicine you wish you had, bumping your feelings from glad to sad"), because their best MC had left, so it's sometimes hard to work out what they're trying to communicate, precisely.

Hardest to track is when he starts naming artists he's "got." I remember bugging out in '89 when he said Boy George, but Teddy was just listing artists he was making hit records with at the time. So forget the screwy lists you'll find online (it doesn't help that the music video only shows about half the people he names). I'm a big fan of Teddy Riley (at least in his 80s period), so I think I've figured out the correct list:

'Ey yo, I've got Keith Sweat - That's an easy one. They show him in the video, and they had a huge hit together with "I Want Her." It was the shit back in the day.

Heavy D - Look, they're all easy at the start. Again, Heav and the Boyz were in the video, and of course Ted produced "We Got Our Own Thing," which took Heavy D into the mainstream.


Today - An R&B group you'll probably remember from the House Party soundtrack, he produced their first single, plus some of their other songs.

Moe Dee - Kool Moe Dee, of course! Teddy produced a ton of his stuff, including his biggest hits, effectively making his solo career. And who wouldn't instantly recognize him in the video with his signature shades and bright green leather rain coat.

B Sure - As in Al B Sure. He just did a little instrumentation on his first album, but also produced "Dedicated" on Heavy D's first album, which Al sung on.

And my man Bobby Brown - Again, "My Prerogative" may've been Teddy's biggest record ever.

I've got Zan the Man - Now we're getting to the tricky stuff. But yeah, this is the "Love Juicy" Zan who Teddy produced a whole Warner Bros album for.

Redhead - Kingpin of course. He ought to be in the video, since he produced most of the album.

Boy George - See? Teddy produced some of his stuff around this time. I forget the name of it, but he had a video for a song that was surprisingly in line with the other kinda stuff Teddy was making then.

James - I believe this is James Ingram. He had a whole skit at the beginning of one of singles where they're like, "say, Teddy, who you workin' with?" And he says James. "James Brown?" And he's like nah, somebody named James Ingram. Seems pretty insulting; I never understood why he'd want that on his record, but there ya go.

And Deja - Deja was this pop R&B duo with a Teddy produced single called "Going Crazy." He may've done their whole album, but "Crazy" is the only song I remember getting any play.

And my homeboys Guy, and you got to get down! - If you don't remember Guy, you weren't around in the 80s. They're his homeboys because Teddy Riley was actually one third of the group, not just their producer. Although the production was mainly his department; I don't think he really sang much, just dropped the occasional rap verse. Aaron Hall was the big vocalist in Guy.

Afterwards, tragically, B-Doggs passed away and Wrecks-N-Effect changed their name to Wreckx-N-Effect in his honor. Their time was up on Motown and it took a while for them to properly come back, though Teddy kept them in the game by giving them little appearances when he could. For instance, they were on the House Party 2 soundtrack, and Aqil rapped on Samuelle's "So You Like What You See." Eventually they got a new deal with MCA Records.

They released their third album, Hard Or Smooth, in 1992. Yes, this is the "Rump Shaker" album. But the first (or the second, depending which pressing of the album you got) song on the LP was "New Jack Swing II (Hard Version)." There is no other version of "New Jack Swing II," so I'm guessing they just mean this is hard compared to the first one. And it is, although it's hardly Straight Outta Compton material.

This one opens up with a Big Daddy Kane "check it out, y'all" vocal sample and EPMD's "Knick Knack Paddy Wack" loop with a little EFG "UFO" mixed in. A-Plus, Mark and TR all take a verse on this one, following the times by mixing a little diggity-diggity-Das EFX style into their rhymes. The main thing that makes this one feel hard, I guess, is that it has a 90s New York style shout chorus. It ends with some key-horns straight out of "The Ruler's Back," which are cheesy but fun. The line "she didn't believe a thing about the new jack swing," from the original, has been changed to "don't forget a thing about the new jack swing." This wasn't released as a single, and you can tell why, but it is one of the better songs on the album.

I was disappointed Teddy didn't make an updated list like, "I got Hi-Five, Blackstreet, Glenn Jones, the Winans and my man Mike Jackson. I got Samuelle, Bubba, Star Point, Faith and Nayobe and look out for a Guy come back in about ten years!" Oh well. It's no hit like the original, but it's not too a disappointing sequel, all things considered. ...They saved the disappointing sequels for their fourth album. But why focus on the negative when you can just replay their old hits again? "Yo, Wrecks-N-Effect, in full effect!"

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Questionable Lyrics #5: Shaq and the Kid From Quo Are Genie!

So, I just watched Kazaam, the 1996 Shaquille O'Neal vehicle where he plays a wish grantin' genie who decides he wants to become a rapper. That movie raises a lot of questions, but what struck me most was the song he performs in the film, "We Genie," where he explains his character's origins. Lyrically, it's a fascinating series of choices. You're constantly going, "wait, what was that? What does that even mean? Why did he way that?" And since I also just happen to have the soundtrack album, which does include that song, I decided I just had to analyze these crazy lyrics.

Before we start, though, I thought I'd point out a few interesting things. First of all, Da Brat has a sizable role in this film, as herself. She even performs a duet with Shaq. But she's not on the soundtrack album, and neither is that song. Curious. The only other rapper to appear as herself is Spinderella, who has a teeny tiny cameo, and she does have a song on here. This soundtrack also features the only commercially released song by The Almighty Arrogant, although I didn't hear it play anywhere in the film itself. Shaq has four songs in this flick, and all but the one with Da Brat are on the soundtrack. Two are solo, and the one I'm interested in today features Wade Robson.

Now, in the film, a 12 year-old kid finds Shaq's boombox (that's right, he's not in a lamp, he's in a boombox, because he's so hip-hop) and the whole film is a kiddie buddy picture about this boy and his genie. And when he asks Shaq about how he became a genie, the two of them perform "We Genie." But the kid actor is named Francis Capra; so he must've just been lip-syncing to a song recorded by somebody else in this movie. Specifically somebody named Wade Robson.

Now, when I first watched this film, there's this pack of bullies that pick on our protagonist, and I immediately looked at the one with the super short blonde hair and thought, he looks like that kid from Quo. Remember that ridiculous kiddie rap group from the early 90s, where it's one white kid and one black one and they both have shaved heads, earrings and are supposed to be the most hardcore rappers possible? Well, I didn't actually believe it was that kid, he just reminded me of them. But afterwards, when I decided to search online for the name "Wade Robson," he's that kid from Quo! You guys may know him better nowadays, though, from having that famous case against Michael Jackson for you-know-what; and he's been working primarily as a dancer for groups like N'Sync, Britney Spears and even hosting his own show on MTV. Meanwhile, I have no idea what become of the other kid from Quo.

Anyway, getting back on track, "We Genie" is the only point in the film where we learn Shaq's story. It's not like "Spirit," where Doug Fresh raps about the plot of Ghostbusters II, but we also have it all explained throughout the film, so we get the references to Vigo and the pink slime. Here, we only have the song lyrics to go on. Oh, and I poked around and the lyrics to this song aren't printed anywhere online, so I'm transcribing them myself. Future generations, you're welcome.

"My name is Kazaam,
I got the whole plan.
So listen to the man,
'Cause I'M the son of Sam."

Okay, right away: he's the son of Sam? As in David Berkowitz the notorious serial killer? I thought maybe he's making a joke, but nowhere in this song or the rest of this movie does he reference another character named Sam. I capitalized the "I'M," because he stresses it, as if to say you've heard of another guy who goes by that name, but I'm the real son of Sam. Even assuming he doesn't mean he's the real killer (which would almost fit in this crazy movie, since Shaq also explains that Jesus was really a genie), it's still a bizarrely inappropriate choice to reference in a kids' movie, isn't it?

Now the kid raps:

"Is that it?
Is that the whole deal?
You wanna be a hit,
You better get real."

Shaq fires back:

"I did have this friend in a thousand BC,
We discover a bevy of bathing beauties.
Habert[?] looks to me and I says to he,
Why don't we jump in that ol' Euphrates?"

I'm actually impressed that he keeps saying he's 3000 years old in the film, and they picked a date here that more or less syncs up. But being impressed goes right out the window for the next line, "I says to he." I understand he's forcing a rhyme by saying "he" instead of "him," which is already wack, but there's no reason to use "says" instead of "say."

Anyway, this song's already beginning to get confusing. I'm guessing on the spelling of Habert, which I guess is the name of his friend. It actually kinda sounds like he's saying "a bird" here, maybe like dame, broad, or chick. But it comes up again and seems to be a proper name. So the idea is these girls are bathing in the Euphraties river and Kazaam and his buddy decide to jump in and join them.

The kid responds:

"So that's the whole story?
That's all you gotta tell?"

And Shaq answers:

"You got to listen to my rap,
From bell to bell."

Minor nitpicks. Why would the kid think that's the end of a story, and there are no bells in this instrumental so what is Shaq even talking about?

"Those babies had rabies,
And we was in Hades,
'Cause we moved with the harem
Of the prince of Akacarem[?]."

I'm also guessing on the spelling of Akacarem. I feel like he's trying to make Akhetaten rhyme with harem, but I don't know; maybe there's a real city with a name pronounced that way, so I'll give him a pass there. But what the heck else is going on in this song? Babies with rabies? Maybe he's calling the bathing beauties babies, like babes. And them having rabies is just the first half of a metaphor - the second half being that they were in Hades - just meant to say "these chicks turned out to be bad news." I feel like I'm doing a lot of twisting to get this to make sense, but that's my theory. The girls Shaq and his friend went swimming with were bad news because they were the prince's harem.

So the kid asks:

"So, it's you and Habert,
In a thousand BC?"

And Shaq adds:

"Buried to our necks in sand
Like the sea!"

Alright, this is the first time the kid's part isn't entirely pointless in this song. He's reiterating details, which if we weren't writing the lyrics down, listeners would be sure to miss. So I appreciate that. And again, I don't think a literal bird is actually Shaq's friend. I could see that in a way... why wouldn't a genie's best friend be a bird? But then we'd be expected to believe that someone, presumably the prince, buried a bird in the sand up to its neck? It's gotta be a dude.

Well, Shaq continues:

"While something with a sword,
And a lock and a key."

The kid remarks:

"Woo, they're in deep!
Will they ever get free?"

Hold up! This isn't the time to "yadda yadda yadda," this story! We're supposed to just understand what the deal is with the sword, lock and key? It's so obvious, he's not even going to spell it out? Is this a famous genie story he's telling? This is when I started googling the stories of the Arabian Nights with genies and stuff, but none of them seem to have a story anything like this. The only useful bit I found was this line from the Qur'an: "And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts, of jinn and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks." So, hey, maybe his friend really is a bird after all. Heck, maybe both guess are right, and it's a bird named Habert!

Also, the kid is an idiot for asking if they would ever get free, when he's talking to the person it supposedly happened to. Anyway, Shaq answers:

"And I looks to Habert,"

"And he says to thee?"

"At the end of this day,
We ain't gonna be!"

Now why is this New York kid suddenly speaking Shakespearian? Oh right, Shaq loves awkward, forced rhymes.

"So it's me and Habert
In a thousand BC,
Praying to the Gods,"

"And what do you see?"

"A man with a halo
And a nasty decree:
'I'll save your butt,
But you're gonna serve me'."

So now Shaq's reiterating, which is good, but I think we got the 1,000 BC part already. So I guess at this point, the prince and his harem fucked off, having left Kazaam and his friend - who's either named Habert or is a bird - buried in the sand, like the sea. Even though I don't think you can get buried in a sea. Anyway, now an angel(!) has come, looking for some free slaves. That doesn't seem to characteristic of an angel, does it? Maybe the fallen angel... Is Shaq saying he's a servant of Satan in this movie? Because that definitely doesn't come across anywhere else in this film!

"So I nod to Habert,
He nods to me.
And when the magic is over,
We ain't men..."

Now the rest of this song is performed with Wade and Shaq saying every word in unison:

"We genie!
We were buried to our necks
In sand like the sea,
By the sultan with the sword
And a lock and a key.
I looks to Habert
And he says to me,
'When the magic is over,
We ain't men...
We genie!"

And that's basically it. Shaq adlibs some lines like, "bob ya head, Max," and they repeat the "we genie" refrain a couple of times. It's a short song, because I guess nobody's going to sit through three full verses and a bridge worth of exposition mid-movie. Also, are they using "genie" as an adjective, meaning "being a genie," or is the plural of genie not genies?And why isn't it we are. "We're genies," wouldn't adversely affect the meter of the song or anything.

One thing about this last bit: there's a lot of interchangeability. Who's this sultan they suddenly bring up? That must be the prince, with his sword, lock, key and harem. "Sultan" and "prince" are just being used synonymously here, even though I thought a sultan was more of a king than a junior. And Max singing "we genie" is just him getting caught up in the energy of the song, right?  Because I've seen the whole movie, and it never turns out that he was a genie all along or anything. Also Shaq isn't shown to have any friends from 1,000 BC, human or feathered. The song is all about two people becoming genies, but the movie is just about one. So why write the other one into the song at all? There's also no sword, lock or key in the film, so none of that pays off. Maybe this song syncs up better to an earlier draft of the screenplay we never saw?

The lyrics were definitely by the screenwriters, they have writing credit in the soundtrack notes. So this should add up more than it does. The producers, Chad Elliot and James "Big Jim" Wright also have co-writing credits, but I'm sure that's strictly instrumental. By the way, Shaq's other two songs on here were produced and co-written by dancehall greats Sly and Robbie, if you can believe it.

So okay. I think I've come away from this project with a better understanding of the song. I can track the narrative as far as it makes sense, though I can't help feeling that there's a genie legend I should be familiar with that he's paraphrasing, which would make things a lot clearer. I know Solomon supposedly trapped a genie in a bottle, but this ain't that story. But there's either some legend or a whole second act twist on the cutting room floor where the leader of the music pirates is Shaq's ancient friend gone bad. Please, though, nobody release a director's cut.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So This Is What Public Enemy Meant...?

"As I ventured into the courtyard, followed by fifty-two brothers
Bruised, battered, and scarred, but hard.
Going out with a bang, ready to bang out;
But power from the sky: from the tower shots rang out.
A high number in dose, yes, and some came close;
Figure I trigger my steel, stand and hold my post.
This is what I mean: an anti-nigger machine;
If I come out alive, then they won't come clean."

That's just a small portion of Chuck D's powerful and dramatic verses from his classic, "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos." It's a compelling, darkly cinematic narrative with a shocking but strong message. On their next album, Fear Of a Black Planet, Public Enemy expounded on one of that song's most explosive concepts with the song "Anti-Nigger Machine," a personal account of a rally he attended for another black victim of a police shooting.

And then in 1991, a rap group called ANM put out a record on Joey Boy Records.

And, no, ANM doesn't stand for Aimlessly Nonfunctional Magnifications, or any other silly combination the Backronym Generator might come up with.They make it explicitly clear on their album that it does indeed stand for Anti-Nigger Machine, and even sample "Black Steel..." on several songs. Of course, it changes the mean pretty drastically when they identify themselves as the ANM. To Public Enemy, it was a grave and pretty specific accusation directed at the US legal system, identifying our police, courts, prisons and even our military as working with frightening efficiency against one particular race of our people. So what does it mean when you say you are the ANM?

Well, thankfully it doesn't mean that Joey Boy uncovered some depressing neo-nazi skinhead rap group and decided they could be the next Miami bass novelty hit. In fact, despite the label they're on, ANM are actually from Houston, Texas, and have a bit of a genuine legacy. ANM are basically a trio: MCs Jameen and Brother Alquarr, plus a DJ named Mixmaster B. They stand in solidarity with Chuck D's messages, even claiming that he'll vouch for them: "word to life, you know I'm right, just ask Chuck."

Now, as you can see, their album, Let the Message Rize, has one of those covers with like 50 dudes on it (okay, eight), even though there only seem to be three members. And, no, I don't know who most of those guys are, though I'm pretty sure one of them is Lil Troy, years before he started putting out gangsta rap albums on Short Stop Records. Apparently, this was one of the first groups he ever produced. And if you need more legacy than that, Jameen went on to change his name to Mike D and join DJ Screw's Screwed Up Click. So ANM isn't some random rap nobodies act; they're still selling records to this day.

And so yeah, this album is dope. Production-wise, it doesn't have the PE vibe you'd expect. It's lots of very familiar, funky samples. Pretty much every groove here had been used on several hip-hop albums already, and are pretty obvious choices, but hey, they still sound good. Sorta like a later Rodney O & Joe Cooley album. And yeah, that means songs like "Trigger Happy Cop" (which was also the single, by the way), is actually set to "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll." So it really lacks the power of, say, "Arrest the President," it's more like... well, the sort of stuff you'd expect from Joey Boy in 1991. Bouncy, fun. Some of the samples are a little too big and heavy-handed, like the use of "Superstition" on the title track, but it always sounds pretty good, if a little corny. Except for "Cold Sweat" though, which is essentially Let the Message Rize's "Something 2 Dance 2," it's all heavy, message-oriented vocals. "Mind Trap" is an early hip-hop track about clinical depression. "Criminal Background" is about how dangerous a man becomes when he has nothing left to lose. That's a strange dichotomy.

The weakness of the album is unfortunately the MCs skills. These guys are young and I daresay still learning to rap a bit.  Don't get me wrong, the subject matter they choose is great, but the handling of it sometimes feels like a student project. The rhymes are pretty basic with some awkward structure, leading to basic, contrived lines like, "it's your life I will take," "people ride me like I don't have a prerogative; but who are you to say the way I'm not to live," or "my ass is what you're kissin', G." Like, try this on for size:

"Drug beats, but not the drugs you can get high on.
Hip-hoppers know what I'm sayin', so news reporters try on.
'Cause I can do the wild thing, but not the thing you're thinking of.
Your ears are to the speaker, glued to hear me sink a
Brother with the quickness."

So, 1991, "Wild Thing" is a Tone Loc reference. But he's saying he can't do the kind of wild thing Tone was talking about (which was sex, of course)? I'm sure it's not what he meant, but it sounds like he's saying he's impotent, but it's okay because he can really rock a mic. I mean, they have good voices and their flow is simple but fine. And they have got a couple freestyle songs, like "President" and "Junky That," where they sound a little less stilted. It might be tempting to just give them a pass, but being able to put words together in a slick or interesting way is pretty much what being a rapper is supposed to be all about. Plus, you can't really let them slide when they try to seriously deliver punchlines like, "yo, put an egg in your shoe, and just beat it."

The secret weapon of this album, on the other hand, is this Mix Master B. He's just getting hype all over this record. There's one or two songs with no scratching, but most of them utilize him a lot. He's regularly cutting up the group's name from "Black Steel...," in fact that's how the album opens; and it sounds great. And him cutting up a key line from "Fuck the Police" is absolutely the best part of "Trigger Happy Cop."

Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable listen for anyone on an old school kick, because its flaws will mix right in with its qualities for them. But more objectively, this is a listenable but weak album. This should've probably been their demo that paved the way to them releasing their more mature official debut album. It's a lot better than a lot of stuff, though; so it's kind of a shame ANM didn't hang in there. Well, of course, Jameen and Lil Troy did, which I guess proves my point. But I think I'd prefer their music if they stayed on the ANM path than where they wound up heading. If nothing else, it's an interesting album, which is more than you can say for most stuff coming out today.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Lonely Hearts Preservation Society

Have you ever put off listening to something for a long time because you were afraid it was going to disappoint you? I hope so, because I don't want to be the only dummy who's committed so much time not to not listening to an album they wound up really digging. The album in question today is Lonely Hearts Club by Neila, an extremely limited cassette-only album.

This is described in the liner notes as "a rough four track epilogue as my four track is slowly deteriorating and losing function, as do relationships," adding, "your instructions are to listen to this tape, burn it, and start over. life is too short." Well, I'm not burning mine! I'm squirreling it away along with all my art treasures. It's dated as 1999-2005, because that's the lifespan of her four track recorder, but then she still used it to make this last tape? I know she talked about recording this album in 2010 and... I don't know.

What I do know is that it's really good. It's a full-length album of ten songs, and the theme of lonely hearts and broken relationships definitely runs through it all. It's definitely got a funky, low-fi feel, where static-y snippets from movies and television clumsily drop in to introduce layered hip-hop tracks, where Neila alternates between traditional raps and her sing-songy style, which she sometimes uses for hooks and sometimes entire songs. The last song on side 1 even cuts off before its over because the tape runs out - now that's a classic 4-track hip-hop move, like those old Sacred Hoop tapes.

Production duties are shared by three guys: Vango, Sakari and Messiaz, plus I'm guessing the uncredited songs are produced by Neila herself. They've all got a knack for supporting Neila's vocal and writing style, so that plus the the unifying melancholy vibe makes this actually one of Neila's more uniformly satisfying albums. The songs are distinct, mind you; but you still want to take it all as one giant, inseparable listen, just absorbing Neila's raw sometimes artistically codified, and other times openly straight-forward self expression. But I can't think of many hip-hop albums that feel so nakedly like the artist poured their entire heart into it. And as O.C. famously said, "the more emotion I put into it, the harder I rock."

"Things are crashing down;
I'm swimming upstream.
Only enough left,

To fill one more dream.
Let's hide away,
Let's shout and scream.

Let's realize
That we can't say what we mean."

Just like I was hesitant to listen to this when I first got it, I've been hesitant to blog about it, but for a different reason. It's super limited and several years old now, and basically impossible to find. It was initially limited to 77 copies, and I was lucky enough to get a special copy, personally, making mine #79/77. It's a cool red, hand-numbered cassette with fold-out artwork by Neila herself. I don't want to frustrate people by dangling them an impossible to obtain album in front of them, but I also don't think it needs to be burned for us to start over. So I'll keep it alive in writing here and who knows? Maybe it'll get fancy a digipack repress when the next generation of fans comes knocking for more Neila music.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What Was Glasshouse Entertainment? Learn Along With Werner, part 8

Man, I would never have believed, that in 2015/16, I'd still be discovering Father MC records I'd never heard of before. But here we are. Granted, this is really more of a guest spot than a Father MC record proper. But still, I'm excited! This record is called, erm, "Glass On 'Em" by some guys named Suicide?

I've actually heard of these guys before, though I wasn't sure they were the same until I read the label credits and saw that the song was written by Splack 'Em and Shorty Pimp. Remember, Father moved to Florida in the late 90s, which is why he was on Luke Records for a minute. So it makes sense that these guys would have some corny Miami-style names. Suicide had an album in 1998 called Suicidal Days. It got on my radar because a couple of their tracks had production by Southern heavy-hitters Mike Fresh and DJ Spin, and Society even did their art design. They had a single called "Off the Chain." All of this was before "Glass On 'Em."

Suicide was originally a 3-man crew, and here's where things get a little confusing. So yeah, on their first album, it's three guys Earnest Jackson Jr. a.k.a. Mr. Shorty Pimp, Matthew Houston a.k.a. Splack 'Em and Rodrick Clayton a.k.a. Mr. Houston. That's right, there's a guy in the group whose rap name is Mr. Houston and a guy in the group whose real name is Mr. Houston, but they're different guys. You might be thinking, Werner, you've clearly just got it wrong, but here's how it's written on one of their own records:
Why isn't Matthew Houston Mr. Houston??

So, okay, it was three guys. But apparently things went South. On this song, "Glass On 'Em," which came out in '99, they make a couple references to their past, saying, "some of y'all people know us from the past. We was 'Off the Chain,' now we on Glass." That's referencing Glasshouse Entertainment, the label they apparently at least thought they were on. It's credited on the label here, but this is also clearly another Echo International/ Dancefloor Distribution 12" from NJ, which makes sense, as Father MC apparently has some major ties to them and has put out a couple records on them. They also say, "'the Chain' popped, and now we on the Glass, I was mad at my past, but now we're countin' cash." So I guess the whole deal with their original label went South, Mr. Houston split from the group, and now their Glasshouse was their new movement. But it only lasted for this one song, which wound up getting released by Echo, so I guess that bird didn't fly.

Suicide did do more in 2000. They had a single called "Big Doe," again just the two of them. They had a remix featuring Luke himself, and even advertised a second album, also to be titled Big Doe. But that didn't seem to materialize, and I think that was the end for them.

But how is THIS record? It's okay. The production isn't a Miami bass dance kinda track, it's more of an east coast half hardcore half club (think the kind of club music NY was making in 2000). It's produced by some guys called The Landmark Entertainment Committee, which doesn't sound too promising, but it's actually a decent, well-made track. And I've actually come across these Landmark cats before on one of those unreleased Verb tracks. Nothing exceptional or anything you'd want to run out and buy, but it's respectable. There's a little extra drum line which kicks in once in a while that I kinda like.

And lyrically, it's all over the place. Sometimes they're catching you up in their career like I was talking about before. Sometimes they're rapping about being in a strip club ("I got my lappy lappy; now I'm happy happy"), and mostly they're just rapping about having money ("now that I can buy a Jag, now that I can buy a crib"). What glass means in this song kinda shifts around... obviously at some point it's their label, but mostly I think it's just an alternative term for bling to them. But then the hook goes, "we finally got the glass on 'em, ah-ah-ah-ass on 'em, finally got the glass on 'em, do 'em how we want 'em!" Also at one point one of them says, "drunk as hell, you should've seen me off the glass." So you know, I guess them flipping the word around in different ways is part of the fun they're having, but they don't take it far enough to really get you into the spirit of the thing. You don't even realize that's what they're doing until you sit down like I did and say, okay, these lyrics are all over the place, what are they actually saying?

And what about Father MC? Yes, he's on here alright - courtesy of Pay Per View Records, which is the first and only time I've heard of them* - and not just doing glorified hype-man duties or anything. He kicks the third and final verse, and it's all about... kicking his guest verse, "spittin' on this bullshit like it was my own shit. Do I have to flip shit and get on some old rip shit? ...Spittin' sixteen on yo' shit, makin' yo' shit my shit. Two thou' millieni shit, real raw shit, lose ya deal shit." Hey, maybe that's why Suicide's Glasshouse thing fell through. Father's guest verse made 'em lose their deal. Ha. Nah, looking here and here, it looks like the label had its own troubles. Anyway, Father's verse is okay. He's somewhat energetic, always feeling like there's a killer punchline just around the corner that never comes. Instead it's a collection of lines that are just alright. Again, like the beat, none of these three MCs spit anything you'd want to run out and buy. Unless you're like me, a fan just excited to find another record by either Father or Suicide, and then you order it off the internet immediately as a birthday present for yourself.  XD

So, it's just the one song, which comes in at just under four minutes. You've got the Street Mix and an edited Radio Mix on side A, and then a Dub Mix and Instrumental on B. At the end of the day, it's just another on that long list of obscure odditities that Echo slipped out under the radar. Maybe nothing amazing, but endlessly compelling to sift through and discover.


*They also misspell the word "courtesy."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tragedy's Infamous Cop Killer Song Finally Discovered and Released!

Wow, this is a major one, folks! Two of hip-hop's leading limited vinyl labels, Heavy Jewelz and Diggers With Gratitude have joined forces to release one of the most important recoveries of lost vintage material to date. Hopefully you remember a couple years ago, when DWG released the first Black Rage EP, a collection of three original demo mixes of songs from Tragedy's second album. It had the unheard remixes on side A, and released versions on side B. That was pretty damn cool, but Black Rage Demos Part 2 is an even bigger deal. This EP doesn't need to be padded out with tracks we already have, because it's six (technically eight, but two are instrumental skits) track collection of the rest of the unreleased Black Rage project, including completely unheard songs, including his infamous "cop killer" song "Bullet."

Most of us are already familiar with the legend of the song, though you've probably never heard it. The whole "Cop Killer" controversy had just happened over Body Count's song, and Tragedy was on the same label, Warner Bros, as The Intelligent Hoodlum. Well, technically he was on A&M, but Time Warner owned A&M Records along with a bunch of other labels. Warner was running scared and had Tragedy pull a song called "Bullet" off his upcoming album, Black Rage, which was eventually retitled Saga Of a Hoodlum (he didn't even get to keep the album title), because it also had reference to cop killing.

There's a pretty good article from the September 3, 1992 issue of The Chicago Tribune which interviews both Trag and A&M president Al Cafaro. Trag said, "I was approached with an option by the president of the record label: 'If you want to put it out as is, you can take it to another record label.' ...I don`t want the song to be misunderstood, but I will admit that the song is a cop-killing song. However, it is a reaction to cops killing... It was like, 'Yo, this is a touchy subject right now, but we're going with it.' That was the vibe at first. But as the Ice-T situation escalated, the label felt more responsible to the label than to the song." Cafaro added, "When I heard the song, I was taken aback... This song really stepped over the line... The conclusion I reached was that I couldn't stand behind [the song]. I couldn't in good faith release this, and then, if called upon, stand behind it and defend it." There's plenty more in the article, including more from both of them, plus details of other artists' songs that got removed from their albums for referencing cop killing, too. So go ahead and read the whole thing here.

And now that we get to finally hear it, yeah, it's not just a song that references cop killing, it is a full on ode to it. It opens up with the chorus, "shoot a cop, gonna shoot a cop dead! (Buck buck!) Kill a cop, put a bullet in his head!" And none of the verses soften that message. Interestingly, it's got some extra samples on the hook, but the instrumental is essentially Master Ace's "Music Man." Now I'm not one to cheer on hate speech, but I do like my artistic expression undiluted and uncensored, and there's no question that this song and the other tracks on this EP would've made for a hotter, more compelling Black Rage album than the Saga Of a Hoodlum LP (which was still quite good) we got.

And just what else is on here? Well, let's start small, with the two skits, "Intro" and "Fuck George Bush." The first is a funky, little breakbeat and the second is based on a vocal sample loop saying exactly what you think. Then there's an alternate version of "Underground," a song which did make the Saga Of a Hoodlum cut. This version isn't very different, with the same vocals and the same samples flipped the same way. The "here we go" chorus is different, though, and it doesn't have the scratching on the hook. I guess the main difference is that it has a less sleigh-bell heavy drum pattern, which I do prefer; but ultimately it's too similar to the album version to be very exciting. These are just nice little extras to have, I'd say.

Now let's get to the more exciting stuff. "Black Rage" is the title track that never was, and there are no production credits, but it's got that funky early 90s Marley Marl feel, but a little rougher, in tone with the song's clear concept. And "Rebel To Amerikkka" takes it even further. I don't think I can put it any better than the press sheet that calls it, "a worthy (and considerably angrier) successor to 'Arrest the President'." That's true both lyrically, where he aggressively goes after Bush, and instrumentally, which is frantic but tough. These songs are great; it never ceases to blow my mind how much great music artists and labels have just shelved and forgotten about.

I should pause to point out here, though, that this song and "Bullet" also feature uncredited guest verses. I'd love to find out who this is. I do have a guess, but I wouldn't say I feel very certain... could it be Scram? I don't know much about Scram, but he seemed to be a DJ for Trag around this time. He gets shouted out at the end of "Posse (Shoot 'Em Up)," and I was googling around trying to find any info on him, but only found out that RapGenius seems to think it's a reference to Scram Jones, a producer Trag would work with in his later Khadafi years. I may not know much about Scram, but I do know that's wrong. First of all, SJ has done some good stuff, but I'm fairly certain he's too young to have been around back then. But also, primarily, he's a white guy. Here, go look at some photos on his website. Now look at this photo, clearly labeled, of Trag and Scram from the inside of the In Control Volume 2 cassette [right]. That's a different dude. And Scram does get name checked on this EP (particularly the "Black Rage" song). So that's my guess. But who knows? It could be anybody without a distinctive enough voice to rule out. He comes off well on this EP anyway.

So what else is there? There's "Adolescents At War," which has a nice slow funk feel to it. And all these songs, combined with the first Black Rage EP, apparently represent the entire unreleased Black Rage album now (after all, some of it WAS released as Saga). The fact that every song on here is highly socio-politically charged is really powerful and honestly, if Black Rage had come out as originally intended, I think it would've make much bigger waves. But at least we finally get to hear it now.

And that's not quite everything. The last song I don't believe was ever intended for Black Rage, but it's from the same period, and definitely fits in conceptually with the rest of this material. It's an unreleased remix of "America Eats the Young," Trag's song from Marley's second album. Interestingly, it's a lot smoother. I don't think it's as effective as the screechy, high energy track that did get released was, but this is a cool alternative. This mix also doesn't have Chuck D's back-up vocals, which is fine, since it was always disappointing he never kicked a verse on the original anyway. Instead, they have a chorus of children repeating the mantra, "America eats the young," on the hook.

Sound quality is great. I think it's all taken from professionally released, official promo tapes, and then further remastered, just like the recent Young Zee album I was involved with. It's all clear and robust.

This EP is limited to 300 copies, and as of this writing is still available from DWG's Fresh Pressings store. As pictured above, it comes in a sticker cover and with DWG's traditional press sheet. Now, 150 of them are pressed on traditional black wax. But if you copped it as part of a bundle with DWG's other new release, Jae Supreme's Life Work EP, which includes the vinyl debut (FINALLY!!) of Nas's demo track "Villain," then you got one of the 150 blue/green translucent vinyl copies, which is now sold out. But the black is still available, so don't sleep. Releases like these don't come around too often.