Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Watch OR Sweat My Moves (Paul C Vs. Dooley-O)

In 2002, Stones Throw Records released one of their best records, Dooley-O's "Watch My Moves." If you don't know, Dooley-O is Stezo's cousin and a highly underrated Connecticut producer. As you can see above, the single is actually titled Watch My Moves 1990, because this record is actually from long before 2002... in fact, I would think it would have to be even a couple years older 1990, but we'll come back to that. The point is: it's a classic, long lost recording that was finally unearthed over a decade later, and has some compelling historical significance, in addition to being pretty damn funky.

The second guy on the cover there is Chris "C" Lowe. You may remember him from his numerous 12"s on Bronx Science throughout the 90's, including one with Large Professor. Chris and Dooley came up together and made their earliest records together, including this one. It was, by all accounts, the very first record to use the now famous Skull Snaps break from "It's a New Day," one of the most often used, and still greatest, break beats of the genre. Chris and Dooley discovered, used it and broke it on radio with this song. But, while it played over the air, it was never really properly released on wax. So when Stezo wound up sampling the same break for his debut single, 1989's "It's My Turn," that wound up going down in history as the first record to use Skull Snaps instead. Stezo has full production credit on that single, but Chris and Dooley have both said - and no one's contested - that it was their idea taken from their record.

...See what I mean? If Stezo took it from "Watch My Moves," for his 1989 record "It's My Turn," then "It's My Moves" has to be older than 1990. I didn't go to college for nothin'.

So this is already a great record with a compelling story, and really I could just wrap up this post talking only about this record. It's a killer instrumental and Dooley sounds dope over it. It's also got a cool, vintage B-side from that era called "Headbanger's Ball," with an instrumental almost just as tight. Plus an instrumental-only song called "So Let It Be Written;" another sample-heavy banger.

But the story just got twice as interesting when one of my readers (shout out to Dom for this!) forwarded me a link to this: Paul C. "Sweat My Moves" featuring CKO. "Sweat My Moves" is a title pretty similar to "Watch My Moves," obviously, and hey listen - it's the same break-beat and virtually the same instrumental all together! Reading the description and the poster's comments, this "was a beat designed by Paul C. for the group Cko & Sta-La-Fro, they was signed to the record label DNA International Records in 1988-1989." Ah-ha! This is a record I've known about for years, but never actually heard or been able to track down (because it was essentially a promo-only unreleased single).

CKO & Sta-La-Fro. I knew the story but hadn't even known their names 'till now. There was a great article that got posted on all the diggers' forums back when Stones Throw was releasing this and the Stezo record. I can't find the post I originally read it on, but here it is, cited in full on a blog called The Lowe End Theory. It's basically all about the Stones Throw singles and the story of the Skull Snaps discovery; but let me quote a small part of the article that brings this all together:
"Having recorded "Watch my Moves" and "Crazy Noise", Dooley, Stezo, and Lowe took the cuts to the University of New Haven’s radio station for immediate airplay. This would prove to be a telling glimpse into the future of Dooley’s Skull Snaps break, as one listener jacked it from the airwaves the first time it was ever played! A student of the University of New Haven (UNH)and the nephew of the owner of DNA records (of Super Lover Ceo and Cassanova Rud[sic. ...Although if he makes a modern day comeback, Cee should consider changing his name to Super Lover CEO; that could work for him] fame) had looped the opening parts of the song, and made his own version of “Watch My Moves” called “Sweat My Moves”. It had the same beat, same lyrics, and the same hook (with the word “sweat” replacing the word “watch”). One week after debuting the original on the UNH radio station, Dooley heard the other kids version on the very same show. He walked down to the radio station, roughed-up the DJ, and never heard that version again."
This is that UNH record! The Paul C. connection makes sense, since DNA was where he was working with Super Lover Cee, Kev E Kev and whoever else... I think he did the Too Poetic record as well? That was his pace of employ. So if owner's nephew (Sta-La-Fro?) came in with this recording, it makes sense that they would've given it to Paul to mix and engineer. It's worth pointing out, though, that it doesn't have the same lyrics, just the same hook and beat. In fact, the MCing is so different, that this is more than just some cheap knock-off, but an actually compelling little record in its own right. Yeah, it's cornier (CKO's real name is Oscar, so he sings the Oscar Meyer Weiner theme song, not once but twice), but it's still kinda fresh, and probably actually works better now, glossed over in nostalgia, than it would've struck heads listening to it back when it was created.

I guess this was actually pressed on wax, at least a couple promo acetates or something, since the Youtube poster talks about having had vinyl copies of this; and I guess that's what the college DJ would've been playing. I'd sure love to stumble upon one someday. The same Youtube channel, WarbucksNYC - apparently a hip-hop producer himself, also has three videos interviewing CKO in more modern days. But unfortunately they don't talk about his foray into music, just his car. It seems he has a medical degree now and is pretty happy living in New Jersey.

There's also a link to an ITunes mp3 of the song, but it's dead. Apparently this was also once listed on Amazon Music, too, but it's also been removed. Check out that amazingly cheesy and inappropriately milquetoast stock image they came up with to go with the song, too! Anyway, I'd assume those mp3s were killed because this Warbucks guy (could he be Sta-La-Flo today, or am I over-reaching now?) posted them and was making the money from it, and then DNA stepped in. Because the song is now listed, as of February 2014, on ITunes and Amazon as part of a digital-only compilation called DNA International Music Group "Greatest Hits", Vol. 2.  ...Curiously, there is no Vol. 1.

So it's great that Stones Throw cast light on this lost little bit of history and gave us a terrific single to boot by releasing Watch My Moves 1990. I'm not usually a big Stones Throw guy, but I highly recommend this one. Dooley-O went on to release the full, lost LP of that material, which he also titled Watch My Moves 1990, on Solid Records in 2003. And he's since released more unreleased music he made through-out the 90s, and just this year released an all new album called OG Status.

And it's even greater to finally hear the last piece of the puzzle by CKO and Sta-La-Flo, especially since it turned out to be a credible song in its own right and not just a 100% amateurish duplication. And considering Paul C's name is attached to it, I'm pretty confident DNA could make a little money by pressing it up today as a vinyl single (hint, hint).

Oh, and guess who mixed Stezo's "It's My Turn" record? Yep, Paul C!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

P.S. Phuk U2

Ah, The Penthouse Playas Clique know how I feel.

I just found out this morning how Apple has forced U2's latest album onto everybody's iphone and ipad. When I first read the stories, I was thinking, ah, not me. I don't go for all these manufactured fads, turning on all those icloud and iTunes Mating features whenever the corporation unleashes them. I stay away from that nonsense. But just out of idle curiosity, I'll have a quick check and OH CRAP; THERE THEY ARE! Right in there between the Tuff Crew and Unique, U2 have been demonically teleported into my phone's tiny mp3 library.

If you try to delete the tracks, they start playing. And if you DO delete them, they just come back! The only way to get rid of them is to turn off your itunes purchase downloads and turn off the "Show All Music," option, which sucks if you actually wanted those options on for your legit purchases.And even that doesn't get rid of it. It's also on your itunes account on your home computer and in your cloud, and you can't delete it. You can only "hide" it, so it's still sitting there, insidiously taking up space and waiting to return when you least expect it.

So I was inspired today to break out this little number from the PPC, "PS Phuk U 2." Okay, granted, it's not really a diss record directed towards U2 (no matter how hard we wish). It's just their cutesy way of spelling "fuck you, too." But that was enough to for me.

Technically, "PS Phuk U 2" is the B-side on this 12" single; but they did  wind up making a video for this one too. The A-side is either "Explanation of a Playa," which showcases their strong MCing abilities and some nice scratches by DJ Quik, or "Trust No Bitch," the infamous posse cut with Quik and Eazy E, depending which pressing you have. All three are album cuts off their sole LP, Paid the Cost, on Ruthless Priority Records from 1992.

Anyway, onto "Phuk U 2," or as they called the clean version, "PS Play U 2," despite the fact that it makes no sense. Both "Play" and "Phuk" also feature Eazy E, but only as a host. He doesn't actually rap on this, but he gives each MC a spoken word introduction, including telling Tweed to, "fade 'em, my skinhead nigga." It also features DJ Quik, who does have a proper verse on here, as well as full production credit. They're basically using the same piano-heavy instrumental as The D.O.C.'s "Mind Blowin'," but with extra fonky Quik-style instrumentation laced over the top of it. It sounds pretty great.

The only downside is that, because Eazy E's dialogue is the only hook for the song, we never actually get to hear anyone utter the phrase "fuck U2" throughout the course of the song.I mean, seriously, they're gonna call that "the biggest album release" when they just forced it on a ton of unwilling Apple users? Why not call the McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" theme the biggest record, then, since even more people have heard that play through their TVs and radios. And at least those the people at least elected to watch; it hasn't been surreptitiously uploaded onto their devices without their knowledge or permission. ...Yet, at least. We'll probably find that find tomorrow morning..

Friday, September 12, 2014

AMG's Bitchin' Trilogy

A couple years ago, I did a post about AMG's obscure, 12"-only prequel to "Once a Dog (Janine 2)" from his debut album. But that 12" alsow wound up being the beginning of a trilogy of records AMG would take the next twelve years to create. Twelve years is the exact same length of time JRR Tolkien took to write the Lord Of the Rings trilogy., so maybe that gives you some idea of what to expect. Or maybe it doesn't. I'm talking about "Bitch Betta Have My Money" and it's lesser known sequels.

"Bitch Betta Have My Money" was AMG's first single, released on Select Records in 1991. I explained in my previously mentioned post about the two versions of that 12" already, and obviously explored the B-sides for the preferable version; but now it's time to talk about the song itself. This would obviously be an important song for AMG, as we'll explore, but among other things, it wound up being the title for his debut album. The title line and hook comes from Ant Live's closing line to Big Daddy Kane's "Pimpin' Ain't Easy" with Nice N Smooth and Scoob & Scrap Lover.

And it's based on a surprisingly overbearing heavy metal guitar sample for an underground west coast hit from the DJ Quik camp. It's produced by AMG himself, though Quik gets a second co-production credit, along with Tracy Kendrick and Courtney Branch, so it's hard to say exactly who's responsible for what. On the one hand, you want to say Quik's the "real" producer, so he probably did all the heavy musical lifting. But then again, it sounds nothing like the rest of Quik's body of work. And on the album itself, Quik's co-production isn't even mentioned (though Kendrick's and Branch's still are), so I'm tempted to say AMG did the just about everything creative on this one, and the other guys just helped on technical and business ends. But that's just a guess.

Anyway, "Bitch Betta Have My Money" is one of the most successful rap songs to feature guitars at appealing to us "I'm not a rock & roll fan; please stop adding all this cross over guitar playing to everything" types. Or, to put it another way, it's one of the least garage band sounding rap songs to be dominated by guitar riffs AMG's high pitched but crisp delivery .is perfectly suited for the too-young-to-be-listening-to-this crowd, with his unlikely boasts about being a teenage pimp and long list of almost non-sequitor sexual claims. On the one hand, it's the perfectly cliche "this is what America's youth are listening to" song for the daytime talk shows of its day... but it's also good/ There's just a higher level of quality in everything Quik and his camp was releasing; and even if Quik didn't actually make any of the music here, the standards and quality control must've rubbed off here.

So almost ten years later, long after AMG was dropped from Select Records (the fact that he beefed with Quik and made an entire album without those cats really hurt him), it's no surprise AMG was looking backwards. Reunited with Quik and now on his own label, 304 Entertainment, AMG gave his album a throwback title to hopefully reclaim lost fans: Bitch Betta Have My Money 2001. And yes there was a title track to go with it, and yes it was on the debut 12" single: "Perfection" b/w "Bitch 2001."

Naturally, AMG has had a number of songs with the word "bitch" in the title (he's just that kind of artist), including "Mai Sista Izza Bitch," "Be Mai Bitch" and "Trust No Bitch;" but there's no doubt that this is a direct sequel to "Bitch Betta Have My Money." Besides the fact that the album title spells it out pretty explicitly, AMG's very first words on the track are the softly stated "part two," before he starts rapping. And the definitive Ant Live quote is back on the chorus. I think the title is just shortened here because people at the label were sick of typing it out.

Now, the A-side is produced by DJ Quik, but unfortunately, "Bitch 2001" isn't by Quik or AMG, but by somebody named The Norma. The track's not bad, it is kinda funky, but it really feels like the bland kind of instrumental a lot of west coast acts had once they signed to major labels and lost their underground sound. AMG's delivery is sort of an intentional match for the original, but he clearly has to tailor it somewhat to fit this new track, which has a fairly different vibe to the original, but I do like how they bring in the vocal sample of The O'Jay's "For the Love of Money" and merge it with Ant Live for the hook. It's honestly not bad, but AMG seems more off the track lyrically, filling the song out with junk like instructions for the listener to, "hit the website for merchandising." It's no longer about being a teenage (or older) pimp and more just a state of the union address about his rap career.

Despite the title, that record came out in 2000, but before we get to the final entry in the trilogy, we have to make a quick stop at this 2001 release from Germany. If "Bitch Betta Have My Money" was The Fellowship Of the Ring and "Bitch 2001" was The Two Towers, this would've been The Silmarillion. ZYX Records had a big run of remix singles of American rap hits in the 90s, and AMG's "Bitch Betta Have My Money" was no exception. There are five mixes on here, but that includes the original version and the "Bitchstrumental" from the original 12", plus a Radio Cut and X-tended Mix of the same basic remix. So basically there's just the one new remix. called the Jiggy Pascha Remix.

You can see on the cover [I'm showing the CD cover because it's pretty novel, but there is a plain sleeve vinyl version as well] that production credit is given to DJ Quick [sic.], but checking the fine print reveals that this new mix is actually created by Isy B and DJ Lil' Tommy. I don't know anything about either of them, really, except that they've done a lot of production and remix projects like this, often for ZYX; and frankly, that may be all there is to know about them anyway. It throws in the Busta Rhymes "Wild for the Night" vocal sample that every DJ on the planet was guilty of over-using in those days, and lays a bassline over the original guitars, which kind of conflicts. It sounds like these guys were unable to get an Acapella version for their remix and just had to do the best they could by adding sounds on top of the completed record. It's okay, and would be impressive if a DJ just did it as a live mix right in front of you at the club. But there's really no reason to buy this record. Actually, the most original and creative thing about this single is the fact that it opens with a skit, spoken in German, where I think a guy is supposed to be talking to a woman giving him head. ...I have to admit I am pretty curious what's being said there.

So now, okay, you might be saying: Werner, I knew all about "Bitch 2001," but what is this third part you're supposedly building up to? Everyone knows "Bitch Betta Have My Money" and at least AMG fans who've bothered to keep up with him know about the sequel, but our Return Of the King is pretty obscure. But it exists, and it's even on vinyl.

See, in 2002, AMG put out a pretty obscure, CD-only greatest hits compilation called Greatest Humps, Vol 1. AMG had just about enough songs to fill out on greatest hits album, by the way; and the idea of stringing it out over more than that was a mistake, and there never was a Vol. 2. But in order to get fans to buy an album of songs they would've already owned, he of course made a little new material to stick on there with his biggest hits, and one of those songs, "No," was given a 12" single release in 2003. And the B-side to that? "Bitch Give Me Back My Money."

I hadn't bothered with the Humps collection, but I was happy to throw down for the 12" when I saw it. The new song and the exclusive new B-side. But prepare to be disappointed. Because ""No" is a new song and it's alright. It's got a heavy guitar loop very reminiscent of "Bitch," actually, and AMG's still flipping that same style. But it's definitely not as good. Still, it was alright and at least lived up to my low expectations for a new AMG song in 2003.

No, it's "Bitch Give Me Back My Money" that's the real disappointment. It starts off with a useless skit with AMG talking to a girl who wants money from him, and I'll just leave you to guess what he tells her to do. Then the song starts and it's... the same instrumental and all the same vocals as the original "Bitch Betta Have My Money." He didn't even re-perform them, it's the same vocal track. The song has just been lightly remixed. There's some extra cutting, which is admittedly rather good, actually. But it's not a new song; the new title never enters into it. Some DJ (there's no credits on the record) has just taken the original song and played with it on his turntable. Oh and they actually cut in the skit, "When She Calls" from the Bitch Betta Have My Money album into the song. On the positive side, it's really well done and would've made a sweet B-side to the original 12" in 1991. It's just not what we've been lead to believe. The new title is a lie.

The true title is "Bitch Betta Have My Money (Ghetto Life Remix)," which is taken directly from Greatest Humps. There are a couple new remixes of his early songs on there ("Jiggable Pie (Nu Pie Mix)" and "Vertical Joyride (Nu Ride Mix)" are handled the same way), I suspect because he had rights issues licensing the songs from Select Records and had to make new versions to include them without paying a lot for them. Or maybe he just fucked with them because he wanted to make the album more compelling to his fans who probably had all those songs already. In either case, it was a big let down when I first laid this down on my turntables only to hear the same old song. But, then again, a 2003 sequel probably would've been a wacker disappointment anyway, and this new mix, taken on its own terms of being strictly a slightly cut up remix, is actually dope and something I'd recommend. Would I have actually wound up with something I could recommend if there was a "Bitch Give Me Back My Money?"  I doubt it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Get On the Short Bus

The 90s was the decade of "the soundtrack movie," where some film deals were structured as much or more on the accompanying soundtrack album, and the profits that could make, than the film itself.  Having trouble getting your movie financed? Buy a couple original songs from some popular rappers and parlay that into a studio pick-up. It started with some hip-hop-related films having hugely popular soundtracks into films that didn't even necessarily have to exist because they were just an excuse to make high selling compilation albums. From Above the Rim to Tales From the Hood, the album's have longer lasting legacies than the movies themselves. Even Warren Beatty put one together (remember Bulworth? Or are you just picturing the music video for "Ghetto Superstar?"). The movies got cheaper and cheaper (consider Master P movies, and their knock-offs) because it became more and more apparent the movies were just excuses for record labels and Hollywood to cross-pollinate funds and eventually the well ran dry.

Now, it would be unfair to say every soundtrack movie is a poor film; but there was an ever increasing stigma attached to them, and it's hard to call that undeserved. And that stigma is probably why Spike Lee never really made a film with a fully hip-hop soundtrack. He was classier and careful to project the image of a higher profile film-maker. But because he was always in tune with hip-hop and working with some of its best artists, it put us heads into a regularly recurring rough spot: do I want to buy this full album of stuff I don't care about just for one or two good songs? If you're not a jazz fan, the buying the full soundtrack to Mo' Better Blues just for that (excellent) Gangstarr song was a tough pill to swallow. At least "Crooklyn Dodgers" and its sequel from Clockers were released as singles. Bamboozled had about four songs and one of them was a Charli Baltimore track; so you really felt like you had to grossly overpay anytime you wanted just one or two songs.

Get On the Bus is another perfect example. Anytime a Spike Lee joint comes out, you have to run and check the soundtrack to see what we've gotten; and in this case there were three rap songs amidst a see of R&B, from Curtis Mayfield to Earth, Wind and Fire. But what tempting rap songs... A Tribe Called Quest, Doug E. Fresh and Guru. And remember, this was 1996, back before seeing Guru's name meant "produced by Solar." Every time I went to a music store I'd pick it, reread the track-listing and consider it; but I never pulled the trigger. And I'm glad I didn't. Because when I got older and hipper to getting my hands on DJ vinyl, I found otu about this ideal promo EP.

Get On the Bus Sampler is an official promo release from Interscope which features all three of the hip-hop tracks. Plus the D'Angelo song, because I guess they wanted to fill out the side with something and they figured he was "pretty hip-hop." But let's get into the rap songs because all three are nice and exclusive ...though Tribe's would turn up on a compilation album or two down the road.

The Tribe song is "The Remedy." Again, even if you never heard the soundtrack you're probably familiar with this song; but this is where it originated from. The label (to the EP or the full soundtrack) doesn't mention it, but it also features Common. This was from Tribe's fourth album era, when the group was starting to split, so there's no Phife on here, and the track is co-produced by Jay Dee. Fortunately, Jay's talents were enough to rescue what might have otherwise been a sinking ship; and the fact that this is on the soundtrack of a film about the Million Man March seems to have inspired some extra thoughtful and substantive lyrics from Tip and Common. So troubles or no, this winds up being a very compelling, funky little Tribe song that could fit easily onto any 'greatest hits' compilation.

Doug E. Fresh's song is either called "Tonite's the Nite" or "Tonite's the Night," depending on whether you believe the label to the EP or the full soundtrack. Personally, I prefer the EP's dual-'Nite" titling, just for the consistency. 1996 would put this well after Doug's New Get Fresh Crew phase, but this song still features Miss Jones on the hook. It's definitely on the pop side, and the hook is a bit much, but it's nicely produced by Clark Kent who's made a really suitable track for Doug to rock over. with some fresh and catchy samples and an upbeat but funky vibe. It definitely sounds more modern, but none the less captures the spirit of The World's Greatest Entertainer album, especially when the Chill Will and Barry B start scratching over the funky bassline.

Finally we have Guru's "Destiny Is Calling." And no, DJ Premier isn't on the boards. It's actually produced by... Permanent Revolution. Whoever the fuck that is. They've made a sitar-heavy track which is interesting but doesn't really click. It's okay, and Guru tackles some serious topics. But then again, his lyrics and delivery are pretty simple and choppy, with forced rhymes like "dollars" and "swallow." It's not bad, but definitely disappointing for all of us who've heard album after album of Gangstarr before this. You know this could've been a lot better and a really powerful call to change our society, ut instead it's just "meh."

But even with that little disappointment, this is a very sweet little EP. I mean, it's a must-have for the Tribe song alone, everything else is just gravy. And while I could see other heads not getting on board with it, I was pleasantly surprised by the Doug E. Fresh song. I'm really happy to have this in my crates, and extra pleased that I never wasted more money on the full soundtrack. And you know, eighteen years later, I honestly can't remember if I ever saw Get On the Bus or not. I can picture flashes of it, but those might just be from the trailer...? I'm not sure. But I'll remember "The Remedy" for the rest of my life.