Friday, October 4, 2019

Underground Tapes Shouldn't Be This Complicated

In 1999, Saukrates was crossing the line from underground to a major label artist.  He'd been putting nice little indie 12"s in Canada since '94, started blowing up in America in '96/ '97, and by 2000 he was a part of Universal's corporate empire.  And to bridge that gap, in 1999, he put out an album called The Underground Tapes, which was essentially a compilation of the rare, indie joints that blew him up made accessible for the new fans who were now discovering him, mixed in with some new and unreleased stuff.  And then, for unfathomable reasons, he released it over and over again that same year with slightly different track-listings that I don't think Saukrates himself could even sort out anymore.

I mean, okay, I shouldn't exaggerate.  First(?) there was The Underground Tapes: Limited Edition Vinyl, Vol. 1 EP on Serious Entertainment.  As you'd expect, this was sort of a sampler/ lead single for the album, featuring some of the hottest songs with Instrumentals and a radio edit that weren't on the proper album.  That makes sense.  So you've got that, with 6 songs over 8 tracks, then the album, which Serious put out on CD, with a full 13 songs.  But, since Saukrates was kind of straddling the US/ Canadian line, he also put out a Canadian version of the album on a label over there called Capitol Hill (no connection - I don't think - to the major Capitol Records).  That CD has more songs: 19 including the hidden bonus track.

So, okay, I guess it's not really that complicated.  But oh, wait.  Capitol Hill then re-released that album in 2000, with 18 songs, several of which are different than the other one.  Exclusive songs like "Night Nurse" and "Maybe I Should Change."  Oh, and there's also a cassette release of the 2000 reissue with just 17 of the songs, because the last one was a CD-only bonus track.  Plus Vol. 2 of the vinyl EPs did come from Serious, with seven more songs including a couple remixes that only appear on that vinyl EP.  And if that's still not enough, someone discovered and uploaded to discogs an unreleased CDR master version of the album with yet another alternate track-listing, including "Night Nurse" and also a song that's never been released on any of the previous versions or anywhere else called "Let Me Roll."  And if you want to get really definitive, I've also seen a Capitol Hill sampler cassette of The Underground Tapes out there, with five songs on it.

Whew!  That's exhausting, right?  Well guess what, gang?  I'm here to contribute to the madness, because I was going through my stash and realized I happen to own still yet another version!  It's a Serious promo cassette that features another exclusive track not on any of the other versions, and which has also never been released anywhere else.  For the most part, it has the exact same track-listing as Serious's CD.  It's technically one short, but only because it skips the "Intro," which is a snippet of a radio interview with DJ X.  But all the actual songs are there, and in the same sequence.  However, there's then one last song, "Money Or Love (Remix)."

You may remember that "Money Or Love" was included on every version of The Underground Tapes, even the vinyl EP.  And it was made the single for the album, being put out as its own 12" by Capitol Hill, and they made a music video for it.  That 12" features additional versions of the song, like the Instrumental and Accapella, but not this remix.

Now, I'll be real with you guys.  "Money Or Love" was not a favorite off this album.  It emphasized more of his sung chorus and trendier production style.  He still sounds like himself as an MC here and he's never really fallen off when it comes to his bars, even in recent years.  So it's an okay song, but the topic is pretty crass and the music feels more like record executive bait than his tight "underground" material that got him to this point.  Like this is the beginning of the crossover stuff that turned each Saukrates record from something you just had to have to alright stuff you didn't really need to keep checking for.

But this remix is easily much better.  Why is it the doper versions always seem to be the ones relegated to the B-sides or left in the vaults?  Lyrically, it's the same, but the original instrumental was pretty limp.  It had an alright basic loop, which is still on hand for this remix, at its core.  Like, it's a reasonably catchy, twangy guitar sample (they mime playing it live in the video, but I'm pretty sure it's a sample) and drums with sparse bass notes.  It's funky enough to album filler that keeps your head nodding, but it should never have been a single.  But this remix drops a huge, chunky sample on top of the whole thing, which makes the song a lot heavier.  They fade the guitar out for a lot of it, and honestly they could've completely gotten rid of it for the whole song, because it's totally stomped out anyway.  The only drawback is they still keep the original hook.  And it's not like his singing sucks or anything, but it doesn't mesh with this remix instrumental, which would sound better with a much simpler, stripped-down hook.  Or even no hook at all and just pause as the beat continues.

So there's still room for more improvement.  Maybe this was left off because whoever produced it (this tape has no credits) also felt it wasn't quite finished.  But however you cut it, the remix is by far the stronger version of the song.  And it's only available on this... ninth? version of The Underground Tapes.  Wow.  Think there are any more out in the world to be found?  Can anyone dig us up an even tenth?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Two S-Brothers With S-Checks

Remember not too long ago, I made a video about the overwhelming number of projects Luke Sick had released with other other artists over the last half a year or so?  Well, another producer replied to me on Twitter that it wasn't over yet, because he was currently mixing an album he'd recorded with Luke, too.  Well, guess what?  This... ain't that.  This is yet another new group/ project/ release by Luke that's just dropped!  That other one, I assume, is still pending.  It's a little crazy, and I know it's easy to stop paying attention and let some pass you by.  But some day we're going to look back on this moment in history when Luke was so prolific and blessed us with all this great but obscure music that's gonna be super hard to find when the current crop of bandcamps and soundclouds go the way of emusic, and IUMA.

So this time apparently, we're going by the name of the S-Brothers.  Luke has linked back up with producer Doug Surreal, who worked with before in The Motel Crew.  I assume the S-Brothers name just comes from the pairing of Sick & Surreal.  But anyway, this is a much more traditional Hip-Hop project than Motel Crew, with a distinct old school throwback vibe.  If you were a fan of Rime Force Most Illin and The Yole Boys, this should be right up your alley.

Back II the Scene Of the Blunts is more of a maxi-single than an album, essentially composed of three songs.  It's then filled out with Instrumentals, Bonus Beats, a Luke-A-Pella and a "Jeep Beats Construction Set," which is essentially a succession of brief sounds and samples like you used to find on those DJ tools LPs.  But it all plays like a medley of classic 80s Hip-Hop vibes, with breaks and vocal samples weaving between EPMD, Lord Finesse, Public Enemy, Chubb Rock, Biz Markie and more.  Especially "Throw Hex," which is like a "Jackin' For Beats" pastiche of Hip-Hop's most powerful loops.  But unlike with Rimeforce, Luke doesn't really attempt an old school delivery, but just lets his natural style meld with the instrumental to form something new and powerful.

This is a limited (to 100 copies) green (green) cassette release, though of course the music's perpetually available digitally from their bandcamp.  But the tape, from Needle To the Groove Records, has some sweet underground west coast style artwork, and comes with a convenient download card.  And it also came with a sticker and label patch if you ordered their even more limited collector's edition.  But I'm tellin' ya, even if you're getting a little tired of me covering this dude and aren't feeling terribly interested in any of this stuff, at least check out "Throw Hex" and see if it doesn't get you amped for more.

And the good news, then, is that with all his current and pending projects, there's plenty more.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Vintage LA Underground

I've been on an underground west coast kick this weekend... you know, that slightly muddy, four-track backpacker kinda rap.  And when I got to this record, I decided it was time to fire up the ol' blog machine.  This is a 12" single called Contraband from 2000, a year (and decade!) in which Hip-Hop was feeling pretty bleak, in terms of bland commercial rap pushing out the quality, indie stuff.  This was a nice little hold-out by EX2 a.k.a. E Times 2 on their own label, Abolano Records.

If you're thinking you've never heard of these guys, actually you might have.  E Times 2 is just a clever way to say that their group's initials are "EE," as in Endangered Elements.  That still doesn't help?  Well, they're essentially part of the broader Shape Shifters crew.  Like, in the Shifters, you've got the core four members: Circus, Awol One, RadioInactive & DJ Rob One (R.I.P.), then you've got the ring of essentially junior members (although guys like Akuma's involvement actually go back pretty much to the earliest recordings).  And then you've got these guys on a further ring out, sort of like Othorized F.A.M. might be to the Wu-Tang Clan or something.  In particular, these guys seem particularly affiliated with Awol; most of them could be pretty much, more or less said to be the "Three Eyed Cowz" of his classic Evil Cow Burger album.  EX2's line-up has itself been known to morph a bit over the years (yeah, they're still prolific, making good music up to and including 2019!), but the line-up on this particular record is: producer Sirk, DJ ESP and MCs Gel One, Syndrome228, Virus, Digit6 & DustOff.  This is the lead, and only, single off of their album Undersounds of the 562.

Their opener, "Life Iz..." features the Awolrus himself, which was the big selling point at the time.  It has a simple but effective hook ("life is what you make it; the worst thing is talent wasted") and EX2's interesting blend of fast raps over slower beats.  GelOne starts us off with who stays on theme while mixing in creative imagery, "proceeding with life rather than getting self defeated over mediocre complaints; I'm self-motivated to be a loc with no motive, potentially explosive with enough inertia to be a locomotive, going full speed, I got a full head of steam,  Contributing to a team who doesn't live in a field of dreams; I remember my life is how I make it."  Then Syndrome gets a little more tongue twisty, followed by a harder, more aggressive flow by Virus and Digit just dropping in for a quick verse that leaves you wanting more.  You can tell these guys are still young as their delivery gets a little convoluted, and we get some corny 90's punchlines like "keep it tight like virgin pussy penetration."  But the flaws never outweigh their talents, and the surprisingly effective looping beats never let you go.

Finally, Awol comes in at the end with his traditional ultra-relaxed flow.  The beat doesn't change, but he makes the samples sound different just by the distinct way he approaches the track.  His verse does feel a little lazy; I wouldn't be surprised if he essentially freestyled his contribution, but he still sounds uniquely raw, especially as his verse minds up melting seamlessly into the hook as if they were always one, "I believe in manifest destiny... can't let it get the best of me.  Since I was born naked... and life is what you make it.  Word.  Karma is my religion... The worst thing is talent wasted.  Life is what you make it."

The first of two B-sides is "Sirkulatin" featuring frequent collaborator Tommy V.  He often produces, but to be clear, here he's dueting with Gel One on the mic over another beat by Sirk.  It's a slower beat and Tommy's flow is pretty crazy.  The way he doubles-up his own lines sounds almost tongue in cheek.  Gel's a little more straight forward, but they both sound cool over this atmospheric track with sparse piano notes sounding like drips from a cave ceiling, as if they're literally underground.  ESP comes in at the end to add some spacey cuts.  Finally "Tarmen" has Virus, Gel and DustOff spitting battle raps over a tougher track.  This is their shouty "don't mess with us!" song, with literal references to "wack MCs," but they don't manage to shake their backpacker vibe.  Although I'm not sure it would be better if they did; I like EX2 as they are and this is probably more fun because they do still sound like their nerdy selves ("we stay on top like salad dressing!").  But it does feel like they're attempting some degree of transformation that they're not quite pulling off.

All three of these songs are on the album, though only the 12" also throws in the instrumentals, plus a supposedly Clean edit of "Life Iz...," which actually still has all the curses in it?  I checked the first version two, in case the labeling was just reversed, but no; both have the curses.  So I'm confused; maybe it's just an error.  Anyway, as long as we get the uncut version, who cares about a clean edit?  This comes in a sticker cover with an address to their long dead website, though they can now be found on

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Learn Along With Werner: The Rap Song That Killed All the Right-Wing Zombies

I still enjoy discovering new artists, and I love going back and listening to my favorite old school records.  But my favorite thing is to discover something that's new to me but dates back to the old school era I grew up in.  So, while I'm not going to try to argue that the song I'm about to talk about is some dope hidden jewel, or even passably good, if you're anything like me, it's still a kick to learn about.

So this story starts with a disappointing 1987 horror film called Zombie High.  It's not really what it sounds like... they only mean "zombie" in the most generic "thoughtless person" kind of way.  It's not a high school full of undead gut munchers.  It stars Candyman's Virginia Madsen, a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn and a very pre-Ghostbusters remake Paul Feig.  Basically our heroes are sent to a fancy prep school where we learn all the students are being turned into conservative zombie-types by the faculty who are really feeding off their brain juice to stay young forever.  You get it.  It's a lot like Disturbing Behavior, or better yet Society but without all the crazy Screaming Mad George shunting effects that made that movie so cool.  Invaders From Mars without the Martians.

Anyway, it ends (spoiler alert) with the last remaining free thinking kids discovering that the bland, classical music being piped through the school's PA system is what's keeping all the preppy students under control.  Fortunately, one of them happens to have a cassette tape in his pocket ("it's a good tape!") of a rap song; and when they play that instead, it literally smokes all of the zombies and their leaders' brains, 'causing them to drop dead.  The film ends with a montage of them all dying as this song, "Kiss My Butt," rocks into the closing credits.  Even the president of the United States (who would've been Reagan in '87) is taken out.

This song is a total "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" knock-off.  From the early rock/ rap hybrid sound to the short, pause-filled stanzas about anti-homework, parental rebellion.  Or actually, it might sound even more like The Fat Boys' "Hell No," which is in itself a shameless "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" knock-off, which was released on 12" in 1987.  "You get up in the morning and your clothes don't match your hair.  They say maybe you should wash 'em, you say you don't care.  They're screamin' in your ears 'till their face turns blue.  You turn around and say, kiss my butt!" ...sounds an awful lot like, "Get out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear.  I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair.  Your mom busted in and said what's that noise?  Oh mom, you're just jealous, it's the Beastie Boys!" ...which in turn sounds just like, "Coolin' in my room watchin' Yogi and the bear, when my father busted in and said comb your nappy hair.  He gives me five bucks for a haircut and says take a walk.  I know he will be buggin' when he sees my mohawk!"  They all have the exact same shouty delivery and everything.  "Kiss My Butt" ends with them doing an Eddie Murphy impression that at least sets it apart from its predecessors.
Unsurprisingly, when you look it up in the credits, this is not a song contributed by a credible, existing rap group.  This isn't like when they got The LA Posse to do the Waxwork 2 "Lost In Time" rap (although it might deserve an honorable mention on that Top 13 list).  As you can see, the three writer/ performers, Kent Richards a.k.a. Kent Ormiston, Tymm Rocco and Bobby Gabriele are the guys who did nearly all the songs for the movie, and the rest aren't Hip-Hop at all.  They were part of an outfit called LA Musicworks, where studio musicians provide songs and soundtracks for movies and TV shows, so it's not surprising that they would be attracted to the most popular, rock-leaning sort of rap they possibly could've.

But what is surprising, and what's lead me to make this post, is that it turns out they shot an independent music video for this song!  And yes, I found it on Youtube.  It was clearly shot on consumer level video cameras, and is padded with film clips from Zombie High.  But between that, we see the guys in wigs carrying their guitars through the streets of LA and doing motorcycle stunts.  There's also celebrity cameos by people like Leif Garrett and Justine Bateman who, no, were not in the movie.  These guys just had the Hollywood connections, I guess.

Anyway, you guys are gonna tell me this is a stupid song to cover, and I know.  I'm not trying to sell you on it as anything more than that.  Not every post has to be about that, does it?  But it does make me wish that they'd pressed the Zombie High OST on wax, just as a silly collector's item.  Plus, depending how things go in 2020, we might just need this song again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Great Hip Hop Hoax?

Boy, it's been ages since I've done a Hip-Hop movie review, huh?  I miss 'em, and I recently stumbled on one that riled up my interest: a 2013 documentary called The Great Hip Hop Hoax.  Right off the bat, I think your first question is, what would constitute the great Hip-Hop hoax?  Eric B taking credit for Large Professor productions?  MF Doom sending out imposters to perform his shows in the mask?  The Made Men's Source coverage?  Joaquin Phoenix again The Top Shelf 88 albumToo $hort's 1996 retirement?  Iggy Azalea's accent?  Willie D's iphones?  Tim Dog's boxed set?  All these seem too small-time to constitute the great Hip-Hip hoax.  So, what could it possibly be?

Well, the disappointing aspect is that it's actually smaller time than any of those.  It's about how rap duo Silibil N' Brains lied their way into becoming a major success story.  But I've certainly never heard of these dudes, and I think any of you visiting my blog would at least attest that I tend to know of even many of the more obscure groups, right?  It can't be too impressive of an industry success story if you the documentary has to tell you how huge they supposedly were.

That said, this film isn't entirely pulling its premise out of its ass.  Apparently these cheap Eminem knock-offs did lie their way into a record contract with Sony Music, wasting a lot of money before their album was scrapped (hence their obscurity).  This feels a lot like Hot Karl's Interscope story (and musically, they sound a lot like Hot Karl, too), but with an extra twist. The gist is that these are two young rappers from Scotland, and after flopping an audition for Warner Bros, they went to London and claimed to be from California.  And once people believed they were American rappers, everybody gave them a break they couldn't get as Scots.

It's kind of interesting.  The filmmaker gets substantial interviews with the two guys, their girlfriends, and even the executives who signed them.  Hot Karl's signing wasn't based on a lie he had to keep up at all times, so that definitely gives these guys' story a more novel twist.  They always spoke in fake accents.  At one point they claimed to be friends with D12 (why they didn't pick a California-based group is beyond me), so their label had them open for them when they came to the UK.  And they had to keep making excuses to stay in England because Sony wanted to bring them "back" to the US to record their album, but they couldn't reveal that they didn't have America passports.  So it's kinda fun.

But it's ultimately spread a little thin.  The biggest thing these guys seemed to do was a single interview on MTV's Euro channel.  If these guys had hit records out and fooled millions and billions of adoring fans for years, this would be a great hoax.  As it is, it feels like a 30-40 minute story stretched out to a feature film-length running time.  And it doesn't help that this film seems hellbent on positing that these guys were talented enough to be huge stars, but bias against Scottish rap was holding them back.  So, by pretending to be American, they were exposing the industry in a big way.  But we hear their music throughout the doc and they suck.  Their flows and production are passable, in a shameless knock-off kind of way, but their constant punchlines are painfully contrived and lame:

"If she didn't drop to her knees, your mom would have a huge bust.  And when she wears a yellow coat, kids think she's a school bus.  She ain't fat, though, she's just humongous boned.  From space she looks like a country on her own." 

Eminem would never write that, and he should be insulted by the comparison.  And that quote is one of the ones this film highlights to show just how talented and clever they were.  "Rappers having no fun are no one; they're probably coming out more overdone than Posh Spice and David Beckham's son."  Somebody shoot me.

This film also struggles because it was made long after the pair's story had ended.  So they weren't able to film any of the events as they happened, instead relying on lots of cheap Flash animation to tell large portions of the story.  And this doc doesn't exactly dig deep.  Like, if they want to show that the music industry is prejudiced against Scottish musicians, they could've talked to other acts from Scotland who could've talked about the struggle to break out of the local scene, or how they even wish they could've faked being American to gain access, too.  Or interviewed the D12 guys and asked if they remembered their meeting with Silibil N' Brains.  Or just... anything.  It feels like the whole doc is centered around two guys at a bar telling us what a big deal they were and we have to take their word for it all.  Worth a quick watch, I suppose, but surely we have greater hoaxes than these two.

Monday, September 9, 2019

DJ Premier's Mystery Medley

You guys can thank Will for this post.  😎  The answer to his question is: not quite.  But I do have the M.O.P. "World Famous" cassingle, which has the exact same track-listing, including the mystery song in question.  I totally didn't remember this, so I was excited to run and check if it was on my tape.  It's interesting; this came out in 1997 and is kind of the last major single of their second album, Firing Squad, but it feels a lot like a lead single. 

Here's where I am with M.O.P.  They're great, but once you have one or two records, you kind of have them all.  Like, they don't have a great range, and they put together some nice bars (that sometimes go under-appreciated by audiences who just get into their hooks and shouting), but it sort of feels like they're either remaking the same song with slight variances, or they're experimenting in a bad way... remember when they were going to front a rock band in the early 2000s?  But, that basically means, you don't need to keep adding new M.O.P. records into your collection, unless they happen to have a really great beat.  And "World Famous" has got it.

It's produced by Jaz (yes, the "Hawaiian Sophie" guy), and it's just a really great loop.  It's surprisingly kind of mellow for the Mash Out Posse.  I mean, yeah the drums snap kinda hard, but it feels like an old 70s soulful track.  But thankfully, the guys play against that and come really high energy and hard, which works perfectly.  Lyrically, it's pretty much just them selling themselves to us ("Hardcore was raw but we got more to hurt 'em. Firing Squad all up in your district.  Last album was phat, but yet some missed it.  But they gone get with this shit.  Who's in the house?  It's the last generation, real ill niggas from the 'ville you be facin'.  '96 flava for your neighbor; how ya like us now?"), which is one part of what makes this feel like a lead single.  It feels very "wait'll you hear our upcoming album," though it had already come out in '96.

Anyway, that's on here as the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella... and something unique called "World Famous/Downtown Swinga" (Video Version)."  That's because they did one of those music videos for two tracks at once, where they play half of each song to get both out there for the cost of one.  Plus, DJ Premier produced "Downtown Swinga," so even though "World Famous" had the more addictive beat, I think they wanted Premier's name, because he was really becoming recognized as a selling point in the mid 90s.  But listening to halves of a song is nowhere near as satisfying as listening to whole ones, so I can't say this is too exciting.  In fact, I don't care for that whole practice at all.  Let's move on.

Because we're here for the fifth and final track on this single, anyway: "DJ Premier Medley," which is not on the album or anywhere else.  It's nothing super essential, so don't get too excited, but it's interesting.  It's a mix by DJ Uneek of Crooklyn's Finest (not that Uneek), and like Will guessed, it is a medley of Premier MOP songs, but far from all of them, or even a greatest hits.  Only tracks from Firing Squad, so in a way, it plays like "snippets," which is another reason why this all feels like a lead single.  But it's better than snippets, it's a genuine mix and Uneek really does something on the turntables, including lots of cuts and some juggling.  It's more than just radio blends.  It starts out with "Brownsville," then you get a little of the "Stick To Ya Gunz" instrumental before diving into "New Jack City."  It's definitely not a reason to run out and track down the 12" like some lost Premier gem; I can see why I forgot all about it.  By the time the single came out, I already had the album with those songs, so the value was mostly just in Uneek's cuts.  But it's kinda neat, and at least makes the single a little more interesting.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Two Essential King Sun B-Sides

In King Sun's catalog, there are two essential B-sides.  To be clear, that means the song in question must be exclusive to a single off one of his five albums to qualify.  "Universal Flag" is a dope song on the B-side to "Be Black," but it's also on the Righteous But Ruthless album.  And "In Pursuit Uptown" is a dope song on the B-side to "Sippin' Brandy," but that's not connected to an album, so the whole 12" is already essential in its own right.  I'm talking about the 12"s you still need to get, even if you've already got the album, because of these hot B-sides.

Up first is 1987's "Mythological Rapper."  This is on Zakia Records, and in fact is his very first single.  The A-side with D-Moet, "Hey Love," eventually found its way onto his debut LP on Profile, XL, but for whatever reason, they left this one off.  Based on its title, you might expect something like Kool Moe Dee's verse Olympian from "Get the Picture:" "Aphrodite would freak as her knees get weak, and Venus would peak off every word I speak. And Zeus would get loose, fully induced, and I'd make Apollo's rhymes sound like Mother Goose. And by night's end, Mercury is so hyped he'd spread the word that there's a god on the mic."  But nah, it's just King Sun going hard over a tough beat by D-Moet and Cut Master DC.  The premise is just that fake MCs, or mythological rappers, need to suffer the brunt of his battle raps.

I've heard speculation over the years about who he's dissing on this record, but I'm convinced this is just general "sucker MC"-type targeting.  Lines like, "see, I'm waitin' for one of you to slip up and make a mistake; just to mention my name, that is all it would take," suggest these shots are open to anyone who dares step in front of them.  And who he's talking over the course of his many bars (this is a seven minute song with six or seven verses) keeps changing.  At one point the "you" is a woman he's talking sex smack to: "I get the booty hole warm like the quiet storm; I go to work and go berserk and work you out your skirt.  You really dig me 'cause I'm thick, but then you think it would hurt.  But see, you told me you're a woman, I guess you can hang; don't blame it on me if I hurt your thang."  I mean, I could be wrong, but I hope that's not directed at Big Daddy Kane or Rakim!

Admittedly, that brief diversion is more the exception than the rule.  It is mostly battle rhymes.  But again, things he says keep suggesting he could be talking about anyone who crosses him: "rappers are cryin', cussin' and swearin', calling me names, but I can't hear 'em.  They always get nervous every time I go near 'em.  Soft like tissue, fear is the issue.  Just when you least expect that I'll diss you, I'll take away your title, I'll make you bow.  I'm the King and I have spoken, and I mean now; so drop to your knees and lower your head; don't think about repellin' one word I've said!"  Of course I'm familiar with subliminal disses, but I think sometimes we just want the drama too much and force ourselves to find it.  But don't let your blood lust for a good diss record cause you to miss this strong little record.  The beat's pretty raw, with smacking drums and bells, with a simple, stuttering "mythological, mytholog-mytho-myth-mythological" vocal sample for a hook.  But they don't really cut it up 'till the end of the song.  All in all, it's better than a lot of the stuff that made it onto XL; I'm surprised they left it off.

Then there's no other B-sides to worry about until Sun's second album.  Now, this one's interesting.  "Be Black" was the big, lead single off Righteous But Ruthless, but "Big Shots" was his less acknowledged second one.  "Undercover Lover" is actually the B-side on this record, which is far more well known.  That's actually the song they made the video for, and yes, it's on the album, too.  The B-side I'm singling out here is actually a 12" exclusive remix of "Big Shots," and you'll never guess who it's by.  Funkmaster Flex!

The original "Big Shots" is a really tight narrative crime rap, that's equal parts "Road To the Riches," "A Children's Story" and the final verse of "The Message."  Right from the jump, "Once upon a time there was a big diesel kid who just got sprung from a ten-year bid.  Ten years is a long time; he left as a pup, but came out as an adult, about to act up."  There's just some great writing in here like, "you dissed him and you just got smoked, then he'd take your spot and leave your family broke.  Even 5-O was petro and wouldn't even act up; to give him a ticket, they'd have to call in for back-up."  And it's the details that really put it over similar crime stories: "never again would homeboy go thirsty 'cause he bought a mansion in Paterson, New Jersey: the house that was owned by Lou Costello.  At the age of 25, life was so mellow; a father of four, each had different mothers.  That's to my knowledge, might've had others."  It's a predictable but effective rise and fall tale all set to a classically atmospheric "Nautilus" loop produced by King Shameek, who cuts up a tried and true "Gangster Boogie" vocal sample for the understated hook.

Yeah, the one weak spot of the song is that, lyrically and sample-wise, we've heard it all many times before.  It's so pure, though, you wouldn't want to replace it with a remix.  But revitalize it with a whole new energy that turns it into a hyper companion piece?  Yeah, that could work, and a pre-Hot 97 Funkmaster Flex did just that.  I can't even pull out all the samples that're thrown into this pot (though I do recognize a little Trouble Man).  King Sun adds some new adlibs ("yo Flex, we're livin' extra large"), but the story's all the same.  However, this is a much higher energy and denser track, and of course Flex is cutting up on the hook; it feels like an entirely different story.  If you want the best telling of these lyrics, the original version does still suit it better.  But this mix is hot enough that you'll need it in your crates, too.

And other than that, the albums and the two isolated 12"s ("Sippin' Brandy" and "New York Love") are all you need.  There is some later-era 12" with exclusive remixes of his "Pimp" song with Ice-T, but I definitely wouldn't file that under "essential."  Of course, you still might want his other 12"s for their instrumentals or just as collector's items for hot songs.  But these are the two, and surprisingly, they don't seem to get much shine.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

You're the Journal, He's the Journalist

(I’ve had a new record sitting here for a month, unplayed, because if I wound up not liking it, it was gonna really bum me out. I finally broke it open. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Box Cutter Buzzz Is Back

In 2017, I wrote a post about The Box Cutter Brothers making the move to release their latest (at the time; I think they've since done a vol. 5) album on vinyl.  Well this summer, one half of the Cutter duo, Drasar Monumental, is back with his solo debut; and I'm happy to report it's also on vinyl.  And this one's interesting, because Ayatollah is certainly the better known of the pair, with an unquestionable track record, having spent decades producing hot tracks for artists like Bee Why, Screwball, Inspectah Deck, Cormega, Tragedy, The Dwellas, Mos Def, Master Ace and the list goes on and on forever.  So it was a pretty safe bet the Box Cutter albums would be at least fairly solid.  But Drasar doesn't share much of that history; and outside of the Brothers' collaborative albums, he's really only done those (admittedly pretty sick) MF Grimm records before.  I mean, even I could make a good record with that man as a partner (the secret? Delegate, delegate, delegate).  So the big question is, without Ayatollah, how's Drasar going to stand on his own?

I won't keep you in suspense - I was really impressed.  Production-wise, he opens with his most impressive cut, "Bells."  At this stage, the label "90s throwback" may be as much of a repellent ward as it ever was an alluring siren's call - I love me some old school Hip-Hop, but I don't want the genre stuck in the past.  However, when something sounds this good, labels like that don't even matter.  This song obviously brings Lord Finesse to mind, as it uses a substantial, two-line vocal sample from his "You Know What I'm About" for the hook.  But it would bring Finesse to mind anyway, because this fits in perfectly with his early 90's production aesthetic; the track, which literally loops up some smooth bells, could easily have been the B-side to "Hip 2 da Game," if Finesse hadn't opted to go the hardcore posse cut route.  But then this song kind of winds up going that route, too, as two-thirds through the instrumental entirely flips and becomes a rough sonic attack with aggressive battle raps. And while I'd say Drasar's strongest suit is his production rather than his MCing, he's still capable on the mic.  You know, think of rapper producers like Diamond D, Showbiz, and Extra P.

But once that opening track switches from smooth to gritty, it pretty much stays in that lane... which I suppose is more in line with what you'd expect to hear looking at the album cover.  But the lyrics start to get more interesting on these harder core tracks, anyway.  "Fine Art of Survival Part 2" (the first part was an entirely instrumental song on Box Cutter Brothers III) gets into some serious sociopolitical subject matter that adds some welcome weight to the project:

"No bank deposits.  Now my girl's actin' awkward,
'Cause with no money in America, they treat you like you're damn near retarded;
So I went to college, with no money.
I was hungry; became difficult for me to study.

Now the situation's lookin' ugly; my own family don't fuck wit me."

The content resonates perfectly with the beat.  Again, sometimes his lyric writing can be a little awkward - he opens the above verse with the old line, "I was so poor I couldn't afford to pay attention."  But the fact that his bars aren't super polished actually in a way works in his favor.  Like this is just real talk from a regular man, not some clever rhyming jester who's packed every line with three bits of wordplay and a pop culture punchline.  "The Murder Game" is a rather cutting take down of your small time neighborhood criminal, a theme he follows up on and broadens out for "Snake Mode," which makes clever use of a Whodini vocal sample.  Then "Perpetrator Overkill" and "Unpredictable" kick us into pure battle rhyme territory, with two killer beats reminiscent of those classic early Rebel Alliance records, right down to the scratch hook (which Drasar also does himself).

Yeah, it's just those six tracks.  Hardcore Overdose Sessions is basically an EP with no absolutely no filler, but then all the instrumentals are included on the flip filling it up to a full LP length.  As you can see, it comes in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-themed picture cover, pressed on burgundy wax.  There's also a CD version with the exact same track-listing, including the instrumentals.  The label is pretty cool, making the CD look like a 45, with little three-dimensional ridges so you can feel the grooves.  You can cop both from

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Doin' It Well

It's been seven or eight months since we've heard from Whirlwind D, but he's back in 2019 with a new record, and like he tells us in his very first line, he's "still doin' it."  This is a single, released on 7" by his regular label, B-Line Recordings, and I think you could say it's a bit of a personal anthem.  The title is "Doin' It," but "Still Doin' It" might've been more fitting since it seems to specifically be about keeping thee enthusiasm and passion for the music over the years and challenges, "my knees getting battered, hairs out my nose and my hearing's all shattered, six pack's gone and complexion's all tattered, but the funk's still fresh and you have to admit Specifik, Djar One and D, we're still doin' it!"

If you're at all familiar with D, or my coverage of him, Specifik should be a very familiar name to you by now.  He's been a regular producer and DJ on D's projects who consistently does good work.  In fact, he runs B-Line Recordings.  But on this track, he's just doing the (essential) cuts.  The producer is that other guy, Djar One.  But you should recognize him, too.  He produced the lead track off of D's last EP, "Labels" (which Specifik also did the cuts on).   This is a much higher energy, hyper track, but it's just as much of a killer beat, and the cuts are a big part of its drive.  It's also got a sweet little breakdown; the perfect kind of instrumental for an anthem; you can definitely see why this song was picked to be a single.  Though you can see from just the few lyrics I cited, it runs a little deeper and more personal than just your average "I love Hip-Hop" theme.

And of course there's a B-side.  This one's also by Djar One and Specifik, but this time they switch roles, so Specifik's the producer and Djar One does the cuts.  And as you'd probably guess, this one's a bit slower.  It's called "Sometimes" and tackles online issues.  Now I have to say, usually I'm fairly put off by internet-themed rap songs, because it typically feels like a cheap novelty.  Like "hey, I made the first song about reddit!  The rhymes you wrote get a downvote while your mama gives me Karma."  Or worse, it'll be some kind of corny nerdcore flow over a Halo sample.  But this is a serious discussion:

"Centralized views peddlin' fake news
Shuttin' down all arguments by shoutin' abuse.
Confused by the profuse researchers who reduce
the internet searches to hunches and views.

The age of information, later greater integration,
Proliferation nation right back to segregation.
When will it stop?  When will we see the truth?
Am I just as bad, falling victim to abuse?

So what's the conclusion in all this confusion?
Intrusion of illusion leaves seclusion and delusion.
Excusin' the fact that I'm hit with so many views,
Where should I go for my daily fix of news?
I just want the truth, a healthy dose of debate.

Analysis paralysis some people who equate;
Freedom is a right to speak when not bullied.
Acceptin' the fact that I might never not fully
Understand other thoughts, whether bought or sold,

Despite middle-aged a fixed mindset folds.
Scold myself hard for not reading all the cards
As they fall to the table leaving other suits barred."

I like the way he eases in and out of dense, almost "New Rap Language" wordplay and more earnest, direct communication with the listener.  It syncs up perfectly with the funkier, but still rather bouncy track.  It's serious subject matter, but lightened up by the hook, which is an ever-changing collection of rubbed in vocal samples of classic rap lines containing the word "sometimes."  You could just as easily ignore the message and just play the game of trying to pick them all out.  Depending on your mood, you can engage with the song in completely different ways.

Anyway, as you can see above, this comes in a full color picture (and sticker) cover.  Again it's a 7".  I'm not sure if this single is leading up to another album per se (nothing's written on the back cover like "from the forthcoming..."), but knowing Whirlwind D, even if it is, at least one of the tracks here will remain an exclusive to this particular record.  So don't let this one pass you by.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ladies HaveAComplicatedRelationshipWith Cool James

(Six female MCs issued four answer records to LL Cool J in 1987, and they each had a distinct point to make.  Youtube version is here.)