Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Little Bit Frustrating, A Little Bit Awesome

Here's a dope record you've probably never heard of!  Ironclad's Ghetto Life, The Album from 2001.  Except, it's not really the album like it says right there on the cover.  But that's just a taste of the slightly confusing and frustrating aspects of this mysterious little EP.  What's more frustrating about it than the misinformation on the front cover?  How about the misinformation on the back cover, which lists all the guest artists appearing on this project, including Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Akinyele, Mark the 45 King, Shaqueen, Triple Seis, Davy DMX, DR Period, Kangol of UTFO, Clark Kent, BGF (who I'm guessing = G Rap's Black Guerilla Fam), Clark Kent and a bunch of artists I've never heard of.  Well, out of those, guess who's on this record?  Yeah, pretty much just the artists you've never heard of.  Except Big Daddy Kane, he's actually on here.  And to be fair, since the labels don't include production credits, I'm not sure about the producers.  Maybe one or two of them really did make a track on this.  But yeah, you see this record at the store (or online) and see all the artists promised, then take it home, put it on the turntable, and find out it's all lies.  What's up with that?

Well, to start with, Ironclad aren't exactly the artist on this record, though they sort of are.  It looks that way, certainly, from the cover, with "IRONCLAD" in all caps on the front and back cover.  And I'm clearly not the only dude who got that impression, since it's listed that way on discogs and by most sellers on EBay, etc.  But Ironclad, besides being the label, Ironclad Entertainment, is more of the extended posse.  You know how Killarmy is part of the extended Wu Fam, but a Killarmy album isn't really a Wu-Tang Clan album?  Ironclad, which is a bunch of young MCs who know, you're not supposed to have heard of, are all over this record, but they're more like the Killarmy to the main stars, Boriquaz 4 Life.  See that circular logo on the top left?  You're supposed to notice that more than the giant "IRONCLAD," I guess.  And I know, you haven't heard of Boriquaz 4 Life either.  There's a lot to unpack here, but I promise it will be worth it.

So, why do I say this isn't Ghetto Life, The Album, even though it quite clearly says it is?  Because I've heard a good chunk of the album, including the song with Kool G Rap, which is dope and remains unreleased!  Like the title says, both frustrating and awesome.  So the album was recorded, but only some tracks have made it online.  So Ghetto Life, The Album is an actual (if shelved) full length album; and what we have here is the only thing that was actually released, a 6-song sampler EP.  But this sampler is the only way to even get six of those cuts, and there's some really great material on here, so it's definitely worth picking up, even though almost none of those awesome artists listed are on it.

Plus, you actually have heard of Boriquaz 4 Life!  Don't shake your head at me.  It's true, because Boriquaz 4 Life is made up of two previously established artists.  You know those Next Plateau 12"s by a guy named The Microphone Prince that're in every hip-hop bargain bin ever, but you check out because Marley Marl is credited on one?  Yeah, he's one of them.  And the other guy's an even bigger deal: The Devastating Tito from the original Fearless Four!  Yeah, I've been doing these posts lately about what Peso's been up to, but here's what Tito was doing in the 2000s.  And no offense to Peso, but Tito's comeback definitely wins.  It's actually really surprising how he's able to rock the mic here; he's killing it and not at all in an old school, throwback way.  In fact, I honestly didn't believe he was one of the cats rapping here until I did some research and confirmed it multiple times over.

Yeah, Tito and TMP are ill lyrically, and their Ironclad guys, who are basically all younger artists they were managing and raising up under their wing, are too.  I think they're making a concerted effort to channel Big Pun, and that's always a good thing.  Like some of the best, indie NY hardcore random rap from the 90s vinyl days.  I mean, one of the dudes whose flow was clearly heavily inspired by Mystikal named Blue I is a little corny; but overall this is an EP of mostly posse cuts where everybody kills it.  "We At War" features a non-stop line-up of who knows, but they all sound great.  "All out Warfare," "Flow 4 the Streets," and "We Ballin'" are all along the same lines except without quite so many MCs, and are all hot.  A couple moments of nice scratching, too.  "Floss Game" is the one with Big Daddy Kane, and he kicks a really slick, high speed verse.  That song's just him, Tito and TMP, plus some girl named Boo Styles on the hook.  Unfortunately, production-wise, it doesn't live up to the MCs or the previous songs.  It could really use a remix, but it's still good.

The other song on here is the title cut, "Ghetto Life," which is more of a serious "The Message"-style track.  Tito comes off particularly well, but the production is annoying with a driving xylophone loop and Lil Tito, Tito's eleven year-old son, singing a terrible hook.  A remix could really turn this one around, too.  But even as it is, the lyrics raise it to at least "good."  Nothing on here is wack; and most of it is surprisingly impressive.  Especially when you look at the corny photo montage cover and the generic names doing so much of the heavy lifting.  Oh, and besides the 6 songs, you also get radio edits of two of the tracks, "We Ballin" and "Flow 4 the Streets."
Check out these two promotional images I was able to scare up online for the lost full-length.  Yeah, more ugly graphics work, but they make it clearer that TMP and Tito are the primary artists.  Oh, and look at that: Cormega was apparently on it as well.  It's really a shame that it never came out, but don't sleep on the EP.  The Devastating Tito in 2001, who knew?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Salt N Pepa Got Dissed

(Here's a fun, lesser known diss record targeting Salt 'N Pepa. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Father MC's Been Watching Howie Tee's Girl

Not only am I not out of Father MC records to talk about, but I haven't even finished covering all the singles off his first and most famous album!  But that's about to change right now, as we look at the fourth and final Father's Day 12", "I've Been Watching You."  I'm actually kind of surprised this exists, actually, because most major labels weren't getting to four singles back in '91 when this came out, especially if you don't count promo and plain sleeve stuff.  But here's a big, glossy picture cover after Father had already racked up three hits.  And this one doesn't have the big, catchy feel of the other singles at all.  It's got a clunky, discordant piano loop instead of the smoothed out, new jack R&B music, and it's the only song off the album with another rapper on it, as opposed to a singer.  Well, actually, Lady Kazan was sometimes a singer; but she just raps here.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of this type of record, and it was one of my least favorite tracks on the album, so add that to my list of reasons I was surprised to see it come out as a single.  It's one of those battle of the sexes back-and-forth duets Positive K and MC Lyte used to make, or Young Zee and Rah Digga like to do with each other. The basic concept is fine, but the main reason I never get into them is because neither MC ever really gets to flow.  It's always just one or two lines, then pass the mic, then pass it back, each one finishing each other's rhymes and punchlines.  On paper it's neat, in practice neither of them rap long enough for you to get into it and it's more of an intellectual exercise/chore than a song to groove to.  You know, like spoken word.

If Uptown was determined to make a fourth single, why not the title cut.  I always liked that one a lot better, and since it's more hardcore and not R&Bish at all, it still showed off Father's versatility, if that's what they were after.  And no offense, but it's not like Kazan's name was a draw; she never had any records of her own out (although I would've copped 'em if she did!).  You know, if he'd done the same record with Pepa, you'd say okay, they're bringing in her fan following.  She was actually Howie Tee's wife, but all most audiences knew about Kazan was that Chubb Rock rapped " Lady Kazan, my home girl, peace!" on "Treat 'Em Right."

The concept of the sing is simple enough; it's just like those Positive K records he's copying.  Father hits on Kazan, and she shoots him down.  The title comes from the premise that he's been watching her at a bar or club for a while before coming over to talk to her.  But really, it feels like an opportunity to play R&B trivia, because they just keep making references to modern R&B singers to each other the whole time.

Father: "Even though you make me sweat, like Keith Sweat said, I won't gas your head."
Kazan: "Tryin' to get in these boots, but you gotta spread your wings and fly like Troop."
Father: "That girl's old news, and now like Tony Toni Tone she's giving me the blues."
Kazan: "Play like Soul 2 Soul and keep on moving."

So if you're in the mood for some light-hearted 90's nostalgia, this song has definitely got you.  My favorite line is one that could only have come from that decade, "I know you're single, so why you frontin' on the mingle?"

I guess the reason they chose to release this is because they actually came up with a nice remix, which is here on this 12".  In fact, there's a couple mixes.  Well, first of all, you've got the album version, which was produced by Fresh Gordon.  Then you've got two mixes, the Daddy Remix and the Redhead Kingpin Remix.  The first is so named because Puff Daddy's involved with the mixing, but actually both of those remixes were produced by Redhead Kingpin, and they're actually basically just minor variations, using the same instrumental.  But it's really good, and a little more in keeping with Father's previous singles, with a smoother piano sample laid over a cracking breakbeat.  It's a nice track, and I imagine more collectors would be interested in it if it wasn't stuck behind a flowless battle of the sexes rap.  This is the version they include the Instrumental of, so that's good.

The only other mix is the Fresh Gordon Remix, which is a different set of samples and a cool variation, but very much in keeping with the feel of the album version.  Again, this production would be better appreciated with a different vocal track, and it's cool to see how far Gordon had come from his old 80s sound.  And yeah, the difference between the two Redhead mixes are really minor.  The Daddy Remix is a censored radio version (though all there is to censor is Kazan saying "ass" once), and the Redhead Kingpin Mix trims some of the talking at the end, where Father talks to Fresh Gordon, telling him, "that girl's got it going on," and Gordon says, "yeah, but she doesn't have it going on with you; that's Howie's girl."  The Redhead version drops the "Howie's girl" part.  It's a little frustrating, because it means that there's no way to hear the song with that (the best) instrumental without it being slightly edited.  The other two versions are unedited; but these two are tinkered with in a slightly annoying way.

So, at the end of the day, it's a good single with some cool, exclusive remixes.  But for Father MC fans only.  Nobody else is going to have time for this corny duet rap stuff; at least not while there's so many thousands upon thousands of better 12"s out there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MF Grimm's Vietnam Trilogy

(I don't know if you guys lost track of MF Grimm over the years like I have, but I've just caught up, and his new records may be his best yet. Correction: My bad! The first CD, Butter Soul, was actually produced by Architect of The Homeless Derelixx.  Though the second one's still by Drasar (with Ayatollah).  Youtube version is here.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Grand Killas From the Bay

(The march of new music continues on with a couple new releases by some of of the Bay Area's illest.  Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Have You Heard the Bankai Fam?

(In my continuing efforts to inject some new music to Werner's this Fall, I take a look at one of the most impressive new groups to hit the scene in a long time. Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Tilt! The Return of One of My All-Time Favorite Producers!

This is definitely one of the few albums I'm really excited about in 2016, and I didn't even see it coming!  You know, how you'll be waiting two to three years for your favorite guy to release that LP he announced, and you're constantly re-checking the calendar for that release date?  Will, this is the opposite of that, because I had no idea this was a thing until it became available to order.  On Tilt is the latest project from Luke Sick, the man who has a new group every month.  He's always great, so I'm already on board.  But what makes this one so much more special, is that it's a reunion with his original Sacred Hoop partner Vrse Murphy!  Yeah, every track is produced by Vrse, who's one of my all time favorite producers.  He's back, baby!

So, why is this an On Tilt album rather than an official Sacred Hoop album?  Well, look at the two dudes drawn on the cover.  That's not Luke and Vrse, that's Luke and a guy named QM, who's another Bay Area rapper, and this is just as much his album as the other guys'.  I'm not too familiar with his past work, but he's blipped on my radar for having a couple online songs with Luke and co., and he was one of the guys on the Mutual Daps album.  But he's actually got a deep history, as part of the Rec League family, then known as Cumulus, and his history of making records actually goes back like 15-20 years.  So we're not talking about some new kid getting carried on anybody's shoulders.

And the other reason this isn't quite a Sacred Hoop track is I suspect the deal here is that Luke & QM are rhyming over lost, unused Vrse beats from past years or something.  I say that for two reasons.  One, because while the liner notes do credit all production to Vrse, they credit "post production" to Richie Cunning (also of Rec League) and QM.  So that would make sense, right?  Vrse produced the tracks, then vaulted them, then QM & Richie produced the new recordings with Luke and QM rapping over them?  That's my guess, anyway.

And I also think that may be the case because I recognize one of these beats from seventeen years ago.  One of the first songs on this album, "Detox With More Liquor," features the same instrumental as one of my favorite Sacred Hoop songs (although admittedly, I have many favorite Sacred Hoop songs), "N.O.H."  That stands for "Not Our House," and it's about getting raucous at a house party with reckless regard because it's not your place.  It's one of their early collaborations with Z-Man, and it was on their cassette-only release Last Days Of the Hump Hut from 1999.  Almost every song on that tape wound up being included on the more widely released album Sleepover in 2001, but not "N.O.H.," because that wound up going to a compilation called Cue's Hip-Hop Shop instead.  So now it's kind of a rare Sacred Hoop song that's not on any of their albums.

And it still is.  Because "Detox With More Liquor" is using the same track, but it's an all-new song with all new lyrics and entertaining vocal samples for a hook.  And QM kicks fun, nihilistic freestyle rhymes like you can always expect from the Gurp City crew, but with a bit of a throwback 90s feel, "I'm unforgettable like scarin' a nun by airin' a gun.  Cum, I get busy like I got errands to run.  Vrse craft the beat like Dirk Dastardly; the flow make 'em say 'uhh, I'm Master P.  Um, actually, you must be fast asleep.  Ya feeling down, then load every last track from me.  Ya see Vrse he pleads the fifth and speaks with the beats, while me and Luke drops the speech that they loop to the beats.  That's word to me, Chuck and the Trav, gettin' drunk in the Aves like a couple of savs.  I don't fuck with the tabs, so that's more for you.  I detox with malt liquor, hit the store for brew."  I think I still prefer "N.O.H.," because you can't really top Z's energy on that song.  But two songs over a killer beat?  Yeah, I'll take that.

And to be clear, that's the only beat I recognize.  If anything else has been recycled, I think it's all unreleased material, so it's all brand new to my ears, which is just as good.  And it sounds great.  "Dank and Drank" has that classic Hoop feel, but really all the production is killer.  Some is dark and ominous, some is hard, and some is playful.  "Can't Go Home" has a sick human beatbox loop, and "Quest On Tilt" is a classic DJ cut, with DJ Quest cutting up over a chunky piano sample.  The whole thing ends with a tough posse cut featuring all the regulars: Lightbulb, Z-Man, Eddie K, Brandon B and TOPR.  It's a little album.  It's thirteen songs, but several of those are instrumental skits, and even some of the proper songs still clock in at just around two minutes.  So it's a breezy listen you're gonna want to repeat as soon as you hit the end.

As you can see in the pic above, this is an orange cassette release, limited to 200 copies, with full color artwork.  You can cop it cheap direct from the label, Megakut Records here.  And, of course, it's also available online via their bandcamp.  But obviously the tape's, like, a thousand times cooler.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Wlid Retirement Album of Trenton's Shawn Lov

So, I'm trying to add a little more new music coverage to this blog.  You know, no plans to forgo all the stuff I usually cover or big sweeping changes, but this has always been about hip-hop of all eras, every decade, and over time I think the feel of it's veered off a little into being a strictly old school blog. There's always going to be non-stop old school and history here, but not at the total expense of what's going on now. Admittedly, Hip-Hop may not be in the best place right now, but if you're willing to dig, there's still good music to be found.  So, you know, last post we looked at the return of The Fearless Four's Peso, and the next couple will be new music, too.  So that's just a little heads up for what you can expect around here in the coming days.  And for right now, we have the latest and apparently final album by Shawn Lov, his 2016 retirement album, Escape From Never Never Land.

Now it's hard not to be a little skeptical about any rapper's announced retirement.  I'm sure we all remember when Too $hort made a huge deal about retiring and his Gettin' It being his final album, before going on to release about 13 more albums to date.  And Master P retired somewhere between albums #6 and 7, Mase retired then came back, and 50 Cent said he would retire if Kanye outsold him, but then Kanye did and he didn't.  And didn't Jay-Z retire at some point in the 2000s?  You know, we live in a world where Friday the 13th 4 is The Final Friday, and the most recent entry was part 10... not even counting the reboot.  But of course rappers do genuinely get out of the game (I think I'm just about ready to give up on Big Lady K's sophmore effort), and I don't see any particular reason to disbelieve Shawn.  He's left New Jersey now and has his own, non-music-related business.  I'm just saying, if you're a fan, there's always reason to hope.  Like, if they make a second Shady Corps album, I don't see Shawn telling those guys to fuck off, you know?

But certainly for now, if not forever, this is the Shawn Lov's last album, and he's definitely decided to go out big.  This album is packed with 25 songs, and yeah, one or two are on the short side, and one's more of a skit than a proper song ("1986," which is a recording of him rapping as a kid), but this is still a seriously dense collection of material.  And since these are essentially his last words, he's clearly determined to get everything there is left off of his chest.  So there's a lot of raw emotion on display, including bitterness and frustration to a degree I'm not sure I've heard another rapper lay out so bare, at least on a personal level.  Yeah, you'll hear it from artists like Dead Prez talking about socio-economic conditions and all, but not on such a bare exploration of his own ego, delving into his rap career and why he never blew up, etc.  He's not shy about suggesting that he resents not being where Eminem is now, for example.  It's almost like this album wasn't made for the public to hear... and maybe it wasn't. 

I mean, it's not 100% all about him as a rapper.  There's a posse cut and a couple other tracks that seem to primarily be just about flexing skills, plus a song for his daughter at the end.  There's variety here, and tons of the punchlines and wordplay he's known for.  But I'm just letting you know, you're going to have to be able to work up at least a little genuine interest in the life and times of Shawn Lov as a person to really get into this album.  Like a lot of artists might be writing about themselves emotionally, singing something along the lines of, "I loved my darling, though she didn't love me back."  But the message is universal, and the listener can relate in the sense that, hey, I also fell for someone who didn't feel the same way once.  I also left my heart in San Francisco or like the cars, the cars that go boom.  But in this case, it's very specifically about Shawn.  His first verse on his first song starts out with, "y'all love my joints 'Disco Queen' and 'Love Doctor." Them shits' before two thou; fuck'm I supposed to do now?"  There probably aren't a lot of people in the audience who also wrote songs called "Disco Queen" and "Love Doctor" in the 90s who this would apply to.  And plenty of other rappers have done the career overview thing in the past... like LL Cool J's "Funkadelic Relic" or K-Solo's "Can't Hold It Back."  But this is a like whole album.

That's not really a criticism, though.  I mean it'll probably turn some people off, but fortunately Shawn's an interesting character, so it's easy to get curious about his story: "I was rhymin' and stealin' in '99 when I was as skinny as Ally McBeal and since then I've only come close to capturin' how I was feelin' when I was out for the deal and my chance to shine was actually real."  Does it get self important, you ask?  It sure does: "I have to remind myself I'm fuckin' with children, and I've been draggin' bricks through the desert for so damn long I that forgot what I'm buildin'" (and by the way, all these quotes so far have still been from the first song... and remember, there's 25 of them!).  But that's actually part of what makes it so interesting; he's putting out there what anybody else would filter - what he's probably even been filtering all these years before he decided this was the end.  And it's not like he's been shy about saying what's on his mind on previous albums, but there are moments that feel like telling off your boss on the day you quit your job: "you might imagine why I want you out of my face; like I can't even tell you what a pork chop tastes like, so I don't give a shit what direction you pray towards.  I make knowledge born; you just stand up and say words; and I don't gotta listen."

To better understand where he's coming from with this album, it would probably help to know that Never Never Land is an mp3-only album.  And that's where the imagery of Peter Pan with a mic from this album cover comes from.  I think the general idea is that Never Never Land represents the Hip-Hop scene that doesn't want to grow up.  But it's probably worth at least going back to just the "Never Never Land" title track before digging into this album for a more complete picture.

If you've ever looked at his youtube channel, you've probably seen Shawn Lov's series on how to make beats with an SP-1200, so you can imagine how most if not all of these tracks were made, and they range from good to great.  Most of the tracks are credited to Raiden, with the slightly confusing liner notes putting it like this, "Beats by Raiden (Metal Gear Solid), produced by Raiden with Shawn Lov (Metal Gear Solid)."  I guess Raiden made the beats, but they worked together in recording and assembling the final versions of the songs?  A couple tracks are guest produced, too.  Shawn's new labelmate Melph produced one of the two big posse cuts, "Expect War" featuring Sol Zalez, Self and another labelmate named Psix.  It's got a nice groove, but overall I prefer the other posse cut, "Universal Rhyme Kickers," with The Cause, Kwytestorm, Raven, The Massive and Self again.  Speaking of Self, The Custodian of Records is the other guest producer, with three tracks on here.  In fact, one of his tracks, "Spirits of '93," is my favorite on the album.  Not many beats can make you bob your head and laugh at the same time.

There are a couple other guests on here, though across 25 songs, that still means it's mostly Shawn on his own for long stretches, which is appropriate for a retirement album.  A couple of these cats I've never even heard of: Aalon Boots, Fatboi Sharif, Knowledge, Zach Childs, Horizon... but everybody sounds good on here.  The biggest guest is Pace Won, who appears on two songs.  "Suicide" is okay, but he really steals the show on "#FOH," which might be one of his best verses since his classic Outsidaz days, but it's dead serious, not crazy battle lines.

Escape From Never Never Land is available on CD and not, I believe, digitally.  You have to cop it the old school way, which is definitely fitting for this album.  It's available direct from the label, Akkie Records, which I believe is situated in the Netherlands. This is a new label for Shawn, whose previous albums have all been on Nuffsaid Recordings; but of course it's also his final venture with them.  But I don't know, maybe if this sells well enough, they can convince him to come out of retirement.  I'm not fully convinced this man never wants to rap again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Albums By The Fearless Four's Peso

Yo folks, I've got a big update on my post from last summer about The Fearless Four's Great Peso.  Like, two new album's worth.  So yeah, so once again I was hooked up by Matt (cheers!); and you may remember that Peso had kind of quietly mounted an underground comeback in upstate New York under the initials TGP.  Well, now he's a little less under wraps, doing some shows in NY and Germany and he's got two new CDs (you might say mixtapes, but they're not mixed or blended at all; so they're pretty much full albums in my book) under the more recognizable name Peso 131. He's even got a full website now at peso131.com.

A lot of the pros and cons with the new CDs are the same as with the old ones.  It's really cool to hear Peso back on the mic, but the majority of the material are these kind of club songs I've never really been a fan of.  You know, air horns in the instrumental, titles like "She's a Hottie."  Maybe this is what's popping in his local scene, but personally I'd much rather hear some more traditional breakbeat and soul sample kinda stuff, or even something reminiscent of his really old school records.  But it is what it is, and there are still some cool moments are highlights.  Overall, I prefer This Is How I Roll, which is a little more hip-hop.  It's all original production by names I don't recognize, but who I assume are all part of his Plattsburgh Home Team crew, except the first track, "Still Peso," which us over the "Still D.R.E." instrumental.  That's definitely one of the best tracks, and remember that song I picked out from his crew's mixtape called "My Universe?"  Well, that's on here; and they've even made a video for it up on youtube now.

Then the next album, Fearless 4, I wasn't feeling as much overall.  But it does have the best song across both albums, a reunion of the group (the rest of the album, to be clear, is a Peso solo album) called "Club Slappa."  They all come off really nice on the mic, and while the instrumental starts out kinda generically club-ish like a lot of album; the beat changes up and they start mixing in beats like "Peter Piper," and then you're on board.  It's also got some live trumpet by DLB Jr., which might sound like a bad idea on paper, but actually kinda works.  If Peso reads this, more like this song, please!  Now, "Club Slappa" actually popped up online a couple years ago, and I believe a couple of these other songs may be older, too; which is probably why these albums are considered mixtapes.  But it's nice they've finally found a home.  There's not really a storefront or anything, but I'm pretty sure you can cop these CDs if you contact Peso through his site.

I also got to hear some other stuff from his Home Team gang (no, not that Home Team).  There's a Home Away From Home mixtape, which is actually a proper mix, full of solo songs and the big posse cut I wrote about last year's post.  It has two more Peso songs, but they're both on This Is How I Roll, so if you get that, you've already got 'em.  And they also sent me the solo debut of Phonix Orion, who had one of the best songs on the Summer Sampler from last year.  I wasn't too taken with his appearances on Home Away From Home, but hearing him on own project, I was definitely feeling him more.

It's a cassette EP called Cashmere Phoenix, and it's got more of a laid back, jazzy kind of vibe that's completely removed from Peso's stuff.  I suppose it's more in step with what contemporary hip-hop in general, which makes sense, but he's definitely taking chances with beats that blend into breathy choruses and stuff. Lyrically, I could've done without lines about "haters," etc - the worst influence of his generation. But production-wise especially, it's actually considerably more impressive than Peso's albums.  Although I don't think I'm suggesting they get Peso on this style of song necessarily.

But since "My Universe" is one of his best songs, and it's the one they've chosen to make the video for; I think Peso's already moving in the right direction.  So like last year, these CDs might be just for the serious fans and old school collectors who are excited to hear that Peso's back and what he's up to.  But pretty soon we might be looking at something I'd recommend for the more mainstream listener.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Omniscence's Elektra Emancipation From Dope Folks

So, previously we've looked at the restoration of Omniscence's unreleased Elektra album, his rare earlier material, and his new comeback stuff. But there's one more period left to explore, which we finally get to hear, thanks again to Dope Folks Records. The EP has the exceptionally self-explanatory title: Elektra Emancipation: No A&R and No R&B Niggas In the Studio. This is material recorded from 1996-1998, after his stint with Elektra Records, and was back on his own, recording independent music without label influence. But thankfully, he kept working with The Bizzie Boyz' DJ Fanatic, who produced every song here. It's crazy this was never released at the time; these songs on 12" would've sold like hotcakes on Sandbox and HipHopSite back then.

Omni hasn't greatly changed from his Raw Factor time, but these tracks do have more of a hardcore edge. Part of that's probably due to aforementioned lack of mainstream R&B cats. There are no sung hooks or anything here, just nice scratch choruses. But part of the edge is coming from Omni, too. I mean, he's not back on his "When I Make Parole" steez here - he's still kicking punchline filled freestyle rhymes - but he just sounds a little rougher and maybe even angry at times.  I like it.

This is another six song EP, plus an instrumental Intro by Fanatic. The only guest on here is KT on "We Could Get Used To This," and he actually sounds pretty great on here. Like, he might actually be outshining Om on his own record. They both come off, though, and it's got one the catchiest beats I've heard in a long time with a looped vocal sample. That and "Total Domination," where he just sounds great ripping it over a dark and ominous beat are the stand-out cuts, but everything here is solid. There's a track called "Glamorous Life," surprisingly doesn't sound like Shiela E or Cool C's "Glamourous Life"s, but it still bumps.

This isn't a brand new release; it actually came out in 2015.  But luckily it's still available, because I just copped it earlier this month along with that crazy, must-have Mykill Miers record. As per usual, this was limited to 300 copies, 50 of which were on orange wax, and the rest are standard black. No Omni fan will be disappointed. I hope Dope Folks isn't slowing down anytime soon, because I'm always excited to see what they're going to come up with next.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

West Coast Rap's Mysterious Dynasty

In 1992, Rhino Records released a pretty sweet series of compilation albums called West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty.  This was in an age when compilation albums were big, because suburban kids who missed out on all the rare 12"s could get whole bunches of them on single tapes or CDs.  But unfortunately, almost all of the old school rap comps featured the same handful of songs: "Rapper's Delight," "The Message," "White Lines," "The Breaks"... Sure, these are great classic songs that belong in any serious Hip-Hop head's collection, but how many times could they keep selling us just the same few songs released over and over again? And they usually weren't even the full-length versions, but short radio edits.  But by focusing on west coast history, and just some more obscure stuff in general, these albums were full of great, and still historically important songs that most of us didn't already have.  I mean, okay, some of you old school west coast DJs might be waving your hand like, "I had 'em all," but not a lot of cross-country kids had stuff like "Feel My Bass" by DJ Matrix or "Groovy Ghost Show pt. 1" by Casper.

So Vol. 1 and 2 came out together, then Vol. 3 came a few months later. To give you an idea, it featured artists like Rappers Rapp Group (and their many spin-off acts), LA Dream Team, early 2 Live Crew, Rodney O & Joe Cooley and Ice-T. In fact, there was a lot of Rappers Rapp because member DJ Flash was involved in producing these compilations.  Clearly some bias in the selection.  But that's fine with me, because Rappers Rapp were great and totally slept on, so they were mostly the highlights for these compilations to me... although, as an essentially "greatest hits" series of west coast classics, highlights abounded.  But anyway, then came the maybe the weakest, but also the most fascinating and important, final entry in the series, not called Vol. 4, but West Coast Rap: The Renegades. The title change was because entry included newer material, so it was no longer the "first dynasty."  But what made this one so "fascinating and important?" It features a bunch of unreleased material!

But actually, the unreleased material started sneaking through the cracks back on Vol. 3.  I'm pretty sure two of the tracks had never been released, certainly one hadn't.  The liner notes even refer to it as "the odd man out," their bonus unreleased cut at the end of the comp. It's "Tainted Love" by X-Calibur (spelled on these albums as Excalibur) featuring King MC of the Rappers Rapp Group.  Yes, it's a rap version of the 80s pop song by Soft Cell.  Apparently it was originally recorded in 1982, but updated in 1990.  It's pretty fun - a rap version of "Tainted Love" really works, though the lyrics are a little corny, and the updated beats are a little tacky.  Frankly, I wish they would've included the original 1982 version, but I'm happy to get this instead of the song remaining completely lost forever.

So that's the only song they list as unreleased, but as far as I can figure, DJ Flash's "Hittin' Hard" has never been released either.  The notes say it's from 1985, and it's sort of like "Scorpio," in that it's all slowly rapped vocoder rhymes over an electro-influenced beat, and he references other old school west coast records like "Egypt, Egypt."  I've looked, and I'm pretty sure this was never a B-side or anything on other records.  Either I'm getting senile, or this has never been released before either.  It's popped up on a couple subsequent compilations, which are essentially re-releases and variations of the First Dynasty series.  But I've never been able to find a DJ Flash or Future MC's record with "Hittin' Hard" on there.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because now we come to Renegades.  Although, the entirety of the Renegades album isn't unreleased.  A good chunk of it is just more compilation of west coast hit records like "Your Chance To Rock" by Rodney O & Joe Cooley and "Naughty Boy" by Uncle Jamm's Army. And those are "first dynasty" era, but they also include newer material like Madrok's "Skin Tight" featuring The Ohio Players. That was on his album and it was his big single.  But then they also have another Madrok song, that was never on his album or ever released before at all called "I.E.'s In the House," about Inland Empire, which is okay but a little too reliant on "Atomic Dog" for my tastes.  In 1993, though, it wound up being featured on the soundtrack to a Lou Diamond Phillips action movie called Extreme Justice.

And Captain Rapp makes a comeback here with "Bad Times - Part 2 (The Continuance)."  "Bad Times" was on Vol. 1 and is a pretty historically important, early west coast message rap.  It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis before they blew up.  Now, the original "Bad Times" 12" from 1983 had a "Part 2" on it, but don't let that confuse ya.  That was basically just a shortened instrumental version of the original song.  This is a newly recorded song with all new lyrics.  Even the girl who sang the original hook, Kimberly Ball, is back to sing essentially the same words the same way.  They probably could've saved some money and just sampled the original hook, but hey, it's cool to have her back. Anyway, the instrumental is essentially the same as the original, but a little sped up and modernized, but Rapp has all new raps referencing Rodney King, etc.  His verse about Jeffrey Dahmer gets morbidly detailed, verging on horrorcore:

"I hit the script that rips and grips the paradox, a fiend with a scheme like a scene from Hitchcock.  A serial killer who unleashed the apocalypse! A gory story to depict his crypt: a tiny apartment, six graves with no tombstones, and held a cellar who's full of guts and bones.  A psychopath whose tests[?] get hideous, undaunting and flaunting, he was sick and insidious.   He charmed, disarmed and turned and tricked 'em.  His kills brought ills to sixteen victims.  Strangle, dismember, and eat the body parts.  Drink the blood that flowed the human heart.  Families mourn after questions, why?  Remains in a barrel were left to acidify.  He's locked in prison, but streets aren't calmer.  Somewhere out there lurks another Jeffrey Dahmer!"

Ummm, wow.  Okay.  Overall, it's pretty cool, but so close to the original that it's hard to get very excited for it.  Kimberly also has "I Can't Stand It" later on the album, which is essentially the same song but with just her singing extra verses to replace Captain Rapp's contribution.

Perhaps the strangest inclusion is two new songs by a completely unknown artist named Kid Solo.  Not only had he never done anything before this, he never has since.  I guess this was a kid DJ Flash was managing maybe, because he has production credit on one of the songs, and again, Flash's fingerprints are on every aspect of these albums.  So maybe he was just showcasing his new act.  One of the song's is a rap version of "That's the Way I Like It" and neither of them are very good.  He's a very poppy dance rapper, sounding inspired by acts like B.G. Prince of Rap and C&C Music Factory, and doesn't seem worthy of inclusion here.

Or, no.  Actually I think the strangest inclusion is "Hold Back the Tears" by a duo called P.A.N.I.C. Like Kid Solo, this is their only song anywhere, and it's a dedication to Magic Johnson.  DJ Flash's name isn't even on this one, so I'm extra puzzled why this was here.  It's not very good, with some corny rhymes ("you don't have to be a Tinkerbell to get a virus from Hell") and a really awkward hook.  I guess this album was an excuse for Rhino Records to throw in whatever west-coast related stuff they had on hand?

Anyway, it's not all material by nobodies.  Egyptian Lover made a new megamix of some of his earlier hit records for this album, called "Egypt's Revenge."  He later wound up including it on his album Pyramix, though.  And remember when I said I wished they'd included the 1982 version of X-Calibur's "Tainted Love" on Vol. 3?  Well, I think they heard me and decided to do the opposite: they recorded and included a newer Dance Re-Mix, which downplays the rap vocals.  And DJ Flash made a new track specifically for this compilation called "The First Dynasty- Mega-Mix," which like its name implies, is a mega-mix of a bunch of the hits from the previous three albums.  But interestingly, it has new verses by 2 Bigg MC, Hammer's former hype-man who put out a record in 1990.

Finally, they've got two unreleased songs by King MC, one serious: "Ghetto Drama", and one silly: "Double-O Seven," which is another rap song using a James Bond theme.  And unlike, say, "I'm Large," he also raps about being James Bond in the lyrics.  King MC moved to Europe after his stint with The Future MC's, and he put out some records with dance and club artists over there.  These are from that period, but a little more traditionally hip-hop.   Not his best work, but good enough that his fans will be happy to get them.

So, I wouldn't recommend Renegades to casual listeners.  I would recommend the Rap Dynasty albums, especially if you missed a lot of these records the first time around.  But most people can stop after Vol. 3.  But for serious fans and diggers interested in the history, Renegades is kind of a slept on treasure trove of exclusive odds and ends.