Friday, November 16, 2018

EC Illa, the Kanye West Recordings and So Much More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not bumpin' Whitefolks e'ry day."

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Half Pit Half Halloween

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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Perfect Kaotic Diamond

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Gurpy Dozen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Infinite Stezos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Introducing The Fascinating Force

(Here's a video I've been meaning to do for a long time now, on a talented but unfortunately forgotten crew known as The Fascinating Force. Youtube version is here.)

Friday, September 28, 2018

Brick City's Own Mytee G Poetic

Speaking of Gentleman's Relief Records collaborating with another indie label to put out some great, lost 90s material in different formats, this time they're working with a label called Dust & Dope Recordings.  I love seeing these labels work together instead of acting like bitter competitors; it's all for a great Hip-Hop cause.  Anyway, I don't know too much about Dust & Dope, but they're the guys that put out the long-shelved and coveted Raw Breed album Killa Instinct last year.  And the project they're releasing jointly here is Com'n Wit Nuff Ruffness, the unreleased album by Mytee G. Poetic.

This is a project you may've already seen me tweeting excitedly about.   Mytee is a Newark, NJ MC who put out a couple hot 12" singles in the 1990s.  One of the rare ones who doesn't seem to be connected with Nick Wiz.  haha  All his production duties seem to be shared by himself and a bunch of pretty obscure cats: Mixture, Kool Ass Pat, Na'fis Majid, Brand X, Rashad Muhammad, Kasim, Noise System and Maddox.  The only name there I even recognize is Rashad, who did some stuff with The Fugees before they blew up.  But that's not a mark against any of them, because the production here is hot.  And consistent.

But let me back up a second and explain what we've got here.  This is a full length album of Mytee's tracks from '94-'96, plus one bonus track recorded in 1998.  It includes all six songs from his previous 12"s, including both versions of "Com'n Wit Nuff Ruffness," so if you missed any of them, don't worry, you're getting his whole discography here.  And so that means we're also getting nine more never before heard songs, including two versions of one called "Poetically Incline."  And the goodness is that the unreleased material is just as good, in some cases maybe even better, than the 12" material.

Mytee is one of those rare rappers with a hard, take no prisoners delivery and a versatility with the wordplay to fit in just as well in a backpacker's cypher or hardcore thug rap posse cut without changing up his style a bit, like Big L or someone like that.  And the production, despite having so many people involved, is consistent and satisfying, probably due to Mytee keeping a hand in all of it.  There's also no guest rappers or anything on here.  It's all Mytee, and yet this whole album never starts to feel redundant or boring even after repeated listens.  It's basically hard boom bap tracks with some choice jazzy samples, with one or two tracks occasionally smoothing (like "Listen To the Lyrics," "Part Of the Game," and to a lesser extent, "Ghetto Journalism") it out to add a little variety.  Only that last 1998 track stands out as a little bit of a mismatch, but it's still a really tight track, so I'm glad for its inclusion.  As he laid it out in his first single, "what is it gonna be? Some bitch nigga singin' R&B, or a rugged rap show starrin' me?"

So, as with the Sons of Light, this is being released in limited quantities across all three physical formats.  But this time it's less complicated because all 15 tracks are on all three versions.  So there's the vinyl, which is a double LP in a full color picture cover, which is limited to 300 copies, the CD with a distinctly different cover image, which is limited to 150, and the cassette, which again is limited to only 50 copies, and is a cool dark blue tape.  A great piece of Jersey Hip-Hop history, or for anybody who was into the indie 90s scene.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Who Are the Sons of Light?

I mentioned the Sons of Light when I was writing about Jae Supreme and 2 Deep not too long ago.  Well, let's take a proper their actual album.  The Sons of Light is his indie Queens, NY group he was pushing but never quite broke out.  This would come after both his 2 Deep period and "I'm a Villain," well into the 90s.  The first time most of us would've heard of them is probably when Jae released his Life's Work compilation last year, which featured two Sons of Light tracks ("Hold Me Down" and "Slash Dot Com").  But there was also a very rare (test pressing only?) 12" from 1996.  And what Heavy Jewelz and Gentleman's Relief Records have put out is essentially the unreleased album that single would've been off of.  I say "essentially," because Heavy Jewelz' Facebook officially describes this as, "the 3 tracks from their impossible-to-find 1996 12", plus 16 more demos and unreleased tracks, mainly from '95-'97."  So I guess this wasn't technically conceived as an album proper, but close enough.

Now, the Sons of Light consists of four members: Jae, Syl Drama, Lord Pharaoh and Chico Son.  That's four guys, but you may've notice there's just three dudes on the album cover.  That's because Jae takes more of a back seat as the producer than one of the main MCs.  He does rap a couple of times on here, on "Who's da Man" (also featuring a guy named Hardy Rock) and "Drinks On Me."  And even from those appearances you can tell, though he's definitely drifted pretty far from "I Didn't Do My Homework," that Jae has a more old school and less edgy style compared to the other members.  It sort of reminds me of MC Serch rhyming on Non-Phixion's first records.  Fans of Jae/ Serch will be happy to hear him and wish for even more contributions, but they'd probably just be holding the group back from finding their newer, younger audiences if they'd insisted on more of a front-facing role. 

Because this is like Jae's Private Investigators; going for a decidedly more gritty, authentic street vibe than when he first came out.  The Sons of Light don't smooth it out as much as someone like Bee Why, but they weren't definitely designed to plug into that pure Queensbridge criminology set.  And they're at their best when they come hardest, on songs like "Get Money" or "Can't Fuck Wit," which actually features Cormega and G.O.D. Pt. III from the Infamous Mobb, and get serious lyrically, like on "Crescent Moon," "flip the script on the government and indict the feds for the murder of Chris Wallace and Tupac Amaru Shakur.  We at war, but what we fightin' for?"  But, while I appreciate their nods to Hip-Hop's roots, like the hook to "Handz In da Air," I could do without some of their material on partying and girls.

When the beats are tight, though, they're on fire; but after a while, they can sound a bit simplistic and loopy.  For example, "Zero Vaccine" uses the same main piano loop as Josh Martinez's "Breakdown," but a direct comparison really makes you appreciate how much more producer Jesse Dangerously did with it than Jae, the beat for "Ya Don't Stop" is a bit irritating "Let it Go"'s heavy use of Teddy Pendergrass's "Love T.K.O." (after songs like KMC Kru's "Let Her Go" and Steady B's "Let It Go") would've been tired even in 1996.  I appreciate the variety in their material on one hand, having an R&B singer do a hook for one song, smooth another out 'till it almost sounds west coast, then switch to an upbeat party song.  "Project Life" is deadly serious, then "Remember When" is a name-dropping ode to the history of Queens rap... like some other songs we've heard, but probably the only one to list 2 Deep as a highlight.

But I think they hurt themselves a bit trying to prove how diverse and versatile they could be, and work best when they stay in their lane.  There's a whole lot of songs on here, and they probably would've made a better impression if they trimmed the fat a bit.  But for us die-hard aficionados, I definitely appreciate the impulse to release everything, since this is probably the last chance heads would ever get to hear it, especially on a proper physical release.  Just think of it as a really tight 12 or 13 track album, with a bunch of bonus cuts mixed in.

And when I say "a lot of songs," how many am I talking about?  Well, it depends which format you cop this one.  There's 19 tracks on the vinyl version (a special edition double LP in a picture cover, limited to just 300 copies): 17 songs, plus 2 instrumentals.  Then there's 20 on the CD (which is limited to only 150 copies).  But it's not quite as simple as the CD having one extra bonus track.  The CD actually has three additional songs: "Project Life," "Keep It Hot" and "Remember When," but loses the two instrumentals.  Finally, there's the cassette, which is super limited to a mere 50 copies and includes 22 tracks, meaning it has everything: all of the songs from the vinyl and CD, including the instrumentals. So, just in terms of track-listing, the tape's the best, but naturally a lot of listeners are going to want this on vinyl.  And all the best songs are on that, so you don't miss out too badly no matter which version you get.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Secret Meetings of Fatboi Sharif

Fatboi Sharif is an exciting (and I don't throw that term around loosely) new Jersey MC.  I first heard him on Shawn Lov's last album, where I have to confess he really didn't make much of an impression at all on me.  So I almost didn't bother checking out his new online material, but I'm glad I did, because that stuff definitely made an impression.  His style and content feel very influenced by UG, but with a softer, Scott Lark tone to his voice and delivery, and lyrics reminiscent of early Jedi Mind Tricks, back when they were creative and packed with Children of Babylon members.

And this is his debut solo EP, Ape Twin.  It's available on an official, pressed CD through Fatboi's Facebook here.  Of course there's a digital version, too, which is considerably more accessible.  And there's a previous digital album, Age of Extinction with another MC named Sydetrak Imperial.  It's not uninteresting, but Ape Twin is the much more polished and cohesive work, so I'd really recommend just starting there.

It's a tight EP: eight tracks including skits and songs that average two and a half minutes or so.  And there are a couple of guest MCs, neither of whom I've heard of (Light the Emcee and Nick Jackelson), but they do a good job fitting in.  It always sucks when an artist is making something original and a couple of guests phone in completely generic thug verses like they'd given no consideration towards what project they were being asked to contribute to.  Here, everybody's on the same page: "you can hit the bullseye and still not know how to throw your darts right.  Stand tall over all like my name was Bill Cartwright.  I spark light more than the sun, moon and stars might.  Knock you on your feet like the mutant named Arclight.  Vertigo, Avalanche, the tree of life, grab a branch.  Teleportin' Nightcrawler to the Savage Lands.  This the battle plan, load the mutants in the caravan.  A surgical mystic like Dr. Strange with damaged hands."  Consequently, the listening experience is constantly shifting, always crazy film and comic book references and strange visual imagery, so it's the sort of CD you can just let loop indefinitely, a surreal experience.

So does that mean there isn't any substance to anything he's saying?  Well, there's definitely a "what the hell is he talking about" aspect to his work ("the city from Children of the Corn, mistrial, rumors of kiddie porn.  Prisoner escaper, conspiracy on paper, JFK affair with Elizabeth Taylor").  If you're hoping for direct metaphors like mermaids represent one socioeconomic group in conflict with another, a la "Planet E," I'm not sure it ever gets that one-to-one.  And it doesn't help that he has a tendency to slur some key words.  A little more enunciation and a few less pop culture references would be welcome.  But if you roll with it, it's really not so impenetrable.  There are definitely themes of personal growth and transformation that are probably more than just accidental.  Like the Marvel-themed guest verse I quoted above can be more than just a comic book rhyme, but a relatable invocation of talented artists going out to make their way in the world.  You get it.  And the fact that the lyrics are indirect and a little difficult to discern makes repeated relistens rewarding, where the pieces slowly fit together and his meaning becomes each little bit clearer.

Musically, yeah he's a younger artist, but he's not on some mumblecore, sloppy tip.  His production's the sort of light boom-bap you would've expected to find on an indie 90s CD.  That fits, as Shawn Lov produces one track, and one of his regular collaborators, Raiden, does two others.  I can't say this EP's for every head, let alone mainstream audiences.  You've got to be a bit of a backpacker to bask in the lyrics and rhyme schemes; and if you're not going to do that, you won't find enough else to sustain you.  But I hope Sharif finds his audience with this, because the right people aren't just going to "get" Ape Twin, they're going to be surprised how much they enjoy it.  And I definitely look forward to hearing more from him.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Compton's Most Wanted Ultramagnetic Diss You Never Knew About

I've gotta share some credit with Marc of Black Pegasus Records for this one.  He asked me recently if I remembered a time Compton's Most Wanted took a shot at The Ultramagnetic MCs, sort of suggesting they were out of touch old school.  And it did sound sort of vaguely familiar... like I could hear MC Eiht saying "Ultramagnetics" in my head, but that was about all I could remember.  He thought it might've been on the remix of their 1991 "Compton's Lyncin'" 12", which was one of the later singles off their second album, Straight Check N 'Em.  It's one of those generic diss songs, where it's going pretty hard but not really directed at anyone in particular.  They're cutting up the Ice Cube line, "last year I was Ruthless, now I'm Lynchin' motherfuckers."  I generally think they peaked with their first album, but they never really fell off, and this was one of the better singles off this album for me.  Especially the remix, which comes with a tighter sample that Special Ed had already used for "Ya Wish Ya Could" the previous year.

Anyway, that was easily checked, but it wasn't there.  I even checked the instrumental, in case there was a little hidden shout out at the end or something.  So then I started listening to other CMW songs from around that period.  "They Still Gafflin'" because it was the B-side to "Compton's Lynchin'," and other more diss-oriented tracks, like "Duck Sick 1 & 2" and even the extended version of "Rhymes Too Fonky."  No dice.  I was starting to wonder if I'd ever actually heard what Marc was talking about, or if I just let him put the idea in my head like some kind of autosuggestion.  So I kinda gave up on it... and then I found it by accident.

So, on that "Compton's Lynchin'" single, besides the remix, instrumental and B-side, is a shorter Radio Mix.  It's a Radio Mix of the remix, meaning it uses the newer remix instrumental rather than the album version.  But the album version and remix both have the same vocals.  The Radio Mix, though, is one of those where instead of bleeping the curses, or cutting to silence, playing them backwards or whatever, Eiht recorded all the vocals over with adjusted cleaner lyrics.  So, you know, "I don't give a fuck," becomes "I don't care jack," etc.  Basically the same rhymes, just with little substitutions.

But I guess one line was too radio unfriendly that a simple, single word change or two would do, and so that felt they had to swap out the whole thing.  Or maybe they were intentionally tucking it away in the Radio Mix to be a little coy.  I couldn't say either way, but the whole song is the same, minus a few phrase swaps, until midway through the second verse.  I was only listening to it because I'd already given up searching and was just letting the record spin while I was on the computer.  Then I heard the lyrics go from, "the motherfucking power after hour.  No air to breath, cause all the suckers we devour," to "with your played out rhymes, you can't forget it, 1970 Ultramagnetics."  It is real!


So, to be clear, the whole song's not an Ultra diss.  Again, the rest of the verses are unchanged from the original version, none of which have any reference to those guys in them.  And I don't even think the line is even meant to be taken as a direct diss at them, per se, though it's definitely insulting to them.  I think the idea is the generic, sucker MCs they've been talking about the whole song are, in this line, being called tired and hackney, like played out Ultramagnetic 70s rap.  Not that Ultra were a thing in the 70s, of course; their first single was in 1986.  That means this line would've come at them even before their second album, when they signed to MCA (Funk Your Head Up was '92).

So it's a little harsh, no doubt, and completely pointed, since he used their name specifically.  But I doubt it was an indication of a serious beef.  Just a fun little shot that makes an otherwise completely skippable radio mix worth checking out even in 2018.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Awesome Foursome You've Never Heard

(Before they were The Audio Two and Kings of Swing, they were The Awesome Foursome.  And before 2018, these songs were sitting on a shelf somewhere, unheard.  Youtube version is here.)