Thursday, February 26, 2015

Even Harder 2 Obtain

Most of us came across 12 Block on the third volume of Nick Wiz's Cellar Sounds compilation albums. Their 1996 song "The Presentation" also made it to wax on Cellar Selections vol 3 set. But dedicated Stretch & Bob fans who follow the demos they used to play on the air and have been trying to track them down remember the name. You see, 12 Block are actually essentially an alteration of the Long Island group Hard 2 Obtain, who released the rather highly regarded album Ism & Blues on Atlantic Records in 1994, and then disappeared seemingly without a trace. The answer to that mystery turns out to be 12 Block.

Listening to that album, you'll catch plenty of references to them being "from the twelve block." Well, one of the main MCs from 12 Block is straight up one of the main MCs from Hard 2 Obtain, Taste. 12 Block's DJ, Nastee, isn't the same guy as in Hard 2 Obtain, but if you read the credits, he did produce two tracks on their album. And thanks to the info Heavy Jewelz uncovered, we now know the third guy, A.Math, was originally going to be a full-fledged member of H2), but sat out the first album to finish his degree. Unfortunately, it turned out to be their only album, but he did at least turn up for a guest verse on it. So now we know, after Ism & Blues, these three guys recorded the 12 Block demo, which got played on the air, and lead to them working with Nick Wiz.

Because, yeah, that sought after demo was recorded in 1994-95, and Heavy Jewelz has obtained and remastered all six tracks for this EP, M.I.S.T.: Movin' Island Style Thorough. And to be clear, the beats here are not by Wiz, but all self-produced by DJ Nastee.

I thought I'd never heard any of these tracks before; but when the title track came on with them freestyling over Gangstarr's "Just To Get a Rep" bassline and the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it, don't fit, don't force it" hook, I was like, oh, it's this song! I remember wanting that back in the days, I just lost the plot that this 12 Block demo was that joint. No wonder people have been after this one.

The rest of the EP is nice, too. "The East" has a super smooth, cool out vibe and deep bassline. And "If It's On Like That" is like a mix of early Souls of Mischief flows and vibe over a phat New York boom-bap track and jazzy sample on the hook. The way they drop the Biz Markie vocal sample over the hereafter instrumental of "3 Everybody" is ill. The songs on the B-side sound a little more like typical low budget indie 12" stuff, but that's not a bad thing. It's all got a cool, laid back but gritty vibe to it. There is a little bit of a dated feel to some of the punchlines and excessive pop culture references, but they get away with it just off of how slick they say it. "Anything" is the kind of song you'd hear on an old mixtape and have you wondering "who was that?"

So M.I.S.T. is limited to 300 copies, 100 on a cool black and white blended vinyl, and the other 200 on standard black. Both versions come in a solid large-sticker cover.  It's a very cool presentation. It actually dropped earlier in 2014, so it's already sold out on HJ's main store. But I see there's 7 copies left, as of this writing, via their bandcamp. After that, you'll have to get it used or just settle for the download (ick!), so move on it if you haven't got it already. 'Cause you're gonna want it once you wake up to it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dose One's 8 Mile CD

Be Evil is is a limited 2009 album/mix from Dose One I just recently picked up  because I missed the CD when it was first released. That's the problem with the indie music scene these days: with everyone self-distributing, you have to be up every single artist you like's ass, on multiple social media outlets, or you never even hear about their rare indie releases. But I stuck it on a couple watch lists and in 2015 I've finally got it for a reasonable price.

So Be Evil runs the gamut from impressive to cringe inducing, mostly spinning around somewhere in the middle. It's 100% freestyle, and not just in the old school sense where the rhymes don't have to pertain to any specific subject matter, but meaning entirely off-the-head. More than half the songs are live recordings from radio performances, battles and stage performances. A lot of it's acapella, or over some pretty random, constantly changing beats. It's a very patchwork experience, with the recording changing sometimes even during the same CD track. Sometimes Dose comes with a slick flow over a good track and comes surprisingly tight for a totally unprepared song. Other times, you hear him stumbling for words and reaching to put together the most generic battle phrases and broken ideas like, "you can get a crutch and a kick in the butt. For what you came up here to get desecrated. Who's next to get my dick in they guts? Where you want it, gut or gut?" There's moments you're surprised he put it on the album for everyone to hear and last for prosperity.

Some of the battles also feature his opponents, and they run just as broad a range. One will have a pretty nice flow and punchlines, showing up Dose on his own record, others sound like it's their first try rhyming. One "battle" just has Dose and the other guy yelling over the top of each other, not even rapping, just yelling cheesy "snaps" at each other until the other guy gets completely flustered. Dose certainly wins, but it's not a remotely impressive show on anybody's part. It's just embarrassing and reminds you why most hip-hop heads switched to r&b when they hit thirty.

Dose also takes some surprising shots at other MCs. He calls Arrogant a wack rapper (really, in 2009?) and comes up with a whole little verse about Eminem:

"Oh, that's wild!
You really like the most famous sell out white rapper,

Hire black friends, come back as actor-
dude ever? You respect that? Well, I sure don't.
He can get nothing but his throat slit with a hot quote.
Mm-hm, Never freestyled then, probably don't now.
All he is now is some kind of fiscal cow.

That a bunch of people suck on the teet of."

Oh, okay. Didn't know he had an issue with him.

Anyway, I don't want to get too down on Be Evil. The impressive content easily outweighs the junk. And it was nice to hear him back firmly in the hip-hop genre, as opposed to whatever indie electro folk rock or whatever he keeps drifting further into. I think he's already gone back, so wave goodbye. Dose is full of creative energy, which makes this at least interesting for fans of freestyles and indie battles. But none of it is ever as listenable as his written songs, and it really just points up the fact that off-the-head rap battles don't make for a good album. Rap battles have come a long way since the carefully rehearsed routines of the Cold Crush and Force MCs; and it wasn't necessarily a good way. Be Evil is ultimately just a curiosity piece, because it has almost no replay value.

If you want it, though, and don't want to wait another five and a half years to find it for a good price online, you can at least download it from his bandcamp for a buck. There's also a short, seventeen minute sequel called Free Evil, which was only released as an online freebie. I listened to it once, and I think it was actually more consistent than Be. But if you're a serious fan, you've probably already got this and are quite happy with it; there's enough here for that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chilla Frauste and DJ Magic Mike

Today's record is the third and greatest single by Chilla Frauste. Chilla released his first single, "Bed Time Stories," a more playful old school rap, in 1988 under the longer name of  Cool Chilla' Frauste and the Ice Cold Crew. He then signed to Miami Street Records and released some more traditionally Miami-ish dance records, "Get Off" and this one, "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose." Now this is 80's Miami bass, where the emphasis was on uptempo, still disco inspired dance records rather than ultra-sonic bass tones to vibrate your jeep; and Frauste was more into that than anybody. He was also did all his own beats and was probably more of a producer who rapped than a rapper who produced. When he finally released his album in 1989 (Don't Fight the Feeling on Vision Records), a big chunk of the tracks were purely instrumental.

So, he's not really a strong MC, and he wasn't really that great of a producer either. Most of his work was just competent and despite being fast and upbeat, kind of flat. So his best work was basically just when he had a great sample to drive the track. "Bed Time Stories" used the same Nu Shooz sample Spyder-D did for "I Can't Wait," "Don't Fight the Feeling" used that classic Herbie Hancock sample Digital Underground used to create "Underwater Rimes" and Busy Bee flipped on "Kiss My Ass." You get the idea. Those songs are always his best, and "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose"is the best of those. In Frauste's catalog, the best of the best.

You can guess the sample this one's based off of just reading the title: Teddy Pendergrass's "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose." And Frauste is happy to give credit right up front, his opening verse includes the lyrics, "James Brown funk is dope but played. You don't own any record he's made but 'Brand New Funk?' Forget it! I got something better. Teddy's the most greater; I'm the trend setter. Go for what you know, move with the flow. Teddy and Chilla are runnin' this show!" Unfortunately, those are the most interesting lyrics. The rest is all just "say 'party right here, party over there.' If you wanna party, we can party 'cause the party's everywhere," kinda stuff and he basically comes off as a second tier Rob Base. But at least he keeps up with the tempo and it's alright anyway, because the heavily used sample (they use the bass, horns, and even the original vocals for the choruses) really is funky, and sounds extra hype on this racing Miami drum track. Plus, Chilla has a secret weapon.

He's not credited anywhere on the label, but this record features guest scratches by DJ Magic Mike. And he doesn't just add a little "jigga jigga" behind the hook. He fucking goes off on this. Especially on the extended Dance Mix on the B-side, he has long scratch solo where he's juggling the bassline and then starts scratching Whistle's "Just Buggin'" at the same time. And the way he chops up Pendergrass's voice and slices up Whislte's signature whistle sound is incredible. Classic funky soul samples combined with some of the best scratching on a hip-hop record over over a high energy beat? You haven't heard this record, man, get it.

Unfortunately, that recommendation doesn't apply to the rest of Frauste's catalog. Maybe "Bed Time Stories," though that's got a very different tone, and still comes in second place to Spyder-D's record. But "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose" is absolutely where it's at.

"Get Up" was also Frauste's last solo single, and he only had the one album. He came back in the 90s as the leader of a small group called the Boom Junkies. He did most of the raps, which were still pretty flat and generic, and the production, which was even more high energy but still lacked that spark to really inspire repeat listens. Their last song was a collaboration with Disco Rick on one of those obscure Vision Records compilation albums. It's really just all about this one 12". Get it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Omniscence's Raw Factor Fully Realized

It's now after the conclusion of the Raw Factors series of 12" records from Dope Folks records, which included three songs apiece (plus exclusive instrumentals) off of Omniscence's legendary unreleased album, The Raw Factor. Between that and the original 12" singles on East/West, we've almost got the whole entire album in our mitts. And now it's time for this CD/ cassette release of The Raw Factor on Gentleman's Relief Records to put the cap on it.

So three Raw Factors with three songs each equals nine songs total [college degree, you've just paid off!]. This album has thirteen tracks, plus four bonus tracks, on both the CD and cassette, which we'll swing back around to later. So that means there's four non-bonus tracks on here that weren't on the EP. So obviously the big question is what the Hell are those songs?

Well, two of them are simply "Amazin'" and "Touch Y'all," the two original singles from the album that actually did get released back in the day. The idea with this Raw Factor release is to be the full, original album, so it only makes sense to get them back into the mix. Even for all of us who already own those singles, it's good to have them in the line-up just so we can listen to the whole album properly like it was meant to be. That's all cool, but that still only brings us to eleven. What are the last two?

1) I'm On Mine - Remember how I said the song "Maintain" was a mess on the old mix-tape/ bootleg downloads? 'Cause you had a couple tracks with that title, and another with a different title, "Greatest MC in the World," but had the same instrumental? Those versions were all messed up, and some screwed it up more than others, because they just did things like rip the old snippet tape and mash it up with the singles, past releases and all kinds of junk. That last one is what's happened here; it's actually a song from The Funky Oneliner EP, though many fans probably first heard it on the boot and think of it as a Raw Factor track. "I'm On Mine" is what was called "Greatest MC In the World" on the boots; they clearly got the title from the vocal sample from De La Soul's "Ego Trippin' Part 2" where they go, "I'm the greatest MC in the worrrrld," that the DJ is cutting up here on the hook.

2) I Gotta Maintain - And here's the proper version of "(I Gotta) Maintain," the full-length song, not just the snippets. It's the same version I have on my old promo EP, which was always one of Om's best to me, and another one from The Funky Oneliner EP. So that's eleven Raw Factor tracks and two Funky Oneliners for good measure.

With the release, I think we can finally put those misinformative unofficial releases to bed once and for all. We've got (almost) the whole album, in robust sound quality, and even a couple extra tracks. Oh right, and we've got bonus tracks, too.

The four bonuses are the "Touch Y'all" remix from the original 12" single, which featured Sadat X, and one of the two "Amazin'" remixes from that original 12", together giving you an even fuller Raw Factor experience. And then there's "Wreckognize" and "Freestyle After a Philly," which are two songs from his Funky Oneliner EP - kind of odd choices, but hey, who's complaining about two more dope Omniscence songs being on their albums?

So that's all 17 songs, we've reached the end... unless you leave the album playing and hear the extra bonus, uncredited 18th song not mentioned on the track-listing. And yes, by the way, it's on both the CD and cassette versions. It's the other, often forgotten "Touch Y'all" remix, the one that doesn't feature Sadat, by Fanatic that was also on the 12" single. Nice.

And let's talk about the actual physical product - although for the record, the whole thing (minus the hidden track #18) is available for download as well, on Omni's bandcamp if that's your thing. The cassette is pretty limited, to just 100 copies, and is pressed in cool, red plastic. The CD is a bit of a wider release, not just available from GRR's online store, but sites like ughh and hhv. It also includes liner notes written by Omniscence, telling the story of how the album was recorded all the way through to it ultimately not getting released back in the day.

So this is pretty great for Omniscence fans. The famously unreleased Raw Factor is now out on all formats, and all top quality releases. It's  pretty damn definitive, I'd say. Except... Interestingly, all of this still leaves one Omniscence song from my East/West promo tape still unreleased. "Keep Giving Me Love" was another smoothed out collection of fun, freestyle rhymes with a shout chorus, this time over a sample of Al B. Sure's "Nite & Day." I'm really not sure why everybody's still sitting on that one. Hmmm...

Update/ Errata (2/13/15) - I originally credited this album with "finally" allowing us to hear "Maintain" and "I'm On Mine," which were cut/ poor sound quality on the bootlegs... forgetting that both tracks were originally part of The Funky Oneliner EP. So while it's still a great package and a chance to finally get the (mostly) full album as it was originally meant to be heard, those two tracks won't actually be new to fans who have the original Oneliner EP, or the more recent Dope Folks repress.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Masta Ace - Hits U Did & Didn't Miss

So, if you didn't already know, Master Ace has been selling a line of CD-R compilations for a couple years now called Hits U Missed. Apparently the original dates as far back as 2004; If I remember right, Sandbox had it for a while. Well, there's six volumes now, and at one point you could order them directly from him on his Twitter (not sure if that's still the case). The idea is that they're his rarities that you probably missed. I remember initially checking out the first volume's track listing for anything unreleased, seeing it was all stuff I already had, and passing on it. I'm not knocking 'em, they were fine for younger heads or fans who weren't plugged into the scene enough to cop his indie and vinyl-only stuff back in the day. But the Shelf Life series were much more my speed; plus they were proper vinyl releases, not just some home-made burned CDs.

Fast forward to today. VinylDigital (an online store that also presses some original vinyl releases) is reissuing Hits U Missed and Hits U Missed Vol 2 on vinyl. But if you look closely, they're Hits U Missed Select Cuts. And that's fine. You obviously can't cram as much music on a single LP as you can on a CD-R, and frankly, I wouldn't miss [get it? eh eh?] a couple songs I already owned on vinyl anyway. My only question was: is there anything actually unreleased on there? And the answer turns out to be yes! So it was time to cop the vinyl and break it all down for you guys here because it's a lot to sort through.

Vol. 1 the CD has fifteen tracks; and the LP has twelve. So that's not a lot missing at all for "Select Cuts," right? Just three songs. But it gets more complicated because it's not a straight port of the CD to the LP. If that were the case, there wouldn't be anything unreleased, because remember the whole reason I passed over it in the first place was because Vol. 1 the CD had no unreleased songs. No, the LP has preserved the bulk of the CD, but besides losing three tracks, it's made substitutions. So, to be clear, the LP is missing seven tracks that were on the CD: "Top Ten List," "Last Bref," "Observations," "Outcome," "Maintain," "NY Confidential" and "Ya Hardcore."

I'm one hundred percent A-OK with that, since anybody who's a serious enough Ace fan to be buying a limited import vinyl LP of rarities surely already had all that stuff, which for the most part wasn't, after all, as limited or hard to find as this compilation is. We're not talking about a big, Sony release that people will be stumbling upon in Walmarts and ITunes across the land. And if you have fifteen tracks and take away seven, that means you have to four more to get back to the LP's twelve. And the added stuff is what we're the goodies come in.

So these new, sub-in tracks come from the Hits U Missed Vol. 2 & 3 CD-Rs. There's actually just one song from Vol. 2: We Got It Done." And the three from Vol. 3 are "3Sum," "Ghetto Ghetto" and "NFL." One of them, "3Sum," isn't so unreleased - it's a 12" single he put out with J-Love. But the other three are genuinely, previously unreleased: "Ghetto Ghetto" and "We Got It Done" featuring Joe Buhdha and Strick. "We Got It" has them kicking some sick battle rhymes with a slow, rhythmic delivery over a smooth, boom bap beat, and "Ghetto Ghetto" is more playful freestyle rhymes (i.e. rhyming Barney Miller with Phyllis Diller and Godzilla) over a low-key track. And if you're thinking, Werner, "NFL" isn't unreleased; it's another J-Love 12" single. That's true; I've got it. But this is an unreleased remix by Saukrates. It's a cooler, jazzier mix with a dominant piano loop, that feels especially poignant as he nears the conclusion of the narrative at the end of the song.

Still, are two unreleased songs and a remix kind of slim to buy a whole album for? Well, you're gonna like Select Cuts Vol. 2 a lot better. It's not connected to the Vol. 2 CD. I mean, not a single track from Vol. 2 the CD is on Vol. 2 the LP. It's mostly selections from Vol. 4 and 5 (six from 5 and five from 4, if you're keeping score), with one cut a piece also coming from Vol. 3 and 6. And it's almost ALL unreleased. Now, granted, Vol. 4 was the freestyle collection and 5 was the collection of original mixes of released songs ("Pre-Mixes"). So a bunch of it is remixes and freestyles.

So it's not all his absolute best work... "Brooklyn Masala," for example, was a kinda below average album track from Long Hot Summer; and hearing it here with a slightly different sample is just barely an improvement. But below average Master Ace is still better than most artists' best output, and this album is pretty strong all the way through. And we've heard almost none of it before. The only exception I noticed is "Give It To Me," his duet with Craig G taken from Craig's second album. It was featured on the "Pre-Mixes" CD, but it sounds exactly like what was on Craig's album to me.  Is there a slightly different snare or something low in the mix I'm not noticing or something? Maybe, but I figure it's just the same song, since, after all, the Hits U Missed series is full of songs that have been previously released.

If you're on the fence about getting these, or just one of these (i.e. Vol. 2 but skipping 1), the packaging may push you over the line. Both come in really cool, dark picture covers. Each volume is limited to 500 copies and comes with one half of the "mega poster," which I've pictured at the top of this post. It really is pretty large combined. And the sound quality's great, so it's even kinda neat to have the previously released songs compiled here with the exclusives. Personally, I was on the fence about Vol. 1 until I looked into Vol. 2 and decided: screw it, I'm getting both. And I imagine a lot of other heads will decide the same, so if you want this one, don't wait too long.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Neverloving

Neverlove is Buck 65's latest album. You may've seen the video for the album's sole single (to date), "Super Pretty Naughty," and if so, you're probably wondering is this album just like that song, a weirdly sardonic, almost parodic yet in an odd way sincere match of contemporary hip-pop songs along the lines of "Starships" and Ke$ha songs. Well no, it's not; that song stands alone on this album. Whether that's a relief or disappointment is up to you.

But it doesn't sound out of place either, largely because half the album was produced by the same guy, Marten Tromm. So the same musical style is evident throughout the album. It's just that, I guess this turned out to be the happiest, most clubbish beat he came up with, so Buck decided to write that kind of song for that track. Because the rest of the songs are definitely more out of his traditional toolbox. He even does another one of those list songs that are tough to sit through (he must have a contingency of fans who really gets a kick out of them every time?). But yeah, musically, it's not far removed at all. All of Tromm's tracks have this sort of soft electronic sound that makes me think of Apple computers, with a random girl singing a pop song hook between Buck's verses. The other guy who produces a lot of songs on this album, Dean Nelson, has a very similar style, but forgoes the chorus girls. But on all the non-"Super Pretty Naughty" songs, the tone is warmer, slower, and Buck's lyrics are more like traditional BUck on the rest of the album.

The only other producers get one song apiece, Matt Hedlin (meh), who I've never heard of, and the pairing of Alias and DJ Mayonnaise, of course of Anticon. The Anticon'ers track has a lot more emphasis on percussion,with those rapid kind of choppy beats I'm not usually a big fan of, but which sounds pretty good here where it's alone in a sea of placid drums. And the scratching at the end (I presume by Mayo, but the liner notes don't specify, so it could also be Buck or whoever) really make it come alive.

I've lived with this album for a while now, rather than reviewing it as soon as it arrived, and... first of all I haven't found myself revisiting it often. I've had to push myself for the sake of this review. But that's not because it sucks (to use a fancy critical term). Buck has been known to let sucky stuff slip into his catalog every so often, i.e. some of those lame, cross-genre collaborations in the 20 Odd Years series; and I've called him out on those. This album is consistently superior to any of that. Lyrically, I found myself occasionally going, "oh, I kinda like that line," but never actually being gripped by anything he says. And musically, I found the music always up to the task of keeping the emotions of the song buoyant, with occasional catchy highlights. It just feels like he's painting a bit by his own numbers here, providing what he knows he can confidently create, even if he is working with new producers.

If I was trying to assemble a Buck 65 greatest hits album, I don't think I'd even lift this one out of my crates to remind myself of the song titles. ...Except possibly "Super Pretty," if I was in the right kind of mood; because that song's definitely got a voice to go along with its infectious groove. But if you asked me to come up with the songs I felt most let down by, or even annoyed my (there's been one or two of those), I also wouldn't go to Neverlove. It's just a comfortable level of good, enough to please the fan-base and keep them satisfied until the next album.

If you're a long haul fan, though, and are going to be picking this one up, it definitely doesn't slack in its physical presentation. It comes in a in an attractive picture cover with full-color inner sleeves as well. It also includes the CD copy inside, as well as a signed copy of the booklet. And you're sent a free download when you place the order. It couldn't be any more convenient or stylish. So while it feels like we're just treading water, they've still given it first class treatment, which bodes well for his next masterpiece down the line.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sweet Tee's Bad Girl Posse

The Poizon Posse is a group that was just on the periphery of my radar back in '93. I'm sure I saw ads in The Source and their tape in the stores, but I always just passed over and ignored 'em because they looked corny and irrelevant. But as it turns out, they were actually corny and relevant! The Poizon Posse was an all girl rap group signed to Chemistry/Mercury Records for one album. Not quite so young that I'd call them a kiddie rap act like Kriss Kross or Another Bad Creation, but I guess they're pretty close. Maybe like da Youngstas, but by the time of their third or fourth album when they got taller.

So who cares, right? I didn't. But then I came across this 12" for 75 cents, And I thought for that price, I'll willingly get burned on a wack record just for the learning experience. I mean, hey, it's got a picture cover. I've made worse hip-hop buying decisions.

So "This Is It, Y'all" is their one single off of their one album, Stompin'.  And I guess there's no reason in trying to draw out any suspense because it's in the post's title, but it turns out this is actually Sweet Tee's band of proteges. She wrote, she produced, she mixed... I think it's safe to assume she managed them. She's even their stylist. I mean, she officially gets billed that way on the back cover credits, meaning Mercury probably cut her a check for that, too.  So I think Sweet Tee did alright on this project even if it didn't float commercially.

So, Sweet Tee isn't an actual member of the group. The official line-up is: Ro Ro, Aishah*, Lisa Lisa (obviously not the Cult Jam one) and Keisha. But Tee does rap with them on this introductory track, to bring in her fan to this group. She also featured on another track or two on the full album, and the very first words on the A-side are Sweet Tee saying, "Sweet Tee;" so they're definitely not downplaying it. She's posing with the group on the picture cover. If they'd gone that one extra step and labeled the album: The Poizon Posse featuring Sweet Tee, I'm sure I would've bought it in '93, but there it is. I'm not regretful or anything; I'm not writing this post to tell you it's some kind of slept on masterpiece.

The production is at least nice and hardcore. It doesn't have any stand-out samples (though it's cool when "UFO" fades into it later in the song), so it's no must-have track, but it'll get your head nodding. Where they come up short is lyrically. The point of the song is just to introduce themselves, so there's no real concept for them to follow other than "make sure you get your name in the track as much as possible," which they do. But otherwise they have literally nothing to say, and they don't say anything in a clever or interesting way. Except Aisha's verse is kinda cool; but that comes towards the end - too little, too late.

And they all sound alike. Granted. the Wu-Tang Clan (who pretty much came out the same way in the same year, after all) occasionally took things to cartoonish extremes in establishing their individual personalities. So I'm happy to see other groups dial that down a few (thousand) notches. But these girls take it too far, where they're completely indistinguishable and you can't even tell that they've passed the mic except that they're calling themselves by a different name. Two of them also look a lot like Sweet Tee (and they have the same haircuts!), so I wonder if they're related.

On the other hand, at least none of them say anything stupid or embarrassing (hey, you can't say that for many of today's young rappers) and it's kinda cool to see Sweet Tee make the transition from "Let's Dance" to the early 90's hardcore vibe. Combine that with a decent track and it's a pretty decent listen if your don't hold your standards too high.

After "This Is It, Y'all" comes "This Is Really It," a 12" exclusive not on the album. It's not really a whole other song with a similar title, but a remix. Lyrically it's all the same, and the instrumental has a lot of the same elements, but it's more broken down, has a funkier bassline and a few extra samples... even some understated live guitar. simply put: it's better, and I really don't understand why they didn't just discard "This Is It, "Y'all" and make this the version for the album, video, etc. It's not that different, it's just a cooler, catchier variation of the same song.

Finally you get both instrumentals and the album's title track "Stompin'." It's got some nice scratching on it, by someone named Boo the Barber (who's apparently still around). But once the distinctive "Misdemeanor" sample kicks in and you realize it's the same beat as The D.O.C.'s "Funky Enough," chopped the exact same way, it just makes you realize you're listening to a drastically inferior "Funky Enough." If you'd never heard "Funky Enough" before hearing this, you'd probably enjoy this more. It's at least highly energetic with near constant cutting behind all the verses, and this time the MCs are saying more than just their names on repeat. One of them tells the story of going to court after beating up another woman in a playground, and one of the others talks about how she owns a laundromat and is also a runner who could have gone to the Olympics, but she chose to "kick phat rhymes on beats" instead. I have to admit, I didn't expect them to suddenly get this interesting so late in the single.

This record is definitely of its time, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. But it's got some elements, at least, that work - maybe they're not quite as corny as my first impression. The Posse might've actually been a little stronger if they didn't have a major label behind them. But if you're interested in hip-hop history, this is a record you should at least check it out once. I wonder what their story is... All I know is that Keisha also appeared on this record (not he infamous posse cut remix, but the regular one).


*And I guess they were well aware that people like me would be making the ABC connection, because when it's time to say her name, the other girls sing it in the background in the key and style of "Iesha."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

When Sly and Robbie Met BDP

In 1989, we saw a new side of Boogie Down Productions when Krs-One teamed up with Sly and Robbie to collaborate on their twentieth or so album, Silent Assassin. I don't mean reggae-influenced instrumentation or ragamuffin vocal stylings Krs sometimes broke off into... he'd already been doing that before this album. No, what we saw were some of the other members of the crew we barely knew. Like, name some BDP members besides Krs: Scott La Rock of course, D-Nice, Ms. Melodie... Kenny Parker... Did you say Willie D or Shah of Brooklyn? I think it's safe to say the only people who might've are the people who had this album.

I know hip-hop; I don't know other genres of music. But even I knew Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare were big. They've won Grammies and shit. And they're known for innovating and pulling reggae forward into each new decade. And so it made since that they would take the dive into hip-hop in the 80s, bringing in Krs-One to produce their entire album and getting American rappers on every single song.

Anyway, just look at that great album cover. Sly and Robbie (and... is that Sidney Mills?) up front and Krs reaching up out of the smoke behind them. This is no token "let's get a guest rapper on a song" thing, this is a real blending of their styles. Krs produced every single song on here, and (unfortunately) Sly & Robbie have no other record like this.

The big single was "Dance Hall." I just remember Yo! MTV Raps playing this every single day without fail. You had BDP stomping through the streets of Jamaica in full 80's American rapper gear. They're not trying to show how reggae they can look or sound here (as, again, BDP had done a couple of times in the past). They're in full-on New York rap crew mode. Meanwhile Sly & Robbie are jamming a very hip-hop sounding instrumental with a fast, funky bassline, popping drums and killer horn stabs. And on the mic is Willie D doing actually fairly average party rhymes. Yeah, this isn't the kind of song where it's rewarding to sit and contemplate the lyrics; but he sounds great over a brilliant instrumental. And on the album the song runs almost twice as long, letting each of the instrumental elements break out for solos and come alive to show that they're not just programmed sound-bites.

The only programmed sound-bite, really, is the hook, where they've got the one line ("just dance, y'all, to this dance hall beat") on a sampler so they can keep repeating it, stuttering it and changing the pitch. The 80s kinda got enamored with the technology, as you do, and went overboard with that production technique; but I think the pendulum has swung too far since then to where nobody ever uses it anymore and I miss it. If you want to discuss the current rap generation and if this is a good or bad time for hip-hop, just check and see if they've got any records like "Dance Hall." Nope. They're missing out.

The rest of the LP isn't necessarily as strong as the single. It's up and down and we'll get into all those peaks and valleys in a minute. But one cool thing is that it isn't an album trying to be eleven or twelve "Dance Halls." The album is more varied and often darker, more street and serious. More like a BDP album.

So WIllie D has one other song on here... And no, I don't care what discogs connects; this is not the guy from the Geto Boys. This song, "Ride the Riddim" doesn't actually sound reggae at all. Willie's just kicking freestyle rhymes over a sparse drum track with a little DJ cutting in the background and some electric, guitar riffs. Sort of like a softer version of "Ya Slippin'." You'd never think it was from a Sly and Robbie record, but it's presumably Sly behind those funky drums.

There are a couple of non-BDP members on hand as well. Queen Latifah does a nice little duet with Krs called "Woman for the Job" where she both raps and sings her own hook. Krs doesn't actually rap proper verses on it, but he does ad-libs and back-up vocals all over the joint. In fact, he does that all over this album. He's actually only properly featured as the lead MC on one song, "Party Together" (which, yes, is a rap/sing-songy track where they cover the tune of the original 60's song "Happy together" - or, as my generation knew it, the theme song to Golden Grahams cereal). Everything else is just him tagging p the album to make sure you know it's his project.

So, anyway, Queen Latifah is one, and Young MC is the other. Hey, it was 1989 and I guess they really wanted him, but they shouldn't have bothered. The instrumental to "Under Arrest" is surprisingly R&Bish, with Young rapping in full "Principal's Office" style. It's alright if you're in the mood for a pop rap tune; the hook's catchy and even though it's simple and superficial, there is a message to it. But it sure sounds out of place surrounded by the Boogie Down. And "Living a Lie" is even worse.

So, tallying it up so far, that's two Willie D songs, one Latifah, one Krs and two Young MCs. That leaves five more songs, or eight if you have the CD version with three additional bonus tracks, all of which are fronted by Shah of Brooklyn. Yeah, this obscure BDP guy who I don't think has ever rapped on any of the BDP albums or anything else, has the majority of this album all to himself. You could practically replace Sly & Robbie's names with Shah's and no one would blink.

And how is he? Pretty dope. He's obviously replicating a lot of Krs-One's flows and mannerisms, but that's not a bad thing at all. He sounds a little younger and his voice isn't as deep. He's like a Krs-One junior, or "Krs-Two" from "Poetry." He's pretty good, and he's rapping over BDP records with Sly & Robbie adding extra instrumentation. It's kind of hard to lose. Like I said, there are a few valleys. "Adventures Of a Bullet" is a great concept for a song (years before Organized Konfusion's "Stray Bullet"). The lyrics kill on paper. But the style of delivery they go for is like a weird, jazzy thing that just doesn't work. "Steppin'" is cool, but it sounds like he should've passed the mic to Kris who could've done it better. And "Letter To the President" is on some corny, sappy "We Are the World" sung bullshit.

"Man On a Mission," is a little poppier than your typical BDP album, like maybe they had younger audiences in mind. But it's still pretty fresh. It's a really good overall album, in fact. The CD version especially, because it actually features most of Shah's strongest tracks. "Come Again" is tight, with loads of funky scratching, too. It really has me wondering about Shah Barrett... who is he, where did he go? Why didn't he ever get a project, even a single 12" of his own after this huge, major label showcase? After listening to tracks like "No One Can Top This Boy," I just think yo, this guy could've made a good album. I would've bought it.

Well, regardless, this is still a pretty great lightning in a bottle-style moment for hip-hop. Yeah, there's one or two tracks that should've been dropped. But especially if you get the CD version which adds a lot more raw BDP flavor, it's great. I used to regret that Sly & Robbie didn't try another album like this, but I guess it doesn't matter as Krs-One didn't miss a step and kept putting out great music at a steady pace. But yeah, man. If you somehow missed this, don't sleep on the Silent Assassin.