Now, I'm not one of those horrorcore fanatics. For the most part, it was a brief, misguided fad that's perpetuated today only by obscure and terrible underground rappers from small towns. For most people, it came and went with The Gravediggaz, and while Big L claimed to've started it with his "Devil's Son" 12" in '93, groups like Esham, Insane Poetry and the ICP had been doing it for a fair few years earlier (the Geto Boys dipped their toes in it as well). I don't mourn the loss of The Flatlinerz' crappy LP, and while I'm mildly curious what happened to Half Pit & Half Dead, I'm pretty well fine with the entire subgenre being dead and buried.
But god damn, I miss the Cella Dwellas! And not the f'ing Dwellas, I miss 'em with the Cella.
When these guys first came out, they were just two super-talented, underground MCs who got signed purely off the basis of their ill, creative lyrics and deliveries. Listen to Phantasm get ill on the old Underground Airplay tapes, kicking wild, inventive rhymes on "Cypha Session III" with MCs like Kool Kim and Lord Have Mercy (another lost music career tragedy... but that's a subject for another post) - that's what NY underground hip-hop was all about when it was at its best.
But LOUD Records sat on these guys for a long time (I remember being quite frustrated as a fan at how long it took for a proper release after first hearing their joint), and by the time they came out, the fad was just about deceased, and everybody was embarrassed by the painfully corny stabs less talented artists took at horrorcore. They were changing their style before their first album was even released (which makes one wonder what great, original Cella Dwella recordings there are locked away in a vault somewhere that we'll never hear), getting into gangsta rap with "The Good Dwellas" parts 1 and 2 and even a radio-friendly love rap, called "Perfect Match." Still, these guys were talented, had a good producer (the up and coming Nick Wiz, with some help from Lord Digga and Megahurtz), and songs like "Advance To Boardwalk" let them show off a bit of their creativity, so Realms 'N Reality, when it was finally released, wasn't so bad. But there's really only three tracks on there that represent the great and original contribution the Cella Dwellas had to bring to the rap game: the great "Mystic Freestyle," "Realm 3," which was ok but the beat was kinda boring, and "Land of the Lost," their debut single which was only thrown on the CD version as a "bonus track" (that's right, it's not even on the LP) because it was already so far removed from their new musical "direction."
A quick divergence, if you will: Their second album, The Last Shall Be First, was even further removed... as a symbolic gesture of this, they even dropped the Cella from their name; now only calling themselves The Dwellas. After getting a bit of notice for their fairly generic, punchline-heavy contribution to the Soul In the Hole soundtrack, "Main Aim," they adopted that style as their own... the entire LP is one basic freestyle rap filled with bland punchlines (this was the mid 90's, let's remember) after another. Only one song, "Ill Collabo," which was released as a single on the strength of guest appearance by Organized Konfusion (hence the title), features the Cella Dwellas in their element, kicking the kind of inventive rhymes they excelled at. Even today, they still have the flows and killer voices to get me excited when I hear about another one of their new, indie 12"s (like "Who Killed the Hip Hop" and UG's solo stuff) but ultimately, their fierce desperation to fit in with their under-talented peers makes each record they put out more boring than the last.
The same thing happened to Cage, AesopROCK and The Atoms Family when they signed to Def Jux... Or just about every old school hip-hop group that gets you excited when they announce their comeback: "oh boy, finally a new record from Whodini (when they became mini-Jermaine Dupris)/ Run DMC (Down With the King was Run DMC disappearing into a sea of guest producers and rappers... sure, the single was good, but only because Pete Rock & CL Smooth were just taking over the scene at the time. they even gave up their signature hats and Adidas in favor of the hoodies and Timbs every nobody was wearing at the time)/ Melle Mel (Die Hard anyone?)/ etc etc etc!" ...only to find they've left us with another lame-ass attempt to sound like the crappiest, most uninspiring MCs of the present day. Attention every MC making a comeback, please have the courage to do what made everybody fall in love with you in the first place, back when you were creative, original and bringing something new to the scene. We have enough no-hit-wonder clones.
Ok, sorry about that... now back on topic: That single was great, though. A mellow, head-nodding jazz sample-laced beat produced by Digga (an underrated producer in addition to being the pretty nice MC everybody knows him as), and The Cella Dwellas taking turns kicking increasingly weird and complex verses steeped in fantasy and even wit... it's the kind of song that really takes you someplace and you can't help but enjoy listening to (unless you're really bent on condemning "corniness"... in which case, as always, it's your capricious loss). Check out this verse; but remember: without hearing UG's fantastic voice and crazy flow, believe me, you'll only be getting a fraction of the appeal:
"Dark clouds form
When I raise my staff in the air;
Lightning strikes my structure
And I disappear.
I leap through portals;
I'm immortal - call me Blacula.
UG the spellcaster!
I move objects by the use of telekinesis;
When I dianoetic rhymes,
MCs regret it.
My... ill... skills... be.. mystical,
A relic from whence wizards fought over orbs of magical crystals.
In my basement,
Humans are used for experiments like rats:
I inject raps
And their brain splats!
I jump from body to body like Quantum Leap;
When I speak,
I rip cheeks, and ya mouth bleeds.
So enter the center of this mystical... inventor.
I change summer to... winter.
I can't control my... temper.
Gusts and winds rip off roofs, and I scream,
'The chemical in my bloodstream makes my blood green!'
Blood hits the screen in my video,
My mind's off course...
I'm from the Land Of the Lost!"
The heck with it. It may be excessive, but here's some more just because I like it:
"In the Land of the Lost,
My identity's feared my many.
I jump in bodies to hide from authorities,
'Cause I'm wanted
For haunting villages;
They turn to ashes!
My tongue lashes
The skin and then the blood splashes!
I incinerate states
When I radiate beams of heat
That originate from dreams in my sleep.
I make willows weep when I sweep
Through the area
Like an epidemic.
My blood type is Kemit.
My DNA (hey!) got mixed with deadly toxics.
My dagger rips
People from their toes to their hips.
The hideous... lurks in the blackness.
Store water in my toe like a cactus;
And my rap rips
Tracks, and conjures up spirits when I'm thinkin':
Relatives, old presidents, Abe Lincoln!"
This 12" is of particular note, too; because of the Radio Edit. Now, there's no curse words in this song, and the potentially offensive lines ("I stick needles in ya body like a chink doin' acupuncture," an irreverent reference to Jesus, and all the violent bits) are left in... so what's so different about this mix? What's the point of it? Well, it's a bit shorter, some lines have been removed from each of the verses. In fact, the vocals have actually been rerecorded, and new lyrics have been added(!). For example, the opening of the song goes from:
"In the Lost Land,
I break many limbs like twigs;
When I take swigs of the red rum,
I get crazy like Briggs.
Then I start the murderin' and mutilatin'
Skin and bones and
Lyrics is unhealthy like plaque.
I bomb and weave on a track
Like a flock of bats."
"In the Lost Land,
I light lanterns to explore the corridors,
Then use portals to emerge
To the surface floors.
Lyrics is unhealthy like plaque..."
And an alteration in one of UG's above verses transforms:
"My DNA (hey!) got mixed with deadly toxics.
My dagger rips
People from their toes to their hips."
"My DNA got mixed with deadly toxics,
So my soul sits on old ships
Sunken by pirates."
There are other curious little changes, too, like theline, "I'm immortal - call me Blacula" has been changed to, "I'm immortal like Dracula." Considering how starved we are for the fun, "horrorcore" Cella Dwellas songs (I count six total: "Land Of the Lost," "Realm 3," "Mystic Freestyle," "Ill Collablo," "Cypha Session III - Has Words" and "4 Da Mind" from Masta Ace's Sittin' On Chrome album), any fan will want to have both versions for sure.
The b-side, "We Got It Hemmed," is their first "we can do it, too" statement (which would later become their entire career)... a respectable but unexceptional take at a straight, no frills rap song. The fact that they took the chorus out of a line from a recently released Nas song as he was just blowing up ("Halftime") perfectly illustrates their desire to jump on the popular bandwagon. It's got another mellow, jazzy beat (this one by Nick Wiz), a little bit of nice scratching at the end (more would have helped), and they ride the beat just as well here as on the previous song, but lyrics like:
"The illest -
Words fill this;
Time to let my rhyme blow like Willus
Diff'rent Strokes for different folks.
That's all folks,
Like Porky Pig.
Peace to my nig."
...are at least as corny, and not nearly as inspired. If this is what "real heads" prefer, then "real heads" need to get the "real sticks" out of their "real asses."
By the way, the cassingle version of this release was actually purple. 8)
So, where are they now? Well, following up the handful of indie 12"s mentioned earlier, UG is continuing to do his thing solo, now under the name of Lan Outlaw (I think he held a contest... most forgettable name wins some tickets or something). He's already put out one mix-CD and is about to release his second on his new label, Spaz Out Entertainment. Hopefully there'll be a proper, non-mix release sometime eventually. Now, don't be fooled by the unofficial, fan-made Cella Dwellas myspace page... here's his actual myspace page, and here's his label's official site. The Dwellas still seem to be recording together sometimes, too. Nick Wiz has an exclusive new track from them on his myspace. But, no, it doesn't hail from The Land Of the Lost.