Sunday, September 16, 2007

Before There Was Anticon, There Was...

"Sole" is the first 12" release by Live Poets, Sole's old group with JD Walker and DJ CUZ on 45 Below Records (it's not credited on the label, but "45 Below" is etched into the run-out groove), the label that became Anticon. According to his online bio, "flush with savings from his after-school job at McDonalds, sole pressed up his first 12" and freely gave it away at the 1995 Gavin Convention to little effect." So I guess it's kinda rare... but I've seen it pop up on EBay once or twice.

There is even earlier material to be tracked down... a full-length cassette by him and his crew going under the name Northern Exposure, called Madd Skills and Unpaid Bills (and, I guess if you have the right connections, there's the demo he recorded as a young teen). But this is really the first release worth checking for above and beyond the novelty of "hey, this is a semi-established artist's earlier material I can collect!"

The bulk of the production is handled by a guy named Randy Nkonoki... Now, unless there are two Randy Nkonokis in the 90's hip-hop world (which seems unlikely), then this is the guy who would go on to be president of ...which is an online radio show or something, I guess, with a little video and some video game tips. I don't know. I checked it out just now, and got bored pretty quick, but apparently it was a pretty big deal at one time, at least in terms of money spent behind the scenes. Anyway, this is pretty much his only known production work, and it's not bad at all. The mix of piano, bassline, drums and little jingly bells makes for a definite head nodder on the first track, "Sole (Basement Mix)" - which later turned up on Sole's 2000 compilation, Learning To Walk. Sole's delivery here and the production both sound very inspired by early Black Moon (as he says in the intro, "Live Poets Society representin' Portland, Maine with some of that Brooklyn flavor, yo"); but that's not really a bad thing. In fact, it might be the selling point for a lot of people who pick this up. His lyrics? A bit corny (or maybe a lot corny... but, hey, it was 1995 and everybody's lines were corny) and there's nothing special in the content; but his flow is expert enough to keep you riding the rhythm. Here, I'll let you give you a sample:

"Sucker MCs
Be corrupt like a senator.
Rhymes hit ya mind,
And soothe like a sedative.
Props you better give,
Or become a statistic
From MC Jeffrey Dahm',
Eatin' mics, sadistic.
Blastin' MCs
Like that old dog, Yeller.
I never drop my pen;
I wanna be a best seller.
Tim Holland is the win,
Tougher than Helen Keller;
And when the beat runs out,
I rock my rhymes acappella."

Next up: "Sole (Sole Searcher Remix)" is a total lyrical and instrumental remix... It also turned up on Learning To Walk, but curiously retitled as "Give Me My Medal." This mix is credited to Sample, who I'm guessing is Sample 208 Of the Butterfingers Crew, who produced a bunch of tracks on the Whats It All About and "Respect" 12". He recently produced two of the songs on Exile, the bonus CD that came with Sole's instrumental album Poly.Sci.187 if you ordered it direct from his website, which were pretty tight. So hopefully they'll do more together in the future. But I'm off on a tangent. Sole's switched his style on this one; forgoing the Buckshot sound in favor of what is essentially his own. Which is fine, because really one track like that was enough. Sample's beat, and the hook performed by JD Walker, pull you right into the song, even if you can't quite follow Sole's lyrics for more than two lines at a stretch. ...The accapella included on the 12" is for this version, by the way.

"Ain't No Thing" on the B-side finally gets JD Walker in on verse 2, and then he and Sole trade lines back and forth for verse #3. The basic track is a kind of repetitive, clonking piano loop over a plodding drum track. But the hook totally changes the mood, swapping out the piano for another, more pleasant loop and adding a short sax break. All of a sudden, it's engaging. And then it's plodding again until the next hook. A-side wins again.

The final track is the only one produced by Live Poets' own producer, Cuz the Highlander, who'd later become better known as Moodswing9. It's kinda short and features Sole and JD Walker going back and forth over a subtle beat. It's cool if you're a fan; but entirely forgettable otherwise. Finally, there's a brief, uncredited "shout outs" track.

Today, yes, Sole has a myspace, and his own website at (look for me on the forums!). Sole has an album due out next month with The Skyrider Band, called appropriately enough, Sole & The Skyrider Band. JD Walker also has a myspace, and just recently put out his latest album, Them Get You Them Got You, which I haven't heard yet. But you can order it, along with a bunch of his older releases, right off his myspace on a Paypal shopping cart, which is handy.

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