Monday, November 19, 2007

Three Eyes, Four Tracks

Evil Cow Burger to me is the flagship of the 4-track tape movement of the late 90's. It wasn't the first, and what the best was is endlessly debatable; but this album, to me, really signaled that the primarily west coast driven, underground movement of self-manufactured cassettes was the scene to watch. This gritty and eccentric sister release to the more mainstream compilation Beneath the Surface showed that 4-track tapes were no longer just the stuff of demos or music not worthy of being pressed onto vinyl, but was really where some of the best and most innovative hip-hop music would be coming from in the late 90's.

The group Three Eyed Cowz was essentially just Project Blowed alumni Awol One as a solo artist recording with all of his friends. Awol's on pretty much every song, and some are solo, but it's packed with guest verses from his fellow Shape Shifters and Ex2 (pronounced: "Ee Times Two"), a crew he's not technically a member of, but who were featured each other on their releases. The Visionaries, who were coming up as the crew to watch at that time, make a guest appearance, as does Rashinel of The Hobo Junction... Abstract Rude does a drop. It's really an ideal snapshot of a great, often overlooked, period in rap's diverse history.

The production is solid... using very traditional hip-hop production techniques (he also DJs and graf writes... don't think these west coast underground cats aren't more hip-hop than you - heh), but using samples and loops you'd never heard before (at a time when a lot of east coast beat-making was cannibalizing itself) with slow, growling basslines, accepting and making the most out of the fact that final output wouldn't be "CD quality" clarity. It made for a steadfast nest for Awol's deep voice and off-kilter flow, while still accommodating the varied styles of his guests. A few DJs (ESP, Roach and Awol himself as "Awol Crumb") add some cuts to the mix.

"Have I None," a duet with Jizzm, is an excellent, instantly absorbing use of sung vocals as a background loop... sort of along the lines of, say, Ras Kass's "Understandable Smooth." "Demo Killa" is just a banging, hardcore posse cut, while "Mountains-More Mountains" takes the posse cut to all new heights of... strangeness. With an acappella hook and a catchy mix of humming and piano for the beat, Awol starts the song off in one direction:

"She was only a baby... ten brothers and sisters,
Wishing she was an only child for a while.
Waiting for countdown 'till next time she eats;
Got a fat uncle, who likes to grab her ass.
Hates school,
'Cause her clothes are out of style,
And she hates life,
'Cause her pops travels miles.
Mom gets around the apartment building...
Uses television... as a shielding.
Tired of the habits... shared by her sisters;
Takes a vow
To never be like her siblings.
Finds her great escape... staring at the ceiling;
Takes a shower
Four times a day,
But still hates to brush her teeth... with her finger.
Radiowave dreams of becoming a singer."

...But then Gasia (of Acid Reign) takes it takes it to a whole 'nother planet with his verse:

"The polymorphic swordfish
Is planting seeds and granting wishes,
Damaging the past malicious
mannequins of sacrilegious
Make sure your glaciers of ice suffice,
'Cause when the polar ice caps collapse,
Your rough neck raps could mean your life."

...And that's not even getting into Circus's verse (you can imagine)!

"Working for Peanuts" uses one of the only recognizable samples on the tape, and very intentionally. It starts with Vince Guaraldi's super famous Peanuts theme song as a backdrop to a vocal sample of a hooker talking about her financial issues, then when the beat and Awol's verse kick in, the same Peanuts sample is chopped, using the deepest notes as a crazy bassline. Then it plays at a slightly higher tempo for the hook, while Awol sings "She Works Hard for the Money" off-key - I mean, if you're not familiar with Awol One's style... imagine Biz Markie if he was dead serious all the time, with just sparks of an alternately angry or melancholy sense of irony.

Even the lesser material on the album, like Ex2's "Computervirus," which is really just about literal computer viruses, is fun and more compelling than what the major labels were dishing out at the time.

The word classic might be thrown around too often in hip-hop - as we get older, it's tempting to throw it at every record we liked as teens - but this one really is a classic of it's era.

Today, Awol is as prolific as ever. He put out three collaborative albums out in 2007 so far (one with Josh Martinez, one with Mascaria and one with Factor), and probably has at least one more project due to be out before the new year. ;) Oh and, yeah, here's his myspace.


  1. this tape has not left my rotation since its release. i had to put it on multiple formats so i can listen to it whenever i felt the urge. you do this classic much due respect. thank god someone wrote about this tape.

  2. Does anyone have any info on the Noise tape that EX2 debuted on? Is it true it was completely produced by AWOL? Is there a tracklist floating around anywhere online? I can't find any info about it online except for an EX2 bio on their site and 2 songs listed on the Shape Shifters disco. From what I gather it was a 20 minute one sided tape. Is this true? Any info is appreciated!