Saturday, December 8, 2007

'Halls of Justice' You Call It

"The Verdict" is the second single off of Professor Griff's debut album, Pawns In the Game. This - along with the first single, the title track - is the best material he ever put out (and they had awesome videos as well). So get it.

Unlike his first single, this is a posse cut featuring his crew, then known as The Last Asiatic Disciples. If you hold a magnifying glass to the liner notes of his first album (at least the CD version, which is the one I'm working with), you'll see that the LAD consists of "SEAN PEACKOCK B.K.A. LIFE, THE IST DISCIPLE. SEAN SMITH B.K.A. PATRICK X, THE IIND DISCIPLE. JASON WICKS B.K.A. JXL, THE IIIRD DISCIPLE. ROBERT HARDING B.K.A. B-WYZE, THE IVTH DISCIPLE. THE DEMANDING JUSTICE, THE ESD 'OBIE'." And they all get a chance to shine on this one.

There's some interesting production personal involved here, as well. It's credited to Griff and Clay D (of "Dazzy Duke Down" and "That Booty In There" fame), with "Re-Education" (referring the remixing, I guess) credited to Griff, The 2 Live Crew's Mr. Mixx(!), Kerwin "Sleek" Young and Kavon Shaw (who would later go on to form The Soul Society with Griff and Tone Control). It adds up to the type of PE-inspired beat that Chuck & Flavor really should've stuck to themselves. When PE got too far out there and cartoony, Griff - the man Russell Simmons once called "a racist stage prop" - was doing beats and delivery styles straight out of the Nation of Millions playbook. Lyrically is where he tends to lose his audience, making extreme race-related claims and divisive religious references. But I don't think any of us who grew up listening to politically-charged rap music in the 90's would be strangers to that, anyway.

Now, you may notice the picture cover proudly proclaims there to be "NO EXPLICIT LYRICS CONTAINED" on this single - an interesting decision since, in 1990, an Explicit Lyrics stickers essentially meant 50% more sales. For "The Verdict" (the b-side, which I'll get to in a minute, didn't feature any language that needed to be removed in the first place), they redo the vocals with new lyrics to substitute the curses. For the most part, it works. Only one instance, where one of the LAD defiantly ends his verse, "I charge you with a count of bullshit, and 'Guilty' is the verdict!" becomes "I charge you on account of being a misfit." …Doesn't quite have the same impact. Or even really the same meaning if you think about it.

Much more importantly, though, this "Radio Edit" features two new verses, all new scratching, all kinds of shit that any fan of the album version will need to have in his collection. Here's a verse one of the LAD kicks that isn't on the LP:

"People of the jury seeking signs of the end,
Matthew: 24 reveals the who, what and when.
Many who were judged were the devil in actuality;
Tried and set free. Your irrationality's a technicality.
But we're free now;
'Cause when we speak the truth, we're merely prosecuted;
Where before, for tellin' the truth, a brother would be executed.
Yeah, I shot the sheriff... knew him by his six-pointed star.
He claimed to be chosen. The righteous: exactly what we are.
If you don't know the truth by now, then you will learn.
There will be no stone left unturned."

The b-side is the third best album cut, "Suzi Wants To Be a Rock Star." Really, if you get the first two singles, the album becomes more of a for-completists-only-type deal. This isn't up to "Pawns In the Game" or "The Verdict;" it's more of a fun song, with rocking heavy metal guitars and even some guy singing heavy metal style on the hook (no credits given say who that is). It's another posse cut, and the cheesy guitars mix with the underlying beat in an enjoyable way. If you can get over a song being "corny" (the ultimate condemnation for those who haven't realized that most of the rap music they take so seriously is actually at least as corny by grown-up standards), you'll dig this anti-drug song, albeit not in the same way as the a-side.

When I first flipped to this over to the b-side I thought, "what the heck? They left off a version," but it turns out the "Heckl-a-pella" version just refers to a very short collection of vocal samples which sounds more like the beginning of the next version. And that next version, "The Supreme Court Instrumental," is the reason tobuy this single. At it's core, it's the instrumental to "The Verdict" but then, throughout the song, the instrumental is flipped and changes to new breakbeats and horn samples. It's like The 45 King snuck into their studio late at night - dope stuff! The one drawback is that it's a little sparse... it's still essentially an instrumental largely meant to support complex lyrics. The change-ups help, but it could use a little more by way of vocal samples, lyrics or something. Really, they should've let Mr. Mixx tear it up on the tables. But that's about the only complaint you can have about it. In the final analysis, hip-hop beats just don't get much better.

So all told, in addition to "Suzi Wants To Be a Rock Star," you get five versions of "The Verdict:" the new "Radio Edit," the "Speech-A-Pella" (acappella of the new, "Radio Edit" version), LP Version (described in the liner notes as "Curseless At Its Best" - it's the album version with the curses just flipped in the traditional way), the teensy tiny "Heckl-A-Pella" (I don't care what they say, it's the intro to the next mix) and the extra funky "Supreme Court Instrumental." And with his decked out uniforms, the man knows how to make a nice picture cover. Not bad for something you can pick up in a dollar bin.

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