Those crazy objects would sure scare us
If they - one day - had it their way.
I'm not done with Weapon-Shaped yet. This is their second, weird, little collector's edition 7", "Attack of the Postmodern Pat Boones" by the Object Beings, a collaberative group of Anticon artists Pedestrian, Why?, Dose One along with producer Emynd. And it's great.
It's catchy, it's creative, it's funny... of course, to really "get" the song, you have to know who Pat Boone is, which might exclude a lot of their younger hip-hop demographic. Pat Boone was huge in the 50's... the non-threatening, non-rock & roll alternative to Elvis Presley, who didn't dress flashy, dance outrageously or have suggestive lyrics in his music. He continued to record through the 60's and 70's and basically made safe "white" versions of hit records so that middle America could have their bland version of "Tutti Frutti" without having to face any scary Little Richards. ...Towards the end of his career, he went into making strictly gospel music.
So bear this in mind, and think of the state of the hip-hop scene Anticon was in when this was released (2000), particularly with the college kids embracing all the DJ Shadows and what-not, and you'll start to see the sense and even the wit in the "nonsense lyrics," including the chorus that goes:
"It's the attack of the post-modern Pat Boones...
And they've got golf shoes for hands.
It's the attack of the post-modern Pat Boones...
And they never learned guitar.
It's the attack of the post-modern Pat Boones...
They're writing their thesis papers on acid.
It's the attack of the post-modern Pat Boones...
And they're taking your transgressive daughters."
The body of the song consists of Pedestrian and Why? trading lines back and forth, finishing each other's sentences over a mellow beat with a very catchy guitar sample and a single, drawn out keyboard note:
"Why?) Who's whoever accepts the primal challenge to play the role of
Pedestrian) Suburban fur-trapper, camoflauged in fake leather couches and plush carpet squares,
Why?) Searching for an embroidered 'Home Sweet Home' wall-hanging,
Superfluous signal of a potpouri sense of security.
Pedestrian) Watercolor class has taught him much...
Even the value of tupperware in a wine-cooler ravaged conscience:
Clear, but for the ominous tint of contentment.
Why?) He once spent a summer squatting in the food court cloaked in McChicken crumbs,
Lucky felt flower behind ear.
Pedestrian) And also having slept on the most expensive sand in all of orange county,
He inverted post-pubescent Keroucian fantasy with a rather non-threatening vengeance."
To be honest, this is still one of my all-time favorite Anticon songs (although, not strictly released on Anticon Records... though it was later included on their Giga Single compilation).
The B-side, "Cannibalism of the Object Beings" features a faster beat, faster flows and introduces Dose One into the mix. It's even more bugged out ("You never know what could show up in your mailbox") and a lot of fun, even if - unfortunately - some of the vocals are a little tough to make out in the mix. :(
It's a shame this 7" was so limited, because it's seriously one of the most important hip-hop records of its period. The Object Beings haven't really stayed together as a group, but today Why? has two albums recorded due to come out... one apparently featuring a lot of music by the band Fog, and other more hip-hop-oriented. Dose has a new Themselves (he and Jel) album in the works. And Pedestrian, as ever, is torturing all of his fans by going for increasingly long stretches without putting any new music out while Sole makes posts about him "working on a new album." Man, I feel like it's 2000 again right now.
[Another two-parter. Click here to read Part 1 first.]
Ant "D" is currently on death row for the April 13, 1996 murders of University of Miami football player Marlin Barnes and Timwanika Lumpkins, also know as Lil Bit, who was Ant's former girlfriend and mother of his child (Ant thanks her in the Top Dog liner notes, as well as on previous Dogs' albums, and gives a creepy laugh after shouting out her name on "Ant 'D' Saying Whats Up"). Ant had been seeing Timwanika on and off for over five years ...along with University of Miami basketball player Jennifer Jordan; Watisha Wallace, mother of another one of his children, and Katina Lynn, a nude dancer who toured with the Dogs. At the time, Ant was living alternately with Watisha and Timwanika (when he was arrested two weeks after the murders, he was in bed with Watisha), and a week before the 13th, Timwanika walked out on him. Apparently, there had been several incidents of violence before with Timwanika over his jealousy.
In 1994, he threatened Timwanika and another man with a 9mm outside their home, and in 1995 went to her aunt's house with the same gun, looking for her. He threatened her as well as a man she was with, and hit him with the gun. In another scary '95 incident, Ant "D" was spotted hiding outside of Timwanika's house behind a tree, in a black outfit he wore for his stageshows. He later knocked on the door and threatened to "blow [the] brains out" of a man she was about to go out with. After a series of harrassing cell phone calls that same night, Timwanika wound up going out with Marlin instead of her intended date. Timwanika's high school friend Dekeisha Williams reported several incidents, from frightening phone calls to black eyes and "welts on her neck that looked like handprints."*
Katina had similar incidents with Ant "D" in the past. She testified about times when he grabbed her by the neck and banged her head against the wall, telling her "not to play with his feelings or he would hurt her." Another time, after running into her old high school teacher at the gym, Ant put a gun to her head and told her, "he had better not find out she was messing with someone else or he would kill her, put her body in a bag and throw her somewhere." And again, when she tried to leave him, he put a gun to her head and said she could never leave him and "if she tried, she would 'leave the world.' Then he told her to call him in the morning and don’t play with him.'
On Easter of '96, Ant "D" went to his friend Joseph Stewart's place looking to borrow a gun. Joseph had a broken shotgun he'd found in the trunk of an abandoned car a year earlier that he was keeping under his mattress at his mother's house, which he let him borrow. Katina then went with Ant to go buy bullets.
On April 12th, Timwanika went to a party for a charity basketball game with several girlfriends. Marlin was also there with friends, but they wound up leaving together. When they got outside, they discovered Timwanika's tires had been slashed.
On April 13th, Marlin's roommate and childhood friend, Earl Little, came home to his apartment to discover their door unlocked. When he tried to open the door, he found it was blocked and forced it partway to see a "floor full of blood" and his roommate Marlin lying on the floor, breathing hard. Earl called his name twice, and the second time Marlin turned his head just enough that Earl could see his face. In a 2005 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Earl said, "He was still alive. I opened the door enough to stick my head in there and I said, 'Marlin.' He was trying to respond. It came out in the trial that the guy hit him 27 times with the butt end of a shotgun. His face was all messed up. It was best he passed away. When I found him, no surgery would have put him back to the way he was."
To quote the court documents exactly, "Marlin Barnes had suffered multiple lacerations all over his face and forehead, on both cheeks and on his lower lip, and had bruising on both cheeks and around his eyes. Barnes’ sinus and nasal bones were broken. His hard palate, or roof of his mouth, was broken, while several of his teeth were broken and missing. Barnes had some abrasions on the back of his head that were consistent with Barnes having been beaten while the back of his head was against carpet. There was also a laceration on the back of his head that was different than the ones on the front, which could have been caused by his falling to the floor and hitting his head, or by being hit on the front of his head as he lay on the hard surface of the floor. There was a "thin" fracture of the occipital bone underthis laceration.Barnes had defensive wounds on both his hands, corresponding in shape to parts of the shotgun... Barnes’ sinus and nasal bones were broken. His hard palate, or roof of his mouth, was broken, while several of his teeth were broken and missing."
Apparently, Ant assaulted and beat Marlin down as soon as he opened the door; then continued to beat him with the shotgun while he was on the floor. He then left Marlin and went to look for Timwanika. It's believed that some of Marlin's face wounds caused bleeding and hemorrhaging in and around his eyes; which left him blind as he attempted to walk around the apartment, ultimately collapsing against the door.
Tamwanika was also still alive when police found her, "lying face down next to the bed. She was 'gurgling' as if she were trying to breathe but her lungs were full of fluid. She had suffered obvious trauma to the back of her head; [Coral Gables police officer Dan] Oppert observed a great deal of blood and what appeared to be exposed brain matter." According to the physical evidence, Tamwanika was hiding under the bed and dragged out. She had defensive wounds on her arms and hands, including broken fingers and fingernails. Blood was even found sprayed on the ceiling. Tamwanika was airlifted to a nearby hospital where she soon died.
After the murder, Joseph found his shotgun returned but destroyed in the same duffel bag he'd lent to Ant "D" behind some bushes alongside his mother's driveway. Inside there was also a knife and Ant's black outfit. After talking to Ant the next day, Joseph disposed of the gun, knife and clothes, but "saved the duffel bag because he didn’t notice any blood on it, and planned on using it again." Police didn't find out about Joseph’s involvement until his girlfriend, Zemoria Wilson, told her bus driver about the incident on a return trip from Chicago.
Ant later saw Katina, told her conflicting stories about his whereabouts during the murder and told her, "That was good for her ass. The bitch shouldn’t have been cheating on me." He was finally arrested for the murders after a phone tip to the police on April 30, 1996. He was 24 at the time; Timwanika and Marlin were both 22.
There. I don't think another post on this blog will ever be as grim as that. This has to be the most brutal case in hip-hop (to date). To be fair to all parties, however, I should point out that Ant "D" did plead not guilty to the charges and I believe still maintains his innocence (the most recent information I could find was a denied appeal in 2002). Anyway, I promise the next post I make will be much more upbeat.
* By the way, pretty much all of the information and quotes in this half of the piece are coming from The Supreme Court of Florida's published statements (91 pages) of the case.
Disco Rick and The Dogs was always really a solo act... the Dogs were just the name of whoever he toured with: hypemen, DJ, etc. But when Disco Rock left Joey Boy Records for a new label (Luke Records) and a new crew (The Wolfpack), Joey Boy decided to keep the Dogs' highly successful/ marketable name alive by giving it to Rick's dancers, Ant "D" and the Amazing Peanut, who suddenly got promoted to rappers. So, given that dubious origin, Ant "D"'s 1993 solo album featuring The Puppies, Top Dog, is surprisingly not too terrible.
Like most of the Joey Boy releases at that time, it's produced entirely by in-house producers Calvin Mills II and Carlton Mills, which is a good thing. After all, Ant "D" (by the way, if you're wondering why the "D" is in quotes, I don't know - it just is) has the approximate rapping skills of a professional athlete, so if he works, he works because he's essentially an in-studio creation. ...That said, to his credit, he does apparently write all his own lyrics here - at least according to the liner notes. Of course, it says, "all lyrics by Labrant Dennis [Ant's real name]," which would mean all the guest MCs' verses as well... so I'm guessing the album credits aren't telling the whole story here. Heck, they don't even name the guest MCs... but more on that later.
So, the album begins and ends with forgettable skits about two guys very excited to have the new Top Dog tape. But once we're past that we get right into one of the nicest (not "next level" exceptional or anything, but just really engaging and fun) Miami bass beats you're likely to hear, called "We Wanna Party." Perhaps the best thing about this album is that Ant "D" raps through the entire thing. It isn't 50% "shout and call" tracks, or long instrumental fillers devoted solely to car stereo system testing baslines. Don't get me wrong, this album does have the low frequency prolonged, programmed rumble you'd expect from a Miami-bassed artist at this time; but on this album it's clearly secondary; an afterthought to making enjoyable songs anybody can listen to without a jeep full of coffin-sized woofers.
Next up is the prerequisite track based off of Planet Patrol's "Play At Your Own Risk" (hey, I said this was a solid entry into the Miami bass music genre, not that it was revolutionary), followed by the first of only two songs to actually feature The Puppies. The other is the single, "Break It Down," with Ant "D" and Big Boy sharing the mic - Tamara is name-checked, but never rhymes. You've got a few other typical dance tracks, like "Work It" and "Get It Get It," and one ultra-corny love song called "Good Thing," where Ant slows it down almost to a spoken word piece. The first verse is about being true to a good relationship when you find it (something we know came from the heart and his real life experiences), and the second is more of a "do what your parents tell you to do" "Hey Young World"-type thing.
By and large, Top Dog is a collection of nothing but upbeat, fun party rhymes making for a fast-moving (the whole album just barely tops half an hour, since almost all the songs are just 3 minutes long), family friendly experience. Not what you'd expect, really, from a member of The Dogs, and certainly not when you consider what we now know he'd go on to do later...
Even on the hardcore posse cut (and only song with explicit lyrics), "Here Come Them J-Boys" (the chorus is "Here come them Joey Boys"), which features... well, I don't know. I'm gonna guess Ace the Bulldog and at least one of the Miami Boyz. They do name check themselves, but except for Ant, the MCs seem to have difficulty with ennunciation. So what you wind up with is a lot of really violent, realy slurred lyrics, like:
"I'm the Bulldog;
I've got the heart of steel
On the real,
These gangstas love to kill.
[something] from the knife wound,
Then I'ma drink your blood with a spoon!
Grabbed my nine
And shot a girl in the chest.
Now that was real messed up and hated.
Step to me, girl,
And even God couldn't save ya.
So, lay low before I pull ya card;
Don't snitch on the boulevard.
I told you once;
You didn't follow example.
Now your family must be dismantled!"
Another one of the MCs directs his verse towards Disco Rick:
"Let me talk about this cat
That tried to diss Ant D;
But you know that you gots to come clean.
I'm not even gonna say your name,
'Cause, punk, you don't deserve that kind of fame.
Tryin' to make girls jiggle;
I heard at the store, 'Wiggle, Wiggle.'"
But, yeah. What I was saying... even on this track, Ant D leaves the curses, violence and dissing to his guests, and keeps his verse relatively clean and non-threatening. Like Jose Armada, Jr. of Joey Boy Records said, "It really shocked me because he was a quiet guy, not that violent at all. But I hadn't seen him in three years. I guess a lot can happen in that time."*
The only other non-party song, "Ya Gotta 'Go'" (I don't know why the word "Go" is in quotes either... I guess Ant "D" just has a thing for quotation marks), takes on a disturbing new subtext when you listen to it now, knowing what happened. It's about Ant dealing with a cheating girlfriend. He decides to video-tape her in a gangbang (classy all the way), but the infidelity still gets him so mad "I was so mad, I just pulled out my glock." But in the end, he thinks better of it all, and just tells her, "you gotta go." Tragically, he didn't have those second thoughts in real life.
[Continued in a follow-up post being added immediately.]
* Taken from a 1996 article titled "Business is Booming," by John Floyd. Most of it has nothing to do with Ant D, but he does also say, "[The Dogs'] stuff has always sold steady... It's sad to say, but it's really picked up [since Dennis's arrest]. The whole thing is just crazy."
[Continued from Part 1. It didn't fit all in one post, so I had to split this one up.]
"Take notice that: This album is based on 3 subjects. Sex, politics, and violence. That is real life on the streets of Miami and LA," pronounced the jacket of The Dogs' debut, self-titled album, released by Joey Boy that same year. Of course, 90% of it was based on the first subject, but you really lose a little piece of your soul every time you nit-pick a release by groups like The Dogs… It was co-written, and of course produced, by Disco Rick, although, again, the scratching was left to somebody else - this time DJ FM. The album followed the same themes as Disco Rick's, but with a less angry/ serious bent, except for the first track, where Disco Rick rapped about his not-so-amicable separation from the GCII, using an exchange from the intro to "Show Bizz" (off of What Time Is It? It's Gucci Time) on the hook:
"Where's Disco Rick at?"
"I think he's in the booth."
"Gettin' ready to cut it up?"
…with Disco Rick shouting out his retort, "NO!" over the last line.
He trashed the crew, dropping lines like, "they do records that make people laugh; and when I hear it, I break it in half," and, while technically a Dogs album, Peanut and Ant "D" really just served as back-up to Disco Rick the whole way through. Rick still sometimes got serious on tracks like "Ten Little N…..s" (a song about being afraid of the local, inner-city children) and "F..k the President" (self-explanatory). Even on the generic shout and call songs, like "Lets Go, Lets Go" and "Lick It," the production set this album slightly above most of its contemporaries. This was also the record that features the infamous single, "Crack Rock," with a group of kids calling out, "your momma's on crack rock" to one little boy vainly trying to stand up for himself, “Uh-uh; no she ain’t.” Only "Who Gives a F..k," a litany of Disco Rick saying, "Who gives a fuck about ____ [The Guardian Angels, teachers, killing a bitch, Queen Elizabeth, etc]” to the constant response of "We don't, we don't!" and "Dog Call," Rick's misguided stab at lyrical respectability, were genuinely embarrassing (though perhaps not without camp value). Between this and The Negro's Back, Disco Rick managed to jump free of a derailing train and find his way back into the realm of dope hip-hop, at least for a short while.
That train, meanwhile, took one more shot at recording before finally crashing into that big, inescapable boulder painted to look like a tunnel. With new member Hollywood, the Gucci Crew II dropped G4 on Gucci Records/ Hot Productions, an album that was pretty terrible by anybody's standards. G4 was at its best only on tracks like "Pushin'," where they used samples and beats made popular by other, better hip-hop albums of the past, which, by that time, had gotten pretty seriously played out themselves. Even "Project Girl," a perfunctory sequel to "Sally - That Girl," and "Gucci Gumbo (Mega Mix)," a medley of Gucci Crew II's early singles, managed not only to suck the life out of their past hits, but to serve as a keen reminder that you were listening to the wrong, damn album. Besides missing Disco Rick, the crew had shed their trademark sense of humor, which made records like "Gucci Broke" and "Dating Game" worth their while, and replaced it with virtually nothing.
In 1991, Rick and The Dogs dropped Beware of the Dogs… like the hardcore answer to G4, they came off more like hacks doing a poor imitation of their previous efforts. The best song, amid a myriad of "Work that ass, baby"-type songs, was "I Know That Bitch," about a girl named, notably, Sally. Switching up to a more playful delivery, The Dogs actually managed a sort of engaging sense of humor they'd never been able to muster before or since. They took further cue from the Gucci Crew II to make a poor rehash of one of their biggest hits: this time, an obviously substandard follow-up to "Crack Rock" called "Life About Crack." Beware concluded with "Dogga Mix," a mega mix of The Dogs' earlier records, which was a hell of a lot better than "Gucci Gumbo," but, honestly, The Dogs didn’t really have enough dope singles to fill a mega mix with.
No doubt sensing another looming disaster along his current recording path, Disco Rick was on his own again the following year. No longer down with The Dogs, Rick started a third crew, and in 1992, Disco Rick and The Wolf Pack dropped Back From Hell on Luke Records. At that time, it was an impressive alliance. The underground producer behind some of the hottest, most influential Miami artists joining with what was becoming the leading hip-hop label of its day (this was right before MC Shy D's lawsuit effectively toppled Luke's empire). …Well, this was no masterpiece, but it was a Hell of a lot better than Beware of the Dogs, with Rick grabbing the mic to set it off on The Dogs, Joey Boy Records, and his own lawyer on the opening track, "F--k 'em Up Rick." A follow up to "Lets Go Lets Go," called "Let's Go Some Mo'," was reasonably entertaining, "Yes She Did" was a cheery throwback to records like "La Di Da Di" and "Just Swingin'," and "Let Me L--k U Girl" was a really cheesy, but inadvertently bemusing, attempt to be sexy.
The lead single, "Can U Feel It" was a hype, classic Miami record for the '92 era, featuring a collection of infamous hooks like "Don't stop; get it, get it" and, yes, "Whoop! There it is" over afast, semi-techno-bass track. And the follow up single, "Wiggle Wiggle" is a fun dance track, with the sort of bouncy, 50's guitar loop that Mr. Mixx brought to the hip-hop table a few years earlier. This album has its missteps (like a lame-ass reinterpretation of The 2 Live Crew's infamous "Fuck Shop" called "The F--k House"), but it's still a really strong entry in the Disco Rick oeuvre.
Left to their own devices, The Dogs stuck with Joey Boy and dropped K-9 Bass, sans producer/ guiding force Disco Rick - even going so far as to thank the Gucci Crew II in their liner notes. This was the lowest branch in the family tree to feature the "traditional" bass album cover, with a girl in a thong standing behind a brightly colored airbrushed logo. It featured some well-produced, effervescent tracks, but had anybody really been waiting to hear Ant & Peanut take the mic for themselves? K-9 Bass was a procession of silly, bass-driven, shout-hooked dance tracks (except for a dirty little ode to anal sex called "Dookie Shoot" and an endless, 4 minute skit called "Broamin"), but it was still a lot better put together than their last album.
MC Creep Dog (who would go on to put out It’s a Diggy Dog World with Joey Boy the next year) dropped by to steal the show and kick a verse on "Mutt Them Ho's," while "Dogga Mixxx II" was now twice as unnecessary as the lastone. They concluded by dissing Disco Rick in their shout-outs.
In 1993, one of The Dogs went solo (more or less), cleaning up his act and dropping Top Dog by Ant "D" & The Puppies on Joey Boy Records. The Puppies (Big Boy & Tamara Dee) are actually the son and daughter of DJ Uncle Al, the prolific producer with a string of successful albums and a pirate radio station (BASS 91.9) to his name. They went on to drop their own, self-titled album with Joey Boy later that year, and there it is. The legacy of Disco Rick and the Gucci Crew II ultimately eclipsed by a pair of kid rappers.
In 1994, Hot Productions put out the richly warranted album, The Best of Gucci Crew II. The only disappointing aspect of the record was that it lacked the scope to include the best of Disco Rick and The Dogs as well, and felt compelled to add tracks from G4, none of which were good enough to merit inclusion. Ant “D”’s path, tragically, took a far more serious turn. In 1999, he was convicted and sentenced to death for beating to death his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child Timwanika Lumpkins, as well as UM reserve linebacker Marlin Barnes, with the head of a shotgun at a post-Super Bowl party in Atlanta. …Curiously, Disco Rick never put out another release, though he has kept working as a producer, with his name occasionally turning up in the album credits of a few independent artists, a handful of Luke Record's projects, 2 Live Crew's The Real One, and even some releases by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The Puppies returned, backed up by The Pup Pound, for a follow-up album, Recognize, on Pandisc Music in 1996.
So, that’s where the story ended back then. Now, in 2007, I can update you guys with a bit more: Disco Rick increased his cache again producing for Lil Jon, and yes, he has his own myspace at: http://www.myspace.com/discomuthafuckinrick, which you should definitely check out. DJ Uncle Al was tragically murdered in September of 2001. There’s a tribute myspace to him at: http://www.myspace.com/ripdjuncleal.
[This is going to be a long post and not quite in the style of my usual blog entries, because this is actually a (slightly modified) article I wrote for The Vinyl Exchange some years ago. It was accepted and it was going to run, but then things got held up and help up again; and it was always “going to be posted” on VE for a very long time (that’s why my tag on the VE boards is “Disco Rick Historian.” Hehe), but it never quite happened. That sort of thing happens to me a lot, by the way… I was accepted to write for Six-Too’s terrific little indie hip-hop site Tryple-Bypass right before it shut down, and RebirthMag and UrbanDigital have both closed... it’s possible I’m cursed. Anyway, years later now, I’ve got this blog and this old, unpublished Disco Rick article… it was a little more informative at the time, before some of these artists had wiki pages and listings on discogs, but I think most oif you guys will still learn a lot from it, so let’s have at it!]
See it all began in 1986, when the Gucci Crew II (Gucci M.C.V. a.k.a. Gucci Man and TFS a.k.a. 2-40, w/ DJ Disco Rick) released their debut 12", "Gucci Bass" on their own label, Gucci Records. Thus began a succession of kinda fresh/ kinda novelty-value hit singles, including "The Cabbage Patch" and their seminal hip-hop classic: "Sally - That Girl:"
“One, two, three…
And I woke up early this morning
And I went to the five and dime;
I saw this pretty young lady
That was real, real fine.
I tapped her on the shoulder
And said, "Mmm, mmm,
Excuse me, ma'am."
She pulled down her pants
And said, "Splack these hams."
In 1987, these were collected onto their debut album, So Def, So Fresh, So Stupid. The Gucci Crew II came with light lyrics and a quasi-hardcore style over cool, bass-heavy tracks (before "Miami bass" had that stigma attached to it), and a bevy of fresh scratches by Disco Rick.
In 1988, the Gucci Crew II came with their second album, What Time Is It? It's Gucci Time, featuring the marginal hit single "Truz 'N' Vogues," which kind of reversed the traditional gender roles of gold-digging: "I don't need a girl that's walking; I don't need a girl that's talking… I don't need a girl that's on her back; I need a young lady with a Cadillac." It also featured the delightful homage to Run DMC (clearly a huge influence on the trio), "Why's Always Got To Be Run," about their invariably coming in second to the kings of rock. There was "Shirley," a shameless but not-entirely-unsuccessful attempt to recapture the magic of "Sally - That Girl," and the more direct, "Fuddy Duddy," a silly parody of Doug E. Fresh & MC Ricky D's "La Di Da Di," with MCV performing as "Slick Vick," and TFS providingthe human beat-box.
They came again, the following year, with Everybody Wants Some and the single, "Five Dollar High." Say what you want about Floridian rappers from the 80's, but short of "White Lines" itself, those guys always made the most entertaining anti-drug songs. The beats were still pretty fresh, but with a decided bent towards sampling their flavor from overly familiar p-funk records. The Crew was getting better as MCs, but it was already the end of a brief era, with the magic's progressive seepage from each Gucci Crew release coming to a hilt as DJ Disco Rick struck out on his own.
Standing in flames, looking sweaty, relatively buff, and really pissed off, with a Ku Klux Klan hood in one hand and a noose in the other, Disco Rick was obviously tired of the jokey, self-deprecating attitudes of his former front-men. 1990 brought The Negro's Back by Disco Rick featuring The Dogs (Ant "D" & Amazing Peanut) on Joey Boy Records. This time Disco Rick took the mic - leaving the actual DJ work to a DJ Tony Tone - to vent a lot of anger, "like Ice Cube said, 'no sell out,' and if you do, get the Hell out the black race!" He decried social injustice, racism and "rednecks" on records like "Stopped In Mississippi" and "Babies In the Trash Cans." The flip side featured some more traditional Miami-style tracks, like "Hi-Ho," "S..k That D..k," and "Let Us Get That A.. Baby," featuring ‘shout and call’ hooks and the sort of scratched up Dolemite samples made popular by 2 Live Crew's early records with Luke Skyywalker. Those aside, though, The Negro's Back was a brilliant (in its way) example of the kind of 80's over-the-top, shamelessly unself-conscious hardcore rap records that I think we all, frankly, rather miss.
...They also put out the 12" only cut called "Rap Protest" that same year, showing their support to The 2 Live Crew, Public Enemy and MC Lyte(huh?) in their fights for their first amendment rights.
[Ok; I've just found out when attempting to post this that I'm limited to a certain length in blog entries. So this will be immediately followed up in a Where's Disco Rick At (Part 2) post.]
There's a great old school hip-hop site (really, it's one of the best, and I'm adding it permanently to my links column) where host Jayquan interviews a ton of hip-hop pioneers... I still haven't finished reading through all of them. Well, in one interview, one of Sugarhill's in-house producers/musicians (and later one of Melle Mel's Furious Five), Clayton Savage had this to say about the West Street Mob, "But the West Street Mob, whatever their last album was [I believe that would be Break Dance (Electric Boogie) in '84 - Werner] - that was most of my work. They may have sang, but the music was me. I was more West Street Mob than they were." [Click here to read the whole thing - I'll be quoting from one or two other interviews on that site a little later on, because it's really the only place anything is written about the West Street Mob at all.... and even then, only in tangents drifting from other topics.]
Anyway, the album opens with their first single, "Make Your Body Move." The writing credits are given to, "Pleasure, W. Henderson, A. Johnson and J. Peters;" and the production credit for the entire album is to Joey Robinson Jr. It's a great jam by the Sugarhill band, with very few vocals (basically, a few hooks sung by the girl of the group or repeated on the vocoder); and it's probably the only one most readers would be familiar with off this album. Duke Bootee, of the Sugarhill Band and who would later make a name for himself as a solo artist, was asked about this song and replied, "Joey [Robinson Jr., son of Sylvia Robinson, then president of Sugarhill Records] might have tried to do the vocoder on that. He didn’t play on anything, but he was involved in the song selection. Craig Derry, Sabrina Gillison & Cindy Mizelle sang on those West Street Mob Records. They were all talented people." [Click here to read the whole thing.] Master Gee of the Sugarhill Gang had even more to say about Robinson's involvement in the Mob, "Joey Robinson – no talent at all. I don’t give a damn what anybody says. He is a duplicator and that’s all." When Jay agrees that he'd also heard that Joey didn’t do anything in the Mob, Master Gee went on, "He didn’t. He will tell people that he and his mother produced those songs but he didn’t produce that sh*t, his mother did! He was there in the studio, and may have pressed a button 1 or 2 times, but his mother produced those songs on all of us!!! Was he smart enough to be a student, and be perceptive and learn how to make moves? Yes. But as an artist he didn’t touch those West St Mob records. He didn’t perform on that West St Mob sh*t. He is not even on the tracks!!! The vocoder on 'Make Your Body Move' is done by Reggie Griffin!!! Then he is on stage with a fake vocoder, that’s not even hooked up!" [Click here to read the whole thing.] Of course, Master Gee is in a better position than anybody to speak on the fakery of Joey Robinson Jr., (see my previous post for that story).
Now, a lot of Sugarhill acts (and other hip-hop artists of the time, like Kurtis Blow) seemed to feature a lot of ballads on their albums that were never - or hardly ever - released as singles. Sure, harmonizing was a key component to early hip-hop performances; but this was something different: some straight, non-hip-hop sung R&B tunes. It's hard to say if this temporary phenomenon was a case of rappers wanting to show they had more musical talents than just rapping, for when the rapping fad blew over, or labels pressuring them into something safer and more generic to hedge their bets since rapping was so radical in the beginning. At any rate, it sure filled some great, early albums with a lot of real clunkers. And it's worth noting that all but one of the songs on this album that weren't already released as singles fall into the category. This is that one. "Get Up and Dance" (writing credits: T. Armstrong and J. Smith) is another primarily instrumental, but definitely hip-hop oriented, jam. It does feature some female vocals on the chorus, but otherwise it's all about the Sugarhill Band rockin'. It's my favorite song on the album, and you'll immediately recognize the breakdown in the middle of the song as it was used in Grandmaster Flash's classic, "Adventures On the Wheels of Steel."
And now we get into the ballads... and "Natural Living" (writing credit: Sabrina Gillison) is probably the hokiest, cheesiest example of corny ballads in all of hip-hop. This sounds like the sort of song a ride sponsored by a wheat germ company in Epcot Center would play to you over a made-in-the-70's video about happy nuclear families eating healthy and breathing clean air. Not that there isn't talent on display... Sabrina (I'm assuming she's the one singing here, given the writing credit; but of course, there's no real reason to assume she who wrote it sung it) has a great voice, and the chorus actually sounds pretty nice when the vocals double up. But for most, this is more the sort of song you endure rather than keep in heavy rotation.
"Never Again" (writing credits: Joey Robinson Jr. & Gary Henry) is a more traditional, and a bit more enjoyable, R&B tune. It's still a little bland and not the sort of West Street Mob most fans are after, but it at least has more soul than "Natural Living." And pretty much exactly the same could be said for "You're Killing Me" (writing credits: Eric Thorngren, B. Hocer & J. Tori). The tunes are pleasant enough, and the musicians are certainly capable, but there's a reason these songs are pretty well forgotten.
The second single, "Got To Give It Up" (writing credits: Joey Robinson Jr., Billy Jones), finally comes in here. It's back to the lively, hip-hop instrumentals, and it's got a really catchy bassline and some nice horns. But the weak, male vocals still make this one of the West Street Mob's lamest singles. It's good, and you'll like it. But it's no breakdancing anthem like their best work.
Finally, the album ends with "Sometimes Late At Night" (writing credits: Carol Bayer Sager & Burt Bacharach) So Burt Bacharach was down with the West Street Mob? Ha ha No. "Sometimes Late At Night" is actually a cover, originally written and composed by Bacharach on ex-wife Carol Bayer Sager's last album, also titled Sometimes Late At Night. Interestingly, that album came out in '81, so the Mob sure didn't waste any time getting their version out. You can probably imagine what this one sounds like. Very dentists' waiting room. Certainly an odd choice for an already eclectic mix. But I guess that's what the West Street Mob sort of was, and why so little was ever written about its line-up: a sort of dumping ground for all the tracks that Sugarhill didn't have a place for anywhere else. Songs they wanted to release as singles without giving them to the Furious Five or the Treacherous Three to do, a chance to let various in-house musicians and vocalists do whatever they wanted to and get them out there in the music shops.
So, yeah. There's no myspace or anything, as the West Street Mob seems to have dispersed anonymously into the crowd a long time ago. Just who were they? Well, it sure doesn't help that the writing credits for each song name a plethora of different people, and the only recurring name is the most dubious credit. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that the line up did NOT stay the same from record to record, either. A few years later (specifically, '84) Joey Robinson Jr. would be listed as a featured guest (along with Cheryl the Pearl, of The Sequence, who apparently produced a lot of the West Street Mob's later material) on a West Street Mob record called, "I Can't Stop," which certainly suggests that he wasn't considered an official member. But maybe he was for a while, and then for a while he wasn't. I don't know. But I sure would like to be able to interview somebody who was there (the only people who could know it all for certain), and find out for certain. Or, more likely, Jayquan will beat me to it. ;)
So, what do they end up doing? They make some pretty odd choices... After a brief intro (a sample of Don Cornelius introducing them on Soul Train), the album opens with... their token love song from their third album? Now, it's actually a pretty decent song, and it was released as a single and video in its day. But if that's your opener, you know you're in some kind of trouble.
They do manage to include some of the obvious choices... "Leader Of the Pack," their Krush Groove record "Pick Up the Pace," and "Split Personality." But "Masterbaby?" "The Ride?" Those're some weird album filler tracks only us hardcore UTFO fans probably even remember, and yet songs like "We Work Hard," "Hangin' Out," "Rough & Rugged," and others that were actually released as singles are skipped over. Not even their debut (and still one of my favorites), "Beats and Rhymes," makes its way on here.
The album also makes the strange choice of excluding any reference to UTFO's last album, Bag It and Bone It. Now granted, it's nobody's favorite (even down to the title choice), and they had lost core member Doctor Ice by that point (though that didn't stop them from including songs from Skeezer Pleezer, where they were missing EMD); but they don't even include it on the inside artwork showing all of their albums available on Select Records. It's like they're just sweeping it under the rug. ...And this Hits album came out in '96, a full five years after Bag It, so it's nothing to do with that.
One of the bonuses you get with this album are these "Hip Hop Props" numbers. They're seven recordings of different hip-hop celebs praising UTFO that sound like they were done over the phone, then laid on top of the "Leader Of the Pack" beat and spread throughout the album. I say "bonuses," but really, like any skit on an album, they're more like irritating detriments once you've listened to it a couple of times. To nail the "only one hit" awkwardness of the album home, pretty much every single one of the artists giving props (Vinnie of Naughty By Nature, DJ Red Alert, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, and Prince Paul, who calls himself, "of the Gravediggaz," which gives you a sense of the period we're in) all just talk about "Roxanne, Roxanne." Only Tuffy of Video Music Box (man, I used to watch Video Music Box all the time... I don't remember any "Tuffy") and Run talk about anything else... and even Run starts out by name-dropping it. Run talks about how "Peter Piper" was actually inspired by "Fairytale Lover" (yeah, they even included that R&B song off their first album on this compilation), which was interesting... although neither was the first hip-hop song to fill their lyrics with fairy-tale references.
The album ends with a new song, "Lollipop," exclusive to this collection. It features a verse from The Real Roxanne with R&B singer Syncere on the hook, and the instrumental is based on Mtume's "Juicy Fruit." It's an ok song, mostly using moderately-at-best clever candy-themed sexual innuendos... Roxanne asks us to "taste her birth canal" in a way that ellicits a real "no thanks!" reaction she probably wasn't going for. But it's a fun song. Definitely not single worthy, but fitting as the token new track on a greatest hits album. Unfortunately, they're still missing Doctor Ice, which is a definite disappointment; but at least it features an EMD who, since Bag It, had really started to find a distinctive voice for himself**.
A couple of the "Hip Hop Props" (specifically Tuffy and Prince Paul), reference UTFO coming with new material... so it seems like a UTFO comeback was originally planned to follow this album. Sadly, that never happened, which adds another slight air of disappointment to an already offbeat compilation. Now, I already linked Doc Ice's myspace page in a previous post, but Kangol, EMD and Mixmaster Ice all have myspaces, too; and Mixmaster Ice has - or had, it seems to be down at the moment - his own site at: mixmasterice.com. There's also a myspace for the whole crew; so maybe that reunion album is still a possibility?
*It's not on Hits, though, so don't get too excited.
**The cassette version of Bag It and Bone It is the one to own, by the way... it features like four or five "bonus cuts" that aren't featured on the LP, most of which are better than the main ones. In fact, my favorite song on that album, "Beef Pattie" (that's not the crass sexual innuendo you might guess it is from looking at the album cover), is a cassette only bonus cut.
Records players are cheap, plentiful and easy to come by. I understand if you're living in a shelter or your car; but if you can get yourself an ipod, an X-Box, a DVD player and a laptop, there is no reason why a such a self-respecting hip-hop head shouldn't have a record player. Trust me, there's no reason to be intimidated by the various models, features, etc. Unless you're a hardcore DJ, you really don't need to know about types of drives, needles, etc.