Sunday, December 30, 2007

Here I Am, R. A. W.

So here's a cool, seriously overlooked record by an artist who's actually been struggling in the game for, like, ten years now. Raw (Linguistic Ventriloquist) dropped his "Comment #3 (Family Of the Continents)" 12" sometime around 1997 (there's no date on the label, so I'm just working off of personal memory), the only record put out on the label, Tetrahedron (if you sucked at math like I did in high school, I'll just throw ya a quick reminder: a tetrahedron is the three-dimensional shape of a four-sided pyramid… like the ones in Egypt). But it was mad nice, and thanks in part because of that and probably more because of his artistic associations, this 12" managed to make the rounds and got picked up for distribution by Land Speed.

Now, you'll have to go back in time with me a little here. Before Ikon the Verbal Hologram became Vinnie Paz, the embarrassing thug rapper; Jedi Mind Tricks was an exciting new group that had just come out with an incredibly impressive EP and LP. They'd pretty much come out of the blue, totally independently; and while Ikon seemed to be the lead, JMT's releases featured a slew of totally unknown, crazy lyricists with names like Yan the Phenomenon, Apathy the Alien Tongue, El Eloh, Subcon, Shadrach, Chico, Breath of Judah and the The Sun Pharaoh. Who the heck who were all these guys? Damned if anybody knew, but according to the liner notes, a lot of them were members of a crew called The Lost Children of Babylon.

Now again, this is before we were all disappointed by Heavenly Divine and what-not (though the production was hot, I admit - Stoupe actually became an even better producer than we heard on those initial releases) and everything since. And while we're all on the edges of our seats, the next release from any of these cats to come out was this debut 12" from Children of Babylon MC, Raw. I picked it up without even having heard it.

The production (by someone named Paul Ki-D) is cool, kind of simple, a little jazzy… and Raw has a clear, relaxed flow in the vein of Last Emperor. The song is a wild tale of countries and continents personified-cum-political allegory. Here's a sample:

"You see, Europe knew Australia had sex with China,
Who pierced her vagina
Just to be accepted by Australia…
Who's now being labeled a failure by Asia,
Europe and Africa. After
Antarctica received a sex change,
He blamed Europe for it.
See, Antarctica and Europe used to flirt
Until Australia lifted up her skirt.
It broke his heart
To find out his sex partner used to have male private parts.
Drama starts
Between the two; I had an interview
With the Earth last night;
And this is what she said."

Kinda bugged out, huh? The next song on the 12" is more in the vein of what us Jedi Mind Tricks fans were probably expecting… atmospheric production, with Raw performing the lyrics twice, in two different voices overlapped on top of each other (it's not as annoying as it sounds haha). He gets into the really out there, inventive sci-fi/religious lyrical territory as he narrates some essentially freestyle rhymes in the persona of the "Distant Traveler:"

"Intergalactic communication
Implanted by enchanted transcripts,
Engraved in Sanskrit,
Interpreted by…
Crystal translators!
I swarm through the storms
With a crown of thorns as my uniform.
My staff transforms
Into a unicorn,
In search of the promised land…
Guided by the pineal gland.

I built the sphinx.
The reincarnation of Ramses!
Protector of the holy relics,
Born in the subterranean
Level of the pyramid;
My eyelid
Resembles Osiris,
Bearer of the scepter.
My mind is a replica of Mecca.
Egyptian philosophers
Politic in verses with the alchemists.
Archangels walk from the seventh plain."

The final track, "Balancement (720°)" is the jazziest, with a collection of sax and other samples, over a snare-heavy beat. Sonically, he ventures into Raw Produce-type territory, but the lyrics stay advanced, with the heaviest use of multi-syllabic rhyming wordplay. Then, on the B-side, you've got instrumental versions for all three tracks. Definitely a must-have for anyone into that illustrious, innovative scene of independent vinyl that flourished in the late 90's.

Today, you may be surprised to learn, Raw is still doing his thing. He's still with The Children of Babylon, who've put out a couple albums and aren't shy about touting their loose affiliation with The Wu-Tang Clan whenever they can. Raw himself - going by the name Richard Raw - is gearing up to release a solo album soon, sensationalistically titled Rich Raw Vs. Nas… you can read all about it at his myspace. In his "top friends," you can find the CoB's page, which also has links to the other members' pages, so you can catch up on everything they've done since Jedi Mind Tricks severed its ties with them almost ten years ago. Interesting stuff.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Xmas Rap On a Budget

^Video blog!!
(I think I'm at the point where I don't need to point this out anymore, but just in case... You're looking at original content created for this blog; not just linking something by somebody else.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

U Don't Hear Him Tho'

So, in my last entry, I mentioned an interview on West Coast Pioneers where Rodney O says he wasn't that pleased with his first single, "These Are My Beats." The interviewer then asked him what he felt was his most successful (artistically, etc.) single. Interestingly, he didn't say "Everlasting Bass." He didn't pick anything off their classic debut, in fact. Instead he named a record most of you probably haven't heard before.

"U Don't Hear Me Tho'" came out on Psychotic Records in 1992; the lead single off their fourth album, F__k New York. And it's a good one. It flips some P-funk samples into a fairly hardcore, but still funky, hip-hop track. It's not so much so that it isn't a fun song, but Rodney O (who says, "when I die, put a sound system in my hearse") was clearly angry on this album. The liner notes read, "F-K New York This album was inspired by all the negative people in New York who have disrespected us in the past & because no one else would speak up about how New York disses L.A. Now someone finally has." The intro to the LP, a mock interview with Rodney O & Joe Cooley, explains this further.

The first (proper) song on the album, then, was this lead single. And Rodney jumps right into the subject:

"I got a New York critic in a choke hold.
He tried to diss me 'cause he didn't like my vocals;
And now I'm showing him the meaning of loco!
I'm not friends with my peers, so I'm overlooked.
I got the P-funk, fool, on the funky hook.
I'm paying suckers back for all the years of dissin' me;
But now I'm rollin' and there ain't no stoppin' me."

Joe Cooley takes the mic (yeah, sometimes he rapped, too) to add his own thoughts:

"I'm not down with that R&B; it makes me sick.
Singin' and cryin', and tryin' to add a rap don't help a bit.
You know what I'm talkin' about; that shit's not real rap.
They try to add the hip-hop flavor, but it's still wack."

There's no scratching on the record as a whole, but Joe Cooley performs a nice, quick number afterhis verse, a perfect example of what is real hip-hop. Then Rodney comes back for a third verse and then finally an uncredited MC (I checked the album, too, and the notes there don't say either) who I'm gonna go ahead and guess is General Jeff gets on for a short fourth verse, telling us, essentially, not to diss Compton.

The radio version (which, interestingly, they also decided to include on the LP), features newly recorded, clean vocals ("they didn't give a fuck about you years ago" becomes "they didn't care about you four years ago," and so forth). And the "Club Mix" features some new samples into the mix, but is essentially just an extended instrumental version (odd to start the 12" off with an instrumental), so it's cool that they added something, but it doesn't have a lot of replay value.

Finally, the other track on this 12", "Chase the Bass (Joe Cooley's Turntable Show)" is exactly what it sounds like: a showcase of Cooley's impressive turntable skills. There's no vocals at all, it's a pure DJ cut with just Cooley scratching up a variety of samples over a beat. Despite the addition of the new subtitle on the 12", this is exactly the same version of "Chase the Bass" as you hear on the album.

So yeah. All in all a nice little, overlooked 12" that Rodney O isn't entirely alone in remembering fondly.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Those Aren't His Beats

"These Are My Beats" is the first record Rodney O made when he got on Egyptian Empire Records, before he teamed up with Joe Cooley with whom he of course recorded his biggest hits, and who he's still recording with today (though he did release a solo album in 1997, before reuniting with Cooley for Veteran's Day in 2000). It comes in a pic cover (albeit a rather unattractive one, as you can see), and features the main mix and the "Re-Mix (Dubb Beats)" on the flip. But, despite its name, it's actually an extended (almost ten minutes) version with all the vocals. Even the main mix is a 12" exclusive though - this was never featured on any of their albums, not even their two volume 52-song release of their past hits, The Collection (on Kritical Entertainment, also in 2000).

In an interview with West Coast Pioneers (I definitely recommend you fully explore their entire site and listen to the whole thing, by the way), Rodney O says he's not so pleased with it - he felt it was more an Egyptian Lover (who produced and co-wrote the track) record that he's just rhyming over, unlike his subsequent material, which he felt was more his own. And it really kinda does. It features The Egyptian Lover's unique brand of drum track, pronounced keyboards and exercises in erotic panting (ha ha Well, what would you call it?). New elements keep getting thrown into the mix as the song progresses, including vocoder raps and a female vocalist singing, "I like his beats, I like his beats."

But the music also feels a little more tailored to Rodney's presence (which is a little more traditional compared to the MCing Egyptian Lover does)... or maybe it just feels inherently different with Rodney rapping over it. With his voice and flow… it really plays like a true collaboration: something more than either artist would've made on their own. Still, Rodney essentially keeps his verses pretty short and simple, like:

"The beats you hear
Are about to be uncovered
By me, Rodney O,
And the Egyptian Lover.
The music that you hear
Sounds so good;
You won't stop dancin'
Even if you could.
Relax your mind,
Let the music take control;
And listen to my beats
As they sooth your soul."

In that West Coast Pioneers interview, Rodney O also mentioned he was working on a new album with Joe Cooley, and that, when they were ready, he'd have new tracks available on his myspace. They're not there yet, but you can keep checking out; and also drop by Joe Cooley's myspace while you're at it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Underwater Rimes

^Video blog!!
(You know the steez... Original content created for this blog; not just linking something by somebody else.)

Oh, and a note. I've gone back and added the "(Video Post)" to the titles of all my video blog ("vlog") entries, to make them more searchable/easier to find if you're, like, into the video. 8)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Unreleased JVC Force (Album #3)

So I just received an e-mail announcement from AJ Woodson, a.k.a. AJ Rok of JVC Force. Apparently, the JVC Force are doing an on-air, on-line radio reunion ("first time the group has done anything together as a group since 1991"). B Luv and Curt Cazal will be appearing on AJ Rok's Heavy Rotation Magazine Radio show, which airs on from 10pm-12am.

Most exciting of all, though, is that they promise (in their press release) to air - in addition to their classic material (including some all new remixes, which could be cool) - "material from an unreleased third album which has never been played elsewhere." Woot!

...If you can't listen right then at that day and time, I think they archive and stream their past shows, so I'm guessing it will be available to hear anytime after it initially airs.

The radio show's founder, Brother John, added, "JVC Force is just the beginning. The Best Jams wants to go after all the pioneers, all the rappers from that era... From Special Ed to EPMD to the Boogie Boys to Steady B: the pioneers are always welcome here.” Someone should probably tell him that Steady B won't be able to attend anytime soon. ;)

Anyway, let's hope this is just the first step towards getting the whole third album finally released.

Update: It's aired now - here're direct links to part 1 and part 2 for stream or download.

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.

Tags: ,

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Beauty AND the Beast

This is the definitive version of one of Buck 65's best (especially from his earlier period) songs, "The Centaur." It originally appeared in '98 on his album Vertex. But on this version, the vocals are redone - a substantial improvement in both his voice and delivery. Also, the track is remastered. It's the same basic loop, but the quality is better, and it features the cello as played by his then-girlfriend Steffi, which adds a lot.

There's a couple other versions out there... He did a drum & bass-type mix on Synesthia (meh) and updated it to his country and western rap style (or "Countwap" as Johnny CashMoney called it in Big Daddy Kane's "How You Get a Record Deal" video) on This Here Is... but it doesn't seem to jel. It's nothing against that style he's developed - in fact, I feel Talkin' Honky Blues is Buck's best album to date - but this version of "The Centaur" just feels lazily done: a phoned in delivery over an unengrossing instrumental. They're not bad if you're a completist, but they're nothing a non-fan should worry about tracking down.

No, it's all about this 12" that came out on Anticon in 1999... The liner notes say "from the forthcoming album Man Overboard," but by that time that album came out (2001), they wound up leaving it off. This was probably done because of his decision around that period to retire the song. As he told (click here for the whole interview), "Well lots kinda come in and out of retirement but the main one that I would love to put to rest would be 'The Centaur,' but it’s difficult to put to rest because a lot of people really like that song. It’s the song through which a lot of people discovered me. But the fact is, the song doesn’t mean very much to me at all. When I was younger and when I wrote that song, there was a big division between me the performer and me the regular person and I felt very threatened by the idea of people thinking that they had me sorted out and knew who I was based on my music and what they saw on stage and Ithought that was not fair at all because they were two completely different people. So a lot of people used to think I really was some kind of asshole or bla bla bla because of who I was on record or stage. But as I’ve gotten older, that line has been blurred. I’m more comfortable with who I am and I’ve mellowed out and I just try to express myself as honestly and try to be myself as much as possible. So really that song is about the hostility I felt to an audience that I felt was misunderstanding me and I just don’t feel that way about my audience any more." He's since brought it out of retirement, but until he rereleases Man Overbaord with another tracklisting (which I wouldn't put past him), it's too late for this mix of "The Centaur." So you need the 12" to hear the decidely best version.

In an interview with (click here for the whole interview), he mentioned how he came up with the song, "It all started during a visit to San Francisco, years ago, around 1996 or something like that. I was staying with DJ Stef from Vinyl Exchange. We were walking down the street from her apartment. I saw a coin on the ground. It wasn’t legal tender -- it was a coin from a casino. On the back it had the symbol for Sagittarius on it, which is a centaur." I encourage you to click that link and read the whole thing, by the way. He talks a lot about the (granted, rather obvious) metaphor of the song, how he was inspired to sample the theme from Carrie for the instrumental, and what ultimately compelled him to bring it back out of retirement.

It's not that the lyrics are that ingenious (though they are reasonably smart); it's just one of those concise songs where the idea and the delivery and the beat all come together to make a tight, lasting song. And if you want to read the lyrics, by the way, I've already posted my entire transcription of the song in this previous entry.

This 12" also has a remix (different from the ones mentioned above) which is kinda cool... The hook playfully uses a portion of the "I am the magnificent" vocal sample that Special Ed used for his record. And if it feels a bit truncated, that's because originally Kool Keith was going to appear on it and kick a verse at the end, but that fell through. So they stuck it on vinyl without his contribution; which is probably just as well.

Now, the b-side is an epic, fifteen minute collection of non-sequitor (think: Greg Nice), freestyle rhymes called "15 Minutes To Live," a tiny portion of which actually did turn up on the pre-release version of Man Overboard (the Red Liquorice version... it didn't make the Anticon release) - about sixty seconds worth, and it fades out mid-lyric. You've gotta get the 12" to hear the complete thing. For what it's worth. The beat is cool, with some more cello by Steffi; but fifteen minutes of random not-quite-punchlines at a Mr. Scarface pace can wear pretty thin:

"I love the JVC Force
And MC Shan,
But draw upon dreams
And fractured memories.
I factored remedies
And serums into this equation.
I hold up one mirror into another and ask,
'Is nothing sacred?'
I've seen the movie
And read Alice in Wonderland.
Don't make the mistake
Of pitching to me underhand.
Today I enter my late twenties officially,
Or react with water initially
I'm dead to the world right now
Despite my promises;
But at least I'm honest about it.
I've got diamonds in my eyes,
But I'm looking for a harder crystal.
I'm feeling for something smoother;
I'm listening for a starter pistol.
Three sheets to the wind
And I'm using clouds for pillows;
I wanna drill holes in the sky.
I'm in love with a nomad,
And I miss my mother badly.
I was a sideways baby,
Always will be.
To start the party right,
You'll probably have to kill me.
I can't be held accountable,
So instead I pass the blame;
And besides, I wanna live forever,
Like the cast of
Serious trouble will pass me by
And my life will be happy,
Protectin' the veterans
From scorchin' rookies,
And trustin' my faith
In the fortune cookies.
Red right, white left.
Slogans for doormats.
I'm lookin' good right now;
I gotta wear more hats."

...And so on. See? Just drop "Dizzy Gillespie plays the sax" in there anywhere and you're done. But, yeah. All in all, this is a hot little 12" of vinyl exclusives for the Buck 65 enthusiasts, and even a must-have classic for the average hip-hop fan.