Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Sah-B That Never Was

So I can't end my Sah-B coverage without finishing the tale in my usual, definitive (critics could probably come up with another term for it) style. In my last post, I talked about the flagship 12" of her return, "The Freestyle," and how it seemed designed to hype up a comeback that never followed.

When she was still a teen in the late 80's, she started out in a crew called The Revolutionary Posse of Terrace, which included other NJ heavy-hitters Redman and The Lords of the Underground. And of course, it was her attention grabbing debut on Lords Of the Underground's posse cut (with fellow up-and-comer De'1) "Flow On" that we all still really know her for today - it didn't hurt that an already really hot track was later given a smooth Pete Rock remix when LOTUG put it out as their sixth(!) single. They all followed that up with another impressive posse cut, "Da Underground Sound," which was put on the B-side to De'1's debut single; and she did one more guest spot on LOTUG's second album. Off the strength of those, she became one of the first (though not the first) female MCs to land a major label record deal and released a really nice single (especially the b-side!) on Reprise Records in 1994. Unfortunately, the label then lost interest in her (possibly as a backlash, since she was known for her almost shrill, hardcore but witty lyrics and rapid-fire staccato flows, and her debut single was a blatant stab at crossover mainstream pop rap, a la The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), and her promised album Some Ol' Sah-B Shit never surfaced.

Here's my first good scoop: I asked then-producer K-Def if her or De'1's albums were ever finished… if original, unreleased recordings might be tucked away in an A&R's closet or a promo cassette sitting on some music journalist's desk. He answered, "I'm not sure either album was completed. I do know is I did a few more songs for De'1 that was on the album supposedly. I'm pretty sure Marley has it locked in the" Thanks for getting back to me, K!

So, that was it from Sah-B for a couple of years. Either tied up in label politics, or just not interested in dealing with the uphill battle, she didn't come out with anything until 1997, when she returned to the scene with some less than thrilling, mainstream R&B remix singles (I'm sorry, but I don't think *any* MC could get me excited about an Uncle Sam remix). But she also came out on the independent tip, appearing on Systahood's "M.O. Money" single (already blogged about here). Then in 1998 came her own, aforementioned "The Freestyle" 12" and the 3 Minute Blunts EP with The Andre Johnson Project, which was really just several different remixes of a song called "Why We Swing." In 1999, she did a couple more appearances. By 1999, it seemed like it was almost all over already… when Lords Of the Underground made their (first) underground comeback album, she was featured on the track: "Hennessey: Pt 2" (it was just okay, but then... everything on that album was just okay). And I didn't discover it until a few years later, but she did do one more guest appearance: it was an independent 12" on Cipher Records (backed by the infamous Echo International) with a group called Blackwatuz, who as far as I know, never put out anything else. It's an ok song (the b-side, which doesn't feature Sah-B, is better), but she only contributes the hook - no verses.

And, unfortunately, that's all she ever put out (to date). But here's the second good scoop of this entry: I have a demo CD of material she didn't put out on Born Hustlers Ent.

It's untitled and consists of four tracks, and two of them are the-b-sides to "The Freestyle" 12": "Tonight" and "Let Me Know." But the other two tracks are all new (unreleased).

The first new song is "Nobody," produced by someone named Vega (he's also listed in the contact information on that Blackwatuz 12", so that's the connection there). It's got fast, kind of bouncy/ kind of hard track with a lot of cuts and a repeating horn loop that's very catchy, if a bit cheesy. As with "The Freestyle" 12", nothing is up to her classic "Some Ol Sah-B Shit," and what's really surprising is that this is the same hook The Outsidaz used for the song called "Nobody" on their demo, and which was slated to appear on Pace Won's unreleased Pace Won Effect album, right down to the scratching... the only difference is it's Sah saying the hook instead of Pace and Zee! I gotta say the Outz version (especially the grittier demo version, before they polished and slowed it down for Pace's album) is the hands down winner - it's an unreleased Jersey classic. But the track is indeed addictive, Sah comes with some nice freestyle rhymes, and it's a good hook even if you did hear it before (we'll probably never know who came up with it first).

The other track is "Born Hustler," also produced by Vega. It's slower, with a cool 70's ambiance. It's got a bit of a more mainstream vibe… but if it does, it sounds like it'd be one of the few good tracks on a crappy mainstream rapper's album… if you take my meaning. Like the title suggests, Sah-B explains the hustle behind her label name:

"Born hustler,
Stay sweet like sugar
Who's the nicest?
Well, pick me like a booger.
Know why?
'Cause I'm gon' live and die for hip-hop
I seen crews flip-flop
Until they drip drop.
On the tic-toc, ya don't stop
Love me tender
It's time to surrender
I'm rocking this here down
So remember
See more dirt than Huffy
Know more Bad Boys than Puffy
Dudes find it hard to trust me
Know why?
Because they stay stagnated
And constantly, my thoughts stay elevated
So they think I'm slickin' them
Straight gettin' them
But my shoes ain't fittin' them
Or they average ho
I coulda got you for your dough
Long time ago
But now I'm doin' me
'cause only through the Earth
Is a real man able to find his true self worth
See, I was born to see
Born to teach
Born to be
Born to speak
Born to be
A born hustler."

But holy cow - I'm still not done! Here comes the third good scoop of this post:

'Cause a little after all the Born Hustlers stuff faded, I was contacted by her management. I'd already written about her for The Source, and they were putting me on to another comeback she was mounting. In fact, I was even gonna do her website… I got as far as designing the front page for'em. They sent me a 1-track CD single to review on my site. It never wound up getting released except they gave me a mailing address that people could mail order 'em from that I put up in my forums. That was 2001, so even though the threads still there, I wouldn't send 'em any money and expect to hear back.

The CD single is titled "Whut That Be About" and don't feel too bad about missing it if you weren't reading my site in '01 (though it's just one more example of why you should always be checking my site! Haha) unless you're a real fan. It's kinda disappointing. If the Born Hustlers phase was a step down from the Reprise phase, then this is a step down from the Born Hustlers phase. I said in my previous post, "Sah-B sounds a little more subdued (I guess she'd say "mature") on this record, which is definitely to her detriment," and she's gone further in that direction on this release. Gone is the energetic, Milk Dee voiced, rough punchline spitting MC we were all dying to get an LP from. And in her place, we've got a dull, slow, generic female rapper who sounds like she 's been listening to too much Eve, post-45-King Latifah, Da Brat, and so on.

Don't get me wrong; it's not terrible. The track, again produced by Vega, is fun - it's got a weird string sample emulating a buzzing bee playing throughout and a cool horn sting every so often. The lyrics still have the edge of an intelligent writer, though as you might gather from the title, the hook's annoying as.

Through everything, you can always see the talent running underneath each of her endeavors. But like just about all rappers and groups making comebacks, you can't help but pine for what they'd've accomplished if they just went for theirs and did their own thing instead of trying to fit in with whoever was featured in last month's Vibe.

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