Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Smirphies Dance

Keeping it old school after that interview with Romeo JD (here), here we've got a record from 1982. It's "Smirfathon U.S.A." by Jalil... as in Jalil Hutchinson of Whodini, before they started putting out music on Jive. It came out on Charlie Rock Records, the only release on that label. It's produced by a guy named Y. Dah in association with Henry Batts. The only other record I know of them doing is "The Smirf" by Cory, which this is essentially the rap version of. That record came out the same year on a label called The Sound of Brooklyn, who you'll notice if you read the fine print in my scan, also distributed this Charlie Rock record.

Cory's record was a funky, fun disco dance record... but this follow-up is really for "Smirf" fans (and Whodini completists, of course) only. It feels slower - in fact, every time I put on this record, I think "whoops! this is a 45;" but it's not. It's just how Jalil raps in this kind of dull, spoken style, almost one word for each drum beat... And there's little else besides a very sparse keyboard, the signature "Smirf" bassline and handclaps to help it along. This simple track worked for Cory, whose lovely singing voice essentially added to the instrumentation, but replacing her with Jalil's vocals tips the scale towards boring. He's short on flow and the whole exercise is missing the energy he'd soon display with Whodini.

But, still, there's no denying the funky bass groove of "The Smirf" in any incarnation, and for all my criticism, you'll still find yourself disappointed when the record ends way too early, fading out during Jalil's rap after only the five minute mark (hey, this was '82... I expect at least ten more minutes of funk!). His voice is still appealing, and there's an underlying wit to his rhymes - without being jokey - that's the trademark of almost all the best MCs:

"Everybody, smirf down the streets;
Smirf on skates.
For those who can't smirf:
Huh - take that in your face!
Now, you all should know the smirf,
At least by now,
For the nerds out there who don't,
I guess I'll show you how.
Now let your body float,
Like you're on the surf;
Now put a beat to it,
And call it the smirf.
Now just let your arms flow
From your left to your right.
Now get down low,
Now come back to your height.
That's right - smirf outside,
Smirf in your car,
Hold it! Don't move an inch;
Smirf right where you are."

The b-side, "Your Smirf" is of course the instrumental (except for looping the opening line, "Ha ha ha! Who wanna smirf wit it?" a couple times), but they remix it, playing with the drums and adding extra keyboards and even some guitar. At one point they break it down to nothing but a synthesizer imitating the bassline... it's still a slow and mellow tune, but this mix is way more jazzed up - it's also a minute and a half longer. It's too bad this mix didn't feature Jalil's vocals, because then we'd have the best of both worlds, but as it is, it's still my preferred version.

So, yeah. If you don't have this, you're not missing an an essential like "Magic's Wand," but it's still a worthwhile piece for true fans of the golden era. And, really, it's impossible to not enjoy the smirf, at least a little bit. :)

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