Friday, October 31, 2008

From DJ To Goddess: An Interview With Wanda Dee


Just the opportunity to talk to one of the original Hip Hop legends from its earliest days in The Bronx is enough to get me amped for a great interview. But how many of them went on to revolutionize the portayal of women in hip-hop by assembling the wildest stage shows and releasing some great records in the 80's, then become a controversial pop music icon in the 90's, and finally reemerge as a Las Vegas headliner in the 2000's? I'm pretty sure Wanda Dee is the only one. ;)

When did you first see/hear a hip-hop show or record?

Right outside my window on 194th Street and Marion Avenue in The Bronx. After all, The Bronx was and is THE birth place of Hip Hop. So I didn't have to go far to find it.

And how did you go from being a fan who wanted to be a part of it to actually being a part of Bam's crew?

Well actually, I met Kool Herc first and he put me down on the turntables FIRST in Edenwall Projects in The Bronx at a local community center. Eventually, I met Afrika Bambaataa through a mutual friend named Love Squigg... LOL! Yes, I know his name is funny, but that was his moniker. He told Bam about me and Bam told him to invite me to come see him personally at The Bronx River Zulu Anniversary Party back in the 70's. He took to me like a father and a mentor and gave me many a great opportunities to spin. Thanks to Bam, I became The First Lady of The Universal Zulu Nation as it's FIRST official female inductee.

What do you remember about your first set?

It was a house party in The Bronx. I had practiced for so long in my house, that by the time I got up there to do my thing, I was in great form. It was originally set to be a group thing between me, another (male) DJ and a male & female rapper (who were all siblings), but I ended up doing the set by myself. And I'm glad I did. I can't recall their names right now anymore, but I do know that they fought all the time. I can remember that! LOL!

Do you remember any of the records you spun, how you mixed, who was there?


James Brown, Brothers Johnson, Mardis Gras/ Rock the Bells, etc., etc., etc. I was back spinning real fast, scratching, mixing / blending records from one break beat to the other. Can't recall exactly WHO was there, but let's just say it's safe to say that there was a room full of party people having a good time... and I got paid doing something I love to do. That was great then, and it's great now!

You're recognized as the first female DJ, but I don't think many people realize you battled... Like what was your experience competing in the New Music Seminar against Jazzy Joyce like?

NOTHING! That experience was like NOTHING, because it NEVER happened!!!! It is an utter and complete lie! A fabrication continually and falsely represented on Jazzy Joyce's web site and MySpace page on her bio; and I've asked her repeatedly through my manager, to CORRECT IT. And she has not. She has obviously refused to cooperate with telling the truth.

And the truth of the matter is that when I was coming up, Joyce looked up to me as a protege would a mentor. She loved both me and the late, great Whiz Kid (Harold McGuire), and was inspired by both of us. I can remember Joyce at my sets, I've given her jobs (including the one replacing me when I left the initial group I was in with Debbie Dee, Sha-Rock & Lisa Lee) and she was always a huge fan of mine (especially as she's much younger than me). So for her to all of a sudden create this phantom DJ battle between us that NEVER happened (in which she, of course, declared herself The Winner), is really pathetically sad and a cold slap in my face.

Our history / herstory must be preserved and told, sold & retold with honesty and integrity, and she has desecrated that. I am deeply flattered that she so felt the need to exalt herself above all others (in her imagination) that she would pretend that she battled ME and WON, but the naked truth still is... that this incident in question you're asking me about (probably because you read the false info yourself somewhere in correlation to her)... NEVER HAPPENED!

I have participated in The New Music Seminar, two years in a row to great success, but I've never been in ANYTHING with Jazzy Joyce, including a cab!

So when did you decide to make the jump from behind the turntables for people like Debbie Dee and taking up the mic yourself?

1986, when I wrote "Blue Eyes." This was two years after Beat Street. It was time, and at that point I had met a manager, Eric Floyd, who had helped encourage me to do just that. I had already made my mark as Hip Hop's 1st female DJ... 1st female inductee into The Zulu Nation... 1st female DJ to tour The U.K.... 1st female DJ forever historialized in a motion picture (Beat Street).

How did your record on Critique ("Blue Eyes") come about? And who did the scratching on "Blue Eyes?

I did the scratching on "Blue Eyes" on my own personal turn tables. Peter Waterman of PWL Records (U.K.), which allowed Critique to distribute it in The U.S. was the one who discovered me and signed me for the FIRST PWL go round. I did it all over in England and was quite proud of myself, indeed.

What was the filming of your scene in Beat Street like?

Harry Belafonte' himself auditioned me personally in the South Bronx and hired me on the spot. When I filmed it, I felt surreal and excited! At the time, Richard Sisco was my boyfriend / business partner, he was the rapper in front of me with the cowboy and called himself The Sisco Kid. However, when the film came out and the offers came to tour, they only came for ME! I know that hurt him deeply and drove an even deeper wedge between our already unraveling relationship; and that was fine with me, as Eric had come along at that time and swept me off my feet. And we've been "sweeping" now for almost a quarter of a century, ever since!

I recently saw Richard at a memorial function that we organized at Monroe High School in The Bronx to commemorate the beautiful Hip Hop Pioneer mural that the students painted of some of us Hip Hop veterans who started the game in their cafeteria. They had my photo painted up there with Kool Herc, Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash & Sha-Rock. It was something that Eric discovered one Sunday morning online while googling my name, and it was incredibly humbling to me. I think I cried.

So we got Sha-Rock, Melle Mel, Paul Anthony & Bow Legged Lou of Full Force and several others to come to the high school to speak to the students, and it was sensational. In any case, Richard came and I couldn't believe that he had gained so much weight, lost most of his teeth and clearly had a drinking problem. That was sad. He was truly shocked to see me, especially still together with Eric almost 25 years later. But hey, that's life!

When did you start incorporating some of the wilder aspects of your performance (the costumes, dancers, etc) into your show?

That would be 1987 at The World (nightclub) in front of a star studded Hip Hop audience that included Aaron Fuchs of Tuff City Records. I had on a red two piece, tight spandex ensemble with a full length, white, Chinchilla coat, high heels, make up, big 80's hair and four male Hip Hop Jazz Dancers (which had never been seen or done before that). Of course, this was Eric Floyd's idea, as my manager, who had come from a background of Broadway / Vegas style shows, revues and television. In fact, he was one of my original four dancers. We absolutely rocked the crowd and killed it!

That was when Aaron made his offer to me on the spot to join Tuff City (but more about that later)!

From there, Eric felt like all women in Hip Hop were way too masculine and that the only way to beat a man is by being the one thing he cannot be... 100% WOMAN! So, he called in folks like renowned double jointed vogue specialist, Willie Ninja to teach me to walk in heels, Gerard Dure' (also one of my original dancers, as well) to do my hair & make up and some kick-ass, incredible dancers, all under his choreographic, production and staging genius.

Next thing I knew, the act, along with my success grew ever more exotic, erotic & hypnotic! Sex, sensuality, power, glamour, humor, harmony, choreography, beauty... these are all universal languages, and my act speaks ALL of them. I guess it's rather ironic that I sing in 8 different languages, and (apparently) so does my act.

Was there ever talk of recording a full album for Tuff City (or even Critique)? Are there any unreleased Wanda Dee songs that were recorded back in those days?

There was initial talks of a full length album briefly for Tuff City, but once it was firmly established that Aaron Fuchs was not ever going to play fair contractually, my manager Eric Floyd, along with his manager, Sal DiSanto and friends Pete Guzman and Wayne Smallwood paid Aaron a visit and got me out of my contract with a quickness. Critique never discussed a full length album with me, but as it's main parent company of PWL out of England under the auspices of Peter Waterman with THE most successful European production team of the 80's / 90's (SAW) Stock, Aitken & Waterman did record a full length UNRELEASED album[!!] with me. It was NEVER released due to the fact that they broke up as a production unit, with Mike Stock arguing with Peter Waterman daily, and eventually going his own way! My product went down in history as their final co-production project, and although they took good care of me and handsomely paid me, that album still remains unreleased at this time. I'm sure one day, it will see the light of day... they always do!

Artists who've been on Tuff City have had some pretty extreme opinions of Aaron Fuchs (both good and bad); how was your relationship with Aaron Fuchs?

Aaron was a visionary, I give him that! But he was a victim of the worlds oldest demon... GREED! I thank him for my singles, "The Goddess" and "To the Bone," which went on to become the first two platinum selling singles by a (solo) female in Rap. Another FIRST for me in a career full of FIRSTS, so he will always hold a very special place, near and dear in my heart!

Tell us about Rapmania. That whole show had an amazing line-up; and the show you put on was off the hook.

LOL... THANK YOU! Rapmania was the brainchild of producer Van Silk, and I was honored and humbled to be asked to be a part of it. My manager & husband Eric Floyd outdid himself once more with amazing choreographic and production prowess! He knew that this would be recorded for all time, and it would consist of 40 of the biggest rap artist veterans of the day, so he really wanted me to have a spectacular show! So he personally hired the African drummers / African dancers, Hip Hop/Jazz dance duo (Cheetah & Cougar), and that long, multi-ethnic line of drop dead gorgeous, g-string/oil clad army of "G-Men" that brought me out atop their massively muscular shoulders; along with my Nubian shaman carrying my boa constrictor (whose head he placed entirely in his mouth TWICE during my intro to the stage).

It was probably the first time I had an out-of-body experience on stage, as all I can remember is being introduced and the drumming starting amidst the incredible waves of applause and love that came pouring over the foot lights and onto that stage from The Apollo Theater audience, and then I remember the 3-minute standing ovation I got afterwards when it was all over. I knew we had made history at that point, especially in Hip Hop, because this was before any of my fellow Hip Hop artists had done big productions... this was before Hammer, Nelly and the like. This was 1990 and that kind of raw showmanship had NOT been experienced before in the Hip Hop genre.

ALL of the stars backstage ran over to me and were slapping (me) five, high fiving me and patting me on the back for a job well done, and that's when I laughingly discovered that the man who had put all of this together (my husband/manager, Eric) was actually locked out of The Apollo during the whole performance, because I sent him back to our tour bus to pick up my black feather bolero jacket (that I was supposed to be wearing and subsequently did NOT); and some narrow minded security guy would NOT let him back into the theater because they did NOT believe he was my manager. So poor Eric only got a chance to see the results of our collective labors that night, but alas, he NEVER got to see the show. Well, the next morning, we drove out from our Riverside Drive apartment to grab some breakfast at the 125th Street / Harlem McDonald's and Eric had just bought the paper, and while in the drive through ordering our hot cakes, he started screaming because there I was on the cover of USA Today labeled as "THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE ENTIRE RAPMANIA PAY-PER-VIEW TELECAST" the night before! WOW! What a moment... what a milestone in my life... and I rightfully shared it privately with THE man that made it all happen with me... my only TRUE love in life (other than our son, Siameze)... ERIC FLOYD!

When did you first find out the KLF was using your voice?

Eric got up in the middle of a stormy / rainy night back in 1991 while visiting his mom down at her home in Mclean, Virginia, purely on a hunch (and he gets LOTS of them) and decided at midnight he was going to Tracks, DC's largest gay club, to get me a booking. Now, if you know my husband of 25 years like I do, you'll know that the last thing he'd ever do would be to get up and go to a gay club at midnight, on a CLEAR or STORMY night. Well, he apparently gets to the club and walks in and hears my voice waling "I WANNA SEE YOU SWEAT" over this incredibly hot Techno beat. He goes to the DJ booth to thank the DJ for "mixing" the two songs (my voice with their music), only to discover that he didn't mix anything at all and he pointed out that it was all already on the 12" single he was playing, entitled "What Time Is Love?" Needless to say, Eric was stunned.

Well, he took down ALL of the contact information and went on a one man warpath that night calling Wax Trax Records in Chicago, KLF Communications in London and so on and so forth. When Eric finished with them, he got me a huge six figure $ettlement, star featured credits on The White Room album, starring roles in The KLF music videos, and a lucrative co-publishing deal with them (as I wrote the hooks to their biggest world wide hits). In fact, to this day, I get weekly checks in the mail from ALL 10 of The Blue Man Group shows around the world that still close their shows with "Last Train To Trancentral," and have for the past 16 years and counting...

I would like to say that Bill Drummond and Jim Cauty of The KLF, although admittedly copyright thieves, are still two of THE most prolifically brilliant producers in modern pop music history. Light years ahead of their time, which is why their productions from The White Room album still sound refreshingly fresh and radio friendly TODAY! No one can deny them that. What also cannot be denied is the fact that although The KLF had previous releases before me with marginal underground success (never selling over 100,000 units), it's safe to say that THE RAPPING brought them street appeal... I brought them sex appeal... and combined with their uncanny productions, (finally) gave them MASSIVE COMMERCIAL APPEAL. And let's also make mention of the fact that in knowing that I now had an invaluable vested interest in The White Room album as a co-publisher, Eric organized a massive world tour under the moniker of WANDA DEE & THE KLF EXPERIENCE and/or THE VOICE OF THE KLF, WANDA DEE... and the promotion we did on an international level insured us huge record sales. At last count I do believe I've toured to some 150 cities, 90 countries on 6 continents, platinum status in 77 countries and over 25 million albums sold. Not bad for a one time tom boy / day dreaming little girl from The Bronx, who started off as a Hip Hop DJ turned rapper turned singer turned multi-lingual chanteuse turned producer turned Vegas headliner, huh!? LMAO!

So tell us why The KLF became Wanda Dee and The KLF Experience; and what's the current status between you and Drummond & Cauty of KLF?

I think I already answered this question, but to elaborate further, it's simple... Bill & Jimmy were offered to tour and they continuously and flatly REFUSED (out right). They stated that they would NEVER tour until true peace had ensued the world and they could fill stadiums, whatever the hell all of that meant... it didn't mean a hill of beans to Eric and I, who wanted this project to be $uccessful. So with Clive Davis' blessing back in the states at Arista/BMG, we hit the road... and we hit the road hard in and throughout the 90's. And we made no apologies for it. For not only did we generate MILLIONS of record sales that still stand today, we generated millions of dollars for ourselves, which also still stand today. LOL!

That's why I always say, I wasn't INVITED into The KLF, I was IGNITED! People have to remember that had The KLF not illegally sampled / "stole" my voice in the first place, none of this would have ever happened. And my manager & husband (who is usually criticized for what he did by the narrow minded and ill informed) did what any GREAT manager and husband would and should do... #1, as a man, he protected me and my interests... and #2, as a manager, he got my black ass PAID! And they're still paying me almost two decades later, and what bit of publishing monies that KLF raped and ripped me off for in the beginning BEFORE we got a hold of them, we more than made up for in the live concert / merchandise money that we've $uccessfully raked in through the years. So my relationship with Bill & Jimmy on a PERSONAL level is non-existent for the time being (time healing all wounds), but PROFESSIONALLY, I'm sure that they and their accountants appreciate me for the hard work I've put in around the globe as The KLF Ambassador, because my world touring efforts have produced millions in revenue and album sales. And that's the bottom line!

What year did the I Wanna See You Sweat EP come out (frustratingly, ZYX has a habit of not putting the copyright year on their labels), and how did that project come about?

It came out the same year Eric's blessed Mother died... 1994. This came about from my continued love and work with ZYX A&R man, Harry Towers and his hooking me up with Giuseppe D. and The Brandt Bros., longtime production partners of ours. Eric and I love all of these aforementioned gentlemen and we absolutely loved that project. Happy times... happy tunes!

In 2003, you formed your own record label to put out your debut(!) full-length, The Goddess Is Here. Tell us about that: why now, and how has it been putting out an album and running a label in the age of digital downloading.

Starting G.E.R.L.: Goddess Empire Record Label was the natural order of progression for me as an artist. To be able to map your own creative works from beginning, middle and end is an artistic license and freedom that no one would ever want to give up, and why should they. If they get my music for free, online... so be it... but I make most of my sales from the tons of live shows I do every year and selling them directly to the consumer, especially in LAS VEGAS!

When was your last (most recent) performance with the Zulu Nation? Was it the 30th anniversary (November, 2003)?

Yes, my last performance with The Zulus was at their 30th Anniversary, when they inducted me into The Hall Of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award as their FIRST lady! I was honored!

Tell us about your Vegas show, where you perform as Josephine Baker.

I was born miraculously on April 12th, which was the same day Josephine Baker died and I have always felt a kinship with her for obvious reasons. BOTH of us were born in poverty, fled to Europe for our greatest successes, are multi-linguistic, sex symbols known for our bodies and bi-sexual energies. BOTH of us had strong husbands who helped navigate our careers, although I've only had one, while she had several. And last but not least, each of us are pretty much completely and unabashedly uninhibited when it comes to our artistry.

It was Eric's idea to mount, finance and produce NAKED @ THE FEAST: AN EVENING WITH JOSEPHINE BAKER here in Las Vegas with an all-star cast that includes the likes of Delia Sheppard, Antonio Fargas, Pendu & Roshe Davis (among others), because he felt like it was a show project whose time had come. She was and is Diva Originale... when you read the Bible Of Divadom, The Book Of Josephine is the first chapter!

Everything that ALL of us girls are doing on stage (Diana Ross, J.Lo, Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Celine Dion, etc.) all started with Josephine. And nobody can deny her this! So with a multi-ethnic cast of body beautiful dancers, singers & musicians, 5 nights a week w/a 14 piece orchestra and a million dollars worth of costumes, we are playing to SOLD OUT houses in Las Vegas and will continue to do around the world when we decide to uproot it and unveil it to the world!

You mention that Delia Sheppard is in your show... growing up as a teenage horror fan; I remember her as a Fangoria scream queen. How did that connection come about?

Delia is one of our dearest friends in Las Vegas and positively absolutely one of the sexiest mother's I know and/or have ever met! Her flexibility, agility, strength and class is without reproach... I love, respect & admire her greatly!

I saw a video on Youtube recently, which says it's your latest single. That is Melle Mel we hear kicking the rap verse on there, yeah? What's the deal with that song?

On my forthcoming new album, I had the pleasure of working with my old friends from Brooklyn, the multi-platinum production wizards of Full Force, who wrote and produced "Feva" featuring my other good buddy, Mr. Muscle Simmons himself (LOL), Melle Mel and "My Time To Shine." I love these two tracks and remain confident that they will be hits for me. In fact, Jermaine Dupri turned down "My Time To Shine" for Janet, and I was all too happy to oblige because the track is absolutely kicking!

Finally... so often, being a mother pulls women right out of the entertainment industry... the answer to "whatever happened to that great actress/ singer/ whoever?" is so commonly, "oh, she became a mother and quit the biz forever." You've not only stayed in the game, but performed with your son! How has your experience been being a mother in the hip-hop and dance music scene? And what would you say to a really talented female facing that conflict?

Motherhood is, by far, THE most rewarding part of my life. Our Son, Siameze is the light of MY life... our lives, and I love him with all of my heart. Helping him to grow and cross that threshold from boyhood to manhood has been my greatest achievement and production! Nurturing his dreams has been my greatest investment.

At the end of the day, all of the applause, designer clothes, platinum singles and money can't hold you in bed at night... lift your spirits when you're really down... and/or bring true meaning and fulfillment to your life (or at least NOT mine). But watching my son grow up into the fine young, well mannered man that he is today, who respects women, his fellow man, nature and the environment around him with the impeccable character of love, honor, honesty and generosity of spirit that he possesses... now THAT'S my crowning glory and achievement in this thing we call LIFE! And I'm sure Eric would agree.

He is now doing his debut album project; Born To Dance under his own namesake, Siameze: The Godson Of Rock & Soul! He is a remarkable young talent that possesses the best of BOTH of us (Eric & I), as he's got Eric's DANCE abilities and my SINGING abilities. I think Bow Legged Lou of Full Force says it best... "If Michael Jackson & Prince could somehow ever have a baby, SIAMEZE would be that love child... and James Brown, Tina Turner, Elvis & Eartha Kitt would be the grandparents!" I expect great things from him in the future, and you would all be wise to do the same... LOL!

Thanks!

THANK YOU John for the time, love and forum you've allotted me to speak to both you and your readers all over the world. Keep up the GOD work and God(dess) with you always, Wanda Dee

To find out more about her upcoming Vegas shows - and to see even more of her fantastic photos - check out her website: arkenitv.com/WandaDee.html. And keep an eye out for her Full Force-produced follow-up album coming soon; but personally I'm even more excited about that unreleased album with SAW - that needs to come out!

Nightmare On Elm Street raps, part 2


^Video blog!!
(Second video of all-original Halloween content on the new blog.)

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nightmare On Elm Street raps, part 1


^Video blog!!
(First video of all-original content on the new blog.)

Part two will be posted on Halloween day...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pos K Report

Hey, guys. Just a quick post on the new Positive K CD (yeah, CD only) that's just dropped. Not to be confused with the mp3 compilation of 12" cuts and stuff from the old First Priority Basement compilation, etc. (misleadingly titled, The Gentleman, The Rapper: The Lost 1988 First Priority Album), Origins of Hip-Hop: Back To the Old School (kind of a clunky title, eh?) is an actual, legit release on Echo Records. It's fourteen tracks long, mostly of old 12" cuts and stuff, like the mp3 comp. I'm gonna go ahead and guess that "Echo Records" (here's their myspace) is actually Echo International, the same label that put most of these tracks out on vinyl in '99.

But, unlike that mp3 comp, which features none, this CD also seems to feature three two genuinely previously unreleased tracks! Here's the track-listing, broken down by me (a "disambiguation" as it were):

1. Talking Positive <---1999 Echo 12"
2. Feel Good Bout Myself <---1999 Echo 12"
3. Listen 2 the Man <---1999 Echo 12"
4. Raggedy Man <--- apparently unreleased actually the song "E&J" featuring Raggedy Man mistitled, from the 1999 Echo 12"
5. Never Too Much <---1999 Echo 12"
6. Black Cinderella <---1996 12" on his own label
7. A Good Combination <---1988 First Priority 12"
8. Ain't No Stoppin Me Now <---1987 First Priority 12"
9. Better Know About It <--- apparently unreleased
10. How You Livin'? <---1997 12" on his own label
11. It's All Gravy <---1995 12" on his own label
12. Mr. Jiglyano <---1995 12" on his own label
13. Right About Now <--- apparently unreleased
14. Sweater Girl <--- just "Quarter Gram Pam" mistitled, from the 1987 First Priority 12"

Of course, you can always check out my Positive K discography page to see all the stuff on his 12"s and stuff explicitly laid out. So, what the heck. Three Two previously unreleased Pos K songs is still worthwhile, though - I'll be getting this. Wish it would come out on vinyl, though...

Update 8/30/08: Ok, I got suspicious of the song title "Raggedy Man," since it's the name of an artist Pos has worked with in the past, so I went back to my old 12"'s and sure enough - that song turned out to be "E&J." What screwball put this track-listing together?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Word To Your Mutha Ship

Some of you may remember this blog as the one you never got to read ages ago because AOL ate it... well, here it is, with the second half freshly rewritten:

Here's a weird, little collector's edition 7" single from a label that specialized in weird, little collector's edition 7" singles - including the Object Beings' debut I covered in a previous post. Weapon-Shaped Recordings was owned and run by Eric Steuer, music editor for Wired magazine. They later changed their tactic, signed some in-house artists (Substance Abuse, The Forest Fires Collective) and became a bit more of a "legit" label. But this, their first release, came out before all that started in 1999.

"Werd To Yer Motha-Ship" was the single off of The Shape Shifters' self-released (not on Weapon-Shaped) album, Planet Of the Shapes. It was limited to 550 copies (mine is #5) and came pressed on clear-orange vinyl in a regular paper sleeve and a folded piece of cardboard with the artwork on the front & back, and came with a little, yellow lyrics sheet. Few MCs are so well served by coming with printed lyrics, let me tell you, then Circus, who provides all the raps on this single. It's a dope track, produced by the late DJ Rob One and Mr. Fung (an alias of Shape Shifters crew member Mek One), featuring a popping beat underneath a really addictive bassline and a plethora of bizarre sounds and samples. It's one of Circus's best flows, with just ill freestyle lyrics, drifting from "MCs step off" into crazed, sci-fi nonsense and back again.

It's followed by a brief instrumental interlude produced by Transducer and entitled, "Transcend & Evolve," with a vocal sample of an exchange between Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson's characters in Easy Rider discussing the people of Venus, "Why don't they reveal themselves to us is because if they did it would cause a general panic. Now, I mean, we still have leaders upon whom we rely for the release of this information. These leaders have decided to repress this information because of the tremendous shock that it would cause to our antiquated systems. ... So now the 'Nooshins are meeting with people in all walks of life in an advisory capacity. For once, man will have a god-like control over his own destiny. He will have a chance to transcend and to evolve with some equality for all."

The B-side, "Happy Birthday Nimrod" was originally an exclusive, but later found itself on the Shifters' double album, Know Future. It's a crazy Circus solo joint, co-produced by Circus and Transducer, with a grungy guitar loop, keys by Nico "the Funky Greek," and a crazy patchwork of weird sound effects, being cut up by Actual Jae L.A. over a slow rolling beat. The lyrics are just Circus ranting insanely to the beat; here's an excerpt (note: the punctuation is how he's written it on the lyrics sheet):

"ZOG IS COMING SOON !!! THAT'S WHY WE GOTS TA HURRY HOME
BY 11:30 P.M....... SO I CAN BE DECEIVED NY MY T.V.
HOW THE WORLD WILL BEGIN ???
IN 1997 ? ONLY 42% OF THE THE UPS.PEOPLE ........ VOTED FOR THE DEVIL !!!
FOR WHAT SHALL MONKEYS DO , WITHOUT JET PACKS OR SOLAR POWER?!
YOU ARE ALL THE SAME... YOU ARE ALL THE SAME.... YOU ARE ALL ON RITALIN INDIGNANT WITH ? FEELINGS OF ABANDONMENT
READING LEVEL WELL ... RUB STICKS ?? TO START A FIRE .... 'CAUSE
ALL THE USED UP LIGHTERS ? ARE BROKEN ... LAYING IN THE GUTTER
CLEAN UP ON AISLE SEVEN !!
THERE IS A ROBOT ... AND A CAVEMAN ... HAVING A FIST FIGHT
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TARGET
PREESTABLISHED SOCIAL SKILLS .... OF GREED AND VIOLENCE !?!?
NOW THE TIME HAS COME !!!! FOR YOU TO BUST A MOVE !!!!!!!!
AND RESERVE YOUR VISIT TO THE * GOD MACHINE *
SHIT IN THE URINAL ..... OR NAME THE CAT ROVER
NOW YOU'VE GONE AND DONE IT !!
THEY HAVE COME TO TRY & FIT US WITH ???? RESTRAINING BOLTS
AS BUG EYED ANGELS OF A SUBSTITUTE GOD ARRIVE
TO WITNESS THE UNVEILING OF THE 7th CHOCODILE ..... WHILE ?
PEOPLE GATHERED THEIR MOST VALUABLE ITEMS ... FOR THE ARRIVAL ?!
OF THE FLYING SAUCER !!!!!!!!"

...And that's just a small sample of this crazy rant of a song, co-written by Circus * the Robot Impostor * 1997 (as he credits himself here in the liner notes), Jovian * MC Jackalope * and Sean Steele. It also plays backwards (i.e. you put the needle closest to the label and it plays to the outer rim - so be ready to grab the needle at the end before it skids around your player and breaks!).

So, all of the music on this (which was all recorded on an analog Tascam 8 track by the way) has now seen wider release, but you can't say this isn't still a pretty neat collector's item.

Now, the Shifters have a myspace, naturally; as does Circus... in fact, he used to do a lot of blogging on his, but has since deleted it all after a big, messy thing with his ex-wife in the comments. :/ I'm not sure what's next for the Shifters - they seem mainly to be focussing on their solo projects; and Circus hasn't announced anything in a while. I don't know about you, but I'm very ready for some new Circus material. ...And RadioInactive, too, for that matter. What's he been up to?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Is It Live?

Yes, it is ...assuming "it" is referring to my new website home, wernervonwallenrod.com! That is very live. As you've heard me yack and blabber about before, my old AOL webhost is shutting down. So after 11 years of Werner von Wallenrod's Humble, Little Hip-Hop Site being on AOL, it's now at it's own URL: http://wernervonwallenrod.com/ (I'm still working on it, so pardon any broken links or graphics... they'll all be sorted soon). The old site should be up for a few more days, but come November 1, it will be gone. But nothing will be lost - just moved to the new site. And I have plans for some new coolness there as well, once I finish fixing up all the old stuff.

And just so there's no confusion, this blog is staying right here at wernervonwallenrod.blogspot.com; I'm talking about the "hub" site with all the artist discographies and such.

Also, for those of you who're interested, yes I know my Todd Solondz website is all messed up. That also has to do with my changing server hosts, and will be fixed soon (after Werner's). Sorry about that.

So, yeah. No more "members.aol.com" or "journals.aol.com" or even "members.xoom.com" (remember that?) nonsense; it's all wernervonwallenrod.com now, baby!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stranded On Def Row

If you're into hip-hop history, there's a lot to be read about the compilation Boston Goes Def, the first full-length rap album of all new, original material released out of Boston. It's talked about in interviews with Slick Rick (of FTI; not that Slick Rick):
"If given the opportunity, everyone should get themselves a copy of the first rap albums to come out of Boston." 

Top Choice Clique: "When the compilation Boston Goes Def (EDO G’s debut) dropped, it showed people in the game that Boston was definitely an untapped resource." 

Ed O.G: "The song FTI played that night was 'Suzie Q,' and it was one of the highlights of Boston Goes Def -- the 1986 compilation that also featured Boston rap pioneers like Rusty the Toejammer and Body Rock... 'It was a beautiful vibe!' Ed enthuses. 'In the late '80s, you could do an all-local show and people would come out to see it. You could have a show with RSO, FTI, the BK [Boogie Knights] Crew, and RCC [Roxbury Crush Crew], and you could fill up 4000 seats! They did shows in all these grimy places -- places where you could smoke weed. It was an ill, ill time."

Cadence of Raw Produce (taken from a discussion we had in the DWG forums): "I remember hearing the hype about that record for months and getting really amped for it to drop. Then when it did, my main complaint about it was that the studio recordings lacked the rawness of the home demos--many of which literally sounded like they were made in one take standing in front of a portable tape recorder... hearing the songs in (relatively) polished studio form just didn't sound right to me at the time. But I remember being really proud on behalf of Boston area hip hop when it dropped. And I felt like from that moment on you could see the development of local artists taking off, from homemade demos, to studio recordings. From beatboxing to drum machines and samplers. And from demo tapes to records. In retrospect, maybe it doesn't represent the best music our scene has produced, but that record, along with Lecco's Lemma were such big parts of a movement that was going on in the mid-late 80's that laid the groundwork for the Boston scene that emerged in the mid 90's. And that's a scene that launched Guru, Ed OG, the Source Magazine (for better or worse), to name a few and paved the way for a whole raft of 90's indie hip hop that you all know and love. And those are the guys who made Boston area artists BELIEVE we could do this. So to me, it's one of those records that also has to be judged in it's historical context."

...and it garnered full articles in The Boston Herald and The Boston Phoenix.

But no one ever talks about the sequel.

Def Row
came out the following year (1988) on the same label (Beautiful Sounds), though this time none of the proceeds seem to have been going to any charity. Once again, it's all produced by Mr. Beautiful and features some of the same artists, as well as some new ones. It gets a little confusing, though, because they don't always use the same names. For example, the White Boy Crew is back, but this time going by U.S.A. I wouldn't have even been sure it was the same guys (since there's another group that sounds just like 'em on this compilation called D.F.O.) except they helpfully refer to themselves as the White Boy Crew in the song. Ed O G (Edorock in those days) is back again, with not one but two songs. But this time, instead of his group being called The FTI Crew, they're credited as A-Train (which, extra confusingly, is also the name of the other MC who rhymes with Ed on one of the two songs).

So, why doesn't it ever get talked about? Well, partly probably because of that damn goofy album cover (credited to "D.B. Velveeta") scaring audiences away by making it look like a novelty joke album like The 2 Live Jews. The other reason is probably because a lot of it's, well... wack? But here's the thing about this album... have you ever tried to play a hip-hop classic to a younger head, like "The Show" or something off of Just-Ice's first album, and you can't really explain to them why it was so great at the time? It's like, "you don't understand what it was like when this first came out in the 80's; it was so new and wild. I guess it just doesn't age well as some other stuff." Well, this album ages wonderfully. Big, 80's beats, cuts, human beatboxes... stuff that when we heard it new we were like, "what is this? So corny!" now holds up in an era where nobody makes music like this anymore. It's like the Jurassic 5's concept, only genuinely authentic material.

But most of it is wack/corny even for it's time. The 3D Crew feature a really sappy R&B hook (sung by "Special Guest" Meg Lyons) and keyboard hook on their love song, "Trust Me." The girl group China Down's rhymes on "Just Rockin' the Mic" sound like they were written by Mrs. Johnson's Third Grade English Class, with every word said in unison by both MCs:

"You know it's right.
Right?
Right.
Or do you wanna fight?
We'll battle you from dusk till dawn,
And even through the night.
The night?
The night.
Oh, go and fly a kite!
Because if you want to battle us,
You must have all your might.
Your might?
Your might.
Oh, sure you think you're right.
You battle us against your friend,
And it will be delight.
Your friend?
Your friend.
Oh, now it is the end."


And the Run-DMC-inspired "No Punks Allowed" and "The Boston Sound" feature embarrassingly rudimentary shouted rap lines over guitar-riff driven tracks. Actually, the guitar tracks (by Bruce Owens, P. Mullford and Mr. Beautful) aren't too bad, and hold up pretty well - that is until the breakdown, when the guitar player goes for his solo and kicks a little "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (seriously).

But hearing Ed O G or The Dilemma Crew kick some fun (if datedly simple) freestyle rhymes over old school beats the world will never create again is easily worth the price of admission. On The Rapmasters and DJ 2's "The Beat Please," a different, O.G. breakbeat is played over the hook each time.

So, some of it's great, some of it's terrible but in a great/fun way if you're prepared to not take it at all seriously... and some of it's just weird. First of all, between every song, there is a random soundbite, roughly 10 seconds long. There's a clip of classical music, a car chase, a porno movie, a country song, the signature theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly... and none of these clips have anything to do with the songs that follow. Like if the porno clip came before a song about sex, it would sort of make sense... but none of them do. It's like the producers said, "these rap kids like samples!" and reached into their bag of public domain.

Looking in the liner notes, the 3D crew dedicate one of their songs to Scott LaRock. Listening to the song, it's obvious why: it's a beat-for-beat, syllable-for-syllable remake of "The Bridge Is Over," called "The Battle's Over," where the lyrics have been changed to be about how Boston crews all get along now (or something). They even sing the same tunes Krs did in his song, in the same key; but they've replayed all the music on their own instruments and equipment, using light keyboards in place of BDP's classic piano loop; making the instrumental version sound like a Fisher Price remix.

And just like Boston Goes Def had the silly "Popeye Rap," Def Row also has a rap about children's material, this time about The Wizard of Oz. And it possibly takes the prize of the weirdest rap song of all time... ever... seriously. China Down return for a second song, this time with the Noble Villians, to record "Yellow Brick Road." One of China Down sings an acapella rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but changes the lyrics to refer to MC Land; then they rap about the place, telling us it's "where the beats are always def... Where the party's always always thumpin'; and the MC's are the best." They talk about how a mysterious man materialized to stop time so their funky rap party could last forever. The beat features some keyboards, a kinda fun bassline, and a lot of vocal samples from The Wizard of Oz movie. They use the sound effect of the Wicked Witch laughing constantly - and it's not in the background. At one point, it comes between every line of an MC's verse, like an insane commentary. It also uses the theme from The Twilight Zone on the hook. And while China Down told us how fresh MC Land was, the Noble Villains have an entirely different take on the place. One of raps about how he was a superstar MC until one day he was pulled into a fiery pit during a party and sucked into MC Land, where he lost his soul and his mic skills ("I am a victim of a real crazy prank; first I was rockin' a party and somehow I got yanked. Fell through a big hole full of smoke and flame. The man with no soul would be my new name."). Why it's a great place for China Downa nd a terrible place for The Noble Villains I have no idea. It ends with him crying, disgraced, "with the word 'shame' written across my face." Then the other guy also raps (whispering his entire verse) about having no soul, in this case after getting struck by lightning in his apartment. He eventually encounters a troll and finds a monster's castle, and the monster tells him (in a fully processed, scary monster voice) that he can escape if only he can believe: "BELIIIEEEVVVVVVVVVEEEE!!!" Then the girl from China Down comes back to reprise "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Top that, if you can!

Is it a classic? Noooo sir. But it's a delightful, historic look into the 80's and Boston hip-hop scenes that's a lot of fun... just so long as nobody's around to overhear what you're listening to and laugh at you. ;)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

InstaRapFlix 13: South Beach Raw

Wow... Beenie Man, Jay-Z, Doug E. Fresh, Wyclef Jean, Lil' Kim, Ja Rule, Chopperyoungcity (who?), Twista, Trey Songz, Naughty By Nature, Black Eyed Peas, Slick Rick, The Game, Trina, Aaliyah, 50 Cent, Mobb Deep, Usher, Diddy, Memphis Bleek, Timberland... all in one 60-minute movie? A movie with opening and closing credits and host segments? That must mean each artist gets about one to two minutes of footage each! Yeah... that should be your first tip-off about South Beach Raw (Netflix rating 1.5 stars).

What you get is a hostess, "your girl" Lola... who seems pretty inebriated. I think the producers just literally just picked her out of a crowd and got her to read some lines for five minutes. She does a funny ramble about "did you see my ring? it's real. I got it; it's mine. It's not fake. Girls ask me where I got it. But anyway." So, throughout the movie this Lola is taking us back with "vintage" (before L'il Kim's surgery, Lola points out) performances and interviews. Basically, very short clips of handheld concert footage (all from the same charity event, btw), sometimes with some very random IMovie effects added. Aaliyah's clip was so short, you don't even see her sing. She just walks across the stage and is like, "hey;" and that's her entire appearance in the film. The sound is off the camera's mic, so it's blasted into staticy feedback whenever a song starts.

There's also a four or five random music videos thrown in the mix.

Wyclef's dancers do a little fencing routine, which is kinda fun. Though from where the camera angle is, you can't see that it's Wyclef performing during their bit until the song's over. As for the "Raw" in the title, don't let the box art fool you. This is pretty sexless (about the most is Trina wearing a bikini in her "Pull Over" video). I think the "raw" refers to the fact that it's all shaky, amateur concert footage.

At the end, Lola tells us she'll be back. Maybe that's when she intends to show the rest of the artists listed on the box that don't actually appear in this film: Beenie Man, Ja Rule, Memphis Bleek... maybe they were standing somewhere behind Jay-Z during his clip? It's hard to tell, because the guy holding the camera was often pretty far from the stage, behind a bunch of other people. But, considering the write-ups this one has gotten online, they'll have to spend a few years hiding from angry customers before they can come out and start work on a sequel.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Darth Vader On the Mic

This neat, promo-only 12": Phoenix Orion "A Disturbance In the Force" was only made available as a freebie if you ordered over $50.00 from the Celestial Recordings online store. It came out in 1999, to tie in with the theatrical release of the fourth Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, and this song was never included on any of his albums.

Now, there have been Star Wars-related songs in hip-hop before... artists like Ultramagnetic MCs and 7L & Esoteric have used vocal samples, The Walkmen practically used the entire soundtrack to turn "Fortruss" into a Star Wars soundscape, and plenty of artists have thrown Jedi references in their rhymes. But Phoenix Orion was taking it to a whole new, literal level.

It wasn't his first release, but Phoenix really made a name for himself with his 1998 album Zimulated Experiencez, where each song featured a first-person narrative from the perspective of a character in a different science fiction film (yes, including Star Wars). Gimmicky, maybe; but for sci-fi/hip-hop nerds who were looking for some serious science fiction content in their raps, and not just cute punchline references or far-reaching sci-fi metaphors of life in the ghetto (a la "Planet E"), this was as pure as it got. And that's what this is.

After an opening vocal sample of Alec Guiness (that's Obi-Wan Kenobi to you) giving us the titular line, a fat, fast-pace beat by Hive kicks in. Hard drums, bassed up horn samples, some hot scratching (also by Hive, I guess, since no one else is credited) and a "Road To the Riches" style piano loop sound like they're laying the groundwork for a posse cut of rugged Bronx MCs. But instead Phoenix adopts the persona of Anakin Skywalker (that's Darth Vader to you) to kick a slick, Jedi tale:

"The federation
Got an entire android nation
Tryin' to over throw my nation;
They're really tryin' my patience.
The senator's a snake;
He ain't tryin' to make no peace treaty.
He already sold the empire;
His heart's dark and greedy.
Don't listen to him, Queenie,
His intentions are evil;
He sold us out,
He's tryin' to wipe us out,
And rule all ya people.
This corrupt communication's
Beginnin' the invasion.
Deathtoll is catastrophic;
Even the Force couldn't stop it!"

As an added bonus, the flip side features instrumental and acapella versions. So this has been reasonably rare; at least since Celestial Recordings went out of business in 2002. But I see Atak seems to have inherited and is now selling the remaining copies, so if you missed this the first time, I'd grab one while they're still cheap.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

InstaRapFlix 12: Brotha Lynch Hung: Ghetto Celebrities: Vol. 1

InstaRapFlix is back on the new blog! Disappointingly, Netflix has removed a lot of instantly viewable films, stating that those had been available for a limited time only (something they only thought to mention after the time was up), so sadly I won't be getting to some of the titles I had on my list... but they have added new ones.

So, I thought Brotha Lynch Hung: Ghetto Celebrities: Vol. 1 (Netflix rating: 2.5 stars) might be fun, if only for the pure outrageousness of the rapper.

Well, it's actually pretty tame, but not bad at all. It's largely centered around one interview with Lynch talking to the camera, telling his story, and sometimes cutting away to what what he's talking about... like a trip to see some of his high school basketball teammates, or recording in the studio. There's not a lot of graphics or zany MTV camera angling. Lynch just earnestly shares his story, from his childhood and family situation, to how he came up in the music industry.

Each member of his crew is given a change to speak, too, at one point, briefly saying who they are, what projects they have coming out, etc (and Zig Zag busts a freestyle). But, really, 95% of this 80 minute movie is just Lynch sitting in his chair, talking to the camera. So he gets to every question you'd probably have for him, from his influences, the references to baby killing in his rhymes, to why he split with Black Market Records, and how he disowns some of his albums that he considers incomplete, released without his approval. And he talks about the things you'd probably never think to ask him about, like his mother's passing, the times his personal studio got robbed, and his bouts with depression.

This is a good doc, and you'll probably come out with more respect for Lynch Hung having seen it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shorty'z Kaught In the System

Shorty Long is one of the lesser-known DITC-related Bronx MCs. He was discovered by Lord Finesse, who produced his first 12", "Shorty'z Doin' His Own Thang" in 1994. Shorty apparently had a falling out with Finesse, and stopped releasing music. But he did release one other 12" in 1996 before disappearing.

"You Know It's Good, Baby" b/w "Let's Get At It..." - like his first 12" - came out on his own label, Long Shorr Records. Both songs are produced by Finesse's DJ, Mike Smooth.

"You Know It's Good, Baby," for my money, is the better instrumental. Straight up hardcore, east New York style... sparse, banged piano keys loop over hard drums, and a low, rumbling bassline and an eery sound effect, with a brief, extra sample for the hook. As an MC, Shorty's not bad... he has a gruff voice but a lighter, more playful tone. His lyrics are his weak point, though. The song's about him kicking game to a girl (using the played out phrase, "pussy ain't nothing but skin on bone. I might suck it; or leave it alone" for the hook... was Luke having a close-out sale that week?). With a rugged beat like this, you wanna hear someone like Big Pun just rip it apart. Instead Shorty just kind of flounders around on it, leaving us with a final total of: "just ok."

The B-side (wins again) is the real compelling joint on this record. "Let's Get At It..." is his posse cut, featuring Timbalan, De La, Moet, C-Terror, Joe-Sex and Fanatic. I don't really recognize most of their names either; they're just his clique and/or loose DITC affiliates. No one kicks an exceptional, stand-out verse, but they're all nice over another ill, more subtle Mike Smooth beat.

There are clean, dirty and instrumental versions for both songs.

There's actually two versions of this record. Both seem to be original, US pressings that came out on Long Shorr in '96 with the same track-listing - both even have the same catalog number and run-out groove - but the labels are different. You can see the version I have, pictured above; but there's another with detailed production credits on it (check it out here on labelscans.com). Why are there two versions, and which came out first (assuming one did come out earlier than the other)? I don't know.

So this record is the last we've heard from Shorty... until now. A collection of Shorty Long's vintage songs recorded with DJ Mike Smooth and others (including production from Showbiz, Timbalan and Buckwild, and guest verses by Harry-O, Moet and others) from that era are being released as a limited (200 copies) EP on One Leg Up Records. It's up for pre-order now, so if you're interested, get on it. And hopefully he'll tell us in his 1LU interview about the two "You Know It's Good, Baby" versions.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'm Over Here Now

As I mentioned in a previous post, My blog and site host is closing down on me. So I've moved my blog here (the URL is http://wernervonwallenrod.blogspot.com). There are upsides and downsides to this move.

Upsides:
  • Not only was I able to move all my old entries, but also all of your comments. :) What's more, it will now be easier for people to comment, with more comment options.
  • I'm now able to implement a new feature, where the name of every artist tagged in a blog post (i.e. the previous entry's would be The Rhyme Poets and Disco Dave) will be put into a long, alphabetical list (not unlike my discographies on my other site), so you can click on the name of an artists you're interested in and see all the posts I ever made about them. This will take me a little time to get fully set up, though.
  • The Best Blog Posts I Didn't Write feature doesn't have to look quite so ugly as it was forced to be in AOL's rigid template.
  • A few other little lay-out tweaks and what-not.
Downsides:
  • I wasn't able to carry over all the images that were in AOL Galleries (i.e. at the top of almost every post), so at the moment they're missing. Now, I have saved every single image to my computer, so I will ultimately be going back and adding them to every single old post... but as you might imagine that will take me a while. So, for now, many old images are missing. Done. I stayed online for a painful amount of time and got them all up.
  • All of your bookmarks, cross-links, etc etc. of that nature will be invalid. That old address won't forward over to this one... it will just be dead. Any of you interested, will have to update your address books, etc.
  • That also includes links in this blog from one post to another (eventually I'll fix those, too). Think I found and fixed them all... if you find any links in any old posts still pointing to the AOL journal, let me know and I'll fix 'em.
  • Moving here doesn't solve the problem of my main site also shutting down imminently. I haven't decided exactly what I'm gonna do with that yet; but that's gonna be a much bigger hassle for me, and many more broken links for you guys (until I fix them).
But enough with the downside business. We're here now, so let's enjoy it. Plus, if you think about it, the downsides are pretty much all temporary; and the upsides are all long-term improvements. So it's a good thing.

Layout tweaks are still happening, but it's already looking pretty much how I wanted it to. Look for new posts here as frequently as they were over there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Whose Turn Is It Now?

Ok, now this is a rare one. The Rhyme Poets, as mentioned in my last post, had a release in between their 1989 album (itself reasonably rare) and their J.G. appearance: this maxi-single/EP (it's sorta borderline between the two). It's titled It's Our Turn, though that's not the name of any of the four songs on here; and was put out on cassette only by Cristone Records in 1992 (CR1001 - I believe the label's only release).

This is ok - certainly not great. I picked it up off the strength of "Put Down the Guns," and it's certainly an interesting piece... probably worth picking up if you see it cheap, if only for the novelty of the one song (which I'll get to in a bit).

It's produced by Ezra L Buckner, who I've certainly never heard of; with co-production credit going to William Patterson (possibly William "Spaceman" Patterson?) and The Rhyme Poets themselves. The production is fairly limp as a whole, with additional keyboards and strings by Willie Beck (possibly of the Ohio Players?) adding very little. I mean, you could listen to it without being bothered by it; but they're sure not beats that'll grab you.

The main song on here is "Roadblock" (or "Road Block;" it's spelled both ways). The Poets don't do much back and forth here (or on any of the songs on this EP)... each MC just takes a verse, kicking a rap about how they won't let any roadblock (obstacle) stand in their way of success: "I'm comin' like a road warrior, knockin' down ya roadblocks. Stoppin' suckers who's afraid of me, cold gettin' docked. You see I'm comin' from the cold-blooded gangster city. Like Frank Nitty, I'm never showin' any pity." A singer named Darlene Morris provides the chorus ("roadblocks... straight through your ROADblocks!"). She has a nice voice; but with her taking long pauses between lines and not much instrumentation there to fill in the blanks, it feels rather sparse. There's also an instrumental for "Roadblock" here, which is the only instrumental on the tape.

Then there's the song, "Talkin' Dat Bull." The is where that novelty value I mentioned earlier comes in. It's exactly the same instrumental and chorus as "Roadblock," but the lyrics have been altered, making the song about The Chicago Bulls (who will run right through your roadblocks). Check how the lines I quoted in the paragraph above become: "We're coming like a raging bull, pushing the rest of the pack back; because the Bulls are comin' in the red and black, and representin' a cold-blooded gangster city. Because Scotty P. and Michael J. will never show pity." They've also added ad-libs by Disco Dave - who was a sidekick on The Rap Down program on WGCI radio* - and a brief intro, meant to sound like they're in a sports arena.

Then you've got their slow, positive song, "Prince of Peace," referring to Jesus. I wouldn't categorize The Rhyme Poets as Christian rap, but they do quote a biblical passage in their liner notes: "Yea though I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death I have not feared no evil for thou has always been with me. O lord I am grateful for your life giving promise." It only features two of the three Rhyme Poets, Deva-D and Triple S. And while most of the production on the EP sounds studio-made, this tune is based heavily on a well-worn sample. I wouldn't even call it "familiar;" I'd call it "tired." They give examples of hard times: greed, lonliness, poverty, corruption and babies being born addicted to crack... and how these wouldn't be a problem if we all followed the example of "the prince of peace."

Pancho is back with his fellows on the last song, "Mis-understandin'," which is sort of their manifesto on everything, from their music to their lifestyle. It's a livlier track, and their lyrics are defintiely the most interesting on this song:

"Misunderstandin' the gangster,
Comin' from the segregated city of America
Try to take my hit? Yo, I dare ya.
Because the Poets are organized rhymers:
Kinda violent, yo, but you'll never find a
Gangbanger rolling with us,
'Cause we're not gang bangers,
But the slangers of some real danger.
The gang-bangers bang about the wrong thing;
It's not ya turf, it's about the money you bring.
'Cause on the midcoast, it's all about that green
Piece of paper; so I might have to take yours.
We built and built, and now we're on the top,
Paying off the cops, we can't be stopped.
Because we don't need the police;

We've got our own police.
'Cause they've got a black piece
A
nd we've got a black piece.
So the only difference is who pulls the gun"

So, yeah, this is a neat, little rarity; but certainly nothing incredible, musically. Unless you're specifically collecting Chicago rap history, you shouldn't lose any sleep over this hole in your collection. But hopefully it made for an interesting read. 8)

*I hate to bring you guys down, but sadly Disco Dave died in his sleep the following year, 1993, at age 40. R.I.P.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Put Down the Guns

In 1993, a a first-time Chicago rapper called J.G. came out with a single featuring a grip of independent Chicago artists making a call for peace entitled, "Put Down the Guns." Remember that? The video got mad airplay back in the day, though despite its success his label, Gasoline Alley, never put anything else out by him. Guess they just considered it a one-off.

Production-wise it came out at just the right time, using that shamelessly Dre-inspired Ron Isley slide whistle sound before it got hopelessly played out. But even putting that aside, it had a hard, thumping bassline, good drums and just a simple loop to hold it all together. A simple beat to let the variety of MCs carry the weight.

And every MC did carry their weight... and the fact that they were pretty much all unknown made it that much more exciting when the single came out of nowhere, like "H.E.A.L." with the celebrity fluff ripped off. And the label sure didn't help the MCs become less unknown. Not the actual 12" label, or the cassingle insert, which had a full page of credits and thanks, actually tell you who any of the MCs are (though one or two are named in the specual thanks... but not all!). Without actually hearing the song, you'd assume it was a J.G. solo cut.

Thankfully, the video gave little subtitles everytime another MC got on the mic. So we know the line-up.

It starts out with J.G. (naturally), kicking a laid-back flow, "funny feelin' when you're starin' at the ceilin', locked in the pen and pretend you don't grin. And when it's time for parole, you're a pro. You know just where to go to make yourself some dough... say what's up, ain't seen him since we were shorties. Used to be homies and now ya don't even know me because you're rough adn you're tough; I say man, you've grown up. ...He said, 'what happened to that brother I shot?' I said, 'Joe? he's still alive,' thinking: damn, he forgot?"

Next up is Ten-Tray, with a gruff and angry flow. Or more specifically, Crunch, the lead MC of the group Ten-Tray, which also included Blood, Sweat, Tears and DJ X-Ray. They had come out with an album (Realm of Darkness) and single ("I Convey") in 1992 on Smash Records. Smash was a division of Polygram, apparently making them the first Chiacgo rap group with a major label deal. Confusingly, he starts his verse by saying he's "from the Bricks, so you know I'm down;" when he's definitely from Chicago like everybody else on this record. The crew split up after this. X-Ray (who has a myspace here) once made wrote an online post saying, "hey whats up i was the dj in the group ten tray i dont no what happiend all i now i got fucked in the hole deal." Crunch later changed his name to Jitu tha Jugganot (check out his site, jituthajugganot.com or his myspace), and came out with an indie album in 2007 called Necessary Ingredients (which X-Ray also worked on).

Next up is Stevo. I really have no idea who he is. He holds his own, though, with a slower and simple flow, stressing individual words. Sort of like a toned-down, non-growling Tim Dog.

Fourth, "it's time for the Poets." The Rhyme Poets, that is. Their specialty here is the back and forth wordplay, which helps liven things up. The Rhyme Poets were a three-man crew consisting of Deva-D, Triple-S and Pancho, who had an album in 1989 called Nation Within a Nation. The group later split up, and Pancho hooked up with a new group called The Illiniez in the mid-90's, who are apparently still together. Leastways, they still have a myspace page.

Fifth is either Madd Skillz (as it's spelled in the video) or Mad Skillz (as it's spelled in the cassingle's special thanks). In either case, he's definitely not that Mad Skillz. Actually, both his voice and flow sound a lot like some early Fat Joe. As far as I can tell, this song is his only appearance on wax.

Sixth, J.G. comes back for a second verse. That's only fair, I reckon, since it's his record; and after all, Gasoline never showed him the love and let him release an album.

Seventh is Prince Akeem, best known for being the godbrother of the great Chuck D: "Put down my gat? I say never! 'Cause another brother's got a gat without a lever. So I say 'never leave home without one' around my way; I shoot a punk in his goddamn face... Got a glock in ya sock, and a nine in the spine of ya back; and ya target is always black." Akeem has always sounded and flowed like Professor Griff, and this song is definitely no exception; but that's ok, because Griff was always a little underrated as an MC. Akeem started making a name for himself with a couple singles and a hard to find album on Chicago Tip Records in '91. But even with guest appearances by Chuck and Flavor, he never seemed to really take off; and this was pretty much the last song he'd ever do.

Finally, Crunch of Ten-Tray comes back for a final hardcore verse, definitely taking the preachiness edge off of this record, "don't you see we have a universal enemy? Yet and still, you point your goddamn gat at me! How much heart does it take to smoke your own? Raise your fist, black, 'cause the war is on!"

So, the video version was cool... but there's a far superior remix on the single. They ditch that "let's appeal to all coasts, guys" vibe on the "Street Mix," which brings a grimier beat, rolling bassline and a DITC-style horn sample. It's straight up ninties New York, b-side wins again style.

There's also the "Stepper's Mix," which goes in the opposite direction, taking the west coast elements and replacing the vocals with a bunch of extra, live instrumentation (piano, funk guitar, keys and a few more samples), like an old "Quik's Groove." It works pretty well as a reprise, though you wouldn't spin it without listening to the original version, too.

This is a quintessential time capsule of 90's hip-hop if ever there was one. If that's what you're into, pick it up; you're sure to get a kick out of this.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lord Of the Underground Uncovered

You would think any rapper coming out after the 1990's, especially one from New Jersey, would consider the name Lord of the Underground taken. But apparently not.

In a recent article, I wrote about Yah Yah's promo single, "All I Need" on a little label called 5 Lmnt. According to them, he'd also recorded an album called Lord of the Underground, but I'd never ben able to find it, and they've never answered any of my e-mails. And I'd basically started assuming that it was never actually released.

But I was wrong.

After posting that article, I was contacted by a reader[thanks again!] who managed to order a copy off of their site - as I said, by the time I found their site, they weren't replying to e-mails... but I guess he got in early. So, yeahl he got it... it actually exists. Here's a pic of the actual CD:

As you can see (click it to enlarge), it's dated 2004.

The production (possibly by Azizz, who he name drops once or twice... and it sounds like his stuff) on this album is nothing like the CD single I reviewed... it's very low-fi and there's nothing poppy about it at all (and no R&B crooners doing back-up). It's also generally less dynamic... none of the tracks ever really stand out and grab you. They're just solid, respectable underground beats. It's twenty-tracks deep (though the track-listing 5 Lmnt iddused apparnetly named twenty-one), but that includes a couple of skits and two songs not by Yah. Sam Goodie Greene and J-Dot, two artists 5 Lmnt was putting out, both get "Debut" songs randomly in the middle of the album.. They're ok (J-Dot is the better MC of the two), but both tracks are totally skippable.

So, that's the bad news, I guess. But the good news is Yah spits fire on every song (except the twohe's not on, of course). I said it last time, and this album only further solidifies this belief: Yah is easily the most underrated Outz MC; for both his lyrics and delivery. And most of the songs are just about flexing his skills ("I hate cops but got a couple brothers on the force; it pays off because I be havin' trouble in the courts. Fuck fumblin' and loss, we doublin' and floss. Late night, me and Ma cuddle in the Porsch"), but he does sometimes expand into other topics, on songs like "Times Is Hard," "How Couuld You" and "All I Want" (the hook is, "all I want is to survive; all I want's to stay alive. All I want's to not die. That's all I want")... though never at the expense of the crazy, ill wordplay:

"Ay yo, it's sorta like that day when Tobey tried to blow me
in the back from his 'Lac, 'cause I bussed the U slowly;
And just as I ducked, mad shots flew over me,
And totally ripped up this bitch Toyota seats.
They reload and I go to leave and notice three
Old police approachin', all in one motion.
I backed up, ran them;
Cops chased, scramble,
All while this little-ass car is eatin' the ammo.
First, second, hittin' the curb, I can't gamble;
Third, fourth, straight through the alley, they can't handle.
I'ma ditch this car, fix these scars,
Get some firearms 'cause this means war!
And I'm in it 'till I finish y'all ducks;
Make you wish cops sprinted, and prisoned y'all up."


There are a few Outsidaz appearances... Axe does a brief skit and Azizz (I thnk!) raps on "All I Want." There're a few others, including a posse cut called "Your Truly;" not sure who all those cats are, but they're all up to par [update 10/9/8: apparently they're a Florida-based crew called Critical Madness.... see the comments].

This is a hot album, and it's really a shame it never got more of a release. But at least there are a few copies out there, apparently, floating around to be found. Are there copies of The Collaberation, too? I don't know. But I'm keeping an eye out.