Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Mini Chandelier

Today we have Canadian producer Factor's The Chandelier EP, from his full-length album, also dubbed The Chandelier, that came out this August on his own label, Side Road Records. This EP conveniently collects the best vocal tracks with the most notable MCs, and leaves off all the boring instrumental stuff.

As you can see, it's a 7" picture disc on Ooohh That's Heavy Recordings, a label that specializes in limited 7" edition picture discs. And, yeah, this is limited, too. 500 copies were made; but that's beginning to feel like an appropriate, regular run on hip-hop vinyl these days. So, it's six solo songs by an eclectic collection of guests: "More Rude Than Handsome" by Awol One (California), "Time Of the Year" by Sadat X (New York), "The Leen" by Josh Martinez (Canada), "Good Old Smokey (My Kanine)" by Mykah Nine (California), "Pray" by Ceschi (Connecticut) and "Out Of the Same Thing" by The Gaff (Canada).

Like you'd expect from a Freestyle Fellowship veteran, Mykah gets creative with his flow, this time using a quick staccato delivery to contrast with the slow beat. Each sylable is deliberately pronounced, fitting in between rather than over each piano note, chopped vocal sample and drum hit. I get the impression both the MC and the producer were making a showcase track here.

Awol One, on the other-hand, goes for a sing-songy hook and a very relaxed flow for his verses/ The beat features driving power chords, rolling piano riffs, and a snare-heavy drum. The production is amazingly effective at making Awol's verses sound distinct and important, and he's written his unique brand of lyrics and dramatic pauses for the tune: "People and passion die inside. Your friends are just dorks and losers; my friends are incredible people that change peoples' lives. And my friends they influence the world. Your friends are just little drunk boys and girls with big dreams that they'll never carry out." He doesn't quite bring his A-game in the writing, which is a shame because the track is going all out for him, but the combination of the music and his delivery still make this a worthwhile Awol One venture.

Ceschi and Josh Martinez also go for sing-songy hooks. I don't know if Factor's beats just naturally inspire that type of hook, or if he specifically requests it. It doesn't sound out of place at all for Josh, who's upbeat number sounds like it could be lifted right off any of his recent albums, but Ceschi sounds like he's auditioning for The Eurythmics or something. It's certainly interesting, with a simple guitar loop, strong bassline and keyboards that sound like they're straight out of a Lucio Fulci film - but he leaves hip-hop a little too far behind for my tastes.

That's not a problem for Sadat's track, though. With sharp, horn-like keyboard stabs and a chopped vocal sample, care was clearly taken here to make Sadat sound at home on this track. But there's still enough piano and guitar here to make this exercise stand out from your typical Sadat X album filler. My only disappointment here is that it's too short - just 2:04... Sadat really only kicks one (nice) verse. If he'd just added one more, this could've be a successful single for Sadat to coincide with his new album.

Finally, The Gaff's contribution is a short DJ track. He cuts up various vocal samples as Factor adds and subtracts one musical element after another. The actual cutting is unexceptional, but it all adds up to a nice little interlude, anyway.

So, all in all, it's a solid EP. The best moments, the ones you'll find yourself going back to, are when the guests really manage to keep up with the producer. The rest is definitely passable, and will easily keep your head nodding if you've got it playing in the background. Bottom lime: they've made an affordable EP (and as a bonus, they've made it a cool picture disc) so you can skip the clunkier full-length. Definitely worth picking up for the highlights.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hogs Leicht

So, we're nearing the end of another year, here... my last couple posts have been about newer releases (even if some are new releases of older music), and I'm gonna stick with that 'till the end of the year. There's still plenty of new stuff that needs to get some shine. And since last post was Grand Invincible, I'm gonna stick with the theme and do talk a bit about a sorely overlooked release from Sacred Hoop.

"Hogs of Rap" is a 12" release limited to 500 copies, but not "collector's priced" like the other limited edition I was writing about before. It's "handmade, stamped and screen-printed," and comes in the unusual picture cover shown above. This is the first release on Smooth Triumph Records... I'm not sure who runs that, exactly; but their press-sheet does say to "be on the look out for more 'vinyl only' releases from your favorite label: Smooth Triumph," so apparently they have more in store. Their motto is "breakin' even in this rap game."

"Hogs of Rap" is the first single off of Sacred Hoop's totally underrated Go Hogwild album, which I called possibly the best album of the year in '07. It's an epic posse cut, clocking in at over 11 minutes. It features Jihad, Eddie K, Brandon B, Conceit, TopR, Z-Man and of course Luke Sick over a series of Vrse Murphy's beats. Yeah, the track changes for each MC's verse. It's practically 7 separate songs with all different vocal and musical samples and distinct breaks between segments (Jihad's features a nice, altered use of the sample from Atmosphere's "Jackpot" and Eddie K's features guest scratching by DJ Quest), but somehow they all come together to make one ill cut of MC's representing both their collective crew and their own distinctive selves. Each instrumental effectively pulls you into the MC's world, who uses his unique style; and everyone involved brings their A game. It's damn fresh.

This 12" also features the full instrumental and two collections of "Acapella Scratch Phrases," where various lines from every MC are dropped acapella for DJing purposes. It actually came out at the tail end of '07 but was mostly just available at their shows. I don't know how many are left, but as of this writing, you can get it online direct off of Sacred Hoop's myspace.

While you're there, you can pick up Vrse's new instrumental album, Sport Leicht. It includes the instrumentals for all of Go Hogwild, plus a few new instrumentals ("Matador," "Cantana" and "Perfect Game"), unique to this album. And besides the new single and upcoming album from Grand Invincible mentioned in my last post, Sacred Hoop have a couple other projects in the work. Their next album they're working on now is tentatively titled Coffins In the Fourier; and Vrse is still talking about releasing The Bachelors album with Z-Man (in a semi-recent interview he said they were recording new tracks for it to keep it fresh), plus his EP with Neila. Then, Luke Sick and Z-Man have another project coming called The Motel Crew, which is them working with more "experimental" producers Mike 2600 and Doug Surreal (personally, I'd take some Vrse or Eons One beats any day; but the handful of Motel Crew tracks that've floated out onto the internet have been pretty cool - I mean, you can't front on the MCs). Oh, and Luke has mentioned another possible Disturbers album, and some unreleased Brougham stuff, too. Now, usually when artists talk about a grip of upcoming releases like that, they don't all wind up coming out, but even if only one or two of them do, it's gonna be hot.

So, yeah, that's it for tonight. We'll look at another contemporary vinyl release next time. Don't give up on new hip-hop music, old school heads. ;)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Grand Invincible

Grand Invincible is the second coming of Underbucket, the duo of Sacred Hoop's Luke Sick and DJ Eons One. They've just dropped a brand new 12" single of "Purse Thieves" b/w "Elephant Tranq." If you can't make it out on the sticker pictured above, the 12" includes instrumentals of both "Purse Thieves" and "Elephant Tranq," an "Elephant Tranq" acapella, and the bonus track "The Style Is Bonkers."

Luke described the subject matter of "Purse Thieves" on the Gurp City news column, "100% grimey! Back in the early-nineties when San Jose Live was still open in the south bay during the Hump Hut Gang’s forever-broke-never-have-a-job days, my ace boon cracker Oak D and I used to kick girl’s purses underneath the pool tables and then send Ruddy Rudd to crawl under and get ‘em into the bathroom, loot ‘em, and throw ‘em in the trash. We’d also snatch 3/4 full Long Islands off the bar when fools had their backs turned and suck ‘em down quick. We were full on fuckin’ dengenerates and it is kinda with a mixture of embarrassment and pride that I speak of it now (mostly pride though, fuck it I’m a scumbag, y’all know me). Anyway, 'Purse Thieves' kinda turned into an homage to that time in my life with a little modern shit thrown in (the first title for this song, before I wrote the chorus, was: Doing Coke in the Car). And the moral to the story kids?: Being dead broke should never stop you from getting drunk if you are determined and shameless enough. And if you should get caught? Do what we did at the Hut: Deny it to the bitter end. Why? ‘Cause nobody believe dem hoes!'"

And "Elephant Tranq" is just more ill, freestyle rhymes over a fantastic piano break and neck-snapping drums:

"Ya wanna win medals?
Better train hard

Biters take their styles from the tapes in the trainyard
Talk brain hard, droolin' on like retards
Coppin' a lame broad and tell her the game's on
Who's gonna blame y'all?
I ain't the one, Holmes.
The street lights came on
And y'all just run home.
The Year of the Rat,
And that’s twelve whole months of the
hardest G’s alive hidin’ under their comforters.
Leave no witnesses,
Send no condolences;
Didn't have to mention that I'm reppin' the holiest
Patrolin' car pullin' up in Orange
County while they bounty hunt for Vrse like he's foreign
Legion in the evenin', and I'm weavin' through traffic
Dimes hittin' guns strikin' hot like matches
You don't wanna know about the rest of the accidents
Tomorrow ain't promised, so we're gettin' some action."

As the hook says, "if rhymes is dope, then mine's elephant tranq." He sums it all up perfectly with in his singular, interminable style (and I don't think I could name another MC who'd start a verse with these opening words): "I got pussy blood on my white comforter cover; I got money in the bank that you'll never recover. I got more in my pinky than ten copies of you, so when it comes to gettin' sloppy I'm a motherfuckin' fool."

All three 12" songs are also featured on their full-length CD album, Ask the Dust. The liner notes are simple: DJ Eons One: Beats & Cuts, Luke Sick: MC. No guest MCs, no celebrity producers. They describe their style, "Grand Invincible was formed under the philosophy that hip hop as an artform was best served under the technological limitations of the late-80s and early-90s. Armed with only an AKAI MPC 2000, two turntables, a mixer, a microphone, and a diggin' ass record collection with the intention of making the most out of the least (the original hip hop aesthetic), the duo set out in the summer of 2007 to resurrect the grimey breaks and elevate a rare science. Time to put the hoodies and Tim boots back on and spark a White Owl! Long Live the Dust!"

But while Eons does a commendable job keeping this album from sounding typically over-produced, it's not just a collection of sloppy, repetetive loops. It's nothing but hot tracks driven by compellingly layered samples that blends perfectly with Luke's flows. Oh, and Eons sporadically pops in to cut up a perfectly chosen old school record. Underbucket was cool, but this is definitely the better album.

Now, they've already announced their next album, Cold Hand In the Dice Game, will be dropping in 2009. Drop by their myspace and pick up a 12" or CD, or just listen to some tracks on their player. It's some seriously good shit.

Friday, December 26, 2008

No Sleeping In Nick Wiz's Cellar

Nick Wiz has long been an underrated, east coast producer, but true to their name, No Sleep Records isn't sleeping on this man's talents. They've just a 42-song (not including two "Intro" skits), double CD set of rare and unreleased songs from the 90's, entitled Cellar Sounds volume one 1992-1998.

The nice thing here is the vast majority of these tracks fall under the "unreleased" rather than the "rare" category. The previously released joints are some Pudgee white label tracks, one of the Rakim remixes from his recent, limited The Cellar EP (also on No Sleep), three or four tracks from the very rare Lyricist Lounge/ Echo Underground Airplay tapes and (kind of an odd, not-so-rare choice) Main One's "Main Event" single. I'd say ten or under are previously released, which gives you about 35 completely unreleased gems on this compilation.

So, what's on this compilation? Unreleased joints by Nick Wiz's regulars like The Cella Dwellas (two tracks left off of their second album, plus an unreleased remix of "Good Dwellas") Shabaam Sahdeeq/Shadows In the Dark, Milkbone (yeah, I was a little surprised by that, too - apparently Wiz worked on his Milkcrate album), Ran Reed, Chino XL, and a whole bunch of production and remixes he did for other artists. There's a joint from Pudgee's unreleased King of New York album (not counting the white label stuff that's on here, too) and a remix of "On the Regular." There's a short but hot Chubb Rock track, an unused remix of Red Hot Lover Tone's "4 My Peeps" posse cut, another Rakim remix, a Channel Live track, a song that was left off of Darc Mind's LOUD/Anticon album and a surpriingly fresh Lady Luck track. There's also a bunch of demos and stuff he cut with several underground New Jersey artists (LSD, Mister Fit, Ill Mentatlity, Nautilus, Emskee and Tross). It's hard to pick a favorite when there's so many tracks to absorb here; but a pre-Flipmode joint by Lord Have Mercy is a clear stand-out for me.

The price is right ($13 for the double CD set), and it has some great liner notes. Nick Wiz writes a brief explanation/history for all 42 tracks! Example: "Shabaam Sahdeeq feat. Baybe - 'Sexy' - 1994 - While we were working on Shabaam's demo, Guru from Gang Starr brought Baybe down to the studio to work on her project. She jumped on the hook for this song, and actually she also sang the hook for The Cella Dwellas' single 'Perfect Match'." This is a must-have for those who've come to appreciate Nick Wiz's production and the artists he's worked with. You can order it direct from his or No Sleep's myspaces. Oh, and one of the nicest things about this release? The Volume One in the title implies a second volume in the future. :-D

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Recovered Science

Man, it's hard to believe I haven't done a post about Main Source yet. But if I've gotta be late, it's nice to finally come out of the gate with a hot 7" arriving in the mail of three classic, never before released demo joints from the Breaking Atoms period. Lost Science, as it's titled, is the second limited (500 copies), but reasonably priced release from DWG, following their hot Cadence 7" which came out less than a month before.

So, yeah, these are demo tracks, so the sound quality isn't perfect, especially on the lead track... that's part of the reason the price is easier on the wallet. But it's reasonably cleaned up for demo tape standards - not perfect, brand new Sony album clear, but you won't be complaining.

The A-side, "Bootlegging," is the clear winner for me. Just in terms of song-writing, it's one of Main Source's best songs ever, period. Of course the beat is nice, too... very jazzy, and just keeps getting sweeter as more samples are laid in. Large Professor walks a great line between being comic and straight-up serious as he assumes the identity of a bootlegger, breaking down the situation better than any other of the many songs on the subject:

"I lamp on the corner selling bootleg tapes;
Rappers collect breaks so that I make papes.
I don't give a fuck about Kane or Biz...
Finally, somebody beats The Wiz;
And that somebody is me.
Catch me around three, and I'll be busy as a motherfucking bee.
Call five-0 and let 'em know
I'm selling bootlegged tapes, and they'll say... so?
My brothers in rap
Are gonna have to keep comin' up off the trap;
'Cause I'm a salesman on the street.
You know what to do if you can't stand the heat - can't eat:
Vacate the kitchen with your bitchin'.
I specialize in reproducin' tapes over Wild Pitchin'.
If stupid people buy 'em, I'll continue to supply 'em;
For $4.99, you can't complain about the volume."

It's really tempting to transcribe the whole damn song, but I'll leave you with the first verse. The other two tracks are hot, too. Lyrically, they don't stand out as much (though the short "Raise Up" has a nice, dead serious tone to it), but Large Pro rides his own rhythms expertly, and the grooves sound just as good as anything on their album... they would have fit in perfectly if they'd be included; and you can't ask for much higher praise than that when you consider how Breaking Atoms is regarded as one of the very pinnacles of hip-hop classic albums. For all Large Professor beat fiends, this is 100% top-shelf[link joke!] material.

What's more, this 7" is part of a package deal with their debut mixCD, Lungbutters, mixed by DJ Format (you can also buy just the CD without the record, for a few dollars cheaper; but that would be insane). Format does a nice job with some clean cuts, slick changes between songs, but doesn't go all out in the beat juggling, scratching and generally getting frantic. DWG are definitely out to showcase the tracklisting (with good reason), and Format manages to find a solid balance between doing too little and making the original songs unrecognizable. It's got some nice "you'll never hear this anywhere else" exclusives, selections from current DWG releases, future DWG releases, and some basic tracks that aren't so rare but just fit in to make a solid mix. It's a diverse troupe of artists, too, from MC Shy-D to Godfather Don to The Fifth Platoon(!). There are a few "shout outs" and what-not, but it never gets into that irritating business where they're just screaming their names all over the tracks to watermark them. Phill Most Chill drops by to kick a nice freestyle and announce an upcoming DWG release (woot!); and there are some other surprises here, too (hint: read the liner notes... not that any serious collector ever needs to be told that hehe).

I'd stick around and write a tidy little outro about DWG's upcoming Juice Crew EP (it's gonna be incredible!) and maybe link you to Main Source's official myspace page, but I've gotta go listen to this stuff about twenty more times before I go to bed. ;)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Definitive Ltd.

In this new age of ringtone rap, there's come a controversial series of releases: a new hip-hop phenomenon of very limited, high-priced collectible records of previoulsy unreleased material. It all started in the summer of '06 when Ed Catto posted on The Vinyl Exchange forums that he had the complete, unreleased album by The Freestyle Professors, a very dope and underrated crew that was affiliated with DITC. They'd only released one (excellent) 12" back in 1994, but now Catto was working with the artists themselves to press up a very limited run of the entire double LP. Each copy was signed and hand-numbered, and cost a cool $100.

In an online interview with Platform8470, Branesparker (one of the FPs) spoke on the subject, "We felt this was a fair price considering the bootleg of the original was selling for fifty and wasn’t from the original masters. We also gave a classic album cover. Until this dropped, the world never knew what I looked like. There are 4 unreleased songs, plus 2 unreleased instrumentals. All copies are hand numbered and autographed by original group members and we threw in 2 new songs from our new EP. Plus this album (thanks to my collectors, much love) is not gonna lose its value; the price can only go up if you choose to sell your copy years from now. My fans must understand this project was put out only for collectors... We are aware that 100 bucks is a lot of money to some people." Adding, "I was like; if they can buy my OG EP for 500 [on EBay, which was happening] and I don’t get a dime, then they can support me for 100, get more music and help finance Freestyle Records so I can drop affordable albums."

The online debates about the expense have not stopped since then.

But regardless, a number of artists and start-up labels have followed Frestyle Records' lead. In fact, on The Vinyl Addicts forum, Catto pointed out that, "news about our release was made public on the internet months in advance (I began receiving payments in June) and was the subject of quite a bit of controversy (particularly on the old Vinyl Exchange board). There is no question in my mind that the FP's release softened the blow for the DWG release and prepared vinyl heads for the prospect of limited edition collector's-only vinyl release priced accordingly."

The important thing to remember here is that none of these are bootlegs. There are certainly plenty of bootlegs out there (some have even tried to inflate their prices to match those of these limited releases, which is extra shady), but all of the limited releases I'm discussing here are fully supporting the artists.

So now here's a complete list of all the great limiteds we've had so far (drop me a comment if I've forgotten any!), in no particular order. ...They're links if I've previously blogged about 'em.

Freestyle Records:
Freestyle Professors - Your Pockets Been P:cked 2LP (500 copies)
Showbiz & A.G. – Broken Chains: Soul Clap & Runaway Slave Unreleased, 1990-1992 2EP (500 copies, yet to ship)
*notes: Freestyle Records has since gone on to put out more affordable projects, both on CD and vinyl, of new and unreleased material by the Professors.

Hot Chillin':
Kool G Rap - Men At Work 12" (500 copies)
Big Daddy Kane - Set It Off 12" (500 copies)

Diggers With Grattitude:
Phill Most Chill - The Be Intelligent EP (100 copies)
Godfather Don - The Slave of New York EP (150 copies)
Unique - Die Hard EP (175 copies)
The Juice Crew EP (350 copies - yet to ship)
*notes: DWG has also released a pair of inexpensive 7"s of unreleased Main Source and Cadence of Raw Produce material, and a mix CD called Lungbutters.

Vinyl Addicts:
Lord Finesse - Funky Dope Maneuver EP (200 copies)
Sport G. & Mastermind - Let The Rhythm Roll EP (250 copies)

One Leg Up:
Herb McGruff - The Demo EP (200 copies)
The Cenobites - Demented Thoughts EP (200 copies)
Lord Digga - The High Plains Drifter EP (200 copies)
Shorty Long & DJ Mike Smooth - South Boogie EP (200 copies)
*notes: apparently, in 2009, a bonus 12" will be awarded to everyone who ordered all five limited releases from One Leg Up - fifth release pending. No word on what will be on that 12" yet.

Blue Concept:
Alps Cru - Loudmouths 12" (300 copies)
*notes: Blue Concept has announced another limited Alps Cru release in the new year.

Soundtable/ No Sleep:
Lord Finesse - Return of the Funky Man remixes EP - (300 copies)
Large Pro - Secret Design 12" (300 copies)
B.I.G. & Sadat X - Come On 12" (300 copies)
Rakim - The Cellar EP (300 copies)
Lord Finesse - Rare Selections EP Vol. 1 (300 copies)
Lord Finesse - Rare Selections EP Vol. 2 (300 copies)
Lord Finesse - Rare Selections EP Vol. 3 (300 copies)
*notes: No Sleep also put out affordable CD releases by Godfather Don and Kwest tha Madd Ladd, plus the unreleased Ill Biskits album, 2 Finesse compilations, a Nick Wiz comp, the Buckwild comp, and a mix CD of DITC material by DJ Boogie Blind.

Crate Escape:
Kurious - A Constipated Monkey Demo Sessions (200 copies)
*notes: CE is now putting out an affordable 7" single by Serocee.

I've blogged about every one that I own, so you can see that I have well less than half (about a quarter) of them. So far, there hasn't been a single release of this nature that I don't consider really dope, but I don't got it like that anymore than most of you. If I was an eccentric millionaire (and believe me, I've got the eccentric part ready, just waiting for the millions), I'd get them all for sure, but I've had to pass on many ...and I downright missed that BDK 12", dangit!

So, what's up with the cost, amirite? How can Invincible afford to press up her 12" and charge $7 through the normal indie hip-hop venues, but these guys have to charge just over or under (depending on the release) $100? Here are a couple of comments Sureshot La Rock of Diggers With Grattitude has said on the subject, "The artists get paid properly for their music (if we sell all of the Marley EPs[meaning the Juice Crew EPs, listed above] and all of the Lungbutters CDs, we'll nearly break even on the Marley project: that should give you an idea of what goes into this). If we were ripping people off, how would we convince the next artist in our series to get involved? The fact that we are still involved with each of the artists we've worked with previously should reassure that no-one is getting ripped off... We are not a record label: none of us sit here online 24/7 counting money we've made off selling limited edition records. So far, to date, any profit (which is far less than people may assume) went into the next project." He added, "We don't have the space, time or investment to press up 10,000 copies of something and then try and sell them. This is a labour of love."

Now, I don't know anymore than you guys. I've never tried to press up a limited run of records to find out all the costs involved. But I'll say this. To anyone who doesn't like how these guys have done it, why don't you just do it yourselves your own way? These labels haven't done anything you couldn't do... they go to the artist(s), pay them for the songs, get them mastered, design the labels/stickers/whatever, go to a plant to get them pressed up, take orders on their website (all you need is a Paypal account), package them all, and ship them out. Everyone reading this can do that, too (granted, you might have to remortage your home to be able to afford it, but that's no more than one of the DWG guys has done). In most cases, they don't have exclusive access or "ins" with the artists (Hot Chillin' being an obvious exception, since Marley Marl owns that label himself) - you can hit up their myspaces or websites just as well as these guys.

And if any of my readers press up some great, unreleased music on vinyl and sells it at a cheap price, you can bet your ass I'll support ya and buy a copy. ...I'll even go further and say that if it's music I'm into in (and if you haven't noticed, I'm into a lot when it comes to hip-hop), I'll guarantee you a review on my blog, with direct links to your site to send customers your way. And then YOU can pick what lost songs released (in most cases, the artists have had more unreleased songs to choose from than just the ones that got pressed up - maybe your taste would be better). I will give you props, money (buying your release), reviews, links, advice. What's more, I'll design the labels and help you select the songs if you like. I can even point you in the direction of some artists who have unreleased albums I'm dying to hear!

And Hell yes, I'd love it if you released your vinyl in the $6-10 range. I might even buy TWO copies if you get something dope out that cheap. Oh, and P.s. - Freestyle Records still have 150 copies left of that original, Your Pockets Been P:cked album. You can order it direct from their site. :-D

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two To Grow On


^Video blog!!
(I actually made this one a little too widescreen... messed up the AR. Oh well.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

InstaRapFlix 15/16: Born 2B Gangsta?/ Mixtape, Inc.

Right from the title we know we're in for, uhh... some kind of experience. It's telling that there aren't any user reviews/comments at all for 2005's Born 2B Gangsta? (Netflix rating: 2 stars), but if nobody else has watched it, that kind of almost makes it my duty!

...Except, it turns out nobody else has played it because it seems to be broken, and the video plays like watching a scrambled cable station, like trying to watch the Playboy channel without paying for it. Yeah, we've all been there.

So, anyway; I rang up their customer service number (it was a little embarrassing when I had to spell out for them, "to be is spelled like the number two and the letter bee, but one word, and then gangsta is with an A at the end, not an ER. Oh, and it ends with a question mark"), reported that one, and moved on to Mixtape, Inc. (actual onscreen title, Mixtape, Inc. The Movie - Netflix rating: 2.5 stars). This one looks like a better movie, anyway (the first comment starts out, "this is one of the best hip-hop documentaries I've seen!"); I just picked Born because it was shorter and I was being lazy.

It starts out with the onscreen question, "What's the difference between mixtapes and bootlegging?" and we're immediately answered by laughing voices, "nothing! Nothing at all!" This doc hits us with an impressive list of interviewees, like DJs Enuff, Doctor Dre & Ed Lover, and DJ Lady K, to artists like Kanye West (who busts an impromptu freestyle), Chuck D, Xzibit and Lloyd Banks. And a large chunk of the doc follows music store owner Alan Berry, who was arrested for selling mixtapes in Minneapolis, and a couple store owners in Cleveland.

There's some great history in this doc. DJ Red Alert gets on and talks about mix-tapes' rawest origins as recorded performances at parties and clubs, and being one of the original tape-makers for Bambaataa and the other originators in The Bronx. DJ Brucie B talks about how he originated and popularized giving DJ shout-outs on tapes. Ron G talks about the actual blank tapes (he used Maxwells), K-Slay talks about his criminal past, Clue talks about making the first mix-CDs, and almost everybody talks about how Kid Capri started changing the game by selling tapes based on his skill rather than how hot the records he was using were.

It then gets into the battle with the RIAA. They interview a copyright attorney, Berry's lawyer and a cop who busted a place in Queens for selling mixtapes (though they subtitle him when he's speaking perfect English, which seems like a weird jibe at his being Asian). Finally, it ends with a bit about mp3s and Itunes. It would have been interesting to look at mp3s starting to phase out mix-tape DJs (who needs to spend $15 on a Clue CD when you can DL all those exCLUEsives for free?), but I guess they're saving that for the sequel.

The only real downside to this flick is that the voiceover narration is corny as hell. It never adds anything worthwhile and just drags the film down whenever he gets on the mic... sort of like DJs adding name-drop all over their tapes. And the narrator sometimes goes on for a good stretch. Early on he says the film's not making any statements, just showing us how it is; but then the narrator gets on some pretty big soapboxes later in the film - they could've cut a good twenty minutes of that junk out (including his weird, extended "war games" metaphor).

But besides that and a few notable absences - nothing on the Invisbl Skratch Picklz or that whole west coast scratch tape movement (Beat Junkies, 5th Platoon, 1200 Hobos, etc) at all?? - it's a pretty comprehensive, almost definitive documentary on mix-tapes. Definitely some recommended viewing.

I guess it turned out to be a lucky break that Born 2B Gangsta? didn't wind up playing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

(Mini-Post) Do You Listen To Crap, Or Do You Just Skim Through It?

The original line is "Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?" Jay-Z says it on his duet with Eminem, "Renegade," a song that originally featured Royce da 5'9. But he was replaced because of course Jay grabs more press attention. And he certainly did grab press with that appearance, at least online, giving us the most quoted line in blog, message board and chatroom debates since "rap is something you do; hip-hop is something you live."

Now, Jay was making a small, semi-legit (and semi-straw man) argument with that line about specific misperceptions of his music: "Motherfuckers say that I'm foolish; I only talk about jewels... I made somethin' doin' what I do, through and through, and I give you the news with a twist." Which is fine; I can accept that. I've never been a very harsh critic of Jay's except to say a lot of his music hasn't lived up to the potential he established early on and that a lot of his records don't compel me to buy them.

But it's become the ultimate rap nerd battle cry of "you don't know as much as I do about [who the heck ever]!" An accusation to say that you only fail to see things my way because you haven't really listened to the music. How can you dismiss an artist if you haven't really listened to it? I mean deeply, multiple times, on a perfectly clear sound system in a distraction free sensory-deprivation tank buried deep beneath the Earth's surface?

And, ok, it's technically true. If you haven't listened to every single song on Paris Hilton's album all the way through, then how would you know that one song on there isn't filled with brilliant lyrics and melodies that would reach right into your soul? Did you know Vanilla Ice has recorded eight full-length albums* (not even counting Hooked or the Cool As Ice soundtrack)? How can you be certain at least one of those songs on there isn't a banger if you haven't heard all of them? You can't.

But it's a completely facetious argument. Technically, you can't be certain that the state of Ohio really exists if you haven't actually been there yourself (and even then, it could all have been an elaborate ruse). There's, like, eighty bajillion rappers (eighty bajillion and two is the exact figure if you want to get technical here) putting out music right now; and nobody who's ever challenged whether you actually listen to music, or if you just skim through it, has listened to it all. So at best it's an entirely hypocritical argument. If he's saying that about some dirty south artists, he probably hasn't listened that deeply to many UK hip-hop acts... if he's saying that about pop NY MCs, he probably hasn't really taken the time to properly check out Anticon rappers' albums.

It's a fool's errand - even if you really devoted yourself to checking out everybody on principle, you just physically can't - the running time of every hip-hop song added together is longer than your lifetime's gonna last. ...Let alone trying to get every other genre of music into this fair and balanced equation. If you actually went so far with an artist you're not into - past relying on word of mouth, press reviews and the artist's history, to borrow or download their album and genuinely skim through it, that's going above and beyond giving them a fair chance!

Now, don't get me wrong. If you're actually writing a review, you better damn well have listened to it thoroughly, or your credibility is zero. And if you haven't checked for an artist, presumably you would say that in a discussion, rather than bashing him for whatever imaginary faults you think he might have. Like, let's see... who's really famous who I never really got around to checking out? Young Jeezy. I'm sure I must've heard a single or two on the radio in passing, but that's it. I've never heard an album. But I don't diss him or anything. If he comes up, I just say I never really checked for him, but if people I'm talking to are passionate about his music, I'd probably ask that they recommend a couple of his best songs for me to look into.

But beyond that, it's really a non-point to make. So here's a better question: how much unexceptional, mediocre music do expect to force yourself to listen to before you say it's just not worth your time? And if you're gonna start singing "Renegade" to me, at least make it the Royce version. ;)


*He even had Chuck D on his fifth album, Bi-Polar, in 2001. Bet you didn't know that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A New Dang Record

Here's a record that almost slipped under my radar, and probably yours as well. It's not on discogs, places like UGHH and AccessHipHop didn't get it, I haven't seen any reviews or message board discussions of it... In fact I'm pretty sure the only way to get Buck 65's new single is through his webstore. You'll be pleased to discover that it's refreshingly cheap ($3.96), but the inflated shipping costs make up the difference, so oh well.

The single is "Dang!" off of Buck's Situation album. I was pretty uniformly disappointed by Skratch Bastid's production on this album (and he did all but two of the tracks), so any kind of Situation remix release is very welcome in my book. And that's what this is.

The A-side is the song straight off the album. The song's basically another conventional old school homage, with the title and hook being a send-up of the riffs on songs like Lovebug Starski's "Dancin' Party People" or Newcleus's "Jam On It:" "Dang diggy dang a-dang a-dang diggy diggy." Yes, Speech, Kid Rock and a hundred garage bands did already do this before; but I guess anyone making an old school tribute song at this point isn't going for originality. The lyrics spell it out pretty implicitly, "Do you remember the old ways of rockin' it? Layin' the law down and microphone cockin' it; Tellin' it, spellin' it out with block capitals; Cardboard boxin' and rap battlin' like: Dang diggy dang di-dang di-dang diggy diggy," etc (the lyrics do get more creative as it progresses, but you get the idea). It features some big drums, grungy guitar, and some nice (if undermixed) scratches during the chorus. Individually the elements are all ok, but together it all sounds loudly muddled in a way you know wouldn't be the case if Buck had just done the production himself. Fortunately, the new remix flows substantially better.

It's remixed by Stu Ray, who you've never heard of because he's actually a contest winner. Some Canadian website ran a contest to remix "Dang!" and getting featured on this 7" was part of the prize (he also won "two tickets to see Buck 65 at an upcoming tour show, meet and greet with Buck 65 himself, and a copy of Propellerhead Software’s 'Reason' Version 4 Digital Mixing Software"). But don't dismiss it as some corny fan mix; he comes with a much better version than the original song.

And the "Stu Ray Remix" doesn't totally come out of left field. It has similar drums and is in keeping with the mood of the album version. But it strips away the guitars and instead adds a few effects. It's just a generally smoother, catchier tune. Whereas the last one felt noisy, this one's a headnodder that also draws you further into the lyrics. Get this one while you can.

Amusingly, this is actually the second remix contest Buck 65 has had for his Situation album; and that remix also blew the album version out of the water. Strange Famous Records had a contest to remix the track "Shutter Buggin'," which was won by a guy named Aupheus ...My only gripe was that he replaced the awesome Chill Rob G vocal sample with a sample of Buck's own voice. Give me a version of that remix but with the original vocal sample on the hook, and we'd have a must-own 12" on our hands! Unfortunately, that remix was not released as a single, it only "receive[d] prime placement on the Strange Famous Records Myspace page, Buck 65’s Myspace page, as well as [made] available for download on strangefamousrecords.com." Buck? Sage? Please say it isn't too late to consider another 7". :/

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Golden Voice - Interview with GV of Partners In Kryme

After a long time of searching and getting nowhere, I finally found a way to get in contact with The Partners In Kryme, one of the interviews I always wanted to do since way back in my very first Source days. I'm sure you remember them as the guys that did the "Turtle Power" song back in 1990. So I was finally able to have a good, long conversation with GV, the MC of Partners in Kryme (his partner was DJ Keymaster Snow) and ask him all the questions I'd been dying to asking since I was a kid, including the unreleased album (there was actually two!), the infamous Raphael lyric, a third member of Partners in Kryme and so much more. Did you guys know he was also a part of the early rap group Chapter Three, that put out records back in '82-'83 with T-Ski Valley (both of which made Ego Trip's Greatest Singles list)? But enough intro, I'll let you read it all for yourselves:

To start out with, tell me about your first group, Chapter Three.

Yeah, I really got my rap career started in my high school years, like around sophomore year. And that's about the time that hip-hop was beginning in The Bronx, and I grew up in North East Bronx. So the age that I was.... the guys that were doing it: Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash - those were older teens. Getting out of grammar school and getting into high school, they were the older teenagers already doing it.

So, this was before Flash and them were on Sugarhill?

Yeah, this was before Sugarhill. In fact, before Sugarhill they were on Enjoy. So we checked them out before they got their little deal with Enjoy, and then shortly thereafter they joined with Sugarhill.

So we'd hear about the happenings, and of course when you're that age, you want to know what the older kids are doing. And they would collect at parks in the summertime. You would see these groups outside, and so one of my best friends, who was in the group Chapter Three, was telling me he knew where they would go. One of the big places was The Valley, in The Bronx, and we used to go check them out. So, when I first got to see them doing it live - Flash, and a lot of the groups coming out then in The Bronx - I just loved it. I was intrigued from the beginning: I loved the showmanship and the charisma that they displayed. I just thought it was great. And I thought: I think I can do this. You know, I loved music, and I loved writing... I just thought I could do it.

So it was a group of us: another gentleman that I went to high school with; and we formed a rap group with a local DJ. So we had our group that we started out in The Bronx as the Treacherous Three MCs. And we had a DJ in The Bronx...

The Treacherous Three? Did you wind up changing your name because of Kool Moe Dee's group?

Oh, it was The Treacherous Crew; sorry. At that time, "treacherous" was the word that meant hot. It meant hot, it meant def, it meant cool... it meant all those things. "Yo, that's treach!" or "Yo, that's treacherous." Everybody was Treach this or Treach that... so The Treacherous Crew I should say. But then we did change it... since we were The Treacherous Crew and they came out with the Treacherous Three, that's when we made a conscious effort to want to change the name, so we wouldn't be so close to those guys who were doing their thing. And who were awesome. You know, we loved listening to them. We even had one venue where we were possibly gonna battle them - I forget where it was. It wasn't the Autobahn... there were a lot of different clubs in The Bronx at that time. But we were almost scheduled to go on and perform that same night, but something happened and we didn't get to perform. We were pretty nervous about it, actually; so maybe it worked out for the best.

So we had this DJ; he had all the equipment. Back then, that was how you got to be the DJ. Whether you were super good or not, if you could afford the equipment...!

We used to practice in his garage. He also alright; he was ok as a DJ. But what was nice was just the bonding that we all had together. And the fun thing, back then, was all the MCs, when they weren't acting as MCs, they wanted to DJ. And all the DJs, when they weren't DJing, they wanted to rap. So we used to do that, which was a lot of fun - we used to just trade roles. I heard - I didn't know this for a long time, but Run DMC used to do that. Run used to be DJ Run and did the same thing. He would start out DJing and then mess around rapping and found he had some talent for it.

We also used to play outside a lot, in those days. Like the older crews of that time, we would rock a park... find a street lamp and hook up our equipment to it and rock. And battle - but battling in those days was different from what you see now, which I don't really love. You know, where one rapper goes up another freestyling and talks about the guy's looks or personal attacks. In the early days, which I hope they'll get back to, you just came out and gave your showmanship. What the original battles were about is you would do your best things, and the audience could see who rocked the best. If Flash went against the Funky Four they didn't spend all their time ripping each other, and that also leads to violence in crews, and somebody needs to get somebody later and somebody gets shot. And they need to get away from that.

So how did Chapter Three link up with T-Ski Valley?

But back to this: we did our thing locally in The Bronx. And what had happened is that my bro Barry - he was in the group; he was Chapter #1 - he had hooked up with The Erotic Disco Brothers. They were in the Tracy Towers section of The Bronx, by Jerome Avenue. And those guys were really doing their thing on a slightly bigger scale, and they had connections with a lot of the other early hip-hop groups that were coming up. So, T-Ski Valley was one of the DJs of The Erotic Disco Brothers. There was us, there was Disco Prince, and a couple other groups and guys that were off-shoots of that. So he was a DJ back then in our group - we had a lot of fun - and that's when we really formed The Chapter Three, when we were with them.

And, so what about the label you signed to back then as Chapter Three?

Yeah, that was Grand Groove Records. The history there is pretty cool, and T-Ski stayed on to work with the owner at the time, Brad Osborne and did even more work with him. But we got to Brad because he owned a record shop not far from where a number of us lived. A popular record store in The Bronx on 219th St. called Brad's Record Stand. And that was just the local spot where even if you were working with DJs or anything back then, he had all the 12" singles coming in, so you would go there every week so you could rock at the parties or find the disco breaks to do your thing with. So he had just one of the key record shops back then in The Bronx that brought all the early hip-hop music in. He was a very cool guy: Jamaican born and raised who was living in that area in the Bronx and opened his own record shop and was doing his thing. And I think T-Ski gave us the connection to him. I'm pretty sure they were talking about doing some recordings, and it was him that referred Brad to us.

And that label had it's own band? I know if you look at the credits...

You don't see the band.

Right, but I think there was a Grand Groove...

The Grand Groove Bunch! Yeah. And the cool thing about the Grand Groove Bunch was that Brad had a couple of connections in the music industry with a couple of cats that knew some guys from Brass Construction, which was an awesome, awesome old school R&B/ funk band. Also Tom Browne of "Funkin' for Jamaica." So he knew actual musicians from those groups, and a few different members would session in and do the tracks live for us, record them, and then let us hear them. So when Brad would do a track, the first thing that we did our record to was a track to Cheryl Lynn's "Got To Be Real." It was a variation of it by The Grand Groove Bunch, which was those session guys. And that was our first single, "Real Rocking Groove." And we loved the record, it was a great track to come out on. We'd already been doing... actually, they asked us if we had any ideas of some tracks we wanted to do some stuff to. And we told them one of the ones we did routine-wise was Cheryl Lynn's "To Be Real."

And at that time, we ended up on Mr. Magic's radio show after we had done that single. And that was huge for us. He was the only guy in New York... it was Thursday nights, starting maybe 11 or midnight you could catch his rap show. He was about the only person back then really playing rap music. And so we got to go on the show, promote the record and do everything on it, which was really great.

And another story about that time is with T-Ski... The popular record out about that time was "Heartbeat" by Taana Gardner, and we were looking to do our next record. And T-Ski always had a great personality... he could mess around, had a great voice. So apparently he had heard the track and got to Brad and was like, "yo, let me cut some stuff to it." And that's what turned into being the record "Catch the Beat," which was big for him all over the world. It was funny, we were like yo, how you gonna steal that record from us: we were gonna do that as our next single. We gave him crap for it, but we were really happy for him. And he did a great job on it.

So, now there's obviously a large gap between your Chapter Three records and Partners In Kryme.

Right. Well, about that time me Chapter #1, Barry, we were going into our college years. And I went out to Syracuse, and my buddy went out to University of Maryland. And our third member, CJ; he stayed home locally in the city. We went separate ways to further our education. We stayed in touch... we tried a little bit to get together, but obviously when you're doing your school stuff, that's what takes your focus. Although, when I went to Syracuse, later in my freshman year, I actually had the guys come up and we did an event for one of the fraternities, because they knew about us, knew we had some records out. Because we also had another record out, "Smurf Trek" like the animated show, which was a popular dance at the time. A lot of records had the title Smurf.

So that's what split us up. But I kept active in it. I started to DJ more, from back in those first early days when I started catching a love for it. So I also took my interests in school towards radio and communications. They had a program at that time which was the four thirties, which let you take thirty credits in your major, thirty arts and sciences, thirty in the concentration in the Newhouse School of Public Communications, which is where I did the radio and film, and thirty electives. That was a great program; I don't think they're offering it anymore for anyone who was right in that niche. So I started to work on the radio, for both school stations, and by my sophmore year I started to work professionally in Syracuse radio.

Were you on-air then?

Yeah, it was on-air. What happened was there was a small AM station, WOLF AM, and they were changing formats to R&B/ dance/ hip-hop; and I just stayed up there. I didn't even go home like most kids did on summer break, I stayed there, got a job and did a shift on-air on weekends while I attended school. So I did my own rap radio show, I hosted it and did my own rap promos, and I just stayed real active in that because that was my passion. And the guys I Worked with also worked with a local cable station that used to work with community access channels, and had a rap/ dance video show. And I became a host. It was called Syracuse Soul, and then it also became slash Club Beats Videos when the local FM picked up and simulcast our video show.

And when you were doing stuff, were you still going by GV back then?

I was. GV stuck! Even now if I run into any of my buddies from college or high school early rap days, they'll still call me GV. It's GV for Golden Voice.

Yeah, that makes sense and it makes sense when I found out you were doing voice acting.

Yeah.

And it also made sense on another level, because when you listen to your Partners in Kryme material, your vocals have a very actorly delivery to it.

Thanks; I appreciate that! You say like an actor's delivery?

Yeah, like an actorly delivery the way you say the lyrics, where you're not just rocking the rhythm with an even cadence to the music, but expressing the meaning of the lyrics and the message behind what's being said.

I used to pride myself on trying to do that with my style. I appreciate that. I loved to give color to the words and phrases I was saying.

Yeah, that's what you can really hear in Will Smith's Fresh Prince stuff; you could really hear how he expressed the emotions in the words, and I think that was the element hat he really blew up with.

I think absolutely. And going from the old school guys to the next wave of artists who blew me away in that way, in the new school, was Biggie. In storytelling, the way he'd write, and he could use tonality and his command of the language to give the listener the ability to envision what he was talking about and really feel it; I thought he stood out. I loved it.

Ok, so now how did you form The Partners in Kryme?

Ok, yes. So now you had me, guy coming from The Bronx, in Syracuse University... people know about me a little bit from New York, heard I had a record out... and what happened is I'd go to parties that the black fraternities and sororities were having. And I'd introduce myself to the DJs and I'd ask "can I get on the mic?" So I would rock the parties. And again, you're talking the early eighties, so to be up in Syracuse at that time, rap was still fairly new for us upstate.

And I'm at a party and I hear the DJ cutting it up, and I was like, "he's got some skills, sounds like he's from the Bronx or something... I wonder who that is?" I make my way through the crowd to see who the DJ is and I see this white guy, cutting and scratching and doing his thing. And not just any white guy, he looked very much like David Byrne from Talking Heads, which cracks me up. He doesn't really love the reference, but he could be David Byrne's son!

So I was amazed because in those days you didn't see white guys cutting and scratching... let alone Jewish, which was his background. And right away, when I heard him, I said yo, you're good. And he had also heard me around the way or at the same party, and that's when our alliance was formed. I said we need to hook up. And it turned out, besides being a great DJ, he had a talent for music production and could play keyboards. And that was great, because my background was more from the street or straight rapping. I had no formalized musical training except the basic stuff you got in grammar school. But I always had a great ear for it, and I could hear what sounded right or off, so long as I could work with a musician who knew those things.

So Jim had those elements that I didn't have and I had some of the elements that he didn't have. So we started to work together. So I would go to to his place when we could after classes; because he lived in Syracuse and was also attending there. And we would rehearse and work out tracks. And that's when we met our third partner. I don't know if you know, there was a little-known third Partner in Kryme...

Would that be Shane Faber?

No, no! Shane comes later. Shane was a producer who we met back in New York when we started doing the record deal. He was introduced to us by people from the label, SBK & EMI. He was good, though. A couple years later, he asked me to consult on a project. For whatever reason, it didn't happen - I was busy with something else and we didn't get down. That project turned out to be Digable Planets' debut - imagine having the opportunity to contribute to that! But I'm happy for him. He got a Grammy out of that.

Anyway, no, the other Partner's name would be very hard to find. He would be like the fifth Beatle. His name was Nader[a.k.a. MC Phantom Rock]; very cool guy. He lived in Syracuse; his family owned a Middle Eastern restaurant just off campus. I think he approached us at a party with something we were doing and we got to hear him rap a little bit. He had a great voice and some style, although not as smooth. He had some skills but was still trying to learn his style. But he liked what we did and we formed into the original Partners in Kryme in Syracuse. It was three of us and now he's Middle Eastern, Jim's Jewish and I'm black - we had the whole united colors right there. And it was cool; it was really fun.

And the three of us really started going into demos. Jim and I had started to do some things, but the three of us really hit demos hard.

So how did you go from demos to a major deal?

Ok, good question. Here we were, just demoing. We were also just feeling each other out, I guess, learning, and finding your niche amongst yourselves. And what had happened was he put out an independent record with a record store owner in Syracuse. I can't remember the label name, but it was similar to what we did in The Bronx.

In that era, a lot of record stores were some of your earliest labels, who would either get some of recording booth going where they were at or they had a connection to make a little record. Because it made sense for them. If they could get a little 12" out, they could sell it right out of their shop and work out the rest later. They worked with distributors already, who were coming to sell them other records.

So we did something, a two-sided 12". "Hefty" b/w "One Two, One Two;" I don't remember the name of the label. You'd be hard pressed to find one now! And mine would be somewhere buried. It was some cool tracks, but what I remember most is that the production value, when it was finished, with whoever we went to to press it, was not good. It was not a good production press when it came out; it sounded muddy. The EQ, the Dolby, whatever they had on it sounded pretty muddy and it wasn't working. So that was a lesson coming up.

But what got us to the next level was, coming out of college, I wanted to go to work right away. I didn't want to go to school anymore. A lot of peers were going for their Master's, but I had enough of schooling - my head was gonna explode. So what I ended up doing was that summer, when I was leaving school, I took an internship at WBLS radio in New York. So I worked there as an engineer, then got a job in the continuity department writing copy for commercials.

So, here's where the fifth Beatle thing comes in. Leaving Syracuse, I said to the guys, if we're gonna take a shot to go further with this, then New York is where we gotta be. Because I think we've got the talent to do it. So Jim was on board. He was committed... he was like, "You know what? I'm down; let's do it." But Nader was very much still tied to family and the family business there and was less confident about making the jump to New York. So he stayed, but we made the move.

Jim moved to New Jersey, moved to Jersey City; and I was in Brooklyn. Then the two of us kept plugging away on demos and shopped a lot. One of my fraternity brothers would always joke, because we had tons of stuff that we cut that never went anywhere, so he would always say, "you guys are gonna have a greatest hits album before you have a frikken' deal!" But that was the way we did work, our work ethic. Every two weeks, I'd have a new track for him to listen to.

And I just kept shopping demos. Years later, when Jim and I were both in New York, I was outside a popular club in New York with some friends. In fact, it was one of the guys from Chapter Three. And we were in my vehicle listening to some demos and Russell Simmons was standing outside - it was The Red Parrot Club. And my boy was like, "yo, I think that's Russell over there!" and I was like, I wish he could hear this stuff playing in my car. And he was like, I'm gonna go over there and get him; bring him over. I was like "are you kidding me?" He actually went over there and got him. And Russell listened a little bit, I told him who we were, about the group... we got a black guy, a white guy, a good look. He was like, "I like it; I like it." So he gave me his number like yo, call me. And I was like wow, this is it! This is great! ...But man, John, let me tell you. When I got that card, it must have been that back room card. Because that phone just rang and rang. The "no one ever pick that line up" phone! It's funny to look back, it was hilarious. LATER, it was hilarious, not at the time.

But later I kept shopping demos, and a friend at WBLS had a connection through a friend of hers at SBK/EMI. And they took the demo, and that's when it started. They were just getting started and were looking for rap artists. And we're talking about '89 going into the 90's, and the music scene had that whole Young MC have fun vibe. Happy rap and dance mixed together; it was a fun time for music at that time. And our demo was not necessarily as fun as that, because I had a lot of stuff closer to like Public Enemy-influenced with more of an edge. Because I was coming from my old school Bronx rap days which a lot of people didn't know, or if you looked at me you wouldn't know. Like, if you remember guys like Jekyll and Hyde, that was more my style - more like people who looked like accountants then rappers. So more of an edge, but I should say, never played the gangster thug role... that wasn't who we were.

So SBK liked our stuff right off the bat. One of their A&Rs, Peter Ganbarg, gave me a call at work saying he had heard our stuff and he really liked it. After many years of demos, finally. So Pete says, I love what I heard on your demos, I like your style, you've got talent, I dig your sound. But here's what I've got goin'. We've got a brand new movie comin' out. It's based on a popular kids' comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; I don't know if you've ever heard of it. I said I heard of it, but I never read a whole comic book of it. So he says I'll give you a call later and give you some background on it. What I need is a great single to put in this film. And I need it to talk about these characters, the movie. So when I got that call, it was on Friday afternoon, I think. He was like, I need this yesterday; how fast can you have it? I said I don't know, but I'll start working on it immediately. We worked on it all weekend, and gave it to him on late Monday.

Yeah, because the song's really specific... it outlines the characters, talks about the plot.

Yes. So he called me back later, on a phone conference, and he ran down for me the plot points and the characters. I remember thinking Mutant Turtles wasn't enough? Ninja Turtles wasn't enough? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it was creative, stuck in your head. So I was like ok, I'll do it. But even coming out after all those years, and with the early records and my history, which a lot of people didn't know about because we were about to come out with a commercial record...

Right. I was thinking it's surprising they gave such a big record for a major film to virtual unknowns.

Exactly. But here's the thing, you've gotta look at the whole soundtrack and who was on there. MC Hammer! So they were thinking that was the big artist on there. But when we gave them our record, with us talking about the movie and how it sounded, then it was just obvious that was going to be the single.

So ok; here's something of Turtle lore... You know, there's a lyric in the song, where I talk about the leader of the turtles.

Yeah! I was gonna ask you about that!

Oh, you were. Yeah, that's something that's stood out to a lot of the fans.
Here's the actual verse from the song:
"Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello
Make up the group with one other fellow:

Raphael. He's the leader of the group
Transformed from the norm by the nuclear goop."
See, that's the way it was read to me by the A&R. Because I guess he hadn't read the comics either; he'd just read the script. Because Leonardo was the actual leader, right?

Yeah, Raphael was the angry one.

Right, he wore red. Michelangelo was the funny one in orange. Leonardo wore blue and... who's the last one? oh, Donatello, purple. See, I still know my guys.

But here's the thing. if you watch the movie - just the movie, without already knowing them from the comics, Raphael could kind of be seen as the leader. Just in that story, Raphael is sort of taking charge, and he kind of draws the plot. Obviously, if you're a fan you know; but in the movie, they didn't really say that Leonardo was the leader. I don't think they really came out and established that until maybe part 2. The fans were really against it. But that's the way the A&R read it to me.

And let me ask you, was that you on the vocoder in that song?

Well, which part are you thinking about it. Most of it, the spelling, the "Teenage, Mutant Ninja" that was all James. I did a bit; I was on there a little; but Jim is the vocoder guy.

So tell us about the "Turtle Power" music video.

Ah yes, the video! Ok. That was filmed under a bridge and we filmed all night. Like, say we got there around 2 in the afternoon, we filmed until 4, 5 in the morning.

Did you have any say in the concept of the video?

No, we had no control over the concept. That was all the director.

And is that KS in the scene standing with the mayor (with the shoulderstrap keyboard)?

Oh, you went back and watched it, huh? You did your research! Yeah, that was James. Again, I didn't have any control over how little you see him in it. I guess they had to get a lot in with the turtles, and they used me because I'm narrating; but that was all the director.

And you're actually there with the turtles. It looks like the full, proper suits from the movie. Was the shooting difficult because of working with those suits?

Yeah, I think it was the same actors from the movie, too. These Asian guys who did the stunts from the film. The suits weren't really a hold-up because they didn't speak. They did the fighting and dancing, but that didn't take too long. If they had them talking like in the movie, with the animatronics; that would've taken forever.

They did a good job matching the film clips with the new footage, though. There are a few points where the turtles are fighting and you can't really tell if it's from the movie or the video.

Yeah, they did a good job with that. They took their time, and also put some effort into finding dark locations that matched with the movie. It was a fun shoot. Kids had started gathering around to watch us shoot because they saw the turtles. They started coming, like ten to twelve years old. And they were all races, which was cool; gathered there. And I was performing and they started to yell. And I couldn't hear what they kept yelling about. So finally, after we finished, I went to talk to them and I asked them, what were you yelling about? And it was because they'd heard me say that line about Raphael; they were all shouting "no! You said Raphael was the leader! He's not!" So I knew back then. I was like, it's too late to change it, the record was cut. If i knew at the time, before I recorded it, I would've said, that's wrong, I'm not gonna rap it that way, but it was too late. But fortunately the record was a hit anyway.

Ok, now let's get to your second single, "Undercover."

"Undercover." That was a song we did not want to do, John. After "Turtle Power," we got invited to a party. It was Charles Koppelman, the K in SBK Records, holding a giant mansion party for everybody. It was one of those huge places, you've got to enter through the big gates, and he had his tennis courts, everything. And he had this idea. Because at that time, the Dick Tracy movie was coming out, which everybody thought was going to be a huge deal. So he wanted us to do this song to tie in with that. But we didn't want to do it. Because for one thing, it wasn't our movie! SBK didn't own it; they just wanted to cash in on it. And also we didn't want to become known as the movie song guys. So we didn't want to do it, but we eventually agreed. We thought we'll just get through it, and then takes what comes next. Besides, you basically have two choices: you can either play along, or just refuse, stick to artistic integrity, and eventually just get stuck someplace, shelved, and they'll find somebody else.

But that happened anyway. The album was never released.

Right. Well, that was really because of Vanilla Ice...

Yeah, that's what I would've guessed.... SBK kind of turned into the Vanilla Ice machine.

Exactly; they became the Vanilla Ice machine. Everybody else got pushed aside.

Did you know Fifth Platoon? They were another dope group that got dropped when Vanilla Ice blew up.

Were those the guys from Lean On Me? I met them. Or, no, that was Riff; I met them.

Yeah, I remember Riff too, the R&B group; but I didn't realize they were in Lean On Me.

Yeah, they were the group singing in the movie. That's what they got signed off of. But they still died the same watery death!

It's interesting; I was a big of "Undercover" when it came out, and I remember seeing Dick Tracy when it came out and all the hype around it; but I never made the connection.

Well, I mentioned him in the lyric.

You mention a ton of detectives, though. You name all the great detectives, basically, and he's just in that list.

That's true! Well, we tried not to make it too obvious. We tried everything in our talents to make it different, so I'm glad to hear you say that. Because we really didn't want to do that. Kopplemen then came to us with another idea; he wanted us to do a song of "Back To School." But that's where we drew the line, we didn't make that song.

That's funny, because "Back To School" was a Fifth Platoon record! It was on the soundtrack to Turtles 2.

Oh, ok. Yeah, they just had somebody else do it.

Was there ever going to be a video for "Undercover?"

Yes. There was a video for it, but I don't think you can Youtube it. But it was made. It was black and white, in the style of the period detective movies. Have you seen the cover for the "Undercover" single? It looks like that, that was how we were dressed. You saw a lot more of James in that one; I remember it worked out for him, because he looked cool in the fedora and all. The director for that was good, I liked him. I saw recently that he did an episode or two of The Wire on HBO. That was good to see; I'm glad to see someone still making it doing what they love all these years later. I remember there was one thing, though; the only time we didn't totally get along. He wanted me hold up this magnfying glass, you know, like keeping with the detective thing. He wanted to shoot my lips through the magnifying glass. I just refused to do that. He was coming from Europe, so I don't know if he realized that's the stereotype with black people and our lips. He kept saying what's the big deal, just do it, but I wouldn't do that. But that was the only thing; he was a good director and I'm glad he's still doing his thing.

And so, just to clarify... apart from all the demo tracks and stuff, was the official SBK album [according to the back of the "Undercover" single, it was taken from the self-titled Partners In Kryme album] completed? Like is there a totally "official" version sitting on a shelf somewhere?

Yes, there is. It's finished and they just never put it out, although we got paid for it, which is ok. But it's a shame people never got to hear what we had.


And then after "Undercover," you had one other song: "Love 2 Love U" with Debbie Cole.


Yeah, I don't know if you know, but that was a hit in Europe. It came in on the charts, I think we knocked out like Elton John. That's the thing, if you have a hit record, even if it's like sort of a novelty song; you still get all that... we were touring over there, and we met Chuck D, Public Enemy. They'd just come from Germany, we were in Heathrow Airport. And they were excited to see us, which was an honor that Public Enemy being who they were, appreciated what we were doing. Chuck said, "have you been to Germany? They're playing your stuff to death in Germany." I said, "well, they're playing yours to death everywhere else in the world!" But they loved our stuff; it was nice.

We also performed for Royalty in England. We did a birthday party for one of the Sultan of Brunei's sons, Prince Akbar, in the early 90's. At that time we were also working on our second album. While the first one was done and SBK had it, we didn't know what was going to happen with that, so we just started working on our second. It was called New 4 92; an EP, which also went unreleased. One song was called "Beatnik" - they loved the vibe of this track in England!

Well, speaking of shows, I actually saw you guys live...

Oh, you did? You saw us?

Yeah, it was in Jackson, NJ: Great Adventure.

Oh, ok; I do remember that show.

Yeah, it was you, Mr. Lee, and somebody else, I forget... you guys were last. I remember you played a song, which I guess from the hook would be called "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

That's right! Did you like that song?

Yeah, I was psyched... waiting for the album to drop and it never came.

That was a song we recorded for the second version of album. We had already finished the album, but after "Turtle Power," we added a few more songs in line with what people who were fans of "Turtle Power" would've expected. "Undercover" was one of those. We also upped the production on the older songs, bringing it into 64 track. So those were a little more kid-friendly.

In fact, we later did a children's television program, for Scholastic. We performed a new kids' song every week. That was more ok, doing that kind of thing within that context. In fact, we even used "Why Can't We Be Friends," but a shortened version of it.

Finally, before we end this, let's just talk a but about what you've been doing since Partners in Kryme - I know you've done some voice acting and different things.

Right. Well, I wound up working with an urban communications company, Mee Productions, as creative director. I was doing music productions with Jim, and his wife got a job which precipitated his moving to Indiana. I kept doing soundtracks. Then I got into voicing commercials and even directing commercials.

One of the cool things I did was with this band, My Brother's Dream, a cool band in New York. You know that show 3rd Rock from the Sun? That show was getting syndicated, the reruns, and the network wanted to promote the show to more urban audiences, which is a big market. And the president of marketing was really into Parliament Funkadelic. And so I thought about it, how they're into aliens and everything, and came up with a campaign. It was great. They let me go through all of their episodes and pick out anything for what clips I wanted to use of John Lithgow, etc. I hunted down George Clinton for the rights, and we recorded this "Make My Rock the 3rd Rock." It was a success, the ratings definitely went up in that market.

Unfortunately, there's no myspace or anything to link for GV or Partners In Kryme (though he says maybe someday because there's still a fan following out there), but hopefully this interview has satisfied you, at least for a while. It was certainly a thrill for me.
REMEMBER: Keep Rhythm Your Motivating Energy