Thursday, October 22, 2009

Charlemagne's Eva Bomb

In 1998, when it looked like Mr. Voodoo, L-Swift and A-Butta were hitting it big with their Tommy Boy signing, Charlemagne was making short-lived power moves of his own. Since Natural Elements were no longer his label's showcase act (and Raidermen and Nightbreed were being sadly neglected), Charlemagne signed a pretty impressive deal for Fortress Entertainment.

Fortress Records was merging with Nervous Records, to become a separate subdivision (like Wreck or Weeded Records). And Charlemagne was going to be the signature producer. They even made one of those cool, Nervous cartoon variation logos (right). They ran big, full-color ads in The Source and all the other rap mags. The big debut was going to be two 12"'s, recorded by the label's first signees - both produced of course, by Charlemagne - released at the same time in January, 1999.

Since both records came out on the same day, we'll go by catalog number and look at NE-FS 20340 first. Speaking of catalog numbers, you'll notice they started special, new hyphenated catalog numbers for this sub-label.

Ok, so NE-FS 20340 was the debut (and final, to date) 12" by an MC named K-Bomb, called "Bump This." It's got a pretty funky percussion line, with a lot of snaps and what-not mixed in with the drums, laying underneath an echoing horn loop. Lyrically, it's on the freestyle tip, and is kinda underwhelming, especially to anyone who might've picked this up hoping for some NE-style wizardy. The B-side, "Stories I Know (Chico)," works a little better. The two verses are separate street stories (one about a guy named Chico and one about a girl named Alexandria, who apparently needs a better agent), with a strong Kool G Rap influence in his rhyme pattern. The beat's a bit better, too; though very similar. It's got simpler, straight New York-style drums like you'd expect from Charlemagne, and a similar, but harder, echoing horn loop. B-side definitely wins, and while K-Bomb isn't amazing, this is a pretty good 90's 12" by anybody's standards.

NE-FS2031, then, is Eva Flo(spelled "Eva Flow" on the snippet tape)'s "I'm the One." It's a little more on the funkier, off-beat tip, with a head-nodding collection of short samples, and Eva kicking fresh rhymes, with a voice and flow sort of like a less extreme Scott Lark. It's definitely more playful. The B-side, "Whut You Smokin," on the other hand, is more of a disappointment. It features an unappealing synth sample and some generic rhymes about smoking weed. I mean, it's ok, and he tries to do something a little different on the hook. But this is definitely a song you'd talk over if you heard this come up on a mix-tape.

Both 12"s came with Vocal, Clean Edit and Instrumental versions of each song, but I guess they didn't perform like expected - and they were pretty underwhelming, though the better song on each record stood the test of time rather well - because that was the end of "The Nervous/ Fortress alliance." And these wound up being the last records released on Fortress in any capacity. Oh well. Charlemagne clearly landed on his feet in his production career; but it was definitely sad to see Fortress come to an end, especially without much of a bang.

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