Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Black Tie Affair Vs. The Maestro Zone

Despite the success of his first album (especially in Canada, where he was the first rapper to go platinum), it took a little while for Maestro Fresh Wes's second album, 1991's The Black Tie Affair on Attic/LMR, to find a release in the USA. When it finally did turn up, it had a new title, new cover (it's interesting... he's shot from the same angle, lit the same way with the same expression on his face and placed in a similar layout... but what he's wearing is very different), a substantially different track-listing, and a lead single that wasn't even featured on Black Tie. We had something altogether different: The Maestro Zone.

The Black Tie Affair/Maestro Zone would be a pretty interesting album even if it didn't exist as two separate entities. It's almost entirely produced by K-Cut, of Main Source (and Sir Scratch also turns up to remix the love song from album number one, "Private Symphony"). This was before it was so well known that The Large Professor was the production mastermind behind Breaking Atoms, but this album suggests he wasn't the only soulful guy behind the boards in that team. Also, Maestro was always a pretty lyrical guy, and this time-period was right on the edge of when lyrics became about cleverness and dexterity, and we can really see him on staying on the forefront here, and culminating even further on his next album, which is all about witty verbal gymnastics.

So, just how different are these versions? Well, the sequencing is different, but that's no big deal (for the precise track-listing of both, remember you can always check my Maestro Fresh Wes discography page). What it really breaks down to is this: There are five tracks that are only on The Black Tie Affair, and four that are only on The Maestro Zone. That's a fair chunk of song-age.

So let's start out with The Black Tie Affair. Now, in all honesty, some of the exclusives here are a little underwhelming. Three tracks, "Hors D'Oeuvres," "An After Dinner Mint" and "Care For a Night Cap?" average only about a minute a piece and are purely instrumental. They're some dope beats, but pretty much just interludes. Nice to have, but nothing to get excited over.

The next two are proper, unique songs however. The first one we come across is the title track, "The Black Tie Affair." It's an upbeat, fast-rap number with some a cool piano line and some swift scratching on the hook. Then, towards the end of the album, we find "Pass the Champagne," a posse cut featuring The Special Blend, Thrust, Spark, K-Skam and Maestro's manager, Farley Flex (actually, his verse is one of the best). The beat's kind a moody and low-key, just playing the background for a fun, hook-free pass-the-mic joint. What's not to love?

The Maestro Zone, now, has four full, proper all new songs missing from The Black Tie Affair. And the biggest omission is the very first track on TMZ, the lead single, "Another Funky Break (From My Pap's Crate)." Surprisingly, this is one of the few not produced by K-Cut, but by Maestro and his DJ LTD themselves; because the production is a killer, the highlight being a crackly horn sample played during the hook. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best track on either version of the album.

Maestro Zone also features another one of my favorites, "Hittin' the Girlschools." It's a sort of Animal House-type narrative story of Maestro running loose in a girls' school (at one point even dressing in drag as a disguise) to make it with all the girls, and subject-wise, it might seem pretty juvenile and something you'd expect more from a Young MC or Souljah Boy. But quality production and smarter song-writing outclasses any of their material, all the while being a goofy, fun romp of a song. The hook features the school principal making announcements over the intercom warning the girls away and giving updates on his status, while occasionally a chorus of young girls will croon, "we love you, Maestro!"

Third is the most skippable of the bunch, "Ebony Mozart." But it's still an excellent display of Maestro's freestyling skills. It's got some nice scratching on the hook and some ok samples, but a remix could've gone a long way here.

And speaking of remixes and lyricism predicting his classic third album, the fourth exclusive is "Bring It On." It's probably best known for the Showbiz remix of that turned up on "Naaah, Dis Kid Can't Be From Canada?!!" That version was also released as a single; but the original's dope, too.

To declare a victor, I've gotta give it to The Maestro Zone, for featuring what turned out to be some of the best songs across the board. But I don't think there's many among us who wouldn't've happily forgone the "Private Symphony" remix (despite having Sir Scratch's attention grabbing name in the credits, the production is as sappy as the original) in favor of the posse cut. And, while TMZ is the one to own if you're limited to one, there's enough exclusive material for me to ask, "why not both?"

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