Friday, January 30, 2009

Poison Clan Appreciation Week, Day 2: Check Out the Ave.

This next single from the PC is of their third album, 1993's Ruff Town Behavior. On the album, this is two songs, "Check Out the Ave. part I" and "Check Out the Ave. part II," two to three minutes each. On this 12", however, they're edited together into one five minute song.

This song is clearly indebted to Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day." A mellow vibe as JT Money narrates some tales of his own hood. He does it well, though; and Mike "Fresh" McCray's beats are always dependably solid, if sometimes familiar. Here he samples Curtis Mayfield's "Let's Do It Again," which has certainly been used a few times (the only example that comes to mind at the moment is Wrecks-N-Effect's "Let's Do It Again" off their debut EP), but it always sounds good. There's a quick line in the lyrics about how he's driving with Home Team's "Pick It Up" in the deck (including a soundbite), just in case anyone thought he was sour about the split.

The 12" then has an exclusive remix (no credits are given, so we can only assume McCray did this one, too). It's an original instrumental (no Mayfield or other driving sample to speak of), but effectively maintains the same vibe. So, basically you've got your choice between the original, which sounds better but has been around or the remix, which is still ok and original. There are also edited radio versions of both mixes of the song.

Finally this 12" also includes the album track "Sugarhill Style." It's a fast, upbeat track with an instrumental that's like half classic Miami bass and half old school throwback. There's some "Planet Rock" vocal samples being cut up while someone (Mike Fresh again?) talks shit on the hook. Good times.

Poison Clan Appreciation Week, Day 1: Dance All Nite!

Another "week" kicks off here at Werner's! As you'd expect, we'll be looking at some Poison Clan 12" action, plus we'll take a look at their affiliate groups, and I've got a cool little "Mini-Post" article in the works, too. So let's jump right into it, shall we?

We're starting off with Poison Clan's first banger, their single "Dance All Nite." Now there's two separate 12" singles of this (not counting promo and foreign variants), but you'll want to stick with this one. The other version features some of the stuff on here, plus two house remixes which I would recommend for only the most die-hard fans. And it's missing some nice stuff this 12" has got, so yeah... this is the 12" you want.

It's easy to see why "Dance All Nite" was picked as the single - it's the clean, dance-oriented track of the album - and I think it worked better than they expected. It was the huge 1990 hit (especially regionally) that showed Luke Records The Poison Clan was more than just a throw-away "Baby 2 Live Crew," but recording artists to be taken seriously. Produced by the underrated Mr. Mixx, this song works mainly for its instrumental - it's a killer loop from the Shaft soundtrack laid out over some classic Florida beats and of course a hot, deep bassline. It's also got some really nice scratching for a chorus. It's got a breakdown where the music eventually strips entirely away, and the DJ is cutting it up acapella - fresh! The rhymes are simple and unimpressive, but they (this is back when the Poison Clan was a two-man outfit, Deb and JT) have cool, distinct voices that sound good over the beat.

But before getting to the album version, this 12" starts things off with the "Remix With Bonus Beats." It's basically just the album version but better. You've got the same beats and rhymes, but additional break-beats and samples are added to the mix (plus an added shout & call vocal sample on the hook between Luke and his audience shouting, "dance, sucka!"). It also ends (like its name suggests) with an extended bonus beats outro which loops some killer Shaft horns and adds a really nice bass drop.

Next you've got the "Felix Remix." No other credits are given, but I think it's a safe assumption that it's by Felix Sama. It's essentially the same as the "Remix With Bonus Beats" minus the bonus beats, but it does drop in those Shaft horns in a few other places which is cool, and there's some additional points where the beat is chopped up (a la Double Dee and Steinski rather than proper scratching).

Finally, it ends with the awesome posse cut "Poison Freestyle" featuring Tony M.F. Rock (of Let Me Take You To the Rockhouse fame) and Brother Marquis of The 2 Live Crew. While no one here is going to put Percee-P out of work with their complex lyricism, each MC comes with a tight verse - think Ant Live on "Money In the Bank." And they've picked the perfect track to rap over, the incredible instrumental K-Solo used that same year for his third single, "Fugitive" ...and which, more recently, it turned out Unique used on his Die Hard EP. Considering those guys used it for a narrative and message song respectively, it's great to hear this as the foundation for just a raw, freestyle posse cut. It's one of those songs I could just lift up the needle when it ended and listen to again and again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Fresh Prince Meets Pop Rock

Remember in a recent post when I said The Fresh Prince only did one guest spot in his entire career? Well, apparently I lied. There were two... but can you blame me for neglecting an obscure Billy Ocean record?

Well, I can't forgive myself! In the name of completism, it must be blogged about!

Besides being doomed not to be a hit single by its title alone, "I Sleep Much Better (In Someone Else's Bed)" is a bit of a throw away tune recorded as the new song for Billy Ocean's 1989 Greatest Hits album to compel die-hard Ocean fans to buy a collection of songs they already owned. But fortunately for us, they did press it up as a single in the hopes that a few DJ's might promote it (when a pop star like Billy Ocean can't even be bothered to make it a picture cover, you know that's all it's for), so there's no need to buy the whole album for the one Fresh Prince appearance.

The first thing you'll notice is that it's a pretty simple, repetitive song (Protip: skip the seven minute Extended Version). The production (by Ocean regular Robert John Lange) is professional... certainly nothing as catchy as "Get Into My Car," but some passable pop studio loops. And the chorus is passable; but there's not much more to this ode to sleeping around than a few lines and the repeated chorus for the first three and a half minutes. Honestly, it feels unfinished - which might literally be the case. This could easily be a work-in-progress that Jive stumbled upon in one of their closets and threw onto the album.

Things pick up, though, when the rappers finally get involved at the end. That's right, despite The Fresh Prince being the only artist credited on the sticker cover, there's actually two MCs on this song, Smith and Mimi. They do a back and forth, line for line exchange, a la Positive K & MC Lyte (this came the year after "I Ain't Havin' It" so there's no doubt who inspired who): "FP: Come on, baby, these are girls I used to play with; but you're the lady I want to stay with. ... Mimi: Don't you understand it's hard to deal with this? You play me part time: hello then goodbye, while you run around town like some playboy - some fly guy?" It's kinda fun, certainly not great, but at least the rhymes are written by the Fresh Prince himself (Smith, but not this Mimi character, gets a writing credit).

The b-side also has a Version Without Rap for all those pop fans who screamed "oh my god, what are rappers doing on my nice Billy Ocean record!?" and an instrumental. Though it's not bad, if you're not a collector of all things Fresh Prince you can easily live without this. If you do want it, though; the good thing is it's available in dollar bins the world over. Snag it cheap and complete your collection; but you probably won't take it out again once you've filed it away.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Who's Singin' This? Total Control Interview

I recently had a chance to speak in depth with Chas Bronxson, formerly known as Prince Charles of Total Control. If you don't remember Total Control, they were a mad talented group with killer raps and harmonies who were down with Chuck Chillout in the late 80's-early 90's. Unfortunately, they never got to drop an album, but they still made a lasting impression on NY hip-hop doing shows and especially on the radio. Finally, their story is told... and personally I've gotten answers to questions I've been carrying around in my head since I was a freshman in high school. I'm not gonna tell you anymore, because it's all below:

So to begin, break down the group and tell us how it all started.

Total Control is a group that came together when we were teenagers. We'd always go, do our little demos and what-not. We'd go to the studios and spend our hard-earned money… The original group was me and a guy named Masterpeace. That's the light-skinned dude with the flattop in the picture. It was just me and him; and one day we decided we were gonna do a promo. We were listening to the promo and we heard Chuck Chillout, and we said, ayight, we're gonna do a promo for him and we're gonna take it down to him. So we went in the studio and he did all of the rapping and I did all of the singing. And so we put it together, we took it down to Chuck and he instantly liked it. He used to play it to open up his show.

And what year would this have been?

This is December '88, I remember that. And the next thing you know, my cousin came up; and that's the other guy n the picture. Divine. So that was our unit right there; we used to sing and harmonize like The Force MD's - that's who we patterned ourselves after.

Then, one day, Chuck got a record deal; and he decided that he was gonna put all of his groups on there. And we were featured on that album. Did you get to hear that version I sent you? I don't know how well you know that song now, but if you listen to both you'll notice there's a difference between how we did that verse on the original.

Well, the singing's definitely different at the end.

Right, right. That's the way it was supposed to be. And also there's a variation of the music. If you notice, when Sherm finishes his verse, he goes, "we're from Edenwald, and we're rolling with Bronxwood Productions." That's the way it was supposed to flow, right into that. But they told us after that session, "yo, Chuck said that y'all were dominatin' too much in the song. He wants you to change it." And we went back in and we had to change the chord of the harmony we were singin' to some low pitch. Ah man, dude; I'm telling you I hated that! And the producer, to match what we were doing, he lowered the octaves when he was playin' the keys, and it just didn't sound right. And then, on the song, after Sherm's verse he goes, "we're from Edenwald and we're rollin' with" and you don't hear no singing. It just drops out. Chuck comes on talking about, "yeah, this is Chuck Chillout. You heard Deuces Wild," and I'm like, yo, what are you doing man? So I just walked away from the project; I wasn't proud of that at all. 'Cause how it was supposed to go, "we're from Edenwald and we're rolling with Bronxwood Productions," singing, and then he could talk on top of that. You could even bury our vocals in the mix at that point. But Chuck had something else in mind and personally, I don't think it worked.

It still kinda works, though. Like I agree the rough version sounds better, but it was still a great song.

John, I'm telling you that song could be better! 'Cause all it would've took was for us to sit down and map it out. But there was no organization with that song; everybody just did their verse. But it could have been executed so much better.

And after that - this is the impression I always had as a listener - with you guys featured on "Bronxwood Productions," was it sort of understood that he was gonna be producing records from you guys?

Yeah, and that's how it was gonna be. That was exactly the plan. Because he had this guy: Boy White. He's the producer I was talkin' about; he did the production for everything. And we were looking forward to doing some music with him. I mean, we had our own songs; but we didn't have the studio savvy that Boy White did. So Boy White was gonna be the one to put us out there with the music. And we even did about three or four songs with Boy White. And these songs, Chuck Chillout was going around shopping, trying to get us a deal. And what I remember him telling us is that he went to Andre Harrell to try to get us a deal, and supposedly he wanted the song that we did that Chuck was playing for him, but he didn't want the group. We had this remix of one of the songs we did called "Young Love," where we were singing to "Impeach the President." Chuck went in there asking for this crazy amount of money for the group and Andrea was like, "nah." So that deal never jumped off.

Do you know what he wanted that song for? Like was it a soundtrack, or why did he only want one song?

I don't know. I really can't call it, 'cause I wasn't there at the meeting. So, once we got word of it, we were like, damn. Did Chuck blow this deal for us? What was going on there? And then Chuck got his deal, and they had an album release party; and Chuck was just nervous. He was all over the place. And it got to a point where we were like, yo, he's not really paying attention to us. And we felt like he was more into what he was doing with Kool Chip. So, a little bit after, when Chuck was into his own thing, we said, well let's go and try to find out what happened with that deal at Uptown/MCA. So we set up an appointment to go and meet with the A&R at Uptown to find out what happened. So we went down; they gave us like a 4 or 5 o'clock appointment; and we met this dude who turned out to be Puff Daddy. So we're in his office and we play that song for him and ask whatever happened. And he's like, oh yeah yeah, that's that song.

And we had this other song where we did a remake of this old song by Chaka Khan, called "Tell Me Something Good." And Boy White had sampled that and we rapped over it; and we used to go around and perform it. And you know, we were winning shows at Town Hall and everything; we were building a little name for ourselves. And I'll never forget, after the little meeting was over, we were getting ready to walk out and this dude comes in and Puffy goes, yeah, this is an artist, he's getting ready to come out. And he used that same song we had sampled, "Tell Me Something Good." He was like, Total Control, this is Father MC. And dude was like, "oh, Total Control! What's up?" You know, like he knew us! And we were like, yo, who is this kid, man? And sure enough when that album dropped, they had "Tell Me Something Good" on there. And that was one of the songs, in addition to "Young Love," that was shopped at MCA.

So, once they heard the demo…

Well, I'll tell you - I can't call it. I'd like to think that. It's almost obvious to me, but if you weren't there, you can't really call it. Because whenever you use a sample, there's no telling who else is gonna use it. Anybody can have that idea. So there's no telling what happened with that. I can't really say they got us on it.

Did they use it pretty much the same way, though? Like, was it chopped the same?

It had similar elements; it definitely had similar elements. Because, when it comes to a sample, it's not even the way you chop it up; it's just the sample. Once somebody else gets that sample, people hear it and are like, "oh man, look at what they sampled." So if somebody else comes behind, they're like, "ah, they're biting. They're trying to be like what was already out." So we were just thinking: man, the way Father MC responded to us… did he see us performing somewhere and get the idea to use it and take it to a producer? Anything could've happened.

And so many times that happened, man. I know there was one time we really had our song lifted. It was a song we did with Boy White, and they shopped it… and Chubb Rock came out with a song. And, I'm telling you, man… word for word. Or, the sample. The sample. See, you can't really blame it on the rapper. A lot of times a rapper will come in and his producer will have a track; the rapper don't even necessarily know where the producer got the idea from, but if the track is tight, he's like, "oh shit, I wanna rap over that!" And he'll make something to it.

Do you remember which Chubb Rock song it is?

It's a song called (sings) "She's with someone, someone, someone"[see my Chubb Rock discgraphy page; it's on his second album]... And I'm telling you, we had this song that we shopped and we were like, "let's tell these people who we are. We are (singing) Total, Total, Total… Total Control." And we were singing over this Brothers Johnson called "Strawberry Letter 23." Man, I'm telling you. You hear this song and you'll hear exactly what I'm talkin' about. It's just too ironic. I'm going on record saying they lifted that from us. They definitely got that from us, man!

And that "Young Love" song I was telling you about. I remember when Puffy was listening to it, he was like, "yo man; I remember Andre definitely wanted this." And next thing you know… I don't wanna sound like I'm sayin' everybody's stealing and everybody got everything from us; but there's just certain things, when they happen, that make you think to yourself, "damn, man. Did they get us?" Because then Jodeci came out, and they had "Come and Talk To Me" and "Forever My Lady"… And Devante's an excellent producer; I'm taking nothing away from him. But they had a remix for "Come and Talk To Me" where all they were singing over was "Impeach the President." And Puffy's name was listed as a producer on that. We were like, "yo, did Puff get us, man?" Did he get us? But that stuff happens.

And anyway, the deal with MCA fell through; nothing happened with that, and by that time, Masterpeace… we had a falling out. He left the group. And so we got somebody else, who was more singing oriented. But we continued doin' shows, and you know, we was buildin' up the name. And I remember we did a show at this club called The Castle. And the owner of the club was like, I want you to meet Red Alert. And Red Alert had come down to see the show that we did, and we tore the place down, man. And they said, well we want you to do a promo for Red Alert the same way you did for Chuck; and we were kinda skeptical about that, because at that time, Chuck and Red didn't get along. I mean, they were really like enemies, and we didn't realize that until one day we were down there at the radio station with Chuck, and we were getting' ready to leave and the elevator came up. The doors opened and when we got ready to get on the elevator, Red Alert was on the elevator. And Chuck was like, "nah, nah. Don't get on." And it was thick. The tension was thick and we was like, damn - they don't get along like that?

And Chuck was pretty much acting as your manager back then?

Well, it was never really official. It was just that he was a DJ and he was gonna put us on. And we were told he was shoppin' a deal for us, but he didn't make nothin' happen. And it got to the point where we felt maybe he's just not interested or just focusing on what he's doing. So when this opportunity came for us to do this promo for Red Alert, we were like, yo man - should we do it? Shouldn't we do it? Let's just do it.

At that time did you know it was gonna be for the album, or just the show?

Nah, nah, nah. At that time, it was just gonna be for the show. And the promo, it did real well. And we found out that Chuck, according to Boy White, when he heard it on the radio, he flipped. He was like, "yo, they flippin; on me! They flippin' on me!" And it wasn't even a thing where we were trying to flip on 'im. 'Cause we wanted to be a part of Bronxwood Productions, we wanted to make it pop. But it just seemed like he didn't really have no plans for us. And when we did the promo for Red, we just looked at it as we were doin' a promo. We weren't trying to get down with Red or nothing like that; we just did the promo. And it took off.

And I can't forget to mention my brother. The first part was me rappin', and then the second verse, that's my brother Brandon. At the time, he was going by The Mac. We just featured him on that promo. But that's family. He just happened to be in that situation when Masterpeace had left. And we needed someone to write that hip-hop, because me and my cousin were focused on the R&B. That's what made us strong. Masterpeace would do the hip-hop and we would sing and put it together. Masterpeace would sing with us also, but he was like a background singer; and vice versa. We'd do some raps, but he was like the front rapper. So when he left, it was like what are we gonna do? And my brother just stepped up like crazy. He wrote my verse and his verse, and we were like, god damn, where'd you get these skills from? It just shocked us; so we brought him in the studio with us; and that's what you hear now.

So he was never really a member of the group, he was just on that song?

Yeah, he was just on that particular one. He's a producer now, and although he's nice with the pen he prefers to just produce hip hop tracks. He's currently producing a rapper named Illa Ghee. Illa Ghee is known for his fire verse on Mobb Deep's 2004 hit "Hold You Down" featuring Nina Sky. Illa Ghee & my brother went to school together, and they've been tight for years.

But that thing took off and became real popular. And the next thing you know, Mitch - who was the owner of The Castle - said, "yo. Red Alert is comin' out with an album, and he wants to include this on his album." So we was like, i-ight, cool. And it came out on his album, and I remember I tried to set up an appointment to get a deal with Next Plateau [Red's label then]. 'Cause I was doin' a lot of hustlin' back then, man. I would go and try to get an interview going or get an appointment… just, you know, try to play our demo and get a deal. That's how it was back then. And we had something set up with Eddie Oh, I think his name was, at Next Plateau Records. And I remember thinkin': let me try to really solidify this thing and make this appointment worth it. And I knew that Red Alert had affiliations there. I remember I called Red and said, yo Red, this is Charles from Total Control and I'm just calling to ask if you could put in a good word for us over at Next Plateau. Just put in a good word for us. And he was like, "well, what's in it for me?" And I was like, "huh?" He said, "what's in it for me? 'Cause I'm not just gonna have y'all usin' me to get a record deal," and I was just whoa. I didn't know what to say. I was dumbfounded, man. So that didn't pop off. He didn't put in no kinda word for us or nothin'. And you would think that after we did this spot for him and as popular as it was, you would go, "well, yeah." 'Cause all it was was for him to say these guys are comin' in; give 'em a shot. It's not like I was askin' him to come in the studio with us or into the office to make it happen. But I wound up going in there with no representation and Red didn't put in a word for us or nothin'; and nothing happened with that.

We got stuck just doing these promos. I did one for Bugsy, Wendy Williams - a little mixtape thing with Wendy Williams - Angie Martinez, the Wake Up Club with Ed, Lisa and Dre. It became just monotonous. I was like, yo we're more than this, man. We've got more to offer, and it comes to a point where you're just not gonna do any more promos. At some point, you've gotta move beyond where you're at, otherwise you're gonna get stuck.

Yeah, those Red Alert tapes had incredible promos. On the later tapes, they were better than the songs.

(Laughs) Yeah, I've heard people say that. I remember meeting Queen Latifah and telling her about the group, how we did a promo for Red Alert and she knew about it. Oh, you did that? That was hot! People knew about it; but it's like The Twilight Zone. Friends used to joke, "when's the album coming out? You keep doing all those promos, we're gonna change your name from Total Control to Total Commercial." And we understood, we were trying to get it out there. And so, after a while, the guys just got frustrated, man; and it all just dissembled. And that's pretty much the story of Total Control.

Well, what about...? I know you came out with a record after that: "Keepin' Me On the Line."

Oh yeah. Well, that was some years later. That was around '95. We put our little money together and we did a video for it and got it playin' on like a lot of college shows. So, yeah; we was still doin' it, but as far as like the DJ's and all that - it was over at that point.

And I see you produced it… did you do the remix, too? The label doesn't really specify.

Yeah, that was me. I taught myself to produce music so I could be able to do what Boy White used to do. The rap was done by my cousin, and I did the writing on it and the singing vocals. Then there's another remix that I did that's not on there. If I remember right, that wasn't done until like two months after we put that 12" together. It's pretty much the same song, but it doesn't have the rapping on it. The parts where there would be rap, it's got some singing on it.

And that label: 4-Ever Flowin', was that just you guys yourselves, or was there an owner and all?

That was just us. Actually, about a year ago, I called the boys over and we did a couple songs. The chemistry is still there, man. When we get in the studio and do stuff, it's like magic. Kelvin - he's the guy who did the Red promo with us - he got behind the keyboards and started playin' something, and then words come to me like quick. And like two days later, I have them come back and I wrote the whole song, and put the musical arrangements around the keyboards that Kelvin had played. And the song is nice, man. But they don't have that kinda stamina. There's so much to this game, you've gotta have endurance; and they don't really have that. But if ever something pops off, and I get to do a project, I'ma have them come in and we'll do a couple songs together.

Are you guys still doing the same kinda thing? I mean, I know times have changed, but as far as combining hip-hop with the R&B?

Yeah, exactly. Yes. We got this one song where it's R&B and hip-hop together, and another one where it's just straight singin'.

And do you still have those old demo tracks?

Yeah. Those tracks from the late 80's, early 90's? Yeah. And the promos, like the first ones we did for Chuck Chillout. And I turned some of those into full-fledged songs, man. 'Cause I didn't want the ideas to go to waste.

But I'll tell you what… about the stuff I was sayin' before. I got nothin' against Red, man; and I got nothin' against Chuck. As a matter of fact, I saw Chuck like two months ago and everything is cool. That stuff is part of your past and you learn from it and you move on.

Was there ever a tour for the Chuck Chillout album or anything?

Nah, that never happened. The last thing that I remember happened was Chuck had this album release party at The Tunnel. And after that everything pretty much disbanded because Chuck was doing his thing. And I don't know if you know, but Funkmaster Flex came from that whole outfit.

Yeah, he was on the same song as you, right?

Yeah, he was with the group Deuces Wild. He was the DJ for that group. All of us came out from the Chuck Chillout umbrella, and Flex is the one that blew up. And one of the guys, Derrick, was known as Nine who went solo later. He was the lead rapper in Deuces Wild.

They were pretty much the only ones from that song that Chuck actually did put out a record with.

Yeah, yeah. Well, see, I don't know if Chuck really knew how to deal with us, man. Because we had that singing element. And I guess that's one of the reasons why Sherman, Masterpeace, felt like he'd be better off going by himself. Because that was his main thing, rapping. And he was fire. Listen to that verse he did on the Chuck Chillout album, man; it was ridiculous. Dude was just nice with it. And when we would go out singin', the harmony would just be so right; and that was my strength. But I don't think Chuck really knew how to deal with a R&B situation.

I guess maybe it was a weird time, after like Force MDs and Whistle were like making a decision to go full R&B…

Well, I would actually say that it was a good time. It was a real good time, 'cause that was when you had Guy coming out. Al B Sure and everybody adding that hip-hop element in their music. So it was right there for us. It just didn't gel.

And did Masterpeace ever come out with anything when he went solo?

Nah, nothing ever came out. I don't know what he did. When he left, he left hard. I haven't seen him since… you're talking about 1990, man. I haven't seen this dude. But, you know, I'm hearin' that he's alright. I hope everything's fine with him.

Was there issues between you guys, or was it just the situation?

Well, you know, we had some argument, man. We was gettin' ready to do this show. Like I was telling you, we were always going around and doing different shows and concerts. We were in this contest called The All-Star Talent Show, and we won the semi-finals. And we got in some argument when we were rehearsing. And he just bowed out, a week or so before we went to the finals. And we were just devastated. We were like, what're we gonna do now? We got this show comin' up at Town Hall of all places, and dude just bounced out. And we had to go and get somebody who really just couldn't cut it, man. He was a good singer, actually; but he couldn't rap for nothin'. So we got the guy to fill in for him, and I was upset with Sherm for a while for that, man.

But then, as time goes on, man… I found out this business has a way of breaking up friendships, and driving a wedge between people who were close. I grew up with that kid, man. You're talkin' about 9, 10 years old. And it wasn't until we got into this music thing that we just like fell apart. And it's a messed up thing, but that's just the way it is. You know, wherever he's at, I hope he's doing fine. I wouldn't even mind seein' him, man, and talkin'. Whatever we were beefin' about before? It's nothin'. We had an argument over a rehearsal, man. Over a rehearsal. Friends for over ten years to have something like that to happen. And like with Chuck; everything's cool now. Years later, all that promo beef… it's meaningless; everybody's moved on. It's just too bad we couldn't see it like that when it was all happening. 'Cause we was just a group trying to get out.

Have you ever gotten back in contact with Boy White?

Nah. You know, I think I talked to Boy White sometime around 2000. 'Cause I had some questions to ask him about contracts. 'Cause I had won this song writing contest, and they were offering me a publishing deal. So I was like, let me get in contact with Boy White, because I know he knows this stuff in and out. And we spoke for about an hour, and he gave me his numbers and everything; but I think he moved out. And when I spoke to Chuck a few months ago, I asked if he'd seen him and he hadn't heard from him either. Cool dude.

And how about the others from "Bronxwood Productions," like No Self Control?

Chuck told me that a couple of dudes died. I was like damn, because I hadn't talked to anybody in like years. So we were just talking, like a whole half hour, goin' over all the people we knew from this died. This one died, this one got locked up. And Nine moved down South and he's out of touch with everybody; nobody has heard from him.

So, let's get into your current stuff...

Well, the video that you saw on my site… I had done a lot of promotion and got it on a lot of underground shows across the country. But the subject matter kept me from getting on radio. Not because the listeners didn't want it, but because the female program directors really had a hard time with it. One time, I remember at a popular radio station here in New York, I had a meeting with a programming director and she was like, well, I don't want to play this because I'm afraid it's going to offend our female listeners from the ages of 25-54. Those were her words.

Really? 'Cause that song seemed pretty positive.

Well, I remember, I did the show Street Soldiers with Lisa Evers on Hot 97. She had me on that show regarding that song and video, and I remember the first thing she said, "and Charles Bronxson, who I have some issues with. I saw the video and I gotta ask you about this later on." And then the question that she asked, she said she thought the video was nice, but there was a certain lyric that stood out to her. She said, that the woman would do things that made Daddy want to hit her.

So I had to explain to her what I meant by that. Because if you listen to the lyric… in the song, the father is explaining to his daughter why he wasn't there, trying to rekindle his relationship with his daughter. So the lyric actually said, "she picked fights every night and started arguments for nothin'. She wasn't like she was at the start. She used to say and do things to make daddy wanna hit her, so stayin' wouldn't've been too smart." So he's saying he left before it came to hittin' her. But all these programming directors heard was daddy wants to hit her; that's all they heard. So that caused a conflict, but I mean, I got a lot of love from women. Like the viewers? I got e-mails like incredible. So even if the song didn't get the rotation, the e-mails made me feel like the project was worth it.

So, that project went pretty well for one guy doing it all himself. I covered a lot of ground with that. A lot of radio shows, Michael Bivens featured on his show with it. And the next project will be the same, but it's a little more friendly for the women. And ultimately, it may be a compilation of songs like an album; but I'm doing all of this so I can get that shot as a writer. Because that's what I love doing. I've got songs I could never do and cover all of them with just me as an artist; the volume is just too much.

So is most of what you're writing now R&B?

Well, you know what's ironic is that the video I'm about to do is rappin'. Just like the last one. 'Cause even though my focus is R&B right now, I can write the Hell out of some rhymes. And I guess that was part of it with the group. 'Cause I was doing the writing and I'm looking at whole vision… and also the publishing. But when they're just singing, they're not seeing that stuff. In fact, Source magazine had done a little expose on a song writing contest that I was a part of [click right to enlarge and read the full article], and I had won. And they gave me some money, some studio equipment, and they offered me a deal. And, you know, I had to turn it down. Because they wanted all the publishing.

On the phone, they would say we'll split the publishing with you. I asked them and they said yeah… But when the contract came in the mail, it didn't reflect what we talked about on the phone. So I thought maybe they just want me to take it to my lawyer and be smart enough to get it changed around to be identical to what we discussed. And I took it back to EMI and they kept putting off signing it. But they kept trying to give me $5,000 to sign over the song. They wanted more of a one night stand; I wanted a marriage. They told me, "yeah, well, Puff Daddy had the same kinda deal!" Like, you must think I'm some kinda new jack. They kept pushing that $5,000, man. And I was broken hearted. Because I thought I was gonna get a deal, like this is my shot! But I had to be strong enough to walk away. Because I learned that a long time ago: you never let go of that publishing.

Do you remember Johnny Kemp? I remember I saw him in Harlem around 1991 or so… I saw him walking down the street, and I was like, "oh shit - Johnny Kemp!" So I went up to him and I'm like, you're Johnny Kemp, right? And he nodded his head yeah. And I'm like, I love your music; when's your next album coming out? How come it's been so long? Because "Just Got Paid" had come out two or three years before that and I hadn't heard anything from him after that. So I was like, yeah man, when's your next album coming out? And he's like, "I don't want to talk about it." You know, he had like this accent, "I don't want to talk about it." And I said nah, man, I'm not some writer or magazine or something like that; I'm just a fan, curious about what happened. And he said, "I don't want to talk about it" like stern faced. And I was like whoa, alright, and started backing up; I left it at that. I'll never forget that little encounter, man. I just wonder what happened to this dude to make him like that.

But I promise you, you're gonna see somethin'. And you're gonna hear something from Total Control. Because even though we're not a group, we're still boys. Once my stuff pops, I'm gonna incorporate something we did. That's a promise.

You can check Chas Bronxson out online at his website, And his CD single of "Let Daddy Explain," with both the rap and R&B versions and the video, is available at CDBaby. He also has a myspace, which you might wanna bookmark since he says he's planning to start building on that including possibly putting up those vintage, unreleased Total Control songs(!).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Axe's Steelo

Sat-R-Day is a Dutch R&B trio that specializes in club tunes. "(I'm Diggin' Yo) Steelo" is the second single off of their 2001 ZYX debut album, The Weekend Is Yours, and their biggest hit. Their lead singer later left the group and they replaced him with another guy for their second album, which wasn't as well received. But I don't care about any of that any more than you do. If you're not DJing for a nightclub eight nine years ago, there's one reason to note this single: it features a surprising guest appearance by The Outsidaz' Axe.

So, you get six on the CD single or five on the vinyl (take THAT, traditional DJs!), and as you can see from the pic, the cover promises us a 2-step mix. In fact, two of the mixes are 2-step mixes. For those who don't know, Wikipedia tells us that, "2-step, is a typically British style of modern electronic dance music... In 1999 and 2000, 2-step reached the peak of the genre's commercial success." That's pretty much why you can scoop this up super cheap today if you're so inclined.

Ok, so let's get this out of the way real quick. You've got the two 2-step mixes, "Mike's Ministry Mix" and "CC Lounge Mix," neither of which feature Axe (and one of which barely features Sat-R-Day). By the way, according to the liner notes, all six tracks are produced by Rutti. I don't know who the Mike of "Mike's Ministry Mix" would be, then... maybe Rutti's first name is Mike?). There's also the "For AM Mix," which plays it more traditionally R&B and the "Bubbeling[sic.] Mix," which features some silly reggae verses. No one is credited for doing that either, so I suppose it's one of the guys from Sat-R-Day. Those mixes don't feature Axe either.

So that leaves us with the tracks we actually do care about, the ones featuring Axe: the Radio and Extended mixes. The Extended mix is that sixth track that was left off the vinyl, by the way. It's basically the same as the Radio Mix but features some additional riffing (50 seconds worth) by Sat-R-Day at the end.

So how is the actual song? It's not bad. For a dollar bin pick-up, I was satisfied with it. Sat-R-Day are some genuinely decent singers with a Jodeci-like sound (some of their online fans praise them for sounding American), but the song is faster and more upbeat than anything those boys'd do. The subject matter is pretty obvious from the title - they're digging some girl's style - but they already have a girlfriend so we've gotta "keep it on the low-low." The production won't impress any Paul C. stans, but it's certainly competent enough and keeps you following along.

And the good news is that Axe's verse is tight. The beat is much more poppy than traditional Outsidaz material, of course; but it's fast and upbeat, so it actually works surprisingly well with Axe's flow. Despite its name, the Radio Mix actually leaves Axe's curse words and drug references intact, so if you got the vinyl you're not missing out on anything important.

I mean, I don't want to overhype his contribution here; it's not "oh my god, how incredible"... there's no really ill, stand-out lines, and I'm not suggesting most heads should go seek this out like the next hidden jewel. But he sounds good here. So if you're serious a fan, go ahead and spend that penny for a used copy on Amazon. And if you're with your girl and you have to listen to some clubby R&B-type joints, definitely go for the one with the Outsida on it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

InstaRapFlix 15.1: Born 2B Gangsta?

So, I've been checking semi-regularly (read: not regularly at all), and the defective video from my previous InstaRapFlix write-up, Born 2B Gangsta? (Netflix rating: 1.5 stars), is now working! Woohoo! We can finally watch it, so let's get to it.

The first question I found myself asking was: who is this for? The doc starts out with mostly unknown west coast gangsta rappers (though Coolio is included) talking about how they started selling drugs because it was the only way they could make a living, and why you have to be violent to make it in the business. Then an anthropologist (yeah, I was curious so I went and found his website) and a couple cops come on and say the same thing. A lot of the footage seems to come from a panel discussion, which features Davey D.

...There's also some handheld shot-from-the-audience concert footage of a Cee-Loless The Goodie Mob, which doesn't seem to be here at all. Some of the footage is shown without sound, even! ...I can only guess that this film first screened it with the sound, but were told to desist because they couldn't get the rights? But, then, why not cut it? When there is sound, you the sound is so low quality you can't make out what they're saying (I'm not even sure what song it was), anyway.

Some more known rappers do come up around the thirty minute mark for a segment on the word "bitch." All together, you've got Mic G, Royal Flush, Suga T, the Concious Daughters, Rappin' 4-Tay, Treach and JT the Bigga Figga. But, they're all only featured for about fifteen seconds each. It just feels like: why go to the trouble of getting these artists in your documentary if you're not going to give them a chance to say anything? I guess the answer is because they were just grabbing most of these artists at events for quick soundbites. And, yeah, like you see on the box, Ice-T is in this, too. It looks like footage of a mini-press junket in his house, where he plays a song off one of his tapes to a room of four or five people and briefly discusses it. The film cuts back to this discussion several times, so he does actually get to fully express a few points.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that there's not much movie here. Like I said, most of the footage seems to come from the same event, and the running time is just over an hour. The interview clips are all so short they barely get started introducing a topic before they're cut off. Most people aren't saying anything you haven't heard a thousand times already. It seems like somebody had all this footage of the event and decided to cut it into a movie to sell on DVD. They did make some effort to talk to the police and a guy who puts security systems in schools (more with him might've been interesting), but they definitely didn't pull together a movie's worth before calling it a day.

Bottom line: you're not gonna see or hear anything you haven't heard on the subject a hundred times before and better. The only thing of any real value or substance here is the Ice-T interview, which is still purely conventional fare.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kill This Picture

My fellow bloggers, please. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, per se. But this damn pic (it's L'il Wayne, for those who don't know) comes up in my Google reader 50 times a day, and has been for several months now.

Friends, L'il Wayne is no recluse. Look around you - there are a bajillion photos of him all over the 'net and offline. And more are being taken every day by every hip-hop media outlet (because it would be, like, super hard to think up an article on rap music if you couldn't follow what everybody else was already covering). If Obama made L'il Wayne photos the new currency (and I just read on SOHH that he might), the economic crisis would be immediately overturned! So there is no reason to keep recycling this one, accursed picture.

Some of you sites especially. I mean, do you ever look at your blog's main page and notice that you have the same photo repeatedly going down over and over? Do you think that's attracting new viewers each and every time? Or that when someone comes from viewing one hip-hop site (or two or twelve) over to yours, they're excited to see the exact same photo they just left?

While we're at it, it's past time you considered swapping out that Jennifer Hudson file photo where she's smiling in that black dress and pearl necklace, too. It was especially inappropriate during all those stories about the murder of her family members. Again, Jennifer Hudson hasn't exactly been one of those celebrities to shy away from the cameras. Use a different picture. Heck, pick out seven and alternate them, one for each day of the week (don't worry, I'm confident that many of you will still be covering the same stories a week from now).

Look, here, I'll do your work for you:
Use that one, ok? Now no one will have to sprain their fingers doing a Google image search. Or you could just stop writing stories on L'il Wayne until he does something worth covering again. Either way. Just please kill that picture.

Update 1/23/09: I think this post has had a positive impact. Since posting this, I've only seen the picture used on one blog in my reader: the aforementioned SOHH, who still managed to use it a couple days in a row. SOHH, please hear our plea! We are on the cusp of a new era... only one last gloppy, putrid tentacle still tethers us to the dark past. Barack Obama said, "change." Now don't you think it's time? The answer is already burning in your soul; look deep and find the strength of will. Do the right thing. Kill that photograph. Kill it with fire.

Update 1/23/09 (later today): Aggh! They (SOHH) used it a second time today! Why, God, why??

Update 1/25/09: Hurray! Today's L'il Wayne story on SOHH featured a totally different L'il Wayne photo! That photo wasn't in my reader AT ALL today! We're saved!

Update 1/27/09: Aw nuts. It's back.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Lost Giancana Story

So, most of you guys know the basic story of Kool G Rap's sixth album; but for those who don't let me catch ya up real quick before we get into the advanced stuff. When G Rap was looking for a post Cold Chillin' label/home, Rawkus Records was at the top of its game. So when they signed him, it seemed like the promise of something great (even if they were already showing signs of having too much corny, controlling influence in their artists' work). So, he recorded his album, The Giancana Story for them, and they released a promo single or two. They started to have conflict about his not being commercial enough, their focusing on other other artists who were popping off... the album kept getting pushed back. G Rap recorded new material to please the label, a few more promo 12"s came out, the album leaked. The album got pushed back again, another version leaked. Eventually the album was shelved, Rawkus fell into financial hardship and eventually collapsed, and Kool G Rap was without a label. A few years later, he signed with Koch, and their first project with him was to release long lost The Giancana Story (with Rawkus, who are also credited on the label).

Ok, so now you're caught up. The Giancana Story, as it was released by Koch, was fourteen tracks long (refer to my Kool G Rap page for the complete track-listing). But the leak(s) were longer, and featured a bunch of songs not on the Koch version. And some of the stuff released on promo 12" also wasn't on the Koch album. In fact, there's more missing from the Koch album than there's included! So, now let's take a look back at all of these "lost" Giancana stories.

Oh wait; before I start, let me just get this out of the way. To add to the confusion of the different Giancana Story albums, there have been some retitlings. For instance, "She's Dressed To Kill" from the original leak did make its way onto the final, retail version; only they called it "Black Widow." "Get 'Em Up Now" became "Fight Club," etc. But the tracks we're about to look at are completely different songs.

1) "First Nigga" - This was released on promo 12" in 2001. It's ok (there's some nice scratching on the hook), but was quickly overshadowed by our next track...

2) "First Nigga (DJ Premiere Remix)" - This was released as the B-side to the 2001 single of "The Streets," and as you'd expect from a remix by DJ Premiere, it totally eclipsed the original, which was promptly forgotten. It's not surprising that "First Nigga" didn't make the album, but very surprising that this remix didn't.

3) "Ride On" featuring Jagged Edge - This was released on 12" in 2002. Jagged Edge is a male R&B group singing the hook... they're ok, but G Rap flowing on the killer beat to The Arsonists' "Venom" is hot. It's worth picking up the 12".

4) "G Rap Is a Villain" featuring Ma Barker - This song was only on the leaked album and has never been properly released. It's a duet with Ma Barker, and a play on "Top Billin'" with a hook that goes, "Ma Barker's chillin', G Rap is a villain, what more can we say to you bitches? We pop steel an' that's what we got, baby, givin' it good. Don't give a fuck if you from the same hood." It's not great, but a fun album track.

5) "This Is My Life" featuring CNN - this song is one of the best on any version of the album, but it was only featured on the leak. It loops an upbeat moment from the Scarface soundtrack, and each MC spits gangster tales and comes off tight (and I'm really not much of a CNN supporter generally). There must have been sample issues or something, 'cause I can't imagine even the most tin-eared label exec thinking this should be left back.

6) "Round and Round (remix)" featuring Jonel - To be fair, this was probably never intended for any version of The Giancana Story, but as always, I'm being completist. This was featured on a 2001 promotional CDsingle of "My Life." It's an R&B song by Jonel that features a couple guest verses by G Rap; he wasn't on the original, and there was even another version featuring Method Man. It's basically just another in a long line of forgettable R&B tracks with guest rappers on the remix, but it's worth tracking down just because the guest happened to be G Rap this time.

7) "Keep Goin'" featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg & Devin the Dude - This team-up must've been some Rawkus guy's idea. It was released as a promo 12" in 2002. Each MC does a good job, but with a slow beat (produced by Hi-Tek) and a sung hook, it's the sort of compromised sound that doesn't wind up satisfying any of these guys' fans. It's really not bad, though.

8) "How It Feel" featuring Havoc - The track for this leak-only joint is really cool, with some nice atmospheric samples; and G Rap kills it. Havoc provides a nice hook (though no verse). This would've been a much better choice than a lot of the generic tracks that made the final album.

9) "Ya'll Niggas" featuring BGF - This wasn't featured on the original leak, so it must've been recorded later to satisfy Rawkus. It was never released, only featured on a second leak. It's an ok posse cut with his crew again, the beat is a little livelier than most. Update 1/28/09: The Japanese issue of the Koch CD actually includes this song as a bonus track, retitled as "Planet Of the Apes." There's no difference between the two.

10) "This Means War" - This is kinda like "Ya'll Niggas" but without his crew. Which makes it a little better. It's upbeat and angry, but the track is kinda lame. It was only featured on the leak.

11) "Holla Back" with Nas, Nawz & AZ - Yeah, this was featured on the album. But the leaked version had Nas kicking the first verse instead of Tito of BGF. Nas seriously came off with one of his tightest, illest verses, too ("Throw niggas off yachts, hold niggas with shots, my bitches ran 'cause I'm stupid - I put the shit on digital cam. Light up an ounce, let my bitches watch it on television, hella relentless. Fifty a pop, sell it like Menace. When I sleep, all I see is a white skeleton image. It's telling me something... I opened up Shakespeare's tomb, stole his remains, grinded his bones and got in the game"); so it's a real loss. This version was only featured on the leak. The Koch version also remixed the beat adding a few extra samples and bits. None of it makes up for the loss of Nas.

12) "Nobody Can't Eat" - In a 2002 interview with HipHopDX, G Rap talked about how he wanted this to be his next single, saying, "that’s a good song to define G Rap." It was featured as the B-side to his "My Life" single, but wasn't featured on any versions of the actual album.

13) "Ordinary Love" featuring Ma Barker - Kool G Rap kills it on this song, though the R&B hook could've turned off the pure hardrock fans. I really like this one, though; the only drawback to me is Ma Barker. Don't get me wrong, she's ok (she usually is), but Kool G Rap raises the bar way over her head with his verses. It's also some (slightly) different material for G Rap. This was only featured on the leak.

14) "Why You Gotta Do It Like That" featuring Ma Barker - Kool G Rap tries something a little different here. The hook drags on a bit, but the beat is interesting and G Rap comes off really nice once he starts spittin'. Ma Barker sounds nice on this track, too; though of course another G Rap verse would've been preferable. If you ask me, the combo of G Rap and this track would've sounded really nice on the album, but again it was only featured on the leak.

Update 1/20/09: I forgot one!
15) "Thug Out" featuring Black Child, Caddillac Tah, Ma Barker & Jinx - this is the original version of what Koch later released as "Spill Blood" (not on the album, but put out as the exclusive B-side to their 12" single of "It's Nothin'"). It features the same hook and verses, but the beat is totally different ...actually, "Spill Blood"'s track by DJ Scratch is better, so this not being included is no great loss. For some reason Ma Barker isn't credited on the 12" with the other MCs, but that's clearly her kicking the third verse.

Of course, there's no telling if there are any other unreleased Giancana stories still locked in Rawkus or Koch's closets. The Koch version did introduce us to a few new tracks: "Gangsta Gangsta," "Drama (Bitch Nigga)" and "It's Nothin'," which they also made as their single. So if there was those, maybe there's more. And even if there isn't, there's still enough here for a Giancana Story Part 2. So how about it, guys? G Rap's Rawkus material is underrated (most of it at least holds up to Live & Let Die, and 4,5,6). I'd buy it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Fresh Prince Meets Jazz

"To other DJ's, Jeff is just too much - he doesn't use a line switch as a transformer crutch!"

Yeah, "The Groove (Jazzy's Groove)" is already one of the best, most understated DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince songs - certainly the best off of album #3. It's a hype beat with fun, clever rhymes by Smith hyping up his DJ:

"Look, it's simple;

Just admit it.
Jeff is the deffest;
You wanted to battle? Forget it!
You're a fool,
You're slippin', you're loony, you're crazy;
No if's, no and's,
It'll be just your butt, baby!"

And every hook or breakdown is Jeff using a showcasing his skills on the turntables in a different way. It's also an amusing answer record of sorts to Soul II Soul's "Jazzie's Groove" which was a big hit single at the time. ...But that's just the tip of the iceberg of what makes this second single so dope.

First, you've got the Extended Remix, which adds about a minute's length and features jazz great Grover Washington Jr.! About midway through the song, Smith adds a new verse about how they had trouble finishing the record and until Grover came in to save the day, and then Grover plays an incredible solo over the breakdown. Soon Grover is playing all over the track, and there's some additional keyboards and samples added as well. Jeff changes his final line from, "I made the beat hype, but still kinda smooth" to "I made the beat hype; Grover made it smooth." Finally, the A-side of is rounded out by the Radio version, which is just a shortened edit of the Extended version.

But that's still not the half, 'cause when you flip the record over, instead of "The Groove (Jazzy's Groove)," you have three mixes of "The Groove (Grover's Groove)." The beat starts out the same, with the added instrumentation of the Extended version, but Grover is playing from the first note. Basically, where the A-side was DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince song featuring Grover Washington Jr., this is a Grover Washington Jr. song that features them. The beat is mellowed out, dropping the drums and some other elements for most of the song. Smith starts kicking the verse he added to Extended Version on the A-side, but this is a fuller version, with more (and better) rhymes about working with Grover and music bringing together people from different walks of life. But it's just that verse; most of the song is Grover playing non-stop to the groove.

The B-side also has a Version Without Rap, which is pretty self-explanitory, totally removing The Fresh Prince from the equation. And finally there's a Radio Version - a tighter edit of the "Grover's Groove" mix. All this and a picture cover? And because it's not at all rare and people sleep on their later material, it can be easily found at super cheap prices. This belongs in your crates!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cocaine Blunts Vs. Werner Von Wallenrod

Woohoo! It has landed - the year-end issue of Hip-Hop Connection magazine (January '09, issue #230 with L'il Wayne on the cover for those on the lookout), that features this very blog you're now reading. :) By the way, I had a devil of a time getting an issue here in New Jersey, so thanks very much again to a nice guy who was generous enough to mail me a copy from Europe.

It's a nice, four-page piece written by Andrew Emery called "Hip-Hop Blog World Cup," which picks the top 16 hip-hop blogs and pits us against each other. There's commentary on each blog by the writer, as well as by the other bloggers (we were all interviewed in advance). So the article writes, "Werner's unique approach to obscure hip-hop and compellingly strange video essays take the blog into new territory" (hehe), and then like Trav of Wake Your Daughter Up says about me, "If all of us old school bloggers held a Jeopardy type tournament, Werner would crush us all." Man, I loves this article.

So, we're then pit up against each other in pairs. As you may've guessed from the title, I was rivaled off with Cocaine Blunts, which is some stiff comp... I said (an unused quote, which makes this like a bonus, unreleased 12" b-side to the full mag article LP), "CB closed down for a minute, but I'm so glad it's back. Noz is one of the best hip-hop writers. But then, I guess there's not really anyone in the piece that I'd want to have to dual it out with. That's why I'm glad that outside of this article, it's not a competition - I'm honored just to be on the same page as these guys, and every single one of them is in my Reader.

We're also quoted throughout the article talking about each other's blogs like this on Soul Sides, "Werner Von Wallenrod sums it up best: 'Knowledgeable, well-written blog… too much about the music used to make hip-hop than actual hip-hop music for my tastes; but they’re definitely authorities on what they write about.'" Here are a couple more bonus ones of mine that aren't in final the article:

Unkut - "Sometimes gets a little lazy just posting random mp3's, but has done some of the best interviews in any hip-hop blog, ever... getting to the hearts of stories most hip-hop writers aren't knowledgeable enough to even ask about."

Nah Right - "Basically just news aggregation, I guess; but does so much (you can scroll through pages of old posts and they'll still be from today!), that Nah Right's become a pretty definitive source."

Bust the Facts - "When all the other mp3 blogs seem to be reading from the same playbook, ripping and posting the same albums; BtF always finds what all the others have overlooked. And posts a lot."

Dallas Penn - "Does the best video blogs: funny, sincere and smart."

Hip-Hop Isn't Dead... - "Great track-by-track reviews, and lots of them! Respects the greats (esp the Wu), without being blind to their shortcomings."

So yeah, check out the issue to read the whole thing, including who beat out who, and which blogger ultimately won the Hip-Hop Blog World Cup. I also found some other nice bits in the same issue to sweeten the pot, including a great big piece on The Cookie Crew, a fun interview with Russell Simmons, a cool little editorial piece on Kool G. Rap and a substantial Top Choice Clique interview. ...Why can't we have magazines like this in the US?

The Fresh Prince Meets Doo-Wop

Here's one that's probably for the hardcore collector's only, but it's kinda fun if you're willing to be seen walking out of the record store with this. "When the Radio Is On" is the single off of Paul Shaffer (yes, David Letterman's bandleader... that Paul Shaffer)'s debut album, Coast To Coast. It came out in 1989 and it's of interest because it features Ecstasy of Whodini and The Fresh Prince (who otherwise never dropped guest verses). The album was sort of a compilation, where Shaffer went around the world (or at least different parts of the US) and collaborated with all types of famous musicians; and because it was the 80's, of course his New York song had to be a rap song!

It's not that terrible, though, in a hodge-podge kind of way. It starts out like a doo-wop song, but Ecstasy quickly comes on to kick the first verse, and from then on it's a flat-out rap song with a sung chorus. The Fresh Prince rhymes second, and at first comes off as well as he was doing on his own records, but after a few lines the lyrics stop sounding like they were written by him (indeed, he doesn't get a writing credit; but then rappers often didn't get writing credit for their lyrics back in the 80's), when he says lines like, "my first romance, ooh we used to dance to the man with the blue suede shoes." So, a young Will Smith and his first girlfriend started out dancing to Carl Perkins is what you're asking us to believe? Perhaps that line was originally intended for Shaffer, who actually takes the final verse for himself. That he comes off as the weakest link should go without saying to anybody within a mile of this blog, especially since he shouts every single word of his verse, but at least he's energetic.

And the instrumental is listenable enough. It's co-produced by Whodini's producer Larry Smith, Shaffer of course (Smith and Shaffer both also play the keyboards here), and Russell Simmons. It's got a healthy dose of live instrumentation by genuinely talented musicians and vocalists like singer/songwriters Johnny Maestro, Jay Siegel, Dion, Carole King and Ellie Greenwich. And everyone just sounds so awfully damn enthusiastic singing about how much they enjoy listening to the radio.

Now, I'd actually been half-heartedly looking for this one for a while (not too hard, 'cause you know), but could never remember the title. I just remembered seeing this live on The David Letterman Show, when Paul Shaffer did a big production number to promote his new record (naturally), and it featured The Fresh Prince and Daddy-O of Stetsasonic. Daddy-O was performing because Ecstasy was unable to attend (I still remember Letterman joking that "Ecstasy is in agony"), and a couple of the other vocalists were swapped around, too. But I finally found this 12" in somebody's dollar stock (where it belongs), so I had to pick it up: "that's that's song!" Then, once I got it home and knew what the title was, I did an online search, and found the original Letterman clip is on Youtube (but minus the Ecstasy joke - I guess that came later in the episode).

Now, the 12" features five different mixes: The Big City Beat Mix, the Def & Dum Dub, The GoGo-A-GoGo Instrumental, Acappella and The Single. The one dubbed the single is the one from the album (I think it was also subtitled "The Single" there to showcase that it was, yaknow, the singlem which makes a little more sense). The Big City Beat Mix is an interesting alternative mix... it brings in some different musicians, most notably Jeff Lorber on keyboards (a lot of people with a lot of Grammys worked on this single!) , and goes for a less pop music-y vibe (though, of course, all variations of this song are inherently extremely poppy). The GoGo-A-GoGo instrumental is a bit different than the actual instrumentals to any of the other versions, but it's close to the Big City Beat Mix and features the same credits. The Acappella is self-explanatory.

Finally, there's the Def & Dum Dub, a version mixed by Larry Smith. Despite being called a dub version, it features full vocals; but most of the instruments are stripped away or turned into short sampled loops. This works to make it easily the most hip-hop sounding version of the song, though, in the case of a tune like this, I'm not sure if that's even preferable. Still, all told, the different mixes are varied enough that all five versions in a row hold together as an acceptable little listen when you're in the mood for something upbeat and goofy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2009: Year Of the Juice Crew EP

It's here! The Juice Crew E.P. is the sixth vinyl release from DWG (and the third release from Hot Chillin' Records). It's limited to 350 copies, in four different vinyl colors (mine's blue). It features five incredible, vintage unreleased songs by Juice Crew All-Stars straight from Marley Marl's vaults, and all produced by Marley himself.

The first song is "I Declare War" by Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, recorded during the Road To the Riches sessions. The press sheet points out that Marley declared this "iller than 'It's a Demo'" during their listening sessions, and it definitely gives that song a run for it's money. The instrumental sounds a little cluttered with noise, but hits no less hard for it, and DJ Polo is really given a chance to shine on the tables during the hook. And G Rap just spits one vicious line after another:

"Old school is cool,
But I'm better than veterans.
My rhymes are vitamins,
The baddest they ever been.
MCs will freeze;
I make G's go overseas;
Records and movies,
Polo is Cool Breeze.
Ready for war
With a rap knapsack
On my back;
White or black,
G Rap will attack.
To destroy anything
Seen or an unseen,
Like Idi Amin,
You know what I mean.
Helter skelter
With no bomb shelter,
Rhymes will explode;
This beat is a Morse code.
Quiverin', shiverin',
Rappers ran again;
I make 'em panic and
Stand like a mannequin.
It is a fact
My mic'll be an artifact;
You get a heart attack
Any time I start a rap.
You want more
From a man with a high score?
That's what I'm here for;
Yo, I declare war!"

The next track is "Stunt Of the Block" by the Super Kids (as in Tragedy, the Intelligent Hoodlum), recorded the same week as "Eric B. Is President" and "The Bridge." There's a reason he was billed as a super kid, though; if you've never heard his super early recordings, you're familiar with the "Teen Voice Tragedy." But don't get it twisted, his voice works, sounding really raw against the big, old school Marley beat and constant cutting, while he preaches at a young girl, "gettin' in bed while you're punchin' a clock? Don't even try to front 'cause you're the stunt of the block."

Track three is one that Stretch Armstrong revealed to the world last year on his blog: Big Daddy Kane's long lost, "For Your Own Concern." Of course, this - like all the other tracks on this EP - is a clean, top quality pressing taken from Marley's original masters, a nice improvement over the old (but much appreciated!) radio rip. "For Your Own Concern" was intended for Long Live the Kane, "but somehow never made it" according to the press sheet. It's a little slow and features a few rhymes Kane later recycled (though there's a lot of nice unheard material on-hand, too!); so to me this is the weakest song on here, but it's still a great example of early Kane that would easily merit a place on his best albums.

Fourth is another Kool G Rap & Polo cut called "Enter the Dragon." An alternate version of "Enter the Dragon" was released to the public in 1996, when Cold Chillin' put out the Rated XXX/ Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous compilation to finish out their contract with the label. That version was cool. but it sounds like a corny, in-house producer remix that sloppily meshes an old vocal track to a new instrumental, compared to the original included here. This is a totally different instrumental using Joe Tex's "I Gotcha" and some more nice scratching by Polo on the hook. He may even have managed to steal the show from Kool G Rap on this one, which is certainly saying something! You can go ahead and dismiss the Rated XXX version now as a novel curiosity piece for completist fats only; this version is clearly the definitive version of this rap masterpiece.

Last, we have probably the least anticipated - and as such, the sweetest surprise - Craig G's "Drop a Bomb On 'Em." This is really nice. His flow over this beat is Craig at his best; standing right alongside "Droppin' Science." From the line, "a lot of feelings were hurt when I dropped 'Duck Alert," though, we can assume this was made shortly after In Control vol. 1. I'd guess it was recorded for The Kingpin, and then left off because Atlantic needed to make room for the house and love jams, so they excised one of the nicest tracks. But whatever fool was responsible for keeping this gem from the public, DWG has finally corrected that.

Let me end with this drool-worthy quote from the press sheet, "when we were at a loss for a final song to include on this project, Marley came up with five or six different options - each as dope as the next. Which, of course, begs the question, 'when is Juice Crew EP Vol. 2 gonna drop?'" ::shudder::

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Whata Ya Want fur Nuthin'?

Let me start off my saying I haven't really been keeping up with the EPMD comeback hype, but what I have heard of their new reunion album, We Mean Business, (the CD is already out now; the vinyl drops later this month) was pretty respectable. So when I saw this second single (following the "Blow" 12", which came out ages ago) being offered as a freebie with any purchase from, I threw it in the cart. That single is "Run It (Remix)."

Now, from what I understand (feel free to correct me in the comments if I'm wrong; like I said, I haven't followed too closely), "Run It" was one of several tracks promotionally leaked onto the internet in advance of the album. The beat (self-produced by EPMD like most of the album) was cool, but response was a little underwhelming. So this was later leaked again, as a remix. The beats and rhymes were the same, but they added a new verse by Krs-1 at the end (he also threw in some ad-libs behind Eric and Parrish's vocals). That version was better received, and that's what finally wound up on the album.

Well, this single makes the bizarre choice to go back to the non-Krs 1 version. It's brought to you by Scion, the same car company(?) that put out that kinda cool Big Daddy Kane/Percee-P collabo last year. Supposedly you can hear samples of all their hip-hop promo singles on their website, but I can't get it to do anything but crash my browser.

So anyway, you've got three remixes here: the "Herve's Got His Hands Up Remix" by Joshua Harvey, the "Sinden Remix" by Graeme Sinden and the "Duke Dumont Mix" by Duke Dumont. No, I've never heard of any of those guys, either. And I'll tell you straight off, the first two remixes are crap. Can I just leave it at that? I guess I shouldn't.

Ok, well, any element you liked about the original instrumental is out - the ill piano looop right down to the hip-hop drums. Both remixes use typical club beats instead, and just use a different sample set on top. Harvey's variation is an irritating collage of straight-off-the-laptop sounds. He also rips out all the vocals, and just endlessly drops in a few repeating vocal samples from Sermon's verse. It's sort of a cross between the sounds of a construction site and a dentist's drill.

Sinden's remix, on the other hand, is like you might expect to hear in a London dance club, if you're an American who's never been overseas and has the worst possible opinion of Europeans. He also spends a lot of time looping short snippets of Sermon's verse, but eventually lets P's verse play through, albeit often chopped and juggled. I'm sure you've heard every sound on this mix in other dance club mixes, and you hated them then, too. I was left wanting to break up with my girlfriend for making me experience this, but then I realized I subjected myself to this.

Fortunately, Duke Dumont's remix is on a substantially higher level. I mean, it's not great; but compared to the other two it's like vintage Paul C. For one, it's back to being a hip-hop verse, with real drums and EPMD both actually spitting their verses (though still no Krs). It sounds like something you might randomly catch on Hot 97 in the evening. The hook is reduced to simply the phrase "Hands Up" looped a few times, but it's passable. Dumont adds some cool, Egyptian-sounding musical elements and marries them fairly well to the track - it's even catchy, but it kinda sounds like this track would fit a lot of artists better than EPMD.

In the end, though, the clear winner is the album version - which, for the record, isn't included here - followed by the promotional leak that wound up being rendered obsolete. But Duke Dumont's version isn't terrible, and you might finding yourself revisiting it every couple of years as a curiosity piece, if you've got the single in your collection. At least it's free.