Sunday, May 31, 2009

Masters of Philology - Werner Interviews Awesome Dre

I just interviewed Awesome Dre. He's coming back. And he's got mad unreleased old school material he's putting out now, too. You don't need me to tell you anything else, do you? It's fucking Awesome Dre! Let's jump right into it:

So let’s start maybe by breaking down all the other members of The Hardcore Committee besides yourself?


Alright. The original Hardcore Committee was me, Brother Lonzell, Ivan Ill, Mike-T, Tony Tone, X-Man… that was pretty much it. It all started out when me and my stepbrother had the idea. And Ivan Ill was the man behind the dream who put up the money for our first studio effort. And it just started from there. That was back in ’87, when we originally formed and put it together. I was the original lead vocalist. Tony Tone spit rhymes and X-Man spit rhymes; but on the album it was all me. They had background parts and stuff like that. And The Detector, he did the production on the first album. We all worked together, but he was the technical expert. You know, the engineer with the mixing skills. We just had the creative ideas, like whatever loops we wanted to use, and he helped us put it together like that.

Was D.E.D. part of the group too, or just someone separate who you worked with?

Well, DJ D.E.D. was actually Prince Vince’s DJ at the time. So he would come and put work in on the album, but that was officially Prince Vince’s DJ. They came out around the same time, and he had “Gangster Funk” out, where they had looped Parliament’s “Flashlight.” He was just like work-for-hire for us. They did their own thing and got a deal with Polygram. He was always part of the family, but officially he was Prince Vince and the Hip Hop Force’s DJ.

Ok, let me take it back a bit further… were you born and raised in Detroit, or did you move there?

Nah, I was born and raised here.

Ok, so what was the hip-hop scene like when you were growing up, there?

Shit, I’m like 40, man. So me as a kid, there really wasn’t no hip-hop. I mean, there was, but that was up in New York. We had the funk, George Clinton and all that. Then we had the techno music, with Cybotron and all these guys. We had that dance, techno-type going on. Then, of course, I remember the very first time I heard “Rapper’s Delight” on the radio; it blew everybody’s mind. Because other than that, it was just like some club shit or some basement party shit. But in Detroit, it was more a dance music thing we gave the world.

Most of my hip-hop experience came when I was a teenager and we moved to Akron Ohio. My mother got married to my stepfather, Dip (RIP). We went down there, and then my high school is where we really got exposed to all the hip-hop. ‘Cause we were listening to 93 FM, WVAK, was one of the stations from Cleveland, and they used to simul-cast Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack and Red Alert. And it was the shit that was going on in New York, live, real-time shit. So we really jumped on it at that point.

But I didn’t really start out as an MC; I was dancing first. And I still am; I’ve still got a few moves that I might bring out from the reserves and shit. And I tell anyone, I’d trade in my rap career for my dance career anytime. Because we had much more fun back then. More pure, more live. Nowadays, it seems like everyone can rap, but everyone can’t dance.

Even in our crew, we made sure we specialized, where everybody did something better than everybody else. We put together our crew like that and we was killin’ ‘em, takin’ down talent shows like everywhere. It was crazy. I was always going back and forth to Detroit, so I’d go down there and get the moves, then come back with the shit nobody’s seen and be the man! I showed ‘em the Water Wave, the Magnetic Wave, all types of shit. And they were like, “man, you’ve gotta get with The Poppers!” The Poppers? Who were they? They were like the best dance group around, and these dudes were seniors in high school. I was just in seventh grade. I went and tried out for ‘em and got in. My first show was the Easter Show in the Civic Theater, which is like their version of the State Theater downtown. We came out and they went crazy; and it all started from that.

Yeah, I remember you having dancers in your videos… is that something you would still do today? Having dancers in your shows, etc?

Yeah, I would love that. Shit, there’s a group here called Hardcore Detroit. I love that shit, it takes me back to the essence of it. Of course, it depends on the venue and the circumstances and all that. But for me to put on a live show, it would include me MCing, a DJ in the back with two twelves, we’d have B-Boys come out, and at the same time I’d have a fucking graffiti artists painting my backdrop on stage. To me that’s the shit!

Ok, so let's talk about Bentley Records...

Nah, fuck them. Let me tell you about Jorlands Records first. Fuck Bentley Records. Jorlands was the one that put up the money and supported our dream. That’s Ivan Ill and Joint, RIP, he’s not with us no more. But Ivan Ill’s still holding it down.

Me and my stepbrother were together; I was writing rhymes and he was like, “that shit sounds good. You need to try and do something with it.” I was like, I don’t know – what can we do? He called Ivan Ill, and at the time, when I was writing my very first song called “Hard Core,” I was patterning it after “Rebel Without a Pause.” To me, that’s one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever. So he caught me in that mode, and I had the instrumental and I started rhyming over the phone, “Hard core… I’m Awesome Dre, coolest motherfucker since ice trays, I’m havin’ nice days, home is where my hat lays. Ladies praise the ruckus that I raise, I’m the one the suckers never phase.” I was like Baby Chuck D in this motherfucker! So he was like, damn, that sounds sweet, why don’t you try to get in a studio?

I was like, ok! I had never really been in a professional studio environment like that before. I had been in a studio, but never to actually like make a fuckin’ record. So we went to Wonderlove, which was a record store that had a studio in the back. This was on Grand River in Detroit, and that’s where we met The Detector. We put together the first single, which was “Hard Core,” “Dean of Rap” and “My Little Friend,” which is the song where I made all my Scarface references. We were one of the first ones to bring the Scarface talk into hip-hop.

Right, I remember you doing Scarface on the album too.

Yeah, on the intros. But like three years before we came out with the album, we had that 12”. We did three 12”’s first before we came out with an album. We did “Hard Core,” then we came out with “Out of Reach,” which had a song called “(LL Stands For) Lame Loser,” and I had “I Don’t Like You (Kool Moe She).” And the picture cover was the original picture that you see on the album cover. And the reason I came out and dissed them both at the same time was because… I come up on hip-hop, so I’m a Kool Moe Dee fan, a Treacherous Three fan… that was the shit. Then, when we saw Krush Groove, and LL came through the audition scene, we were like what? Who is this motherfucker? He was the baddest motherfucker in hip-hop, period! Young ass LL came out and crushed everybody. You know, it was his time.

So, I was looking at Kool Moe Dee like, “what the Hell this old motherfucker gonna do?” Which I guess is how people look at me until I come and rip ‘em a new asshole! They were giving Kool Moe Dee the same billing as LL, and I was offended! They were on the front page of magazines with boxing gloves on, and I’m like, what the fuck? So I wrote the Kool Moe Dee song first ‘cause I was kinda mad. So I was going off on his glasses, leather pants, and all that.

But in the spirit of hip-hop, I didn’t want people to think I was riding LL so hard that I was gonna help him diss Moe Dee or whatever. So I was like, I have to diss this man to balance everything out and make it equal. So fuck you, too, LL. I represent the D. So, I dissed the two biggest figures in hip-hop at the time. And it wasn’t personal or I wanted to kill these guys, like these motherfuckers doing now. It was just real, pure hip-hop and I was stepping up to set a standard.

Then we came out with the third 12”, which is “You Can’t Hold Me Back” and “Committing Rhymes,” and that was like my first hit. We took the “Picking Up Pieces” from the Average White Band and it was just hitting, straight up. We started catching a little buzz and getting contacted by different companies. And Bentley was one of the companies that contacted us. And we knew a guy here, Bernard Carter, who was doing a lot of promotion for a lot of different companies. So we ended up with him and signing a little deal. And they came down and we filmed the first video, “You Can’t Hold Me Back.” We had the album already done, pressed up, everything. But what they did was just take it and put it out there on a bigger scale, as far as distribution.

We had problems with them, as far as money and we ended up parting ways, needless to say. Bentley didn’t do us right at all, but while we were with Bentley, that’s when we signed with Priority. And that was a blessing. Brian Turner knew what he was doing and already had NWA and all them. They even had put out the California Raisins album.

But back then, we didn’t have no label love… we looked at everybody as the competition. We didn’t give a fuck – if you were on our label, you were the first competition! We ain’t come here like hey, we wanna shake everybody’s hand. We were like, man, fuck them. They’re wack! We were hardcore. So we didn’t schmooze, which might’ve been a good thing to do, but it wasn’t us back then. And a lot of shit was going on… NWA was breaking up, Ice Cube saying he didn’t get paid… and a lot of people already know that story.

But our shit was going on at the same time, behind the scenes. People were like, “man, I heard you all ran up on Priority and kicked in the door!” Nah, nah. We did go up in the company, but motherfuckers had to drop the charges because we had evidence to show these motherfuckers were robbing the fuck out of us. And it almost got to physical shit, but it didn’t. That’s hip-hop; it’s a fucked up game. Everybody trying to fuck over everybody. We just weren’t having that shit.

So, Bentley was what got us to Priority, but at the same time they became a middle man between us and fucking shit up. And ultimately, that’s why we didn’t wind up putting out that other album on Priority. There was too much bullshit going on, so they had to put our shit on the shelf. And we got tired of waiting around after a while, so we had to file bankruptcy and all types of shit to get separated.

So was AD’s Revenge that you ultimately came out with the same album that Priority shelved?

Nah, they didn’t ever get that. What they shelved was around when we had “Frankly Speaking,” the second video. That had peaked out at #6 on Billboard, and the album had peaked out at #51 black albums. And Priority did what they do… they had us doing promo shoots and Rap City with Chris Thomas, which is where I met Chuck D. Priority knew what the fuck they were doing, but they had middlemen and other shit in between that wasn’t letting us move forward. We were supposed to come out with a “Sackchasers” video after “Frankly Speaking,” but the timing was kinda fucked up on that one.

So, now what about Strictly Roots Records? Who ran that? Was that you?

That was Babatunde and Kwesi. Babatunde got locked up for some bullshit, some snake shit or whatever; but hopefully he’ll be home soon. When I say snake shit, I mean not something he did, but one of his so-called partners got caught-up in; and in order to get out of it, snitched on Babatunde who didn't have nothing to do with it. Babatunde and Kwesi, who were the two executive producers. Babatunde was an artist, too, he played bass and put a few basslines on our joints. He was an artist. When we first met, it wasn’t like we were gonna do an album. We met in his bookshop, and we found out we were both in music, so he invited me over to do a session and it went on from there.

Man, he put out two videos, the “This Is Babylon” video we shot in LA right after the riots and shit, and “AD’s Revenge” which is a reggae flavor type cut. They pressed up the albums, had mad merchandise and flew us all around the world, and everything was going good. But we were still learning, too. Like, we still had a lot of connections from our time with Priority, but a the same time, we didn’t have the machine that Priority had behind it. We kinda spread ourselves too thin and couldn’t follow up with everybody. We kinda kicked back and said, oh our shit is doing good; we’re number two in LA or whatever. And we didn’t understand that we had to go out there, then, and promote the shit out of it and follow through. And a lot of money went out without it coming back in real quick.

So it just died down. And people were saying I was going in a different direction with different influences I was having. There’s some hardcore shit on there, but with the second album, it’s more political. The production is not the same… the first album we did a lot of sampling and loops. On the second album, I don’t know where we went with it, but the people were saying, ‘you need different beats!” But, hey, it was just a chapter and to me it’s still a classic and I’m glad we hooked up and did that shit. Then Babatunde got locked up, and that kinda but a halt to things we were planning to do.

So did that happen while you were still signed to them?

Yeah, that happened a little bit after the album. The album and videos were done, but we still had plans to do other shit.

And there was a 12” off that album where you’re just credited as The Hardcore Committee (like, without Awesome Dre)… was that for a specific reason…?

I don’t remember…

I think it’s the one with “Babylon” on it?

Oh, yeah. That was a time when we were gonna change the name of the group. It was just a transitional period. I was gonna change my name and everything. But people were like, “are you crazy? People know you as Awesome Dre!” And if you do stuff like that, you gotta do it very carefully, and name the next album as whatever you want your new name to be or whatever.

But now I could never stop being Awesome Dre. I could be anybody else, too. That’s cool. Like Wu-Tang, they all got four or five different names. But I’ll always be Awesome Dre.

So, now, obviously there’s a big leap between then and what you’re doing now… so what happened during all that time you’ve been away.

I never really fully stopped. I got unreleased songs… like I got a whole album from like ’96, a whole album from ’99, and then various shit between. Like just songs I’d do with different, various artists. So I had always went with it, but stopping, working regular jobs and thing. But just in the last couple years, enough time has gone by that people are really appreciating what we did twenty years ago. Like, back then, after our second album, people were like, “oh, that old as shit,” you know what I’m saying? But as ten years go by, it’s like, “oh, you remember Awesome Dre? He was the shit!” Now, I get on the internet and see that shit, and my record is on sale for a hundred and something dollars! It’s so fucking rare, they can’t find it. And I’m on some peoples’ list as a favorite MC, with Rakim and Krs-1.

Then they started coming out with old school reunion tours and old school whatever, and it was cool to be old school. Back then, it was like “fuck old school!” But if you become old school now, you’re the shit, because you could withstand the test of time. There’s plenty of people who came out back then with me at the time, and now I forgot their ass existed! If you brought ‘em up, I’d be like: who? So for me to come up and remind people of good experiences and times of their lives, that’s the shit. So I realized you gotta keep doing it.

They try to brainwash us that you gotta be a certain age to rap. But that really wasn’t it. The record labels just wanted young puppets who didn’t question or didn’t know anything. A grown man wouldn’t take that shit.

But there’s still a market for it. People still feel it, and that’s their shit. So I owe the people. Especially since I still got it. And there had been little periods where I stopped, but I never retired like Too $hort or nothing. And the people, now, they motivate me to keep that shit going. Now I realize, no matter how old I get, I’ma always be Awesome Dre.

And I just had my first child like nine months ago. And that’s taking me to a whole 'nother level right now, too. Especially this past year, ‘cause I’ve done a lot of shit with Psychopathic Records. It’s weird, ‘cause way back in the day, when ICP came out with their first album they had love for me. I mean, anyone who came out of the D after ’87 would have to list me as an influence… I don’t care whether you like it or not. And Mike Clark was one of the guys that we influenced, so we were supposed to do a song. And it just so happened that Esham was at the studio before I got there. And Esham was one of their influences, too. So he was like, what chyall doing here? And they were like, “ah, we’re just waiting for Awesome Dre to get up in here and do a song with us.” And he’s like, for real? How much are y’all paying him? “About five hundred.” He was like, “shit, give me that five hundred, I’ll do it right now!”

(Laughs)

He did it, and they called me like, ah, something happened. I was like, whatever. Because at the time, I was trying to have my manager squeeze some more money out of them, but they didn’t have money back then. It was a few years after our reign, so we were on our ego trip back then. That’s another thing: when you’re young and getting promoted and everything like that, it does boost up your ego. So I kinda probably put my foot in my mouth back then. But it’s all sweet now.

Shit, last year I went up there and did the Gathering of the Juggalos thing they do every year, and that was one of the funnest experiences I ever had in my life. It was fucking crazy. And we did The Monster’s Ball, Hallowicked… they did a movie, and I’m in that. We did the “Forever Detroit” track, and we did the “You Can’t Hold Me Back” remix for the Let ‘Em Bleed Volume 2 that came out in November with me, Shaggy from ICP, Merciless Amir, Esham, Big Herk and Boss. I did song with Mike E Clark that’s coming out June 23rd.

So I’m just in the studio, getting production from various guys, and just trying to build this shit up, man. I got a lot of old shit that’s gonna be released, too. I actually have an album from ’97 that was supposed to be the second album. And a couple songs from AD’s Revenge are remixes of the songs we did back then, like “Wreakin’ Havoc” was one. And I got two songs with Grandmaster Melle Mel.

Oh wow.

Yeah, when we released AD’s Revenge we had a release party that Babatunde hooked up, and Melle Mel came, Afrika Islam DJ’d… and Afrika Islam produced the two songs. We had Supercat headlining the show, and during that weekend we recorded these two songs One called, “The Cemetery Started This Way,” which is hardcore as hell, and “You Go Girl,” which was released on a mixtape over in Tokyo or something and it was blowing up, but Luke stole it! He was there and you know, you’re an artist you want people to hear your shit. So we were playing it, and Luke was just in the building; we were playing it for The New Dance Show. Then about two weeks later, somebody called me and said they heard my record on the radio. I said, shit, you’re a damn liar. But we saw the video, and Luke was lip-syncing our hook with a sly grin! And the kicker, man, was who he got dancing in the background at the video? The same bitches that was dancing to it at The New Dance Show! He flew their ass down their and they was in the fucking video! But what can I do? I can’t sue; he’s the court expert. He’s the dude that fought the Supreme Court of the United States! He got all kind of fucking lawyers; I don’t got no money.

I had another experience like that. I had a girl at the time, and she was singing with me. We were down performing at the Renaissance show downtown, a showcase with all the labels, representatives flew in. We did a song then called “You Still Can’t Hold Me Back,” and we took the Davy DMX line, “one for the treble, two for the bass, come on Davy D, let’s rock the place.” And we switched it to “Awesome Dre, let’s rock the place,” and we rocked that shit. And labels were coming over to us, giving us their card. And like two weeks later, Jody Watley mysteriously came out with a remix of a song called “Off the Hook” featuring Rakim, and that shit was like, “one for the treble, two for the bass, come on Rakim, let’s rock the place.” And I look at the label, and sure enough it’s MCA, like, yup. Those motherfuckers were sitting right in the front row.

So, now you’re talking about all this stuff you’ve been doing with ICP and all… are you signed with Psychopathic? Or doing your own thing separately?

I’m doing it all on my own right now, but if the time is right, it’ll happen. They’ve already got a full schedule; but I’d love to get with ‘em, that’s what we’ve been talking about. So right now it’s just a little project here, project there. Do the live shows… I love the live shows more than anything, and the Juggalos are some of the most loyal fans I’ve ever seen. They’ll support you all the way. And if they don’t like you, they’ll let you know that shit, too. But it’s crazy. They have their own world. They tried it all, mainstream, whatever… but they made it all on their own account.

So, first up from you is to put out those old albums on your own?

Yeah, I’m not gonna put out them old albums as a whole. I’ma put out mixtapes and put some new shit, some old shit. Give them a variety.

And I’m doing the radio show they gave me, Awesome World, which comes on wfuckoffradio.com. Usually they go two hours. They go on Tuesday night and Thursday night, from nine to eleven and eleven to one. We’ve been doing our thing since December, and it’s fun as Hell, just doing whatever you wanna do, playing all the unreleased music, interviews, call-ins… we got a segment called Repeat It or Delete It, where if you get repeated, you might get put on a promotional CD we’re putting together. We had a hip-hop astrologer, my cousin Doe Dubbla… We have fun.

And I saw you’re on an album, either out or coming out, with Finale?

Oh yeah. Me and my boy Prince Whipper Whip, of The Cold Crush Brothers and The Fantastic Freaks – that’s my homey. He stays out here in Michigan now. So he was like, yeah, some little young guy rapper wants to come on through and get us on there for his album, little intros or something. I haven’t even heard that yet, I forget what the fuck I said. I gotta go check that out; it’s on his album, A Pipe Dream and a Promise. He’s got us on a couple interludes or whatever.

Yeah, that’s actually the project that put me on to the fact that you were coming back. Because I don’t really follow the ICP stuff so much, but I saw that in a promo e-mail, and I Twittered Invincible like, “THE Awesome Dre?”

(Laughs) Right. Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of little drops here and there. But we’re about to inundate their ass with old and new Awesome Dre. We wanna have that new mixtape out before we go down for the gathering in August. We should have three different mixtapes and merchandise. I’m a packrat. I got the very first version of “Hard Core” we ever did, I got the quarter-inch reel and everything. I got all the behind the scenes footage and all that, so I’m putting together a DVD and some mix CDs. And if you wanna see the original music videos, you can go to my YouTube page, THEREALAWESOMEDRE.

And the best place for people to check out for all that is on your myspace, probably, if they can’t catch you on tour?

Yeah. I got two myspaces, actually. I tell people, add both as friends. But if you go to myspace.com/awesomedrehcc, you can already purchase “Hard Core,” the first twelve-inch, both albums, some new unreleased music… There’s some other songs I’m holding back for the CD, but there’s enough shit on there I’m pretty sure you ain’t heard yet, new and old.

Shout out to all the fans who’ve been following me from day one, and all my new fans. Know that your boy is not giving it up. We got some stuff coming out. In fact, my cousin Doe Dubbla just debuted a double CD; his album is banging. Shout out to Rob Worth, and also look out for a new Awesome Dre project on Worth It Records. Shout out to all my people, my family, Baby Awesome. Free Babatunde! I appreciate the support, for sure. We do it for y’all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Every Record Label Sucks Dick

You guys are getting two posts today. Why? 'Cause that last post was supposed to be up yesterday or even the day before, but I've been having technical problems with the vid. The aspect ratio is still off (it's closer on the YouTube version, but neither is correct), but I said it was close enough, I'm done. So now time to move on:

When RA the Rugged Man recorded "Every Record Label Sucks Dick" as Crustified Dibbs, I doubt he had any idea just how strongly his own label was going to justify that statement. Jive nixed his album after just one single when horrorcore turned out not to be the cash cow every A&R was hoping for, and "Every Record Label Sucks Dick" was never, even to this day, released. And it's too bad, 'cause it's one of his best songs ever.

But when you have a song featuring The Notorious B.I.G., you don't leave it in a vault. That's like burning money! So thankfully but unsurprisingly, Dibbs' gloriously obscene sex rap duet was white-labelled. And what's more, the 12" was issued some vinyl exclusives. You might think any track off his unreleased album would be exclusive enough, but no - they went the extra mile here.

First of all, instead of including "Every Record Label Sucks Dick" as the B-side, they went and recorded ""Every Record Label Sucks Dick part 2." It's not quite as good, but it's still good. It's got a darker, more street instrumental, which would be great for most MCs to ride over... for Dibbs, though, I prefer the lighter original. The lyrics are all-new, too; this isn't just a remix. It is a short song, however, basically consisting of a single verse and the hook. This version is really perfect for what it is: an exclusive B-side; but I do wish the original could be released in some way, shape or form someday (Fun Fact, by the way: the original "Every Record Label Sucks Dick" is the song that features the line, "there's only 50,000 heads that are true to this; the rest are clueless as to what real hip-hop is" that became the hook to the Sadat X duet, "50,000 Heads").

Then, of course, there's the infamous Biggie Smalls feature, "Cunt Renaissance." Right from the title, you know this is gonna be Biggie doing what he does best, and pairing him up with Dibbs (who spits a hook about ripping out cunts with spoons!) takes it even further over the top. I remember HipHopSite was promoting some release in the late 90's that featured "un unreleased verse from Biggie - where do they keep finding them? Amazing!" But it was really just his verse from "Cunt Renaissance."

Anyway, there's no production credits on this 12" (and none were leaked for the unreleased album), so I've no idea who did what. But this is a funky track with some rugged drums and bassline, and a sample reminiscent of Jeru's "Come Clean," but mixed more in the background. It's tight, so it's a nice bonus that they managed to include the instrumental for this as well.

But wait, that's not all. They also made an exclusive "Cunt Renaissance" remix. This features a keyboard riff that sounds like it was lifted off some direct-to-video 80's exploitation flick, and even a girl crooning in the background. The original bumps harder and is probably the one you'll revisit the most often, but this mix is probably truer to RA's sensibilities and fits the zaniness of the song. So, in some ways it might be better, but the original's the one you'd ask the DJ to play when you wanted to freestyle. But it's your choice, because they included the instrumental for this mix as well.

This record is on the Want Lists of, like, everybody on Earth. So when you see it, grab it. And when you see two, grab both. There wasn't a lot of these pressed, and it's dope. And thanks to all the exclusives, it'll still be a must-have, even on that hypothetical day that Traffic grows the balls to issue Night Of the Bloody Apes on CD.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mmm... Makeba Mooncycle

Most people, if they've heard of Makeba Mooncycle, know her as an outer sphere Wu-Tang affiliate. But she's actually had a long and varied career... She was originally down with The Blackwatch Movement and sang on X-Clan's first album. She then hooked up with MC Lyte and co-ran her company along with LinQue. I actually didn't realize it until relatively recently, but Makeba and Kink EZ are in fact the same person. And, yes, she's made several appearances on Wu-related projects. She also put out some indie singles like this in the 90's.

The enthusiastically entitled "Ahhh!!!" dropped on Mmm... Records in 1998, very possibly the only release on that label. And the first thing to establish, I guess, is that she's rapping here, not singing. Well, she sings a bit at the end (and it sounds good!), but essentially this is a straight-up hip-hop single. It's a simple track, with some slow drums lead by a deep bass guitar loop, meant to showcase the MCs' skills. This is quintessential indie 90's stuff right here, produced by a couple known as Kevin "The Dungeon Master" & Amelia Moore. It features a group called Coins sharing mic duty with her. The first MC kicks some straight space rap, "Came with dead-ass swords to the galaxian wars. Space shuttle, one accord; back to Earth before I'm bored," and then Makeba gets on to follow suit:

"Ride with the Coins in a lunar eclipse;
Took a ride on the starship; then we flipped.
Saw MC's in the Milky Way taking a bath;
Jump aboard the sunship, still doing the math,
Keep Coins by my side, 'cause United's my Kingdom.
Revolution is over, and acknowledge my freedom.
The new holy renegade, my lyrics cut like old blades,
Riding on shooting stars, politicking with the Gods.
The holy land to the stars, vacations on Mars;
The battle has been won, from the moon to the sun."

The B-side is called "High Plains Drifter" and features cuts by Chops of The Mountain Brothers. A brief intro featuring a clip of her introducing the song recorded live at some venue establishes that this is her battle song, where she's battling "against the beat." The beat again is pretty simple (and again produced by the Moores): another slow drum track, an unassuming bassline and a Spanish guitar sample, though of course the scratching stands out during the choruses. She basically just spits four verses of hard battle rhymes ("Crushing your mental like a blow to the temple. A-rat-a-tat-tat! Here's some blows to your central"), pausing briefly to drop a brief hook. Good stuff, no doubt. Probably not the easiest to find, but worth tracking down.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Missed Step

This has to be Freddie Foxxx's (or, "Freddy Fox"'s, as it's spelled here) second rarest record, after this one. And they both have some key elements in common: they're both white labels of tracks Freddie did for his Flavor Unit period, which he put out himself when the label dropped him, and they're both different mixes than what ultimately wound up appearing on Traffic's Crazy Like a Foxxx restoration. By the way, I did a pretty detailed, comprehensive post already comparing the many differences between the Traffic version and the version of the album that leaked back in the 90's, so you might want to catch up there if you missed it the first time (The Real Crazy Like a Foxxx), and then rejoin us. Basically, between that post and the "Do What You Gotta Do" write-up, this 12" is the last piece in the puzzle. And I finally got it, so let's rock. 8)

"Step" dropped in 1996, making it the last in the series of Crazy Like a Foxxx singles, even counting "Do What I Gotta Do," which wasn't on the original Crazy tape, but was included on the Traffic mix. Oh, and interestingly, this 12" plays at 45 rpm. Anyway, this is pretty similar to the version you heard on the Traffic album in a lot of ways... lyrically, it's exactly the same, Chuck D's part is the same, the samples used are the same, etc. But you'll hear the difference instantly - there's a DJ doing some wicked cutting throughout Chuck D's introduction on this 12" version that's sadly absent from the Traffic version. The scratches come back on the 12" for each hook, and are definitely a strong factor to the song. Both versions are also mixed differently... the Traffic version is a slower (you can even see it in the running time!) and places more emphasis on the bassline, while the 12" mix puts more on the drums. What's more, the 12" version also features a tight horn sample, that sounds sort of like a cross between something The 45 King and Showbiz would use. I don't know why Traffic chose the mix they did, because hands down, this one is the winner.

And for the record, this 12" mix is the version that was on the old tape, too.

Oh, but it ain't over. Because unlike the "Do What You Gotta Do" record, this is no single-sided 12"; this has a B-side: "Pressure On the Brain." And it's different, too. And just to make things a little bit more complicated, Traffic released two versions of "Pressure On the Brain" in their 2-disc set, giving us another version to compare. So let's jump right in:

Straight up, I almost wonder if Traffic didn't make a mistake. The two versions of "Pressure On the Brain," they released sound kinda similar. Don't get me wrong... they're different; you can tell just from listening to 'em. But they're much more alike than the 12" version to either of them. So, let's see, where to start? Well, first of all, like "Step," the 12" mix has some nice scratching on it that's missing from both Traffic mixes. Also, both Traffic mixes have essentially the same bassline. The 12" mix has a different bassline and, yes, it's better. One difference between the two Traffic versions is that the Jailhouse version has these keyboard tones in them, which makes the whole thing sound more like a polished studio product, as opposed to the grimier demo mix. The 12" here is in line with the demo mix, it doesn't have those keyboards (and just to be clear: I don't miss 'em).

Finally, I'll say that the 12" mix and the promo tape are essentially the same. They do sound like they're mixed differently (and the 12" is a tiny bit faster), but it's hard to tell how much of that is an inherent difference in the source material, and how much of that is just the format difference between a copy of promo cassette and an original 12" pressing. They're certainly "close enough," I think, even for a really serious fan not to care.

So, in the end, I don't know whether to scold Traffic for a dumb move or praise them for a good one. On the one hand, they clearly released the inferior of their options, so my first instinct was to say, "well, Traffic sure screwed up here!" But on the other hand, as rare as it is, this 12" is out there, available to the public (they just have to be die-hard enough fans to track it down). In putting out these (admittedly weaker) versions, Traffic has released versions that have never ever been released before, not even on the leaked promo tape. So their shit's 100% exclusive. So, ultimately it's a win for the serious collector/fan, who will ultimately get all versions, and the more casual fans or are missing out on the better versions of the songs wouldn't know what they were missing anyway. So, I'm leaning in favor of Traffic and giving 'em props. Now, if they really wanna make me happy, all they gotta do is press up this awesome 2-disc set of theirs on to vinyl! =)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hot Chillin'

One of the major players in the current limited vinyl release game is Hot Chillin', Marley Marl's new, indie hip-hop label (a play, of course, on the classic Warner Bros subsidiary label, Cold Chillin' Records). They put out their first record in 2007 and their second in 2008, but it turns they have copies of both still available direct from their website, hotchillin.com.

HC000 is their debut 12": Kool G Rap's "Men At Work." "Men At Work," of course, is one of the many killer songs of G Rap's debut album, Road To the Riches, which - 'till now - had never been released as a single. This wrong has been corrected, and it's now available on 12" with an instrumental and acapella. But best of all, the vocal version on this 12" is a vintage but never-before-released extended version. Dope! This was limited to 500 copies or, by some accounts, 1000.

They came back the next year with HC001, Big Daddy Kane's "Set It Off" 12". Like HC000, this is again an unreleased extended version, b/w unreleased instrumental and acapella versions. Now, it's true there was a UK 12" of "Set It Off" back in '88 with an extended mix. But this is an extra-extended version, different and longer than that mix. What's more, this also features a short unreleased live version, and even better, an unreleased WBLS promo song called "Raw Attitude" by Kane featuring Antoinette. This was indisputably limited to 500 copies, as each copy is hand-numbered on the label. Mine is #232. :)

If that's not special and limited enough for ya, Hot Chillin' has produced 25 DJ sets of the "Set It Off" 12". What's a DJ set? Well, first of all, it's doubles of the HC001. But more importantly, it comes in a custom, graffiti-style cover hand-painted by Lordroc. All 25 covers were hung up the wall, and painted as one giant mural... the full picture will only come together if all 25 covers are reunited.

Most recently, Hot Chillin' released the limited Juice Crew EP in conjunction with DWG. I've already blogged all about that one, though, so check it out here.

So definitely drop by their site... it's a little wonky, but there's some great material to be found there. One caveat: Hot Chillin' is shipping their records in bubble envelopes with no other support (i.e. cardboard stiffeners) inside. So far, I haven't heard of anyone receiving broken wax, but there's a lot of creased covers going around. Now, that's no big deal if you're getting the regular 12"'s, which just come in plain, white jackets and sleeves (if it really bugs you, buy a $1 techno record off EBay and replace the jacket), but if you bought one of the one-of-a-kind, only-25-copies-in-existence DJ sets, you're kinda screwed. And considering the fact that they're charging $15 shipping per copy, and they're only spending $6, including the envelope, that's a bit of a racket.

Now, HC002 has finally been announced. Apparently there was a delay at the pressing plant, or it'd already be out; but it's now due for June and it's going to be Cool V's unreleased "Tribute To Scratching part 2!" They also have some other cool stuff planned for further down the road, including an instrumental series, with instrumental LPs of Goin' Off, In Control Vol. 1 & Long Live the Kane and an In Control Radio Show DVD.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New DWG Review

I just added a new review to Diggers With Gratitude - some dope Crusaders for Real Hip-Hop 12"-only joints that you'll surely want to pick up. Here's a direct link (all DWG reviews have mp3 audio previews, too; just fyi). 8)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Demo Week, Day 4: L.I.F.E. Long

L.I.F.E. Long gave me this back in 1998. Even if you don't recognize the name, you surely have at least a few albums he's done guest verses on, because this Brooklyn MC has done enough to rival Canibus or Grand Puba. Eventually, he'd start putting out his own material independently, but this demo shows he was working on his own material even back in the 90's. If you need catching up, drop by his myspace.

Now, this is a four-song tape, and I'm pretty sure none of it has ever been released. I was meeting Thirstin Howl III, and L.I.F.E. was rolling with him and hit me up with this demo. He was changing his name to Major Thoughts at the time, but I guess in he decided to stick with L.I.F.E. Long (probably because that name was just starting to get some recognition), because this demo is the last time I've seen him referred to as Major Thoughts.

The first song is "One Voice in a Billion," produced by DJ Pistol Pete. It's a dope number and a good opener, but sometimes the the engaging Spanish guitar and horn samples are so strong, you completely lose the vocals. I don't mean in terms of volume, but just the liveliness of the music completely distracts you from the MC... you could listen to this ten times in a row and still have no idea what L.I.F.E. was rapping about (I'm sure whatever record they were originally sampling never had vocals in front of it). But, it's interesting stuff, so... fortunately for you readers, I'm a dedicated reviewer who made a point of paying attention. They're still a little confusing, but are essentially about his poetry heralding a revolutionary uprising. Here's the first verse:

"Similar to fire,
These thoughts burns within kingdoms.
Steps are drastic.
Categorize the poet as a great, classic
Soloist
That accumulates evidence in abundance,
While meditating in survival tunnels.
It's years of patience
That'll form a revolution in the making
With one thought:
Annihilate an entire sick nation.
So in touch with my past life,
My actions or maneuvers;
Multiple contusions
On a misunderstood ruler.
Forms of expression is now in question,
Poetry in its rarest state is manifestin' into a universal nuclear weapon
That breaks down the anatomy on chemical contact.
It's more than combat that contains physical vengeance.
The silent war's
Really relentless and never endless;
Shootin' bullets that the man-made commandment, tryin' to correct this
Insane format, introduced to time's existence,
Staying consistent,
On a level non-comprehended.
Speak out on secrets in a coded dialogue created divinely,
Designed precisely to expose the world fraud.
Only one voice in a billion."

Now, after the first that song, the following songs are unmastered. And you notice that fact the most on this second song, "Finally." It's produced by Game (7) 12th Round. Huh? Anyway, that's what he wrote on the sleeve. it's got some engaging string samples, but at certain points in the song, they used vocal samples from speeches, and you just cannot make out what's being said. Presumably an official version, had it ever been released, would've cleared that up.

Third is "For the Safety of My Wisdom" ("wisdom" as in mother), and it's as sappy slash pretentious as you'd expect from a title like that. It features an R&B hook and some slow production which isn't bad... I could see some rap fans really getting behind a song like this. But me, I just skip this shit. ;)

Finally, the last one is probably the most interesting. First of all, it's a duet with Mr. Malik of Illegal. Remember when they were big for a minute? And then, after that, Jamal put out a nice single and Malik went down South and appeared on the Sic-Wid-It compilation album, DownSouth Huslters? Well, this is actually a remix of that song, now featuring L.I.F.E. Long. While the original version of "Big Bank" was produced by Sam Bostic, this mix is produced by Meech. It's a cool mix of high quality Sic-Wid-It-style production and the two MCs getting creative with their flow to match it, while doing the east coast NY lyrical thing as a contrast. Unfortunately, they don't do that last part nearly enough. But it's still a cool little number... certainly different.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Demo Week, Day 3: D12

When Eminem just started blowing up outside of the underground heads circuit, and they gave Em his own Shady Records as part of his deal, the first act he signed, of course, was his crew, The Dirty Dozen. And when they first signed, one of the guys at Interscope gave me this tape. It's only one song, but it's hot and it's still unreleased.

Before Em and the Dozen all started doing this Dre-style pop music they all do now, and the Dozen got a reputation as being weed carriers to an E! Channel wannabe... before all that, I think people've forgotten, these were some lyrical cats. They were some sick MCs with some some sick ideas and a dope sound. And this song is really in that vein... so I guess it's no surprise it got left off of Devil's Night.

And before you ask, "We Live This Shhh" does not feature Eminem. And there's no production credits, but hazarding a guess, I'll say maybe it's Denaun Porter. It's got a hardcore, gritty sound, but with a touch of that "not sampled but made in a studio" music to it. And it features the MCs just continually passing and re-grabbing the mic, kicking ill, freestyle rhymes. Proof comes hard, "Holdin' three-eighties to naked twin babies - Dirty Dozen the reason y'all don't fuck with Slim Shady!" Bizarre makes extended Boogie Down Production references, "Let me begin: What? Where? Why? or When? Bizarre fuck around and blast you and your friends. See I'm not insane, in fact I'm kinda lyrical. If you live past twelve, it'll be a miracle," but surprisingly it's Kon Artist that comes with the wickedest verse:

"My idea of a romantic evening is date rape!
A caged ape
On the run from police,
Hoppin' off of your momma's fire-escape.
It's ten stories high,
Land on a limo;
Kill the chauffer,
Then skirt out bumpin' my new demo.
My life's on lease.
Get a piece of your grandniece
Then tell her my real name's Reece."

This isn't maybe the very best Em and the Dozen were capable of -if they continued in the right direction, they probably had some slicker rhymes and even more compelling beats - but it's absolutely the D12 that should've been rather than the D12 that was. Supposedly, the Dozen are working on another album after all this Relapse nonsense, but frankly, I'd just like to hear all their old school shit with Bugz, Outsidaz collabos, Proof, etc see the light of day. I'll be happy to sleep through the rest of their over-produced, teen-catering-to major studio period.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Demo Week, Day 2: Outsidaz

This is a 4-track demo The Outsidaz gave me in '98. It says "Source demo" 'cause I was writing about them for The Source at the time.

The first song is "Rain Or Shine." It's the same as on the single, which had already been released before this tape was made, so we'll move right past it except to say it's a Hell of a song and if you don't have the single, you should go get it. Now onto the goodies.

You may remember "Keep On" from their album, The Bricks. It was a pretty decent track, and was even released as a single (with a "Mozart Remix"). But this song, beat-wise and lyrically-wise, blows that shit out of the water! It's faster, more hardcore, grittier, and features a lot more Outz' members (the release version only features Pace and Zee). Like Zee says (on this version only) "my clique fill up a van; Navigators be too small. To go to Outz' shows, we need a school bus and a U-Haul."

This one starts out with one of Rah Digga's tightest verses... she sounds really young here, and without that slower, more relaxed flow (yawn) she later developed. She comes with those awkward yet incredibly-fresh style The Outz were the kings of, spitting lyrics like, "i-ight, dig; I'm swifter than an airforce Mig forced to land on an off-shore rig," and brags about being "so ready to bust I got a bad case of blue balls... and rugged as I wanna be, too. Ain't no niggas in the world gonna make me wan' shoot. Fuckin' with me, you'll have war scars from four bars and get a worse flash than any Iraqi nerve gas." This one also features D.U., and Zee & Pace's verses are 100% different from the album version as well. Only the hook is similar, and even that works better over this beat and with each MC performing the hook once before passing the mic. "Keep On" on the album was ok, but this is a killer.

The next track, "Nobody" is essentially the same as the "Nobody" that appears on Pace Won's Won album (and, before that, the unreleased Pace Won Effect album), but with one crucial difference. The "mixed" version slows the whole song down. The beats, the lyrics... basically they just slowed down the completed recording of the song. Maybe they were worried people were having trouble following Pace's complex flow? I don't know; but trust me, this demo version is the only way to hear this song. Once you hear it, the album version will forever sound wrong to you. I don't know why they did this, but if you notice, almost all of the Bricks-era Outsidaz stuff is slower than their earlier indie-era material, and I think really to their detriment.

Finally, is the completely 100% unreleased song, "Brick City." Now, I know I just trashed the slowing down of their material, and I believe it to be a general truism; but this is a slower song that works. It's got a deep bassline, rough drums and a slow and low piano riff. Again, this sounds rougher and grimier than most of their later stuff, Pace Won's verse is definitely nastier than usual:

"I hope you're ready for it when we set it off lovely.
I drop a metaphor it's like every whore love me;
Wanna hold me close,
They know we smoke,
It's like we in church, now, they catch the holy ghost.
They spread their legs and I slide a greasy dick in;
My rap style's for greedy chickens,
Like easy pickin's.
Watch me like the C.I.A.
Feel my pain,
While pussies retreat, I stay;
Beef I spray.
Screamin' out my name from the Brooklyn zoo to Jersey,
Think the average rap crew can hurt me?
I do you dirty!
Savage,
Slappin' that ass with no mercy;
I can beat that ass with both hands down like six thirty!"

It features a raw verse from the underrated Yah Lovah ("the best you can do is die, battlin' is suicide; I can take out half the niggas you influenced by! What? I ruin guys. Outz, all we do is ride. Call the ambulence, I'm 'bout to put two inside!"), Young Zee braggin' about crazy drug antics ("we got hoes takin' weed down South in hair dryers. And spare tires filled up with coke in it. We got them bitches out there tryin' to sell weight to No Limit. Drug addict, since fourteen I've been on Morphene; knockin' niggas in the youth house out, high off Thorzine") and a couple other Outz members... I think maybe D.U. and Azizz, but I'm not certain.

Between this and other unreleased tracks that've been floating around the internet ("Hard Act To Follow," "Duck Huntin'," etc) The Outsidaz are sitting on a classic album (at least one!) worth of material. And I mean classic classic, like Illmatic level. If someone could get all this material released - at least the very best stuff, but preferably everything - it'd be incredible.

Demo Week, Day 1.5: Chino XL

Ok, this is being billed as "Day 1.5" because it's a bit of an underwhelming entry. I almost didn't bother writing but, but I thought, what the heck. It should at least be of some nominal interest to the hardcore fans.

What we have here is a 3-song demo Dan Charnas sent me in advance of what would... eventually lead up to Chino XL's I Told You So album. I think I got this in '99 and the album came out in '01, so it was a long time before any of these tracks got heard by the public, but eventually they... mostly did.

Before I get to that, though; let me get the easy stuff out of the way. The other two songs on this tape, "Nunca" and "Chianardo Di Caprio" are the same as what wound up on the album, right down to the excruciating skit about Chino being visited by an angel in traffic. So nothing new there. These are "ruff" mixes, but there's no significant differences.

But the third song, "Papi," is essentially unreleased. I say "essentially," because he did eventually ptu it on his 2006 mixtape, The Definition of MC; but this is of course there it's marred with your typical radio blends and tags being dropped over the song. So, it's kinda been released; but it's never been properly released.

It's a nice track, with a funky guitar picking sample and hard drums. Chino's delivery is nice, too; but the gimmick of his first, where he name-drops every Latino pop culture celebrity wears thin right at the first line, where he says he's, "in a kayak with Selma Hayak and Jennifer Lopez." He describes himself as "that lyrical Antonio Banderas," "pounding niggas like John Leguizamo" and so on. It gets better when he gets past that, but his need to turn everything into a cheesy punchline still weighs him down. But, yeah, the beat is really cool and his flow is engaging... it's better than a lot of Chino songs.

So, yeah. Pretty underwhelming. And that's why this is just "1.5." Look for Day 2 later tonight. :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Demo Week, Day 1: Ahmad

Today begins Demo Week here at Werner's! Where, obviously, we'll spend the week looking at demos by different artists. And we'll start the week of with Ahmad.

This demo dates back to 1998, which is the perfect era for some unreleased Ahmad material to originate, because it's after his early pop-MC days, when he showed us he could be really impressive with slick, complex wordplay when he wanted to be. And it comes before he started playing second chair to his crew, which gets more "neosoul" by the album.

Titled Call It a Comeback, this 8-song demo largely consists of what would become his crew 4th Avenue Jones' debut album, No Plan B, which, like this demo, came out on his own label, Look Alive. But this has more of an emphasis on Ahmad the MC... this was an Ahmad demo, featuring his crew, not a 4th Ave album. So while many of the songs here are the same as on No Plan B: "I Know," "Move the Crowd," "Truth or Dare" with Pigeon John, "All I Have" and "Betcha Bye," a couple of the songs are exclusive and were never subsequently released.

"Where You Go There You Are" features a hard drum track and piano riff, with fellow Jones member Senoj kicking the second of three verses, and their R&B singer Tena Jones doing the hook and some back-up. The hook is a little sappy, but it's all about the MCs rapid-fire flows, spitting syllables over the punchy drums. And of course, with it coming from Ahmad, it's got a message along with the clever wordplay.

"I got a question, Senoj,
How can I win if I never race?
Say I like it if I never taste?
How would I catch it if I never chased?
Our people running in place
When we shoulda took a leap forwards;
And when we got it,
God created us like him
With talent allotted,
Like an apple 'till it's been rotted:
Coulda been great,
Coulda ate it,
Had it sliced up;
Coulda been baked.
Man, you get outta life... whatever you make."

"Rules of the Game" is off of No Plan B, but here it has a different beat. The demo version has a very distinct (flute? slide whistle?) sample over the entire track. I'm not sure which version I prefer, actually... the album version has grown on me somewhat. But if nothing else it's a cool remix for fans of the official version. It's hard for me to hear the album version without hearing the demo version in my head though! LOL

"The other demo-only track is called "No, I" and again features Senoj. It's got a fast based beat... the samples and Senoj's flow actually sound more like the kind of hip-hop that's in vogue at the moment. It's also a short song, with each MC only kicking one verse, and a short hook in between. It's definitely not a favorite, but it's not bad and Ahmad kills it again, so it's definitely worthwhile for Ahmad's verse, and Senoj's flow is nice, with some clever interplay from Ahmad doing his back-ups. I'd like to hear this one remixed over another beat, but I guess I'm lucky just to hear it at all. :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Tribute to The Vinyl Exchange

I first read about The Vinyl Exchange in this hard-to-read (click to enlarge, but I think you'll find that it won't help much) article in Subculture Magazine. Oddly, Subculture doesn't date or number their issues, but I'd say this one came out in late '96. The article read, "One of the few, true DJ Newsletters out. Every issue is a gem. Vinyl Exchange is basically targeted towards DJ's, but non DJ heads will catch themselves reading it too. The newsletter has everything any DJ would want each issue. The best thing is Vinyl Exchange is from the heart and doesn't get caugh tup in the politics. Vinyl Exchange is one of the few things I live for in life... and I'm not even a DJ." All you had to do was mail them a stamp and receive a free issue - who could resist that pitch?

Now, every issue was free if you could find one (you probably had to live in Cali), but the rest of us could get a yearly subscription for $7. Put out by DJ Stef (I've got her 80's freestyle mix on my iphone!), each issue of The Vinyl Exchange, the "newsletter for deejays and vinyl junkies," was eight pages and featured news, reviews of dope underground releases, a classified section, and a New Wax list, which listed every hip-hop record that dropped that month, by label. You've gotta remember, the internet was in its infancy, and info like this was crazy rare. There were also cool sidebar articles, where DJs would list their top ten vinyl releases, or there'd be a review of a new mixer or a column from P-Minus. The last issue I've got has a dope interview with Lord Finesse.

After publishing for several years (I believe it started in '95), The Vinyl Exchange eventually wound-up becoming online only. But it was still dope. I won some Z-Man CDs in one of their contests, and they had the illest, most knowledgable hip-hop internet forums ever. AJ Rok even became a moderator there! I really credit the VE forums for bringing together the right people to open the doors for the return of The Freestyle Professors, and all the terrific, limited vinyl releases by labels like DWG and Vinyl Addicts.

Unfortunately, a serious case of debilitating spam closed the forums to shut down, and the community essentially moved on to The DWG forums. But vinylexchange.com is still up and running, and DJ Stef also regularly updates her personal blog. Better yet, though, dig around archive.org, and you can find some classic VE interviews, like this one with DJ Evil Dee. ;)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Roxanne's Revenge's Revenge

video
(And here's the link to the YouTube version. I've started uploading them at the exact same second... it's a race! Which one will finish first??)