Tuesday, June 30, 2009

InstaRapFlix 19: Beef 2

Woot! Netflix returned the Beef sequels to their Instant Viewing List, so it's back on. As you may remember from InstaRapFlix #11, I was pleasantly surprised by the original outing. So now we're going to find out if Beef 2 (Netflix rating: 2 stars) holds up to its predecessor.

It starts out with a skippable "history of rap" kinda opening... the last one also had a skippable opening (essentially explaining the history of rap music), but this one's closer to 90 seconds, so it's no big deal. The film's narrated by Keith David (of John Carpenter's The Thing, etc) this time around. Anytime anyone takes the opportunity to replace Ving Rhames with Keith David, I'm all for it; so this movie already has me on its side.

It's starts of with the infamous "Roxanne" wars... It features interviews with Roxanne Shante (I seriously question her claim that there were over 55 response records to her), Kangol, Marley Marl, and more; so it's fun. But considering you could fill several full-length documentaries trying to adequately cover the Roxanne saga, it feels more than a bit rushed. In only about two minute's time, it's already segued into "The Bridge Is Over." And in another minute, it's already onto "Big Mama;" and that gets literally just one and a half sentence's worth of coverage.

And that's basically this entire film summed it. It's fun, because it interviews the artists and covers fun records. But it's so involved in trying to be a comprehensive overview, of both diss records and hip-hop's history in general, that it never digs in and gets really compelling. It also has some hammy, preachy (in the writing) narration, and at times you start to feel like you're watching some ultra-corny Cops knock-off on Fox. But you'll enjoy hearing Priority Records employee talk about the time Ice Cube (and friends) came in and assaulted one of its CEOs... you'll enjoy hearing Parrish Smith talking about pulling up to his house while it was being broken into by Erick Sermon's boys... You'll definitely get a kick out of K-Solo taking a lie detector test to prove that he wrote "Spellbound!" no doubt. So it's a no-brainer recommendation.

But you'll be like, "what? It's over already!?" after every single segment - especially the old school ones; they really get put in the backseat behind the contemporary (at the time... now they're all old) dramas. This was a decent, definitely-worth-a-watch movie. It just could have been a really great documentary (or several great documentaries) if they'd just taken their time with it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Whistle and Jazzy Jeff Transform Together

Disappointingly, this is the only single off of Whistle's second album, Transformation, that features any rapping (there were two other singles: "Falling In Love" and "Right Next To Me," but they were pure R&B). It's a genuine double A-side - the picture cover is flippable, so whichever side you face out shows one track on the bottom and one on the top. It's also in keeping with the album's gimmick, where one side is straight R&B and the other straight hip-hop. So, being the site this is, let's start with the hip-hop.

"Transformation," is of course the album's title cut. It's a fun song, but certainly feels like an unlikely choice for the lead single. It's an up-beat, party style track, co-produced by The Hitman Howie Tee and Whistle, with Jazz and Kool Doobie kicking various short verses, which seem loosely (at best) tied to a common theme (additional lyrics credit is given to Kangol, of UTFO, who worked a lot with Whistle over the years). Perhaps most memorably, for such a typically G to PG rated group, this song features a very unexpected verse about S&M group sex in the middle of the song:

"Pay attention, people;
Kool Doobie is speaking.
There's a lady
That I've been seeking.
I see her over there
And I'ma ask her her name;
And if she's with it, yo Jazz,
Bring your whip and your chain!
(I got a rope!)
Bring your rope so we can tie her down!
(And handcuffs!)
Handcuffs so she won't move around!
(I got a radio.
I'll bring it down to your room.)
What for?
(When she screams, we can)
PUMP UP THE VOLUME!"

I'm sure it's all meant in good fun and not intended to be taken too seriously, but it sure does... stand out. Still, if you can get past that, there's a lot more to this song that one outlandish rhyme. Silver Spinner cuts up Rakim's classic "pump up the volume" vocal sample for the hook, while some girl sings "traaanns... formation!" in the background. Silver's cuts are dope and, appropriately, he throws in a bunch of nice transformer scratches.

But that's just what was on the album. On this 12" is a surprisingly undervalued "Transformation (Swing Beat Mix)," which is remixed by none other than DJ Jazzy Jeff (and engineered by Joe the Butcher). Bear in mind, this was 1988; and Jeff was not working with anyone outside of his LPs with The Fresh Prince. Yeah, he did a few underground tracks beforehand, and has done plenty after; but I believe this is the only outside production/remix he did during this era. Anyway, it features all new transformer scratches (I guess by Jeff this time, though Spinner proved himself just as capable on the previous mix), and a bunch of new samples - some vocal samples, some instrumental, giving the whole song a more chopped up, wildly varied feel. And if that wasn't enough, it's a vocal remix, too, with all new rhymes from Doobie and Jazz, mixed in with the old ones... some verses start off with the old stuff, then switch to new lines, and vice versa (but don't worry, they all include the S&M part lol).

Then, there's another remix, called the Street Mix (at least, I'm pretty sure this is the Street Mix and the other is the Swing Beat Mix... the sequencing on the label is screwed up; so this is my best guess), which is again substantially different. There's new scratching again on the hook, this time primarily cutting up Cheryl Lynn's "Got To Be Real," and the instrumental has been replaced with a classic, funk breakbeat - the same breakbeat and bassline The UMC's used for "Invaders of My Fruit Basket" the following year. That's right, you wouldn't normally think of these guys as being the first to any classic breaks; but Whistle had this ultra-funky groove first. And it's impressive how much naturally funkier the rhymes sound over this break. This one's also got an extended breakdown at the end with some more classic, old school samples; and also uses the new 12" remix rhymes.

Finally, is the other A-side, "Still My Girl." Like I said about their other R&B songs on this album, they went pretty classical on this. It's co-produced by Kangol and Whistle, and while it isn't acapella (in fact, the Instrumental version is included here... think long, drawn out synth lines), it really puts all of the emphasis on the singing rather than the music, which is put in a pure backdrop role. This isn't the sort of new jack pop style R&B you might've expected, but pure ballad. Still, these guys were capable singers (if a bit bland when you take out the 80's studio tricks). And, unfortunately, that's the direction they took their career after this album, sadly giving up on hip-hop.

By the way, it's interesting to note that on their next album (Always and Forever), Whistle took another stab at this song and recorded "Still My Girl (90's Version)." I'm not really sure which I prefer. It's all about The A side,anyway. Or, umm, side 1.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Micheal Jackson's Rappers

I was going to stay out of the whole MJ thing, just because I figured you were all already suffering from media overload. And also, I was assuming another rap blog would field this topic, but it seems nobody has. Heck, I don't think anyone's even thrown up a zshare of T-Ski Valley's "Billie Jean" yet. And so it falls to me. 8-)

You couldn't call yourself the king of pop during the 80's and 90's without at least briefly crossing path with hip-hop. Michael Jackson did so, though less often than you might've expected. Here's a look at each of them.

Vincent Price: This one might feel like a bit of a stretch, but Vincent Price's contribution to "Thriller" are labeled as a rap in the album's liner notes, and I guess technically they are. And, considering "Thriller" predates "Haunted House of Rock" by a good year, you could make a pretty solid case that Vincent Price started horrorcore (lol)! Every DJ in the land also owes a debt of gratitude for that maniacal laugh, which has possibly appeared on more records than Jackson himself.

Heavy D: Janet Jackson and Heavy D already scored a hit with their collaboration "Alright" in 1989. And just in case you'd forgot, he brags about it in his verse for "Jam," his first collaboration with Michael, in 1991. He worked with Michael again in 1995, appearing on the Masters At Work remix of "Rock With You."

Nancy Cartwright: Also in 1991, Michael wrote and produced (uncredited) the Bart Simpson (voiced as always by Nancy Cartwright) rap single, "Do the Bartman," which became a huge hit. It spawned the sequel, "Deep, Deep Trouble," which didn't have Micheal's involvement, but was produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff.

Aqil Davidson: Still in 1991, Teddy Riley produced the Dangerous album track "She Drives Me Wild." So unsurprisingly, he put his Wrecks-N-Effect boy Aqil on for a quick verse in the middle of the song. He raps to the girl whose look is driving Michael wild ("far from Medusa"), and says, "you've got me lookin' like Buckwheat." Whatever that means.

L.T.B.: Most people remember the rap verse from "Black Or White" as it was lip-synced by Macaulay Culkin in the video. But anyone with ears could tell it was a grown man doing the actual rapping. That man is credited as L.T.B. in the album's liner notes. I don't know anything else about him; that name may well be an alias.

Naughty By Nature: In 1995, the second version of the "Scream" single dropped, featuring two remixes, including one by Naughty By Nature on the "Street" side, with raps by Treach, and a couple vocal drops by Vinnie. The bulk of the remix sounds like a clumsy, half-assed mess; but the part where Treach drops his verse sounds alright.

Notorious B.I.G.: On the HIStory compilation album, The Notorious B.I.G. is featured on "This Time Around," one of the new songs recorded for this largely "greatest hits" release. Oddly, his verse is about his friend who he thinks is stealing from him... I wonder if Michael realized what Biggie was gonna rap about on his record: "I'ma kill a nigga; I ain't jokin'. Endo smoke got me chokin'; I'm hopin' the fool comes slippin' so I can blow him open." Still, the working relationship must've been good, because Biggie returned to drop a verse on "Unbreakable" off of his Invincible album in 2001. ...Despite dying in 1997. That's a little ghoulish of whoever decided to assemble that, isn't it?

Shaq: When you look at Mike's list of chosen hip-hop collaborators, I think one word will spring to mind before all others: "integrity." And when you're all about the art, putting aside the publicity and the image to only work with the most talented, best of the best, there's one man you go to before all others. If you're organizing a basketball game. But for some reason, Mike got confused and asked Shaquille O'Neal ("the man of steel organism") to rap for him instead. So he kicks a little verse at the end of "2 Bad" from HIStory, including his signature fake laugh.

Will.i.Am: Recently, on his 25th anniversary album (there was also a single), he remade "The Girl Is Mine" (off the Thriller album) with Will.i.Am in Paul McCartney's role. Or, more accurately, I think they just remixed Paul out, because Micheal's vocals sound the same as the original. In any case, they called it "The Girl Is Mine 2008," and it was a bad idea. He also did the same thing with "Pretty Young Thing," calling it "(P.Y.T.) Pretty Young Thing 2008."

Kanye West: Kanye West did the same as Will.I.Am, producing a remix, featuring a verse from himself, called "Billie Jean 2008 (Kanye West Mix)." I could be wrong, but I don't think Michael was involved in recording these cash-ins.

...And unless I missed someone (hit me up in the comments, but remember, unofficial mash-ups don't count), that's it. Of course, that's not to say that more producers won't take more old Jackson vocal tracks, and edit together more collaborations in the future. We'll just have to wait and see.

Update 7/1/09: I KNEW I'd forget a couple! Here are two more of MJ's rappers:

Eve: The Trackmasters remixed Jackson's 2001 single "Butterflies," featuring a some traditional old school samples, giving it laid-back, soulful feel. It also features two verses from Eve, who manages not to disrupt the mood.

Jay-Z: "You Rock My World" was the debut single off of Invincible. A separate single was later issued featuring the Trackmasters' remix containing a lot of Biz Markie vocal samples and two verses from Jay-Z.

Update 8/26/09: Another one I missed!

John Forte: In 1997, Micheal's people put out a remix EP called Blood On The Dance Floor - HIStory In The Mix. One of the featured tracks was the Refugee Camp Remix of "2 Bad" (which was on the original version of HIStory), which now included vocals by John Forte.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Louie Louie Conveys!

You might remember me talking a bit about the early 90's Chicago group Ten Tray before, on my post about the underground Chicago posse cut, "Put Down Your Guns." Unlike some of the acts on that single (including its headliner, JG), Ten Tray did manage to put out an album of their own, titled Realm of Darkness on Smash Records in 1992.

Well, that album spawned this single, "I Convey!" It's a good choice, as it's one of the better album tracks... lead MC Crunch comes with a very hardcore, practically yelling flow, in his angrily righteous way ("The oppressor helped me intimidate; Martin Luther helped me articulate; Huey Newton helped me to protest; and Elijah helped me rise above the rest"), sort of like a prototypical Freddie Foxxx. And DJ X-Ray provides some nice cuts. The beat's pretty dope... nothing that'll make you say, "oh, I need that 12"!" but, you know, the sort of track you'd expect MMG or someone to rhyme over.

But the jewel of this single is the remix. They managed to enlist Priority One's Louie Louie (a.k.a. Luis "Phat Kat" Vega), The 45 King's right-hand man, and man does he do these guys a hell of a favor! The beat is funked up a little, and at its core, it's not too drastically different (essentially the same bassline and all), just a bit toned down. But then he lays on top of that a few vintage jazz loops... that come and go throughout the song. The second verse as some nice funk guitar licks, and the hook features a very chunky sax riff, that extends into a full-blown solo after the final verse, played in tandem with X-Ray's cuts. And everything marries perfectly together - nothing sounds tacked on.

If they had this level of production on Realm of Darkness, they'd have a really sought-after banger. As it is, at least we've got one seriously under-rated single, easily available super cheap 'cause it's entirely slept on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Fresh 3's Fresh 2

The Fresh 3 M.C.'s were a cool but short-lived crew signed to Profile in the early 80's. Comprised of Unique aka Supreme GQ, Mr. Bee and Jay Cool, they were featured on as a part of Pumpkin's Profile All-Stars line-up for his well-known hit, "Here Comes That Beat!" in 1984.

But they're easily best known for their debut single, "Fresh," from 1983. It's been featured on, oh, only about half a million or so old school compilation albums throughout the decades, and one listen makes it obvious why. It's got everything. It has a classic, true school-style harmonized hook, which is instantly memorable: "F-R-E-S-H; fresh, fresh, yo, that's fresh!" And it's got some catchy, hardcore keyboards (can keyboards be hardcore? Apparently so!), and a funky beat full of hard drums and hand claps. The rhymes are fun:

"A girl walked up;
She gave a wink;

She said, 'I bet that your girl
Could use a new mink.'
I agreed with her;
She said, 'what size?'
I said, 'you'll do just fine.'
I had her hypnotized.
I then took her to the crib,
And with one last yell,
I had her and the coat
That she tried to sell.
'Cause I'm (F-R-E-S-H)!"

...But the delivery is tough. Remember, this is before Run DMC's first album made the hip-hop scene do a 180 (though their first singles were just coming out around the same time), so these guys were giving you the hardcore, pure rap style that the heads were fiending for. It also has some (not terribly impressive) scratching and it also gets at least a novelty mention in the Rap Hall of Fame for an amusing First: it's the first rap record to feature backwards rapping. This would be a lot more impressive if they actually worked out some backwards rhymes; but instead, after announcing, "we're so fresh, we don't have to rehearse. We can even rap to you, in reverse!" they just play the regular vocal tracks backwards. Still, despite being a cheap cop-out, I promise you, there's no one who was listening to hip-hop back in those days who doesn't remember that moment.

Not nearly as well remembered, but still kinda neat, is their follow-up single, "Have Your Heart" b/w "A Few Minutes More." It's produced by the same guys - oh, did I not mention them? Dave Ogrin, who did a lot of big-time production throughout the 80's and on into the 90's, co-produced both Fresh 3 M.C.'s records with Bill Moore, who did a few other things... but "Fresh" was pretty much his pinnacle. So, the production team is back, the 3 MCs are all back, still on Profile, ready to make another hit. What went wrong?

Well, probably that they went in the completely wrong direction, and made the A-side a love song. Now, this pre-dates LL Cool J's "I Need Love," so it's not that ultra-sappy whispered-word delivery kinda love song. Actually, the beat is pretty funky. But for a crew that boldly displayed a proto-typical boom-bap style the previous year, this just sent the wrong message. If they'd held out long enough to get an album, and then stuck this on there, I think it could've found its audience, but as it is; it's a pretty obscure follow-up from a veritable 1-hit wonder group.

But, really, it's pretty (dare I say) fresh. They come with multiple, short upbeat verses over another a very head-bodding beat. Again, it's full of funky synths, handclaps and tough drums; and the hook is harmonized again "We're gonna have your heart, have your heart, have your heart, girrrrl... we're gonna tear the place apart!" In fact, except for really veering off on the subject matter, they're sticking pretty doggedly to the formula, but it still sounds different enough to be more than just a sequel.

Still, someone must've known a love song was going to alienate some fans, 'cause the B-side features a simpler, more rugged beat: no synths and the hand-claps are tweaked to almost sound like additional drums. And they just spit freestyle rhymes, passing the mic back and forth without even a hook. And it probably would work, to some extent, to appease fans they annoyed with the A-side. But considering the A-side went in the wrong the direction, and the B-side is too raw to really have gotten much radio play, most "Fresh" fans just didn't hear it.

Fortunately for us, though, both records are cheap and plentiful. So hindsight being what it is, it's easy for us to go back and:
A) enjoy a true classic
and
B) appreciate a funky little sleeper that's really a lot better than it's given credit for.

Yo, that's fresh!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Live & Direct From the House of Hitz

Just put up a new review for Diggers With Gratitude, check it out here (direct link). Apparently, this is also their 50th review, so woot! =)

By the way, for anyone still curious about that Teac GF-350... the sound samples on this review (and my previous DWG reviews) were taken from it... then just tweaked a bit in Audacity when I uploaded 'em.

B.K.N.Y.

This is a pretty cool, little 12" that's usually found pretty cheap.  It's by the production team known as The Heatmakerz, who've done work with The Diplomats (primarily), Melle Mel & others.  It's a 2-song 12" (plus clean versions and instrumentals), but it's pretty much all about the A-side.

Like you can see in the labelscan there, it's an unlikely - but effective - between M.O.P. and Big Scoob (as in Kane's former dancer, yes).  Fortunately, by this point, Scoob was past doing the cartoon-voice schtick he adopted around the time of Daddy's Home, and has actually put out a series of underrated, indie 12"'s.  Including this one.

Taking a gripping, head-nodding sample from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, and laying it over some slamming drums, The Heatmakerz make a solid foundation for M.O.P.'s high energy - well, shit; you don't need me to tell you how M.O.P. do.  The Heatmakerz almost ruin the hook, though with a super annoying chorus sung by... female singers? Kids? I can't even tell. Fortunately, M.O.P. do their own hook right over that shitty one, so once you get used to it, you can readily ignore it.  And for a while, it looks like Big Scoob is just gonna be relegated to playing back-up to M.O.P. (who definitely don't need it), but eventually at the end of the song he kicks a slick verse.  Flat out, the song's a banger that sounds good the first time and grows on you even more with repeated listens.

The b-side is kind of a throw away: "Back In the Building" by Hell Rell of The Diplomats.  The beat's alright and tries to inject some energy, but after the A-side, it's pretty underwhelming.  Hell Rell's flow is pretty simple and punch-liney, but without any particularly clever lines to back it up.  The hook is so subtle, you won't even realize when he switched between hook and verse unless you're paying close attention to the lyrics.  He does have fun with the delivery of a couple lines, though.  I mean, his verse is okay... the instrumental is okay... the hook is okay... you could ride along to it if someone played it in the car or on a mixtape.  But in a world where there's, like, eighty bajillion rap songs in existence now, and more being made every day.  It's not worth your time going out of your way to listen to it.

So forget the B-side, but pick this up for the A-side.  ...Not every producer can make a record that supports M.O.P.'s high-energy delivery, but these guys did it right; and Big Scoob's involvement just sweetens the pot.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fear Of the Rap!

Update 9/27/11: The HHC site seems to be down, so I've posted the article below... Click 'em to enlarge 'em to a readable size.

The latest issue of HHC Digital dropped today (here's a direct link), and with it the premiere of my new HHC column, Fear Of the Rap! (I'm page 13). It's all about focusing on the overlooked in hip-hop... the dope, the obscure, the not-so-dope-but-still-interesting... In other words, probably exactly what you'd expect from me in a monthly column. 8)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Helluva FInd

This is a testament to the record collecting truism: whatever you're searching for, just wait long enough, and eventually you'll find it. I have been looking for this one for-freaking-ever, or more specifically, since December 1994.

That's the month that Rap Sheet printed a review of Rappin' Is Fundamental's independent comeback single on "Sole Survivor Records."  Now, this was back before you could just dial anything up on the internet, so it was pretty damn tricky to find an indie 12" if you didn't live in a key city with a dope hip-hop minded record store in it. So, it's no grand statement to say that I wasn't able to find this in stores when it dropped (though, believe me, I was checking).

Finally, in the early 2000's, I posted on the Vinyl Exchange boards in a thread where we discussed if rumored records even actually existed.  Somebody actually had a copy, and though he was hanging onto his, he hooked me up with label scans and sound clips, which both proved it existed and helped set me straight on some key details.  See, I had been looking for a record of "Helluva Guy" (see the review, right).  But that's actually the B-side.  The A-side is "You Ain't Really Down."  They also list the label as being "Sole Survivor Records, rather than the correct Soul Survivor Records... which isn't a huge deal, but will certainly mess up any online searches if you're looking for one and typing in the other.

Well, anyway, I finally got my hands on a copy this past week.  And, in the end, it wasn't even too expensive (thank goodness, considering the current state of economic affairs).  Oh yeah, and it's great!

Now, I don't know why the reviewer is carrying on about how "RIF hooked up with Producer Easy Moe Bee," considering Bee is a founding member, and has always been one third of the group.  But he's spot on with his praise, "carefully singing along with the rap while the slow funk beat rolls smoothly. Fat bass and pure 1960 sounding soul music combined with '94 hip-hop sets it off lovely."  This is some of the best work by everybody involved, and when it comes to production from Easy Mo Bee, that's really saying something.

This 12" features two killer, soulful tracks and two perfect performances by RIF. "You Ain't Really Down" was my immediate favorite, but "Helluva Guy" has grown on me to be right up there. The different flows and voices, the harmonizing, the super smooth jazz samples... shit is killer. The rhymes are a bit simple, but who cares? It sounds great. And they don't stick to a simple "rap the verse then sing the hook" formula. They kick new, different harmonizing routines throughout the song, sometimes for just a single line. And yet it's still straight, 100% hip-hop... no lame-ass "neo-soul vibes" here.

It's really a crime that these guys never put out a second album. But at least there's this. And this is great. Seriously, this is some of my favorite shit ever. RIF, if you're reading this, you need to reunite. ...And also put out any older, unreleased material you've got in the vaults. I know you've got some, dammit!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Capital K P-O-N-C-E

So, I was going back over my Fresh Kid Ice review I wrote for Hip Hop Isn't Dead, and I realized I made a pretty obscure reference without any kind of explanation. Basically, I started talking about K Ponce (who appeared on a track on that album) as if everyone would know who he was. But don't feel bad if you didn't, because that's a pretty obscure reference even for me.

K Ponce was a Miami rapper signed to Never Stop Records in the late 80's. In fact, besides the Fresh Kid Ice appearance, the only songs I know he had was "Go Like This" on a label compilation, and this, his 1988 single, "It's Time, Shake It Down." It's pretty good, though. :)

This is a very Miami-sounding track, alright, with deep (though not of the Magic Mike subsonic variety) bass, fast drums and a variety of upbeat samples. There's two versions on here (three, if you count the instrumental), but they're not very different from each other. K-Ponce is a solid MC - his lyrics won't blow you away, but they're fast and well-enunciated, with a clean, direct flow.

The strange part, though, is not his rhyme pattern and delivery sound like they're distinctly patterned off of "Ice, Ice Baby." And the background vocals (shouting back the last word of key lines, etc) are, too. And I mean, it's obvious enough that it has to be deliberate. Except... "Ice, Ice Baby" didn't come out until 1990, almost two years later. So I submit to you that actually Vanilla Ice had to've taken the flow from K Ponce (not surprising, that the only good thing Ice has managed in like 10 albums would be borrowed). And it follows, since they're both from Miami; and over the course of his career, originality has always been Ice's weakest point. But seriously, the lyrics are different, but listen to the two songs in a row and tell me one didn't come from the other. I don't think you could do it. Either he stole it, or K Ponce ghostwrote it or something.

Anyway, the track isn't much like "Ice, Ice Baby," and as a whole this record is a pretty different animal. So don't let Vanilla Iceophobia keep you away from this (though you will notice the similiarities).

On a related note, Max recently forwarded a message he received from my review (which is why I got to rereading it... see? it all comes together), "My Name is Tesfa Baruch. I'm the Tesfa featured on this track. Thanks for the review. I still make music." So, based on that, I did some googling and found out all about Daddy Tesfa. It seems like he's mostly performed live, rather than putting out records, but he released an independent album in 2007 called Familyman. He's now going by the name Waryah Priest, and here's a link to his myspace.

Oh, and finally on an unrelated note, one of the members of China Down, an old school Boston-based hip-hop duo, has been commenting on my Boston Goes Def post. They're the ones who did the song I referred to as being possibly the weirdest hip-hop song ever, which is no small thing. So, check out the comments, she breaks down a lot of nice history that even Boston heads will probably find educational.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sing Along With The Jaz

Remember, back in the day, when Jaz used to give interviews and he'd say, well, he was only so invested in this hip-hop thing, because he was also a singer? You know which Jaz I'm talking about, right? Jay-Z's sometimes partner/ sometimes bitter rival, "Hawaiian Sophie," D&D Project, "The Originators," later changed his name to Big Jaz and Jaz-O? Yeah, him. Well, this is that singing record.

This comes well before "Hawaiian Sophie." It's his first solo record, although he did do the High Potent record the year (rapping). But this is the first record flat out by The Jaz. It dropped in 1987 and was actually put out by Tommy Boy Records. And, yeah, he's straight singing through the whole thing... he doesn't even drop in one of those perfunctory Bobby Brown mini-raps during the breakdown.

So, how does he sound? Well, his voice sounds just the same as you've heard on all his hip-hop albums. And he doesn't have great range... plus, he's a little atonal. Or maybe just off-key. I think it's safe to say when he went back to rap he found his true calling.

But wait; I like this record! No, I really like this record. It's co-produced by The Jaz and Fresh Gordon, who's always been hit or miss. And it's straight 80's, no doubt. It's almost freestyle, but not quite. So, don't get me wrong; you might really hate this. But if you like records like Dino's "Summer Girls" or "Barbara's Bedroom" by Whistle, then this is right up your alley, and a really nice example of how this style of record was done. It's a funky bassline, bongo drums, hand claps, keyboards, sound effects played on a synthesizer... There's even a little electric guitar at key points. I guess the word for this one would be "bouncey."

Lyrically, the concept's simple, too. He's in love (natch) and isn't willing to share her with another guy who keeps coming between them.

If you're in your 20's or younger, you should probably just steer clear. Check out "I Believe In Music" instead. But me? I've got this cued up right after DJ Stef's 80's freestyle mix on my ipod. =)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spare Time for Jokes

This is one that flew under a lot of heads' radars, I think... Of course, I can't imagine anyone reading this blog not having been well aware of Percee P's album on Stones Throw, Perseverance. And I certainly agreed with the common consensus: it was good, but not the fantastic album that heads had been waiting so long for. Why? Because instead of working with Showbiz, Premiere, Beatminerz, Pete Rock, Diamond (they had him rhyme but not produce? what?), Large Pro, Finesse, and all the other producers everybody expected and wanted him to work with (how about a couple tracks with Charlemagne? that would've been cool), the entire album was produced by Madlib. Who isn't bad, but he's A) not quite of the caliber of the producers I just listed and B) with his sensibilities, isn't such a good match-up.

So, hooray for great justice when it was announced that Stones Throw was releasing the entire album remixed, right? They were paying attention to the fans and critics, and were finally giving the people what they'd hoped for, right? No, actually Madlib did this entire album, too. This album was released on CD only (fitting, I guess), and it really just feels like someone bundled up all the versions Madlib decided not to use on Perseverance.

But, let's not be entirely negative... One of the good things is that this album doesn't use any of the 12" remixes that were released on Perseverance's singles. Those "Put It On the Line" remixes, the nice little "Hand That Leads You" 7" remix? Those are all unique to those singles. The remixes here are all new. When I finally broke down and ordered this, I was concerned I was gonna be buying half the songs over again, so I'm glad to report that's not the case.

In fact, there have been some changes to the track-listing since the original version... The sequence has been totally reshuffled, some titles have been arbitrarily changed (for example, "The Lady Behind Me" becomes "The Woman Behind Me"), and most notably, some songs have been dropped. Now, granted, "Intro" and "Outro" were no great losses (although, interestingly, the two "Interludes" have been included and remixed); but songs like "The Man To Praise" was more of a surprise to see left off. "Watch Your Step," "Master Craftsmen" and "Raw Heat" are the other MIA songs.

But, again, we're not being 100% negative here... a new song has been included! "Real Talk" is a fun, new song, with one of the best beats on the album, and a cool vocal sample being cut up for the hook. The lyrics are nice, too, although the first verse is actually lifted entirely from Percee's 1998 single, "The Weekend." As far as I can tell, the other two verses are all new, though (the CD booklet, like the original album, reprints the lyrics; but does not include this song). It's a nice little treat.

But, yeah, unfortunately, the rest is not so rewarding. Almost every version here is just an inferior version of the song on Perseverance. This is not the opportunity to correct mistakes some of us hoped for. "Put It On the Line" has the skeleton of a decent song... the bassline and all, but it's littered with with eclectic random "experimental" noises that just distract, clutter and make the whole experience an annoying listen. You might think "2 Brothers From the Gutter" might be improved upon by swapping out the video game samples for some old school sounds, but nah... it just sounds lazily throw together. The bass sounds awful on "The Hand That Leads You," "Legendary Lyricist" might've somehow managed to make the hook sound wacker than it did the first time, and "Who With Me" actually sounds like an improvement musically, except it doesn't match up with Percee's vocals, so the whole thing sounds off. Should I keep going? "The Dirt and the Filth" sounds weak and tinny, and the same with "Ghetto Rhyme Story" (changed from "Stories") and "Last of the Greats." "Throwback Rap Attack" basically drops his vocals over some non-hip-hop kettle drums and the result just sounds mad sloppy and certainly nothing you'll ever want to revisit.

But, still, there's another silver lining. "The Woman Behind Me" is at least as good as the album, and may even be a slight improvement. Percee's vocals are perhaps a little too overwhelmed by the vocal sample which is mixed very strongly over the track, but sounds dope. I don't know, I'll call it a tie. And "No Time for Jokes," his duet with Charli 2na, is the one remix that actually sounds markedly better than the album version. A headnodding beat and a chopped up flute sample that pulls you in immediately. Funky horns on the hook... a rhythm that matches Percee and 2na's flows perfectly... Hell, this beats the pants off the album version! This is the jewel of the album no doubt.

Now, you'll just have to decide if this CD (again, no vinyl available - just sayin') is worth the purchase for one semi-exclusive song and one banging remix. You may've noticed, but I'm not one to normally advocate downloading, buttt... If you've already got the LP... 0:-)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Los Harmless

When Haiku De' Tat formed, it seemed like a perfect matched based on unspoken but inherent understanding between the artists and their audiences. We were gonna get the live music and rhythms of Abstract Rude combined with the lyrical wizardry of Aceyalone, and the result would be a west coast mainstay. But in the end, only one half of the pairing held up their end, as we see here on their first single.

See, unfortunately, this was just about the time Acey went from being the wild freestyle MC whose audience was outraged that Book of Human Language only got 2 Mics to the MC who could phone it in because he'd already "proven himself," and whose records immediately found their way to the discount bin. I mean really, the lead track tells the whole, depressing story.

"Los Dangerous." This was their attention-getting 1997 debut. They're rocking over the Dre and Snoop's infamous "Deep Cover" groove... the same infamous bassline, the same drums but weaker drums.* Abstract replaces the piano stabs with a sick saxophone sample and a sing-song hook that blends perfectly with the track - it's like they were originally written together. Ab also kicks the first verse, which is ok... heavy on cliche and sort of exactly what you'd expect from any west coast rapper flowing over "Deep Cover." And finally Acey comes on to drop a quick few, mediocre bars. The hook is sung about fifty more times, and we're done, ball decidedly dropped.

It's not that Ace's verse sucked so much (although it was kinda lame), but that this should've been where they excelled. When you take what's already become one of the most beloved gangsta rap beats in history, you know you're not going to blow anyone's mind with the music - we've already got that single! So taking a beat like that, it's like you're saying, "well, sure, you've heard this before, but wait till you here what WE gon' do with it," and come with something next level. This should have been underground hip-hop's answer to the mainstream, "oh you like your big time Snoop Doggy Dogg, huh? Well, you won't believe how much more talented true, underground MCs are!" But instead they just kinda fart around on the track for a couple minutes, and you're left thinking, "well, ok I guess; but I'd rather hear Snoop's verse now, please." Pretty fucking underwhelming. I wonder if this isn't what inspired Big Pun to record "Twinz" (also 1997), like, "you dummies; this is how you do it!" ...That, or Haiku bit the concept of rhyming over "Deep Cover" from him. Frankly, either is possible.

Oh well, at least they included the instrumental on this single, so you can get "Deep Cover" with the sax sample, and you can rap your own, better version. ;)

That's one of two exclusives on this. The other is the B-side, "Kaya (Extended Version)." On the album, "Kaya" is a short, little 2-minute number with a nice groove, a simple hook, and that's about it. Here, it's extended to a full-length song, mainly by repeating the hook about a thousand more times. They did also add a quick verse from Acey to this mix, but I mean like two to three setences quick. Otherwise, it's all about them saying the word "Kaya" as many times as they possibly can, "got to have Kaya, now, Kaya, Kaya. Got to have Kaya, yeah; Kaya, Kaya. Kaya Kaya kaya kayakayakayakayakayakayakayakayakaya!!!!!"** Ahhh!

Oh yeah, the hook is also a direct lift from Bob Marley. And to be fair, the original album version isn't too bad for a cover. Instrumentally, they do something different with it and create their own little groove. If you just take it as a throw-away tune used as album filler with low expectations attached to it, it's kinda cool. But sadly, this is just another testament to Ab Rude doing something and Acey letting a good opportunity flounder. This beat with some ill rhymes would've been dope. But, sadly I have to report that the shorter album version is actually the more definitive version of this song; because all the extended version has to offer is repetition.

Finally, the single rounds itself out with "Still Rappin'," another album track. Again, there's some decent instrumentation, but generally it's a pretty boring song. And if the title led you to believe "finally, this is where Acey is gonna shine," well, it isn't. It's mostly Ab singing, and he sounds good... And Mikah 9 makes a guest appearance here, but it's basically thrown away, since he and Acey both direct their energies towards singing like Rude. Plus the subject matter is boring (they are underground rappers who stay true to rapping underground), and like with the other tracks, the hook takes up a good 50% of the song. Again, it was okay as album filler, but it really didn't need to be pulled out and highlighted on a single.

And that's it. I don't know. I was thinking about pulling out my copy of the full album and relistening to it after this; but now I don't think I'll bother. That's usually not the effect you want your lead single to have, is it?


*Update 9/14/11 - As has been pointed out in the comments; they're not the same drums. It's not even difficult to notice the difference, so shame on me. These drums are played live and seriously overuse the cymbal. They're softer and more roll-y and just generally aren't as good.

**Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Malcolm X's Daughter's Posse Cut

Gamilah Shabazz, Malcolm X's daughter (one of six!), made her rapping debut on Big Daddy Kane's third LP, Taste of Chocolate. The next year, she followed that up with an appearance on 2 Black 2 Strong's album, and finally the year after that, she came out with her own single on BMG/RCA Records. Now, following up on the rap career of a famous politician's daughter - as opposed to, you know, an actual MC who's dedicated their life to making music - may sound like a job best left to the die-hard collectors with too much time on their hands. But like Shaquille O'Neal, Brian Austin Greene and other celebrities buying their way into hip-hop industry, she knew the secret was to pack her debut with compelling guest artists. And she certainly picked an interesting line-up.

"America's Living In a War Zone" features Ice Cube, MMG (the lead MC of 2 Black 2 Strong), Grand Puba, Mr. Biggs of The Soulsonic Force, Me Phi Me and some singer named Tanya Cooper. Certainly an eclectic mix, but not a bad one at all. The track is co-produced by 2 Black 2 Strong, Shabazz, and the underrated (I blame his name) Epitome of Scratch. It's the same kind of banging hardcore track you'd expect from 2 Black 2 Strong, and it features vocal snippets from Malcolm himself, and alternate sample sets for each MC, giving every verse its own identity.

Granted, it gets a little heavy-handed when Tanya stops the thing dead to sing "America the Beautiful" mid-song, and not every MC comes as strong as the one before him... It doesn't sound like Gamilah inherited her father's mastery of eloquent speech with her simple flow that consists of atonally shouting each individual word. But Puba and Cube are in top form (though Puba makes an odd point about black peoples' brains weighing seven and a half pounds, while white peoples' weigh only six... lol what?), and surprisingly Me Phi Me's verse is pretty nice as well ("there ain't a damn thing black in The White House except where/ they keep Clarence Thomas' pubic hairs"). And even the weakest verses are still pure, politically charged anger over a dope beat, so everyone at least earns a pass here.

Now I've got the cassette single up on display, but the 12" features the same picture cover and track-listing: the street mix, a radio edit, and an instrumental on the flip. This is definitely one of those songs that sounds dated... but kind of in a good way. And it can be easily scored for cheap, so to me it's a natural pick-up. Though it's probably just as well that we don't have a whole Gamilah Shabazz album floating around out there.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Horrorcore Potpourri

If you could sum up the entire 90's horrorcore phase in one, tidy album (and you can!), this would be it. It's the soundtrack to The Fear, and with only, like, two omissions that I can think of, offers a thoroughly near-definitive sampling of horrorcore in its heyday. It's an education, and it's fun, which is a lot more than you can say about the movie.

This album is what the Tales From the Hood soundtrack should've been, had they not dropped the ball: a sampling of every horrorcore artist working at the time, except again for those two ommisions. The only people who stand out as missing to me are The Cella Dwellas (who may not've wanted to been associated with the horrorcore fad) and Crustified Dibbs. And two out of every-fuckin'-body ain't bad! So let's jump right in:

1) "The Fear (Morty's Theme)" - Although Esham - like pretty much everybody associated with the horrorcore - has since attempted to distance himself from the subgenre, he may well be the man who started it. At least in the sense of making "horrorcore" a full-time rap career, as opposed to a single novelty song, like "Haunted House of Rock" or Bushwick Bill's "Chucky." And considering he's saddled with actually making a theme song for the goofy movie's villain (a wooden dummy that springs to life whenever you're really scared), Esham acquits himself very well. His style, the hook, the music (which I can only guess is by Esham himself, since this album features no production credits, but he usually produces all his own stuff) are all very effective at evoking the best elements of this movie and just being an engaging little song. Sure, he's done better work on his own... but when you burden the artist with having to make a song about Morty, I don't think you could ask for more.

2) "Black Peter" - Half Pit and Half Dead only managed to release one single, independent 12" in their career; so to see that this album even scooped these guys up is a real treat. What's more, we learn a bit more about their crew, including the fact that they rolled with a reggae guy named Machete, who appears on this song. (Black Peter, by the way, is an in-film reference, so this song must've been specifically written for the movie.)

3) "Here Come the Gravediggaz" - Ok, this is right off their debut album, but it's kinda impressive that this little rinky-dink movie with a Warlock Records soundtrack got The Gravediggaz at all. Remember, this was right at their peak, and everything Wu-related was huge.

4) "Necrophobia" - Not much is known about The Headless Horesemen, except apparently they were signed to Def Jam (we know this from the liner notes of this album), and they did a guest appearance on Def Jam's other horrorcore act, The Flatlinerz', debut album. Like them, I suspect The Horsemen got dropped when Russell Simmons saw horrorcore wasn't going to be the new gangsta rap. I think these guys were doper than the Flatlinerz, though, with more creative "out there" flows.

5) "Better Off Dead" - This is that Half Pit and Half Dead song that they'd put out on their aforementioned 12".

6) "Life After Death" - Esham got popular enough to put out several albums by his weedcarriers, collectively known as Natas. This is the title song off of their debut album. It helps that Esham made himself a member of his own group, and often appeared on their songs.

7) "Fear, Flesh & Blood" - This is Machete from that Half Pit song, going solo this time. This album probably would've been a nice boost to their careers if they'd ever managed to follow up on their first single. He's probably also the first horrorcore reggae artist, like, ever.

8) "Graveyard Tales" - This is a song by a guy named Terror, who I've never heard of before. Not bad, though.

9) "Dead Body Man" - Yep, The Insane Clown Posse are included here. This is a song right off their 1994 EP, The Terror Wheel, and it's one of their better ones.

10) "Rocks Off" - If you're going to include another Esham song, particularly one that's just lifted from one of his albums (the Helter Skelter EP), you'd think you'd do one of his better horrorcore songs than one of his cheesy sex songs. But the filmmakers actually used this song in the movie to score a "sexy" scene, which both explains the song's inclusion here and the artistic failure of the film.

11) "Infared's Terror" - I don't really know who Infared is either, except the fact that he and all the Half Pit Half Dead acts are all credited as appearing "courtesy of Army From Hell." I guess that makes it pretty clear he was down with them, too. Again, I'm really surprised they didn't muster up an album after this. His flow's really grimey... pretty cool and very 90's.

12) "Run" - Flatlinerz are here being represented, too. This would have just been another "song off their album," but since it got shelved, this song becomes another soundtrack exclusive.

13) "Sweet & Saxxy (A Moment of Calm Before You Die)" - Like its title implies, this is the only non horrorcore (or rap at all) song on here. It's a little easy listening, light jazz number by somebody named Kim Waters. I think you'll find that everybody who owned this back in the day learned to stop the tape at track 12.

So, there you have it. It's a pretty sweet Whitman's Sampler of horrorcore in its prime. Sure, a sizeable chunk of these songs had been previously released, but a lot were exclusive. I'm not sure of there's a vinyl release, but the CD is easily found and worth picking up for a nostalgic trip back to the early 90's.