Monday, September 28, 2009

Legends of Hip Hop

"LEGENDS OF HIP HOP describes a project that includes more than 35 hiphop legends from the first hour veterans to the recent stars. It includes names like Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, Ice-T... just to mention a few. The album was based on an idea to connect rap and hiphop greats from both the old and new skool[sic.] scene into one big project. The highlight of the album is the track 'The Fifth Element' which is performmed[sic.] by 34 hiphop legends."

That's the introduction to an album that I can't believe has somehow managed to be pretty much never written about. Legends of Hip Hop came out in 2002 on Absolut Records. Yes, like the vodka. A full-length album that features all original (well, almost... more on that later) material by such great big names in hip-hop that somehow managed to fly completely under the radar? How? Why?

Well, the album was put together by Kurtis Blow, in association with his Legends of Hip Hip old school tours. Blow co-produced all the music on this album with two guys named Informer and DJ Buck. They utilize a lot of live instrumentation, too... the liner notes credit musicians for guitars, trumpets, sax, a couple of violins and a viola. So, how is it? What exactly do we have here?

Ok, let's start with the "highlight of the album" (according to the liner notes quoted above... I actually disagree), the mega-posse cut "The Fifth Element." 34 hip-hop legends. That's pretty impressive, right? And the actual list will probably impress you more: Melle Mel, Ice-T, Flava Flav, Cheeks, Special K, Bambaataa, Run, Smooth Approach, Sha-Rock, Doc Ice, Busy Bee, Whodini, Raheem, Reggie Reg, Grandmaster Caz, DLB, LA Sunshine, Grand Puba, Pete DJ Jones, Kurtis Blow, Hollywood, Eddie Cheeba, Big Daddy Kane, Dano, Ceelo (as in Goodie Mob, yeah), Waterbed Kev, Speech, Kidd Creole, Grand Wizard Theodore, Dota Rock, Rakim & DJ Kool Herc. That's not a bunch of nobodies peppered with a few names, that's an incredible assembly of an all-star line-up!

...But, wait. The song's only four minutes long. And it's got a recurring hook, which takes up almost 50% of the song. And, half those guys are DJs, how do they rap on this track?

Well, if you guessed that everybody is given about 6-8 words to perform, you'd be right! But you didn't guess that, did you? Because that would be so ridiculously wack, you ruled it out before the thought could even fully form in your mind, right? But it's what they did. Excited to hear a Rakim feature you never heard before? Wanna read the lyrics? Well, here ya go:

"Ya owe it to yourself; get your education."

...That was it. That was the entirety of his contribution. And his was longer than a lot of the others!

So, yeah. They call it the "highlight of the album." They even include two mixes on here, the original and "Beathoavenz RMX," which liberally samples some Beethoven. I call it a big, fat "who cares?"

But the rest of the album is much more interesting. Most (plus a few other dudes) of the artists featured on that silly posse cut turn up again on this album to perform all new songs. Most are collaborations you've never seen happen before and are pretty interesting. Raheem, Grandmaster Caz and Shinehead provide a song called "Be 4," Ice-T, Chilli Mac and Rakim perform "Game of Life," Reggie Reg, Skeeta Ranks, Jalil, Ecstasy and Doc Ice do "Shake Them Hips," etc. Here we actually get to hear these artists get a chance to do something!

Just for the record, the other artists who turn up on this album are: Thug Nation, Kurupt, Harry Balz (don't know who that is? He's the other half of One and One, who we last heard from on Next Plateau Records in 1997!), The Ying Yang Twins, Steph Lova, T.O.P., GQ, and Lovebug Starski.

So, how are these songs? Well, they're varied... there's some nice lyrical performances, a variety of concepts and a good mix of styles. The production team of Blow, Informer and Buck I'm sure doesn't have you at the edge of your seat, but they're at least attempting something creatively different that's still got a traditional hip-hop vibe. It's not a great album, but guys like Ice-T, Melle, Sha-Rock, Kane, and others do drop some head-nodding verses. Flava Flav provides an amusingly bugged hook to "Old School Ball," with a faux British accent. The live instrumentation helps keep things interesting and some songs have nice cuts, too. It's a mixed bag, certainly; but a lot of this is really better than you jaded vets would expect.

To add to that mixed bag feeling, though, we have to address why Eminem and Royce da 5'9's names are on the cover. Well, "Nuttin To Do" by Bad Meets Evil is on here. Yes, the song from their '98 12" in Game Recordings. Why? I dunno. More interestingly, though, is "Bad Meets Evil - New Shrooms Mix." Yeah, Blow and team actually do their own, exclusive remix of the song from the Slim Shady LP. It's, uh... yeah, it's pretty corny.

But except for those two tracks and one other - this album also features Justine Simmons' dance tune "Praise My DJ's" featuring Run that originally dropped in 2000 - this is all new, original material, reminiscent of the noteworthy Raiders Of the Lost Art compilation released in 1994.

Now, in addition to this album, there are three related releases you should probably know about:

1) A 12" release of "The Fifth Element," which includes the original version and the Beathoavenz Remix version that's featured on this disc, as well as four more remixes (specifically: Sleepwalker Remix, Efe & Leeroy Remix, Nasty Remix and the Double Remix). Interesting, but I never picked this up, because frankly changing the beat wouldn't fix what's wrong with this song.

2) Another, completely unrelated hip-hop compilation called Legends of Hip Hop, which is just a generic collection of songs by 2 Live Crew, Ice-T and The World Class Wreckin' Crew on a label called Blue Dolphin. They're entirely unrelated save for the coincidentally matching title, so you can go ahead and disregard it... just be careful if you're ordering online that you know which one you're getting.

3) A 2-disc version that was released in Europe. Disc 1 is essentially the same as the US version, except it's missing the Bad Meets Evil remix, and instead features the Sleepwalker Remix of "Fifth Element" (from the 12" above). The second disc is then just another generic compilation of pre-existing hip-hop songs, this time basically a greatest hits of rap, featuring stuff like "Express Yourself" by NWA and "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. Personally, I'd stick with the single-disc US version, since it has the exclusive Bad Meets Evil remix, and if you really want the "Fifth Element," remix you could get the 12".

So, yeah. It's not a great album, but it has some worthwhile material. And with all the talent involved, it deserves at least to be talked about.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do You Like Pina Colada?

Have you ever heard that old Rupert Holmes (yes, I looked it up) tune "Escape (The Pina Colada" Song)" and got it stuck in your head? The one that goes, "Do you like Pina Colada? And getting caught in the rain?" You thought it was kinda catchy, but you're too staunch a hip-hop head to spin some corny old 70's lounge record? Well, the music industry was looking out for fans like you in 1997, and came up with the solution "U Like Pina Colada" by Da Real One.

This is a song off of LaFace Records' bass compilation album, And Then There Was Bass, which was then released as a successful single. Da Real One looked like an unknown artist when you checked out the album's track-listing, but once you gave it a listen, it turned out to be the new identity of Dr. Ace, from Young & Restless. His partner had already changed his name and put out a few records as The P.O.D. Prince of Darkness, but this was Ace's first solo outing.

So, yeah, this is the hip-hop version (written and produced by Ace) of the 1979 record, and it heavily samples the original, including keeping Rupert's vocals on the chorus (though Ace sings over them and completely overshadows them). Interestingly, it's got a few bottom-dropping bass drops, but they're used very sparingly; it's mostly about the ever-present funk guitar loop, some funky breakdowns and a lot of BPM. And of course it's got all new words. The style and lyrics stay very true to the tone set by your favorite Young & Restless records:

"Now I met another lady...
Check out what she had to say:
I asked her where her man at?
She said, 'baby, I'm gay.'
I said, 'that don't really matter...
As long as you ain't got a sex change.
Because I'm down with a threesome...
But I need to know some thangs."

And the hook is updated from:

"If you like Pina Coladas,
And getting caught in the rain.
If you're not into yoga,
If you have half-a-brain.
If you like making love at midnight,
In the dunes of the cape.
I'm the love that you've looked for,
Write to me, and escape."

to:

"If you like Pina Colada,
Alize or champagne.
If you like juice in your gin;
Me, myself Hennessy.
If you like making love at midnight?
Rolling out on the avenue.
If you like firing up a fat one,
Well, then you're down with my crew."

The only problem I have with this song, is that it's all done in the sing-songy delivery of the original (albeit with a modern twist); and he never quite busts out and raps over the track, which would've really pushed it over the edge. But i guess that's the lack of Prince's influence showing? Remember how I said you feel the loss of Ace in P.O.D.'s solo material? Well, I guess it works the other way 'round, too (not that they were irreparably separated... Young & Restless reunited on two songs from Ace's Southern Conference project). Though, I suppose there was already a precedent set for this, in Young & Restless's debut single "Poison Ivy." But I just wish for a little more of what they did with "Louie Louie," in terms of transforming it further into a proper rap song.

Oh well; it's still a lot of fun, and the 12" comes loaded with with Clean, Dirty, Instrumental and Acappella versions in a sticker cover.

Furthermore, it's b/w another song from the compilation, Luke's "Let's Ride." Most of the songs on And Then There Was Bass were all-new material, but this one's on loan from Luke's Changin' the Game album. I guess that's why LaFace didn't bother to credit the featured artists on this song: Jiggie and No Good But So Good. The song (which is produced by Luke himself) ain't not bad... It's hectically paced, has some nice change-ups, and the guest rappers keep it from being all Luke shouting, like a lot of his records become. And, as with the A-side, the 12" provides the full rationing of Dirty, Clean, Instrumental and Acappella versions for the song.

This is the only record Dr. Ace would put out as Da Real One. After this, he changed his name to Mr. Charlie and released a couple more records. And he's still around doing his thing: check out his myspace.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Boom Boom, Skeet Skeet!

Urban Dictionary credits the phrase "boom boom skeet skeet"* to a brief line in a 2004 Trick Daddy song ("J.O.D.D." off of Thug Matrimony: Married To the Streets). Well, they're correct in that he said the phrase, but it's actually a reference to another Miami artist's record: The P.O.D. Prince of Darkness's "Give Me '50 Feet," which came out a full 9 years earlier on World Wide Entertainment Enterprise. It's the catchy, oft-repeated hook, "boom boom, skeet skeet! You got to give me fifty feet!" It's even printed on the label, so shoppers would know, "this is the boom boom, skeet skeet song."

And Trick Daddy was surely familiar with The P.O.D., since he appeared on his 2001 album, The Power of Dollars. 'Cause, if you don't know, P.O.D. is the artist formerly known as The Prince of Power, a.k.a. Young & Restless; and this was his first solo joint.

It's produced by E-Chill, who was also managing P.O.D. (or something along those lines), up to and including his 2001 full-length. It's a super high-energy, high BPM dance track with a couple fast but simple raps by Prince and a lot of hook, mega-deep bass, shout & call responses, whistles and classic Miami-style samples. It was certainly not the type of song built to convince east coast lyricists to give props to the Florida scene, but it's well-crafted good times.

If you're expecting the humorous side of Young & Restless, though, forget it (perhaps that's what changing his name from Prince of Power to Prince of Darkness was meant to signify?). The tone certainly isn't dark, but the raps are kept pretty short and simple. Not that you'd want a joke song, but a little bit of Dr. Ace's songwriting goes a long way. Still, his delivery is quick and we're not subjected to any corny one-liners; but it seems like the intent here is really not to draw any attention to the lyrics at all, and just bridge the gap to the next hook or breakdown:

"Now you learned the hook;
Where your eyes at? Where you wanna look?
Keep swingin' that monkey,
Poppin' that coochie or ridin' that donkey.
Break it down to the ground,
And bring it back up with the doo-doo brown.
And if the niggas say
You ain't anyway, then that is when you say..."

The 12" features Raw and Radio Edits (not that this is a dirty song... despite the title, it's a pretty innocent dance song with just a few quick references to "the niggas" and "gangsta bitches" in the club), plus the Instrumental and P.O.D.'s Remix, which is disappointingly more of a dub version. It's stripped-down with more of an emphasis on the bass, but unfortunately during the rap verses, they only play the back-ups and double-lines, so you can't fully enjoy the remix as a proper song. Oh well, the original's better anyway.

So, if you're looking for some disenfranchised-youth-vs.-the-illuminati-type music, keep on walkin'. But if you want good times, hey. It's the original "boom boom, skeet skeet" song. 'Nuff said.


*In before any underage Lil' Jon fans post a comment asking what "skeet" means... that's a conversation for y'all to have with your parents. ...Actually, on second thought, I don't think that's a conversation you really want to have with your parents. Ask on the schoolyard.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Return of Liberty Grooves

Ok, so how about a new, limited vinyl 12" of previously unreleased early 90's hip-hop that won't break your wallet? That's what we've got here with the sophomore release from Solid 'N' Mind, who're finally releasing their follow-up to their 1990 debut 12" on Liberty Grooves, "An Original Break." "Centre Stage" b/w "Woke With Nothin'" was recorded and originally intended to be released in 1991 right after the True Style 12", making it LIB 003. but it never came out... until now. So Liberty Groove's first official release since 1997 has been given official catalog number LIB 002 1/2.

And does that label look familiar to you? It should. Liberty Grooves is that same London-based label that released the original, infamous (and recently bootlegged) "Break a Bitch" test pressings back in 1995!

But to the artists at hand, Solid 'N' Mind are a three man crew, consisting of MC Whirlwind D, DJ/producer Johnny F and a third member who isn't featured on either of these cuts, human beatbox MSD. And the first thing you'll notice is the creative blending of a whole grip of familiar, classic breaks and samples mixed together like they've never been before. It's really fresh how well they fit together. Fast, banging beats, dope samples, and constant scratching on the hook all lay the groundwork for D's rhymes to get busy with a nice, unrelenting flow. A few rhymes have a punchlineyness[learn it, spellchecker; I'll be using it again!] that feels pretty dated ("children like you should be seen and not heard; try to dance, you look like Big Bird"), but really that just comes off as all the more endearing to us old school heads uncovering early 90's treats.

On the flip side, we have the more serious "Woke With Nothin'," a first person song from the perspective of a homeless man. According to the press sheet, this was written as a direct response to Master Ace's "The Other Side of Town." The production impresses again - Johnny's work reminds me of Sam Sever's from that same era - with a nice, subtle use of the ESG "UFO" sample on the hook, which I assume was also meant to be a sonic reference to Ace's tune. The drum track constantly plays the first half of the break forward and the second half in reverse; really slick. Despite the subject matter, it's still a pretty fast-moving track and Whilrwind D flows at the same pace. The lyrics are more consistent here - and, with the subject matter, more substantive:

"You give to charity with false smiles;
It gives you a buzz for a little while.
It's nothing to me; it's for fools like you.
Sleep in a box for a night as a crew.
Your acts of kindness make no sense;
An evil way to clear your conscience.
Look at yourselves; then you'll know well,
You're walking the path to burn in Hell!
Condemning myself, I really don't care;
My home is far worse than Hell's lair.
So leave me alone if you're not gonna bring.
This morning, boy, I woke with nothin'!"

But if that's not enough for you, they've also included instrumentals (an essential for "Centre Stage!") and "the initial rough bedroom demo versions." The Demo's especially cool to have for "Woke With Nothin'" which has a harder feel, thanks to that "UFO" sample being mixed much louder and pitched up. I'm not really sure which I prefer, actually, yet.

So, it's limited to only 250 hand-numbered copies and comes in a sticker cover with a press sheet (as pictured) and sells for only £6.00. As I understand it, these are only available directly from Whilrwind D himself, and he's already down to his last 20 copies or so. So hurry and e-mail him at dudleyjaynes @ hotmail . com (remove the spaces) if you're interested. Hot shit like this doesn't sit around waiting for too long.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Willus World

Ok, so Sabado Gigante's bid for the presidency based on campaign promises of nipples and fire wasn't weird enough for ya? You jaded thrill seekers want to descend even deeper into insanity and goofiness? Well, then I guess it's time to break out the catalog of Willus Drummond. His name is a(n intentional?) corruption of the adoptive father character from the hit sitcom Dif'rent Strokes, he reportedly sent out urine samples to magazines with his first promotional single, and as you can see in the picture covers above, he regularly wrapped his head in tinfoil. I think the man qualifies.

Willus made his debut with the 1999 single "Evacuate tha Planet" on a label called Enta Prizez; and as odd as his schtick is, he was almost a natural outcome of the times, arriving on the heels of the surprise crossover appeal of Dr. Octagon, the peak of the 90's independent vinyl boom and the beginning of the internet's ability to legitimatize a wider variety of hip-hop voices. You'll recognize the name of Chops on the label, from The Mountain Brothers; but he only recorded and mixed this. Actual production credit goes to Mike Baxter, which I'm thinking my be Willus's real name, since he's produced all of Drummond's records, and no one else's that I could find.

The beat is acceptable but unexceptional. No one's gonna request the DJ spin this so they can have another taste of the music, but the upbeat track and deep, clomping bassline surely provides the tone Willus was after. Some crazy vocal samples and nice scratching by DJ Duddly on the hook certainly go a long way towards endearing this record to the heads. Vocally, Willus has a very simple, clearly enunciated delivery to make sure you hear every line. And lyrically, well, it's all nonsense just on the borderline of cleverness, and his subject matter not only shares the outer-space aspects, but also the penchant for pee-pee and doo-doo references with his obvious inspiration, Kool Keith (with a pinch of Sir Menelik's syllable-packed guest verses, as well):

"No resource of all action can halt me;
I need plutonium, uranium,
Titanium, various elements and fragments
Of debris. You see
Catastrophic winds of the holocaust,
Diabolical dismemberment.
You shall remember it.
It's desolate on your planet
Now that I found it like Chris Columbus
With a broken compass.
Ponce de León didn't find the constellations;
He's just an amalgam in your ear drum,
Messing everything down like upchuck.
Now I'm gonna blow your whole planet up."

The B-side, "Special Purpose," is similar, but plays down the spaciness and up the general goofiness. It features a lot more vocal samples from movies (Rain Man on the intro, then SlingBlade and The Jerk exclaiming the titular line on the hook), and a similar instrumental, except the thumping bassline is replaced with a deep, pitch-shifting UFO sound. And Duddly is back with the appealing scratches on the hook. The rhymes are mostly typical, generic hip-hop non-sequiturs ("sweeter dreams than the Eurythmics"), again leaning towards the strange ("the sphere is near the sun, no one drowns, lost and found, perplexed by my lyrics, and I don't wanna hear it, or care if you feel it") and striving for cleverness ("the time between now and my birth is my age"). Instrumentals for both are provided.

Now, if you have the cassette promo single (right), then you see there's a couple bonus tracks: "Willus World," "Robot Death March" and "Bogus Beats." But don't get too excited, they're just short instrumentals, and not particularly compelling ones at that. "Willus World" is a simple keyboard riff looped over a generic drum kit beat. "Robot Death March" is a little more compelling since it uses a sample of what sounds like a film soundtrack, of a livelier, drum rolling beat. And "Bogus Beats" is what sounds like another movie sample, but over a slower, more plodding drum track. Seek it out if you're a completist; but otherwise don't worry - you're not missing much.

The vinyl actually has a short bonus track of its own: "DJ Duddly Cut Class." Unfortunately, it's not a showcase of Duddly's skills, it's more of a DJ tool set of vocal samples, mostly of lines from Biggie Smalls to Ras Kass where they say the name "Willus" in a song, plus one or two other random ones, like a line from Rappin' Duke. Ok, so once again: a cute little bonus; but if you've only got the cassette of this, it's not worth going out of your way to grab the vinyl unless you're a real die-hard.

Well, believe it or not, this record was a success. It later wound up being re-issued and spawned follow-up in 2000: a split 12" entitled "LA Vacation" on Downs Elementary (which I suspect was Drummond's own label). This time around, Drummond comes with a distorted mic sound, a la The Fat Boys' "Liez" or The Beasties' "So Whutcha Want." The beat sounds a little more professionally assembled this time around, with a nice snap to it. The absence of DJ Duddly this time around, however, is strongly felt. Drummond sticks to the formula of crazy rhymes and movie vocal samples for the hook. The content is as silly as ever, with Drummond explaining that he's "from the galaxy of creamed corn" and dropping battle rhymes like, "if you wanna take me out, do it in one fell swoop, like a flock of birds, drop poop on my car, not too far from where you are." This song comes replete with instrumental and acapella versions.

But it's a split 12" you say? That's right, "LA Vacation" was just side A, and the B-side is a track by J-Zone (featuring Huggy Bear) entitled "No Consequences." It starts out with an acapella intro explaining the song's concept: for one day there are no laws. so J-Zone and Huggy can do whatever they want. Then the pair kick a bunch of funny-ish wish-fulfillment rhymes of what they'd do in a world with no consequences (smack Lucy Liu, steal handicap spots, make an NVC anchorwoman suck dick, etc) over a cartoon-sampled beat. It's kinda short, and the main thing I took away from this song is that Huggy Bear has anger issues. This version comes in Clean, Instrumental, Acapella and Filthy versions... the last of which later found its way on J-Zone's EP, A Bottle of Whup Ass.

This was an optimistic time for Drummond, who promises an upcoming untitled EP and an upcoming untitled LP "in stores soon" on the back cover. Oh, and they also promise a Willus and J-Zone collaborative EP entitled, Arnold Vs. Willus. None of those happened.

But Drummond did come back one more time, with another split 12", this time on Downs Elementary/ Mends Recordings. In 2001, he dropped "Makin' Music (With Your Mom)" and "It's a Stick Up." Now, up 'till this point, it was a little unclear whether Drummond was trying to be a joke, novelty act or a legit MC who just happened to have a playful sense of humor. But now he seems to've finally laid aside any pretensions and hits us with two flat-out parody songs.

"Makin' Music (With Your Mom)" is a short play on Biz Markie's "Make the Music With Your Mouth," using the same instrumental, with a screechily sung hook mimicking TJ Swan and Willus kicking a bunch of goofy battle rhymes:

"I'll break your jaw, or steal your jaw,
Take a pee on your lawn,
Beat you up, take your lunch, and then I'm gone.
Mad rappers short, while I am tall,
Crush you midget rappers with a kick to the balls.
Heard you screamin', runnin' all down the hall
Like you saw the Trenchcoat Mafia in the mall."

You can't deny the appeal of Marley's classic beat, but the constant litany of hopelessly immature one-lines can be a real endurance test. And you can pretty much say the same for the next song, "It's a Stick Up." This time it's a medley of parodies, where he rhymes over a series of hit tunes by Nice & Smooth and Gangstarr, (bridging the gap, naturally, with "DWYCK"), alternating between imitating the original artists or just being himself. "Sometimes I rhyme slow; sometimes I rhyme quick" becomes "sometimes I pee in cups; sometimes I drink piss." Since these are more openly joke songs, the appeal depends entirely on how long your amusement is sustained by raps about fat girls breaking scales and sticking your girl.

Like I said, though, this is another split 12", and this time he pairs up with Esau, who bills himself as "The Anti-MC," because he's self-deprecating instead of boastful. He's another "funny" rapper, though clearly directing more of his efforts towards making good music with a sense of humor than gag songs. I don't know how much he succeeded, but it's clear that's where his intentions lied. His song "Boo" is basically a diss song against himself, about how he gets booed at shows
, with a lot of name-dropping punchlines ("I'm wacker than Rawkus' website"). And "Underground" is one of those hipsterish, self-aware songs about his "underground" status, done in a tiresome list form, rattling off an endless stream of why "I'm underground 'cause" and "you ain't underground 'cause"s. I mean, they're both okay... Esau's flow is nice and the beats are respectable. But the real highlight (the recent I bought this 12" in the first place) is the loaded posse cut "2 Many Emcees," which features Danja Mowf, Apathy, The Nobodies, Supastition (spelled "Supastion" on the cover) and Yaggfu Front. It's got the best beat, a mellow head-nodder, and the mic just gets passed down the line.

The 12" also features instrumentals for most of the songs (all but "Boo"), and a clean version of "Makin' Music." Finally, both artists end their side of the record with some long, acapella shout-outs.

Willus makes several announcements throughout this 12" touting his upcoming album, to be titled Choose Your Own Adventure, but like the promised releases on his last 12", it never surfaced. The only other thing he did as far as I know was a guest verse on a record by The 1 Shanti, also in 2001.
The song was called "Trilingual," and also featured cuts by J-Zone. That record turned out to be the third and final record released on the Downs Elementary label.

Where is Willus Drummond now? Has he retired from the music scene altogether? Is he performing under a new identity, unrecognizable without a head wrapped in tinfoil? Or is he stealthily mounting up a comeback, with some secret myspace page yet to be discovered? Maybe we're better off not knowing... but it's kinda fun to dig these records out of your crates and revisit them once every few years.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Understanding Break a Bitch Neck

Here it is, folks: Akinyele and Kool G Rap's infamous collaboration, "Break a Bitch Neck," with a mythic status equal only to the legendary "Hey Mr. Mr." Infamous because the beat's hot and Kool and Ak are a nice pairing of NY lyricists who kill it, yes; and because it's probably the most shamelessly sexist, foul rap song ever (which is a bold statement indeed!). It starts out with G Rap explaining, "I fuck 'em like I hate 'em" and "bitch, I wish you would die." and builds from there. G Rap lays it down, "So be a nigga' sex slave, bitch; don't try to be brave, bitch; you'll be a dead bitch in a grave, bitch," and Ak goes right along, "yo, beatin' bitches up ain't nuttin' new to me, whether you're down with social security or you're just hittin' puberty."

But don't get too excited. This is just a bootleg. For most of us, though, it will have to do.

Akinyele was all set to release a hot 4-tracker including this banger in 1995 on Stretch Armstrong's Liberty Grooves imprint (the other tracks were the instrumental version, "No Exit (Part II)" and a posse cut called "You Gotta Get Down"). That wound up never coming out, except for 10 test pressings that... well, good luck to ya. What's more, "Break a Bitch Neck" was featured on the 2004 compilation, busily titled Music Killz: Live At The Barbecue, The Lost Classics, which came out on Eastern Conference Records (which came out on LP as well as CD... but with a key distinction, which I'll come to later).

Excitement squashed yet? Ok, then, let's talk about this.

This is a recent Japanese bootleg, with a label designed to look like an old promo 7 , also titled Liberty Extracts No. 1. That 7" is cool, but just features snippets of "Break a Bitch" (as well as "No Exit 2"), no instrumental and a radio edit of the posse cut. So a nice little collector's item, but that's all really. This 12" on the other hand just as two tracks, "Break a Bitch Neck (Original)" and "Break a Bitch Neck (Remix)." ...With me so far?

The Original is the original jawn (duh... I know; but sometimes bootlegs mix these things up, so I'm just confirming), produced by Large Professor. And - both here on the 12" and the EC album - it's just a radio rip. The sound quality is... well, okay by radio rip standards I suppose; but it's no mastered version. You even hear a snippet of Stretch's voice talking over the first two or three seconds. I guess they couldn't lay their hands on a master - and they sure couldn't find one of those old test pressings! lol

Then on side B, we have the Remix. That's nothing new either. The Remix made its debut on the same Eastern Conference compilation. It's not the Large Professor mix that everybody's after, but it's a solid, upbeat remix with some thumping bass. I'm sure it'd be held in higher regard if it weren't in the Original's shadow. And the sound quality is better than the A-side - it doesn't sound like a radio rip, at least. Hell, both tracks on this 12" are probably ripped off the EC CD.

So, you might as well just go with the Music Killz album, right? Pick up these two tracks, plus all the other songs on there at the same time? And fuck this stupid bootleg? Well, almost. In fact, the answer is yes if you're happy with a CD. But if you need vinyl, then you just can't win. Because the Large Professor version of "Break a Bitch Neck" isn't on the LP; it's a "bonus track" only included on the CD version! Fuuuuuck! Can I live?

The answer is, apparently no. Unless you're one of the very lucky 10, this boot is your only option. So suck it up, bitch! :P

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Like Your Hip-Hop Weird?

Well, alright then. I got a weird one for ya. Here's a 7" single by one Sabado Gigante featuring El Charro Negro called "Vote for Gigante." This came out on a label called Punk Rock Stripper Girl Records (I won't post their logo) in 2000, and we know from the phone number on the label that this one hails from Texas. It's pressed on marble blue vinyl, and I guess we're supposed to identify that cartoon character as our lead MC.

Actually, that's less surprising given the content of the song. It's got a cool, low-key but head-nodding beat with a little funk guitar and a strong bassline. Production is credited to Muther Neff, and the notes also mention contributions by Baby Heart and Matt Sonzalia, but doesn't specify what roles they played. Gigante is, obviously, rapping as a presidential candidate, and his campaign is built entirely on appealing to children. He starts out with a little speech, promising things like returning Dungeons and Dragons to its original Saturday morning time-slot, and starts to kick some very weird raps:

"I got legions
Yellow Fever through diseases,
Ghetto flippers, nipple rings in flu seasons,
For the contagions
That continue ragin'.
(Who's Gigante?)
Half monkey, half amazin'!
Scottish striped kilt
With family colors from the mainland,
South Lamar Boulevard
Underarm fragrance;
Always wear the same pants.
I don't need to clean my truck; I like stained glass.
(Who you got for your cabinet?)
Got the Tijuana Brass wearing Mexican tuxedos
With the silver-starred boots, monster bulge torpedo.
Five toenails and four toes
(Let's keep that between ourselves)
Nobody knows.
Take off all my clothes
When I'm on the commode.
Jim Jay and Tammy Faye?
Got every single episode!"

Then the hook consists of him shouting out insane, one-word campaign promises followed by excited crowd responses: "Vote for Gigante... Hot toys and storytime at three-thirty each day... Once I'm elected you'll get see-saws. (Yeah!) Ice-cream. (Yeah!) Kitties. (Yeah!) Dry cleaned. (Yeah!) Fish sticks. (Yeah!) Mittens. (Yeah!) Beans. (Yeah!) Chicken. (Yeah!) Game shows. (Yeah!) Goggles. (Yeah!) Chainsaws. (Yeah!) Bottles. (Yeah!) Nipples. (Yeah!) Fire..." The last verse is saved for his guest, El Charro Negro who does a spoken word kinda thing... I don't know what he's saying, 'cause it's all in Spanish. But he starts shouting the phrase "Mello Yello!" several times towards the end.

The B-side provides the Instrumental version.

It's almost a joke song, but the groove is surprisingly compelling and he's got a serious flow. I got this for free when I ordered a bunch of stuff from P-Minus back in the day, which is frankly the only way I would have ever heard this, but actually I'm glad I have this in my collection. The catalog number in the run-out groove (PRSG-2001) suggests this is the first - and presumably only - release from the label.

A quick googling of the phrase tells us that Sabado Gigante is in fact the name of the longest running television program in the world: a Spanish-language variety show. I'm sure there's no connection, though, aside from being his namesake. But a review in The Austin Chronicle suggests Sabado might be the alias of Jack Fiend, member of a local Texan crew called Sociopath Left. But then again, they also suggest Sabado had two albums, including one called Hip Hop con las Polkas which was released "pre-1980." So I'm pretty sure they were the butt of a tongue-in-cheek press release there. But what the heck. All I know is that if you scoop this one up, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dee and Soul

Body and Soul were a short-lived duo signed to Delicious Vinyl at the tail-end of the 80's. They only put out this one single - and appeared on the West coast anti-gang collaboration record "We're All In the Same Gang" - before folding. The dedications on the back cover claim "we'll get you on our album," but it never came; and Dee (the one on the right) went on to host Pump It Up: a cool, little hip-hop video show that aired weekends at 1am on Fox. You probably remember her best for getting assaulted by Dr. Dre in 1991... as Tim Dog immortalized it in song, "Yo Dre, beatin' on Dee from Pump It Up? Step to the Dog and get fucked up!"

And I can see why the album didn't come... they weren't exactly mind-expanding lyricists... but they did manage to put together a pretty worthwhile, underrated single. It earned a spot in a lot of our collections already for the picture cover alone, but it's actually worth taking out of that cover and spinning, too.

"Dance To the Drummer's Beat" is produced by Delicious Vinyl's regular in-house producers Matt Dike and Michael Ross. But the question of who the producers were here is kinda besides the point, because the music is all performed by Trouble Funk (who were surely a much bigger draw than the record's headliners). So, you've got a great live go-go band covering a classic disco tune, and two female MCs who come with a lot of fun interplay and energy, sounding like an early Salt-N-Pepa. If this song doesn't = good times, I don't know what does.

And after that, you'd probably assume the B-side will be a limp noodle of a disappointment, right? But actually it manages to come pretty close to the A-side. And that's even more surprising, given that it's produced by Def Jef (sorry, Jef). But he manages to include a lot of.... dare I say "def?" traditional, old school samples, high energy horns and some nice scratching. Body and Soul are as lively as ever, and it all comes together for an enjoyable, classically inspired (in terms of hip-hop, not Beethoven, etc) winner. It plays it about as safe as you possibly can, with its familiar collage of tried-and-true sounds, but hey, whatever works, right?

So, yeah. instrumentals for both songs are also included, and there's nothing remotely rare about this; so you can pick it up nice and cheap next time you're ordering anything from just about anyplace. And though their album never came out, Delicious Vinyl did include two other songs they recorded - "We Can Do This" and "Ya Gets None," both produced by Def Jef - on a couple compilations of the day. So if you're feeling really inspired, you can track those down, too. Me, I stopped at the 12" with the cute picture cover. ;)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Natural Elements "EP" - What Is It, Exactly?

The last Natural Elements release (at least as a collective unit), wasn't even a legit release. It was a 2005 EP, actually titled EP, on Word of Mouth Records, which is a pure, illegitimate bootleg label. So you could be commended for staying away from it altogether... but six previously unreleased Natural Elements cuts on vinyl? Let's face it, we're not staying away.

Now, it's commonly understood that these are 6 tracks from their unreleased Tommy Boy LP (but hopefully not unreleased for much longer, right Traffic? ::wink, wink::), but that's only... mostly true. So, as part of my continued efforts to dispel all mystery surrounding Natural Elements' material, let's compare our EP with the "never mixed down" "pre-production" "album that people have:"

We start out with the inconspicuously titled "Intro." It's essentially a fresh hook, repeated, freestyled and riffed on over and over, by the three members over a fresh beat. It sounds good, if a bit repetitious. And, yes, it's the same introductory track that's featured on the LP... except it's about thirty seconds shorter. Most of the lines are the same, and the instrumental's essentially the same, but I'd say it's been completely re-performed. Where the beat breaks down is different, some of the lines are different. Check the endings, for instance... the EP version has them saying "word up" and stuff, and you hear L and A pretty prominently. But the LP version ends with Mr. Voodoo declaring, "time's up, baby! We back, motherfuckers!" It really sounds like, though they're performing the same song, that it's an entirely different recording session on each release.

Track two is "Definitely;'" this was the last song on the LP. Then side A wraps up with "Second Hand Smoke" (track 7 on the LP). They're some smooth tracks, especially "Second Hand," but both are the same on the EP as they are on the LP.

But now here's where things really get interesting: The first song on side B, "Survival," isn't from the Tommy Boy LP at all. Remember that Natural Elements snippet tape I referenced in my last Fear Of the Rap! column for HHC? It's on there! That means this is actually some of their earliest material (though on the snippet tape, Fortress titles it "Survive").

Then we get to "Paper Chase 2005." Despite the extra five years Word of Mouth tried to bless it with in their titling, this is the same "Paper Chase" remix that was on the LP. It's pretty fuckin' slick, though.

Finally we hit the "Free Style Outro." The LP didn't have an outro... what is this? Well, this is actually "NE Angels," the last song on L-Swift's 2003 mix-CD, Cross Country; the only song that featured A and Voo. This is also the only song here that had actually seen a pretty legit release beforehand.

So, all in all, EP is an interesting, more-varied-than-you-probably-would've-guessed mix... pretty much a must-have for any NE fan who can abide a bootleg. A couple of these tracks have never been heard before or since, even within the context of the unreleased music that's been floating around amongst the fans; and the ones that have were never available on vinyl before... and sadly, I'm not too optimistic about the prospect of Traffic's upcoming release dropping on anything but CD. So this isn't an alternative to the soon-to-be-released LP so much as a companion piece.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Got To Tell Ya

"You see, pimpin's big business. And it's been goin' on since the beginning of time. And it's gonna continue straight ahead, 'till somebody out there turns out the lights on this small planet."

You can't really be sure what record you're on when it opens with the frequently-sampled line from 1973's The Mack; it's been used so often. But once Big Daddy Kane's (yeah, he produced the track) unforgettable funk guitar loop kicks in on top of the funky drums, you're instantly pulled into Positive K's most beloved classic, "Night Shift." I mean, sure, "I Got a Man" was a bigger commercial hit, and "Step Up Front"'s the banger; but any head will tell you: when it comes to Pos K, it's all about the "Night Shift."

The track instantly pulls you in and won't let go. You could restart this single every time it ended 20 times in a row and not be tired of it. Jazzy Jay provides some ill scratches on the hook (the same "I Got To Tell Ya" sample younger heads will remember being cut up on Dr. Octagon). And while he never actually kicks a verse, Kane drops in before every hook to kick a little pimping advice like, "Man, you got to work your women by the scale. I mean, if she skinny, make her bring you home a good penny; and if she fat, make her pay like she weight."

Now, don't be confused by the two versions present on this 12". Neither one is the Silver D remix from the album. The Radio Version is just an edited version of the Pimp Version, which is the classic version we all know and love. But if you're looking for 12" exclusives, look no further than the B-side.

Yeah, "One 2 the Head" was on the album. But the version on the O.G. 12" (the one on +K Records, as opposed to the later Island/ 4th & Broadway releases) is completely different. The instrumental is 100% different, and so are the rhymes. The only thing they have in common is the title... and even that's slightly different, since they spell it "To the Head" on the 12".

Now, the album version wasn't bad... It's produced by Jazzy Jay and sounds very dated (which might be a plus or minus for you, depending how nostalgic you are), and Pos's rhymes are fun as always. But trust me, you haven't heard shit 'till you've heard the 12" version (also produced by Jay). It's got a crazy ill harmonica loop and a super funky bassline, and the way Pos rides the rhythm sounds super slick. There's also a hot beat change-up during the third verse, with some old mack flick sounds. And Jazzy Jay again gets busy on the hook, doing some quick rhythm rubs over the "Got To Be Real" break. Again, the album version was a cool tune, but the 12" version is definitely one for the greatest hits packages.

Now, this 12" was never particularly hard to find, but it's been made a lot easier with a semi-recent repress. You can get a copy still shrink-wrapped at a regular 12" price from places like ughh.com.