Thursday, December 31, 2009

And the 'Album Of the Year' Goes To...

Times are getting tight when it comes to good, new rap albums - this may go down as the year of the unearthed treasures, what with so many labels digging up great unreleased music from the 80's and 90's - but don't sleep on the contemporary output of 2009. I mean, sure, some artists dropped duds this year (Eminem... again), and a lot of over-hyped new jacks proved themselves to be as bland (Wale, Gucci Mane, etc) or even worse (Asher Roth) than we assumed they were gonna be. But the genre still managed to turn out a nice variety of quality albums.

I wrote about many of these over the year, like Neila's aptly titled Better Late Than Never, Busdriver's impressive Jhelli Beam, Pace Won's under-the-radar Team Won album (all three of which were covered in Werner's 2009 New Music Seminar post). The Custodian of Records put out a nice album called The Burton Music, despite what looks like a criminal case of record label neglect (see my column in HHC here). And Sole put out a grip of stuff including a new LP with The Skyrider Band, a superior limited EP (which I covered here), and now his new mixCD, Nuclear Winter, where he revamps pop gangsta rap tunes.

Still other worthwhile albums didn't get a post from me, but that doesn't mean they were or should be slept on. Themselves' Crownsdown didn't quite live up to its preceding mixCD, but it was still good listening, Cormega came nice with Born and Raised earlier in the year, and of course Raekwon's OB4CL2... well, the vinyl doesn't drop 'till 2010, so we'll come back to that next year.

But only one album can be album of the year. I was tempted to give it to Buck 65's surprisingly good collaborative album More Heart Than Brains. You'd think any album with beats by someone named Greetings From Tuskan would be one to skip; but no, it's really tight. Even the superfluous "MC Space" remake has been growing on me.

But, no... Buck 65 has to settle for being Runner Up. The winner this year is an album that defied the painful message board axiom that, "well you can't expect them to sound like they did back then." And no, I'm not talking about Blaq Poet's The Blaqprint album, though it certainly made a lot of headway in that direction and certainly deserves a place in your collection. But the album of 2009, as far as I'm concerned, is Gryme Time by The Freestyle Professors.

First, to clear up any possible misconceptions about this album, this is not some of their previous releases on the same label, in that they're releasing music recorded in the 90's (which is ineligible for Album of the Year), and it's not limited (it's widely available on CD or double vinyl) or priced like a limited release. It's brand new material by The Professors, who have made hot, new music without abandoning the style that made their early 90's EP, Your Pocket's Been P;cked, such a collector's item. And considering the disappointing modern releases by some of their guest producers, it's all the more rewarding to hear guys like Diamond D, Showbiz, Lord Finesse (who also gets on the mic) and Buckwild dropping beats like they did in their prime. Most of the production, however, is handled by the Professors' own Branesparker, whose work is right on par with the contributions by those legends (credit also has to go to the excellent scratching by DJ Grand Wizard Shake). Hip-hop's most elusive mythological beast - the comeback album that lives up to the earlier releases - has finally been found.

Oh, and if you get the package deal when ordering Gryme Time direct from their own site, freestyleprofessors.com, you get a bonus 7" single with two more exclusive tracks (one totally new and one remix). Schweet!

So, this is Werner signing off for 2009. Catch you guys next year!


P.s. - Did anybody out there manage to find a hard-copy of that Chubb Rock and Wordsmith album anywhere at all?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

G.L.O.B.E. 2000

If you've gotten to know anything about me at all by now from reading my blog, it's probably that I like obscure independent comebacks by old and true school artists. And I also have a bit of an affinity for the underrated Echo International Records. So when Echo puts out an obscure independent record by an old school artist... oh yeah, it's on!

You all should know G.L.O.B.E. as one of the three MCs from Afrika Bambaataa's SoulSonic Force, responsible for such classics as "Planet Rock" and "Looking for the Perfect Beat." But G.L.O.B.E. has also had some successful solo (or semi-solo) outings, including the classic "Play That Beat Mr. DJ" with Whiz Kid, "Get Ridiculous" and "Celebrate" with Pow Wow (also of SoulSonic). But that was all back in the 80's... In the 90's, he did keep working every so often on projects with Bambaataa, but he didn't come out with any other records of his own.

That is until 2000, when he dropped "The Millions" on Echo/ Breakthru Records, produced by Steven "Boogie" Brown, an old school producer who did "Smurf for What It's Worth" back in '82.

The beat's nothing special, and sounds very studio-made (as opposed to rich samples or live instrumentation), but it's got a cool hardcore bounce with a few layers and change-ups to it. You might not be impressed, but you'll still find yourself nodding along. And it does work effectively as a foundation for G.L.O.B.E.'s rhymes. And G.L.O.B.E. comes pretty nice, with some hardcore freestylings, taking out haters, racists and funk fakers. His wordplay and delivery are solid, though a few lines ("drunk off the Hater-Ade") are a bit cringe-worthy. The hook is simple and effective, too, with a nice little "Zulu!" declaration.

The B-side, "He Can Feel," is an unfortunate attempt to show that he's diverse by following the latest (for 2000) trends in pop rap, with a hot 97, semi-Southern style with a female giving a sexy hook. It's not that G.L.O.B.E.'s terrible at the style, so much as it's just a bad decision in the first place, plus it sounds low budget. Both tracks come in Radio Edit, Street Mix and Inst. versions.

So, this is no must-have (big surprise), but you definitely won't be mad at it ...especially if you avoid the B-side. G.L.O.B.E. proves he's a pro who could still earn a spot on your mixtape decades after his hit records. Respect due.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have an Insane Clown X Mas

A Carnival Christmas is an Insane Clown Posse single released in 1994 (and reissued in 1997) on Island/ Polygram and Psychopathic Records, featuring two songs: "Santa's a Fat Bitch" and "Red Christmas."

"Santa's a Fat Bitch" has a very west coast sounding, hardcore track, replete with a lot of sleigh bells for that holiday feel, and features a strangely sung, high-pitched hook... I guess it's meant to be a parody of Christmas carols; but I don't know any carols that're song like that. LOL It's about ICP's beef with Santa, that he never goes to the ghetto on Christmas to bring them any toy, so they sing about how much they hate him:

"Santa Claus, Santa Claus, where ya been?
I see ya got cookies and milk on your chin.
I guess you had time to collect your ends;
You always been down for your rich friends.
But Rudolph he don't bring the sleigh my way,
Nothing but coal and dirt for little J.
I guess ya couldn't fit down my chimney shaft;
You need to lose some of that fat ass.
All the little rich boys, they get paid;
Counting their toys and ducats they made.
Me, I got a little half little chunk of dog shit.
I'ma kill that fat bitch!"

"Red Christmas" sounds a little more Detroity, but still has plenty of sleigh bells as well. The beat stops regularly for the Posse to sing dirty versions of famous Christmas jingles, and then resumes for the next verse. The lyrics are appropriately weird... Violent J raps about dressing as Santa Claus and climbing down chimneys to kill people, only to tangle with the real Saint Nick; while Shaggy 2 Dope tells a story about building a snowman because he has no friends, until a really sunny day comes along:

"He was melting and I was just fine.

He got pissed and pulled out a nine;
'If I'ma die, you should come with me,
'Cause we're boys,' (BANG) and hit me.
Damn, I'm dying,
I'm dead, he got his wish;
And all I got is another red Christmas."

These two songs were also included on the ICP's compilation album Forgotten Freshness vols. 1 & 2; though the version of "Red Christmas" on there is missing the screwy "12 Days of Christmas"-parody at the ending. I don't know how great of a loss that is, really; but it's always nice to have the complete versions of stuff in your collection.

So ok, now A Carnival Christmas is the single; but it's taken off the limited edition A Carnival Christmas E.P., which was released and available only in December of '94 from Psychopathic (but not Island/ Polygram) Records. The EP features both songs from the single, plus two additional: "Santa Killas" and "It's Coming."

"It's Coming" is just a bland, repetitive instrumental tracks with a few repeated vocal samples heralding the coming of the next "Joker's Card" album (The Riddlebox). These promos were common appearances at the end of their EPs, and this track should be of interest to die-hard completists only.

But "Santa Killas" is another full-out Insane Clown Posse Christmas song, in fact it's the best one. It features a guest MC named Fink the Eastside G and producer Mike E. Clark (the strongest element of the ICPosse) even takes the mic. It features the best hook, most rugged beat of the lot, with a different set of samples for each verse, and it holds up much better through repeated listenings, since it doesn't rely on "funny singing" and other gimmicks that get annoying fast. The concept is simple: they kill Santa Clauses... J shoots a Santa Claus in the mall for saying he's been too naughty to receive presents, Shaggy jacks him for his sleigh, Mike has an axe to grind about not getting what he wanted for Christmas that year and Fink shares a graphic moment about burning Santa and his reindeer alive:

"Spark up the matches,
And it catches,
And I burnt that MOTHERFUCKER UP!!
'Ho ho (cough cough) what the fuck?'
Cooked his ass with a crackling sound,
Watched as the ash come flickering down.
I smoked their bones and I get much iller;
Fink, the Eastside G, the Santa Claus killer!"

God knows we don't need any more lame anthems to their "juggalo" fans or self-parodying references to Faygo; but when you're looking for a novel holiday tune, the Insane Clowns know how to deliver the outrageous. The rarity has made the EP a bit pricey, but if you come across it relatively cheap, it could be worthwhile Christmas present to get yourself.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let's Talk About Jesse

"Jesse" is a 1984 release by Grandmaster Melle Mel on Sugarhill Records. It wound up being included on their 1985 album, Stepping Off. And it's interesting for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it's good. That's always a nice starting point. Melle's at his best, with the Furious Five providing back-up vocals and the hook, including a little singing and harmonizing. Mel may be a little inconsistent, but as some serious song-writing ability in his bag of tricks when he wants to use it, and the always dependable SugarHill Band provide a quality backdrop for it all.

It's interesting because it's a political anthem for Jesse Jackson, who was running for the presidential spot on the Democratic ticket that year (though it wound up going to Walter Mondale who lost the election to Reagan). You don't see a lot of pro-politician songs in the hip-hop canon - at least until last year, when Obama inspired a ton of old and new school artists to record some nice mp3 tributes - and this is as pure as it gets, with Melle rapping his praises and a chorus that commands, "vote! Vote! Everybody get out and vote!"

And it's interesting because it's a complete retooling of a previously recorded song, called "D.C. Cab." "Cab" was written for the 1983 film D.C. Cab, although it wasn't featured on the soundtrack album and was never released as a single. The movie was a raunchy, screwball comedy about a crazy taxicab company, starring, among others, Bill Maher and Mr. T. And the song's a beat for beat, note for note rewrite (the aforementioned "vote! Vote! Everybody get out and vote!" was originally, "go! Go! Everybody get out and go!"). Most of the changes really just involving swapping out a few key words. For example:

"Hypocrites and Uncle Toms are talkin' trash
(Let's talk about D.C.)
Liberty and justice are a thing of the past
(Just ride with D.C.)
They want a stronger nation at any cost
(He's riding D.C.)
Even if it means that everything will soon be lost
(Then you'll love D.C.)

He started at the bottom,
Ended on the top.
He proved that he can make it;
They don't never stop.
If you think they won't make it, they gon' let you know:
Every time you get pulled down, you've got to get up and GO!"

...became:

"Hypocrites and Uncle Toms are talkin' trash
(Let's talk about Jesse)
Liberty and justice are a thing of the past
(Let's talk about Jesse)
They want a stronger nation at any cost
(Let's talk about Jesse)
Even if it means that everything will soon be lost
(Let's talk about Jesse)

He started on the bottom;
Now he's on the top.
He proved that he can make it,
So don't never stop.
Brothers stand together and let the whole world see
Our brother Jesse Jackson go down in history."

All of Melle's rap verses 100% identical, too (it helped that he already took a shot at Reagan in "D.C. Cab"). There are even D.C. references still left in "Jesse." About midway through the song, he goes, "
But don't think that D.C. just did it first... There's a lotta D.C.'s all over this universe!" That's pretty confusing within the context of this ode to Jesse Jackson. Are we supposed to take that as a reference to Washington D.C. maybe? It doesn't really make sense. Maybe he's talking about how people like the characters in the (otherwise unnamed) movie need us to support Jesse Jackson. Again, it doesn't really translate into sense.

The lyrics to "D.C. Cab" are pretty serious and political, though (surprising, considering the movie itself), a la "The Message." And like I said, it's just damn good song-writing. So except for a few awkward bumps in the change-over, it all feels pretty natural and makes for a damn good song. And best of all, where "D.C. Cab" would be fading out to a finish, "Jesse" comes back with
an all new third verse that's completely Jackson-specific:

"The 30th day that's in December
Is a day that everybody's gonna remember.
'Cause on that day a righteous man
Thought about takin' a brand-new stand.
The name of the man is Jesse Jackson,
And his call for peace was louder than action.
'Cause now's the time to change the nation
But not with just another negotiation.
He went to the East for humans' rights,
To free the lieutenant shot down in flight;
Just another statistic, and the government knew it.
They didn't even want the man to go do it.
Before he left, he called the president's home,
And Reagan didn't even answer the phone.
But I'll tell you one thing that's an actual fact:
You can bet he called Jesse when Jesse got back!"

"Jesse" then has an extra chorus and reprisal (including a few new lines, asking us to "join the Rainbow Coalition").

The 12" for "Jesse" follows the standard SugarHill Records layout, with the vocal version on side A and the instrumental on side B. Also like a lot of SugarHill joints, the original 12" version is kinda long (8+ minutes); so you might want to be wary of compilations featuring shorter versions. As for "D.C. Cab," that song went unreleased for ages, until it finally appeared on the 1999 compilation album Adventures On the Wheels Of Steel, released by Sequel Records, which was a nice, exclusive treat from the vaults. Still, in the long run, I've gotta give it up to "Jesse," both for the extra verse and the fact that the subject matter is naturally compelling when it's directed towards genuine hope for a real political candidate rather than a zany ensemble of fictitious Animal House-like cab drivers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2 Big (new Kane and 'Pac review on DWG)

I'm back up on Diggers With Gratitude with a new review: an unfinished collaberation between Big Daddy Kane and 2Pac that was leaked onto vinyl in '98. Here's the direct link.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

InstaRapFlix #25: Hip-Hop Time Capsule - The Best of RETV 1993

I told ya I'd be back with the follow-up. Here we are with Hip-Hop Time Capsule - The Best of RETV 1993 (Netflix rating: 2.5 stars). We'll see how it stacks up to the last one... it seems there's not too many places to go but up. But it looks like we're off to a bad start: 1992 was full-movie length, but this one's only fifty-odd minutes.

This time we're given a helpful title card that tells us, "Rap Entertainment Television aired on New Jersey cable from 1992-1996." Hmm. I'm disappointed I missed that back then; I used to watch rap video shows like crazy back then. Oh well.

This time our host is "Hard Workin'" Tony Perkins, and unlike our last host, who was good but didn't stick around, this guy keeps coming back and is annoying. It's not really his fault; he's just given nothing to say. So he just keeps coming back to tell us what we've just seen and repeating the phrases "RETV," "1993" and "church, homey" incessantly.

Also like the last one, the first half of this movie is comprised of music videos. We've got Redman, Dr. Dre, Boss, Da Youngsta's, Prince Markie Dee, Paris and more. Right away, we see that 1993 is a big improvement over 1992 in the videos department. First of all, they take up the full screen. And even more importantly, they play the complete videos this time! There's also little text tidbits taken from allmusic.com that appear on-screen during some of the videos. The video quality's not so great though, so they're hard to read. And unfortunately, unlike the 1992 videos, these are censored edits.

The interviews are also full-screen this time (thank goodness; because last time was ridiculous). They're short though, so don't expect to learn a whole lot or get too deep. Some are over so quickly, you'll just be like, "what was the point?" But it's cool to see some of the artists like Kool G Rap and Boss back then (G Rap names some songs he had to leave off of Live and Let Die for sample clearance reasons: "I Ain't Trickin'," "Under 21 Not Permitted" and "Live At the Underground"... somebody needs to dig these up!).

The host also mentions footage of live shows at the opening, but we never get any. Considering the quality of the stuff we saw in '92, maybe it's just as well.

So, stacking it up to 1992, there are some draw-backs (under an hour, censored videos, no new interview like the last one had, and the video quality is still lacking), and it's worth noting that a good third of the names listed on the video box do not appear in any way, shape or form in this video. But overall, I'm pleasantly surprised to say it's a big step up. I can't say this is worth a purchase unless you're after the handful of videos, but as a free InstaWatch, it's worth your time, and genuinely feels like the nice time capsule it was meant to be.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Black Tie Affair Vs. The Maestro Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

InstaRapFlix #24:Hip-Hop Time Capsule - The Best of RETV 1992

It's been a little while since we've done an InstaRapFlix. I wanna get a bunch of these done, because I think it'll eventually all add up to a nice little database of hip-hop DVDs, many of which don't get reviewed any place else on the web. So, for today we've got one I chose at random... Hip-Hop Time Capsule - The Best of RETV 1992 (Netflix Rating: 2.5 stars).

It starts off with a stand-up comic named Brandon T. Jackson who introduces the content and makes a commercial for his upcoming comedy DVD. Considering how awful hosts have been in some previous InstRapFlix entries have been, I was surprised to say this guy's actually not bad. He's not annoying and seems to have a genuine knowledge of the artists he's talking about. We're off to a good start.

But then it kinda grinds to a halt around the 3 minute mark. For the next 40-odd minutes they just play music videos from 1992 (Brand Nubian, Das EFX, FamLee, Fu-Schnickens, Cypress Hill, etc.). But they don't play the whole thing, just 2/3s, jumping in at random points and cutting the rappers off mid-sentence. That gets annoying pretty quick. Also the video quality of the videos is pretty poor - something they try to mask but window-boxing it, and then putting the video inside an even smaller box. I've never seen something double window boxed before! One good thing, though, is the video clips are uncensored... it's refreshing to see a BDP video with Krs One actually saying "shut the fuck up" rather than "Shut the [bleep] up."

The music video (portions) run uninterrupted for the first full half of the film.

The second half is more interesting and varied; starting with some vintage interviews with different artists. The interviews don't get too deep - pretty much the same as when you'd have a guest on Rap City or Yo!, but what's weird is the fact that the video for these is only playing in a small portion of the screen! The rest is taken up with giant, still logos and crap. I mean, if you thought the double window-boxing of the music videos before was weird, well I can't even explain it... I just have to show you guys a screenshot:


See? What is all that crap taking up the whole screen? The artists they interview are mixed... they talk to The UMC's, Kriss Kross, Naughty By Nature, The Awesome Two, some music video director they don't bother to identify (actually, the don't identify most of the artists they interview... fortunately, I just recognize most of them), Cypress Hill, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Those interviews last about 15 minutes or so.

The next portion of the movie is comprised of random clips of live footage. It's displayed in the same small box as the interviews, and the footage is clearly being taken from behind the audience. So it doesn't look or sound to pretty. Often, the vocals are so muddy you can't even make out what the MC is saying. Black Sheep, Krs-One, Das EFX, Naughty By Nature, Kriss Kross, Tim Dog, are all shown; and if you're thinking that's a lot of artists for so short a time, you're right. We pretty much see less than a song apiece from each. But it's just as well.

The screen opens up (ha!) to the double window-boxing for the last fifteen minutes. We get a freestyle session from Da Youngstas and a couple of the artists they interviewed previously (clearly recorded at the same time and location). That last for about five minutes.

Then, finally the screen returns back to a regular full-screen, respectable video quality image like we saw in the introduction. Oh yeah, whatever happened to our host? He never came back after he plugged his DVD. Oh well. Instead we have Lady Bug Mecca reminiscing about her time with Digable Planets. This is really the best part, and besides the opening, the only part that was clearly shot for this DVD.

Then it finally wraps up with some commercial for another DVD they had coming out back in 2004. The whole thing runs for an hour and 25 minutes, which is at least full movie length.

If you purchased this DVD, you would be pissed that the butchered music videos, the low quality, the ridiculous way they shove most of the video up in the top corner, and just the random crap mash-up of old VHS footage in general. But if you're up for a free InstaRapFlix viewing, I recommend firing up and skipping to the last 10 minutes. That Lady Bug interview's only six minutes long, but it's worth your time. Too bad the rest of the DVD wasn't like that.

Oh, and I checked... there is a Hip-Hop Time Capsule - The Best of RETV 1993 DVD up on Netflix for instant viewing, so watch for that review here in the near future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Take the Bait

Ah, "Bait." What made Kool DJ Red Alert's mixed compilation albums so desirable were the exclusive promo songs by Bizzie Boyz, Total Control, DJ Premiere, King AmperRock, etc. And at the pinnacle of that impressive pile is The Ultramagnetic MC's tribute song, "Bait."

Straight from his radio show to his Red Alert Goes Beserk album (the first in his series), Red Alert had a killer jam on his hands. In 1987, the Ultramagnetics were fresh and exciting new artists at the top of their game. Their crazy flows ("on the mix, Red Alert, controlled by gamma light") and raw-as-fuck scratching laid over Bob James' classic "Nautilus" break. Everybody wanted to know where they could get this record. But they couldn't.

Neither Ultra's label, Next Plateau Records (which also put out Red's comps) nor Red's own label Let's Go saw fit to release this gem to the masses. Rumors still float around, and if you want to make a collector hump your leg, you can tell him you've seen a dusty old test pressing someplace... but it never happened. The best heads were going to get was the mixed version on Red's compilation album.

But it's not just the fact that this wasn't released without radio blends and some chatter on it. The album version was missing a whole verse and more! If you listen closely, you can hear a bit of human beat-boxing on the track... well, if you'd heard the complete version on the radio, you knew there was more of that (provided by none other than Greg Nice himself) and a second verse from Ced Gee!

It wasn't until 1997 that we'd heads would get their chance. Rock & roll label Roadrunner Records pressed up a limited (200 copies) run of 7" singles that featured the Red Alert Goes Beserk version of "Bait" on one side, and the extended version on the B-side. It was only given away when you purchased a full set of Ultramagnetic repress 12"s. Needless to say, they're pretty sought after and hard to come by.

That same year, Next Plateau put out an Ultramagnetic MCs compilation album called The B-Sides Companion, which featured all of their rare 12" B-sides (of which their were many), a new Ultra song or two, and "Bait!" Unfortunately, all of the songs were remixed and, well, basically ruined. It's got a lot of live instrumentation by William "Spaceman" Patterson and, yeah. Not much more to be said about that. It's a collection for completists only.

Eventually, "Bait (Original 12" Version)" (I don't know what 12" they're referring to... but this is the full-length version with the fourth verse intact) was included as a bonus track on a remastered rerelease of Ultra's debut album from 1988, Critical Beatdown. Now, this album has been repressed and reissued a number of times... once in 1997, once in 2001... but the one with "Bait" is the 2004 repressing. It's CD only, I believe, but what can you expect?

Most recently, in 2009, there was the release you see pictured above (yeah, we've finally gotten to it). It's a bootleg 45. The label claims it's "Bait" on both sides, but in actually, side A is the shorter version of "Bait" from Red's album, and side B is "Funky" (an Ultramagnetic song that was released on 12" in 1987... a remix of which was included on Critical Beatdown; but this is the remix that was only on the 12" single). It's made to look like it came out on Let's Go Records, and it's dated 1987, but of course that's all phony bologna.

Still, unless you're one of the lucky 200 who scored that 1997 release, or you've stolen some kind of epically coveted acetate from Red Alert's well-guarded stash, this is probably your only opportunity to own it on vinyl (well... except for the Red Alert LP, which - sense this is the shortened version on here anyway - is just as valid). It's pretty common and inexpensive. That's why I got it. (shrug)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Master Ace Meets The Simpsons

Have you ever wanted to hear someone rap over The Simpsons' theme song? Me neither! But Masta Ace did it anyway. And he rapped over an 8-bit video game digitized version, which makes it even ... better?

Game Over was a conceptual compilation album that came out in 2000 on Landspeed and Yosumi Records (the label that put out Ace's Disposable Arts album as well). The gimmick was to have a bunch of known rappers rap over video game beats, which was probably ultra-keen neat-o for fan boys, but made the rest of the rap world squint and say, "these beats are pretty weak."

But Master Ace was a sport about it anyway and contributed two tracks, both of which are featured on this 12" single. The lead track is called "Spread It Out," and like I said, it's over The Simpsons' theme. Now if you're familiar with tune (and, really, who doesn't watch The Simpsons?), you know it's got a very quick, upbeat "bum-bum-bum-bum" rhythm. This compels Ace to do a very... almost Southern rap, broken up short syllable "rat-a-tat-tat" style of delivery, and while I guess this shows that he's got range, it's not the most appealing sound for long-term Ace fans. Lyrically, he's not saying much, and the whole thing feels like an attempt to crossover that didn't crossover. The novelty value is upped a bit towards the end when they start throwing in a mess of random Simpsons' vocal samples, "D'oh!" "Aye carumba!" etc. That comes in Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions (in case you ever want to rap over The Simpsons' theme!).

Next up is a really randomly assorted posse cut called "Game Over" featuring J-Black (some random unknown guy who's only done Game Over appearances as far as I know), Jugga the Bully (that guy who tried to make a name for himself by dissing Clue, then disappeared when nobody cared), Steele (yeah, that Steele of Smif-N-Wessun), Godfather Don (just listed as Godfather here) and P Dap (some guy who did a lot of guest spots in the early 2000s). It's ok. I don't know what game soundtrack they're rhyming over... it doesn't sound great, but it's definitely more appropriate for a hip-hop track than The Simpsons. Unsurprisingly, Don and Steele have the best verses here, but even they aren't bringing their A game. This song only comes in a Clean version, which is distracting because they curse constantly.

Then, on the B-side, we get the highlight of this 12", "Hellbound (H&H Remix)" by Eminem, J-Black and Masta Ace. This is before Eminem turned into a grist mill of sappy pop rap, and every verse was a gem. And sure enough, Eminem is sick here, and hearing him paired with Masta Ace (who also kills it this time around) is a treat. This video game is also the most effective video game loop yet (enhanced with a clearly non-video game sourced beat and bassline - I guess that's the benefit of the Remix). J-Black contributes nothing of value, but he's at least tolerable enough not to ruin the proceedings. It comes in Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions.

Game Over was successful enough that Game Over II came out the following year, this time on Yosumi and Interscope Records. They didn't release a single this time, but German labels ZYX and Fon-kay Records threw this little something together. The A-side is Ace's "Spread It Out" again, from the first Game Over. It only features the one (dirty) version and despite the fact that it's a 12", it plays at 45rpm. I'd really take this for a boot, but ZYX is a legit label that picks up a lot of US stuff for overseas, so I guess it's legit... maybe?

The B-side is Masta Ace's song for Game Over II, "Rap Y2K1" (as in the year, 2001, when this was made). The beat's kinda mediocre (another video game laid over drums and a bassline), and the hook is boring, but lyrically Ace has stepped his game up since "Spread It Out." He's written a fun concept song this time out. He lays out the concept simply enough, "I had a dream that I was inside of my PlayStation," but instead of just being a crazy story of hanging out with Sonic the Hedgehog or something, he twists it into a series of clever metaphors for the hip-hop music industry. Granted, metaphors for the hip-hop music industry are a dime a pound, but this one's consistently smart and amusing:

"I started off, underground, in a dark room
With a freestyle, a sawed-off pump and a harpoon
That transformed to a pen in case of a verse war.
I opened the first door that led to the first floor.
...
I got attacked right away when I walked in

By a four-foot manager with a contract and a pen.
I put up my force shield to block any attempt
At this shrimp drainin' my life 20 percent.
The floor opened up and I almost fell inside,
But I used my mic wire, and I swung to the other side.
And just when I thought I avoided the booby trap,
I got slapped by a female MC with a doobie wrap.
And this chick was tryin' to be he(a)rd like she raised cattle;
But I remembered somethin' I seen on the Blaze Battle:
'Whoever sold you them shoes, they fooled you.'
I killed her with a verse about her fucked up weave and her fake FUBU.
A record exec then appeared in a black limo
And started to attack with a bag full of wack demos.
And I will admit, it was hard as hell to kill,
'Till I stabbed him with an invoice and a studio bill."

So yeah. If you ask me, "Spread It Out" is a little puke-worthy, but labels must've thought the Simpsons beat was a golden ticket, since they included it on both 12"s. "Game Over" was also unexceptional (especially considering it was Clean only!), but the other two songs are definitely worth your time. Hell, "Hellbound" is awesome. And if you're a fan of the game they sampled, you'll probably get extra geeked out by it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lyte + Premier = Bootleg?

In 2006, MC Lyte made a lot of comeback noise with a hot Premier-produced track called "The Wonder Years." There was a fancy, CGI-heavy video for it on YouTube, and a lot of fans were suddenly interested in picking up a new MC Lyte record for probably the first time in a long time.

...But then it never came.

I guess she was hoping for a major label to pick it up, and she didn't get the kind of offer she was expecting? Or maybe the digital age's assault on music sales and the fact that this song was getting spread all over the place just made her give up and say "fuck it, everybody who's interested already has this anyway?" I don't know; but fortunately bootleg label Word of Mouth (who also did that Natural Elements EP I covered recently) were there to scoop up the dropped ball.

This is one of Premier's better recent tracks, and Lyte comes with that unique spin on braggadocios rhyming we hadn't heard much of since her early albums:

"Pull up a chair,
Let me explain how I maintain the youthful glow;
For you that don't know, it's called H2O.
So stop askin' when I walk by,
How I look so young and stay that fly?
It's elementary.
Kick the liquor when you turn dirty thirty;
The rest is a secret, so I keep it for the worthy.
Some of us need to be doin' a bid,
Spittin' lyrics that's worse than Ridlan for kids.
They say, 'Lyte, they ain't ready for nuthin' new, kid,'
So we kick the same stuff, as if they were stupid;
Take the same beat and loop it
50 times - why not? That other group did.
It's idiotic, average and robotic.
I keep it real;
My mental thick like a Harley clique.
I got 'em singing Bob Marley hits (I don't want to wait);
They don't want to wait in vain,
But I'm worth all the joy and the pain.

Come hard when I hit; you know the name."

The hook is the weakest link... It's not bad, but it's by some random guy (Premiere lip-syncs to it in the video; but discogs seems to think it's Shabeeno of the NYG'z, which seems more likely) and it just makes you think, "what's this guy doing talking on the hook?" Also, he calls her "the female G Rap;" and I guess you could say she is, sort of, in the sense that she's the most respected female MC, lyrically, who's been in the game for roughly the same amount of years; but... she doesn't flow or write anything like G Rap. You'd expect a "female G Rap" to come with 50 million quick rhyming syllables and violent mafioso tales, right? So it just stands out as a weird comparison. Still, it's a fine, passable hook, that at least manages not to ruin the greatness established by Lyte and the instrumental.

This song alone makes this a must purchase (and it comes in Clean and Dirty versions), but there's actually a whole lot Premiere-produced goodness on offer here, so let's move on.

Next up is Cormega's "Dirty Game." This isn't unreleased at all: it first appeared on a 2005 12" single, b/w "Dirty New York," and then turned up on his 2006 album with Lake (who's not featured on this particular song), My Brother's Keeper. A few years later, Cormega put it out again, this time on his 2009 album, Born and Raised. It's a dope track, but serious Premier or 'Mega fans probably didn't need it included it here.

Now, on the flip side, we've got some Teflon. First is another exclusive. Well, it's mostly an exclusive... it had turned up on a few mix-tapes back in 2005 under the title "Married 2 tha Game," but "Married To the Game" (as it's spelled here) had never received a proper, unmixed release... much less on vinyl. It's an interesting track, a little outside of Premiere's usual vein, with a dramatic classical violin loop and subtle, un-bouncy bassline. It's helped a lot by a guest verse from Styles P, and comes here in Clean and Dirty versions.

Finally the last song, "Showtime," was released as a 2006 12" on Premiere's label, Works of Mart. That 12" featured clean, dirty and instrumental versions of this song plus a B-side, "Just Rhymin' With Krumb" (featuring, clearly, Krumbsnatcha); but only the dirty version of "Showtime" is included here. It's another hot Premiere track in Teflon's usual, MOP lite style.

So, I guess the idea here is essentially a 2-song 12" with exclusive tracks (the ones in Clean and Dirty versions), and the other two songs (only in Dirty) are just sorta tagged on as bonus tracks (that's the nice thing about being a bootlegger, I suppose... you can tack on anything by anybody as a bonus track, and it doesn't cost you anything)? Well, hey, I guess that's reasonable. The Lyte track alone already made it a must-have for me, and it's good to see that Tef and Styles track get a proper - if not legit - release. And the rest is just gravy. Definitely one for the crates.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Other Strong Island Remixes

You've probably heard of the 1988 "Blue Mix" of JVC Force's classic (in the strictest sense of the word) hit, "Strong Island." It's rare, expensive, and if you see one at a record store, grab it quick and duck, because there's probably another collector looming over your shoulder about to sucker punch you in the neck for it if you're not prepared. AJ Rok gave Unkut a bit of the back-story to that track in a dope interview (click here to read the whole thing), "we did that too. The U.K. was giving us mad love, so we did something just for the U.K. It ended up going other places, but it was just for the U.K. It ended up coming back out to the States, eventually. They were giving us love so we gave them something extra."

But here's the thing. It's not really all that great. I mean, it's not bad. I'd buy it if it were freely available at a regular price... but it's nothing to get excited about. It uses all of the same elements as the original instrumental (wise, since the original instrumental is one of the most recognizable, signature sounds in hip-hop instrumentals), and just chops them up differently. And not in a way that's less appealing than the original mix. So it's interesting... it's a great curiosity piece for collectors... but for a casual fan, really, it's not worth your time.

But holy shit - why didn't anybody tell me DJ Skribble's mix was so good?

In 1998, Sidewalk Music (a label that otherwise seemed to specialize in crap) put out a promo 12" of "Strong Island" remixes. DJ Skribble was pretty big at the time, he was a regular fixture on Hot 97 and down with The Fugees. But I (and I guess most people) never picked it up, because hip-hop was getting over-run with junky remakes of hip-hop classics ever since Jason Nevins blew up for ruining a Run DMC record in '97.

But I recently picked it up, and it's great! Like the "Blue Mix," Skribble plays it safe by retaining the original instrumental elements... that crazy industrial sound and the horns and all... but he smooths it out just a little, and chops up the horns making a whole new, def horn riff. I can't tell you how perfectly the vocals sound over this version, it's just... perfect. I can't say this replaces the original, because again, that's really at the pinnacle of hip-hop tracks; but this remix is actually a worthy companion piece, and sounds like it could've been an original, '88 JVC Force cut. ...The instrumental is included, too. 8)

Then, on the B-side, there's another remix by Trade Secrets. As good as Skribble's is, this one is bad. He follows the same, unwritten rule of keeping the signature sounds, but this time turns "Strong Island" into some kind of jungle/drum'n'bass/what-the-fuck-ever mix. I mean, it's better than most records in that "genre," simply by virtue of the fact that it features JVC rapping and samples (and, to its credit, a fair amount of quality scratching); but who would want to hear "Strong Island" bastardized into some awful euro-club mix? I suppose this is Sidewalk's more direct attempt to cash in on the dance club DJs butchering hip-hop classics craze, but uh... yeah, let's just stop talking about it so I can hurry up forgetting that it exists.

So, screw the B-side, but the A-side is a must have. Do yourself a favor and pick it up some place for cheap while the crazy elitist collectors are busy spending thousands to outbid each other on that boring-ass "Blue Mix."