Thursday, December 30, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 5: The Mail Men

The Mail Man was the one. Federal, Down & Dirty, Mr. Flamboyant, Let's Slide... all impressive, indie albums, but The Mail Man is E-40's masterpiece. Of course, it had the epic lead single, which even added the concept of "Captain Save A Hoe" to the lexicons of New York heads, and has forever immortalized "the package deal down there at, uh, Cellular One." hehe But it also featured the dramatic imagery of "Bring the Yellow Tape" and while other gangsters would die if a crack showed in the shield of their bravado, 40 glibly turned the confession "I got a mirror in my pocket and I practice lookin' hard" into a hit song.

For me, though, even more than "Captain Save A Hoe," the signature tune was "Neva Broke." With it's live production and throwback vocoder hook (a concept MC 900 Ft Jesus jacked and used for his big MTV hit a few months later), the tune was immediately addictive. But all that only served to showcase E-40's stand-out mic skills, with his fluctuating delivery and raw street rhymes. I mean, even though NWA and such had been around for years, a verse about tying up a man's wife and making him watch him rape her was still shocking in '94, especially when he goes on to add, "now folks remember, I'm skanless and I'm anti-fuckless. I carry diseases such as Herpes." Who says shit like that? Only E-40! Then as he cheerfully sings (not raps, sings), "I need a flathead screwdriver but a butter knife will do," it's just one of the illest, rawest narrative verses about crime in hip-hop history, and I'd stand it right alongside anything by G Rap, Raekwon or Slick Rick. That's The Mail Man.

"But jeez, Werner, don't tell us it's the same story again?"
Yes, I'm afraid so. Based off of the success of "Captain Save a Hoe," Jive signed E-40 and picked up his EP, The Mail Man and released it first. Then Sick Wid' It put it out independently and removed some songs... wait. What is this? Bizzaro World?

Apparently! The Sick Wid' It version has six songs and is dated 1995, and the Jive version has eight tracks and is dated 1994. Part of this can be explained away, more or less. The Sick Wid' It EP is just plain dated wrong. I know because I bought these when they were new, and I remember then that it was dated into the future. I have no idea why, but I'm pretty sure they both came out in 1994 (or even late '93 for the original), and it's on the success of the 6-song Sick Wid' It version (and the single, amusing titled "Captain Save Them Thoe"), that Jive reissued it that same year. The really surprising part is just that Jive didn't mess it up like they did all the other Click albums they reissued. Instead they actually added tracks!

Not that the new tracks are anything to get too excited about. One of them, the "Captain Save a Hoe (Remix)" is really just the clean version ("you wanna kill me 'cause I tossed yo chick"). And the other track, "Ballin' Outta Control," is at least a proper song into itself - and it was an exciting exclusive at the time, with an attention-getting hook by Levitti - but Jive later wound up including it on E's 1998 album, The Element of Surprise.

By the way, a quick interjection: the Sick Wid' It CD also lists eight songs, including two that might first appear to be exclusives: "Real Shit" and "Playa Hater." But these are really just the otherwise uncredited intro and outro skits that are featured on every version of The Mail Man... nothing to get excited about.

So yeah... there's really no clear winner here. The original is cool to own just because it's the original. But the reissue no different, content-wise; and the extras, while nothing special, are still a bit of added value. And that's the way reissues should work. And really, if Jive could only get one album right, at least they chose the masterpiece not to screw up. Whichever version you have, you can't lose. 8)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 4, Tryin' To Get a Fuck and Get Up

Before we get started, I would just like to point out that five - count 'em, five - songs on this album begin with one dude askin' another dude, "what's up?" I find that impressive, because I believe it was unintentional. I mean, I don't think he kept asking "what's up" by accident. I just don't think anyone involved with the production of this album at any point noticed how much the "what's up" intros were piling up, to the point where it's funny in an absurdist kind of way. Anyway, if you can't tell from the title or the picture, the album I'm talking about today is B-Legit the Savage's debut album, Tryin' To Get a Buck.

If you've read my past entries this week, you already know the story even if you don't already know the story. B-Legit released his debut on Sick Wid' It Records (in 1994) and upon The Click's major label signing, Jive rereleased it (in 1995). Now, if you bought this album concerned you weren't sure how B-Legit would fare on his own without The Click's resident wunderkind to back him up, you needn't have been concerned, because E-40 appears on a full six songs on this album (that's even more than how many songs he has saying "what's up!").

But let's cut to the crux of the matter. The question at the forefront of our minds isn't whether B-Legit is able to release a quality album on his own merits (though he is), the question is what the Hell did Jive do the album this time? And actually, the answer is not so much.

...At least, when compared to the major changes to Federal or the complete devastation of Down & Dirty. Nothing's been remixed here... I mean, yeah, "Daily Routine" is different and inferior to the version first featured on Down & Dirty, but it's the same across both versions of Tryin' To Get a Buck. Jive can't be blamed for that alteration, except for the fact that they opted to remove the original from The Click album. No, Jive had no songs altered here for the better or worse. They only removed one song.

Fuuuck. Yes, once again, the internationally distributed major label release was flawed and the original is the definitive one you should've gotten but probably didn't. So which song did they remove?

"Fuck and Get Up," which is one of my favorites on the album. I mean, it's probably not my very favorite - I think that still goes to "B-Legit" which makes fantastic use of "Eazy Duz It" on the hook, and creates an anthem out of the guy's name (always a smart move if you can pull it off). And "Dank Game" is kinda fun, but sort of ruined once you realize the keyboardist is just playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" throughout the song. No, if "Fuck and Get Up" isn't my favorite, it's the definite runner-up...

See, one of the drawbacks with this album is that B-Legit has a low-key flow... which is good in general, 'cause the crew doesn't need two E-40's. But when he's on his own, his albums can feel a little lethargic. That's worsened when his production is that slow, keyboard heavy kinda g-funk stuff that's all over this album. But "Fuck and Get Up" breaks that stagnancy. The concept is simple and aims low, but it works as a song, and while the music's emphasis is still on hardcore funk like the rest of the album, it's also got some serious bounce to it. And though B-Legit more than adequately carries the bulk of the song and proves he could do it perfectly well by himself, his cousin Little Bruce drops by and kicks a final verse. And, after all, any additional voice is a welcome one on this album. So, bottom line: this song is catchy.

...So of course Jive got rid of it. This makes the original once again the definitive version to own, but unlike the previous cases, there's no reason for even hardcore fans to pick up the rerelease, because there's nothing new or unique about that Tryin' To Get a Buck. All it's doing is missing a song.

Oh, and yes. "Fuck and Get Up" starts out with B-Legit asking his friends "what's up?"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 3, Watered Down & Dirty

If you thought what Jive did to Federal was bad (and you were right; it was), wait'll we get into what they did to The Click's debut full-length, Down & Dirty. Like Federal, Down & Dirty was released before E-40 blew up with "Captain Save a Hoe" - specifically, 1993. And like Federal, Jive picked it up and rereleased it (in 1995), but only after making some drastic and somewhat baffling decisions.

Just to give you an idea of how much damage was done: the original Down & Dirty was 18 songs long. Well... at least the cassette version was. The vinyl version shaved off a few to fit onto a single LP. But the reissue is only 11 songs long; that's seven gone missing! What's more, even some of the songs they kept were completely remixed. You have to ask, how much of the album does that even leave after all that tinkering and slashing? I mean, heck, seven songs is almost an album onto itself.

Let's break it down song by song, shall we?

1. Let's Get Drunk - REMIXED - Let's be fair to the remixes. They don't all suck and this isn't a case of every remixed song being ruined. I prefer the original, though, because for some reason the sampled hook plays as funnier, and that's key to this song.

2. On a Mission - REMIXED - This version is actually funkier than the original though, with some cool old school horn samples.

3. Ballers - REMOVED - But it's just a skit, so no great loss.

4. Street Life - REMIXED - Adds elements including a muzak-like flute to the already already over-produced retread of the original "Street Life."

5. Mic Check - REMIXED - The big, overbearing keyboards are the same on both, but this was lacks the funky, rolling piano that Marley Marl used on "We Write the Songs." Boo!

6. Mr. Flamboyant - LEFT INTACT - Though if you're in the market for an alternate version of this song, remember the Mr. Flamboyant EP has a slightly stripped down version.

7. Tramp Dogs - LEFT INTACT - And this is one they easily could've removed, since it's also featured on B-Legit's first album, under the title "Dank Room." That deletion would make sense, but nooo... they had to pull the plug on the songs coming up instead.

8. Old School - REMIXED - And the original is more fun with Malcolm McLaren scratches and stuff throughout.

9. The Shit That Will Fuck Up Your Brain - LEFT INTACT

10. She Was Only 16 - LEFT INTACT

11. Tired Of Being Stepped On - LEFT INTACT - Three songs left alone in a row? Hey, maybe Jive didn't do such a hatchet job after all...

12. Sohabs - REMOVED - ...Oh never mind. Here goes one of the better songs, with a funky beat, flute, and the only appearance by Click member Suga T. It's also an early example of E & The Click introducing the world to their unique slang, which has become a signature of theirs.

13. Daily Routine - REMOVED - A slow, deep and funky solo joint by B-Legit. One of the best songs on the album. Now, I hear what a few of you fans are thinking, "but, Werner, this was on B-Legit's album, too; so who cares?" Yeah, but unlike "Tramp Dogs"/ "Dank Room," this version is completely remixed. And furthermore, it's much better here. Argh, Jive, what were you thinking!?

14. Clicks Concert - LEFT INTACT - But it's just a 15 second skit, so who cares?

15. Porno Star - REMOVED - Holy shit! They removed "Porno Star?" Damn, I love this song! Now I really feel sorry for the people who got the Jive version ...which, remember, was most people.

16. Party In the V-Town - REMOVED - Like the Mr. Flaboyant songs I mentioned, this one adds some fun energy to The Click's catalog, and the horn sample is like something out of The $% King catalog (ok, it probably IS right out of his catalog). I'd really miss this one from the album.

17. You Fucked Up When You Slammed My Motha - REMOVED - Damn, that's it. I don't know wha Jive released, but it isn't Down & Dirty. The Jive version is just some kind of sampler EP or something... it just can't be Down & Dirty anymore.

18. Let's Side - REMOVED - A bevy of funky old samples, fresh scratches and a playful delivery by E-40. This was the title cut of their debut EP and still one of their greatest hits. Sigh...

Flat out, if you don't have the original version of Down & Dirty, you don't have Down & Dirty. Jive straight up decimated this album, releasing only a fraction of what once was. Hell, they completely excised Suga T... I'm surprised they didn't blur out her image on the album cover. Still, the remixes are at least pretty decent - like I said, I think "On a Mission" is actually better on the second version, and I could see people preferring the original "Let's Get Drunk" if that's the one they were first introduced to. So, for hardcore fans, I'd actually recommend picking up both. But there's simply no question which version gets top priority.

Monday, December 27, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 2: Mr. Flamboyant Himself

You know how I said, yesterday, that fans might be confused by seeing a "Tanji II" on what was ostensibly being presented as a debut album? Well, I'm not gonna front. Back in the early 90's, I was confused by it, too. If Federal was E-40's debut album, even before he signed to a major label, where the heck was "Tanji" part one?

It wasn't until years later I discovered the answer to that was a rare, earlier debut called Mr. Flamboyant, released on Sick Wid' It Records back in 1991. The label actually credits it to "E-40 and the Click" on one spot, and just "The Click" on another; but hardly anybody raps on any of these songs except E-40 himself (B-Legit is credited, but he only speaks briefly between 40's verses on the one song). So, though The Click does share production credit, it is essentially a solo EP.

Now, granted, the title cut was also included on The Click's debut album, Down and Dirty, from 1993; so odds are that you've already got the song... This version is a bit different, though. It has more of a raw, demo-ish feel here. It doesn't have that intro with E singing, "yeah, I'm just a hustler..." over sleigh bells, and it doesn't have all the vocal samples that appear on the later version. But musically and lyrically, it's pretty identical, so the differences are essentially academic. Not so exciting, even if this one came first. But the rest of the EP consists of all original songs, unique to this EP. So now it's got your attention, huh?

Now, first of all, what songs you get depends which version of Mr. Flamboyant you get. As you can see, I have the vinyl version, so I get four songs, including the title track. If I had gotten the cassette version, I would've gotten three songs (including the title track) plus the instrumental for "Mr. Flamboyant." So you have to choose between a song called "Shut It Down" or the instrumental. Oddly enough, though, both versions fill space by putting the songs "Tanji" and "Club Hoppin'" twice, once on side A and once on side B. There's no difference between them, side B doesn't have instrumental mixes or clean versions... they just stuck the same songs on twice. Strange, but there you have it.

Now to "Tanji." Interestingly, "Tanji" is a short (minute and a half), single verse song, that's actually - lyrically speaking - contained entirely within "Tanji II" from Federal. The first verse from "Tanji II" is the single verse in this "Tanji"... that's why the first verse of "Tanji II" ends with "stay tuned for the next episode." It makes more sense when it's the end of the song and promising a sequel. So, anyway, the verse is the same but the music is completely different... it's got what I think are opera samples mixed with old school bells and stuff. It's kinda crazy, but works and goes with his flow and story. I'm not sure if it's better than "Tanji II," because I'm a big fan of that one... but I'd say they're both about equal, just different.

There's more old school samples on "Club Hoppin'," like the horns or whatever that sound is from "Cinderfella Dana Dane." This whole EP has a more classic hip-hop vibe to it. I guess you could say that's because it's older, so of course it sounds older. But I think E and his producers were just coming more from a place of respecting the golden age traditions on this EP, at least in the music... his flow here is still pretty cutting edge/ out there, after all.

Both "Club Hoppin'" and "Shut It Down" are very up-beat party songs. "Shut It Down" uses a little more P-funk, but they're both very 80's rap dance songs. E-40 does still kick more game than your average pop MC: "one day, moms gonna get a call, 'wouldja wouldja wouldja come identify your son?'" But this is like the NWA equivalent to "Something 2 Dance 2" rather than "Fuck the Police." Me, I always like "Something 2 Dance 2" a lot, and think it provides some much needed energy to their catalog... and I think the music on this EP works the same way for E-40. But if you really want one type of song and one type of song only from your gangsta rappers, this might be too far removed from the formula for your tastes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 1, A Federal Case

It's been ages since I've done a "week," huh? Well, I think this should be a fun one... Instead of boring top tens and "year in review" retrospectives, we're gonna ride out the last week of 2010 examining the music of E-40 and The Click.

I don't think I've mentioned E much on this blog, if at all (except for my awesome interview with the man, of course); but I've always been a fan. He's like the perfect blend between the lofty, artistic end of west coast hip-hop with his inventive, off-the-wall delivery and streetwise gangsta rap with an air of first-hand knowledge. The Good Life movement meets NWA.

And Federal was his major label debut. One of the songs on that album, "Drought Season" remains one of my favorite 40 songs of all time, with him and his cousin Kaveo spitting tongue-twisting game over a retooled version of Whodini's "One Love." Federal was originally released on his own label, Sick Wid' It Records, in 1992. But after the success of his single "Captain Save a Hoe," Jive didn't just sign E-40 and his crew, The Click - they also bought and redistributed most of their back catalog. So in 1994, Federal was rereleased, reaching a mass audience for the first time. But unfortunately for them, Jive gave them an inferior version.

There are some superficial changes to the artwork and the sequencing... "Carlos Rossi" originally appeared early on the album; but on the Jive version, it's tucked all the way towards the end of side 2. But there are far more important, and disappointing, alterations to consider than that type of stuff.

The high energy "Hide-N-Seek," a first person narrative which has E-40 running in fear from the police. It features a classic old school horn sample married with hard drums and this piercing keyboard sound, giving the song a discordant, anxious vibe, mirroring 40's panic. At least it does on the original. On Jive's Federal, all that music has been removed and replaced with a much calmer, relaxed beat with soft vibes and some very g-funk keys. It's not bad, but it absolutely fails to replicate the fast-paced adrenaline rush of the original version. It would've been more fitting for a nice story of how E-40 met a girl he liked, rather than a high-speed chase.

Speaking of a story about how E-40 met a girl he liked, how about "Tanji II?" Don't remember that one? That's because Jive pulled it off their version of the album completely. This is really unfortunate, because, after "Drought Season," it's my favorite moment of Federal. It's got E-40 kicking an unusual, high speed, start-and-stop flow with a fun, stuttering hook "T-T-T-T-Tanji; I picked her up at a house party. T-T-T-Tanji!" The instrumental, with it's pop guitar samples, is definitely out of the ordinary for any music coming out of the west coast at that time, let alone from The Click's camp. And his word choice has a lot of unexpected humor to it ("radical!" he declares). Unless you got the Jive version, of course, in which case you got nuthin'. I guess they figured audiences being introduced to E-40 for the first time would be confused by the "II" in the title.

And that's not the only missing song either. "Get 'Em Up" is another casualty of Jive's, an almost New York-style cut with a hardcore shouted chorus and freestyle battle rhymes. There's old jazz horns and vocal samples flipped into a rugged rap track you'd expect to hear TR Love rhyming over, rather than anyone from the V. Then there's "Rasta Funky Style," where E-40 joins in the short-lived tradition of the token raggamuffin song MCs used to put on their album. This is the most painless loss, but it's interesting to hear how E-40's unique style and voice marries to reggae - it certainly doesn't sound like anybody else's raggamuffin song. I assume both songs were removed because they featured E-40 trying something different and drifting out of his lane... Jive wanted a gangsta rapper, not a multi-talented artist flexing his versatility. But these songs go a long way to keeping this album from getting dull and "one note."

Given the luxury of an informed decision, I can't see why anybody would choose the 1994 release of Federal over the original '92... though of course I can understand why completists would feel compelled to pick up both, just for the alternate versions of "Hide-N-Seek." But for most people, who were just going to get one Federal, the Jive version just feels like a bit of a rip-off - a trap for the new fan who didn't know enough to hold out for the original. And while I can sort of guess why Jive made the decisions they did (except with "Hide-N-Seek" - I guess they just couldn't clear the sample?), it still just seems stupid... passing off a lot of potential sales of their album to Sick Wid' It's version, which was still out in stores at the same time, after all. Oh well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good Morning, Gen Z

There's more to Wernerville than just revering the old school. Granted, I don't think Lil Wayne has anything in his catalog that will ever touch one of Kid 'N' Play's classics, but we still appreciate new shit by new artists that doesn't sound anything like the 80's or 90's here. You know what I like that even I didn't think I was gonna like? GMA: Good Morning AMY by Billy Drease Williams.

You may've seen one of his videos getting some shine on the blog circuit earlier this year. Not me, though; just his name was enough to keep me from paying attention. So this album's been out since the summertime, but I'm just hearing it for the first time now. And fuck me - I really like it!

Drease is both the MC and producer. As a producer, he's got a really unique, clean sound. The drums are big and the only old school sounding aspect of the music, but it's covered in upbeat - I daresay cheery - tunes. Some of it's live music... there are a lot of piano, strings and guitar samples in the liner notes, almost all credited to a guy named Alan Evans, though there are a few other musicians here and there, including a DJ Cutler who provides some fresh scratches to a couple tracks.

The resulting vibe is sort of a combination of Common, Kanye West, Rob Base and Kwamé. If you think the album cover is a bit unusual, wait until you open up the packaging and booklet; it's full of his crazy drawings of pancakes, spaceships, ants and rainbows shooting out of his eyes... I think every element is meant to tie into a concept from one of his songs. The content on this album focuses on positive, inspiring messages, though there's some basic braggadocio ("Just Doin' It") and relationship songs ("Shut the Gate").

And as an MC, Grease has a cool voice and confident flow. Lyrically... well, okay, lyrically is where Grease still has room to grow. He has a penchant for the corny and a habit of being out-shined by his guests I've never heard of, like this one by Elgin Franklyn:

"El don't sleep;
I just go in a trance.
Focused on pause,
spiritually advanced.
Second nature natural,
Strong moves are surgical,
Sleep is the cousin of wasted potential.
But I digress, dog;
Never back down.
Big Bank El Frank dominating the platform."

And there are a couple other missteps throughout the album. A guy named Richie English is enlisted to sing hooks on a couple of songs, and it's not that the guy can't sing; but the hooks on those songs are pretty rough to get through. They downright ruin one song ("Never Been To Paris"). And there's also a final, semi-spoken word song, which also features a kid singing towards the end... that's kind of a mess.

But I don't want to blow the imperfections out of proportion. This is a surprisingly enjoyable album featuring some really good music and a lot of evident talent. And when I say "talent," maybe that suggests an album you should like. But really, it's an album that's hard not to like. Even the concept (who/what is "AMY?" It's one of those concepts with multiple, variant answers) is more engaging than these things tend to be. If this is what the kids are listening to these days, then I approve. 8)

Friday, December 17, 2010

KVBlue

KVBeats' debut album The Resumé is out now. That might not have you too excited, probably because you don't know who he is. I don't know who he is either, to be honest. I mean, I know he's a hip-hop producer from Copenhagen, but I only know that because I looked him up online after I heard about this LP. If he's ever produced anything by anybody before, it's news to me. But... But you may not know this KVBeats guy, but I'm sure you know a ton of MCs featured on this album: Slum Village, Smoothe da Hustler, Little Vic, etc etc. So, yeah, it's not just a debut by an unknown Danish producer, it's a compilation where every song is by known and respected US MCs.

And I can start out with some welcome news: KV is a good producer. Because, it doesn't matter how good his line-up is if he can't hold up his end. He could have the greatest rappers in the world, but nobody's gonna spin the album a second time if they're stuck rhyming over some cheap, electronic bullshit. But, no. Fortunately, KV's pretty nice with his. He's got a cool, lively but subtle, understated style. And he's got a unique, consistent sound... after listening to this album I feel like, if I heard something he produces down the road I'll be able to tell, "oh, I bet KVBeats produced this."

That said, he also paints himself a little into a corner that way... when he pairs smooth, low-key vibe with solid but not especially dynamic MCs, he winds up with an album that feels a bit soft. Not in the sense that the music isn't loud and angry hardcore like old school Willie D (though some of that energy would've helped), but just in that it often doesn't make that much of an impact. Guys like Prince Po, DV Alias Khrist and the dudes from Slum Village doing concept songs over smooth beats can blend into the background dangerously close to elevator music. It's cool, but unexciting. A couple of the guests like Chaundon and Pace Won manage to make their contributions pop by injecting humor, and Doo Wop livens up his song just by being Doo Wop.

The highlight is easily "5'9 + Won," a duet featuring smart, attention grabbing verses from Royce da 5'9 and Pace Won. A killer hook provided by DMC world champion DJ Noize helps a lot. This one and "Clap To This" features some of the best production on the album. The latter, though, is hampered somewhat by its MC, Mic Geronimo, whose flow feels a bit gimmicky, as if he's trying to appeal to "the youtube generation" or something.

This is a good, solid debut album, and KVBeats provides the kind of sound I wish more people were doing in 2010. But for the most part, it's going to wind up with a limited appeal to more select, serious heads that are prepared to give an attentive, appreciative ear to some quality production without a lot of flash. Everyone else will want to just download "5'9 + Won" and one or two contributions by their personal favorite guests (you can do that legally, guys, from itunes and amazon) and move on.

...But a limited audience is appropriate for this anyway, since it's a limited pressing. Only 300 copies are being pressed onto cool, blue vinyl; and as you can see above, it comes in a fresh picture cover. I'm not sure how many spots will be carrying this, but I know hhv and jet set have got it (hopefully someplace with USA-friendly shipping will get on board soon). And I look forward to hearing more from KVBeats; he's got an appealing sound. And if he can talk DJ Noize into working with him on the regular, they'd be a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gangstarr Adjusted

Gangstarr's "Gotta Get Over (Taking Loot)" was originally released as part of the soundtrack to Trespass, one of those movies made during that brief time-period where soundtracks were so lucrative, that whole films were produced on the cheap just so they could market the albums. I did see it at the time - as I recall, it was about a couple of guys (including a less famous Bill Paxton) who discover gold in the middle of some drug dealing gang's territory... eventually everybody shoots everybody, and the deep message is "greed is bad and some people really shouldn't have guns."

But forget about the movie (the rest of the world has); the important part, as I say, is the soundtrack, on Sire Records. Now, it's mostly a west coast affair, featuring artists like Ice-T, WC and The Penthouse Players' Clique (which I'm not saying is a bad thing, mind you - I'm a PPC fan), but it includes two stand-out east coast songs, Lord Finesse's "You Know What I'm About" and Gangstarr's "Gotta Get Over." Sire Records put out a single or two (AMG's "Don't Be a 304" was the big one), but "Gotta Get Over" was such a stand-out track that Gangstarr's label, Chrysalis Records, picked it up and released it as a single themselves.

"Gotta Get Over" features one of the most memorable basslines in hip-hop history. Couple that with Guru being on a more hardcore, street edge than usual, and Premier's pro cuts and horn samples, and you've got a Gangstarr classic that rivals any of their greatest singles. But this 12" takes it further, and includes, in addition to the album version, a brand new Large Professor remix. Now on a song this great, a remix really isn't needed - who's going to stop playing the original, which nailed it perfectly, to spin an alternate version? But now many years have passed, I think we can go back and this excellent production by Extra P. No, of course it doesn't top the original; but taken on its own, it's a great track. It keeps the aesthetic of the original, dominating the tune with a dope, memorable bassline. It's not the same bassline at all, but it's used in the same spirit and is similarly accentuated by Guru's voice. But in this case, the remix really comes to life on the hook, when these ill samples come in... it actually reminds me of the kind of stuff RNS provided for the first UMCs album.

So you've got both versions of "Gotta Get Over" on here, plus the remix instrumental. But turn it over and you've got another Gangstarr cut. This time it's for "Flip the Script" off the Daily Operation album. You've got two mixes on here: the Album Mix and the "Remix/ Minor Adjustment Mix," also by Premier. "Flip the Script" was always one of my favorite cuts off that album, the loop has this really hard chop to it that's almost broken but sounds great. And this new version maintains that. In fact, considering the name, you might think that the "Minor Adjustment" remix would be one of those where you have to keep your ear to the speaker just to suss out the distinction; but actually it's apparent. The piano keys that make up the bassline are switched out with new ones comprised of more notes, giving the song a richer vibe, almost more like live music. The other big difference is the addition to a new high-pitched, heavy metal guitar sample being scratched and looped into the track. It's hard to single out one as better than the other, really; I think it just boils down to a question of whether you prefer a busier, more complex beat or the rawer, simpler original.

Regardless, this is a pretty sweet 12", and right up there with Gangstarr's classics. It's a good thing Chrysalis was smart enough to license the song and commission release, or we fans would've really missed out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Introduction of a Character Problem Child

You know what's frustrating? When you heard a cool song once on the radio, but you weren't sure what the name of it was or who it was by... and as time passes, you're looking for that song but never find it. Eventually, like 15 years later - thanks probably to the internet - you finally find out what that song was... and it was never released, and you still can't get it! With so many shows playing exclusive DAT recordings or demo tapes, it's a sadly recurring story for fans of indie, 90's hip-hop. But at least one of those cases has finally been resolved satisfactorily.

The Constant Deviants were one of those artists whose demos got played on Stretch and Bobbito in the mid 90's. They're essentially a Baltimore crew, but I think at the time they were staying in Jersey when they broke into the east coast indie scene. And while they did go on to drop a couple of 12"s over the years, including some stuff through Buds Distribution which you've probably seen around, hardcore connoisseurs were stuck with nothing but dodgy radio rips of two of their best cuts: "Problem Child" and "Feel That." Well, Six 2 Six Records (that label I just guest blogged for) has stepped up to correct that. In fact, you might remember me blogging about them early in the year, saying how they needed a little encouragement to get their stuff the proper final treatment, right? Well, they've done it and this is it. 8)

"Problem Child" b/w "Feel That" comes in a fresh picture cover and is pressed on clear vinyl in a limited pressing of 500 copies. For those who haven't been waiting impatiently all this time and don't know what to expect: Constant Deviants aren't really on that rugged, rah rah tip, but more of a smooth, summer cool out kinda vibe. Think a little bit Unspoken Heard or early Juggaknots. They've got some nice, quality scratches by DJ Cutt who clearly knows what he's doing, but it's all played very low-key. There's no hectic scratch frenzy break-down, but the cuts are there, adding another level. And similarly, M.I.C. doesn't go for showy punchlines or hyper-kinetic spitting... just an assured, easy-to-listen-to flow. He comes with a message that's essentially the same as 3rd Bass's "Problem Child" - natch - though presented in a little more of a reserved, autobiographical manner.

"Problem Child" is undoubtedly the one for me, but "Feel That" has a cool, distorted sonic loop as the driving sample, which is really addictive. And this 12" doesn't just finally give us these two songs in pristine sound quality for the first time, plus instrumentals... There's also a "Problem Child" remix. It's almost a cross between the two songs, with the vocals from the original "Problem Child" (of course), but set to an instrumental that's more in the vibe of "Feel That."

At the end of the day, it's all good music. It may not be the most attention-grabbing "oh shit; I need that!" material to come out of the limited scene; but if you appreciate hip-hop's subtle side, you're sure to be feeling everything on here. And like their music, the pricing is also more down-to-Earth than most of the other limiteds these days, which definitely helps. So for the heads who've been holding onto low-quality cassette rips of these songs, it's definitely a happy ending.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sealed Records MAGIC!

video
(Youtube version is here.)

Can it Be That It Was All So Simple Then?

This is an under-praised excavation from Stones Throw Records... In 2008, they put out a nice repress of Arabian Prince's debut album, Situation Hot. That album was only released on cassette, and Stones Throw gave it the top quality double vinyl treatment in a nice gatefold cover, and they included one or two other vintage-era Arabian Prince songs from that era as bonus tracks. Granted, it wasn't really the first time these songs were getting released on vinyl - they'd all been put out on a series of 12"s back in the day - but it was still a first-class reissue.

Even better, though, they also included a bonus 7" with the album. It features two vintage, never-before-released tracks: "Simple Planet" and "Beatdabeat." I have mixed feelings about Arabian Prince's catalog as a whole, but I love his early Macola stuff, and that's what this is!

My excitement has to be tempered, however, by the fact that these are both instrumental tracks. That's a definite disappointment, and probably why I wasn't blogging about this the day it dropped. But, still, it's that great, O.G. Arabian Prince sound... "Simple Planet" even features some signature riffs from some of his early hits like "Situation Hot" pop up occasionally.

So, I'm letting you guys know about this now because, until recently, this was only available with purchase of the double LP, Innovative Life - The Anthology - 1984-1989. And I do definitely recommend that package... but if you already had all the original 12"s, the repress would be pretty redundant. But now, some online vendors (like hhv.de) are finally making this 7" available for purchase separately, so you can finally complete your Arabian Prince collection without re-buying his whole back catalog. Sweet as!

P.s. - Stones Throw has released one more Arabian Prince record... 2009's reissue of "Let's Hit the Beach." "Let's Hit the Beach" is one of the many fun tracks from Situation Hot/ Innovative Life (and it was originally released on 12" with "Take You Home Girl"). This reissue features a fun picture cover and two exclusive, contemporary remixes. If you were considering picking this one up, let me just tell you: those remixes suck! Stay away! It doesn't even include the original instrumental, though it does for both remixes. If you're a hardcore completist, go for it. But if you were eyeing those remixes, take my word for it and don't bother.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Six 2 Six Guess Blog

Hey, guys. I've been invited to be a "Guess Blogger" over on TheSix2SixShift. If you don't know, Six 2 Six is the label that's been putting out recent releases by The Constant Deviants, Sparrow and that Lord Digga record I reviewed earlier this year. Anyway, my post there just went up, so you can head over and read it here now. 8)

Also, if you missed it in my tweets, TheBigSleep has done a flattering write-up of me over on The TROY Blog. So check that out here - thanks, guys!

Monday, November 29, 2010

(New) 2 Live Freestyle

The 2 Live Crew went through some turbulent times in the 90's... breaking up, reforming, members quitting and rejoining. And at one point during all of that, Luke realized he had lost too high a percentage of its members to act like nothing had happened. So he added a new member, made himself an official member and with remaining original member Fresh Kid Ice, released an album by a crew he dubbed The New 2 Live Crew. It was to be a short-lived experiment, as Back At Your Ass For the Nine 4 was this iteration's only album.

But it was an interesting experiment. The new guy, Verb, had a real east coast sensibility and was focused on lyrical skills in pretty much the exact opposite way the 2 Live Crew had been up 'till then. And Fresh Kid Ice was doing some interesting things (see my review on Hip Hop Isn't Dead to learn about that) at the time with his production company ICP (not that ICP), working with the very underrated duo Balli and Fat Daddy, who were recently featured on the Diggers With Gratitude mixtape.

But unfortunately it was also a failed experiment, It featured way too much Luke, doing his "I can't rap so I just filibuster on records" shout and call songs, some lame crap where they rip off the hook to Barney the Dinosaur's theme, and a bunch of skits, which unfortunately wound up being the most memorable part of the album, as they featured Dolemite.

There were a few decent moments, but only one really good song.

Thankfully, the released it as a single.

"2 Live Freestyle" came out on Luke Records in 1994. Promisingly, the album credits say this features Fat Daddy (though they spell his name "Phat Daddy" here), and the 12" mentions him, too. But disappointingly, he's not on here. I guess maybe his voice can be heard if you stick your ear to the speaker during the hook? But he doesn't get a verse (it goes Verb, Ice, and Verb again), which is a seriously missed opportunity.

But, putting aside what we don't get, we do get a hot beat, which they credit to The New 2 Live Crew themselves. Personally, I suspect that might really mean the ICP, which would also explain why Fat Daddy's voice would be on the track if they didn't bother to give him a verse. I also don't imagine Luke, Vern or Fresh Kid Ice are doing those scratches. But, whatever; it's dope and certainly not typical 2 Live Crew. It's more Bomb Squad or something with it's squealing horns and hard bass. Lyrically, Verb is just okay, but his delivery and this beat are great. And Ice at least treads water and manages not to ruin the song.

The 12", as you can see, comes in a dope picture cover done by Society (yes, that Society). More importantly, it also features a pretty dope remix by DJ Spin. It's not quite as good as the original... it's a little lower in energy, going for a darker, subtler vibe (sort of like a Buckwild does, but yaknow... I'm not saying it's exactly on par with a Buckwild remix). There are also radio edits for both mixes, if anybody cares.

There was one more single off Back At Your Ass with a similar picture cover and a couple exclusive remixes. But this is the only one worth your time. The New 2 Live Crew went on to do a couple more worthwhile songs on Luke's last solo album and the delightful holiday-themed compilation album, Christmas At Luke's Sex Shop; and then it was a wrap. Fresh Kid Ice followed Marquis and Mr. Mixx out the door, and the The Live Crew re-formed with no connection to Luke on Joey Boy Records. Verb was apparently meant to go on to a solo career, but that never quite materialized (see my video here for his "lost" songs).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bazerker

There's nothing rarer in hip-hop than the comeback album that actually lives up to the artists' past material. Usually we're happy if there's just a slim reminder of what once was to be found in what now is. But this is that elusive, mystical beast., just dropped at the end of 2010: Son of Bazerk featuring No Self Control's second album, Well Thawed Out.

It opens with their lead "single" (in quotes, because that's as close as I'll ever come to calling an mp3 or Youtube video a single) "I Swear On a Stack Of Old Hits." This captures everything that's great about Son Of Bazerk. Their energy, their signature voices, classic samples and ever-changing music and styles, the frantic craziness. It's nineteen years later, but this could just as well have been released in 1992.

And the rest of the album definitely holds up. The production is great, sometimes coming with old school samples which sound fresh and new when put through the Son of Bazerk wringer, alternated with all new samples and loops you've never heard before. And the whole gang is still intact... this isn't one or two guys trying to carry on the legacy of a bigger group. As they say on "Let Me Tell You Who I Am," it's still "three guys, four girls and a one man band." Johnny Juice is still cutting ("my DJ spins to keep the roaches from comin' in") Half Pint is still screaming. You never know what's going to come around the next bend: something slow and soulful, something rough and rugged, is the song suddenly going to stop in the middle for a silly gag? Will they rap or sing? Will they do a number where they hiccup through the whole song?* You never know what's around to expect, but whatever they hit you with, it always flows perfectly.

In fact, fuck it. I'm going to come straight out and call it: I think Well Thawed Out is actually better than Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk. It's more consistent and the highs are at least as tall as they were in their MCA days. Take "Stomp." I really don't see how anybody could not like this song, whether they're an old school head or hipster tween, underground purist or commercial fair-weather head, die hard New Yorker or someone who swears my west coast gangsta rap from the 90's. It just plays.

Now, this was mostly just released via mp3 (sigh), but there is a physical release, available from amazon. It's one of their made-on-demand CD-R releases made with CreateSpace. But really... is there any actual difference between the sound of this and a regular CD? I can't hear any. And it comes in a proper jewel case with artwork and label. The front even folds out booklet style (though there's not really anything in there besides the track listing which is already printed on the outside), so the only practically difference between this and an official CD release is that it's... cheaper. Well, that works for me. I couldn't be happier with a CD release or a comeback album than I am with this one.


*Yes, they will. That's on here.. ;)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ruthless Rod & MC Dollar

Not a lot of heads are familiar with MC Ruthless Rod & MC Dollar, a Chicago duo (or trio if you count their DJ, Fellow-Rock) who put out a killer 4-song EP in 1989 called Loud As a Banshee. It's a pretty rare record, and most surviving copies suffer from water damage. So as you can imagine, this is one of those records that goes for beaucoup bucks, and just screams for a repress, which is where Dope Folks Records comes in.

Yes, Dope Folks, the label that brought us the recent Mixmasta "D" EP, have repressed Loud As a Banshee, including reproducing the great picture cover. But they've also brought something better to the table than a mere repress...

Loud as a Banshee featured three amazing hip-hop songs. It's not so much that the MCs are mind-blowing, though they've got strong voices and deliveries. It's just one of those instances where the flows, the beats, the sample selection, and some fantastic scratching all come together and gel in that way that even the very best hip-hop artists usually don't quite manage to pull off.

It starts off with "In the Groove," with some banging percussion. It really sounds like it's all being created by a DJ constantly running back two copies of the record, too. And then on top of that they bring in a ton of records to sample and scratch, ever-changing as the song progresses. Just when you're like, "oh man, this song is great," another record gets thrown into the mix and the sound is even hyper! At one point, they bring in the break from they used on Eazy E's "We Want Eazy"... it's just great. Nothing else I can say about this song.

Then you've got "Blowout Time," which is totally different and a pretty unique cut in hip-hop in general. Where "In the Groove" used all the classic, raw elements of hip-hop, this one features a new school (for 1989) sound. The drums are just as rugged and hard, but it uses these slow, deep bass notes and high keys that sound like they're taken from some epic sci-fi film. It's the kind of thing that runs the risk of being horrendously corny, but it all works. The fact that the MC is kicking unrelenting earnest rhymes over seriously hardcore beats certainly gets a lot of the credit for that... and when the drums break down in the middle? It's sick!

Finally "As I Get Funky" is an even stronger showcase for Fellow-Rock. It features some classic horn samples and amped beats, and the rhymes are non-stop, too... But it's really all about the scratches, which are front and center on this one, from the hook to ill, extended breakdowns.

...And then there was also a fourth song, "Just 4 U." That was their slow jam, their love song. As far as rap love songs go, it's pretty good... the production has a deep, rich sound to it with these harp/bell notes which sound like they might be playing live. But, you know... it's one of "those" rap love songs, with the slow, half-spoken delivery and, you know. It's corny and definitely not highly regarded like the rest of the EP.

So here's what Dope Folks did. They took off "Just 4 U" (so collectors, hang on to your originals!), and replaced it with a vintage, never before heard cut from that era. It's called "As I Break 'Em Down" and it fits in much better with the rest of the EP. If you didn't know which song was the new addition, you'd never be able to tell from listening to it. It features some classic old school samples, a lot of hand claps and more great drums and rhymes. There isn't so much scratching on this one and the energy isn't quite as high as the other songs, but again, you can tell the main sample for the hook is just being scratched into the track live throughout the song. If the other songs are perfect 5 out of 5 star songs, this is a 4.5. It absolutely trumps the weak link track from the original EP.

So like Dope Folks' other releases, this is another limited release. There's only 300 copies, and they sell for $20 (which, for a limited, is definitely on the nice and reasonable end of the spectrum - especially considering the nice picture cover). You can order them directly from their site, dopefolks.com; and for an extra $5 you can order an extra picture cover. I'm not sure if there's much of a market for that, but the option's there if you want it I guess. Anyway, at least get the EP, 'cause I can't recommend this enough. Just listen to the samples they've got up and you'll see, it's an instant must-have.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dept. of Homeland Security Vs. Hip-Hop File-Sharing

How was your Thanksgiving? If you ran sites like hiphopgodfathers.com or onsmash.com, it probably wasn't so fun. Those guys went to their sites today to find their main pages replaced with:
According to articles like this one on TorrentFreak (I know "TorrentFreaks" doesn't sound like the most reputable name for a source; but they were the first to break the news), the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) have both seized control of their domain names. And according to an article on myce.com, "DHS and ICE agents raided a Dallas datacenter Tuesday and seized the sites servers." So if that's correct, they're not just taking over domain names, but seizing servers.

As many of you have probably noticed, I'm not a big mp3 kinda guy... This is the first I've heard of these sites, but apparently RapGodFathers alone had 146,500 members. They've publicly defended themselves by telling TorrentFreaks, “We only link to mixtapes, albums in the hiphop/rap genre... Lots of those mixtapes help new artists become much bigger for example Drake, Chamillionaire, Wiz Khalifa. It also gives the users to listen to an album before buying it to judge the quality. Almost 99% of the time if people on RGF liked the album and posted positive comments, that given artist had a big success.”

Now, I'm not even going to get started on the case against mixtapes as a genuine benefit to artists and labels (that's a post for another day). Instead, I'm just going to give you a quick screenshot I took myself browsing their site and say, "stop lyin', RapGodFathers!" You're gonna have to click to enlarge that, but believe me, it's worth it. I only spent like 2 minutes looking at their forums, and there was page after page of this stuff. They came back online later last night at the URL rapgodfathers.info, so they're back up and running, and they've still got this stuff up. I didn't even look at their hip-hop and music sections.

But my point isn't really to call these sites out (I just couldn't let RGF get away with that line of "only link to mixtapes" BS), but just to point out what's going on. According to this video from ICE, this is just the very beginning of a long-term campaign. So if you have a site along the lines of these guys, I'd be worried. Not that it's just hip-hop sites going down. Other stuff, like lifetimereplicas.com and handbag9.com also got taken offline (really, were a lot of people going to a site called handbag9.com? Come on, guys!). But so far, in the music department, they seem to be solely focused on hip-hop sites.

In that video I mentioned before, he talks about one site that moved to a new domain after they took it down, and said they were going to stay on top of it and go after that one, too. So rapgodfathers.info may not be much longer for this world. And Splash, the guy who runs dajaz1.com, has said on Twitter, "I dont even no if imma come back." So yeah, this could be big and long-term. It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be the beginning of a changing landscape online, where mp3 piracy no longer dominates the music industry. Or if this is going to be just another futile drop in the bucket of effort, along with the RIAA lawsuits and the battle against Napster.

Errata 11/26/10: I just updated this blog to remove an erroneous paragraph where I pointed out that dajaz1 posted full rap album downloads. Again, I wasn't familiar with dajaz1 before this incident, so I can't say for certain either way... but everything I found when going through their google caches and links from other sites suggests dajaz1 only posted single mp3s that were being promotionally sent out by the labels specifically to be posted on blogs like his. If he only posted mp3s like that, there is no legit reason why his site should have been seized, and I apologize for saying he offered links to "major rap albums."

Also, an update... another one has bitten the dust. rmx4u.com, who describe themselves as "the biggest community for black music in world!" [sic.] have just been taken down, too.

Update 12/09/11: Dajaz1.com is back! According to a new article on CNET, "the government abruptly abandon[ed] the lawsuit." It took them over a year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Original Anthology of Rap

Prelude: Slate just posted their third article, now, on The Anthology of Rap - more shadiness uncovered. Some people in the comments of these discussions point out how nerdy the discussion is, but I think that's because they're missing the point. It's not about how many errors nitpicky bloggers can find in The Anthology's transcriptions. Of course it has errors... God knows how many embarrassing errors I would make if I attempted to transcribe nearly 300 rap songs. No, it's about the fact that these particular errors showed us that The Anthology stole all of its work from online writers without giving them credit. The book was printed by Yale University press, and its by two profs who are using that prestige to sell the book, essentially saying, "Yeah, all these lyrics are already available online, but you need this book to legitimize them as an anthology, because this book is from Yale and inherently superior." But if Yale students presented this book as a school project*, with 95% of its content lifted from an uncredited source, they'd be up in front of the academic review board, explaining how their parents would freak if they were expelled.

So I'm done with this Anthology of Rap debate. I mean, if Slate can uncover even more shadiness (what could possibly be left? A complex murder plot, where the editors tried to have Flash killed so nobody would ever find out they used his content? It seems like they've already committed every other possible ethical transgression), I'll happily tweet it. But I'm moving on. Because you know what? Despite the fact that they claim, "this groundbreaking collection is the first anthology of lyrics to chart rap's recorded history" (quoting from the first page of their press release), that's just another thing they say that isn't true. There's another anthology of rap out there that came first.

Rap the Lyrics was published in 1992. 1992, so there's no worry that this book could've plagiarized all its material from the internet. It's edited by former Tommy Boy business director Lawrence A. Stanley, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in clearing samples and fighting censorship, the latter of which is apparently the motive behind this book. While this book features lyrics from the widest variety of artists - like The Fearless Four, Geto Boys, Young MC, Schoolly D, a pre-Wu Tang Genius. Subsonic 2 - and a broad spectrum of their material - from pop to street, commercial to conscious - it makes a point to include some of the most controversial lyrics around: NWA's "Fuck the Police," Too $hort's "Freaky Tales," Slick Rick's "Treat Her Like a Prostitute," etc. Guess which Boogie Down Productions songs they chose. "My Philosophy?" "You Must Learn?" "The Bridge Is Over?" Nope! They chose "House Nigga," "Illegal Business" and "Jimmy." So yeah, you get the point: this book covers everything, but when in doubt, veers towards the edgy.

What's more, all of the royalties from this book were donated to The National Coalition on Censorship and other anti-censorship organizations.

Oh, I have an amusingly ironic anecdote about that, by the way. My personal copy of this book is a former library edition (hey, Maple Heights Public Library in Ohio, look where your book ended up). And the funny thing is, they ripped out the pages that contain the lyrics to The 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny!" Apparently, the author's anti-censorship message was lost on the people of Maple Heights, Ohio.

So, anyway. There isn't a whole lot else to this book; it's just page after page of full transcripts of rap songs. There is a pretty long and ambitious introduction by Jefferson Marley called "Rap Music as American History," and a thorough table of contents that lists every song. They use a super cheesy "urban" font for the names of the artists throughout the book, but fortunately the actual lyrics are presented in a normal, legible font.

As for errors? Okay, for a while I was thinking/hoping this was going to be error-free. I was reading through song after song, focusing especially on the ones I thought would have the lots of proper names, or just the songs I was most familiar with as a fan, and not finding any. But I stuck with it, and I think I found one. For Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "Nightmare On My Street," they have Freddy Krueger telling the Fresh Prince, "You got my favorite letter but now you must die!" I always thought he was saying, "you turned off David Letterman; now you must die!" My version also makes more sense, since the preceding lines talk about how he turned off the TV, which prompted Krueger's rage. But just for fun, and what is fast becoming tradition, I checked it out on The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive; and they've got, "You cut off 'Heavy Metal' and now you must die!" To be fair to all transcribers, it is hard to decipher his monster voice during that line, and like I was saying earlier... transcription errors are inevitable, and I'm not really hung up on the "nerdy debate" of who made which mistakes. I'll just say, in general, it seems to have very few.

But overall, it looks like this book is pretty much better in every regard, huh? It's got better song choices (they've got "Mind Of a Lunatic" for god's sake!), it appears to have been made without breaking any huge ethical standards, and all the profits even went to a good cause. It's like The Anthology is this book's evil twin brother who just turned up on our doorstep from out of town.

Rap the Lyrics is still in print, and its list price is $9 cheaper than its competitor, too. You can get it from Amazon here. It still has the same fundamental problem that The Anthology has... it only features a couple hundred rap songs, making the internet an infinitely more thorough, and thus more valuable, resource. It's also free. So the market for either book seems pretty slim (though when Rap the Lyrics was printed, of course, there was no internet, so it made a lot more sense at the time). But if you are going to buy an anthology of rap lyrics, this is hands down the one I recommend.


*Oh wait, they did. It's also come out that the actual transcriptions were apparently done by two undergrads who were only thanked for their help in the back of the book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Diggin' Deep

A few months back, we looked at the first beat digging documentary, titled simply Beat Diggin'. It was raw, but it was dope. Probably due to its length and lower budget, to this day, it remains unreleased on DVD. However in 2004, Beat Diggin' was followed up, and in many ways eclipsed, by another beat digging documentary, called Deep Crates. It's full-length (well, borderline... it's about 70 minutes; but compare that to Beat Diggin's 30) features more name producers and unlike Beat Diggin', Deep Crates is available on DVD. So it's easy to see why the one has overshadowed the other for many people.

Beat Diggin'
is great and still worth seeing, with some hot, exclusive interviews. But I can't front on Deep Crates. It may not've done it first, but it did it hard... it's a succession of tightly edited interviews with a ton of interesting producers including big names like Buckwild, Beatminerz, Madlib and Diamond D to less obvious but just as compelling heads like Maseo, DJ Format, Peanut Butter Wolf and Mike Heron. And there's no padding with unrelated performance footage here, it's just no-frills interviews of non-stop talking on what you wanna here. Later in the doc, though, we do also take trips to various important record shops, etc., and go diggin' with some of the artists.

Deep Crates was successful enough that it spawned a sequel in 2007. And Deep Crates 2 is at least as compelling as Deep Crates 1. It features a ton of great artists that weren't in the first one, like Pete Rock, Marley Marl, The 45 King, Grand Wizard Theodore, K-Def, Tony D, Lord Digga... You really get the feeling that by the end of this one, between Deep Crates and Beat Diggin', they'd really reached just about everybody that should be in one of these docs. The big difference with this one is that it focuses more on production, and sampling after the digging's already been done. This time they also go all the way out to Japan to interview some heads over there.

Unlike the first one, the DVD for Deep Crate 2 features extras as well. There's about 30 minutes of extended interview footage, featuring clips of the artists from the film speaking on more that didn't quite fit the tone and theme of the film. It's also a shorter film, though (about 60 minutes, with a very long closing credits sequence accounting for about 5 of those), so it all evens out to about the same as the first one. ...But a movie isn't judged like lumber, in terms of length. It's about quality, substance. And any five minutes of Deep Crates 2 is worth may more than a full DVD's worth of South Beach Raw or some of these other DVDs I've reviewed.

These movies are several years old now, and most places seem to've long since sold out of them. But they're still both available on DVD direct from the production company's website, beatdawg.com. They've also got a pair of myspace pages here and here. So if you weren't already up on 'em, check these flicks out; because alongside Beat Diggin', these are the quintessential diggin' documentaries.