Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do the Many Varied Right Things

This has to be the seminal union of new jack swing and conscious rap: Redhead Kingpin & the FBI's 1989 hit "Do the Right Thing." The song was originally meant to be a Teddy Riley joint for Wrecks-N-Effect to appear on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's film of the same name. But it wound up being left off the soundtrack and going to Redhead instead; but that didn't stop it from being a huge hit. And it should be pointed out that while Teddy Riley gets arrangement credit (and Joe the Butcher mixed it), "Do the Right Thing" was actually written and produced by Markell Riley (a.k.a. Marky Mark of Wrecks-N-Effect) and Redhead himself.

This is just one of those timeless rap hits... the music, the hook... Having grown up in the time this came out, I don't even have to play this song to quote you guys the lyrics:

"Brothers are stealin' and dealin' and big wheelin',
And to a younger mind, that stuff is appealin'.
So what do they do? They gather up a crew,
Go out and steal and rob, instead of getting' a job.
Now your mother tried to bring you up better than that;
The same way she loved you, you loved her right back.
But now you think you're grown and you argue a lot
Over money you got from dealin' stuff on the block.
Now you're not the only one in the world that has problems;
Keep your head straight, and you can surely solve them."

And I call this new jack swing 'cause of the artists involved, the hook, and a few sparse keyboard riffs... But this is pretty hardcore for new jack swing with it's aggressive "UFO" ringings, a lot of cuts that aren't played soft on the mix, and a driving funk guitar sample taken right off an NWA record (It shares George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby" with MC Ren's rugged solo cut "Quiet On the Set"). Even those distinctive Teddy Riley horns (somebody needs to bring that sound back!) sound harder than ever here; and it's all laid over "Impeach the President."

So it had a hot animated video, a ton of radio play and while it didn't wind up in Spike's movie, it did eventually find a home as the final anthem in Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs. Wait; what? I asked Kingpin about this in my interview with him back in 1998 and he answered, "Yeah. I didn't understand that, though. I went to the movies and saw that, and I'm like, 'Ok. They're chasin' monsters through walls, they're killing monsters, and then they're doing the right thing?' I don't get it. It was a check, though. I just didn't get it, personally."

So with a hit this big, you wind up with a lot of versions of the single... little 7"'s, white labels with fewer tracks (though that's the only way to get the proper album version or the instrumental), etc. But really, there's basically two proper singles, with matching picture covers (shown above). First is the yellow.

The yellow 12" has five mixes: US Street Mix, 12" Mix, US Radio Mix, A Capella and the Butcher Mix. And the A Capella is self-explanatory. So let's compare the other three mixes.

The US Street Mix is like the version you're familiar with, the album version, the version they use in the video, etc. Except they remove the sung hook and replace it with a vocoder version. And there's additional scratching - some during the hook, and especially at the end, where the DJ is really allowed to go for solo. The back-up singing is also removed from the shout-outs at the end.

The 12" mix is similar, but a lot more chopped up. It opens with just the "UFO" sounds, and the whole instrumental is constantly being scratched and juggled around by a DJ (I presume WildStyle is doing all the scratching on all the mixes, but it's not specified in the credits). Even Red's vocals are sometimes stuttered. We also get to hear more from the singers (Guy?) who do the hook, and some extra funky bass at the end of the song. Labels like to remix hit records, because it's easy to sell a record that's already a hit. But records that are already perfect the first time also don't need remixing; and we're given a bunch of inferior versions for no good reason. But this mix is actually an interesting, compelling alternative. I can't see it replacing the original, as that's the most clean and natural sounding version, but this is a funky extended mix that shows off everybody's talents. So if you like "Do the Right Thing" at all, you'll have to appreciate this mix.

So, ok, there are no curse words in the any of the mixes; so what is the US Radio Mix? Well actually, surprisingly, it's not just a slightly trimmed version of the Street version. In fact, it's substantially longer. It's like the US Street Mix, but the singing is brought back (though we hear the vocoder briefly, too), including the extra vocal flexing we heard in the 12" Mix. Oh, and this mix also features a little vocal introduction with someone saying "yo Red, kick that one;" and there are a few other little added details like that throughout the extra couple minutes.

Finally, we have the Butcher Mix. The label doesn't say so, but I think we can safely assume this remix is performed by Joe the Butcher. This is as broken down as it gets. Joe is mixing up just the drum and bassline, sometimes juggling the bass note for note for the short duration. That's it; no vocals or anything else. It's pretty cool as a bonus track.

Ok, now we come to the green cover, which I actually prefer... not just because green is my favorite color, but because the green and the red border jive with his African medallions much more than a giant swath of yellow. So I prefer the cover... not the music.

This 12" has four mixes: Jazzy 12" (in the UK, which is actually the version I've got, this was released as Happiness Remix; but it's the same thing), Jazzy 7" (just a shortened version of Jazzy 12"), Sky 12" (or 212 'Sky' King Remix in the UK) and Sky Instrumental. So basically there's two new remixes.

The Jazzy Remix really isn't so jazzy... it's called that because it's remixed by Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper. It's got a funky congo break, and a cool little bassline... but the rest: thumping dance club claps, and a piano loop that doesn't really fit with the rest of the song, don't work. This is listenable, the bassline starts to get pretty catchy by the mid-point, and it's neat that Red changes up the shout-outs at the end (calling out different countries instead of US cities), but it's nothing to go out of your way for.

The Sky Mix by Gail 'Sky' King is weirder... it features some old school horn stabs and stuff, some clubby elements, and some percussion (and "ooh ahh" vocals) that sound like an old Egyptian Lover record. As Redhead raps, the beat changes to other breaks and sample sets. It's... interesting, and surely not what you'd expect to stumble upon on a Redhead Kingpin record. I don't know if I can say it's really any good, but somebody's at least trying to get creative with it, and bring in some funky new scratches and elements.

All in all, I've gotta call the green remix 12" a miss. Dedicated Redhead Kingpin fans will get some enjoyment out of this (I did - heh), but it's really nothing I can recommend. The yellow 12" is definitely better... but casual hip-hoppers should note that the straight up album version, which will probably be your ideal mix, isn't on either of these. So you're probably better off just picking up Redhead's album or this nice little white label. But if you're a fan of some good new jack swing, I think the yellow 12" will be worth your time.

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