Monday, January 4, 2010

Kweli Demos

I've liked Talib Kweli since I first heard him. Mos Def I could do without, but Reflections Eternal and all were killing it. So I don't know why I never blogged about him yet - I guess there's a bunch of artists I'm a fan of I still haven't gotten to, really - but I'm about to rectify that situation now.

Before Rawkus and all that, I first heard Kweli when he was down with a crew called Mood, out of Ohio. If you haven't heard their 1997 album Doom, I suggest you go a little out of your way and cop it. They dropped some nice 12"s and stuff, too. And during those early years (though not their earliest; they dropped some stuff as far back as '94), I copped these two demo/promo tapes of theirs.

So let's start out with the less exciting of the two. This promo tape of Mood's album Doom is largely the same as the commercial release. The sequencing is completely different, but almost all of the songs are exactly the same, and this tape is missing a couple tracks that appeared on the final product (though, interestingly, it features the bonus track, "Insights," that was only included on the 1998 UK press on Cup Of Tea Records).

But here are the highlights. First, an alternate mix of "The Vision" featuring a completely different beat (a little funkier and less ethereal) and someone making a wind "woosh"ing noise on the hook. Then a final song that wasn't included on the album, titled "Infantry." Unfortunately, as the last song on the tape, it's cut off before it ends. But that's ok; the next tape's got our back... its appearance here at least tells us that track was originally meant for the Doom album.

The more exciting tape is labeled Mood Sampler, and is essentially a 10-track demo of Mood and its associates (including a lot of Kweli). Now, a couple of the tracks aren't a big deal: "Cincinatti" and "Karma" are exactly the same as you hear on the Doom album, and "Millionaire," by Kweli featuring Rubik, wound up being released on 12" in 1999. So that leaves seven exclusive songs.

First we get "Intro," produced by DJ Hi-Tek. This is pretty short, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn if it was just one sample from one record being played.

But now we get into the real meat of the matter. Track number 2 is "Overstand," an unreleased demo track by Talib Kweli. He starts out, "from where I'm standing/ I got a nice view of Venus/ Fly traps inside my raps catch the wack/ You might've seen us/ perhaps/ in premonitions of lyrical genius." Over a nice smooth track featuring a deep cello line, sparse piano keys, rugged bass notes, snapping drums and a little rhythm scratching throughout. He does a little sing-songy thing for the hook, which isn't amazing, but gets a pass for keeping the groove.

Next we have another unreleased demo track; a song called "Treasures In Heaven" by Mood affiliate HolmSkillit. It opens with a biblical quote from Jesus, advising us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where it grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal it. Store up treasure in heaven, where there is no moth and no rust to spoil it, no thieves to break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Holm flows a lot like Kweli but with a softer voice, and the beat's a smooth head-nodder with slow drums and what sounds like a a xylophone riff with a few harpsichord stabs (who knew harps stabbed?).

Track six on this tape is the aforementioned "Infantry" from the Doom promo tape. It's presented here in it's entirety; and we learn now it's unreleased solo cut by Sikko of Mood. It's the hardest track on here, with a dope track that sounds like it could've come from an old Sunz of Man record (before they signed to a major and tried to crossover), and Sikko flows like early Canibus. Pretty sick.

Main Flo is up next with a solo song of his own. Another unreleased song, this one's called "Roman Empire." This has one of the nicest beats on here, and Flo's lyrics are on point, "ancient Aztec, I rise like the NASDAQ, think from a killer aspect 'till it's fast respect. Narcs and cases, deaths over parking spaces, I stopped going to Smitty's 'cause their parts were basic. How could I waste it? My own time, surrounded by signs and evil minds." If you're thinking this is a case of Kweli and his weed carriers, think again. The whole crew's on this par.

Still, if you're only interested in Kweli, he comes back with another song of his own now. It's called "Black Love," a subtle, low-key track (but with a thudding bassline) that features a slightly irritating hook; but Kweli's delivery on his verses is in top form.

Finally, the Mood Sampler rounds itself out with a DJ track. It's called "Man," produced by Mood's DJ Jahson, and features the scratching of DJ Rampage.

Now, I know it's frustrating to read about demos when you can't hear them for yourself... So I'll do something I don't normally do - because this is a demo and not a proper release - and point you to a GrandGood article linking to a rip of a 13-song Mood/Kweli demo tape. That download is marked as being from 1995, but I personally suspect that is wrong and should read 1997. Interestingly, while a bunch of our songs overlap, he's definitely got some tracks on his tape that aren't on either of mine, and some tracks on mine aren't on his. So, if we exclude songs like "Millionaire" that later got a proper release, I'd say there's 15 unreleased songs or alternate mixes that we now know of between us. That sounds like it'd make a sweet official release to me, if somebody involved with the Mood guys were up for putting this out.

5 comments:

  1. Good looks on the info about Kweli's demo years, homie. I really hadn't heard anything previous to the Black Star LP.

    How do you KNOW all this shit? Ha.. You're a true OG hip-hop head, I learn so much here about MCs and albums/singles I have forgotten about or just don't know. However you do it, I appreciate it.. Peace!

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  2. FUCK

    YOU

    Mos Def is the greatest artist of our time.

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  3. Thanks for the demo tape!

    I'm a cincinnati native and we used to listen to the Doom album back in high school - an underground hip-hop classic!

    I'd like to get my hands on the demo that has "Insights" on it. I haven't heard that song in over a decade...

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  4. Thanks, Dom!

    @Vic - Ha! Well, to each their own, I suppose.

    @Anonymous - Yeah, "Insights" is dope. There's some copies of the UK version of Doom with "Insights" on it, on vinyl and CD. Just make sure you get one of the versions on Cup of Tea Records, not Blunt Recordings.

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  5. Thanks for the great info and also for the link to those demos!

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