Saturday, March 13, 2010

Time for MC Shan To Defend Himself

"Time for Us To Defend Ourselves" is one of many singles on MC Shan's generally critically panned third album, Play It Again, Shan. Without the guiding hand of Marley Marl (or any of the other regular Cold Chillin' producers), Shan was lost, self-producing house songs, love songs, duets with his wife, songs he's not even featured on himself. It had his moments of decent-ness, but as a whole; it's really hard to defend that album.

Fortunately, "Time for Us To Defend Ourselves" was one of the better moments. Shan is hardcore mode with a serious message about police brutality:

"There's a big loophole in justice.

Law enforcement's to serve and protect,
But in my neighborhood, they break your neck.
Police are ruthless-minded, wicked and villainous;
But not just I see you're killin us'.
What about the parents of the kid y'all killin'?"

The beat, however, is not what you'd hope for considering Shan's other work records (and even since). But that's what happens when you stop working with the greats and try to do everything yourself. Actually, that's not strictly accurate. He was co-producing with a guy named John Ficarrotta. He's more known as an engineer than a producer, but he did a lot with Shan around that time (including working on Snow's album). But it amounts to the same thing, and Shan has since said (from the book How To Rap by Paul Edwards), "I don't like to produce the songs I [rap] on, because that's too much of me influencing me and no other negative voices, a devil's advocate to say, 'Nah, don't do it that way - do it this way.'" Yeah, that's a nice way to put it.

But, still; his production wasn't all bad. Some of the tracks on Play It Again worked, and this one is... in between. It's got a great hook, mixing together a collection of compelling vocal samples, and it's got a ringing "UFO"-style loop behind it. Then there's a metal-ish guitar riff, which is kinda atmospheric, but also kinda corny. It's certainly not the kinda thing Large Professor would've ever messed with.

But that's where this 12" is saved. Because the remix that's also included on this 12" is the one point during the Play It Again madness where Shan reached out to one of Cold Chillin's in-house power producers, DJ Mister Cee. Mr. Cee reached out to two new guys, Outload and PF Cuttin, to collaborate on the remix with, who of course went on to become Blahzay Blahzay.

So to say this remix is an improvement is a serious understatement. It keeps what works about the original - the vocal samples on the hook - and replaces everything else. There's an infinitely funkier new beat, a variety of samples and fresh scratches. It might seem a little upbeat for the subject matter... that's one thing the LP version had going for it: the darker tone. But if that was their reasoning for using the LP version in the video, they were nuts, because this version's just flat-out better music.

But you don't just get the album version, the overhaul that features the best production Shan had at that time, and the nifty picture cover. This 12" has the unique B-side track, "Even If I Tore It," Shan's Craig G diss, recorded in response to Craig's "Going for the Throat" (a CD-only bonus track on his second album). You could be forgiven for not realizing that's what it was, though, because the rhymes are so general, he could just as well be spitting generic battle rhymes against theoretical sucker MCs than Craig if you didn't know the full story going in.

"Fuck a Miller, I'ma rip me a Bud,
While you're lying face-dwon in a puddle of blood.
No bargain, no pleadin', no case to acquit;
Stupid motherfucker, this is how you rip shit!
Goin' to sleep, put your teeth in storage;
Goin' through life sippin' soup and porridge.
Forget gold, ya think you done me;
Worry about yourself and stop tryin' to son me.
You couldn't write better if you switched up pens.
I don't know about records, but you make dope bookends.
See on the down-low, somebody snitched;
I hope you didn't think I'd run like a bitch.
I'm outta ya sight, but never put me outta your mind.
You can't get yours, so figured you would take mine?
With a hammer and chisel, you couldn't chip it.
(Even if I tore it, you still couldn't rip it!)"

...Those are the most specific rhymes in the whole song, the rest are completely unspecific (which isn't to say that they're wack or anything... they just don't have anything Craig G specific about them). The beat is self-produced again, too. It's decent, and all in all adds up to a nice little diss track; but it's not the underground classic it could've been if he'd stuck with his winning producer combo of the A-side. But if you don't get hung up on what might've been, and just accept what is, you get a gem of an addition to your crates, and definitely the best material Shan was putting out in this period.

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