Monday, June 21, 2010

Classic Shy-D and DJ Man

Remember the intro to MC Shy-D's first album? Where the host excitedly tels you the man who brought you the Pink Panther and the Sanford and Son is back? When I first heard that, I was like, "what's he talking about? I thought this was his first album?" A first album called Shy-D Is Back. Hmm... Obviously I wasn't hip to pre-major label 12"s in my younger years, but that intro really made me want to hear these Pink Panther raps and such. And thankfully I was able to track them down.

This is his second 12", from 1986: "D.J. Man Cuts It Up" on 4 Sight Records (his first was "Rapp Will Never Die" from 1985 on the same label). This title was familiar enough to me... "DJ Man Cuts It Up Again" was on Shy-D Is Back (and so was "Rapp Will Never Die Part 2"). And I have to say... Shy-D went through a lot of phases and styles in his career, but this remains my favorite of his releases.

DJ Man is the name of his DJ; it's not just an awkwardly titled song. As you might guess, this is a showcase of Man's skills. Now, this is Miami bass before there really was Miami bass, so if you've steered clear of this because you expect some Quad City Boys-type junk, don't worry. This is real, old school hip-hop. It surely helps that Shy-D is originally from the Bronx and even Afrika Bambaataa's cousin. So there is a super funky bassline to this cut, but not the ultra-deep speaker-testing stuff Miami became known for. This is the kind of bassline Fats Comet might've come up with. But this isn't disco band music; it's snappy drum machine hits and of course constant fast cuts. Stylistically and lyrically, this is as old school as it gets ("all the bad DJs want to be his friend"), but Shy-D's voice was killing it back then.

So you've got that song and the instrumental version, and then, just before you hit the end of side one, there's a little mini-cut called "XX Rap." I'm talking 44 seconds short. Now, you might think from the title that this is gonna be some filthy, juvenile sex rap. But this is 1985, so it's called "XX Rap" just because he uses the word "damn" and "motherfucker" in his verse. Hey, this was pre-2 Live Crew and Prince getting warning labels put on music albums, after all. It's a fun battle rap spit over a human beatbox.

Then, onto side B, we get one more song (with instrumental): "Shy-D Is Back" (and no, this song isn't on the Shy-D Is Back album). At first this sounds similar to the first. DJ Man is cutting while Shy D is rhyming over a fast drum machine rhythm with a lot of hand-claps. But after Shy's first verse, it kicks in: The Sanford & Son theme. Not, I believe, sampled from the television show, but replayed here, with a harmonica, keyboard and funk guitar. The combination of Man's slick cuts over the bassline and the chintzy sitcom music is surprisingly effective - the cuts and bass add enough quality that it doesn't turn into a a tacky mess, like so many 80's rap songs that used TV themes did. The fact that they use it sparingly, just for the hook, helps too. The music only kicks in as DJ Man gets busy, and Shy-D is allowed to rhyme over the purely hip-hop elements of the track.

So yeah. Though he continued to record well into 1998, this to me is Shy-D's greatest release. There's even a moment towards the end where Shy-D commands, "give them a taste of our first song," and DJ Man lets his cuts over the Pink Panther theme from "Rapp Will Never Die." There have been other quality moments, but this is the record his reputation stands on.

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