Friday, October 15, 2010

Clinton Sparks + Virtuoso? But Why...??

Apparently, this is a pretty friggin' rare Virtuoso record. As you already know if you follow me on Twitter, Virtuoso's mounting a comeback, so I thought it was time I did a blog about one of his records. So I did a google search for this one, and only result came up - my own Virtuoso discography page. So before I start getting hostile e-mails from his fans accusing me of recklessly making shit up, I figured I'd better blog about it. :)

This is Virtuoso's first release after he left Brick Records to strike out on his own. He dropped this in 2000 on his own label, Omnipotent Records, which has since become Big Bang Records. And that's probably a good part of the reason why this record is so obscure... he probably printed up a pretty small, under-publicized run. But there's also another likely factor: to put it politely, this is not exactly his best work.

"That's Why" sounds like Virtuoso's attempt to sell out. You know those awful, poppy songs radio stations like Hot 97 used to play all the time (and maybe they still do; I stopped listening)? Where the MCs kick slower, simpler deliveries about cheesy battle-of-the-sexes rhymes over beats that consist of bloops and beeps rather than horns or piano? Like, the very worst stuff by Nas or Jay-Z and their many imitators that their fans try to forget? Well, that's what this is. It's even got a super irritating female hook (courtesy of one Charisse Moore) sung in that dopey high-pitch note, low-pitch note, single-syllable schoolyard style . You remember that period - we're still not entirely out of it - where hip-hop producers fully embraced the fact that the largest hip-hop demographic was kids, and so the music engineered with the same mentality as a Barney the Dinosaur song. Did I mention I hate that style of hip-hop?

That said, it's not so terrible. Virtuoso is still clearly a talented MC, and he manages to sound okay here. And, when the beat strips down a bit at times, it's not so annoying. It's produced by Clinton Sparks, who's done these types of songs for Biggie, Busta, L'il Flip and others. So it must've seemed like a big win for Omnipotent Records in the planning stage. But really, this is just an ill-conceived idea seen through to its inevitable conclusion.

This one comes in Clean, Instrumental and Instrumental with Chorus versions. Yeah, there's only a Clean vocal version, but he doesn't curse on here anyway, so nothing's censored. It's just a naturally clean song - further evidence he was targeting radio, I figure.

Fortunately, things pick up considerably on side 2. First up is "Omnipotence," Virtuoso's stunning debut song that originally appeared on The Rebel Alliance compilation. But this is a new version, remixed by Panik of The Molemen. The original is (as you'd expect) better, this this is a good, viable alternative. It's much more under-stated, which is good if the original struck you as being over-the-top. Unfortunately, this only comes in Clean and Instrumental versions, too. And unlike "That's Why," there are curses that have to be censored here, which is wack.

Finally, there's one more song called "If You Can't." Well, actually, it isn't a totally new song; it turns out it's a retitled remix of "If You Can't." And wow, what a difference a good remix can make! This one's produced by Beyonder and Virtuoso himself, and is miles ahead of that Clinton Sparks crap. The biggest change is the hook. It still features a female vocalist (this time Nance Pierre), but here the singing is actually good, and instead of trying to sing like a little girl, here she sings like a grown-up - huzzah! She still does a little bit in that up, down, up style, because it's ingrained into the song. But in both her hook and the music, it's a lot more subtle. The music here is completely smoothed out. It still retains the original's rhythm, but brings it down a thousand notches to something listenable. The only downside to this is that lyrically, it's still his dopey cross-over style song-writing: "give me a D-cup or A-cup, just don't give me a flat butt" is not the kind or caliber of lyrics we've come to expect of Big Virt. And fortunately, this seems to have been his one and only turn in this direction.

The label says that these songs are taken off his forthcoming The Voice of Reason album (later retroactively retitled as World War One: The Voice of Reason, sort of like when George Lucas went back and labeled Star Wars as Episode 4), but when that eventually came out, only the "Omnipotence" remix wound up being on there. So the rest is all 12" exclusive. I guess it's okay that this is rare, though, as only Virtuoso's most die-hard fans will feel compelled to seek this one out. But, then again, Clinton Sparks has produced some huge records, so I guess there's actually a pretty big market for this sound... ((shudder))

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