Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The First The Last Shall Be First

The Cella Dwellas first dropped a single on LOUD Records in 1994. After a long wait while the label held their album in limbo, it finally dropped in 1996. Then LOUD kinda stuck them back in limbo. That probably would've been the end of, except in 1997, they had a song featured on the Soul In Hole soundtrack called "Main Aim," which was a big hit, commercially and critically. So begrudgingly, LOUD (now in conjunction with Stimulated Records) started putting out their records again - and probably pressured them to drop the "Cella" from their name, too, as they were now only known as The Dwellas starting with the 1998 single "Stand Up." Then it was another long, two year wait from the first single to their sophmore album, 2000's The Last Shall Be First.

So, it's not surprising through all that time and label politics, that the album would've went through some behind-the-scenes changes. And I guess it's not even all that surprising that promo copies exist of an earlier, alternate version of the album with a different track-listing. And here it is.

This promo version differs from the final, commercial release by a total of seven songs (the sequencing has also changed, which you can check out in the photo above). Firstly, it's missing four songs that were eventually included on the final version. Those songs are:

1. "Game Of Death" produced by Ayatollah
2. "Da Ruckus" - produced by Mel and Majesty
3. "Frontline" - produced by Nick Wiz, and featuring Cocoa Brovaz
4. "The Last Shall Be First" produced by - and featuring a guest verse from - Large Professor

Yes, that's right: the title cut of the album was a last minute addition that almost wasn't on the album. But more interesting about this pre-release version isn't the songs that are absent, but the songs that are only present on this rare, unreleased version:

1. "Main Aim" produced by Nick Wiz

I get why they left "Main Aim" off.  By the time this album rolled around, it was already four years old. And it had been released both on the soundtrack album and as a 12" single. Everybody who wanted it had it. There was really no point in including it by that point, except I assume the label figured it was their "money track." But I'm happy to see it go to make room for one of the newer tracks.

2. "Launch a Rocket" produced by Nick Wiz

These missing tracks get increasingly more interesting... what's striking about this one is that LOUD released this as a single in 1999. So they thought it was good enough to be a single, but not good enough to make the album? Very odd choice, and I remember being quite surprised when I picked up the album and found this song absent. So it makes a little more sense to see it here. But the really interesting extra track, the one that justifies this whole blog post, is this last one:

3. "BQE" produced by - and featuring verses by - Large Professor and an unnamed fourth MC

Now, this is tight - a super cool beat by the Professor! It's a great combo of rough and smooth. It's got hard, banging drums and some ill scratches. But they're paired with a light wind instrument loop and various atmospheric samples, from birds chirping to the "ki ki ki, ma ma ma" refrain from the Friday the 13th films. Extra P, some MC who isn't credited on the label but who comes nice, and the Dwellas give some of their best, high energy vocal performances on the album:

"Go check Extra P
Hook up the recipe
On the MP;
Let me MC,
It's destiny.
On top, we next to be.
See us on MTV,
But don't think I won't empty three,
Speedin' in my MPV.
And you niggas don't wanna be
Temptin' me
To waste rounds,
And make you lay face down
And taste ground."

Why on Earth would they leave this one off? They felt there was only room enough for one Large Professor song on the album? Maybe it was a contractual thing? In any case, it was a poor choice, because "The Last Shall Be First" was a decent, worthwhile song... but "BQE" blows it away. "BQE" is - along with the fantastic "Ill Collabo" - one of the best songs on any version of the album. It's some of Large Professor's best post-Main Source work; it's simply crazy that this was never legitimately released.

The whole thing's pretty interesting to me, but "BQE" makes this more than just rap trivia. Unfortunately, unless you luck out and stumble upon it in a used bin somewhere, this isn't the kind of thing you can just pick up. Fortunately though, I think this song was eventually stuck on a bootleg compilation of unreleased Large Pro beats sometime in the 2000s. So look out for that, and at least I was able to give you this glimpse behind the Dwellas/ LOUD Records curtain.


  1. Dope post. How do you cut a Large Pro production/vocal feature?

  2. Totally agree on the BQE comments. I believe its only featured on that lackluster Large Pro compilation they put out, not even on a white label.

  3. Ive got this promo cd as well. I was talking to phantasm on facebook and he told me the other feature on BQE was this kid Aasim. He was signed to loud at one point and dropped maybe one 12” under the alias Aasim
    d’xplicit. You may also recall he was running with Puff Daddy in the mid-2000’s. Didnt check much of his work then but def did come off nice on this Dwellas joint