Sunday, January 31, 2010

Still Another 1-4-U-2-N-V

video
(Youtube version is here.)

The link I mentioned in the video is: http://www.another14u2nv.ning.com and their e-mail is another14u2nv@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

3rd Bass 2000

3rd Bass has to be one of the most request - and promised - reunions in hip-hop history. Fans beg, the artists say they'll do it... but then nothing happens. I remember reading an interview in The Source where Serch was saying that they were finally reunited and that their long-awaited and unfortunately titled third album, Icabod's Cranium, was in the works. He asked us to be patient, however, because they were taking their time, indulging in the fact that a label wasn't pressuring them with deadlines, so they could take their time and do it right. I think now, in 2010, I can finally say that my cynicism was justified - it ain't coming.

A small run of one promo single did sneak out, though, in 2000, on Serch's own label, Serchlite Music. It was called "Hail To the Chief."

"Hail To the Chief" is not the incredible comeback song you might be hoping for. It's not up to par with the material on their previous albums. But it sorta wasn't meant to be - this is more of a mixtape teaser. It's a simple, concept-less track (except loosely that they're running for best the position of "street chiefs") with 3rd Bass kicking freestyle rhymes over a simple track. It's further tarnished with appearances by Stone Rivers (a mediocre MC Serch was managing at the time) and DJ Corey Hill. But fortunately, they're both relegated to just the hook and intro/outro.

So that's the downside.

But the upside is that it was a new 3rd Bass in a world where it seemed certain there would be no new 3rd Bass songs, the track isn't bad or anything, and the rhymes are solid. Damn it's good to hear new material from Pete Nice, and Serch is always nice with his. Daddy Rich doesn't seem to've been involved, though in interviews, they always said he'd be a part of Icabod's. Certainly his involvement could've helped this song enormously, but like I said... it's still good.

Serch comes with some humor: "yes, I inhaled and real deep. yes naked when I sleep - trust me, you don't wanna peep;" and manages once again to say something uncomfortably racist, "all my life, only rode between a pair of black thighs. Word to my sister and my mother, the only white lips I kissed. You should know before you vote I fuckin' hate white chicks. Not racist I just say this so your vote is not jaded." Well, gee, I guess if you say "not racist" afterward, nothing you say is racist? lol Meanwhile, as ever, Nice comes with the stylish, more abstract wordplay, "'ey yo, illuminatin' on your frequency: the high level and degree of the epitome. Master of the subterranean in your cranium; auditory outlets feelin' like a stadium. If ya got the fluid on the brain, I got a method to relieve it; unscrupulous minds aiming to deceive it. I’m mischievous, devious, hittin' never missin'; got a pocket full of nitroglycerin."

It comes in a sticker cover (above), and features five mixes: Album Version (what album? sigh...), Radio (which is about a full minute shorter), Instrumental, TV Track and Acapella. So it's just that one mix of that one song, but at least it comes fully loaded.

So that's about it. Eventually, in 2008 or so, MC Serch released an mp3 only album (he promised vinyl, but it never happened) of tracks he recorded for a second solo album that never got finished. As two bonus tracks, he included the only three songs (besides "Hail To the Chief") 3rd Bass got recorded for Icabod's Cranium, "Cats In the Cradle," "Commute" (a Serch solo track) and "Out the Back," two of which (the latter two) were released in part back in 2000 on a Serchlite snippet tape[pictured right]. Again, "Hail To the Chief"'s not the best, but it's respectable; and there's no use in holding out for anything more from them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remixes Against Phony Entertainers

This is an interesting, alternative UK version of a common US 12" with an extra remix. Now, UK versions of 12"s with extra remixes aren't all that uncommon in hip-hop... but usually they're dreadful CJ Mackintosh or Norman Cook things that are best ostracized. But how about an extra SD50s' remix on a 3rd Bass 12"? Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised, too.

The 12" in question is 1991's "Pop Goes the Weasel," the debut single of 3rd Bass's second (and sadly final) album, Derelicts of Dialect. It's their anti-old to pop music... you surely remember the music video where they beat down a Vanilla Ice look-a-like and giant weasels terrorize the city? "Hip-hop got turned into hit pop the second a record was number one on the pop charts."

Now the US version came in a cheerfully colorful picture cover and featured Radio, LP and Instrumental versions of "Pop" plus four versions, including an SD50 Remix, of "Derelicts of Dialect." Well, this version comes in a sticker cover and features just two versions of each song: LP and SD50 Remix versions - which means an all new SD50 Remix of "Pop Goes the Weasel." Oh, and just to keep you on your toes, this 12" plays at 45 rpm and is mislabeled, listing the songs in the wrong order.

So yeah, the "Derelicts" remix isn't exclusive here, but if you haven't heard it, it's dope. It's smoother and mellower than Prince Paul's original, but features a bunch of extra samples and different instruments - organs, piano, flutes, scratches of crazy vocal samples... all drift in and out over a similar, but much more low-key, softer drummed track. It's more Midnight Marauders.

Well, so like how the "Derelict" remix keeps a lot of elements of the original, the "Pop" remix (called the "Weasel Remix," but the label credits tell us it's by the Stimulated Dummies, who also produced the original) keeps even more. It starts out with an old storybook vocal sample saying, "let's sing 'Pop Goes the Weasel'," and then it sounds kinda like the LP version at first - it's the same drum and bass lines, even the same sleigh bells. But the key distinction is that the signature Peter Gabriel sample is removed. You might say, "but that sample was hot!" Yeah, but it's been replaced with a new, tight horn sample. There's a few other little bits, like a little funk guitar, sprinkled into the mix sporadically to spice things up, too. But the main difference is the replacement of the signature horn sound with another.

I wonder if this is maybe an alternate version they created just in case they couldn't clear the Gabriel sample, and that's why they just threw it away on this little 12"? At any rate, I'm not sure which one is better... they're both worthwhile, and the remix has the added benefit (or weakness, depending on your PoV) of losing that instant pop tune recognizability. So I'll leave you to make your own judgments, but whichever version you consider to be definitive, it's worth picking this up to have both on call.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Missing Piece from Several Puzzles

The internet is awesome for finding things. Things like great music that's been lost for a decade and a half. And that's what I've just found on the internet. Five pieces (plus five more snippets) of great, unreleased music that tragically sank on the same ship: Perspective Records.

Janet Jackson left Perspective Records, and the label was done. Despite having signed a killer line-up of hip-hop acts who all recorded complete, excellent albums, which to this day remain unreleased. And this promo tape, the '96 College Rap Sampler, features nothing but unreleased gems from that line-up, one complete song and one snippet per artist.

The first artist is probably the least interesting, only because his shelved album was at least released in a mediocre-quality dub that's spread well through the tape-trading and internet circles over the years. So let's start there. Young Zee. Most of you have heard it already, so I'll just briefly state that the full unreleased song on here is "Tonsil Check," featuring Yah Lovah... and I have to say, hearing it in proper quality has increased my appreciation of this slick sex rap. The snippet is one of my favorites from the album, "Electric Chair."

Next up are The Black Spooks. These guys made a name for themselves as Digital Underground affiliates (a good legacy there!), and a couple of them went solo after their album was swallowed up by Perspective. I have an underground 12" or two by these guys, but I have to say, the tracks here feature some solid production but also really display some ill lyricism I hadn't properly credited these guys for in the past. The song is "Mad Black Spooks" and the snippet is "Make Up Your Mind," neither of which seem to've been included on any of their subsequent post-Perspective releases. Until I heard these, I can't say I was too disappointed their album never dropped, but now I am.

Now we get to the really exciting stuff. How about some lost material from Pudgee's King of New York album? If you read my 'The Lost King of New York' post on the subject, you know I had found an old catalog title of a song called "Say Goodbye." When I asked Pudgee about it, he said he never released it. Well, I just found out it was a song intended for the Perspective album, 'cause here's a snippet of it on the sampler. The full length song is also mentioned briefly in that past blog entry, where I list some song titles mentioned in a King Of New York album review in The Source. The tape has no production credits unfortunately, but from a line in the intro, I gather this one was produced by The Beatminerz. It has a very similar feel to his single, "On the Regular."

Next is the highly under-rated artist The Almighty Arrogant. It doesn't help that his absolute weakest joint, "Lay Tight," was the only song Perspective ever put out by him. The tracks here are much better... he's like a west coast Young Zee, with a bugged out song called "Toxic Urb," which is about just that. The snippet is called "Arrogant Wayz (Remix)" and is pretty hot, too. Man, I just want to shake the Perspective tree and have all his material fall out already!

Finally comes Rufus Blaq. Now, if you're clever, you might point out that unlike the other four artists you've covered, Perspective did put Blaq's album out. And that's true, but for whatever reason, these two songs aren't on it. The full song is called "NRG" and the snippet is "Make It Last," and both show Blaq as a more rugged yet punch-liney MC than I remember him being. I like these tracks... I may have to go pick up his album which I never copped. If it's as good as these songs, I'll be happy.

It's great to have these songs, but it just makes me wish even harder that someone would give these albums their proper releases already. That way everybody can hear these tracks, and all the other ones still unheard; and the artists can finally get their due. So, I gotta thank the internet for a nice treat, but that's what really needs to happen. Sigh. ...If only hip-hop fans still bought music.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Missin JMJ

Everyone knows that Rev Run kept up a healthy solo output post-Run DMC, but DMC's 2006 solo CD, Checks, Thugs and Rock N Roll, seems to've rolled in well below most fans' radar. And that's just as well, considering what a mess of generic rock, country and R&Bish production mish-mosh this is. Lots of boring studio instrumentation and ill-advised guest spots by artists like Kid Rock, Sarah Mclachlan, Aerosmith (but not the lead singer), The Cars, Buck Cherry and other pop and rock bands I know nothing about. There was a single ("Freaky Chick") and everything, all of which can be yours for the price of a penny on Amazon.

So maybe you never heard of any of that, or maybe you did and just pushed it out of your mind like me, but you might be a little more encouraged to hear that the Japanese disc featured a new, decidedly better song, as a bonus track. And better still, that bonus track received a small run on vinyl as a promo-only 12".

Now, don't get me wrong. When I say "decidedly better," you still have to be feeling pretty sappy and forgiving if you're gonna give this a spin. But if you are, then you'll find a pretty respectable - even touching - dedication to Jam Master Jay called "Missin My Friend." DMC, who's at the verge of losing his voice around this time, doesn't sound like we knew him back in the day, but his sounding softer and muted works much better on this dedication track than it does on the rest of his album. The production (uncredited) is on the light, R&Bish side, but not bad for what it is, and it features a well sung hook, which is also uncredited. According to an interview in The Source, this is the first song DMC wrote without writing any lyrics down, which is interesting, since his lyrics are much better here than on the rest of his album, where they often sound simplistic and kinda dopey. Here he's sincere, authentic and really kind of touching:

"I seen you on the bus playin' video games;
You beat all of us, I ain't sayin' no names.
You was a real cool cat; you never caused trouble;
You would relax your mind doin' a crossword puzzle.
You and Run would argue: who's better in ball?
And I would sit back and just laugh at y'all.
I miss ya, Jay, I ain't gonna front,
I'd give anything to see you smoke one more blunt.
So when asked who's best, we all will say:
Jason Mizell, Jam Master Jay.
When asked who's best, we all will say:
Jason Mizell, Jam Master Jay!"


The label to this 12" gives us practically no info (just a defunct url), but playing through the record tells us the track-listing is as follows: A1) Clean Version A2) Instrumental B1) Dirty Version B2) Acapella. There's not much distinction between the clean and dirty versions since, as you'd imagine, there's not much cursing on here, but there is a single usage of the word "nigga" silenced out.

So, while steering as far clear of the album as possible, you still might want to add this 12" to your crates. Even if you're realistically not gonna break it out and spin it too often, it's just nice to have it in there as a tribute to the great Jam Master Jay.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Party, Party!

What's not to love about this record? This is Ice-T's epic Rhyme Syndicate posse cut from his album, Freedom Of Speech... Just Watch What You Say that dropped in 1990 on Warner Bros/ Sire Records. It's got an exclusive B-side remix, and as you can see it comes in a spiffy picture cover.

So yeah, the song is called "What Ya Wanna Do?" It's produced by Ice-T and Afrika Islam and is, as the back cover puts it, "CUT THE !&*!&%!! UP" by DJ Evil E. It features the full-length LP Version (a whopping 9 minutes) and the shorter Edit (the one they used for the video etc.). There's also an instrumental, which is a little bit longer than the radio edit, but shorter than the LP version.

It's a super fun joint, with a cracking break with hand-claps and a little Miami-style percussion, a deep groovy bassline and a funky guitar loop. It's a pretty simple but entirely effective beat that plays the background for a plethora of MCs to just drop freestyle rhymes. The entire line-up is: Randy Mac, Nat the Cat (with a sick fast rap style), The Syndicate sniper Donald D, who kicks the infamously fun rap about his rodent problem:

"There's a mouse in my house, so I bought a cat.
The cat ran away, 'cause now there's a rat.
I'm on the attack with my baseball bat...
That one rat brought many others back.
All through my house I set up traps;
It seem like the rats have a map.
But nowadays I don't know how to act,
So now I feed the rats crack."

...Bronx Style Bob ("Life ain't nothin' but a piece of existence"), Hen Gee, Shakell Shabazz, old school legend Toddy Tee, Everlast (who lazily recycles a verse from his single, "I Got the Knack"), MC Taste and Divine Styler. In the Edit, each MC kicks 1 verse (except Ice, who kicks 2), but in the full-length version, everyone comes back for a second verse (third in Ice's case). What's interesting is that the Edit doesn't just play the first "round" of verses or the second, but selectively picks what I guess they consider to be the best verse from each MC, so you get, for example, Randy Mac's first verse, then Nat the Cat's second and then Bronx Style Bob's first verse again.

Finally, we hit the exclusive remix, a Radio Remix of "The Girl Tried To Kill Me." Remember the over-the-top rock & roll style sex anthem Ice ended his album with? Well, this is that, but this remix was clearly made for the heads who thought the original wasn't hip-hop enough. This one still has some of the same guitar riffs (and a big solo finish), but the emphasis is much more on the drums and all than the album version, which was a pretty substantial genre cross-over. Which version you'll prefer will probably depend on how tolerant you are of rock music... the original probably lends itself more to the subject matter and Ice's yelly style, but this is definitely on a more head-nodding B-Boy tip. So I gotta go with the remix.

So, you know, if you've already got the album, then getting "What Ya Wanna Do?" isn't such a coup... the Instrumental is nice, but the Edit doesn't add much value, except maybe for historical purposes. But it's also got the remix of "Girl" and the pic cover and all, so it's a worthwhile crate staple considering it can usually be had for peanuts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do the Many Varied Right Things

This has to be the seminal union of new jack swing and conscious rap: Redhead Kingpin & the FBI's 1989 hit "Do the Right Thing." The song was originally meant to be a Teddy Riley joint for Wrecks-N-Effect to appear on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's film of the same name. But it wound up being left off the soundtrack and going to Redhead instead; but that didn't stop it from being a huge hit. And it should be pointed out that while Teddy Riley gets arrangement credit (and Joe the Butcher mixed it), "Do the Right Thing" was actually written and produced by Markell Riley (a.k.a. Marky Mark of Wrecks-N-Effect) and Redhead himself.

This is just one of those timeless rap hits... the music, the hook... Having grown up in the time this came out, I don't even have to play this song to quote you guys the lyrics:

"Brothers are stealin' and dealin' and big wheelin',
And to a younger mind, that stuff is appealin'.
So what do they do? They gather up a crew,
Go out and steal and rob, instead of getting' a job.
Now your mother tried to bring you up better than that;
The same way she loved you, you loved her right back.
But now you think you're grown and you argue a lot
Over money you got from dealin' stuff on the block.
Now you're not the only one in the world that has problems;
Keep your head straight, and you can surely solve them."

And I call this new jack swing 'cause of the artists involved, the hook, and a few sparse keyboard riffs... But this is pretty hardcore for new jack swing with it's aggressive "UFO" ringings, a lot of cuts that aren't played soft on the mix, and a driving funk guitar sample taken right off an NWA record (It shares George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby" with MC Ren's rugged solo cut "Quiet On the Set"). Even those distinctive Teddy Riley horns (somebody needs to bring that sound back!) sound harder than ever here; and it's all laid over "Impeach the President."

So it had a hot animated video, a ton of radio play and while it didn't wind up in Spike's movie, it did eventually find a home as the final anthem in Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs. Wait; what? I asked Kingpin about this in my interview with him back in 1998 and he answered, "Yeah. I didn't understand that, though. I went to the movies and saw that, and I'm like, 'Ok. They're chasin' monsters through walls, they're killing monsters, and then they're doing the right thing?' I don't get it. It was a check, though. I just didn't get it, personally."

So with a hit this big, you wind up with a lot of versions of the single... little 7"'s, white labels with fewer tracks (though that's the only way to get the proper album version or the instrumental), etc. But really, there's basically two proper singles, with matching picture covers (shown above). First is the yellow.

The yellow 12" has five mixes: US Street Mix, 12" Mix, US Radio Mix, A Capella and the Butcher Mix. And the A Capella is self-explanatory. So let's compare the other three mixes.

The US Street Mix is like the version you're familiar with, the album version, the version they use in the video, etc. Except they remove the sung hook and replace it with a vocoder version. And there's additional scratching - some during the hook, and especially at the end, where the DJ is really allowed to go for solo. The back-up singing is also removed from the shout-outs at the end.

The 12" mix is similar, but a lot more chopped up. It opens with just the "UFO" sounds, and the whole instrumental is constantly being scratched and juggled around by a DJ (I presume WildStyle is doing all the scratching on all the mixes, but it's not specified in the credits). Even Red's vocals are sometimes stuttered. We also get to hear more from the singers (Guy?) who do the hook, and some extra funky bass at the end of the song. Labels like to remix hit records, because it's easy to sell a record that's already a hit. But records that are already perfect the first time also don't need remixing; and we're given a bunch of inferior versions for no good reason. But this mix is actually an interesting, compelling alternative. I can't see it replacing the original, as that's the most clean and natural sounding version, but this is a funky extended mix that shows off everybody's talents. So if you like "Do the Right Thing" at all, you'll have to appreciate this mix.

So, ok, there are no curse words in the any of the mixes; so what is the US Radio Mix? Well actually, surprisingly, it's not just a slightly trimmed version of the Street version. In fact, it's substantially longer. It's like the US Street Mix, but the singing is brought back (though we hear the vocoder briefly, too), including the extra vocal flexing we heard in the 12" Mix. Oh, and this mix also features a little vocal introduction with someone saying "yo Red, kick that one;" and there are a few other little added details like that throughout the extra couple minutes.

Finally, we have the Butcher Mix. The label doesn't say so, but I think we can safely assume this remix is performed by Joe the Butcher. This is as broken down as it gets. Joe is mixing up just the drum and bassline, sometimes juggling the bass note for note for the short duration. That's it; no vocals or anything else. It's pretty cool as a bonus track.

Ok, now we come to the green cover, which I actually prefer... not just because green is my favorite color, but because the green and the red border jive with his African medallions much more than a giant swath of yellow. So I prefer the cover... not the music.

This 12" has four mixes: Jazzy 12" (in the UK, which is actually the version I've got, this was released as Happiness Remix; but it's the same thing), Jazzy 7" (just a shortened version of Jazzy 12"), Sky 12" (or 212 'Sky' King Remix in the UK) and Sky Instrumental. So basically there's two new remixes.

The Jazzy Remix really isn't so jazzy... it's called that because it's remixed by Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper. It's got a funky congo break, and a cool little bassline... but the rest: thumping dance club claps, and a piano loop that doesn't really fit with the rest of the song, don't work. This is listenable, the bassline starts to get pretty catchy by the mid-point, and it's neat that Red changes up the shout-outs at the end (calling out different countries instead of US cities), but it's nothing to go out of your way for.

The Sky Mix by Gail 'Sky' King is weirder... it features some old school horn stabs and stuff, some clubby elements, and some percussion (and "ooh ahh" vocals) that sound like an old Egyptian Lover record. As Redhead raps, the beat changes to other breaks and sample sets. It's... interesting, and surely not what you'd expect to stumble upon on a Redhead Kingpin record. I don't know if I can say it's really any good, but somebody's at least trying to get creative with it, and bring in some funky new scratches and elements.

All in all, I've gotta call the green remix 12" a miss. Dedicated Redhead Kingpin fans will get some enjoyment out of this (I did - heh), but it's really nothing I can recommend. The yellow 12" is definitely better... but casual hip-hoppers should note that the straight up album version, which will probably be your ideal mix, isn't on either of these. So you're probably better off just picking up Redhead's album or this nice little white label. But if you're a fan of some good new jack swing, I think the yellow 12" will be worth your time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sport "G" & Mastermind's Addictive Vinyl

Vinyl Addicts isn't just a site for dope reviews, interviews and such on dope, rare hip-hop... it's also a kick-ass little record label specializing in digging up unreleased gems and giving them the first class vinyl treatment. They put out Lord Finesse's demos, and more recently a pair of records by the indie NJ duo Sons of Sam. But to me, this is their crowning achievement (to date).

You probably know Sport "G" & Mastermind for their pair of highly sought-after 12"'s "Live" and "Louder." If you're not familiar, I'll summarize: Long Island, stupid fresh, late 80's, Paul C.-related, big bucks on EBay. Dig? Well, VA has put out a 6-song EP of vintage, unreleased tracks by them, called Let the Rhythm Roll. It's all produced between 1985 and 1988, songs that got shelved when their label, Streetwalk Records, went under.

And did I mention "First class" vinyl treatment? Yes sir. This here is a hand-numbered, limited release (mine is #205 out of a total 250 pressed). As you can see in the pic above, it comes in a nice sticker cover, with a 2-sided press sheet - including notes on each song by Sport "G," a glossy 8x10 press photo, and another glossy full-color photo of the group (if you're wondering who the third guy is in pictures, that's Dramatic A), in a plastic sleeve. Oh, and 50 copies of these were signed by Sport "G" himself! And my photo doesn't really do it justice, but VA has some of the best looking labels in the limited game, hands down. Like I said, first class.

So ok, the presentation's nice, but how's the actual music? More good news! Shit is super fresh, and definitely one of those releases you'll want to revisit over and over again. Sport "G" has a dope, somewhat deep voice, clear delivery and a penchant for fast-paced battle rhymes (though he switches up the subject matter for "I Used To Be a Hustler" and "Don't Do It To Yourself"). And Mastermind keeps dropping classic breaks. Now, it's a common misconception that Paul C produced the duo's classic 12"s, but actually he just mixed them. Mastermind produced those tracks, and the same is true of all six songs here. But once you know he produced their earlier singles, then you already realize he's a master behind the boards (and has some nice cuts as well). All six tracks are instant head-nodders; but the last two especially, the title track (my personal favorite) and "Don't Do It To Yourself" (which flips a classic KMD sample years before they got to it) are a little denser and more impressive.

If you haven't already gotten this, I think a few copies may still be available ...if you're lucky, so head on over to vinyladdicts.net and ask nice; you definitely won't regret it. Seriously, I'm lovin' it. And of course this just leaves one final question: what will they come out with in 2010?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Murder Fam "Exclusive"

You know, I've given J-Love some (well deserved) shit on this blog for his mix-CDs, but I do have to give him his due. He's not a bad producer who's worked with some of the best MCs and facilitated a lot of music from them. He's got his fair share of criticisms coming to him, but the hip-hop scene would not have been better off without him.

Case in point: this little under-the-radar white label, titled "Murder Fam." It's one of a series of split 12"s he did with production partner Ric Nice. It's got no year on it, but other entries in the series came out in 2001, so it's safe to say this came then, give or take a year. It's just two mixes of one song (albeit with Dirty, Clean and Instrumental versions of each), one produced by J and one by Ric.

It's not "Greatest Hits" material or anything, but it's a a rugged little gem by Kool G. Rap, Jinx da Juvy (not Sir Jinx, as discogs would have us believe) and an underground MC by Ike Infa Diamond. Jinx had done a couple collaborations with G Rap around that time for his Giancana Stories album... in fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is another one of the many outtakes from that album.

It's a simple drum and bass line with a couple hot samples on it, a pure example of the New York crime rap genre. G Rap easily spits it sickest verse (and no, I'm pretty sure it hasn't been recycled anywhere), but the other two MCs try hard enough to copy his violent-mafioso-raps-twisted-into-mindbending-exercises-of-ill-wordplay style to hold up the rest of the record. The hook's just a simple vocal sample repeated a few times ("a man's gotta live up to his word") and a short, chanted refrain.

The Ric Nice mix is essentially the same but with a different sample or two. It's got a cool barrel drum sound, but otherwise the doesn't really hit as hard, especially the hook that just uses a high-pitched violin loop behind the chorus. It's good, though, and I'd be perfectly content with it if the A-side didn't exist.

Of course, J-Love recently threw this on one of his hacky mix-CDs, if you feel like hearing it in terrible sound quality with lazy radio blends at each end and J's "exclusive" name droppings all over it. Personally, I hope to never ever hear another song in that excruciating manner again in my life though; so I was happy to pick up this 12". I suggest you do the same. 8)

Friday, January 8, 2010

WARNING: UNAUTHORIZED ULTRAMAGNETIC BOOTLEG RELEASES

In 1994, Tuff City released The Basement Tapes 1984-1990 by The Ultramagnetic MC's (which Ced Gee refers to as volume 1 on the CD), a pretty self-explanatory compilation of some dope unreleased material. And in 1996, they released they released a second volume, New York What Is Funky. It was then that Kool Keith felt compelled to speak out, issuing a statement on the label of his Big Willie Smith 12" "Prepare" on his own Funky Ass Records. In fact, he did it twice, following up the message with a similar one on his "Don't Crush It" single (from Sex Style).

"WARNING: DO NOT BUY ANY ULTRAMAGNETIC RELEASES ON TUFF CITY RECORDS THEY ARE UNAUTHORIZED BOOTLEGS." And, yes, those are some interesting labels.

Tuff City kept on anyway, releasing albums until 1998, totaling four (and a fifth announced, but it was just a live album, so it would've been nice, but probably not such a great loss). Now, I mentioned "On the CD" above, because the CD version of each album is different than the vinyl versions. Sometimes the sequencing is different, but the key difference is that each CD has at least two bonus tracks not included on the LP. Here's a proper breakdown of those:

*The Basement Tapes 1984-1990: "Ced-G, Tim Dog (Lab Free Style)" and "Ya Not That Large"

*New York What Is Funky:
"Tim Dog Live On Capital Radio" and "I Like Your Style" (an alternate mix of the song that was featured on Funk Your Head Up)

*Mo Love's Basement Tapes:
"Kool Keith Wild," "Wack MC's," "Freestyle" and "D To the N"

*Smack My Bitch Up:
"Nervous" and "Talkin' Out Your Ass (Remix)" (the original of which was on Mo Love's Basement Tapes)

There were also two 12" singles on Tuff City with songs from these releases, one of which included the otherwise CD-only bonus track, "Ya Not That Large." (Remember, you can get the full track-listings for both 12"s and both versions of each album on my UltraMagnetic discography page).

Another key difference is that the first two volumes featured intermittent narration by Ced Gee, telling you (briefly) the history of some of the songs. If you're a vinyl purist, but want to get a sense of what that was like, check out that aforementioned "I'm Fuckin' Flippin'" 12" with "Ya Not That Large On" on the B-side... they include Ced's explanation narration for that song there, where he explains why the song cuts out in the middle (because the engineer was "gettin' weeded").

And the last difference is that, on the back cover of the 1998 Smack By Bitch Up CD (it's not anywhere on the LP), Tuff City finally responded to Keith's label shots with one of their own:
"Don't Believe the Gripe: Kool Keith Cashes Tuff City Checks." From what I recall, there was never any question that they might actually be straight up bootlegs, but that Ced Gee perhaps sold the material to Tuff City without including the other members. Davey D paraphrased a radio interview, where Keith explained, "producer Ced Gee had fallen onto some hard times [he's hooked on crack] and had done some very hurtful things to the group in an attempt to satisfy his habit. One of the things he did was sell the groups old studio out takes and practice songs to Tuff City Records. Tim Dog explained that the label owner Aaron Fuchs then put out a 'fake' Ultramagnetic MCs album. Not only was he issuing old studio out takes as songs, but he also scanned some pictures and with the aid of adobe photoshop had created an album cover which depicted the group alongside a guy they didn't even know. Kool Keith explained he had no idea when the photos were taken... and what's ironic the 'unknown' member of the group was just as shocked as Kool Keith to see himself on the cover. Entitled 'New York What Is Funky'.. Tim Dog explained as he shook his head that the lp with it's sub par recording made the group look bad and it's sad that folks will go so far to make a buck..."

I believe Kool Keith has since recanted the "crack" comment. Certainly, Tim Dog told Vinyl Addicts that, "to my knowledge Ced Gee was never on crack. But I once made a reference to the way he sold the music to Aaron Fuchs like a crack head. Basically a crack head would sell your moms TV which costs 500 euro and sell it for 50 because they’re desperate. So I made that reference to Ced Gee," which I think explains that rumor away.

But it's worth noting that while Tuff City responded that Keith had indeed gotten paid, they didn't say that 'till 1998 (remember, Keith called them out in 1996), so it's possible they only finally squared it away with Keith and them after two years. Anyway, TR Love gave a less sensationalistic account of what happened years later in an interview with Unkut, which I'm inclined to believe is a little more accurate, "Actually, those tapes had gotten stolen and got in to the wrong hands, and when Ced found out he immediately thought he needed to get it out there, so he started doing The Basement Tapes. There was rumour goin’ around that Ced was on drugs, this, that and the third, that’s why he was sellin’ the tapes – but it wasn’t that. It was just the fact that we wanted to get those songs out, but we were gonna do something like a compilation of our greatest hits, but when the first couple of songs started leaking, everything just snowballed. So we just let it go. Aaron Fuchs was just a lucky person to buy into the situation and be able to do what he had to do to produce it."

At any rate, if you've allowed Keith's remarks to make you write off and dismiss these albums, you've really missed something here - there's a lot of nice material on all of these. Granted, the sound quality was varied, and one song ("Smack My Bitch Up" which was also made the title of one of the compilations) was doubled up and included on two volumes - did they think heads were really that excited that some punk/dance band sampled that same "Give the Drummer Some" phrase that it would be some kind of goldmine? Oh well. There's still a crapload of great material here, from a sick demo track to radio promos to a superior alternate O.G. version of "Message From the Boss" from their second album. Some songs are better than others and you could nitpick all day, but there albums blow anything the group put out themselves at the time.

But even across all these volumes, this doesn't encompass all the ill, unreleased UltraMagnetic tracks... Unkut has posted some smoking hot radio rips of alternate mixes of "MC Champion" and "Message From the Boss" (different than the one I mentioned from Mo Love's Basement Tapes) that I'd love to hear cleaned up and properly released. Kool Keith's own website also lists some unreleased UltraMagnetic songs on his discography page, but you can't tell from the titles if these are vintage songs or stuff from one of their many reunions in the 2000's. I know it's been over ten years since their last volume, but maybe we could convince Tuff City to take one more look into their vaults for a fifth Basement Tapes album? And if there's not enough material for a full album, I think we'd be exceedingly happy with a 12" of the remaining songs.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's a(n Alternate) Force Thing

Ok, I have to start by saying that I'm surprised JVC Force released "Intro 2 Dance" (or "Introduction 2 Dance," as it's written on the album) as their first and only single off of their second LP, Force Field. It's the literal introduction to the album, and though it's the proper length, it feels more like an intro/skit kind of thing than a "full" song. They start of talking on it, while the DJ spins their classic instrumental, Strong Island." They reference some of their old lyrics ("Listen to the situation, my son. Ah yeah! You remember that, A? Remember back in them days?") and then freestyle over the beat, and then have a long shout-outs sequence. It's very cool on the album, but this was their choice for the single?

Well, regardless; that's how it went down, with Radio and Instrumental versions. But of far more interest, I believe, is the B-side.

We're given "It's a Force Thing," which, yes, is one of their two house songs. "An Intro and a house song... great," I can hear you say, but wait. First of all, I think the JVC Force did some of the very best house songs in hip-hop... their voices and styles sound funky over any type of beat, and so lend themselves much more to being laced over dance beats then most MCs (see their "Strong Island" remix single review). So, while it's house, it's still pretty dope, and comes in Radio, Club (which is really a dub, with just the back-up vocals on the track) and Instrumental mixes.

But what really makes this 12" worth having is the "A Force Thing" track. It's written as if it were a whole new song that just happens to be very similarly titled to the other song on this record, but really it's a remix. A not-at-all-house remix (which is always the best kind). In fact, they're rhyming over "Rapper's Delight" (not, not just the "Good Times" groove - there's even samples of Wonder Mike's voice, so they're definitely using "Rapper's Delight"). They do mix a few other records into the music, including some funky vintage horns; but basically it's JVC's ill flow over a super old school rhythm.

Now, I must point out that this 12" was released before the album (1989 and 1990, respectively). So there's that and the fact that some of the vocals that are repeated or otherwise played with on "It's a Force Thing" ("guys they beef with us, 'cause girls they rock for us... 'cause girls they rock for us... 'cause girls they rock for us.") are spit just normally on "A Force Thing." Both of these things make me think that "A Force Thing" is actually the original song they recorded, and "It's a Force Thing" is just a house remix that wound up being included on the album probably at the behest of the label.

But whether "A Force Thing" is the official, proper, original version of the song (as I believe it to be) or not, it's certainly the superior one. And that makes this 12" a must-have. Plus, hey, the other songs are still good, after all.

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.