Friday, May 28, 2010

Allah U Akbar

When Grand Puba left Brand Nubian (uh, the first time), there was a lot of question about whether the group would hold up. Sure, we knew from "Concerto In X Minor" that Puba wasn't the only praise-worthy mic holder in the group, but it was still pretty unclear what would be left when you took out the most dynamic element. Think Fugees minus Lauryn. And regardless of the creative content, I remember being pretty convinced at the time that this second album was going to be a one-off for devotees and the final Nubian album. It was a good look that Elektra didn't drop them right there.

And Elektra was surely all the more nervous when they first heard the single they'd soon be offering up to the public. "Allah U Akbar" certainly didn't have the upbeat swing of "One for All," the crossover sound of "Slow Down" or a collection of witty one-liners from Puba. A gritty self-produced beat, some tough lyrics ("So if you’re feeling lucky, then come and catch a buck. How could I kill a man? Well, I just don’t give a fuck! ...We’re bound to win, 'cause God don’t like ugly. You'll get slugged, rushed, raped, robbed and mugged, G.") and an attention-getting vocal loop for a hook added up to a pretty rugged debut. Even just the title... of course, it's a very positive saying (it means "Allah is the greatest;" it's a saying of praise); but I don't think it was an easy sell to MTV's advertisers in '92.

But lyrically, except for some standard NY tough talk in the mix, it's actually a pretty simple reintroduction of themselves. Sadat lays down the plot of their return:

"The deuce crew of the new makes the whole shit clear, yeah.
Give the question - I’m tired of brothers guessin'.
The Nubian name
Brought the X a lot of fame,
But wouldn’t it be a shame if it all up and ended?
That ain’t the plan I had, and shit like that ain’t intended."

It's really just a simple, unpretentious single to say, "hey we're back!" And the B-side is even less pretentious: another album track called "Steal Ya 'Ho." It's kind of a lighthearted extension of Jamar's line from "All for One," "every time I drop a rhyme to show Jamal is intellectual... girls wanna get sexual," with the pair kicking somewhat dirty raps about girls over another self-produced beat.

By the way - a quick aside to discuss dates. Discogs for some reason lists this single as coming out in1993, as opposed to the album and the "Punks Jump Up" single, which they list as 1992. But I could swear this one actually dropped first. And just check the scan I posted: the date is clearly labeled 1992. At any rate, this definitely came out around the earlier side of things, and their biggest hit from the album, "Love Me Or Leave Me Alone," came later.

So, okay, back to the music. Besides the two songs, and instrumentals, we also get two remixes - one of each song, both also self-produced. The "Steal Ya 'Ho" remix is interesting... it takes out the familiar funk guitar and replaces it with a simpler, grittier beat that draws you in more with the bassline. It's kinda cool, but would be non-essential except for the fact that it's also a lyrical remix. So it's essentially a whole new song, with new lyrics and instrumental. ...Not one of Brand Nubian's better songs, mind you (lyrically, it's kinda lame), but still.

And the same goes for "Allah U Akbar" - it's not just an instrumental remix (this one's more smoothed out and kinda cool), but it's a lyrical remix as well. This mix is way more in tune with what you'd probably have expected from the song in the first place: Five Percenter talk, social and political commentary, shots at the devil. This time around Jamar's on some righteous shit. And Sadat, well...

"Your raggedy ass women, they always be lustin'.
Pale, skinny creatures with subhuman features.
Have you ever noticed when it rains and their hair gets wet,
That it stinks so bad it makes you have to jet?"

So, it's not exactly a remix I'd recommend casually around the office. But if you like your Brand Nubian records O.G. and edgy, I don't see how you could resist adding it to your collection.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Little Jersey Random Rap...

Found a cool, little 12" in my crates that I haven't listened to since I got it way back in the 90's. Turned out to be pretty fresh, so I reviewed it for DWG. You can read it here here.

You would think there has to be an end to all the dope "random rap" that could turn up from the 90's, but there never seems to be...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Big L & G Rap Double Up

Q: How many records have Kool G Rap and Big L done together?

A: Not enough!

Okay, I guess I shouldn't put that question in your heads and leave it at that. lol The real answer, by my count, is two. One is "Fall Back," a song off Big L's The Big Picture, his posthumous album on Rawkus. And the other one is this nice, oft-overlooked track by Royal Flush on Offical Jointz. There's no year on this 12", and the catalog numbers are a little confusing, but thanks to the fact that I've been documenting Kool G Rap's discography for years now, I can confidently say that this dropped in late 2003/early 2004.

So yeah, it's just the one song, "Double Up," in Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions (the B-side duplicates the same three mixes). The uncredited production is decent but unexceptional - it sounds like a billion other mixtape-type tracks these cats were rhyming over around that time. It's got one of those "epic" film soundtrack loops with a little pitched-up vocal sample that Canibus seems to be madly in love with. Really, you'll be expecting Whookid, J Love or some other asshole to start shouting their fool name over the song at any second. Fortunately, though, this is a proper 12" and there's none of that here.

But getting these two giants together makes this a must-have:

"How I'm livin': swell;
You can't scar L.
Head of the cartel,
Sellin' more cakes than Carvel.
Now I'm labeled a kind thug;
Police got my line bugged;
Hope I see the grave from old age,
And not a nine slug.
I'm quick to bust a mean nut
In some teen slut;
Big L is clean cut,
with more jewels than King Tut."

Kool G Rap's verse is even sicker. But disappointingly, it's another case of him recycling his bars from another guest verse: Canibus' "Allied Meta-Forces" from his Mic Club - The Curriculum album that had dropped earlier in the year. But I think for a lot of G rap fans, this 12" will be the preferable way to have those rhymes in their collection, anyway. So yeah, G Rap's verse is recycled... and if those Big L lines seemed a little too familiar... yup. They're from his guest verse on Gang Starr's "Work" off their Moment of Truth album. So this is one of those tracks that seems to've been stitched together from old acapellas. But in L's case, at lease, you had to expect that considering this came out well after his passing.

Anyway, Royal Flush's verse seems to be original (as far as I know... there's a lot of Royal Flush singles I haven't got), and he holds his own pretty nicely as well ("Feds wanna challenge us/ Off balance with silencers/ Locked up with calendars"). And of course you can't take G Rap anywhere without Ma Barker tagging along. But it could be worse - he could've married Charli Baltimore. Besides, the presence of Barker at least suggests that G Rap was actually knowingly involved with this recording, even if he was spitting old material.

I don't know how rare this is. Curiously, it isn't on discogs yet, and a quick google search doesn't return much... but I didn't think anything on Official Jointz was really that limited. Anyway, I wouldn't expect to have to pay a lot for it, but I recommend picking one up when you see it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Way They Used To Krush

Depending how hip you are to Michigan hip-hop, you may or may not know that one of their founding rap crews, The KMC Kru, was once known as The Krushin' MCs and put out some dope material on Macola Records in the late 80's. Back then they had a third member, Stevie D, who didn't follow T and The Butcher when they signed to Curb Records. But what you probably didn't know is that The Krushin' MC's were around even before their Macola period, and they had a slightly different line-up.

In 1986, The Krushin' MCs dropped "The Way We Krush" on Midwest Records. The MCs here are Wonder T and Sir Klank, somebody they used to shout out on their Curb albums (I used to assume he was a dancer for them). Sir Klank wound up doing some appearances on KMC Kru's independently released fourth album, AKA IG's, where the line-up changed again, with The Butcher leaving and a new MC named Cat Man stepping in. Confused? Maybe I should draw a chart. But the point is, it turns out Klank was an original, founding member who shares microphone duties on this rare, first single.

They also refer to a DJ Mike Ski (guessing on the spelling), who's probably not The Butcher, since his real name was Ken White.

This is some serious old school hip-hop. It's got that deep, thudding drum machine sound, lots of hand-claps and simple, loud cuts. The MCs trade rhymes line for line and word for word:

"We never, never hog the mic!"
"'Cause we're not greedy!"
"We're still at full power!"
"'Cause we eat our Wheaties!"

It's b/w "Bittin' Attack," which is similar, but features some hard (keyboarded) horn stabs. For the DJ gets a little busier on this one, cutting up the classic UTFO "bite it!" sample on the hook and mixing in the horn sample Slick Rick would later use for "Mona Lisa" (that's right, these guys had it first) at the end.

Production for both songs are credited to a Mark Wilson. And instrumentals are featured on the flip.

Like my previous review, I could see this being labeled "too old school" for a lot of heads, but really this is an excellent example of how it was done... way back in the day. This is a tough one ot find, but I also doubt most heads are up on this so demand is low and you just might get lucky.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

South Africa No Free Neither Are We

"A.F.R.I.C.A." is a classic Stetsasonic single that was surprisingly left off any of their albums. This was a pretty big release at the time (1989), and went a long way to putting a pre-"Talking All That Jazz" Stetsasonic on the map. It was a side project of the Artists United Against Apartheid's Sun City release - not included on the album (because that came out four years earlier), but single is marked with their logo and says it's "endorsed" by the Sun City album.

You surely remember the video, if you were around back then, with Stet superimposed over South African news footage. The song has a very rudimentary, old school feel to it. It's that low tech sound you either reminisce fondly of, or you're embarrassed to death to listen to today. But there's no denying the funky percussion... probably because it's provided by Olatunji and the Drums of Passion. And the hook to this song is one of the best geography lessons I ever had in life. How many cities countries (whoops! fixed - see comments section) in South Africa can you name? I can name "Angoloa, Soweto, Zimbabwe... Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana!" The picture cover[upper left] also says it's featuring The Reverend Jesse Jackson, but that's a little disingenuous. They sample a speech he made when he made about South Africa... but how many tons of rap songs sampled speeches? They didn't claim them as featured guest stars! Still... the CD single[which I don't have, but I stole the scan from discogs... right] features a photo of Jackson posing with the band, so he must have at least signed off on this record.

And speaking of the picture cover, it's a pretty neat one! The inner sleeve also includes the lyrics, production notes, an essay on the problems of apartheid (an excerpt: "After a network TV report on [Jackon's] trip appeared on ABC's 20/20, Stetsasonic checked out the situation. They wrote A.F.R.I.C.A. to get more people interested in finding out about apartheid and the Frontline states") and a detailed map. Seriously, there's a lot to read with this record.

There's a couple mixes here... the regular version, a slightly shorter Radio Version and The Stetsafied Mix. The Stetsafied Mix isn't too different from the other two; but it does feature a lot more beat-boxing from Wise, some deeper drum machine notes and a few other odds and ends thrown into the mix.

Finally, there's "Free South Africa" by Tack Head. Tack Head is actually an alias of The Sugar Hill Band, a.k.a. Fats Comet. I assume the change in name is so people wouldn't expect the softer disco sound of the early Sugar Hill Days... this features hip-hop drums, electric guitars and a lot of vocal samples from news programs laid over them. It's kinda dated, but in some ways sounds even more dated than "A.F.R.I.C.A."

It's worth noting that Stetsasonic's third and final album in 1991, Blood, Sweat & No Tears featured alternate bonus tracks on its CD and cassette versions. One of those tracks was a nee remix of "A.F.R.I.C.A." (curiously titled as "Free South Africa (Remix)"... but it's a remix of "A.F.R.I.C.A.," not the Tack Head song); and this might be a bit controversial to say, but I prefer it to any of the original mixes. It's a whole new instrumental, with a cool, rolling bassline, funk guitars, and girls (sampled?) singing along to the hook. What's really impressive about it is that it takes the same vocals as the original but manages not to sound dated at all. Seriously; it's like... how'd they pull that off? The remix is fresh and timeless.

But don't let my preference for the remix dissuade you from the original. Like I said, the percussion's ill; and this 12" is an important piece of hip-hop history. And before anybody asks, yes, they freed South Africa. In 1994, South Africa held their democratic election, voting in the African National Congress and their democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. 8)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Don Done Right

Ever feel like, "somebody out there's listening?" Well, I do today because I just received Godfather Don's Selections EP (though to my mind, this is full enough to constitute an LP) from No Sleep Records. I'll forgive you if you've forgotten a blog I posted way back in 2007, where I gave a positive review of Godfather Don's CD The Nineties Sessions, also on No Sleep; but also expressed some disappointment with it.

Only some of the tracks were new (and some were blatantly stepping on another label's toes), and of course - it wasn't on vinyl. Well, I guess they heard me (and all the other collectors who felt the same way), because in 2010, No Sleep is back with a new release that addresses all of my concerns and then some.

The Selections EP features all seven songs from The Nineties Sessions album that had never been released before and puts them on vinyl for the first time. And, thanks to a last minute recall where some low-volume wax was taken back in favor of a new, first class pressing, the sound quality is excellent (better than what was pressed on the CD, I daresay). Back when we looked at The Nineties Sessions like, "damn, this is good, but could have been so much better..." Well, it's now been done so much better. :)

Oh, but wait! That alone would make this an absolutely essential purchase in my book, but there's more. In addition to those seven songs, the Selections EP features a completely unheard, never-before-released Don track from the 90's. "For Your Ear" is easily one of the best tracks on here, too (I'd say the best, but "Memories" was smooth); this is no second-stringer, and really captures that magical 90's production sound. This'll take you back to the days of flipping to the back pages of The Source and nodding your head to NYC radio back when it was worth listening to.

This is a limited release (though there is some question as to exactly how many were pressed... apparently 175 were available for pre-order, but nobody presses in quantities of 175), and comes in a cool sticker cover. This might prove to be a difficult one to get your hands on, but damn worth it if you do.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fear Of the Rap!

Hip Hop Connection is back with a new digital issue, and as ever - that means a new Fear Of the Rap! piece by yours truly. It's a wild one this time; I won't even spoil it by telling you what it's about. Just click here to check it out.

Other attractions include an in-depth interview with Flying Lotus, some early NYC graf shots, and an interview with Ricky Powell, the photographer who documented the Beastie Boys' career. Oh, and they cover the new Digital Underground in their review section... I forgot that one was dropping. Gotta give it a listen.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Home Taping" Hurr Durr

I'm not a musician. I have some sympathy for the artist - seemingly more than most hip-hop bloggers today - but I generally leave them to fight their own battles. Illegal downloading killing your career? Well, maybe if you'd pressed up your album I would've supported, but you didn't care so I don't.

There is however, one point I feel compelled to make, just because I see so many people get it wrong in online discussions. It's frustrating, damn it.

We've all seen it. The usual "mp3s are killing music!" versus "artists need to adapt!" debates, and someone ironically posts the old "HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC" logo (which did have a pretty awesome image, I must admit). Laugh at how paranoid and foolish the music was for thinking taping stuff off the radio, or making cassette copies of albums, would topple the music industry. I mean, they probably did lose some revenue, but don't look at that. The joke is how senseless they were being.

But here's where the comparison really becomes invalid:

1) This is a lesser point, but I'll throw it out there anyway. Home taping still required blank tapes. It was substantially cheaper than buying a proper cassette album Sam Goody's, but there was still a discouraging expense involved that isn't there in sharing mp3s. This is marginal (but still a factor) if we're talking me hooking a friend up with a tape of an album. But it's huge when you compare the cost of uploading one mp3 to a site like Zshare for free and having hundreds - or even theoretically potentially billions - download it verses the cost of buying a blank tape for every one of those people.

2) But more importantly, that the internet is killing the distribution gatekeepers... which for the most part, I'll happily concede, is a good thing. What that means, however, is that the labels, the stores, etc. no longer have any say in what music you get. In olden days, if no music store in your area stocked the album you wanted, you were SOL (shit outta luck). And I'm not just talking about, "damn, my local Sam Goody's doesn't carry Esham's first EP!" What they didn't stock were album dubs. You couldn't say, hey let me pass on that $10 album and get the $1 dub of it instead. But now on the internet, it's just as easy (if not easier) to download something free and illegal as it is to get it legally.

3) A dubbed cassette tape, with a generic Maxwell or whatever logo and the title of the album written in ballpoint pen seriously lacked the luster of a proper album, with the track-listing printed nicely on the tape, and of course the fold-out cover art and liner notes. But an mp3 from Amazon or Itunes has no advantage of an mp3 you snagged off of Soulseek or some random blog. In fact, with issues like DRM, the illegal copy might just be better.

So, anyway, my point isn't to make a grandstand against internet piracy or anything like that. It just irks me when people make the "home taping" point without any realization or acknowledgment of how off-base a comparison it is. And even if you want to pull a "well, that's just, like, your opinion, man," on me, I think a look at the Soundscan numbers after the rise of home taping versus the after the rise of Napster will show an incredibly vast distinction in declining sales.

So, go ahead. Continue to download everything you like. I don't care. Just don't throw that cassette and crossbones logo into any more message board debates as if you'd just intellectually crushed the opposition.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shadez of Brooklyn

It's a shame that a crew like Shadez of Brooklyn, who sounded so ill and had such break-out success with their debut single - I think I could safely use the word "beloved" in relation to their hit, "Change" - only managed to put out three 12" singles before disappearing. Well, in 2010, Chopped Herring Records has finally rectified that situation with the release of their Pandemonium EP.

To be clear, this isn't new material by the group reunited; this EP consists of 5 previously unreleased tracks recorded in 1996 and '97 (which means they actually predate Shadez' second and third singles). And like their previous singles, all the tracks here are produced by Da Beatminerz, so don't expect any disappointments. Only one of the tracks, "Everyday Livin'," has ever been heard in any capacity before - it was included on an Evil Dee mixtape. But, like the other songs, this is the first time it's being released in a full un-edited/blended capacity.

Really, if you're familiar with the Shadez of Brooklyn's previous output (and you really ought to be), all I need to tell you is that this is every bit as good as their past singles. Production-wise and lyrically, any one of these songs would have fit perfectly on their previous 12"s. The voices, the flows, the way the MCs play off each other going back and forth over hot beats with killer piano loops and fresh cuts from crazy comic book records... it's all here. In fact, the opening track, "Now a Dayz," seems to be a sequel to their original B-side, "Survival Wars;" with a hook that goes, "Now a days/ You've got to live in a certain way/ Watch what you say/ Here comes the gun spray/ East to west, South Shore to North Shore/ We told you before/ This is the time of survival wars." And "Pandemonium" is presumably the song they named their record label (Pandemonium Wreckords) after, so it's nice to finally get to hear it.

And in addition to those five unreleased joints, they also threw "Change" on here as a bonus. I can't imagine many people who'd buy this wouldn't already have "Change" on vinyl, but just in case, here it is.

As you can see in my scan, this comes in a nice sticker cover, and it's limited to 300 copies. It's still available (mine just landed today) as of this writing directly from the label's website: choppedherringrecords.com. The limited releases don't get much more essential than this one.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Remembering the Gifted

Following the recent loss of one of hip-hop's most esteemed MCs, Guru, we're celebrating his work over at DWG with a series of reviews of classic Gangstarr 12"'s. Mine just went up now. I picked a more recent one than you might expect, but hopefully you'll find it a fitting choice.