Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Ultimate In Horror Disco Rap

Okay, my fellow bloggers... Who else is doing a Halloween themed post today? I want to see lots of fun, scary hip-hop posts when I check my reader Halloween evening. Here's mine:

Here's a Halloween, monster-mash-style rap song most people have never heard of... but they really should seek it out, 'cause it's one of the best. It's M C G's "Friday 13th" on United Sound Music from 1985.

So, like the title says, this is a very disco rap-style horror rap. I'm not sure how much of the music is by a live band and how much is programmed and looped, but it all sounds very rich, so I'd guess that at least some of it is live. In either case, it's great. It's got a lot of spooky but up-beat synth notes and crazy sound effects. There's a simple, sung hook that just goes, "Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th." But damned if it isn't catchy as hell the way it meshes with the music.

Lyrically, it's a simple and familiar narrative: M C G is invited to a party to MC, but it turns out it's a party being held by monsters! Of course, the narrative isn't the point, it's just a fun excuse to come up with lots of goofy and fun rhymes about a long list of famous monsters (of Film Land?). And M C G has that great, bassy radio-DJ voice that a lot of the early disco rappers used, and it sounds great. Everything about this song is 100% enjoyable... check a sample of the rhymes:

"I was invited to a party to MC,
Wouldn't exactly say it was the place to be.
I got scared outta my wits
When I seen who was playin' all the hits.
It was the one they call Transylvania D.
He said, 'welcome to the party, M C G.'
It was a hot summer day when he passed away,
But he was at the party, ready to play.
I looked at him with nothing but fear,
He said, 'don't be afraid, get over here.'
Then the beat got vicious and so nutritious,
I rapped so hard I broke all the dishes!"

This record is on the rare side. But it's absolutely worth seeking out if you enjoy the really old school old school stuff. And the fact that this is a great Halloween record only adds to the appeal.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Creative Juices Music

More hot new music? How about a whole label's worth? Until pretty recently, I was sleeping on these guys, which gave them a chance to create a whole back catalog of ill music I need to check out. In case you've been missing out, too, I'm talking about Creative Juices Music. They got plenty of new talented artists putting out their first releases, including Alucard, Critical and Ide, who seems to be their centerpiece artist. And they've got some established artists signed to their label, including Jise of The Arsonists and UG of the Cella Dwellas.

The label has a surprisingly unified sound... The production is rich and the lyrics are very late 90's. Think of that era when you first heard The Rebel Alliance or Jedi Mind Tricks, or when Canibus was an exciting new artist. The lyrics are smart and sometimes topical, but they still retain that raw hip-hop freestyle nature. All the MCs come with nice lines without sounding jokey, instead remembering to fall back on creativity and flow. They've got a house DJ, DJ Connect, adding first class scratches to their projects. This label is the epitome of "keeping it real" from a late 90's ethic. Hell, this is the label that got The Outsidaz to reunite ("Still In This" features Pace Won, Young Zee and Yah Yah)!

I've recently picked up a bunch of their projects - if you want a good place to start, try Ide and DJ Connect's incredible Ideology and Ide & Alucard's For Fuck Sake album, an ill ode to liquor - but still have a bunch more to score. And if it's still all a little too overwhelming, fortunately they've got a a nice (unmixed) sampler CD (pictured... and better yet, ughh has it in their freebie section, cop it quick!).

The one and only Mista Sinista cuts up a quality introduction, and then we're thrown right into it. New and as-yet-unreleased cuts by their full roster. There are some nice cameos, too, including Thirstin Howl III, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Casual, Steele (of Cocoa Brovas), and Hell Heaven Razah. But the guys you don't know will impress you at least as much as the big names. It helps a lot that the production is some serious, consistently quality stuff. Think of like The Snowgoons or Marco Polo.

There are new songs by UG - and oh shit, he's kicking his "mystic" style material for the first time in at least a decade! Those songs are advanced tracks from his upcoming album for Creative Juices called Portals. Damn, I can't wait!

Seriously, I got a bunch of their discs (yeah, unfortunately they're all CD and no vinyl... the one downside to this outfit) all at once, and I'm just putting one in after the other, and each song is as impressive and exciting as the last. Fuck, why didn't anybody tell me about these guys earlier? They've got a website, so you can check it out here for more info. Or maybe all you guys reading this are already completely up on them, and I was the only jerk sleeping. Heh

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Great, New Music

It's tempting to say J-Live is back, but he never really left. He's been putting out a lot of music, actually, over the years. There was a little gap between 1996 and 1999, but really since then, he's put out a ton of albums and 12"s. However, I don't know about you guys, but... after being initially excited about his early 12"s, I've let a lot of these fly under the radar.

But I'm damn glad I didn't let this one fly under. Based on an online recommendation or twenty, I held off for a bit but finally picked it up, and damn it's nice. "The Way That I Rhyme" is the latest single on his own label, Triple Threat Productions. Now J-Live has come out on a whole bunch of different labels; but throughout the years, he's always maintained Triple Threat, and even in 2010, he's still putting out wax.

Now, this track isn't produced by anybody I've ever heard of before... his name is Korede. And if this track is any indication, he's definitely somebody to watch out for in future (here's his myspace; I just looked it up). Simply, this beat is niiice. The drums and bass are subtle, but strong and really drive the rhythm. More superficially you've got some hot string samples and a smooth vocal sample. And the hook, when the DJ starts cutting up Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock's "It Takes Two" is perfect! It's like two mixed vibes: one upbeat and energetic and one cool and calming, but somehow they both manage to function at the same time, and even compliment each other. Meanwhile, J-Live's vocals sound like they're taken off some late '97 single that was lost in the vaults or something, with a fun narrative style and some dialogue interplay between himself and a female fan. All these elements working together, add up to an easy must-have.

The B-side doesn't stand out quite as much as the A-side - how could it? - but it's still pretty fresh. It's called "Poetry In Motion" and produced by Locsmif, who's been around the underground for a minute and did some tracks for OC. The beat's got a nice, choppy jazz vibe, and J-Live comes off cool and confident on the mic. This could actually pass pretty well for an OC song, actually - and that's certainly a compliment.

So this is the lead single off of J-Live's upcoming EP, Undivided Attention, with the B-side remaining exclusive to this 12". You also get instrumentals for both tracks here, and a clean version of the A-side. There's nothing limited or pricey about this one, so you really can't go wrong... another terrific hip-hop record in 2010.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back To Burn?

More new music today. In fact, I'm going to be doing a bunch of new music posts all in a row. And for today, I'm going to look at one I've mentioned a couple of times, but just finally got my hands on: Themselves' Crownsdown and Company. If you missed it, Themselves dropped their "comeback" album, Crownsdown, last year. And this is a limited (1000 copies - mine is #0979) CD-only remix album of that.

So, interestingly, they keep the sequencing the same. "Back II Burn" was the first song on Crownsdown, the "Back II Burn" remix is the first song on Crownsdown and Company, and so on. This might not be a good thing in this case, because it causes them to lead with some of their weakest material. Themselves handled their own remix of "Back II Burn" and the metal guitars and such they add certainly don't improve over the original. Then Dalek's remix of "Oversleeping" is even worse - just a weird, distorted mix.

Now, I have to be honest. I haven't listened to Crownsdown too much since I got it... it was kind of a disappointment. So I'm not going to talk too much about how the remixes stack up to the originals, because I don't even really remember all of the originals; most of them didn't leave much of an impression on me. I went into this remix album hoping it would breath some more life into the material and make matters a little more compelling.

And sometimes I think they succeed. Buck 65's remix of "The Mark" relies a little too heavily on arbitrary noise and distortion (possibly to cater to the non-hip-hop contingency of second generation Anticon fans), but despite that, it's still pretty gripping, and it's certainly not lacking in energy. I don't care for the hook anymore than I did the first time around, but I guess it's asking too much to hope he'd've scrapped it?

Alias's remix of "Gangster of Disbelief" at least brings attention back to the lyrics, which is an area where a lot of Dose's projects unfortunately wind up having issues. I don't really care for the drums, but at this point I guess they've become Alias's inescapable signature sound. The rest of the production works well with it, though.

13 & God's remix of "Dax Strong" is nice; I think it really manages to capture that natural cohesion of wildly disparate styles (live instrumentation, computer sounds, simple and bugged out vocals) the band is always after, but doesn't always secure. If I wanted to give someone a good example of "what 13 & God are like" and what they're capable of, I'd play this song.

The sound of Lazersword (whoever that is)'s "You Ain't It" remix is like an Egyptian Lover tune updated for the youth of 2010. It's certainly interesting, but the vocals are practically an after-thought, included only out of obligation to the project... it really wants to be a slow and spacey club beat that maybe should've been saved for a different project.

By contrast, the remix of "Roman Is As Roman Does" by Our Brother the Native (whoever THAT is) plays equally trippy - in fact more - but it really makes excellent use of the vocals and original song to make something completely bugged out, but also fitting. It's insane, and I don't think you could qualify it as hip-hop anymore; but if you're open and a fan of Themselves, you should appreciate this crazy mix.

"Skinning the Drum" on the other hand, is as hip-hop as it gets. On the one hand it uses plenty of old school vocal samples, classic drums and familiar breaks, but it's by Odd Nosdam, so you know it's also wildly original at the same time. At this point in the album, it's almost hard to believe I'm still listening to the same album that opened with those crappy opening mixes, 'cause this is great!

The remix of "Deadcatclear II" by Baths (the third producer here I've never heard of, but that's okay) is as heavy on the computery distortions and effects as anything else on here, but it's good. And when it strips down a bit, playing one of Dose's verses almost acapella, it gets really effective. Practically each sample element or loop is given a chance to breathe on its own and really draw you in, and like "Dax Strong" and "Roman Is," really manages to capture the better vibes of Dose One's recent projects.

The last remix, Bracken's spin on "Gold Teeth Will Roll," is another good 'un. It's moody and atmospheric. There's some very cool, subtle use of scratching at the end, too. I don't remember anything on the original Crownsdown feeling like this, but it should've.

Finally, we're given one extra bonus track: a brand new Themselves song called "Antarctica." It's pretty good, too. The music's low-key but but subtly busy and vibrant. Dose flow blends with it perfectly as he kicks a pretty simple but nice message to the struggling artists out there, and there's a quite clever use of a Saafir vocal sample during the breakdown.

So, in the end, I really have to recommend this, at least for fans who are already predisposed towards Themselves' style(s) of making music. I started out thinking, "man, i can't believe I got suckered into blind-buying another..." but by the end, I was really quite pleased with it. There's a couple of songs I'll always skip, but the good material to be found here is certainly worthwhile and plentiful enough. Heck, it's even got me thinking of breaking out the original Crownsdown again and giving that another spin.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How About Just a Cool, New Record?

Not too long ago, I tweeted something to the effective how it was nice that - for the first time in a long time - there was so much good music coming out, it was getting a little hard to keep up with. Robbie from Unkut twittered back, "Really?! I must have missed it all, then." LOL But seriously, there's a lot, and I've been covering some of it, but there's still a lot more for me to get to. Like, for instance, this little 12" that just dropped.

Beneficence is a New Jersey MC who's been flying under the radar for a long time now. He put his first 12" out in 1994, and he's been quietly putting out stuff ever since then. This is his latest 12" single, which just came out on Undisputed Entertainment.

"Heavy Hitters" might get your attention because of who's on production - Diamond D (who he's worked with before). And this is a really nice effort from him, too. It's a simple, mellow track with matching piano and bell loops that are instant head-nodders; and Beneficence compliments it with a relaxed, confident flow and autobiographical raps. Ben's not an immediately impressive MC - there's no tongue-twisting flows, brilliant rhyme patterns or novelty-value punchlines. But he's the right kinda guy from a beat like this.

The B-side, "Royal Dynasty," isn't quite as compelling, but it's another solid track, produced by DJ LKB. The beat's a little harder, faster and definitely respectable, but it doesn't grab you like the A-side. And when the track isn't stealing the show, it does leave Ben feeling a little, well... boring.

So, pick this one up for the A-side, you'll definitely be feeling it... and just take the B-side as a little bonus. Both tracks come in vocal (they're labeled as "Clean," but I don't think there are any curses in the first place - in fact, he takes a stand against cursing in "Heavy Hitters"), instrumental and acapella versions. This is the lead single off his upcoming fourth album, which will presumably be CD and mp3 only. And this isn't one of those pricey limited deals, so if you're still buying hip-hop vinyl, it's an easy choice.

Update/correction 11/3/10 - I'm told that actually the full-length album will be released on vinyl, and we can expect it to drop around January, February 2011.

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 out putting their records again - and probably pressured them to drop the "Cella" from their name as they were now only known as The Dwellas = starting with the 1998 single "Stand Up." And it was another long, two year wait from the first single to their 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, then, 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 unique to this rare, unreleased version:

1. "Main Aim" produced by Nick Wiz

I can see why they left this off... by the time this album rolled around, it was already four years old. And it had already been released both on the soundtrack album and as a 12" single. There was really no point in including it, 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 sorta 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 great 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 cool wind instrument loop and various atmospheric samples, from birds chirping to the "ki ki ki, ma ma ma" loop 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 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.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Odd Years Indeed

Buck 65's EPs are finally here! And they're... good, but somewhat disappointing. For those who don't know, Buck 65 has just released three 7" EPs of four new songs apiece to celebrate his 20th year as a recording artist. They're available exclusively through his site, buck65.com, as vinyl EPs or mp3 downloads, except for the first volume, which is also available as a bonus CD packaged with his DVD, The Lost Tapes.

But if, like me, you were essentially expecting a new album sliced into three parts, you're in for a bit of a let-down. This is more a collection of scraps, like his tour CDs, pressed on wax. There are cover songs, material that sounds like it didn't make past albums, at least one song that you've heard before and lots of awkward collaborations. In fact, every single song here is a collaboration (and none with actual rappers), which just opens the door for a lot of mish-mash: hooks that don't fit, indulgent instrumentation, and silly ideas which shouldn't have been fully realized into commercially released songs.

So, it's kind of a mess. But as any serious Buck 65 fan - who should be used to this by now - knows, that doesn't mean there still isn't a lot of quality to be found if you're willing to sift through the chaos. So let's break it all down and really see what we've got here.

Volume 1 - Avant:
1) Gee Wiz (w/ Nick Thornburn and Buddy Peace) - At least we start off strong, with one of the best songs in the series. The music is really good, Buck's in top form. It's also got a fantastic scratch chorus. This is a great song all around, and unfortunately raises the bar way too high for the rest of the songs coming up.

2) Who By Fire (w/ Jenn Grant) - We follow the best song up with the worst. I mean, what the fuck is this folk music shit? I think it's another non-hip-hop cover, which a segment of his audience must eat up, because he keeps making them. Buck 65 whispers along to Jenn singing over a bland instrumental about... whatever; I don't care. It's like being at a party and some friend of a friend says, "hey, my girlfriend and I are learning guitar. Wanna hear us sing?" and before you can make an excuse... Blech. This is one song I'll never be revisiting.

3) Superstars Don't Love (w/ Jorun) - This one features some very 80's drum machine beats, which is kinda cool and surely Jorun's influence, but it does feel a bit gimmicky. That gimmicky nature is quadrupled by the lyrics, which is just a long list of pop culture references. I guess all the name-dropping is meant to be hipster bait ("wow, Buck 65 has heard of ____? I'm a fan of ____, too! Amazing!"). Also Michael Jackson's name comes up about twenty times, because I think this is actually supposed to be about his life as a media icon, in a tenuous sort of way.

4) Red-Eyed Son (w/ Coral Osborne) - Another good one, and one of the few examples where the guest singer on the hook actually works. She's got a compelling voice, which is echoed and played softly in the mix with a really nice instrumental. And as good as she sounds with the music, Buck sounds even better.

Volume 2 - Distance:
1) BCC (w/ John Southworth) -This is silly but catchy one. It's got kid-friendly music and a weirdly sung hook that sounds like it's taken off an old children's song. Buck's flow kinda reminds me of MC 900 Ft Jesus here, as he kicks lyrics that are just arbitrary non-sequitors. This is like one of those crazy records Prince Paul would stick on somebody's album. Amusing, but probably not one you'll want to play too often.

2) Paper Airplane (w/ Jenn Grant) -After "Who By Fire," I winced when I saw Jenn Grant's name pop up again. But this song is a lot better. It's actually taken from one of the DirtBike albums, but since those were mp3-only releases, it's good to get this on vinyl. The music's great, Buck's rhymes are thoughtful and Jenn's hook sounds nice. Simply put, this is one of the good ones.

3) The Niceness (w/ Colin Linden) - This is a bemusing, but overly simple song that pounds a little too hard on its concept like your typical pop record. It's a series of boasts of how nice Buck is, taken to ridiculous extremes ("I'll tell you the truth; my questions are never loaded. I'm so nice, my girlfriend's mother exploded"). The music feels a little undercooked, like a jam session turned into a studio outtake, but here's a nice scratch break-down two-thirds of the way through. It's essentially a comedy record, and like "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" or any other comedy record, it doesn't hold up to repeated listens unless you're easily amused.

4) Tears In Space (w/ Meaghan Smith) - This is one of the best examples of why forcing every song in this collection to be a collaboration hurts the finished product. Buck sounds alright on this, and the music, which takes the basic track from The World Famous Supreme Team and adds a bunch of new layers on top of it, mostly works (there may be a few too many layers here; it's a bit cluttered). The main thing that drags this down is the awkward hook, sung my Meahgan Smith. She doesn't seem to have a good voice and I can't even make out half the words she's saying. A remix of this song at some point might be welcome, because it feels like I'm listening to a work in progress here.

Volume 3 - Albuquerque:
1) Final Approach (w/ Marie-Pierre Arthur) -This is pretty good... the music is really effective, and Buck's lyrics are a little phoned-in, but not bad. Marie-Pierre sounds great, but she's singing in French, so I can't understand a word she's saying. That detracts from the experience, which is a shame, because otherwise it's good stuff. Maybe Buck will do an interview someplace and tell us what she's saying, but I shouldn't have to track down obscure interviews online to appreciate a record I just bought.

2) Cold Steel Drum (w/ Jenn Grant) -A little less Jenn Grant would go a long way here. Buck's kicks a nice verse at the end of this, and the music's really rolling along with him, but unfortunately, it takes a long time to get there. Before that we have an annoying repetitious chorus by Buck, singing by Jenn that never feels like it's going anywhere, and a loop that sounds like someone in the studio accidentally recorded the sounds of a broken modem over part of the song.

3) Lights Out (w/ Buddy Peace) -It's like he designed this song just to be annoying. Half of his lyrics are censored by loud beeps or ridiculous cartoon noises. The music features some discordant guitars and samples of alarms and stuff. It's like he came up with a song concept and took it way too far.

4) Zombie Delight (w/ Afie Jurvanen) - In many ways, this is one of the best songs in this collection. The music's effective (listen for the subtle use of "UFO"), Buck's delivery is tight. But ultimately, this is a silly song that's literally about a zombie apocalypse. It reminds me when Josh Martinez did a rap song about Snakes On a Plane; the subject just doesn't deserve music of this caliber. Again, the music was good, Josh was sounding good... but Snakes On a Plane? It's just stupid. And in this case, humorous takes on zombies have been done to death, the concept is no longer novel, and the content of this song is about three years behind Leslie and the Ly's, who didn't just do it years before Buck, but did it better. The vocoder hook doesn't work either, because it's way too high-pitched and light.

...So, to bottom line all of this? Well, on the one hand, it's too bad there isn't just an EP of "Gee Wiz," "Red-Eyed Son," "Paper Airplanes" and "Final Approach," because that would easily be a must-have release I'd strenuously recommend. But no, those songs are spread out over a series of EPs that includes a lot of filler and outtakes. Like I already said, this is really like one of his tour CDs, except on vinyl... so if you're a big enough fan that you collect his tour CDs, you'll want this one too, and you'll be happy with the set. But less dedicated enthusiasts may want to just let these go by and possibly catch the next album.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eric B FEATURING Rakim

video
(Youtube version is here removed due to false and shameful copyright claims by UMG (Universal Music Group); So instead, a Dailymotion version is here.)

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))

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Straight Back Into the Jungle

This is just one of those all-time great 12"s. It's great because the music is great. It's great because it's an important single off a classic album. And it's great because it's full of 12" exclusives that are at least as good as the album stuff everybody's familiar with. This is "Straight Out the Jungle," by the Jungle Brothers on Idlers Records.

Now, this isn't their first single... in fact, it's their third or fourth. They'd already blown some minds with their debut, "Jimbrowski," impressed with "Because I Got It Like That" and "On the Run" and crossed over with "I'll House You." But they still hadn't released their strongest 12", the title cut from their first full-length Straight Out the Jungle.

"Straight Out the Jungle" is just one of those epic moments in hip-hop history nobody seems able to replicate anymore. There's just a handful of songs where the sound, their flow and deliveries over the beat... just sound perfect. The production seems simple, a few simple samples over a great break-beat. The lyrics aren't much to speak of (though there's some nice interplay between the MCs and creative use of echo effect), but it's just something that the most brainiacal of backpackers or slick-talkingest of gangsta rappers will never capture. It's that perfect hip-hop sound.

But, like I said, the song itself is just the beginning. You get the L.P. Version you're all familiar, plus the instrumental. And that alone would make this a must-have. But now let's talk about all the amazing material on here.

First you get the Jungle Remix, which is about twice the length of the original. Smartly, it keeps everything about the original, all the rhymes and sounds from before are here, the brilliant horn sample on the hook... And they don't over-complicate the track by just dumping a bunch of extra sounds on top of it. Instead they just extend it, adding new breakdowns, scratch-sessions, a moment of odd but effective ,extended keyboard notes. This is the way, the only way, to improve on a masterpiece: leave it intact and just build carefully around the edges.

But heck, that was just side A. The first song is "The Promo." This was a bonus track on the cassette and CD versions of the album, left off the LP (a lot of stuff gets left off of LPs when labels try to squeeze albums onto a single LP for production cost reasons). This is one of the Jungle Brother's all-time great songs, thank to its unique combination of freestyle rhymes (featuring the one and only Q-Tip) over a slow beat coupled with one of the most memorable, exotic horn loops ever. You may remember Natural Elements flipped this instrumental themselves decades later, and it was just as effective then, in a whole new era for a whole new audience. It's timeless like that.

But hey, if just having "The Promo" finally released on wax isn't impressive enough for you, the next track will surely push you over the line. "In Time" takes the exact same instrumental as the "The Promo" but lyrically it's a whole new song. Now it's a serious, politically and socially conscious song (and possibly the first rap song to promise a black president?), with a classic hook ("In time, my brother, in time"). And yes, Q-Tip is back for this version, too, being surprisingly openly religious. "The Promo" was fantastic, but this manages to make it seem frivolous in comparison; this is the real song.

But there's still more! You surely remember "Sounds Of the Safari" off the album - a purely instrumental affair where the DJ cuts and loops various ill samples and makes them all sound like the natural sounds of a jungle. Well know you get "Straight Out the Jungle (Sounds Of the Safari Remix)," essentially a sequel to "Sounds Of the Safari." The original track is the same, and some of the freshest moments from the original recur, but essentially it's a whole new DJ track with the DJ cutting and blending a whole new stack of records. This mix at times perhaps sounds less genuinely safari-like - the gates are opened for a wider variety of breaks and samples - but it's never any less fresh.

If you're looking to fill any gaps in your collection, this is one to jump on. Because just having Straight Out the Jungle, the album, isn't enough. You gotta have this 12" companion piece. Fortunately, it's not rare or hard to get a hold of; plus it's been repressed at least once - probably a couple times - over the years. It's out there... waiting for you to come find it. ;)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sound Provided By DWG

Look at what arrived on my doorstep this morning. 8) "Say What" by Sound Providers, their brand new release on Diggers With Gratitude. If you don't know, the Sound Providers are a production duo (Jay Skillz and Soulo) that released some 12"s in the late 90's on the independent tip. Then, in the 2000s, they came back in a pretty big way on ABB Records and eventually wound up linking with an MC named Surreal, who is also featured on this release.

Now, I have to admit, I haven't made myself terribly familiar with work of the Sound Providers over the years. I mean, I've heard of them, and I think I've got a mixtape or two with a track from them on it; but I've never really sunk my teeth into their catalog. So getting the hook-up from DWG was the perfect opportunity, and I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised.

This is an interesting selection of their work, all previously unavailable on vinyl. The first two songs on the A-side feature Surreal. Track #1 is "Say What," an unreleased track recorded in 2009. This song, like all of their stuff, has a nice, light-hearted jazzy flavor. Surreal's flow is smooth and his rhymes are clever without being jokey:

"It's the funky rhyme writer,
You're never gettin' rid of me.
It's sorta like magic,
With the rhythmatic wizardry.
And all you wack rappers,
I'ma put you out your misery,
Because I'm gettin' busy
From the Caymans out to Italy.
Grandmother...
Was from the islands,
Grandfather from Sicily;
Now you know a little bit of history.
I'm top billin'
So there's just no dissin' me;
Plus, I'm six-three,
You don't wanna see me physically."

It's just an all-around, relax and cool-out track that's just a little too catchy to play the background. No matter what you're doing, you'll find yourself focusing on the music when this song is playing.

Next up is "Nuff Said," originally recorded in 2007 and intended to be a new bonus track for a single off of their True Indeed album. That single never made it out, though, and this song was shelved 'till now. This song's a little harder - just slightly - with a some funkier and dustier sounding samples. Surreal comes nice again, and the hook features some nice scratching of the classic "Top Billin'" question, "what more can I say?"

Finally, flip this over and you get an older track. "Who Am I?" was their fourth single released in 2001, and this remix was previously only available on a Japanese best-Of CD. This track pre-dates The Sound Providers affiliation with Surreal and instead features NY MC Grap Luva on the mic. Grap, if you don't know, is Pete Rock's brother and part of INI. This one features some slick piano samples over some very laid-back percussion. Grap plays it subtle, favoring a smooth flow over attention-getting lines. Soulo gets on the mic for the second verse and comes nice, too... He kinda reminds me of a more under-stated Bobbito.

This is DWG's third 7" release, and like the others, is limited (to 350 copies), but priced like a standard, not-limited release. I understand that DWG are sold out of it, so you can no longer order it from them directly, but it can still be ordered from other online vinyl shops like vinylism and hhv. And I have to say, after finally getting some of their music on wax: I always knew Sound Providers were a good, worthwhile group. But this has really got me wanting to get my hands on some more of their catalog now.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mad Skillz and Ras Kass: Together Again for the Very First Time

This is a single that sorta came out of nowhere. In 2002, an label called Madd Game released a 12" called, "Six Figures," a collaboration between Mad Skillz and Ras Kass. Now, 2002 is when Skillz was still signed with Rawkus, and Ras still only had his first two albums under his belt. In other words, neither had really collected many detractors yet, both were well-regarded lyricists at a time when punch-lines were held in high esteem and a collaboration between the two seemed like a very long thing coming. In fact, they were sort of at stages where both of there fans were wondering just what was up with these guys' long-delayed projects. So it was sort of odd that this little, indie 12" suddenly popped up on sites like Sandbox with no fanfare, well under the radar.

Well, Madd Game was actually an upcoming Virginia label that had put out a 12" or two before of their own artists. You've probably not heard of any of the artists or labels outside of VA, though Bedroom Wizard, a producer who made a name for himself thanks to some projects with The Supafriendz when they were getting big, was involved with at least one of their early singles. Well, anyway, I guess the label decided to grab some attention for itself, put their own artists aside, and hire some big guns for this 12" release.

So, how is it? Well, they didn't quite manage to grab these guys when they were in their prime, but they got close. So, lyrically, it won't blow any minds, but it's pretty decent. Sometimes it feels like some slick wordplay with a thoughtful hook ("only two ways out the streets, up or down, look around. Either six figures or six feet under the ground") and sometimes it feels too cloyingly jokey, forcing in bad Monica Lewinsky jokes like a hacky Jay Leno routine.

The production is handled by Trackula, who was Madd Game's in-house producer. It's not bad, but nothing special either. A keyboard loop over a typical drum track and some understated bass. It'll get your head nodding, but the emphasis is clearly meant to be on the MCs' lines rather than the beat - nobody's gonna pick this up 'cause they need to have the instrumental.

It is on here, though. You get Street, Radio, Instrumental and Acapella versions of "Six Figures;" so they do it up right. What's more, you get a B-side.

"In the Game" is a posse cut, again featuring Mad Skillz. It also features $K-Mo$, Josef X-Plosiv and Mic Source, most of whom I've ever heard of, before or since. Actually, I think I heard Skillz say "Josef X-Plosiv" on another song, but I thought it was a joke name, like when he told Method Man, "if you're Johnny Hot, then I'm James Flames." But I guess there really is such a guy. ...I suppose these are just local VA MCs, but I think only one of them ($K-Mo$) was actually on MaddGame's roster.

Anyway, this song's pretty on-par with the A-side. The beat - again by Trackula - is a little nicer, and the posse cut vibe is more energetic. This one lacks the star-power of Ras Kass, but after multiple spins, I think you'll come to prefer this side. It comes in just Street and Radio versions.

So yeah, nothing amazing; but it's a pretty cool little single if you can find it for cheap (and you probably can). It's got a nice, underground vibe compared to the crass, pop efforts both Skillz and Ras later stooped to. They also shout-out the label's website (I checked - it's no longer active) constantly on both songs. It's almost like you're listening to a song on a mixtape, with the DJ shouting his name all over it. Anyway, I recommend this so long as you go in with tempered expectations. Surprisingly, this is the only time Skillz and Ras did a song together until Ras's just recently released A.D.I.D.A.S. album.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oooh He Got an Exclusive Bonus Song

Okay, there's a good chance most of you reading this don't know who the Sons Of Sam are, so I'll start out by filling ya in. They're two brothers from New Jersey - Samson a.k.a. PA-Kid & The Xav - who released a killer indie 12" in 1993 called, "Ooh He Got an Afro." It was their only release, so in modern days it became a perfect example of "random rap:" a rare, virtually unknown but incredibly dope 12" on a 1-shot label (Workshop Records). You might think from their name that they're on some horrorcore - or at least over-the-top violent gangsta rap - tip, but they're really not (and the Sam in their group name is actually a reference to their real father, named Sam).

Anyway, in 2009, the greatly under-appreciated record label Vinyl Addicts got in touch with the Sons and released a bunch of lost music that they'd recorded in 1993-1994 but never released (The Unbirth EP). And now in 2010, we're seeing a second stage in the recovery of their music, this "Ooh He Got an Afro" repress on Promo-Only Records ("Promo-Only" is actually the name of the label).

Now, a flat-out repress of their original 12" is nice enough. It's a fantastic record and it's incredibly rare ... and expensive. But it's definitely one of those "raers" that's worth it... the music features great, crisp jazz samples married to very hardcore beats. It's just one of those records where the samples, the flows, the beats, the rhymes all just come together for that perfect hip-hop moment. "Ooh He Got an Afro" samples a classic Main Source record on the hook, and honestly, this could play right alongside the best of Breaking Atoms. If you like east coast 90's hip-hop at all, then there's no way you're not feeling this one.

So great, a repress! Hook me up! But it gets better.

Not only does this repress include "Ooh He Got an Afro," the instrumental and its B-side "Charisma," but it has an additional, exclusive unreleased song titled "Rising Son," which was actually the first song they ever recorded and uses a line from Chill Rob G's "The Power" for the hook. This song is completely in the vein of "Ooh He Got" and "Charisma" stylistically, and its right on par. fans' expectations will be happily met. Not only that, but it also includes an Instrumental mix of "Charisma," which was never on the original track. So it's an exclusive song and an exclusive instrumental.

It's limited to 500 hand-numbered copies (mine is #31)*, comes in a sticker cover and can only be gotten... for free. Yeah, you read that right, though I admit it's a little misleading to phrase it that way. See, you can only get this 12" as a free promo when you order a Sons of Sam t-shirt or hoodie (which, of course, are not free).

As you can hopefully make out in my photo, it's a black tee (or hoodie) with the green Sons of Sam logo that matches the 12"'s sticker cover. You can see the designs for both, check out sound-clips, and place an order all at the label's official blog, prom8nly.blogspot.com. They ship from Germany, but I got my copy here in the US very fast. It's not the cheapest of the recent limited editions, but it does come with some nice apparel, so that goes a good way towards balancing out any issues of value discrepancy.

*Update/Errata 10/04/10 - I've been corrected that this isn't strictly a limited pressing. 500 copies were pressed up initially, but it isn't being promoted as a limited edition and there's no promise that it won't be repressed - if there's a demand for more, more will be made. So don't be surprised if you order a copy down the line and you get #501. ;)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Interesting Upcoming Albums...

So there are a bunch of new releases dropping these days, at least a few of which are interesting. There's been stuff I've reviewed like Freestyle Professors, Branesparker and Nutso and Alternate Reality. Plus, I'm still meaning to pick up Themselves' new remix album, and I've got Buck 65's three EPs heading my way in the mail (review coming soon for sure). And there's still a lot on the horizon... some I'm really psyched about, some I'm just curious about. So I thought I'd take a quick look at what's coming up in the near future:


Atmosphere - To All My Friends/ Blood) I think I missed the last Atmosphere album or three. I think it's time to check in on them again. This is apparently two tour CDs combined into one semi-official album. Considering their tour albums are often better than their full-out, heavily promoted albums (Sad Clown Bad Dub 2 might still be their best complete album to date), that could just be all the more reason to give this one a shot.

Big L - 139 & Lenox) Is there anything on here to make this worth picking up? Looks like a repackaging of The Archives: 1996-2000 CD and vinyl EP that dropped in 2006 from the same label, with slight variations (a live version of "Devil's Son?" meh).

Celph Titled & Buckwild - Nineteen Ninety Now) Kinda gimmicky, but at least it's a promising gimmick (if you don't know, the gimmick is that they're using beats Buckwild made in the 90's). I don't know if Celph is really the MC anybody would have selected for this project, though.

Grand Daddy IU - Grown Man B.I.) I'm not sure if IU has ever been off his game, but he's definitely back on it now! He has been dropping some serious heat as free mp3s from his twitter. Even if he did nothing more than package those up and call it a day, he'd have a dope album. So this one's a lock.

Kool G Rap - Riches, Royalty, Respect) I'm already completely sold. Where can I send my money? Put me on a pre-order list for this immediately. Supa Dave is a dope, underrated producer; but Hell, I'd be sold on this album even if he wasn't.

LMNO - James Kelly 10-Pack) LMNO is releasing ten full-length albums all bundled together on 10/10/10. That's freakin' insane. LMNO's output has been very uneven... some singles I've liked a lot, some I think are flat-out wack. So I reckon this'll either be impressive or a last hurrah for his career.

Lord Jamar - Known Associates) You can always count on Jamar for some quality stuff. Whether it will be hot or just cool is yet to be determined, but it's a safe bet it'll at least be decent.

Lyrics Born - As You Were) You have burned me too many times, Lyrics Born! No more blind buys of boring, half-assed albums for me, no sir. I'm going to need concrete proof that this is your long-awaited masterpiece for me to even click on a free mp3 floating across the blogiverse.

Pace Won & Mr. Green - The Only Number That Matters Is Won) The first video ("Liquor and Drugs") is tight; their last album was fresh; I don't see how they can go wrong.

Pharoah Monche - W.A.R.) Is it time for a comeback? I'm not terribly optimistic (I'd like to know who the producers are on this), but my fingers are crossed.

Rah Digga - Classic) Actually, this has been out for the past three weeks or so. It looks like a big step back in the right direction for Digga, but I dunno... she's kinda flat/ boring without the other Outz members around her.

7L & Esoteric - 1212) Sort of a comeback album for 7L & Esoteric after a couple of weird, off-putting side and solo projects. If they do this right, I'm interested.

Skillz - Hip-Hop Confessions or World Needs More Skillz) I should probably know better, but I'm at least curious as to what he's coming with. Also, apparently, this album has two working titles; but that part I'm not really curious about.

2Mex - My Fanbase Will Destroy You) 2Mex is super prolific. What that means in practical terms is: more albums than anyone can keep track of, with no quality control. Will Strange Famous be the label to focus him into one solid, consistent album of pure top-shelf material? Or is 2Mex becoming the next Kool Keith?

Wu-Tang projects...) There's a couple coming, including Hell Razah - Heaven Raiser (stupid title), Masta Killer - Loyalty is Royalty and 9th Prince - One Man Army... Plus a whole bunch have dropped in the past couple months that I haven't paid any attention to yet. I'll basically just wait and see if anything gets overwhelmingly positive reviews before looking into anything... and that'll probably be a long wait. But hey, ya never know.