Thursday, December 30, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 5: The Mail Men

The Mail Man was the one. Federal, Down & Dirty, Mr. Flamboyant, Let's Slide... all impressive, indie albums, but The Mail Man is E-40's masterpiece. Of course, it had the epic lead single, which even added the concept of "Captain Save A Hoe" to the lexicons of New York heads, and has forever immortalized "the package deal down there at, uh, Cellular One." hehe But it also featured the dramatic imagery of "Bring the Yellow Tape" and while other gangsters would die if a crack showed in the shield of their bravado, 40 glibly turned the confession "I got a mirror in my pocket and I practice lookin' hard" into a hit song.

For me, though, even more than "Captain Save A Hoe," the signature tune was "Neva Broke." With it's live production and throwback vocoder hook (a concept MC 900 Ft Jesus jacked and used for his big MTV hit a few months later), the tune was immediately addictive. But all that only served to showcase E-40's stand-out mic skills, with his fluctuating delivery and raw street rhymes. I mean, even though NWA and such had been around for years, a verse about tying up a man's wife and making him watch him rape her was still shocking in '94, especially when he goes on to add, "now folks remember, I'm skanless and I'm anti-fuckless. I carry diseases such as Herpes." Who says shit like that? Only E-40! Then as he cheerfully sings (not raps, sings), "I need a flathead screwdriver but a butter knife will do," it's just one of the illest, rawest narrative verses about crime in hip-hop history, and I'd stand it right alongside anything by G Rap, Raekwon or Slick Rick. That's The Mail Man.

"But jeez, Werner, don't tell us it's the same story again?"
Yes, I'm afraid so. Based off of the success of "Captain Save a Hoe," Jive signed E-40 and picked up his EP, The Mail Man and released it first. Then Sick Wid' It put it out independently and removed some songs... wait. What is this? Bizzaro World?

Apparently! The Sick Wid' It version has six songs and is dated 1995, and the Jive version has eight tracks and is dated 1994. Part of this can be explained away, more or less. The Sick Wid' It EP is just plain dated wrong. I know because I bought these when they were new, and I remember then that it was dated into the future. I have no idea why, but I'm pretty sure they both came out in 1994 (or even late '93 for the original), and it's on the success of the 6-song Sick Wid' It version (and the single, amusing titled "Captain Save Them Thoe"), that Jive reissued it that same year. The really surprising part is just that Jive didn't mess it up like they did all the other Click albums they reissued. Instead they actually added tracks!

Not that the new tracks are anything to get too excited about. One of them, the "Captain Save a Hoe (Remix)" is really just the clean version ("you wanna kill me 'cause I tossed yo chick"). And the other track, "Ballin' Outta Control," is at least a proper song into itself - and it was an exciting exclusive at the time, with an attention-getting hook by Levitti - but Jive later wound up including it on E's 1998 album, The Element of Surprise.

By the way, a quick interjection: the Sick Wid' It CD also lists eight songs, including two that might first appear to be exclusives: "Real Shit" and "Playa Hater." But these are really just the otherwise uncredited intro and outro skits that are featured on every version of The Mail Man... nothing to get excited about.

So yeah... there's really no clear winner here. The original is cool to own just because it's the original. But the reissue no different, content-wise; and the extras, while nothing special, are still a bit of added value. And that's the way reissues should work. And really, if Jive could only get one album right, at least they chose the masterpiece not to screw up. Whichever version you have, you can't lose. 8)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 4, Tryin' To Get a Fuck and Get Up

Before we get started, I would just like to point out that five - count 'em, five - songs on this album begin with one dude askin' another dude, "what's up?" I find that impressive, because I believe it was unintentional. I mean, I don't think he kept asking "what's up" by accident. I just don't think anyone involved with the production of this album at any point noticed how much the "what's up" intros were piling up, to the point where it's funny in an absurdist kind of way. Anyway, if you can't tell from the title or the picture, the album I'm talking about today is B-Legit the Savage's debut album, Tryin' To Get a Buck.

If you've read my past entries this week, you already know the story even if you don't already know the story. B-Legit released his debut on Sick Wid' It Records (in 1994) and upon The Click's major label signing, Jive rereleased it (in 1995). Now, if you bought this album concerned you weren't sure how B-Legit would fare on his own without The Click's resident wunderkind to back him up, you needn't have been concerned, because E-40 appears on a full six songs on this album (that's even more than how many songs he has saying "what's up!").

But let's cut to the crux of the matter. The question at the forefront of our minds isn't whether B-Legit is able to release a quality album on his own merits (though he is), the question is what the Hell did Jive do the album this time? And actually, the answer is not so much.

...At least, when compared to the major changes to Federal or the complete devastation of Down & Dirty. Nothing's been remixed here... I mean, yeah, "Daily Routine" is different and inferior to the version first featured on Down & Dirty, but it's the same across both versions of Tryin' To Get a Buck. Jive can't be blamed for that alteration, except for the fact that they opted to remove the original from The Click album. No, Jive had no songs altered here for the better or worse. They only removed one song.

Fuuuck. Yes, once again, the internationally distributed major label release was flawed and the original is the definitive one you should've gotten but probably didn't. So which song did they remove?

"Fuck and Get Up," which is one of my favorites on the album. I mean, it's probably not my very favorite - I think that still goes to "B-Legit" which makes fantastic use of "Eazy Duz It" on the hook, and creates an anthem out of the guy's name (always a smart move if you can pull it off). And "Dank Game" is kinda fun, but sort of ruined once you realize the keyboardist is just playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" throughout the song. No, if "Fuck and Get Up" isn't my favorite, it's the definite runner-up...

See, one of the drawbacks with this album is that B-Legit has a low-key flow... which is good in general, 'cause the crew doesn't need two E-40's. But when he's on his own, his albums can feel a little lethargic. That's worsened when his production is that slow, keyboard heavy kinda g-funk stuff that's all over this album. But "Fuck and Get Up" breaks that stagnancy. The concept is simple and aims low, but it works as a song, and while the music's emphasis is still on hardcore funk like the rest of the album, it's also got some serious bounce to it. And though B-Legit more than adequately carries the bulk of the song and proves he could do it perfectly well by himself, his cousin Little Bruce drops by and kicks a final verse. And, after all, any additional voice is a welcome one on this album. So, bottom line: this song is catchy.

...So of course Jive got rid of it. This makes the original once again the definitive version to own, but unlike the previous cases, there's no reason for even hardcore fans to pick up the rerelease, because there's nothing new or unique about that Tryin' To Get a Buck. All it's doing is missing a song.

Oh, and yes. "Fuck and Get Up" starts out with B-Legit asking his friends "what's up?"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 3, Watered Down & Dirty

If you thought what Jive did to Federal was bad (and you were right; it was), wait'll we get into what they did to The Click's debut full-length, Down & Dirty. Like Federal, Down & Dirty was released before E-40 blew up with "Captain Save a Hoe" - specifically, 1993. And like Federal, Jive picked it up and rereleased it (in 1995), but only after making some drastic and somewhat baffling decisions.

Just to give you an idea of how much damage was done: the original Down & Dirty was 18 songs long. Well... at least the cassette version was. The vinyl version shaved off a few to fit onto a single LP. But the reissue is only 11 songs long; that's seven gone missing! What's more, even some of the songs they kept were completely remixed. You have to ask, how much of the album does that even leave after all that tinkering and slashing? I mean, heck, seven songs is almost an album onto itself.

Let's break it down song by song, shall we?

1. Let's Get Drunk - REMIXED - Let's be fair to the remixes. They don't all suck and this isn't a case of every remixed song being ruined. I prefer the original, though, because for some reason the sampled hook plays as funnier, and that's key to this song.

2. On a Mission - REMIXED - This version is actually funkier than the original though, with some cool old school horn samples.

3. Ballers - REMOVED - But it's just a skit, so no great loss.

4. Street Life - REMIXED - Adds elements including a muzak-like flute to the already already over-produced retread of the original "Street Life."

5. Mic Check - REMIXED - The big, overbearing keyboards are the same on both, but this was lacks the funky, rolling piano that Marley Marl used on "We Write the Songs." Boo!

6. Mr. Flamboyant - LEFT INTACT - Though if you're in the market for an alternate version of this song, remember the Mr. Flamboyant EP has a slightly stripped down version.

7. Tramp Dogs - LEFT INTACT - And this is one they easily could've removed, since it's also featured on B-Legit's first album, under the title "Dank Room." That deletion would make sense, but nooo... they had to pull the plug on the songs coming up instead.

8. Old School - REMIXED - And the original is more fun with Malcolm McLaren scratches and stuff throughout.

9. The Shit That Will Fuck Up Your Brain - LEFT INTACT

10. She Was Only 16 - LEFT INTACT

11. Tired Of Being Stepped On - LEFT INTACT - Three songs left alone in a row? Hey, maybe Jive didn't do such a hatchet job after all...

12. Sohabs - REMOVED - ...Oh never mind. Here goes one of the better songs, with a funky beat, flute, and the only appearance by Click member Suga T. It's also an early example of E & The Click introducing the world to their unique slang, which has become a signature of theirs.

13. Daily Routine - REMOVED - A slow, deep and funky solo joint by B-Legit. One of the best songs on the album. Now, I hear what a few of you fans are thinking, "but, Werner, this was on B-Legit's album, too; so who cares?" Yeah, but unlike "Tramp Dogs"/ "Dank Room," this version is completely remixed. And furthermore, it's much better here. Argh, Jive, what were you thinking!?

14. Clicks Concert - LEFT INTACT - But it's just a 15 second skit, so who cares?

15. Porno Star - REMOVED - Holy shit! They removed "Porno Star?" Damn, I love this song! Now I really feel sorry for the people who got the Jive version ...which, remember, was most people.

16. Party In the V-Town - REMOVED - Like the Mr. Flaboyant songs I mentioned, this one adds some fun energy to The Click's catalog, and the horn sample is like something out of The $% King catalog (ok, it probably IS right out of his catalog). I'd really miss this one from the album.

17. You Fucked Up When You Slammed My Motha - REMOVED - Damn, that's it. I don't know wha Jive released, but it isn't Down & Dirty. The Jive version is just some kind of sampler EP or something... it just can't be Down & Dirty anymore.

18. Let's Side - REMOVED - A bevy of funky old samples, fresh scratches and a playful delivery by E-40. This was the title cut of their debut EP and still one of their greatest hits. Sigh...

Flat out, if you don't have the original version of Down & Dirty, you don't have Down & Dirty. Jive straight up decimated this album, releasing only a fraction of what once was. Hell, they completely excised Suga T... I'm surprised they didn't blur out her image on the album cover. Still, the remixes are at least pretty decent - like I said, I think "On a Mission" is actually better on the second version, and I could see people preferring the original "Let's Get Drunk" if that's the one they were first introduced to. So, for hardcore fans, I'd actually recommend picking up both. But there's simply no question which version gets top priority.

Monday, December 27, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 2: Mr. Flamboyant Himself

You know how I said, yesterday, that fans might be confused by seeing a "Tanji II" on what was ostensibly being presented as a debut album? Well, I'm not gonna front. Back in the early 90's, I was confused by it, too. If Federal was E-40's debut album, even before he signed to a major label, where the heck was "Tanji" part one?

It wasn't until years later I discovered the answer to that was a rare, earlier debut called Mr. Flamboyant, released on Sick Wid' It Records back in 1991. The label actually credits it to "E-40 and the Click" on one spot, and just "The Click" on another; but hardly anybody raps on any of these songs except E-40 himself (B-Legit is credited, but he only speaks briefly between 40's verses on the one song). So, though The Click does share production credit, it is essentially a solo EP.

Now, granted, the title cut was also included on The Click's debut album, Down and Dirty, from 1993; so odds are that you've already got the song... This version is a bit different, though. It has more of a raw, demo-ish feel here. It doesn't have that intro with E singing, "yeah, I'm just a hustler..." over sleigh bells, and it doesn't have all the vocal samples that appear on the later version. But musically and lyrically, it's pretty identical, so the differences are essentially academic. Not so exciting, even if this one came first. But the rest of the EP consists of all original songs, unique to this EP. So now it's got your attention, huh?

Now, first of all, what songs you get depends which version of Mr. Flamboyant you get. As you can see, I have the vinyl version, so I get four songs, including the title track. If I had gotten the cassette version, I would've gotten three songs (including the title track) plus the instrumental for "Mr. Flamboyant." So you have to choose between a song called "Shut It Down" or the instrumental. Oddly enough, though, both versions fill space by putting the songs "Tanji" and "Club Hoppin'" twice, once on side A and once on side B. There's no difference between them, side B doesn't have instrumental mixes or clean versions... they just stuck the same songs on twice. Strange, but there you have it.

Now to "Tanji." Interestingly, "Tanji" is a short (minute and a half), single verse song, that's actually - lyrically speaking - contained entirely within "Tanji II" from Federal. The first verse from "Tanji II" is the single verse in this "Tanji"... that's why the first verse of "Tanji II" ends with "stay tuned for the next episode." It makes more sense when it's the end of the song and promising a sequel. So, anyway, the verse is the same but the music is completely different... it's got what I think are opera samples mixed with old school bells and stuff. It's kinda crazy, but works and goes with his flow and story. I'm not sure if it's better than "Tanji II," because I'm a big fan of that one... but I'd say they're both about equal, just different.

There's more old school samples on "Club Hoppin'," like the horns or whatever that sound is from "Cinderfella Dana Dane." This whole EP has a more classic hip-hop vibe to it. I guess you could say that's because it's older, so of course it sounds older. But I think E and his producers were just coming more from a place of respecting the golden age traditions on this EP, at least in the music... his flow here is still pretty cutting edge/ out there, after all.

Both "Club Hoppin'" and "Shut It Down" are very up-beat party songs. "Shut It Down" uses a little more P-funk, but they're both very 80's rap dance songs. E-40 does still kick more game than your average pop MC: "one day, moms gonna get a call, 'wouldja wouldja wouldja come identify your son?'" But this is like the NWA equivalent to "Something 2 Dance 2" rather than "Fuck the Police." Me, I always like "Something 2 Dance 2" a lot, and think it provides some much needed energy to their catalog... and I think the music on this EP works the same way for E-40. But if you really want one type of song and one type of song only from your gangsta rappers, this might be too far removed from the formula for your tastes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

E-40 & The Click Week: Day 1, A Federal Case

It's been ages since I've done a "week," huh? Well, I think this should be a fun one... Instead of boring top tens and "year in review" retrospectives, we're gonna ride out the last week of 2010 examining the music of E-40 and The Click.

I don't think I've mentioned E much on this blog, if at all (except for my awesome interview with the man, of course); but I've always been a fan. He's like the perfect blend between the lofty, artistic end of west coast hip-hop with his inventive, off-the-wall delivery and streetwise gangsta rap with an air of first-hand knowledge. The Good Life movement meets NWA.

And Federal was his major label debut. One of the songs on that album, "Drought Season" remains one of my favorite 40 songs of all time, with him and his cousin Kaveo spitting tongue-twisting game over a retooled version of Whodini's "One Love." Federal was originally released on his own label, Sick Wid' It Records, in 1992. But after the success of his single "Captain Save a Hoe," Jive didn't just sign E-40 and his crew, The Click - they also bought and redistributed most of their back catalog. So in 1994, Federal was rereleased, reaching a mass audience for the first time. But unfortunately for them, Jive gave them an inferior version.

There are some superficial changes to the artwork and the sequencing... "Carlos Rossi" originally appeared early on the album; but on the Jive version, it's tucked all the way towards the end of side 2. But there are far more important, and disappointing, alterations to consider than that type of stuff.

The high energy "Hide-N-Seek," a first person narrative which has E-40 running in fear from the police. It features a classic old school horn sample married with hard drums and this piercing keyboard sound, giving the song a discordant, anxious vibe, mirroring 40's panic. At least it does on the original. On Jive's Federal, all that music has been removed and replaced with a much calmer, relaxed beat with soft vibes and some very g-funk keys. It's not bad, but it absolutely fails to replicate the fast-paced adrenaline rush of the original version. It would've been more fitting for a nice story of how E-40 met a girl he liked, rather than a high-speed chase.

Speaking of a story about how E-40 met a girl he liked, how about "Tanji II?" Don't remember that one? That's because Jive pulled it off their version of the album completely. This is really unfortunate, because, after "Drought Season," it's my favorite moment of Federal. It's got E-40 kicking an unusual, high speed, start-and-stop flow with a fun, stuttering hook "T-T-T-T-Tanji; I picked her up at a house party. T-T-T-Tanji!" The instrumental, with it's pop guitar samples, is definitely out of the ordinary for any music coming out of the west coast at that time, let alone from The Click's camp. And his word choice has a lot of unexpected humor to it ("radical!" he declares). Unless you got the Jive version, of course, in which case you got nuthin'. I guess they figured audiences being introduced to E-40 for the first time would be confused by the "II" in the title.

And that's not the only missing song either. "Get 'Em Up" is another casualty of Jive's, an almost New York-style cut with a hardcore shouted chorus and freestyle battle rhymes. There's old jazz horns and vocal samples flipped into a rugged rap track you'd expect to hear TR Love rhyming over, rather than anyone from the V. Then there's "Rasta Funky Style," where E-40 joins in the short-lived tradition of the token raggamuffin song MCs used to put on their album. This is the most painless loss, but it's interesting to hear how E-40's unique style and voice marries to reggae - it certainly doesn't sound like anybody else's raggamuffin song. I assume both songs were removed because they featured E-40 trying something different and drifting out of his lane... Jive wanted a gangsta rapper, not a multi-talented artist flexing his versatility. But these songs go a long way to keeping this album from getting dull and "one note."

Given the luxury of an informed decision, I can't see why anybody would choose the 1994 release of Federal over the original '92... though of course I can understand why completists would feel compelled to pick up both, just for the alternate versions of "Hide-N-Seek." But for most people, who were just going to get one Federal, the Jive version just feels like a bit of a rip-off - a trap for the new fan who didn't know enough to hold out for the original. And while I can sort of guess why Jive made the decisions they did (except with "Hide-N-Seek" - I guess they just couldn't clear the sample?), it still just seems stupid... passing off a lot of potential sales of their album to Sick Wid' It's version, which was still out in stores at the same time, after all. Oh well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good Morning, Gen Z

There's more to Wernerville than just revering the old school. Granted, I don't think Lil Wayne has anything in his catalog that will ever touch one of Kid 'N' Play's classics, but we still appreciate new shit by new artists that doesn't sound anything like the 80's or 90's here. You know what I like that even I didn't think I was gonna like? GMA: Good Morning AMY by Billy Drease Williams.

You may've seen one of his videos getting some shine on the blog circuit earlier this year. Not me, though; just his name was enough to keep me from paying attention. So this album's been out since the summertime, but I'm just hearing it for the first time now. And fuck me - I really like it!

Drease is both the MC and producer. As a producer, he's got a really unique, clean sound. The drums are big and the only old school sounding aspect of the music, but it's covered in upbeat - I daresay cheery - tunes. Some of it's live music... there are a lot of piano, strings and guitar samples in the liner notes, almost all credited to a guy named Alan Evans, though there are a few other musicians here and there, including a DJ Cutler who provides some fresh scratches to a couple tracks.

The resulting vibe is sort of a combination of Common, Kanye West, Rob Base and Kwamé. If you think the album cover is a bit unusual, wait until you open up the packaging and booklet; it's full of his crazy drawings of pancakes, spaceships, ants and rainbows shooting out of his eyes... I think every element is meant to tie into a concept from one of his songs. The content on this album focuses on positive, inspiring messages, though there's some basic braggadocio ("Just Doin' It") and relationship songs ("Shut the Gate").

And as an MC, Grease has a cool voice and confident flow. Lyrically... well, okay, lyrically is where Grease still has room to grow. He has a penchant for the corny and a habit of being out-shined by his guests I've never heard of, like this one by Elgin Franklyn:

"El don't sleep;
I just go in a trance.
Focused on pause,
spiritually advanced.
Second nature natural,
Strong moves are surgical,
Sleep is the cousin of wasted potential.
But I digress, dog;
Never back down.
Big Bank El Frank dominating the platform."

And there are a couple other missteps throughout the album. A guy named Richie English is enlisted to sing hooks on a couple of songs, and it's not that the guy can't sing; but the hooks on those songs are pretty rough to get through. They downright ruin one song ("Never Been To Paris"). And there's also a final, semi-spoken word song, which also features a kid singing towards the end... that's kind of a mess.

But I don't want to blow the imperfections out of proportion. This is a surprisingly enjoyable album featuring some really good music and a lot of evident talent. And when I say "talent," maybe that suggests an album you should like. But really, it's an album that's hard not to like. Even the concept (who/what is "AMY?" It's one of those concepts with multiple, variant answers) is more engaging than these things tend to be. If this is what the kids are listening to these days, then I approve. 8)

Friday, December 17, 2010

KVBlue

KVBeats' debut album The Resumé is out now. That might not have you too excited, probably because you don't know who he is. I don't know who he is either, to be honest. I mean, I know he's a hip-hop producer from Copenhagen, but I only know that because I looked him up online after I heard about this LP. If he's ever produced anything by anybody before, it's news to me. But... But you may not know this KVBeats guy, but I'm sure you know a ton of MCs featured on this album: Slum Village, Smoothe da Hustler, Little Vic, etc etc. So, yeah, it's not just a debut by an unknown Danish producer, it's a compilation where every song is by known and respected US MCs.

And I can start out with some welcome news: KV is a good producer. Because, it doesn't matter how good his line-up is if he can't hold up his end. He could have the greatest rappers in the world, but nobody's gonna spin the album a second time if they're stuck rhyming over some cheap, electronic bullshit. But, no. Fortunately, KV's pretty nice with his. He's got a cool, lively but subtle, understated style. And he's got a unique, consistent sound... after listening to this album I feel like, if I heard something he produces down the road I'll be able to tell, "oh, I bet KVBeats produced this."

That said, he also paints himself a little into a corner that way... when he pairs smooth, low-key vibe with solid but not especially dynamic MCs, he winds up with an album that feels a bit soft. Not in the sense that the music isn't loud and angry hardcore like old school Willie D (though some of that energy would've helped), but just in that it often doesn't make that much of an impact. Guys like Prince Po, DV Alias Khrist and the dudes from Slum Village doing concept songs over smooth beats can blend into the background dangerously close to elevator music. It's cool, but unexciting. A couple of the guests like Chaundon and Pace Won manage to make their contributions pop by injecting humor, and Doo Wop livens up his song just by being Doo Wop.

The highlight is easily "5'9 + Won," a duet featuring smart, attention grabbing verses from Royce da 5'9 and Pace Won. A killer hook provided by DMC world champion DJ Noize helps a lot. This one and "Clap To This" features some of the best production on the album. The latter, though, is hampered somewhat by its MC, Mic Geronimo, whose flow feels a bit gimmicky, as if he's trying to appeal to "the youtube generation" or something.

This is a good, solid debut album, and KVBeats provides the kind of sound I wish more people were doing in 2010. But for the most part, it's going to wind up with a limited appeal to more select, serious heads that are prepared to give an attentive, appreciative ear to some quality production without a lot of flash. Everyone else will want to just download "5'9 + Won" and one or two contributions by their personal favorite guests (you can do that legally, guys, from itunes and amazon) and move on.

...But a limited audience is appropriate for this anyway, since it's a limited pressing. Only 300 copies are being pressed onto cool, blue vinyl; and as you can see above, it comes in a fresh picture cover. I'm not sure how many spots will be carrying this, but I know hhv and jet set have got it (hopefully someplace with USA-friendly shipping will get on board soon). And I look forward to hearing more from KVBeats; he's got an appealing sound. And if he can talk DJ Noize into working with him on the regular, they'd be a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gangstarr Adjusted

Gangstarr's "Gotta Get Over (Taking Loot)" was originally released as part of the soundtrack to Trespass, one of those movies made during that brief time-period where soundtracks were so lucrative, that whole films were produced on the cheap just so they could market the albums. I did see it at the time - as I recall, it was about a couple of guys (including a less famous Bill Paxton) who discover gold in the middle of some drug dealing gang's territory... eventually everybody shoots everybody, and the deep message is "greed is bad and some people really shouldn't have guns."

But forget about the movie (the rest of the world has); the important part, as I say, is the soundtrack, on Sire Records. Now, it's mostly a west coast affair, featuring artists like Ice-T, WC and The Penthouse Players' Clique (which I'm not saying is a bad thing, mind you - I'm a PPC fan), but it includes two stand-out east coast songs, Lord Finesse's "You Know What I'm About" and Gangstarr's "Gotta Get Over." Sire Records put out a single or two (AMG's "Don't Be a 304" was the big one), but "Gotta Get Over" was such a stand-out track that Gangstarr's label, Chrysalis Records, picked it up and released it as a single themselves.

"Gotta Get Over" features one of the most memorable basslines in hip-hop history. Couple that with Guru being on a more hardcore, street edge than usual, and Premier's pro cuts and horn samples, and you've got a Gangstarr classic that rivals any of their greatest singles. But this 12" takes it further, and includes, in addition to the album version, a brand new Large Professor remix. Now on a song this great, a remix really isn't needed - who's going to stop playing the original, which nailed it perfectly, to spin an alternate version? But now many years have passed, I think we can go back and this excellent production by Extra P. No, of course it doesn't top the original; but taken on its own, it's a great track. It keeps the aesthetic of the original, dominating the tune with a dope, memorable bassline. It's not the same bassline at all, but it's used in the same spirit and is similarly accentuated by Guru's voice. But in this case, the remix really comes to life on the hook, when these ill samples come in... it actually reminds me of the kind of stuff RNS provided for the first UMCs album.

So you've got both versions of "Gotta Get Over" on here, plus the remix instrumental. But turn it over and you've got another Gangstarr cut. This time it's for "Flip the Script" off the Daily Operation album. You've got two mixes on here: the Album Mix and the "Remix/ Minor Adjustment Mix," also by Premier. "Flip the Script" was always one of my favorite cuts off that album, the loop has this really hard chop to it that's almost broken but sounds great. And this new version maintains that. In fact, considering the name, you might think that the "Minor Adjustment" remix would be one of those where you have to keep your ear to the speaker just to suss out the distinction; but actually it's apparent. The piano keys that make up the bassline are switched out with new ones comprised of more notes, giving the song a richer vibe, almost more like live music. The other big difference is the addition to a new high-pitched, heavy metal guitar sample being scratched and looped into the track. It's hard to single out one as better than the other, really; I think it just boils down to a question of whether you prefer a busier, more complex beat or the rawer, simpler original.

Regardless, this is a pretty sweet 12", and right up there with Gangstarr's classics. It's a good thing Chrysalis was smart enough to license the song and commission release, or we fans would've really missed out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Introduction of a Character Problem Child

You know what's frustrating? When you heard a cool song once on the radio, but you weren't sure what the name of it was or who it was by... and as time passes, you're looking for that song but never find it. Eventually, like 15 years later - thanks probably to the internet - you finally find out what that song was... and it was never released, and you still can't get it! With so many shows playing exclusive DAT recordings or demo tapes, it's a sadly recurring story for fans of indie, 90's hip-hop. But at least one of those cases has finally been resolved satisfactorily.

The Constant Deviants were one of those artists whose demos got played on Stretch and Bobbito in the mid 90's. They're essentially a Baltimore crew, but I think at the time they were staying in Jersey when they broke into the east coast indie scene. And while they did go on to drop a couple of 12"s over the years, including some stuff through Buds Distribution which you've probably seen around, hardcore connoisseurs were stuck with nothing but dodgy radio rips of two of their best cuts: "Problem Child" and "Feel That." Well, Six 2 Six Records (that label I just guest blogged for) has stepped up to correct that. In fact, you might remember me blogging about them early in the year, saying how they needed a little encouragement to get their stuff the proper final treatment, right? Well, they've done it and this is it. 8)

"Problem Child" b/w "Feel That" comes in a fresh picture cover and is pressed on clear vinyl in a limited pressing of 500 copies. For those who haven't been waiting impatiently all this time and don't know what to expect: Constant Deviants aren't really on that rugged, rah rah tip, but more of a smooth, summer cool out kinda vibe. Think a little bit Unspoken Heard or early Juggaknots. They've got some nice, quality scratches by DJ Cutt who clearly knows what he's doing, but it's all played very low-key. There's no hectic scratch frenzy break-down, but the cuts are there, adding another level. And similarly, M.I.C. doesn't go for showy punchlines or hyper-kinetic spitting... just an assured, easy-to-listen-to flow. He comes with a message that's essentially the same as 3rd Bass's "Problem Child" - natch - though presented in a little more of a reserved, autobiographical manner.

"Problem Child" is undoubtedly the one for me, but "Feel That" has a cool, distorted sonic loop as the driving sample, which is really addictive. And this 12" doesn't just finally give us these two songs in pristine sound quality for the first time, plus instrumentals... There's also a "Problem Child" remix. It's almost a cross between the two songs, with the vocals from the original "Problem Child" (of course), but set to an instrumental that's more in the vibe of "Feel That."

At the end of the day, it's all good music. It may not be the most attention-grabbing "oh shit; I need that!" material to come out of the limited scene; but if you appreciate hip-hop's subtle side, you're sure to be feeling everything on here. And like their music, the pricing is also more down-to-Earth than most of the other limiteds these days, which definitely helps. So for the heads who've been holding onto low-quality cassette rips of these songs, it's definitely a happy ending.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sealed Records MAGIC!

video
(Youtube version is here.)

Can it Be That It Was All So Simple Then?

This is an under-praised excavation from Stones Throw Records... In 2008, they put out a nice repress of Arabian Prince's debut album, Situation Hot. That album was only released on cassette, and Stones Throw gave it the top quality double vinyl treatment in a nice gatefold cover, and they included one or two other vintage-era Arabian Prince songs from that era as bonus tracks. Granted, it wasn't really the first time these songs were getting released on vinyl - they'd all been put out on a series of 12"s back in the day - but it was still a first-class reissue.

Even better, though, they also included a bonus 7" with the album. It features two vintage, never-before-released tracks: "Simple Planet" and "Beatdabeat." I have mixed feelings about Arabian Prince's catalog as a whole, but I love his early Macola stuff, and that's what this is!

My excitement has to be tempered, however, by the fact that these are both instrumental tracks. That's a definite disappointment, and probably why I wasn't blogging about this the day it dropped. But, still, it's that great, O.G. Arabian Prince sound... "Simple Planet" even features some signature riffs from some of his early hits like "Situation Hot" pop up occasionally.

So, I'm letting you guys know about this now because, until recently, this was only available with purchase of the double LP, Innovative Life - The Anthology - 1984-1989. And I do definitely recommend that package... but if you already had all the original 12"s, the repress would be pretty redundant. But now, some online vendors (like hhv.de) are finally making this 7" available for purchase separately, so you can finally complete your Arabian Prince collection without re-buying his whole back catalog. Sweet as!

P.s. - Stones Throw has released one more Arabian Prince record... 2009's reissue of "Let's Hit the Beach." "Let's Hit the Beach" is one of the many fun tracks from Situation Hot/ Innovative Life (and it was originally released on 12" with "Take You Home Girl"). This reissue features a fun picture cover and two exclusive, contemporary remixes. If you were considering picking this one up, let me just tell you: those remixes suck! Stay away! It doesn't even include the original instrumental, though it does for both remixes. If you're a hardcore completist, go for it. But if you were eyeing those remixes, take my word for it and don't bother.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Six 2 Six Guess Blog

Hey, guys. I've been invited to be a "Guess Blogger" over on TheSix2SixShift. If you don't know, Six 2 Six is the label that's been putting out recent releases by The Constant Deviants, Sparrow and that Lord Digga record I reviewed earlier this year. Anyway, my post there just went up, so you can head over and read it here now. 8)

Also, if you missed it in my tweets, TheBigSleep has done a flattering write-up of me over on The TROY Blog. So check that out here - thanks, guys!