Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Sleep On Your No Limit Brother

I'm not sure I can explain my affinity for Dangerous Dame... He's an Oakland rapper and producer who spent a long time in the game. He started putting out records way back in the late 80's, got signed to Atlantic Records in 1990, and kept putting out indie albums all the way to like 1999. During that time, he never had a hit record, and his duration can probably be explained by his more undercover career as a ghostwriter. We'll probably know most of the songs he's had a hand in, but he was writing for Too $hort in his peak, even getting writing credit for his single, "Short But Funky."

And somewhere, in the middle of all that, he signed very briefly to New Orleans' infamous label, No Limit Records. He put out one EP (which in itself is a little odd for No Limit, which tended towards very long, often double albums... I think this might be the label's only EP?), and then was quickly gone from their roster. It's titled Escape From the Mental Ward, and for some reason I felt compelled to pick this up on both cassette and CD back in the day. There's vinyl, too... but that uses clean Radio Versions. :P

It's six songs, almost all written and produced by Dame himself. I guess it vaguely fits into No Limit's sound in that it's very keyboard driven (mostly by a guy named Larry D), and famous musical riffs are replayed rather than sampled. Again, the appeal might not be readily apparent - in many ways this exemplifies everything people hated about No Limit... the music is cheesy and tinny, including that overused "gangsta rap whistle" sound that everybody used after The Chronic.

But a close, appreciative listen reveals something sincere and assured about the writing of it, especially the best track, "I'm Your Brother." Despite the way the music was made, some of it still manages to be completely engaging, and it features a beautifully sung hook by Simply Dre that goes a long way to providing additional resonance to this surprising and touching life story that deals with strife and mental illness in a way only rivaled by Bushwick Bill's "Ever So Clear." The lyrics don't seem to be available anywhere online, unfortunately, but I'm going to rectify that right now because they're worth it:

"I was a youngster, straight out The Castle
Fools didn't wanna battle, 'cause Dame was a natural.
Straight comin' up, got a deal with Atlantic
But then I got dropped, and I still didn't panic.
'They can't keep a good man down' is what I thought;
Believe me when it was all said and done, boy, I was taught.
But at the present time, I thought I had it all under control.
I done took one fall, I can't be fallin' no mo'.
And then the money went low, and then my hoe became my foe.
And she still is. But let me tell ya how real this is:
I didn't come home at night...
'Cause we would argue and fight, 'cause the cash-flow as tight.
That's when my so-called homies became my family.
But underneath? Them niggas couldn't stand me.
And like a fool, I let 'em know my problems,
And all the dank and drank I used that could solve 'em.
Soon as my mind was turned, somebody slipped me a mickey...
That's when my mind went tricky.
So I stayed up for days trying to regain my saneness.
Now why they wanna do Dangerous?"

The second verse is even more personal, and we start to understand the title of this EP:

"I'm walkin' in a coma, imagination gone to the boonies.
Never did I think that I would lose me, but man I was lost,
Lost like a kidnapped kid.
I done sipped that shit, so I guess I got no get-back, bitch.
Split personality, I got a double.
It's time to see some casualties; I'm startin' trouble.
Mean muggin' all my folks,
Talkin' hella shit on every tape like I was tryin' to get myself smoked.
But deep inside I was cryin' for help.
But them niggas just wanted to watch me clown myself.
But that's alright, though, because my mama got the scoop.
She took me to the house, now I'm no longer on the loose.
But I was flashin', puttin' on a show.
She called the po-po to drag me out the do'.
I got my ass whupped for resistin' arrest;
One step away from the Smith and the Wess.
Saw my neighbors in my midst, they didn't wanna stop it;
They just wanted to peep some game so they could gossip.
Thinkin' I was going to jail, this is Hell, so help me Lord.
Then came the ambulance to take me to the mental ward.
All because of envy, I'm in a mental penitentiary;
I know it's not meant for me.
But I'ma stay strong and let 'em hang 'till they stink.
They put a mickey in my drink."

See, it's as honest and revealing as Bill's song - the way he even brings in his issues with his neighbors? that's just good writing - and it all keeps coming back to a delusion (surely his friends didn't really slip him a drug that made him go insane; that's a classic paranoiac fantasy) that's as tragically disturbing as Bill's.

"Weeks went by, even months;
The word on the street is Dangerous Dame is out to lunch... with the psycho bunch.
I'm thinkin' about my baby.
Amd will she ever see her daddy again's a big maybe.
I'm an Oakland rap master.
But see the doctors don't give a fuck, they wanna send me to NAFA[? - some kind of mental health institution, I assume].
I couldn't see that route,
So I gots to get up on my feet so I could be up out.
Yeah, that's when my folks came to see me.
I got a visit from my grandma, $hort, Pooh and King Tee.
Now I know I got love...
'Cause my grandma's hug was a message from the man up above.
I took it day by day until the doctors said okay,
And sent me on my way, and now I'm on my way
Back up on the mic.
But I gots to take these pills for the rest of my life.
I'm never looking back; I'm only looking forward.
I learned to love myself before I loved somebody else,
They slipped me a mickey but now I'm back up on the shelf."

The rest of Escape doesn't come as strong as the opening track - how could it? But it's still a nice, tightly packed little EP. The opening song features the best, and also the most upbeat, production; plus guest raps by Holy Quran, from the group Off da Hook who were signed to LOUD Records before their career was cut tragically short when Holy was shot and killed in the street.

"Street Stars" claims to feature Master P, but he doesn't rap on here at all. I think, if you keep your ear to the speaker, you can here him say "motherfucking street star" once ow twice on the hooks. I expect it might even just be a vocal sample, but they credited like that to beef up the generally non-existent No Limit connection. But anyway, it's probably all the better for not featuring P. It makes nice use of a looped vocal sample paired with a funky horn riff.

But even for as a tight EP, it probably should've been cut a little tighter, because after those three songs, it starts to fall off a bit. The confusingly titled "Be Their" (be their what?) is the only song Dame didn't produce. It's still not by a No Limit regular, though. This one's produced by by another Oakland producer, Al Eaton, and he's crafted an ill-advised musical remake of The Manhattan's "Shining Star." I mean, it's listenable... after all, it's blatantly lifting it's music from an old R&B classic, but it feels sappy and as corny as all those other, low budget west coast remakes of R&B songs, like The World Class Wreckin' Cru's "I'll Be Around" or something The Fila Fresh Crew would've done after D.O.C. left.

"Def, Dumb and Blind" starts off promisingly, with a sampled speech and some more militantly minded lyrics. But the music and especially the hook sound horrible, and the lyrics never rise ot the level I think they were shooting for. It features another appearance by Holy Quran and one by Spoonie T, who has an interesting voice, but nothing else. It's okay, and you want to give them props for having a serious, socio-political piece on the album, but it just comes off as too amateurish and low quality to be anything you'll want to revisit.

Finally, it concludes with "If You Got It You Got It," which is pretty unremarkable. It's alright, and Dame feels like he's serious with his statements (basically, "respect my legacy, you new-jack punks"), but it's nothing special. A better instrumental track would've gone a long way here, but as it is, it's album filler; I could take or leave it.

But despite the flaws and skip-worthy moments, this is something rewarding and unexpected. It's a cool moment in Dame's career and a nice little gem in No Limit's golden tank.

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