Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Serious Curiosity Seekers Only...

"Whatever You Need" is an interesting, lesser known second single off of Doc Ice & R.O.S.'s Rely On Selph album. The first was "All Night Long," which he put out by himself, independently, and then again through Ichiban Records, who signed Doc Ice along with a grip of other old school artists (including Kool Moe Dee, MC Madness, Kwamé, Fearless Four...) in 1994, giving them all brief, low budget comebacks. I say "brief" because Ichiban only allotted them one album apiece before giving up on the whole venture. So, Doc Ice pretty much only had the one album and the one single in this phase of his career. But a small run of this unpromoted second 12" squeaked out the gate right at the last minute.

A lot of people dismiss most or all of the music that came out of this wave, and I can't say I blame them. Budgets were low, time was short, and it yielded almost uniformly lower shelf material from all of the artists involved. If you go to a Fearless Four show, everybody wants to hear them perform "Rockin' It," not "Getcha Thang On." But, on the other hand, a lot of interesting artists were involved, and so even when they're at or near the top of their game, I still find a lot of their material compelling. Or at the very least, interesting.

And it's certainly on this level that I appreciate it "Whatever You Need." Even though it's no "Roxanne, Roxanne" it's still a good listen in my book; and even those who'd disagree would surely have to admit it's at least interesting.

"Whatever You Need" starts out with a great, hardcore break, perhaps most recognizable X-Clan's "Heed the Word Of the Brother." You know, that incredibly aggressive, high-energy thumping bass, "thumb, thumb, thum-thum-thum-thum thump!" But Doc and his producer, Major Jam (who co-produced Whodini's "Freaks" years earlier) make the unusual choice of slowing it down and softening it up. And instead of squealing horns that railed along with Brother J's aggressive intonations, they've got subtle keyboard tones, an old school funk guitar sample and several R&B singers - male and female - softly crooning the chorus. I couldn't fault you if you didn't recognize it.

But don't be misled, it's not a love song. In fact the main verse is actually Jalil's verse from "Funky Beat!" Yes, the whole thing verbatim: "right here and now, I do declare, this to be the new funky beat of the year" etc. If you didn't know, Jalil, is Doc's brother, and he concludes with this explanation:

"Ya know him like I know him, he's my brother come to see me speedy.
You know his name, he's Jalil from Whodini!
I needed a verse to kick some phat shit to succeed.
He said, 'you need it, Doc Ice? Huh, whatever you need!'"

There's some more freestyle rhymes spread around the record, and Doc spends a lot of time in his "Dread Doc" persona, scatting ragamuffin style with the singers. It's really a pretty wacky, bugged-out song, but it manages to fly under the radar because it's been, as BBD would say, smoothed out on the R&B tip.

And the B-side is just as weird as the A-side: "I Keep Forgettin." On first glance, this one is a love song. It's actually a rather impressively produced love song - one of the best I've heard of hip-op's dubious subgenre in fact, with a tight sax sample and a genuinely touching and melancholic vibe to it, with a hook that whispers, "I keep forgetting... We're not in love anymore, but I keep coming back for more and more. I keep forgetting." And again, to most people who never bothered to scrutinize, that might be the beginning and end of the story.

But on closer inspection, there's weirder shit going on that makes this a more compelling little oddity. First of all, as unusual as it was to hear Doc Ice make the decision to recycle a verse from an old record on that last song (bear in mind, this was years before lazy artists like Common and Krs started recycling freestyle verses on their various guest appearances, so this was pretty unheard of), it's even more unusual that he's done it twice! This time, one of the verses here is taken from one of his previous love songs - the reggae one, no less - from his last album, specifically "Fever." But it actually blends in pretty well, and if you weren't familiar enough with Doc's catalog to recognize the lyrics, you'd never think anything was forced in or out of place in this sad song about a man being left by the woman he loves. ...But halfway through the song, the tone starts to shift from sad to goofy, as he sits alone in his apartment, crying himself to sleep when suddenly:

"There's a knock at the door, so who the Hell's there?
I loaded my nine so I could check. Yeah,
You know that I'm buggin' because that knock that I heard
Was my pet bird.
I got to get away like Bobby Brown - word!"

"Pet bird," what? Now, at this point, things could just be chalked up to awfully corny and just flat-out bad writing. There's a lot of that going around in the realm of hip-hop's token love songs, after all. But things get to the point where the it's clear that the silliness has to be intentional, as he starts illustrating that his drinking and heartbreak is so bad he reaches out for help, saying, "my name is Doc and I'm an alcoholic" and a roomful of people cheerfully rejoin, "HI, DOC!" But it's all oddly compelling, because it doesn't play like a joke song... the majority of it is played so straight-faced and earnest, and then it just turns defiantly irreverent. It probably takes a very rare combination of personality traits to appreciate a song like this, but for some inexplicable reason, it's right up my alley.

But that's not the half of why this 12" is so exciting! Both of those songs are right off the album, after all. And while you do also get both Instrumentals, it's two other tracks on this 12" that make this 12" essential ...if, you know, you go for this sort of thing. There are two exclusive remixes of "Whatever You Need."

The first one is just labeled as the Remix. It's got a whole new beat... another smoothed-out kind of track, with an emphasis on more keyboard riffs, sort of in the vein of JG's "Put Down the Guns," if you remember that record, or even an early 90's R&B song. Yeah, I know that doesn't sound too enticing, but it actually sounds good. There's also the addition of another guy singing off-key on the chorus, which doesn't add much; but at least manages not to get in the way of anything either. Most noteworthy, however, is an all-new verse by Doc. Lyrically it's okay, nothing amazing, but he comes off pretty nice with his flow, and shows off his personality and flow more than the original was able, what with it devoting so much time to old Whodini rhymes and raggamuffin breakdowns. Here, you can tell why Doc Ice is an established MC with a credible track record.

Finally, there's a version called the Sweet Stik Mix. It uses the same "Heed the Word" funk break as the original mix (and the funk guitar lick), but strips away the keys and R&B stuff, replacing the hook with Doc and his crew just talking shit between verses. Furthermore, it's a lyrical remix, with two more all-new verses, which I can only describe as playful, and this time it doesn't include any of the old material, like the "Funky Beat" rhyme. He also has refreshes the raggamuffin bits and ends with some extended shout-outs.

So yeah, between these two remixes, there's a lot of new, exclusive material on this 12". ...But probably for my fellow eccentric enthusiasts only.


  1. Hi Von Wallenrod,
    I know what you mean about the I have a Cold Crush 12" that KRS label put out around that time is pretty lack luster.
    I have never heard anything about this project, I like Doc Ice and his album (although pressed really badly) was good. Dred Doc is funny as fuck. "Free Dred Doc!!!"
    On point and knowledgale as always!