Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Milwaukee's Old School Hip-Hop Scene Excavated on Wax

If you'll recaall, in my recent write-up of Run DMC's "Black History" 12", I promised a look at the label's subsequent releases. Well, since "Black History" (JMR-001), they've released a series of five, limited 7" singles. They're all very rare, sometimes outright previously unreleased tracks, by early artists from Milwaukee's early hip-hop scene. If you've heard of any of them before (and don't feel bad if you haven't), you're either from the area or have gleaned onto an old 12" or two as "random rap." But now they've been made much more accessible with this dope, affordable (no high priced limiteds here; they're all less than $10, and I found two for as cheap as $2 direct from the label).

I'm really not sure just how legit these are, however. "Black History" was clearly a boot, but some of these (especially the ones featuring unreleased tracks) may've had the artist's involvement... maybe? I don't know. The best I could label these is "undetermined," so bear that in mind and on with the show! :)

First up is "Kool is Chillen" by MIDI. It's pressed on red vinyl and limited to 300 hand-numbered copies (mine is #161). It's a repress of a 12" single (on regular, black wax), which actually had a smaller run of 200 copies back in 1987. It's sort of like early Stetsasonic, with Run DMC-styled deliveries, a spacey sample from "Planet Rock" and a lot of energy. The B-side, "Bru City" is interesting... it's slower, with hard deliveries, big drums and hand claps, but atmospheric keytones, like an early West coast record, and even some human beatboxing. Really, this could almost have been a single off of On Fire.

Next up is "Lamont Is the Baddest" by Kid Crab and G.F.C. (that's the Get Flesh Crew to you). Kid Crab was actually the DJ for MIDI (and he's still around today); and he went on to release the original 12" version of this record a couple years after "Kool Is Chllen" with three new guys. This one is limited to 100 copies (mine is #61) and is on plain, black wax. The original 12" was actually three songs; but this repress leaves off a song called "Settin' Him Straight." Despite the two-year difference, this doesn't really sound any more modern, and was surely considered old school-sounding even in 1989. It's got really big synths playing a constant riff over everything, and ultra-deep bass. The rhymes are simple, but the constant cutting (this time by DJ Supreme; Crab is just the MC in this line-up) is fresh, and the hook is great: "Who is the baddest? Lamont is, Lamont is!" ...while the DJ cuts up the LL Cool J vocal sample, "the baddest around!" The B-side, "That's Why I'm Screamin'" is probably better, though the mastering is pretty muddy... The ridiculous synths are replaced with an electric guitar riff, and again the scratches are the best part.

Third we've got, "We Are Two Tone" by, yes, Two Tone, a duo whose schtick is that one is black and the other is white. In keeping with the theme, their are two differently colored pressings, blue and green, limited to 100 (mine is a green #92). Unlike the previous two 7" singles, the music on this one has never before been released. It comes in a "picture cover," which amounts to a single sheet of paper print-out in a plastic sleeve; but hey, it's better than nothing. The A-side is ok, with some more old school beats, more Run DMC-styled shouting and back & forth deliveries, all wrapped up with a corny chorus . But this one's all about the B-side. "Mike T Is Dope" is a super-fresh ode to their DJ Mike T... yes, the same DJ Mike T from Compton's Most Wanted! The MCs come pretty nice, but it's the killer cuts and funky collage of old school samples making up the production that make this one such a killer.

Fourth is "Here's a Little Story" by MC Richie Rich & Scratch, repressing what was previously a cassette-only release. This one of the many "La Di Da Di" clones that have been poured into hip-hop by a million artists who were immediately inspired by the style and flow of MC Ricky D. Or, in this case, Richie Rich may've been even more directly inspired by Dana Dane - a female character even asks him, "where's your kangol and slick silk suit?" It's limited to 100 black copies (mine is #90). Richie's Rich voise is so soft, and the style and lyrics so blatantly derivative (he raps about jumping out of the shower and everything just like "La Di Da Di"), that this song is hard to take seriously. But the B-side is a completely different story. It's a more modern sounding, harder posse cut called "Pull the Trigger." Rich still sounds like he did on the A-side, so that's a little odd, but the others kill it over a dope track. And included on this posse cut? None other than Rock La Flow, who you should remember from Dope Folks' recent EP I covered in my video, The Milwaukee Illmatic!

These records may sound low-budget, or even amateurish; but they're also some enthusasiticly raw hip-hop that's a lot more compelling than their cleaner-sounding major label counterparts. I could see a lot of this material getting dismissed back in the day, but today, it's all fresh and very welcome. The highlights, like "Mike T Is Fresh," are incontrovertibly great and I'd recommend them to any hip-hop head at anytime; but others do require you to be in 80's Rap Appreciation Mode. If you are, though, you're gonna love the whole set to death. So look for 'em on discogs or the Bay, and let's hope we hear more from Jamille Records in 2011.

Oh, and if you're thinking, "Werner, I see four records written up here, but you distinctly mentioned five." Well, stay tuned, the last one's coming in my next video review.




  2. FYI, Mc Richie Rich doesnt rap AT ALL on Pull The Trigger. The MC's are Strickey Love AKA Strick, Rock La Flow, Scratch (of MC Richie Rich & Scratch) & BDay Rock

  3. I am Ricky S of Two-Tone! Our song WE ARE TWO TONE was the song we performed at a local rap contest in 1986 & is what ultimately lead us to record with & meet Mike T. The song contains no "corny chorous" because there IS no chorous! LOL I am currently the Vice President of A & R for National Indie Label Deka Records, out of Youngtown, Arizona, & also an artist for the label. I now record under the name THIEF DA HIGH PRIEST!! Add me on Facebook!! --1--

  4. Man! Everybody's correcting me on this post. ha ha Good calls, though; so thanks for setting me straight. =)

    @david/Ricky S - thanks for posting! Yeah, you're right, there's not really a chorus. I was just referring to the bits where you swap each other's words between the more straight, traditional verses like, "one is (white!) and the other is (black!)"

  5. i gotta agree with david on this one, though i still think this is a great blog.

  6. I went to Rufus King with the members of MIDI (Milwaukee's idea of imperial) they were down with Todd Peachy Thomas (Speech of arrested development) pioneers of Milwaukee rap

  7. Replies
    1. The 20/20 Boys record wasn't out when I made this post (The Jamille one, I mean). But I wrote a post on it later at:
      And I wrote about 20/20's second (vintage) 12", too, at: