Saturday, December 17, 2011

She Drank Champagne... and I Drank Milk!

Little Shawn's career has flown kinda under the radar. People may remember him as a crossover, love-rapper kinda guy who was clearly trying to appeal to a more mainstream audiences with his singles "I Made Love (4 da Very 1st Time" and "Hickeys On Your Chest." Sort of like a Candyman or Mellow Man Ace without that break-out hit to get his brand emblazoned into the fleeting attention-spans of the MTV audience. He certainly managed to garner some fans, and I'm sure there are people who will big up his only album, Capitol Records' The Voice In the Mirror. But even they probably think of him as a flash in the pan who made a little noise and then disappeared.

But, actually, Little Shawn's was contributing to the game for a good chunk of time. Did you know he's one of uncredited guest MCs on Special Ed's "5 Men and a Mic" or that he had a song out with Maxi Priest in 1992? But more than that, after his brief stint on Capitol, Puff Daddy brought him into the Uptown camp where he wrote for everybody from Father MC to Mary J Blige. He even recorded a song for the NY Undercover soundtrack that got enough buzz Uptown turned it into the single. But despite the fact that the label promised the original version would appear "on the upcoming Little Shawn album," Uptown never found the time in their schedule for him and eventually it all seemed to fizzle out.

So those are the two big phases in Little Shawn's career, but there's actually a third, from back before he "came out of nowhere" and started putting out big budget videos through Capitol. Five years earlier, he dropped an obscure record on Select Records. See, back then, he was one of Howie Tee's acts (in fact, Howie produced that whole Capitol album), and just about all of Howie's acts came out through Select. So, in 1987, this little 12" came out (co-produced by Chubb Rock, no less), testing the waters.

Despite it's title, "Heartbreak Hotel" isn't the smooth, romantic song you might expect from Little Shawn. I mean, granted, it's about love (sort of... basically, the premise is that he gets involved with a girl who he doesn't realize is a prostitute), and it's even got a girl crooning the chorus, "Heaaaartbreak Hotellll." But musically, this is pure old school Howie with warbly synths over huge, programmed drums that bang as loud possible. And Shawn's flow goes right along with it... He sounds like Kool Doobie on the angry, rap side of the second Whistle album. And, lyrically, the emphasis is on being funny rather than trying to placate the ladies - one line that genuinely makes me laugh every time, "when I kissed her in the car, she couldn't behave, 'cause I had on my father's aftershave!"

This song has everything 80's you can imagine in it: stuttering vocals played on the keyboard ("hea-hea-hea-hea-hea-heart heartbreak!"), hand-claps, a rock guitar (by Spanador of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam!) that only appears for a big solo on the breakdown, keyboards, a punchline stolen from The Fresh Prince, references to Donahue and Janet Jackson, a moment where he sings an old song to an almost ragtime-style piano. You could dismiss this as some corny-ass, outdated rap... or you could say, this is one of the greatest, ultra-outdated rap songs ever!

It's followed by a Dub, mixed by Omar Santana, that's almost as fun to listen to as the song itself. And if that's still not enough, there's a B-side called "My Girl's Mother." And this song's just as good/terrible as the A-side... it's like a cross between Whistle's "Just Buggin'" and "Barbara's Bedroom," with some super catchy synth lines, big beats, and a silly chorus. And it's another fun story, this time about Shawn trying to ditch his girlfriend ("send her to McDonald's to get a large order") so he can spend time with her sexy mother.

I enjoyed Shawn's album (at least, I remember liking it the last time I listened to it, which was probably ten or so years ago), and I don't hate on his later stuff... but it's a damn shame Little Shawn couldn't stay in 1987 forever. He could just keep making records like this, without feeling compelled to change with the times, and it would be like living in Santa's village where Christmas never ends.

1 comment:

  1. wasent he also the rapper that 2pac was going to see when he got shot in that studio NY?