Saturday, January 29, 2011

InstaRapFlix #31 The Industry

InstaRapFliz is back, baby! It's been a long time, but I figured we needed some more movie reviews around here, so here we go. Today's entry is The Industry (Netflix rating: 2 out of 5 stars). Netflix doesn't tell you this, but apparently this is a part of Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Speaks Series. Other videos available in this series include, uh... nothing. Hmm. That isn't a good sign, is it?

So, okay, what is this? It's not just some video-taped lecture by Russell Simmons (though, of course, he's featured in this); it's a little documentary that's ostensibly about the managers, executives and label politics behind the scenes of modern-day hip-hop. One of the reasons I say "little documentary" is because this runs just an hour long, which isn't really feature length. Anyway, it thrusts us into the middle of Outkast's drama with Arista over their Speakerboxxx/ Love Below double album as scene from the PoV of their manager, Blue. The whole first 15 minutes is basically just a short bio on Blue, then the second is on Ludacris' manager, Chaka Zulu. Then we come back to Blue for two minutes before going to Def Jam record exec Tina Davis. She gets a little less then ten minutes, and then we're onto a long interview with Kanye West. And finally, we're back to Blue for the remainder. If that sounds sloppy, it is.

This DVD seems to just be a patchwork of owned footage melted into one shapeless blob and sold as a single DVD documentary. But the good news is, much of the footage is compelling and interesting. I mean, the Kanye interview is kinda boring and self-aggrandizing, but for the most part, it's all interesting little bits. They just don't add up to a movie. The editors seem to have tried in post... MC Lyte narrates the whole thing, and I guess the idea is her narration would smooth over the bumps and make things feel a little more coherent. It doesn't though. She just winds up being seriously over-used, futily dolling out info to set up scenes and segues to bridge them. And the way the movie keeps coming back to Blue seems like an attempt to give this movie a consistent through-line... not an actual consistent through-line, but an attempt at one. I actually think it would've been better if they just left all of his stuff together as one longer piece, and just stuck the rest on as DVD extras or something.

In fact, just a documentary about Blue and Speakerboxxx would've been a much stronger film, but I guess they figured that would be harder to market. So, yeah, instead we get half of a documentary about Blue, chopped up and padded with a bunch of footage lying around the Def Jam offices. Why do take a long detour into the office of Tina Davis? The answer is obviously because she works for Def Jam, and this is a Def Jam DVD. Why does everything stop for ten minutes so Kanye can talk about himself? Cross-promotion. He's a big name who might helpfully sell a few more of these DVDs, and he's a Def Jam artist, so maybe the spotlight will help sell some more Kanye CDs, too.

Bottom line? This movie is too half-assed (again, it feels like the salvaging of one or several failed projects) and too much of a blatant commercial to rank as much of a film. But it's short, tightly edited and some of the segments are genuinely interesting. So don't buy this DVD - you'll watch it once and put it away feeling ripped off. For a free, Netflix instant watch though? It's worth throwing onto your que.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Before Them, Compton Rap Wasn't Shit

You want to be let in on a nice, overlooked and under-rated 12"? Ok, here's "Where You From?" by Dazzie Dee. Why is it so overlooked and under-rated? The answer is simple: because it doesn't list its guest stars. Look at that label and imagine you saw it in a record store bin for $5... you'd probably pass on it. But now imagine that label read, Dazzie Dee featuring King Tee, Toddy Tee & Mix Master Spade! Yeah, now you'd pick it up, 'ey?

"Where You From?" is the only single off of Dazzie Dee's second album, The Re-Birth (which is worth checking out in its own right), both of which dropped in 1996 on Raging Bull Records. But, in fact, its origins are a little more complicated than that. It's actually a remix of "Westside Hoodstas" on Dazzie Dee's first album, Where's My Receipt?; and that song's definitely worth checking for, too.

"Westside Hoodstas" was released as the B-side to his single on Capitol Records, "Everybody Wants To Be a Gangsta," where it was titled "West Side Gangstas." It's a very smooth (as is a lot of Dazzie's stuff), laid back duet between Dazzie Dee and Mixmasta Spade. They trade verses back and forth over a track produced by Battlecat, with some sweet crooning by a couple uncredited girls on the hook. Spade does his unique brand of sing-song rhyming that a few others have tried to emulate, but only Spade could do like Spade:

"Now all you big-time rappers with those big-time names,
You done forgot about the man who introduced this game.
King Tee, Eazy-E, Cube and DJ Quik;
Before me Compton rap wasn't shit.
Now way, way back before the cash and the deals,
I used to sell mixtapes out my truck for meals.
I kept the girlies rockin' on my jock,
Spade rhymin' about the streets, gang bangin' in Watts.
I sold to the blues and I sold to the reds,
Kept the whole damn hood scene bobbin' their heads.
So don't front when you roll like you don't know me,
(Why?) I'm OG and from the CPT."

But like I said, this new 1996 version introduces "The Compton Carr" into the mix. The girls are out, replaced by new verses by King Tee and Toddy Tee; and the track - this time produced by Dazzie Dee himself - is a little less smooth and a little more upbeat and funkier. Spade must've come back to the studio, too, because even though they just re-use his verses from "West Side Hoodstas" (mashed into one double-length verse here), his voice is unmistakable, contributing to the new hook with the other MCs. Dazzie kicks an all new verse for his part, and of course both of the Tees' verses are all-new as well. This is barely a remix (it's labeled like a whole new song here on the 12", but on The Re-Birth, it's given the fuller title, "Where You From? (Westside Hoodsta Re-Mix)") and essentially a whole new, entirely different song that just recycles a bit of Mix Master Spade material.

The 12" comes with the Vocal Album Version, The Vocal Radio Clean Version and the Instrumental Version. So next time you see in a bin, remember not to pass this historical collaboration up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Double Tee Bass

King Tee's earliest records came out on DJ Unknown's Techno Hop label. Then he signed to Capital, and the rest is history. Except, actually, there was a brief diversion. In between his first singles on Techno Hop and his major label debut, 1987, he released one 12" on a label called Mack Daddy Records. It was "Bass."

Of course, you know "Bass." "Bass" is a great, speaker-shaking song, with fresh cuts (provided by not one, but two DJs), fun rhymes killer horns and of course some really dope bass. It was on his debut album, Act a Fool; there was a video for it and everything. Every King Tee fan knows "Bass." But if you pay attention to the album's track0listing, the version that's on there, in the video, etc. is actually "Bass (Remix)." The Mack Daddy 12" has the original version.

The original "Bass" isn't too far removed from the remix, which is good, because the original is great. The signature horn riffs (though not the sax solo at the finish), big drums and bassline are all there. All of King Tee's four verses are there, and so are the funky-fresh scratch breaks by Keith Cooley and Pooh. The main difference, besides sounding a little less polished with some some stripped down percussion, is that the original record uses a bunch more classic records on the breaks and hooks, like "More Bounce To the Ounce." That might sound like overkill, because the remix already uses a fuckton of records! But it works; it never sounds overly busy; it's just great hip-hop. It also winds up with a final shout-and-call portion, Miami style, with Tee leading the audience, which for an upbeat anthem like this, is pretty appropriate.

Now, again, "Bass" was a hit, and Capitol did eventually put out their 12" single of it in 1988. This 12" features both the Remix and the original version, plus the remix instrumental, acapella, and another album track ("Ko Rock Stuff") and its instrumental. ..>The Mack Daddy 12" only has the Original version on both sides. So you really can't go wrong with the Capitol 12"; it's got all your "Bass" needs covered and then some. But there are some interesting things to note about the Mack Daddy 12".

First of all, they both come in picture covers; but they're completely different. My copy of the Mack Daddy 12" came in a plain sleeve, so thanks to Rare Dave for the original cover photo on the left, and that's a pic of my Capitol picture cover (hole punch - boo!) on the right:
It's also interesting to note that all the Capitol stuff only credits Pooh as a producer for "Bass," but the Mack Daddy version also credits DJ Bobcatt[sic.] as co-producer, and dedicates the song to the memory of the late DJ Easy Money. KDAY legend Greg Mack is listed as an executive producer, so I'm going to take an educated guess that Mack daddy Records was his project. So yeah, like I said, musically, everything on the Mack Daddy 12", plus a lot more, is on the Capitol one (though you need to get at least one of the 12"s if you've only go the LP), making the Mack Daddy 12" more of a collector's item than an essential. But when a song's as classic as this one is, sometimes a collector's item is worth having.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Cassette-Only Release In 2011?

A cassette only release in 2011*? Yup, and it's good! It's the debut EP from a group that's probably a one-off, known as The Motel Crew, titled simply Tape. The Motel Crew name probably isn't familiar to you, unless you managed to catch the occassional blog or twitter post last year promoting a couple of their advance mp3s; but you surely know most of its members. Luke Sick, frontman for the legendary Bay area group Sacred Hoop, and his longtime compatriate, the sick lyricist Z-Man are the MCs. The great DJ Quest (Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters, Space Travelers, etc) is on the cuts and the music is by, uh, some dubstep producer named Doug Surreal.

So, yeah, as you might expect with the involvement of some kinda dubstep guy, the music is spacey and discordant. There are echoes, stuttering and distorted vocals, screeching sound effects and samples that come and go arbitrarily. And believe me, I find that kinda stuff even less appealing than any of you readers. But this isn't some Enter the Dubstep vol. 2 crap; it's got a much rawer, hip-hop feel, and with the help of the MCs and a healthy dose of old school samples, this feels more like a bugged out hip-hop experiment than some outsider club trash. It's nowhere near as engaging as six instrumentals provided by Vrse Murphy would be, but it's still listenable even to a purist like me. And thanks to the talents involved, it's more than worth your time - any opportunity to hear an album by Luke Sick and Z-Man is not to be missed. And Quest's cuts do help a couple of the songs (on others they get lost in the sonic mess).

Tape is labeled as Megakut #2, because it's actually the second cassette-only release on Megakut Records. The first was a mix by DJ Quest called Yole Boys Megamix, and that one's also still available.

This tape is limited to 50 copies (I guess they're figuring not many people still have their cassette decks up and operational), individually numbered (mine's #32) and only costs $8. When you order it (which you can do from their official site, megakutrecords.blogspot.com), they'll also send you mp3s of three more Motel Crew songs that were recorded but not included on the tape, "Teenage Scrapper," "Chop Shop" and "Return Of the Dope Fiend Beat." And there's a final song, "Style We Portray" (which might actually be my favorite of all ten of 'em), that's available for free download so you can complete your collection of the Motel Crew legacy.

There's some other interesting stuff to order there, too (plus more free downloads), including past releases by Grand Invincible and Sacred Hoop, original comic books and - surprisingly - a crime novel written by Luke Sick. Apparently, he started submitting short serial chapters to a magazine called Synthesis, and when that magazine went under, he kept writing them until he had a finished book. It's called Cleanhead, and is limited to 100 copies.


*Ok, technically, it came out in 2010. But I was slow to discover it.

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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Coordinating On Your Collaborations - Why It's Important

You probably won't find a guy less interested or informed about fashion than myself... but even I understand that if Pepa puts on the red elastic bodysuit at a concert, then Salt's gotta put on the white and Spinderella the black. It just wouldn't work the same if two of them walked out on stage in red elastic body suits. And it's even more important for artists to get in sync with each other within the confines of same song.

Case in point: Remember Luke's "Cowards In Compton" record with The Poison Clan dissing Dre and Snoop? (If you don't, check out the video I did about it in '09.) They were responding to Snoop's verse dissing Luke, and make particular reference to the following lines...

"If it ain't another ho that I gots ta fuck with,
Gap teeth in ya mouth so my dick's got to fit;
With my nuts on ya tonsils,

While you're on stage rappin' at your wack-ass concerts..."

Now, I'm not one to put hip-hop's awful legacy of homophobia on a pedestal; but JT Money sort of had a point about how suspect that quote was when he responded:

"Real niggas don't talk that gay shit,
Talkin' about lettin' another nigga suck ya dick.
Only punks talk like that.
I won't even bust ya; I'll slap you with my gat!

Frontin' like a gangsta, but you're a faggot."

I mean, let's face it. Machismo, rap boasting, prison talk... it can get jumbled into some oddly homoerotic talk sometimes, exemplified by Canibus's infamous line where he brags, "you don't have the skills to eat a nigga's ass like me!"

So, okay. Snoop sets 'em up, JT knocks 'em down. It all makes sense, typical diss rap exchange... But I guess Luke never bothered to actually sit down and listen to what JT was saying on his record before dropping in his own ad-lib parts of the record, because he comes on and says:

"Dre, you ain't nothin' but my bitch; I'ma make you my bitch! You look like you could suck a nigga' dick, hoe-ass motherfucker!"

Get on message here, guys! You don't talk that gay shit in Miami, or you do?

I don't see any distinction where Snoop's quote could be said to have any more of a blatantly gay underpinning than Luke's. They're both overtly saying they want to make the other guy fellate them. And I get that it's a power thing, asserting dominance; but that's still about as (homo)sexual as you can get. I guess JT had to walk up and slap Luke with his gat after he heard that, right? Mind you, I'm not supporting that kind of treatment of homosexuals, but those are the standards established on Loke's own record! You've already established only punks talk like that.

That's why it's important to work together with your guest rappers and pay attention to what's being said on your own record. Don't embarrass yourself. Coordinate, before you wind up the subject of your own disses.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince UNCENSORED!!

The above title might sound a bit funny, but it's for real. Have you ever noticed how the first song on DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's debut album, Rock the House - their big, hit single "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" - is credited as a 1988 Extended Remix? Even if you thought, "ah-ha!" and ran out to buy the 12" single, you only got the 1988 Extended Remix and the 1988 Single Version. How can there be a special remix with no original version?

Well, the answer, of course, goes back to their pre-Jive Records days, when they first dropped "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" on Word Records, as far back as 1986. This is their first record... and the first pressing - the label subsequently changed their name to Word-Up Records for the second pressing and their subsequent releases. And while there's no difference, content-wise, between the initial two pressings of this single, both are quite different from what Jive put out.

First up on Side 1 is the Radio Mix. Right away, this has a much more raw, edgier feel than the Jive release. The beats are more stripped down and the bass is thumping much harder. The I Dream of Jeanie sample is still present, but the overall sound is still much more street than the version we all had on cassette as kids.

But what makes this even more street are the vocals. See, Jive didn't just polish the music a bit before they shot the video and put it out on their label... they made Prince redo the vocals to be kid friendly. In the popular version, when Prince meets Exotic Elaine, she "asks me did I like her. I said, 'well, kinda.'" But in the original she "asks me was I horny, I said yeah kinda."

In the remake, "she started grabbin' all over me, kissin' and huggin'. So I shoved her away and said, 'you better stop buggin'."

But in the original, "she started grabbin' all over me, kissin' and huggin'. I punched her in the chin and said, 'you better stop buggin'."

If that's not violent enough for you, the end of their encounter when he, "handed her my wallet and ran like Hell," originally had him react a bit more strongly... "I hit her with a trash can and ran like Hell!" He's also a bit more hostile about it all at the conclusion. On the Jive version, they stop his verse on so the cop character can radio in, "Yo Prince, we got him!" and he adds, "but it wasn't my fault!" But in the original, there is no walkie-talkie business, he just says, "but I didn't do nothin', it was that dumb broad's fault!"

Amusingly, Jive also felt the need to alter Prince's boxing preferences... at the start of the second verse, he originally says, "I was at the bar one Friday night, coolin', watchin' a Sugar Ray fight." But in the remake, he says, "Mike Tyson fight," instead. Perhaps this was the first step into the creation of their 1989 record, "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson?"

There's plenty of other changes, throughout... when he meets Sheila, there's a whole section that's excised completely where "she bought my drink, I thought that was polite. So I walked out with her; I said, 'what's up for tonight?' She said 'just get in the car,' so I obliged. About twenty minutes later we pulled up in her garage." Really, the whole song has changed in a myriad of ways, right down to "those Gucci bed sheets" becoming, "those Satin bed sheets." I guess Gucci references were too hip-hop for MTV? lol

However, since this is a Radio mix, Word Records did a bit of low-budget editing themselves, flipping the sound backwards when he says the word "horny." But fortunately, that's not the case when you come to side 2, the Def Mix. But the difference between the Radio and Def Mixes don't just boil down to a little clean-up. The Def Mix features constant scratching by Jazzy Jeff throughout the song. So this makes it the superior, definitive version in all aspects... it's uncut AND the music's fresher.

The original 12" also has instrumentals for both mixes (basically with and without scratching), and it's pretty much a must-have for anyone who appreciates these guys' stuff. But, still, the remix has a lot going for it, including tweaks to the music, a whole new verse where Betty makes him miss the Run DMC concert, and a strange summation by Jeff at the end, where he references their later records, which made it all the more confusing for suburban kids like me who were thinking, "but I thought Rock the House came out first!" Plus, frankly, while there is something gonzo and no-holds-barred about the image of Will Smith beating down a hooker in an alleyway with a trash can, the line "I handed her my wallet and ran like Hell" is just funnier. So you can't entirely rule out the remix... but you're definitely missing something if you've never heard the Def Mix.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Return of the Devil's Cash In

The latest of many posthumous Big L albums, Return Of the Devil's Son bills itself as a "brand new album with 21-unreleased songs." That's a pretty bold statement considering it... isn't. Let's break it down song-by-song, and then we'll come back to sum up and see how it compares to the many other Big L compilation albums.

Are these unreleased tracks genuinely [UNRELEASED], [OLD] previously released stuff, or just some readily available [FREESTYLES]s?

1. Return Of t
he Devil's Son [OLD] 1:46 - This isn't actually a properly recorded song even, but a clip from a live performance with Big L kicking an alternate verse for "Devil's Son." Specifically it's taken from a CD Sandbox used to sell called Live From Amsterdam, and it was also released as "Live in Amsterdam" and "Devil's Son (Europe Version)" from those Harlem's Finest releases.

2. Devil's Son From Lifestylez
[OLD] 4:00 - This one was included on the initial, promo version of L's debut album (though at least this one admits it in the title), but it was more popularly available as a 12" single, which I reviewed here.

3. Zone Of Danger
[OLD] 3:39 - The first of many (intentionally?) garbled titles on this album; "Zone of Danger" is actually a remix of "Danger Zone" by J-Love that was one of his "exclusives" a few years ago. At least this version doesn't have J-Love's vocal tags over it... I'm not sure if this was ever released anywhere without the tags on it, so that's nice.

4. Sandman 118
[FREESTYLE] 2:55 - This is an old freestyle off one of Sandman's 12"s from 1995, where it was originally titled "L's Big Freestyle."

5. School Days
[OLD] 3:15 - Another one from the promo version of Lifestylez Ov da Poor & Dangerous, and later on vinyl on the Uptown Connection LP and various other vinyl boots.

6. Principal Of the New School
[OLD] 3:54 - This one's from Lord Finesse's Rare Selections vol. 2 EP.

7. Unexpected
[OLD] 3:36 - This is "Unexpected Flava," also from Lord Finesse's Rare Selections vol. 2 EP.

8. Tony's Touch [FREESTYLE] 1:55 - An old freestyle. On 2009's Harlem's Greatest compilation album, this was titled "139," and "Tony Touch '139'" on the Harlem's Finest vinyl from 2001.

9. Right To the Top Feat Royal Flush & Kool G. Rap [OLD] 3:27 -This is the one with the big name guest stars they hype in their press releases, but I hope you didn't get too excited, because it's really just the song "Double Up" masquerading under a new title... Remember that old Royal Flush 12" I blogged about here?

10. Once Again [OLD] 3:31 - This one's been on mixtapes (perhaps most notably by J-Love) for years. ...I'm actually not sure where it first debuted, but it's really just another remix of recycled material anyway, as the vocals are from "On the Mic" (which were also recycled for "Size 'Em Up" on The Big Picture... these rhymes have seen many a repackaging!).

11. Harlem World Universal [Freestyle] 1:22 - This was called "Universal Freestyle" on Harlem's Finest and 139 & Lenox.

12. I Won't [OLD] 4:01 - This is "How Will I Make It" from that Harlem's Finest vol. 2 EP.

13. Hard To Kill [FREESTYLE] 2:11 - This old freestyle was titled "Stretch and Bobbito '93" on Harlem's Finest.

14. Power Moves [OLD] 4:01 - More sneaky retitling... This is the song "Now Or Never" that's been on other recent Big L compilation albums like The Archives and 139 & Lenox.

15. If You Not Aware [OLD] 3:45 - Retitling of "Games Females Play" from The Archives, 139 & Lenox, etc.

16. I Should Have Used [OLD] 4:26 - This is really the song "Clinic," although it's been previously released on vinyl under this title as well.

17. Doo Wop #5 [FREESTYLE] 1:31 - Obviously a Doo Wop freestyle. This one was titled "Doo Wop 'My Niggaz'" when it was released on the Harlem's Finest wax.

18. Yes You Can [OLD] 3:55 - This is just "Hit It" (which you can find on The Archives album) under another fake title.

19. Audition [FREESTYLE] 4:48 - This was titled "Rock N Will Audition" on Harlem's Finest.

20. M.C.'s Whats Going On [OLD] 3:46 - A mistitling of "I Can't Understand It (Original Demo Version)" from Lord Finesse's Rare Selections vol 3 EP.

21. Slaying the Mic [FREESTYLE] 1:53 - And we conclude with one more old, retitled freestyle... you'll remember it as "Kay Slay Freestyle" from Harlem's Finest.

Oh, look at that! Not a single one of these songs actually got an [UNRELEASED] tag! And just to clarify, even the FREESTYLES are all OLD. This compilation does have the dubious distinction of throwing a lot of misinformation into the Big L fandom, though, by mistitling a lot of its songs to make it appear as though a lot of its content was new. You can't even say, "oh well, this is old stuff, but at least it's their first appearance on vinyl," because this was CD only.

There's really no distinction in sound quality between this and any of the past posthumous albums, so if you wanna pick one of these posthumous compilation albums up, I'd recommend 139 & Lenox on wax instead. Return Of the Devil's Son really has the least going for it of any of these albums (and did I mention it's a pack of lies?).

The quality is going down, not up, folks! ...Maybe it's time to stop releasing these things?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Check Amper Rock Out, Baby

"Generating my fane base on mixtapes in NYC, undergrounder surfaced, blessed by R-E-D."

What we have here is a rare, single-sided, promo-only 12" of one of the great exclusive joints from Red Alert's mixtapes that he released over the years on Next Plateau Records. Specifically it's King Amper Rock's "Check me Out Baby" on Not Productions (the label's only release, catalog # NOT-001). There's no date on the label, but smart money would put it right around the same year as Red Alert's album on which appears, making it 1996.

This is exciting first of all because it's a great song. The mix of funky, old school conga drums with dark, atmospheric samples is pure New York. And so is Amper Rock, with a voice and flow reminiscent of Lord Finesse, with just a slightly rougher edge. Lyrically, he's just focused on some light flow flexing and representing where he's from - Uptown, emphasized by the DJ cutting up the phrase "Uptown style" on the hooks. The DJ is uncredited, but production credit is given to Big Will, a producer who did a lot in the late 90's/early 2000's, often with partner Heathcliff.

This is more exciting because, since Red Alert's albums -even though they were pressed on wax - were mixed. As anyone who's longed for a proper version of Ultramagnetic's "Bait" on 12", with it's final verse can tell you, a good mixtape can be an affecting musical experience in and of itself, but it's far from a definitive way to enjoy a song you're a fan of. So only with this 12" can you hear it play through properly.

And it's exciting because this 12" has an exclusive remix. Actually, it has three, but the other two are just minor variations of the one. Basically you've the LP Version, which is the one you know from Red Alert Presents... Then you've got the Party Remix, which is practically a completely different song. The beat's a bit familiar, but it's completely different than the LP Version, even darker and smoother, with no scratching. And more than that, it's a complete lyrically remix as well! All three verses have been swapped out with three new, completely different verses. It's essentially a whole new song, with only the cue to "check me out, baby" on the hook carrying over from the original.

And even that similarity is stripped from the Harlem On the Rise Version. This one's the same as the Party Remix except that the hook has been replaced with a softer, "Uptown's gettin' money" hook, which was heard briefly as the intro to the Party Remix. So now there's really no connection to the original left at all. And interestingly, by the way, the label has an asterisk marked after this version, with nothing else on the label suggesting what that asterisk is supposed to mean. I expect it's there because this new hook is being provided by somebody other than Amper Rock (the voice does sound different) and they intended to credit him somewhere on the label, but then forgot.

Anyway, finally is the Party Remix - Radio Edit. This one's exactly what you'd expect: the Party Remix with the few curse words censored.

So, all in all, this is a pretty hot 12" with more exclusive material than you might think. And it's a nice display of a talented MC representing Harlem who should've gone on to a lot more. Amper Rock has stayed in the game for years (and an unreleased demo I found of his from 1998 shows some of his unrealized potential), but unfortunately, this was his only record. So seek it out; it's worth it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Constant Utopia

Since they started doing interviews, The Constant Deviants have told people that they had two full, unreleased albums recorded: one from '95-'96, and one from '97-'99. This one, Concrete Utopia, is the '95 one and it's pressed and available now on double vinyl from Six 2 Six Records.

Like I wrote in my review of their "Problem Child" 12", their music has a real understated feel to. Nothing flashy, just smooth samples, fresh cuts for hooks, and a mellow flow from M.I.C. There's no party or danceable stuff on here, nothing remotely pop, and barely any guests. Only One Speaker Supreme appears on "Violence Interlude," which is pretty much a fresh single verse freestyle over a cool, atmospheric beat.

But that's not to say there aren't any surprises to be found. For starters, the album starts out with an uber-serious song on the horrors of war.

"If I get home, will I remember this?
Medics bag the body, send their names through the system.
My man got hit: grenade victim.
I'm laid in the cut,
Watchin' tears droppin'.
Me and him got drafted in.
Everybody else laughin';
To them, he died for his country.
I wanna know:
Would the president die for me?"

Concrete Utopia
is a perfectly preserved time capsule of the mid-90's scene, so it does have more similes and generic punchlines than it needs: "I blow up spots like Cambodians," "I cut throats like Mexicans," etc etc. But being that it's a time capsule, it makes it almost as endearing as much as it's a drawback. And the quality production definitely smooths over any lyrical bumps the songs have. And DJ Cutt kills it on every single song! Really, at the end of the day, the smooth, head-nodding vibes and Cutt's masterful work are what I take away from every moment on this album. If this is your kind of hip-hop, you're gonna love this, because it's a consistently exemplary example.

And this is all unreleased, unheard material. "Problem Child" and their other singles are not on here. There is an exclusive remix of their debut 12", "Competition Catch Speedknots," though.

This is limited to 300 copies, which... for a double LP in a picture cover is barely any higher than the standard cost of a new album. If you've been a fan of Constant Deviants indie 12"s and radio rips, waiting for their shelved material to finally come out... or if you're just appreciative of the subtler, smarter side of 90's hip-hop, then this is absolutely it. The sound quality is top notch, and the music lives up to expectations. And it's still available (click here), so don't miss out. You'll want to support, too, because Six 2 Six have a lot more in their vaults that we'd all love to see follow in Concrete Utopia's footsteps.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One Man, One Hundred Dollars and a

I can remember when I first saw Stinky Dink's tape in the stores as a kid. I didn't know who he was and I laughed at his name (Urban Dictionary defines a stinky dink as, "a half-expose turd log that is so large it can be used like a cock." Go look it up yourself if you want to read how it can also be used as a verb). The fact that he appended his name twice on the cover (to Stinky Dink (The Rickety Raw) A Rapper Named Hawk) just made it more absurd. But Stinky Dink was actually an important figure in Washington DC scene of go-go hip-hop, performing with the likes of DC Scorpio and Rare Essence. And this was his hit record, "One Track Mind" on East 11305 Records.

The hook, "one man, one hundred dollars and a one-track mind!" is fun and memorable. Stinky Dink was no lyrical wizard, but he's got a good voice and rocks well over a fresh go-go beat, plus he sounds more like a real rapper than just a shouting DJ like, say, DJ Kool. He does have a penchant for forced, contrived rhymes: "kiss a few cheeks, females suck a few deeks, like these movie star freaks and you'll reach your peaks." At another point he also pronounces "gentle" as "gentile" just to fit the rhyme.

One of the most notable things about this song, though, is its use of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" sample. It uses the same piece and in the same way, bringing it in for the hook just like Large Professor did on "It Ain't Hard To Tell." But needless to say, this was years before Nas's Illmatic... this is where they jacked it from!

So, this single features three tracks in addition to the main version of "One Track Mind." First we'll look at the b-side, "The Rickety Raw Revenge." This is similar in tone to "One Track Mind"... both of course have go-go beats, and you could swap any of Stinky's verses from one song, stick it on the other, and it'd fit right in. It's a totally different song, mind you, just in the same vein. However, about midway through the song, another MC pops up to take over mic duties, a guy named Katoe. The music also has a bit more of a live feel, with a lot of hype horns.

Then you've got two remixes of "One Track Mind," both of which are substantially long... one is 8 minutes and fourteen seconds, and the other is six fifty. The reason they're so long is because they both merge "One Track Mind" with "The Rickety Raw Revenge" into one, longer monster jam. The "Hype Mix" is essentially just that... the two songs pasted and together, blended to smooth the transition. But then the "Radio Mix," the one you'd expect to stand out the least, actually changes the music... it's still essentially the same but replayed, with harder beats and they even replay the Michael Jackson riff louder and more dynamic.

"One Track Mind" was a big record in its small pond, but it never crossed over to the mainstream (personally, I blame the Stinky Dink moniker). He's still been a fixture in the scene, though, doing appearances on other DC artists' songs and even dropped his own record in 2003 called "Chic At the Bar." And just this past summer, in 2010, he's been a very public figure. He's been doing popular and controversial campaign songs for Washington mayor Adrian Fenty's re-election campaign. He first dropped "Five for Fenty," a play on The Luniz' "I Got Five On It." Click here to listen to it and read some reactions... be sure to read through the comments for some amusing confusion from non-hip-hop heads over what the phrase "I got five on it" means. Then, more recently, he recorded and made a video for "Oh You Fenty Huh" which is of course a play on Drake's "Fancy." Granted, Fenty just lost that election; but I hope Stinky Dink doesn't let that discourage him.