Monday, February 28, 2011

Future Soon To Be Left Behind

Future Left Behind is the upcoming album from Shawn Lov. It's on NuffSaid Recordings, the Australian label that put out his last two albums; but make no mistake -Shawn Lov's an OG New Jersey MC. He's been quietly putting out albums since 1994, but he really started appearing on peoples' radars when he teamed up with Tony D (R.I.P.) and dropped a couple records on Cha-Ching. Hell, if nothing else, you should remember him from the interviews I did with him back in November. And so this is his new album... it's not out yet, but he hit me up with a finished copy, including artwork and everything, so it should be just around the corner.

And how is it? It's dope; I dig it. It's produced by a roster of international heads who manage to give Shawn a surprisingly consistent backdrop... boom bap but with a clean, almost lush vibe. 100% headnodders. The majority are handled by Prowla, a resident NuffSaid producer, but you've also got producers from Germany, Holland... and yes, New Jersey. Custodian of Records provides three songs with a slightly rawer edge, including the album's two stand out bangers: "The Problems" and "Rare Grooves," a high energy duet with Sadat X.

This is a Shawn Lov album, so clever punch-lines and battle raps are a given; but the overall tone here is "battle rapper grown up." Whether remembering conversations with Tony D on "Future Left Behind," or just the fading of the culture on "[1-14] Be True:"

"Now I'm watching college boys grab the mic and try to handle it;
They culture-fuck hip-hop, 'cause they don't understand this shit.
You ain't the first geek with a win-streak;
When that track ends, it's still too hard for you to make black friends.
'Cause he ain't really in like, say, a Mike D or Eminem;
So it's impossible to see the music through that lens.
And I grew up with Brand Nubian, Wise and Brother J in my ear;
Took the time to learn the way we got here.
And you grew up to P Diddy and all that shit,
And threw a frat parry, 'cause to you that's all rap is.
A far cry from the soul of an '88 cipher."

Shawn even manages to sneak in an ode to his love of vintage video games without making it sound jokey or gimmicky. Yeah, if you didn't know, Shawn Lov runs a classic arcade in Burlington, NJ called High Scores. In fact, I've got a fun bonus video, never-before-seen 'till now, I did talking to Shawn a bit about gaming. And if you're interested in Future Left Behind snippets, the intros to each of my video interviews with Shawn (one, two, three plus the one below) features music from a different album cut. :) So now, without further adieu:
video
(And I got a Youtube version here, too, if you prefer.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Make This One Count

This one is really flying under the radar, but you don't want to miss out. Apparently with zero fanfare at all, Neila has released her latest album, Only This One Counts. It's a full-length album, on vinyl only, pressed on marbled red and hot pink vinyl, and as you see, comes in a picture cover with her own artwork. Neila's been selling them herself through her facebook account for $12, and now a couple online stores (like accesshiphop) have been getting some copies in stock.

So how is it? I'm happy to say it's dope, and definitely better than her last album, which was still good. There, for me at least, the production just didn't quite click with Neila's voice and flow. Here, it definitely does. It's entirely handled by one guy named Rezult, who I don't think I've ever heard of before, and he has no credits on discogs. But whoever he is, he does a great job providing a consistent, vibrant sound, and one that meshes perfectly with Neila. It's moody and dramatic and sets up Neila's personal, heartfelt lyrics (all handwritten on the back cover, by the way) perfectly.

There aren't any guests on this album, except for DJs Handprints and Skid, who provide some nice cuts on a few of the songs. Otherwise, it's all just Neila and Rezult doing their thing, giving this album a much more personal vibe than her others. And it's made all the more personal, when you know the story behind it. Like I said, Neila's putting this one out herself, and in this message to her fans, she explains the situation, ""PLEASE SUPPORT MY ALBUM TO HELP PAY FOR HOSPITAL BILLS AND RENT! I have vocal chord cancer, things are looking good, this is the LAST ALBUM with my real voice..."

So it's kind of a special release, though hopefully "last album with my real voice" doesn't equal "last album ever." But she sounds good here, coming with a really cool album in all aspects, and the presentation is first class. So while you may have to do a little work to secure a copy, I think this is no Neila fan will want to have passed up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Extra Odd Years

Guess what arrived in the mail today... Buck 65's new album 20 Odd Years! ...Wait a minute, didn't I already receive and review 20 Odd Years back in October? Yes, well, this, I guess, is 20 Odd Years 1.2... 20 Odd Years was released as a series of three EPs (originally there was meant to be four, but one fell through), on 7" vinyl, mp3 and CD/DVD. That must've done pretty well, because now there's this new release (also available through buck65.com) on LP and CD. It's got a nice picture cover and a slightly different track-listing. So, let's break it down:

First, the missing songs:

1) Red-Eyed Son (w/ Coral Osborne) from EP #1 - This was a good song; I'm sorry to see it go.

2) The Niceness (w/ Colin Linden) from EP #2 - Frankly, I'm happy to see this one go. I mean, while the collector in me would like to see every song ever included, the whole album feels more mature with this silly number axed.

3) Tears In Space (w/ Meaghan Smith) also from EP #2 -This was okay, but no great loss.

And that's it for the missing songs (you can read more about them in my original review of the EP releases). If you've noticed, that means EPs 1 and 2 have exclusive songs, but #3 does not. So if you're considering picking up the EPs (they're still available as of this writing) in conjunction with the LP, #3 is the least essential, as it has nothing that isn't already on the album.

Now the new songs:

1) Whispers Of the Waves (w/ Gord Downie) - I could do without the guy (I guess that's Gord) singing the hook; but it's not terrible. Buck's flow over the rhythm bass is cool, though, and the scratches are a nice touch. Definitely a winner.

2) Stop (w/ Hannah Georgas) - The upbeat instrumentation is a nice change, but it feels more like a Hannah Georgas record featuring Buck than the other way around. Buck only has two short, unimpressive verses (over a lame beat) shoehorned into what's otherwise some kind of indie rock song. Feels like watching MTV, which I'd rather not do if I can avoid it.

3) Tears Of Your Heart (w/ Olivia Rulz) - Like the past EPs, forcing practically every song into a collaboration hurts this project. The girl sings something in French on the chorus, and, except for the breakdown, she doesn't sound like she belongs on the song. Buck comes with it, though, and I like the instrumental manages to have a live garage band feel while still maintaining a hip-hop nature. I like it, but a shorter version without the long, self-indulgent instrumental stretches and the excessive hook would've worked even better.

4) She Said Yes - Kind of boring and lifeless... I kept thinking, "when is this extended intro going to end and the song proper going to kick in?" But it just goes on until it ends, sort of a slow spoken-word bit over subdued keyboards and weak percussion.

So, overall, it's a nice package and a decent, if still uneven album. At first I felt a but like we'd been duped - we weren't told all these songs would be released as a proper LP back when the EPs were being sold, so we couldn't make the informed decision to hold out for this album. And it's frustrating that the absolute worst song from the EPs ("Who By Fire") was carried over, while one of the best ones ("Red-Eyed Son") was not. I wish it wasn't too late to trade them, but oh well. Forced to call it, I think the LP is slightly better than the EPs, but it's pretty close (the bulk of the songs are the same, after all), and my fellow completists will need both anyway. So, yeah, it's a good album - not Buck's best; but has some really strong moments. It's just unfortunate that we've bought most of them before.

But now, with the LP in my hot little hands, I'm a little feeling better about the whole thing. After all, getting four new songs... in a way, it's almost like getting the fourth EP that never materialized. And this one's on 12" with a nice picture cover. It just so happens to also include a bunch of the older songs from the past EP over again. It's hard to get too excited about an album I pretty much bought already four months ago; but it's nice to finally score that last EP. But, like the other EPs, it's just okay, and brought down by all these misfit guests. If you heard the last few EPs, this is more of the same. Hopefully Buck has worked all the cross-genre collaborations out of his system, and the next Buck 65 album will feature Buck 65 on at least 75% of the vocals and production.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Black History

For Black History Month, I thought I'd look at a cool piece of black history called "Black History" about... Black History Month. Back in the 80's, Johnson & Johnson gave away a free cassette single with jeri curl kits. It was an exclusive song by Run DMC called "Black History" b/w "Famous Firsts" by Kurtis Blow. Until recently, it had only existed on that ultra-rare cassette, but around the end of 2009 or so, it was pressed onto this nice piece of vinyl. Now, clearly, it's a bootleg. There's no way Profile (Or Johnson & Johnson) issued this. But since I also can't see them ever digging this out of their vaults and giving it a proper, official 12", it's hard not to recommend this.

"Black History" is an epic (over 10 minutes long) ode to black history.They kick literally dozens of short verses about important black historical figures. It's really rudimentary old school stuff, with beat-box beats, handclaps, and a simplistic but funky bassline. Run and DMC have constant interplay throughout their verses, essentially each MC taking every other line, with the key, dramatic lines shouted in unison. It injects a lot of energy that keeps things from getting dull or plodding. The lyrics are pretty simple, but this predates anything like "You Must Learn" by years and you there aren't many rap records by legit artists that are as flat-out educational as this one:

"There was another great man from ancient Africa."
"Earned his name as a warrior."
"Great military strategy was the key"
"To this army commander's victory."
"Hannibal of Carthage led the way."
"Hannibal of Carthage was his name!"
"Yeah, Hannibal of Carthage was his name."

"In a hot July evening of 1893,"
"A black doctor performed historic surgery."
"The person had a knife-wound in his heart;"
"And the doctor knew it was a shot in the dark."
"But he went ahead and opened his chest;"
"And the operation WAS A BIG SUCCESS!"
"Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was his name;"
"And open-heart surgery was his claim to fame."
"You say open-heart surgery was his claim to fame?"
"Yeah, open-heart surgery was his claim to fame."

...That's pretty much how they all go, with the name finally revealed at the end of each verse. To spice things up, they keep going back to a lively hook ("Black! Black! Black! Black history!") and they have some other random voices appear throughout... sometimes girls pop in to sing a bit and sometimes somebody does a silly impression of a voice referred to in a verse. There's even a human beatbox breakdown about midway through the record. Finally, it ends with them kicking a rap about the importance of knowing your roots, and somebody plays some funky, spacey keyboards.

But the B-side to this 12" isn't "Famous Firsts." Instead it's another Run DMC rarity seeing its first time on vinyl, "Slow and Low." As you'll recall, "Slow and Low" was an early hit record by The Beastie Boys in 1985, but it was originally recorded, though never released, by Run DMC. They wound up giving it to The Beasties, and the original version was shelved. The Run DMC version uses the same beat, rhymes (except for a few lines where they mention themselves) and hook, though it's a little slower and Run DMC's delivery is naturally not quite as frantic. Now, this 12" isn't the first time it's been heard; it saw an official release (finally) in a five-disc Run DMC compilation album called Original Album Classics. But it's never been available on vinyl before this 12".

Finally, there's an uncredited third bonus track. It's a short mega-mix of Run DMC songs, and a nice scratch tribute to Jam Master Jay. Unlike the other two songs, this is new (though, of course, mixing old records), made by the DJ who pressed this 12".

So, yeah those are the songs, but you all want to know how the sound quality is, right? Well, thankfully, it's pretty good. Obviously "Black History" has been taken from the cassette and not the original masters, but some effort seems to have been put into making this sound as clean as possible, and the pressing is solid and can handle substantial volume. The B-side sounds even slightly better, as it was surely taken from a CD source. So short of Rick Rubin pulling some reels out of his closet and pressing up a top-notch official pressing (don't hold your breath), this is as good as you're gonna get, and it's really pretty good.

The presentation is nice, too. It comes in a sticker cover and is pressed on clear vinyl. The label itself is blank, except for a handwritten number, as this is a limited, numbered run of 200 copies (mine's #117). I mean, I don't know how much value collectors put in a numbered, limited edition of a bootleg; but still, it's kinda cool. Short of, you know, actually paying the artists and licensing the music legally, the label that pressed this up* did it just the way you'd hope they would, a quality preservation of an important piece of hip-hop - and black - history.


*Jamille Records, a label that's gone on to specialize in rare and unreleased old school rap from Milwaukee. You can expect a post on them in the coming weeks. 8)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Puff Daddy & the Tuff Crew

You probably weren't expecting a Puff Daddy record to pop up on this blog, were you? But hey, two verses by Biggie and Busta Rhymes on a hook over a track lifted from the Tuff Crew? Even I would have to call you a "hater" if you couldn't appreciate that.

This is "Victory," more specifically credited to Puff Daddy & the Family, dropped on Bad Boy Entertainment in 1998 (from the '97 album, No Way Out). It's produced by one of Bad Boy's regular "Hit Men," Stevie J. But like I said, it's a big shameless lift from the Tuff Crew. The Tuff Crew started out their second (or third, if you wanna count Phanjam) album with an epic sounding instrumental to signal their triumphant return. They called it "Going the Distance," because the bulk of the instrumentation is taken from the soundtrack to Rocky, specifically a track called "Going the Distance."

Now, you might say, okay Werner, granted the Tuff Crew sampled it first, but lots of great rap songs have sampled the same records over the years. Or, to quote GURU, "rap is an art, you can't own no loops." But these guys didn't just coincidentally use the same song as a sample source, they both used it the same way, rather boldly playing the whole first minute of it through rather than a standard short loop, but still chop it at the same point. But even more importantly, Stevie J paired it up with essentially the same drums that the Tuff Crew did. He removed the handclaps (after all, this wasn't 1989 anymore), but otherwise he completely just lifted Tuff Crew's track and played it whole for Puff.

But I'm not mad at that. First of all, because the hypothetical naysayer above would be right in pointing out that lots of great songs got to samples second (or third or twenty-eighth), and that doesn't make them any less dope. And secondly because Tuff Crew underutilized it, making it an introductory instrumental, whereas Bad Boy turned it onto a proper song with vocals. And finally, because on some mixes (more on that in a sec) Stevie J does add a few extra elements, most notably some operatic female vocal sounds, that enhance the experience even more.

By the way, a quick aside while I'm on the subject... this record credits the wrong sample in the liner notes [see the label scan above]! It says it uses Bill Conti (he's the guy who did the Rocky music)'s "Alone In the Ring." But that's wrong,they're using "Going the Distance!" "Alone In the Ring" is a very subdued piano solo that sounds nothing like "Going the Distance" and doesn't appear even momentarily in the background of "Victory." It's all "Going the Distance."

Now, there's a couple mixes here, but they're essentially minor variations than whole-hog remixes. There is no version that doesn't feature the same "Going the Distance" music or the same verses by Puff and Biggie. The mixes only vary by about 20 seconds in length. And the radio edits also remove Puff shouting ad-libs through a loud-speaker-like distorted mic effect ("it's all fucked up now!"), which was pretty annoying anyway, so that's no great loss. The most distinguishing characteristic is that only the Drama mixes feature the opera chick.

An interesting aspect to the censored versions, by the way... while they just silence every curse word from the raps, rendering them pretty unlistenable, it's worth noting that the chorus has been completely redone. Busta energetically curses up a storm on the original, and I guess that was just too much to cut out for the clean versions, so he re-does it, saying things like "we've got a real live hit" and "where my soldiers at?" instead of "we've got the real live shit" and "where my niggas at? where the funk my bitches is at?"

There are actually multiple US 12" singles for "Victory" (four, by discogs' count), but if you ask me, this is the ideal one. The only thing it's missing is Nine Inch Nails' remix that's featured on a couple versions. But that remix is just a noisy, unappealing sonic mess, so you're not missing anything there. As far as I'm concerned, the non-Radio versiono of the Drama Mix is the definitive version, as it features all the elements, and that's on here. Plus, this 12" also includes the Instrumental, which is absent from most of the others.

One more thing, and then I'm out. All of the mixes - even the non-Radio mixes full of cursing - censor Biggie's line where he refers to himself as "the Son of Satan." Unfortunately, however, I believe this stupid edit persists on every 12" version of this single. And it's that way on No Way Out, too, so don't blame the singles. You know the one place where it's left intact? The Nine Inch Nails Remix. Fucking Hell, there's just no winning with "Victory."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

InstaRapFlix #33: Tupac: Uncensored and Uncut: The Lost Prison Tapes

Here's one that doesn't suck! Ha ha That feels like a relief to say considering how many InstaRapFlix entries have been pure dreck. I try to check for the rarest and most overlooked, obscure hip-hop films, and I wind up discovering that they're not rare or passed over enough! And this one could've easily been the same... How many bajillion caash-in 2Pac releases have their been since the man died? Countless. And, in all honestly, this is sort of a cheap cash-in, too. But that's okay, because it's actually pretty good. So Tupac: Uncensored and Uncut: The Lost Prison Tapes (Netflix rating 3 stars) gets a pass.

So, what've we got here? Well, the title (a title with 2 subtitles separated by colons seems a little out of control, by the way, but we'll let that go) is a little misleading. I mean, it is 2Pac, and he is in prison. But the title suggests these are some kind of important tapes 2Pac somehow managed to record while in prison... like a mini self-doc or a secret message covered up by the FBI. I mean, you'd have to be pretty naive if you thought you're gonna wind up solving 2Pac's murder by picking up this DVD at Walmart; but nonetheless, this title definitely suggests and promises (but does not deliver) more than a single, sit-down interview of 'Pac promoting his latest album to some random journalist. And I don't know what could be "lost" about this prison tape, except that maybe the journalist put it in his closet and forgot about it until 2Pac died and became more marketable.

But it certainly is uncut, however. When a poster falls over, we watch as they stop, turn around, and stand it back up. When the cameraman zooms in to find focus, that's left in the film for us to see. There is really zero editing whatsoever except to put little title graphics at the beginning and end. This is just a single the interview tape uploaded directly into the computer from the camera, unaltered.

Wait a minute... I said this was good, though, didn't I? Yet I'm making it sound almost as bad as Lil Jon: Uncensored. But here's the thing: in this age where every rap interview is a repetitive, minuscule soundbite, this is actually a straight-up, unfiltered interview without a million cuts, computer effects, and all the substance removed. If you want to hear 2Pac speak for himself, at reasonable length and be able to make your own judgements, then here it is. Where most of these low-budget rap DVDs are a lot of bullshit trying desperately to cover up the fact that they have no substance (for example, see Trick Daddy: Thug Holiday Uncut, this is a DVD with just the substance. How refreshing. :)

Now that it's amazingly deep. When the interviewer keeps asking him about 'Pac's Thug Life ethos versus crime and community standards, 'Pac acquits himself reasonably well (though when he says he fails to see how he glamorized thug life, I couldn't decide if he was being deliberately obtuse or borderline retarded), but ultimately we're just left with the sense of folly in asking a musician about weighty issues that are clearly outside of his expertise. The whole interview is only forty-minutes (what, you expected feature-length?), and a lot of the time is devoted to stating the obvious - 'he loves his fans and thinks they shouldn't shoot people and generally do what they can to avoid going to prison' sums up the majority of it. Finally, it ends with him rapping along to a walkman of his latest song "Can U Get Away," which wouldn't've even been an exciting preview back in 1995 when it was filmed, because Me Against the World was already out.

Still, 'Pac is engaged, and has thoughtful answers to every question. Personally, I would've liked some more questions about his music; and it feels like a missed opportunity to find out some new info about him as opposed to rehashing his generic talking points (the interviewer actually asks him if he feels sorrow for mothers who lost their sons to violence... is there anyone on Earth who would actually have to hear his answer to that to know what it would be?), but maybe that's just me. It's certainly worth watching as a free instant viewing if you care at all about 2Pac. But don't go overboard and buy this DVD unless you're a die-hard fan who has his posters covering all four walls of your room, because I doubt you're going to want to revisit this multiple times. It's a good interview, not a great film.

Monday, February 14, 2011

InstaRapFlix #32: Lil Jon Unauthorized

Have you ever used the program PowerPoint for work or something? Have you ever stayed up all night making a PowerPoint presentation and felt so proud of it the next day that you felt you just had to press it onto a DVD and market it commercially? Well, apparently somebody has! And if you're bored enough, you can even stream it on Netflix.

I'm talking about Lil Jon: Unauthorized (Netflix Rating, surprisingly: 2 1/2 stars). This is... I have no words. This only barely, technically qualifies as a film. First of all, it's not feature length, clocking in at less than an hour. And then... only about 10% of that time is made up of actual video footage. It's all still photos being slowly narrated by some guy who takes painfully long pauses between every other word to pad the running time. What's more, I'm sure all these photos are just lifted off of Google images... some even have tags on them from other websites still on them! And they're all photos you've seen before and they're often squashed into the wrong aspect ratio or heavily pixelated, because they've been amateurishly resized to fill the widescreen frame. Other times, only a fraction of the frame is filled and we're stuck looking at a tiny picture floating in an empty, black sea. When the narrator says Lil Jon's father was a welder, they don't have any pictures of his father, so they just show generic industrial pictures of men welding stuff. Oh, and the pictures recycle; so you'll see the same ones again and again.

Want to hear some Lil Jon music? Not here! These guys mean it when they say "unauthorized." And what little video footage there is? That 10% I mentioned? Well, there's two varieties. One is low-quality clips of his music videos (again, without his music), which must've been taken from Youtube... back in the early days when they were all tiny, compressed messes. What's more, the video clips are so short, they actually just loop... you'll see the same five seconds of footage replay four, five times in a row sometimes. Then the other kind of footage are these goofy interviews with a couple unidentified guys shot on the street somewhere. All together, they add up to less than two minutes of footage, and just offer inane comments like, "he's like the BeeGee's of 2000."

Then sometimes the narration just stops. You'll go a minute or two just looking at random Lil Jon images waiting for the narrator to come back and say something. And it gets sparser and sparser as the film goes on, until you're almost watching a silent montage of old photos. What's more, the narrator has an odd habit of speaking for the artist, saying things like, "working with Jay-Z was a big honor for Lil Jon." Like, huh? Is that your opinion?

But, no, it gets worse! Soon, the footage starts repeating! The guy who called Lil Jon the BeeGees of 2000? They play that same clip again around the 40 minute mark. And it's like that with everything. All the footage from the first half of the film comes back in the second. Silent, 5-second long music video clips filling just 1/5th of the screen just looping without their sound... it's fucking insane that this was released commercially! The narrator complete abandons the film about halfway through (literally, he's gone at around the 30 minute mark), and we just watch the same, low-quality photos repeat over and over again. Eventually, they start showing the same photos with flashing dots behind them.

Finally, at the 58 minute mark, the closing credits pop up and people actually put their names to this disaster, although I think (wisely) most of them are pseudonyms. Some guys just put their first names, like "INTERVIEWS CONDUCTED BY GABE." Oh, and they misspell the word narration, saying, "NARRIATION BY." And one last bit of sadness, just to bring the whole thing home... the final minute, actually over sixty seconds, is just static black screen. That's how desperate they were to pad this out to an hour (which they only make if you round up).

Here's something new for InstaRapFlix... a challenge! I defy any of you who have Netflix to watch this all the way through, from beginning to end, without getting up and walking away from the screen or fast-forwarding! And no reading a book or texting... just sit and watch the film while doing nothing else. It'll be like a vision quest; if you make through the ordeal, you'll automatically become a tribal elder.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rare Yah Yah Appearances

I think a lot of peoples' appreciation of The Outsidaz (and their legacy of solo careers after breaking up) begins and ends with the more famous members... Young Zee, Pace, Eminem and Rah Digga. But really, some of the lesser-known members are at least as good (in some cases better) than their celebrity counterparts. Slang Ton was a brilliant freestyler. And Yah Yah (a.k.a. Yah Lovah; it's the same guy) is just as sick with his lyrics as his brother (Zee). So I'm always happy to discover a rare appearance by any of the crew members. And so now I'm gonna share a couple by Yah.

Whole Wheat Bread is a rock band out of Florida. They're not even of the Linkin Park or whatever variety, where they mesh hip-hop elements or sensibilities with their rock... they're pretty much just straight up, regular, plain old rock & roll. And that goes for their album, Minority Rules (Fighting Records, 2005), too - eleven songs of rock band. But then there's three uncredited, untitled hidden tracks, where instead of singing and playing guitars, they rap. How are they? Well, you could do worse; but you could easily do better, too. But if you remember, back in 2005, Yah Yah was living down in Florida, doing music with 5th Lmnt and Sage Lee... and guess who winds up guesting on the last of the untitled bonus cuts. That's right, Candyman! ...No, I'm kidding. Of course it's Yah Yah.

Despite the song not being on their track-listing or even titled, the CD liner notes do provide the credits for the song. It's produced by a guy named Brad Risch and Sage Lee. And Yah's credited as the guest, but you wouldn't need to read that to recognize him immediately screaming on the chorus. The production is a bit corny, and the members Whole Wheat can't hold a candle to Yah, but the song plays like a posse cut and everybody is at least full of energy and enthusiasm, a compelling combination of Outsidaz' signature style and dirty South representation, so the whole song gets a pass. But the highlight is obviously Yah's verse, saved for the end, "I'm everywhere the sun go and a few places it can't; bury you and your mans wit two cases of ants." Even if, like me, you don't care a lick about the album except for the one Yah appearance, you can get it used from Amazon for less than $2, so I think it's worth it, easily.

Now this next one, I first heard of in 2008 when Flakesays commented on my blog that he had an mp3 of a song called "No Return" by Critical Madness featuring Yah Yah. And like two years later, I found the song. "No Return" is off Creative Juices' 2005 compilation album, Endless Varieties. It's a sick duet between Yah and Critical, each one kicking a long, two-minute verse, with no hooks or filler, over a fresh beat. Critical holds his own nicely, but of course Yah wins, "I got issues,a whole lotta pistols, and I ain't hesitatin' to turn foes to fish food." The whole compilation is tight, by the way, with some great tracks by their stable artists, like Alucard killing it on "Short Cut," and then a lot of ill guests like Thirstin Howl, Heltah Skeltah and Shabaam Sahdeeq. And you can still get it direct from Creative Juices' site for cheap ($5 I think).

While we're at it, there's a follow-up, Endless Varieties 2, featuring another track by Yah, but this one's a mix-CD and the song's just a freestyle. It's called, "New Shit" and it's under a minute long. But Yah comes with a nice verse over a more west coast-sounding beat. The lyrics are more random and unfocused, he's presumably coming off the dome, so it feels a bit more disjointed: "Progressive, flavor like salad dressin'. Respect it, or it can get wild as westerns. Hoodlums, gallivant shootin'; I'm Gambit the mutant, Talliban family reunion." What is he saying there? Seems a bit incoherent, and before you know it, it's already over anyway. I can't recommend this one, at least not strictly for the Yah appearance, but it is also available from Creative Juices (for $10).

And of course, Yah has some less obscure appearances on bigger Creative Juices releases... specifically he and Young Zee both feature on the song "Eyes Front" off of Critical Madness's CD, Bringing Out the Dead. And then Yah, Pace and Zee all feature on "Still In This" off of IDE and DJ Connect's Ideology album. Both of those songs are great. So, hey, here's an idea: why doesn't Creative Juices quit dancing around the obvious and just sign Yah Yah already? You know that album would be hot and be a great move for both the label and Yah's career. ...But I digress. If nothing else, at least there's these hot little cameos out there to be found and keep us occupied.

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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Graffiti (New York/ Holland Style)

video
Errata: Whoops! As pointed out in the comments, they're playing records owned by Chris the Wiz, but the actual DJs on the mix CD are Ill-Co & Bart Fader.
(Youtube version is here; and check out myspace.com/bivakrecords if you're interested in picking up either of these releases.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I'm Awfully Sorry About This, But It Seems I Must Destroy You

In October, I wrote the following about 2Mex's then upcoming album, "2Mex is super prolific. What that means in practical terms is: more albums than anyone can keep track of, with no quality control. Will Strange Famous be the label to focus him into one solid, consistent album of pure top-shelf material? Or is 2Mex becoming the next Kool Keith?"

So, as you can surely gather from that, I wasn't in too much of a hurry to pick up the album and put it to the test. Being disappointment in this time of hip-hop's already dwindling expectations is no fun. But I finally got around to it, and I'm far from disappointed - this album is fantastic! Released at the end of 2010 by Strange Famous Records, it's called My Fanbase Will Destroy You; and considering my reaction upon hearing this, I guess I can't deny that I'm a fan, and so apparently, along with my fellows, I'm going to destroy you (sorry about that).

So to answer my own question simply, then: yes, this album presents 2Mex focused into one, solid consistent album of pure top-shelf material. The production, provided primarily by Deeskee and BusDriver - is brilliant. And 2Mex is proving to be one of the few underground (or any "ground") level MCs capable of great hooks. The way he eases between singing and hyper-kinetic complex flows is like what Outkast only manages in their very best moments. And lyrically, well, he's sometimes lays it on thick with the pop culture name-dropping, but he frequently kills it.

There's so many great moments on here... 2Mex breaking down the history of rare west coast underground hip-hop on "What You Know About," only to be followed up by a surprising east coast twist with a guest verse from Prince Po. A just-as-insane-as-you-could-possibly hope-for duet with BusDriver called "Career Suicide for Dummies." He even winds things up with the traditional, massive Good Life-style posse cut with eight or nine guest MCs for the final song, "AFC West."

I'll grant you that there is the occasional misstep... Guest producer Nobody delivers one of the most annoying, shitty beats in recent memory on "Press Your Luck." And "There's a Way," which is some kind of misguided attempt at crossing into the emo-folk genre or something, just doesn't work at all. But if you just skip over these two unfortunate messes, it's a surprisingly, strong, dramatic and engaging album with a lot of vibrant layers. Don't make my mistake and leave it dangling at the bottom of your to-do list, check it out!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Previously a Dawg?

Recently, during E-40 Week, I talked about how E-40's debut album featured a sing "Tanji II" which begged the question, where was there a "Tanji" part 1 (click here for the answer)? Well, here's a similar mystery I had even a couple years earlier... AMG's debut album was called Bitch Betta Have My Money on Select Records in 1991. And on that album was a song called, "Once a Dawg (Janine 2)." Now I was (and still am) a fan of that early DJ Quik scene... so I caught on pretty quick that the precursor to a song from that camp didn't have to necessarily be on an album by the same group. For example, "Niggaz Still Trippin'" on Quik's album Way 2 Fonky is a sequel to "Niggaz Trippin'," which did not appear on Quik's previous album debut, Quik Is the Name. Instead, it was on 2nd II None's self-titled album. But I had every album the whole crew put out, and there wasn't a "Janine" between them.

It wasn't until years later, thanks to the internet, that I found out where the original was hiding out. It's an exclusive B-side to AMG's "Bitch Betta Have My Money." Now, it had of course occurred to be that "Janine" might be the B-side to another single, but the "Bitch Betta Have My Money" wasn't such a widespread single. "Jiggable Pie" (which, in fact, features "Once a Dawg" as its B-side) was the big debut that they had the video for and everything, then there was "Vertical Joyride" and finally, in 1992, "Bitch Betta Have My Money" was later paired with "I Wanna Be Yo Ho." So that was the "Bitch Betta Have My Money" single that I and most of America knew; I had no idea it was actually released as a single twice... and it was this earlier, less widely-distributed version that featured "Janine."

If you've never heard "Janine," it's a fun song... assuming you're not put off by AMG's usual, vulgar misogyny, of course. You'll recognize the instrumental, because it actually does appear on the album, used as the background to "When She Calls," the skit that introduces "Once a Dawg (Janine 2)." But while "Once a Dawg" then switches the beat and goes into the "Microphone Fiend" music, this one uses that crazy flute loop and echoing drums for the whole music. The memorable, screamy hook is pretty much the same for both songs, but it's all new verses about AMG's girlfriend and her affinity for giving head, "lickin' my dick is a specialty to my girl Janine, oh what a dick fiend! She likes to suck and suck but no stickin'." Like everything else AMG put out at the time, it's self-produced, with Quik and Courtney Branch and Tracy Kendrick listed as additional co-producers.

This first "Bitch Betta Have My Money" 12" also includes the album "The Booty Up," which features Quik and 2nd II None cheerfully singing the hook over the "Double Dutch Bus" break, and instrumentals for "Bitch" and "Booty." It comes in a picture cover, so you can have the song title printed in nice, big letters and everyone in the record store can judge you and the issues you surely must have with women. And even though it wasn't promoted as heavily as his subsequent singles, it's still a Select Records release, so it's not at all rare or hard to find these days.