Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vooodu Is Not At Home To Guests

To true rap lovers, the internet provides. I'm sure you've been there, too. You hear a really impressive, underground MC on a freestyle or guest verse, and then spend years seeking after everything they've committed to vinyl or CD... which turned out to be not much at all. A 12" or two, another guest verse... and that's their whole legacy. Until you got online, and started finding out about indie comebacks under new aliases, white label singles you never knew existed, unearthed demo tapes and obscure regional collaborations. And even when you've been on here for years and years, and you think you've plumbed the full depth of knowledge, discovering every release there is to discover, the internet shows you another one.

Arrived in my mailbox today is a 90's 12" single by an R&B singer I can't say I remember named Elisha La' Verne, called "Elisha Is Not At Home." I pretty much stopped buying R&B music since high school (although I did recently fill a gap, picking up Keith Sweat's "I Want Her" :-D), but obscure 90's rapper appearances? I'm all over that. And this, my friends, is the final guest appearance by Western Hemisfear's own Vooodu.

Like his last release, the "Confessions" single, this came out on Sony/Epic in 1999, so surely that's how this pairing happened. It's a respectable, if by-the-numbers R&B vehicle built on the same Brick sample Akinyele used a few years earlier for "Put It In Your Mouth." The basic premise is that Elisha's not answering her ex's phone calls, and the hook is her answering machine. Then Vooodu comes in for the final act with the prerequisite rap verse as the ex who doesn't appreciate being put off.

The good news is that this is a substantial verse from Vooo, and not just one of those quick, throwaway five-second numbers like, "this is Biggie Biggie, I'm down with Puffy and we cosign Mary. Peace out" (I may've paraphrased the "Real Love" remix just slightly there). I mean, no, it doesn't compete with his sickest Wake Up Show freestyles, but some time was clearly put into the writing and it's got some lyrical integrity. And he sounds good over a smoothed out "Put It In Your Mouth;" he's even got kind of a East coast, Biggie-ish vibe going here. Granted, it's just one verse tucked away on a 4 1/2 minute R&B song, but it's genuinely worth your while and a completely respectable entry in Vooodu's limited canon.

This comes in Street and Clean Video Edits ('cause Vooodu didn't hold back on the cussing just because he was on an R&B single), and has an additional remix called the "Nite Trip - What Is It? Remix." It's produced by a guy named Lumbajack whose specialty is hard house. It's a shame, because what starts out like it's going to be a cool, dark and atmospheric remix that puts Vooodu more in his element is quickly ruined by all the zippy trance synths and clubby drums. It also completely clashes with Elisha's seductive crooning style, ultimately leaving us with just an ugly mess.

So stick with the A-side. But this isn't at all rare or hard to find nowadays, so if you're still a Vooodo fan from the Patchwerk days, it looks like the internet has come through again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

InstaRapFlix #35: Ghostride the Whip

If there's one... phase, style, fad, whatever in hip-hop that I don't know so much about, I think it's hyphy. I know of it, and I've certainly been a fan of some pre-hyphy releases by its mainstays like Mac Dre and E-40; but I've never really sunk my teeth into it. So I've decided to make my latest InstaRapFlix viewing to Ghostride the Whip (Netflix rating: 2 stars), a documentary on hyphy.

It's written and directed by DJ Vlad, who you probably best know as the Vlad of VladTV (where the Canibus/Premier beef just jumped off), and narrated by Sway of The Wake Up Show. Sway's narrattion is a bit stiff. But that's almost my only major crticiism. This movie goes deep, taking us back into the history of Oakland and Bay area rap well before hyphy. Hell, by the ten minute mark, the doc's still on The Black Panther Party and hasn't even gotten into the start of hip-hop music yet.

And this movie has everybody. Talking about the history of Oakland rap? Too $hort's there, MC Hammer, later E-40 and Mac Dre, Celly Cel, Keak da Sneak, etc etc. They've got the rights to play the appropriate hyphy songs and music videos, instead of just generic, loopy background music. There's lots of sideshow footage, and then interviews with cops about shutting them down. If you're worried you won't see anybody actually ghostriding their whips, don't worry, there's ample automobile theatrics, from vintage footage to plenty recorded just for the doc.

This doc covers the dancing, right down to the specifics moves and even diagrams the slang. It talks candidly about thizz and its effect on the scene, from stunna shades to the serious. There's some great history on Mac Dre from his early days to his legal problems with his crew and his eventual shooting, and even his wake.

It's not often I can recommend an InstaRapFlix, especially since I tend towards the obscure, which often leads to awful. But Ghostride the Whip, unexpectedly, turned out to be a really good documentary. Watch it. But don't try what you see at home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Because They Still Had It Like That

"Because I Got It Like That" was one of the many, many singles off of The Jungle Brothers' first album. Seriously, was there any song off that album that wasn't released as a single or B-side? Anyway, it was another great song in a series of great songs from them... The percussion pops like nobody's business and the JB's voices sound incredible over it. This is the song that features their sing-songy anthem,"dancing on the dance floor; girl, it's you that I adore" etc, that they also performed on De La Soul's "Buddy." The rest of the lyrics are pretty breezy and substance-less (impossible brags about money and girls), the scratches by Sweet Daddy are simple but effective, and the a crazy circus music loop on the hook seals the deal. It dropped in 1988 on Idlers Records, with a few variations of the Instrumental, but... this isn't that single.

This is the 1998 single of "Because I Got It Like That," which came out on Gee Street just after they were making their gritty comeback with album #4, Raw Deluxe, but before they went all house/club music on us. I guess Gee Street weren't quite sure what to do with these guys, so they rereleased their classic single, with a picture cover matching their Raw Deluxe style, and pushed some new, UK remixes. This is a US pressing, however.

The A-side is pretty much exactly what you'd expect. It takes the original elements of "Because I Got It Like That," speeds it up, adds erratic drums and turns it into a club record. Pretty much, the less said about this sort of junk the better, but I will say this. The mix, done by The Freestylers, was very well done, the transitions are smooth and effective, and clearly the guys making this knew what they were doing. The only problem is what they were doing is turning a hip-hop classic into terrible club music. But, if you're ever in a situation where you for some sick reason wanted to turn a hip-hop classic into terrible club music, these guys will do an excellent job.

No, the reason I singled this 12" out for blogging is the B-side remix, by Ultimatum. Now, Ultimatum is essentially The Stereo MCs, plus or minus an associate. And now I know what you're thinking: "Stereo MCs remixing a Jungle Brothers classic ten years after the fact? Pull over and let me out or I'll jump!" Look, I know their track record and was as wary as you... but it's dope!

First of all, it's still hip-hop... they don't turn it into house, electro, club or whatever else. In fact, they keep a lot of the original elements, including Sweet Daddy's scratches, which sound even tighter here. And the elements they add aren't keyboards or studio-made junk, but raw, lush samples. Chunky guitars and drums sound like they're taken off of some lost, 70's funk rock band, and then there's these great, blaring dusty horns on the hook.

Interestingly, this is actually a remix Fatboy Slim got a lot of mileage out of. He's often credited for doing this great remix of "Because I Got It Like That" (seriously, just do a search for "Because I Got It Like That Fatboy Slim"), but really he just played the Ultimatum Mix sped up. That's it. All the other credit goes to Ultimatum, who really created this version.

Now, this 12" also includes the original, Straight Out the Jungle mix, plus the instrumental for The Freestylers' mix. It's the kind of thing you can pick up super cheap because it was over-produced then and is under-appreciated now. 'Cause this looks like just one more in a long line of cheap, repackaged old school 12"s that dropped in the 90's. But there's something surprisingly worthwhile here; so if you miss the JB's in their prime, you'll be glad to slip this in your crates.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ya Gonna Need a Posse, a Mosse Or More

"All Praises Due To the Outstanding" is the first of only two 12"s released by the underrated Blvd Mosse in 1990. They were a Trenton trio and part of the collective of artists that Tony D was producing on the independent tip. The label is Scorpio Music, "where the artist decides what you hear."

The A-side uses the same, catchy piano break and vocal sample that Rob Base and Rich Nice used for their songs, both called "Outstanding." Rich Nice's was dope, but of course on the house tip. And is this version better than Rob Base's? I hope you don't really need me to answer that! The title might have you thinking this is going to be some 5%er, quasi-religious themed rap, but nah... Outstanding is the name of the MC, and it's all about him. Still he does shout out the Gods and the Earths and ups the importance of innovation and education, disses crack, etc. So it's still a positive song, but without dwelling on the message like you'd expect.

But the winner is the ultra-hype B-side, "Move To Something Funky." Hardcore drums and a familiar, fat-paced bassline (heard in Kid 'N Play's "Energy" amongst other places) merged with sick, squealing horns. You've got fresh cuts on the hook, and Outstanding beings some serious energy to his delivery. This is just one of those moments where all the elements come together perfectly. You've already got a dope crew and the magic of Tony D behind the boards, but all of their stars aligned for this one.

Unfortunately, their two singles on Scorpio were the crew's entire legacy on wax. But we do know there is more material by the Mosse floating around out there. Tony D talked about having some in his vaults in some interviews, and was even planning to release it - two mp3s even made their way onto CocaineBlunts. But with the passing of Tony D, the project never materialized, which is a damn shame. We can only hope that somebody from the crew or another label picks it up again, because one listen to this will have you confirming that two singles is just not enough from Blvd Mosse.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Keep On Keepin' On (Test Pressing Hotness)

Now, you may remember me talking about how the demo version of The Outsidaz' single "Keep On" was infinitely greater than the album version. If not, have a refresher. :) But, still, the album version wasn't bad... a fun duet between Pace Won and Young Zee. Yeah, the beat and the rhymes were both superior on the original, but it was still a solid, Rockwilder-produced track. After all, it was chosen to be the lead single in 2000 for their Bricks album, and it features their signature sick wordplay like, "punk, ya gonna make me use the steel and blast ya Coup de Ville - hit the right side up, make ya lose the wheel."

And that single was pretty nice. It came in a sticker cover[upper left], and broke the song down to its various components: Clean, Album, Instrumental and A Capella versions. Plus, it was backed with another decent album track, "Done In the Game," which was also broken down all four versions. And if you happened to live in the UK (where, for some reason, the Outz continued to get a lot of support and promotion from their label, who'd veritably dropped them in the US), they had a fancy picture cover version with an exclusive, Mozart Remix. Produced by some guy named Marcus Saunders, it's, um, okay... It's got sort of a lighter, smoother sound and samples some strings which I presume are sampled from a Mozart piece. Die-hard Outz collectors have it, and the rest of you can sleep easily at nights without it.

But that's not the end of the story...


A test-press only release of "Keep On" remixes! The A-side[as you can see, above] starts out with the Mozart Mix, which is the same as on the UK 12", plus the Instrumental, which is also on the UK one. But the B-side features two more exclusive versions: The Rude Bwoy Mix and the Rugged Mix, both seemingly credited (it's a little hard to be certain with the handwritten label) to DJ Kemo of the Canadian indie rap crew The Rascalz (remember "Northern Touch?").

Both of these mixes keep the raw, noncommercial edges to The Outsidaz sound that the Mozart foolishly smoothed off. The bassline is deep and grabs your attention first, but it's the low-fi reggae-style percussion that really makes the Rude Bwoy Mix click. Meanwhile, the moody, street-themed Rugged Mix sounds like something Kool G Rap would rhyme over in his most criminal mindset, combined with a, well... a Rascalz record. Of all the variant mixes out there, this is the best one... except for the demo mix, which as I said before, was really an entirely different song with different vocals by different Outz members. But for this version, if you're going to listen to this set of verses by Pace and Zee, then the Rugged Mix is the definitive version, topping the album version and the rest.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how many copies of this exist. But if you're an Outsidaz fan and you come across it, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

InstaRapFlix #34: I'm Still Here

I wasn't going to bother with this film... It was evident the "Joaquin Phoenix is a rapper schtick" was a hoax - and not a very interesting one - even before people knew there was a movie attached to it. But hey, it's streaming for free, so what the heck, just watch I'm Still Here (Netflix rating: 2 1/2 stars) and get it over with.

The rapping and music is terrible, of course (that's half the gag, after all ...I guess). The characters are unlikeable. The conflict is uninteresting. The depiction of reality is unconvincing (perhaps most damning, the acting is bad). The humor is trite. The message is heavy-handed, but... well, okay, the message is sort of interesting at least.

So, okay, you've got two self indulgent celebs (Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck) roping in a bunch of other dopey celebs (Mos Def, Ben Stiller, P Diddy etc) to make a stupid, shallow indictment of how self indulgent celebrity culture is stupid and shallow, and everyone who gets roped into it is a dope. So, they're essentially saying you're wasting your time by watching crap like this... and I have to admit, they have a point.

You know how they say that if you're being trolled on the internet, no matter how you respond, they're winning... because all they're looking for is to get a reaction out of you? So the only way to win is not to play? Well, this movie is a case of celebrities trolling the general public. If you watch it, talk about it, blog about it[d'oh!], or spend time out of your day thinking about it, then you've been trolled.

But what's the rap nerd perspective? That's what we're all here for... Are there any great cameos or clips of interesting hip-hop artists tucked away in here? Not really. Because it's all about celebrity status, the only artist we see performing (besides "JP") is Jamie Foxx leading an audience into a call and response with his and Joaquin's names. Otherwise, all the cameos and appearances are actor buddies, not MCs. So yeah, nothing worthwhile here, even streamed for free.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

They Can't Control Their... Split Personality

Last summer, UK hip-hop trio Rhyme Asylum dropped their second album, Solitary Confinement, to some positive reception. Unfortunately, like most albums these days, it was released on CD and mp3 only. So vinylism (sort of a German Sandbox or HipHopSite, except they didn't bail out on vinyl) got together with the group, picked their favorite eight (out of eighteen) tracks, and pressed up this EP, The Overdose.

It's labeled a limited edition, but I find any reference to just how many copies it's limited to; and it's also priced like a standard modern release; not one of those high-priced collectors editions we've been seeing. it comes in a very cool picture cover and features a couple guests (Crooked I, Reain, DarkStar and Ill Bill) who do a good job of blending into their aural surroundings. But you're probably thinking, "yeah, but Werner; I've never heard of these guys. What's this like; is it any good?"

Alright, well, in general they've got a really nice underground but lush sound. Lyrically, Rhyme Asylum seem to come in two modes (albeit in varying degrees). They're either spitting creative, hardcore backpacker-type rhymes - just dancing on the line of falling into "horrorcore" - which is where they excel. They mix clever hip-hop wordplay with vivid imagery... that kind of shit groups like Atoms Family or Virtuoso kicked in their best, early days:

"I keep my eyes peeled with hunting knives;
My voice alone provokes stone gargoyles to come to life.
Gave nightmares spittin' Lucifer lullabies;
Tried it a hundred times but can't seem to fucking die.
Run and hide when disaster strikes."

...Or they're kicking these kind of sappy, motivational, "yay, America [or England, I suppose, in this case], we can do it!" pep rally lyrics:

"Let 'em know you've got no reason to fail;
No one's gonna believe in you until you believe in yourself.
(Believe that!) We all hope for a little bit of luck.
People told me I suck but I didn't give a fuck."

And musically, they've got the same dichotomy going. On the one hand, they've got some fresh scratch hooks (their DJ comes nice with his when they utilize him, but that isn't nearly enough). And on the other, they go for that shouting Rah Rah kind of upbeat anthem vibe. And the samples switch from dark and moody to pop rock guitars and smashing cymbals. One step farther and they might've had ICP's "Homies" on their hands!
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But like I said, it's in varying degrees... most songs sit somewhere between the two poles I just described, with more generic, middle-ground hip-hop rhymes where they're mixing the dark images ("Valkyries clean up after my dogs of war... Lucifer's rejects; shoulders are stumps where I used to have three heads") and the self esteem boosters ("don't let anyone tell you you're chasing an impossible dream") into more traditional hip-hop braggadocio ("this is hip-hop music's inner vision, bringing you back to pure facts fused with super lyricism"). And instrumentally, too, you're left with mixed results like "Event Horizon," where there's some tight rhymes over a great, atmospheric beat (think Sunz of Man before they let their label try to push them into the mainstream), but spoiled by a cheesy chorus.

So, at the end of the day, they're hot when they're at their best. You're definitely missing out if you don't check for songs like "Open Mic Surgery." But most are mixed bags, where just as one element starts drawing you in, another comes along to turn you off again. And one or two songs, while still displaying some quality production, could really have been left out all together. Ultimately, I recommend picking up this EP; there's a lot of talent and earnest craftsmanship on display... and best of all, some sick rhymes. But I don't imagine anyone needs to go so far as to pick up Solitary Confinement for the extra songs on CD or anything so overboard as that.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hey-Ya, Hey-Ya, Can I Get Some?

On its twentieth anniversary, collectors are finally able to cross one of random rap's most elusive, sough-after records off their wants list. ...That is, if they're willing to settle for a repress. The legendary Warpath EP by Courageous Chief has just been repressed - and remastered - by Dope Folks Records.

Originally released on Tirade Records in 1991, Warpath is a bit of a "grower." Initially, certainly, you'll dig and respect it, but you'll probably think, "Eh, unless I stumble upon it for cheap; I can probably live without it." It's only until you've had a chance to sleep on it a while and reflect that you'll realize, "damn, I've got to add this to my wants list, too!" That's because the moments that immediately jump out at you - the pre-Wu-Tang use of some old, dubbed kung-fu movie for the hook of "Russian Roulette" or the sheer audacity of turning the "hey-ya, hey-ya"s from Slick Rick's crabs with spears and Indian drums ("An Adult Story") into a chorus - tend to overshadow the EP's actual best moments. Songs like "No Feedback" with Chief just spitting hard over a tough mix of "Nautilus" and "UFO," or the hyper percussion underlying his non-stop flow on "Verbal Surgery."

But unless you were prepared to spend, oh, $500-800 bucks for it on that rare occasion it popped up on the 'Bay, Warpath was going to be a permanent resident on your list. Until now. Dope Folks has issued a limited (300 copies) run of this, which, as always, is available through their website, dopefolksrecords.com. They upgraded it to a nice sticker cover (the original just came in a generic sleeve), and they've remastered it. Now, I can't compare this to the original, because like most everybody else, I've only ever had a rip of this; but I can say this pressing sounds excellent.

My only disappointment is that, after discovering that Chief has tons of vintage, unreleased tracks and that those DATs are well-preserved and freely available, this EP contains no exclusive bonus songs. This is the first time Dope Folks has issued a record without at least one previously unreleased song on it. So when this was first announced, I was really hoping we'd get a couple bonus treats tacked onto the end, but no; this release only represses the original EP tracks. Dope Folks has said, though, that they're aware of Chief's unreleased vaulted music, and that it's a possibility for a future release.

So yeah, this is a traditional "holy grail" of random rap, a real standard. But actually, Chief isn't quite so "random" as you may think. Most know him as a NJ (hold it down!) one-hit wonder with this rare but highly praised, sole release... but he's actually stayed in the game pretty consistently. And besides recording albums worth of unreleased DATs, Chief has also worked steadily as a Wu-affiliate under the name Popa Chief. Down with Brooklyn Zu (he's on multiple tracks off their Chamber #9 album), the Zu Ninjaz and producing for guys like Popa Wu and ODB. He's also out out a couple indie CDs in the 2000s, and he's got a bunch of recent mp3s and youtube videos on his website, popachief.com. So check it. He's even talked of recording a Warpath II.