Monday, May 30, 2011

DiZappointed

it recently came to my attention that Z-Man, a great MC I've been a long-time fan of, was a part of another crew I'd never heard of, and they had two albums out since 2005 that I'd totally slept on. They're called One Block Radius, and consist of Marty James, Z-Man and MDA. God damn, Z-Man is prolific! So I quickly tracked down and ordered both albums... the CDs were both cheap on Amazon, so I didn't even bother checking for clips or anything, I just ordered.

So their first album is the self-titled One Block Radius on Island/ Def Jam/ Mercury. And it's, umm... pretty wack overall. But it's good in parts. Okay, here's the deal. This is like some cheesy pop/rock/rap/whatever else group that somehow had the good taste to enlist Z-Man. The main, sung vocals range from corny to downright unlistenable. And the production feels very teen-marketed; I could see these songs being performed on some Nickelodeon channel music show geared at pre-teens.

But here's the upside. Z-Man has some nice verses. I mean, some are better than others - some could be completely forgotten in the sands of time and it'd be no great loss. And none of them are like his best stuff. But he's on pretty much every song, and the rap parts are often very distinct from the rest of the song. The music typically breaks down to a rawer track for him to spit on, and while he's not as unrestrained as he would be with Luke Sick and friends... well, there is an Explicit Lyrics warning on the disc. If someone was so inclined - someone with more free time than myself - they could cut all the rest of songs away from the rap parts and make a pretty neat little EP.

Also, a few of the tracks occasionally have some brief moments of good scratching, because one of them doubles as a DJ.

So that was in 2005. Then, in 2008, they came back with a follow-up album, Long Story Short, this time on Avatar Records. I wouldn't have bothered with this second outing if I hadn't gone and bought that both at the same time. But this one is considerably better. Maybe it's the fact that they're no longer under the evil auspices of multiple major labels, but the music is considerably more adult-sounding and hip-hop oriented. At least on some of the songs. Others still suck just as much as they ever did. And I'd still love to strip the other vocalists from this album completely. But this album has actually straight-up good, worthwhile songs that wouldn't require a music critic with audio software to edit them down into something tolerable.

It's all still for Z-Man completists and the aggressively open-minded only. But if you fit into one of those two categories, the second album is worth checking for. And there's also a 12" single off that album with some exclusives on it (the first album had a single, too, but there's nothing noteworthy about it). Oh well. At least I got a few good Z-Man verses out of it, and I only paid like a penny each for them on Amazon. And hey, if their third album shows as much improvement as their second did from their first... then that means it might really be pretty good.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Imaginarium of Nick Wiz

You may remember me blogging about a great compilation of rare and unreleased recordings by underrated producer Nick Wiz a couple years ago called, Cellar Sounds volume one 1992-1998. It was just too bad, in this industry, we'd probably never live to see a volume 2, right? Well, thankfully No Sleep Records has proved us wrong - Cellar Sounds volume 2: 1992-1998 is here! And in many ways, it's even better than the first one!
Link
Like the last volume, this one is a double disc set, giving us a whopping total of 41 full-length songs all produced, as the title would suggest, by Nick Wiz from 1992-1998. Well, except for one song, which was produced in 2000... but it's by Ra-fuckin'-kim, so I think it's safe to say we'll forgive him that. ;)

Now, you may remember in my write-up of the first volume that I was somewhat disappointed to see some previously released, and not necessarily all that rare, songs mixed in with all the treats, taking away space that could've been used for even more unreleased jewels. Granted, songs from Ecko's legendary Underground Airplay tapes are so rare, they're practically unreleased and earn a pass, but records like Main One's "Main Event" weren't remotely rare, much less unreleased. ...Well, volume 2 does away with all that jazz - you won't be rebuying a bunch of songs you already have this time - this collection does feature a handful more from those Ecko tapes (and frankly, I'm happy to see them get a proper, quality CD release), but otherwise it's essentially all 100% unreleased material this time around.

The collection of artists is pretty solid... there's a lot of Ran Reed a.k.a. Hitman, and a lot of Shabaam Sahdeeq and his associate crews: Shadowz In da Dark, Sinister Voicez, and an even earlier group he was in that you've probably never heard of called Mad House. I'm surprised there's no Chino XL (come on, we know there's more O.G. Poison Pen tracks sitting in those vaults!), and there's not as much Cella Dwellas or Pudgee material as you might expect... though there are a couple songs from UG's scrapped solo album and a track that was left off of Pudgee's unreleased King of New York, which is crazy, because it's better than most of the songs that were on there. There's one or two more by Milkbone, N-Tyce, plus some neat surprises by totally unknown, unsigned groups that Nick's worked with.

And, once again, there's a killer vintage Lord Have Mercy song at the end of disc 1 that's in the vein of the classic Cella Dwellas material. Are there more songs like this? Is he just going to slowly eek them out to us one song at a time... ahh! Driving me crazy! lol

Also, like the last volume, the insert opens up to brief notes by Nick on every single song, for example, "The Native Assassins were Black Sun and another MC named Fatal. This was before Shadowz In da Dark. We worked on a few records for this group before the Shadowz thing evolved." First class release all the way. It's just too bad none of this is on vinyl...

Oh wait! No Sleep also released a double LP called Cellar Selections 1. It's comprised more of songs from Cellar Sounds volume 1 than 2 (though there are a couple from 2 as well), and thankfully it focuses exclusively on the songs that haven't already been released on vinyl. So, no Ran Reed "Enough"s but plenty of Darc Mind "We In This"s. And best of all, it has an exclusive unreleased song by Pudgee called "Get Down." The 2xLP is limited to 250 copies, so you may have to work a little to find a copy, but believe me, it's worth it.

The music is great; the sound quality is great; the releases are top-notch all around... Let's just hope there are Cellar Sounds volume 3 and Cellar Selections 2 pending!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

D-Stroy and Tony Touch Killer '94 Demo

I have to admit, I had no idea that, before The Arsonists, D-Stroy was down with DJ Tony Touch. But this brand new release from Chopped Herring Records proves not only that it happened (in fact, D-Stroy is possibly the first MC to appear on a Tony Touch mixtape), but that they were a killer combo. This is a 6-song EP release of a previously unreleased demo tracks by D-Stroy and Tony Touch. It's limited to 275 copies, and the first 75 copies are pressed on a cool, chrome colored vinyl[pictured]. Plus it has a wickedly awesome sticker cover.

When I first put this on the tables, I thought, wow, he sounds totally different than he did even on the first Arsonists record, but then I realized the first MC to rap on this is the EP's sole guest, Ching Rock. As soon as we get to verse 2, we hear D's unique, scratchy voice. And the production is perfect. Jazzy but simple, broken down, raw, plenty of scratches. Everything you'd hope for from an indie '94 12".

Sometimes his voice and lyrics do sound a little less refined than the Arsonists... when he says stuff like, "you'll get 'knocked the fuck' out like in Friday" in "I Ain't Real," he does sound a little weaker... this isn't a case of his-demos-are-better-than-anything-he-did-once-he-got-known. He became a better MC over the next few years later, but thanks to the production by Tony and the rawer sound of the recordings, these tracks rank right alongside some of the strongest Arsonists records. If you're a fan of "Sessions" - and what serious hip-hop head isn't? - then you'll be more than happy hearing this EP. My expectations were not only met but exceeded.

So, actually, five of the songs here comprise their original demo... most have never been heard, though there is an original version of "Vitamin D," which D-Stroy released as the B-side to his second single on Matador in 2001. That version was dope, too; but the original is definitely better. It's kinda like "Sessions," in the way that it's driven by a catchy bassline over cracking drums, and it has a great, dusty horn sample, too. The Matador version is a lot busier, but I don't think that works in its favor.

Another song, "Make Noise," is specifically credited as being the "Demo Tape Mix," but as far as I know, there's never been another version of this song released. I know he's had a couple mix-CDs out... Cataclysm, and just recently More Than Beats and Rhymes. But there's no such song on either of those, so I don't know. Anybody heard of a D-Stroy/Arsonists track called "Make Noise" before?

Anyway, then, the final sixth song is a Bonus Track, recorded in 1995. Tony Touch worked on this one, too - it's a song titled, "Palante Siempre Palante" recorded for a documentary of the same name about the New York division of The Young Lords (a Chicago gang that developed into a political activist movement). It does sound a little more professional and polished than the rest of the songs on this EP, and it's not quite as good as the rest (not because it's more polished - they just both happen to be true of this song), but it's still pretty dope, and it's cool to finally have a proper release of this song as well.

So, if you're still saddened about The Arsonists breaking up, and you still can't look at the Date of Birth album without getting frustrated... well, this EP doesn't feature the full crew, but it's honestly just as good as anything that does.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tyler On Wax

video
(Youtube version is finally here. Sorry, these hi-def files take a lot longer.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ice Cube In Action!

video
(Youtube version is here.)

Corrections: It's Crew In Action, not Effect; I misspoke. And the first printing of this 12" came out in 1987, not 1988.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Great Father MC Showdown!!

My God! My last post about Father MC was all the way back in 2009? I'm shocked I haven't posted about him yet in 2011, let alone the fact that I somehow missed all of 2010! Of course, I shall take immediate action to rectify this situation, but of sadly... I can't get 2010 back. All I can do is act in the moment.

So, if you want to talk about albums that flew under the radar by rappers who've had big, hit records, you'd have a hard time getting more obscure than Father MC's fourth album from 1995, after he was dropped from Uptown. I mean, he had huge, chart-topping hits, and then I feel like I might be the only person who knew he came back in 1995. It probably didn't help any that he actually came out with two full-length albums that year, on two different labels, with largely the same track-listing...

Yeah, there's Sexual Playground on Topp Dogg/ Spoiled Brat Recordings, and then there's This Is for the Players on Moja Entertainment. Both credit Father MC as executive producer, too, which lends credence to them both being legit. Both have a lot of songs in common, but both also have a few exclusive songs. A few songs are interludes, a few songs are the same but with slightly altered titles, it's all confusing and misleading... And that means it's up to me, and me alone, to break 'em both down and set it all straight for the hip-hop world.

First let's look at the...

Songs in common:

Do Me (SP)/ You Can Do Me Right (TIftP) - Father plays it safe here, rhyming over a classic, old school bassline (from Tragedy's "Live Motivator," MC Beta's "There's Nothing Like New York," etc) and adding a nice R&B hook.

Sexual Playground - Not bad either. Some nice R&B choruses, and the production just sounds like a slightly lower budget version of the stuff on his previous albums.

This Is 4 the Players - Kind of a slowed down, g-funk thing. Corny, and the hook is sub-par.

You Can Do Me Right Tonight (SP)/ I Want Your Lovin' (TIftP) - You probably thought "You Can Do Me Right" and "You Can Do Me Right Tonight" were the same song, huh? But no, "You Can Do Me Right" is actually "Do Me" and this is actually a.k.a. "I Want Your Lovin'." It's almost like they were intentionally trying to be confusing. Anyway. lyrics-wise, and hook-wise what with the girl-sung chorus, it's typical Father MC, but it's got a hardcore X-Clan style percussion track, and some keys smoothing the gap between the two styles. Pretty interesting.

Am I What You Want (SP)/ I Am What You Want (TIftP) - I like how the different title changes the question into a statement, totally reversing the sentiment. Anyway, it's a fun retake on Teddy Pendergrass's "Close the Door," even though a lot of rappers beat him to the punch with this sample (a la Big Daddy Kane in '94 with his single, "In the PJ's"). But it works because Father retains more of the natural R&B elements.

Treat Me Right - This is an upbeat one, some familiar samples, R&B hook, new jacky Father MC exactly like you'd expect.

Okay, but now let's get to the interesting info, the exclusives. First the...

Sexual Playground exclusives:

Let's Get Into FMC - Like the title suggests, this is just an intro. It's about ten to fifteen seconds of pretty random sound-clips.

Playground - This is a garbage remix of "Sexual Playground" that puts the whole thing to an awful club beat and adds some additional, shitty club samples. Interestingly, there was a single for "Sexual Playground" and this wasn't included.

4 the Players - This is just the instrumental of "This Is 4 the Players."

That's All - A silly outro gag.

This Is for the Players exclusives:

High Rollers - This was a single, which is surprising, because it's one of the worst songs on either album. The hook and concept are corny, and the beat's so smoothed out it's flat-out boring.

Sexual Healing - This is a shockingly abrasive interlude by raggamuffin MC Culture who kicks a fun, dirty acapella.

Funking With Father - Father comes a little harder on this one, but then the beat is in more of a smoothed out, G-funky mode with a little muzak twist on "Five Minutes of Funk" thrown in, all of which kind of counteracts his delivery. He closes by announcing that "the name of the crew is called Sex!" Basically, it's just not good.

Hey... How Ya Doin' - This was another single. It's interesting that two of the singles are exclusive to one version of the album. It's not bad, and certainly better than "High Rollers" or "Funking With Father," but I don't know who picked the singles - the album tracks are almost all much better and catchier.

the Interludes - There's several pretty useless skits on this album. On one, he's standing on the city streets talking to his buddies, another is just a random sound effect between songs. The last one features his daughter as they sweetly say goodbye to each other. The cassette has a bonus, uncredited intro, though it IS listed on the CD and LP (the CD and LP also give the Interludes helpful subtitles like "Studio Talk"). This one's pretty long and heavily produced; the premise of which is that Father MC is doing a radio interview with a sexy, flirty host asking him about the album. It's full of amazingly wonderful dialogue like, "what do you mean when you talk about a 'Sexual Playground?' Is that like a bunch of rides?" She even asks him if that's a microphone in his pocket or if he's just happy to be there.

Life - I guess this must be a "bonus" song, since it comes after the Farewell Interlude. This is definitely something out of Father MC's usual scope... it sounds like he's been inspired by artists like Big Mike, where he raps slow and smooth about being broke and struggling. The hook changes between each verse, which is cool, with lyrics like, "I feel the world's about to end because I see the devil's grin and my dead friends are laying on the ground." The beat sounds very Rap-A-Lot, too, and it ends with Father ranting a message to the government, followed by a scary voice which I think is supposed to be the devil himself, but who comes off more like Bushwick Bill or something. Definitely an unexpected conclusion to the album.


...So what have we learned? Well, we learned that, of the two, This Is 4 the Players is easily the definitive album. It has basically everything from Sexual Playground, plus a bunch more, including two of the singles (although the singles really aren't the best tracks at all). Sexual Playground only had some extra filler. But, the upshot is that all the best songs are on both versions, so you haven't really gone wrong no matter which version you have. If you have either, which you probably don't. :P

P.s. - Did you know, Father MC just dropped a new album, Fambody, on Itunes last August?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eminem's Tupac

This is kind of a random, oddball one. It's one of the many posthumous 2Pac releases, where one of his old acapellas is recycled into a new song... though in this case, at least they're up front about it and labeling it a remix. This is from the soundtrack to Tupac Resurrection, supposedly one of better-produced 2Pac documentaries, though I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. It's called "One Day At a Time (Em's Version)," and is copyrighted 2003.

When I first picked this up, I have to admit, I couldn't figure out what the non-Em's Version was. I didn't remember - and couldn't find - an old 'Pac song called "One Day At a Time," and I didn't recognize his verse from anything older. Sure, I could find a few "unreleased" mp3s and youtube videos online, but nothing official; and I didn't believe all the sites with bootleg compilations touting a special unreleased exclusive. ...Eventually I sorta figured it out.

I found it on Spice 1's 2004 album, The Ridah, called "U Gotta Take It (One Day At a Time)." It's only on the first pressing, though - later editions removed a couple songs, including this one. The version here was produced by Rhyme Syndicate veteran Hen-Gee, and it's... just okay. It features a guest verse by another Rhyme Syndicate affiliate, LP (L-Politix), which is alright. 2Pac's verse is decent, but frankly kinda trite. Spice 1 kinda plays into the same schtick, and the rest of the song is filled out by some average, G-funk R&B singing by Headstrong. It has a sincere vibe, which devoted fans will respond to, but to the rest of us, I think it mostly just comes off as cliché.

And now we have this version, which was both produced, and features a verse and hook by, Eminem (it's not the only time he's worked with a 2Pac verse either, as an MC or producer). It also has The Outlawz on here, taking the place of Spice's pals. So, instrumentally, it's not much better... I don't know if anyone really rates Em as much of a producer, but this one isn't bad, just kinda flat and lifeless. It feels like he took the beat from a 'Make Your Own West Coast Gangsta Rap' kit... not that Hen Gee's was much more impressive. Eminem's verse was pretty good, but only in the "Em now competes against pop records when it comes to songwriting, and we all have to accept we'll never get the Eminem from the 90's back" tier. The Outlawz sound good on here, but nobody spits anything particularly amazing.

So, what's weird - or what else is weird - is that this version actually came out first. This is from 2003, and Spice's album dropped in 2004. And yeah... Before you point it out to me, I should mention that if you google Pac's verse, it does come up in a couple of random online songs, specifically "Till We Meet Again" and "Not Afraid (Remix)" featuring Eminem and Biggie. But I'm pretty confident these are just examples of the bazillion mash-ups out there that fans and amateur DJs have made of 2Pac acapellas, now masquerading as legit songs.

So how did the remix beat the original out? Well, it didn't really. This song did see an earlier release, back in 1999, called New World Order. A label called Big Star Entertainment released a compilation just like a lot of indie west coast compilations at the time... it featured a bunch of obscure artists they were working with, and one or two big name guests to make it marketable. The idea was that you'd buy it because of the 2Pac and Spice 1 song (plus there was a Kokane appearance and another song with Spice), and then you'd hopefully become a fan of their roster. So "One Day At a Time" (as it's titled on this disc) was originally the opening track on there.

So, this is a song that's had a long and storied history. Since 2Pac passed in 1996, this was clearly sitting on a shelf for years before it went to Big Star... and I can see why. 'Pac has certainly had better collaborations with Spice 1 (like "Jealous Got Me Strapped" or "Gangsta Team"), and if it weren't for the mad rush to put out everything he laid his voice to after he died, this song's a perfect candidate to be cut from an album and forgotten about in favor of better material. As for which version you'll prefer now, I think it will depend entirely on which guests you're a bigger fan of, since none deliver particularly stand-out work; and the beats are pretty evenly matched. But you probably fall either in the category of needing both, or being fine without either one.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

O.C. Demos Definitively Knocked Out the Park!

Oh snap! What's this? A third, bonus entry in the O-Zone Originals series[see also: Part 1 and Part 2] by O.C. on No Sleep Records? That's right, this is O-Zone Extras, an especially limited EP only pressed up and given to those of us who supported all five of No Sleep's previous vinyl releases. It can't be purchased anywhere, but 95 lucky people were lucky enough to receive this for free with their copies of O-Zone Originals Part 2, and man is it a treat!

The first side is all demos, including three ultra-vintage joints recorded as far back as 1991 and '92. They're produced by somebody I've never heard of, called Kemp, but don't let that put you off. They're great. Really, this is the "oh shit!" moment of the O.C. demos, when you first hear the opening of the first track, "Visual Picture." When we first heard O.C. debut on "Fudge Pudge" and were expecting him to follow it up with his own record, this is what the most optimistic of us expected to hear. O.C. goes in with fast battle raps over a hype but rugged, ever-changing beat and a perfect horn-blaring hook.

"Stay Alive" is a little smoother, and plays it safer with familiar samples we've all heard before, but it still knocks. And the third Kemp track is "Step Into the O-Zone" that later got remade as just "O-Zone" on Word... Life. You may remember Stretch Armstrong leaking this one on his blog several years ago. Well here it is, finally, in all it's non-radio-rip, remastered glory. This has a totally different spirit than the one Wild Pitch put out, with fast-paced, high energy samples as opposed to the slow, jazzy grooves of the album version. And I can't front on that version, but I definitely prefer this one.

Finally, the A-side ends with a demo by underground DITC/ Freestyle Professors-affiliate Page the Hand Grenade which features O.C. and a beat by Buckwild. Recorded in 1994, it's called "Weak Ideas," and is another low-fi banger. If you dug Your Pocket's Been P;cked - and of course you did, silly! - then you'll definitely appreciate this.

The B-side isn't quite as incredible as the A-side (how could it be?), but it's a very cool dip into O.C.'s past for his fans. It's labeled the Word... Life Sessions, and features three original mixes of songs from his first album.

First up is "No Main Topic." It's the same beat by DJ Ogee as on the album, and the same lyrics. But where Prince Po's lyrics were muted down at the end of the album version, here they're kept intact and at full volume. And he continues to adlib for a long time! So, it's an interesting alternate mix for the serious fans.

Next is "Story," also produced by Ogee. Again, the music is no different, but this one has a markedly different hook, with the sounds of a crowd of people freaking out about what happens in the narrative raps. The album version, you'll recall, had that stuttering whisper, "believe it or not-ot-ot" instead. I'm not sure which version I prefer. Again, this is more or just an interesting look at what might've been for the hardcore fans and any essential, unheard music.

Finally there's a remix of "Born To Live" by Organized Konfusion. This is largely the same remix that was on the CD version of the album and included on the vinyl represses, but not the original LP. The one on this EP, though, has a deep bassline absent from the released version, and that bass helps a lot. This is definitely an improvement over what was released previously, so it's nice to get it here.

All in all, I'm super happy with this bonus record... I like it even better than O-Zone Originals Part 2... and I think even O-Zone Originals Part 1! It's kinda rough on fans who missed out that this isn't purchasable by itself, and that the best of them is also the most limited with the smallest pressing. But I'm sure you hardcore diggers will find a way. I can certainly assure you that it's worth it if you do.

O.C. Demos and Vaulted Treasures

Remember when I reviewed No Sleep's killer EP release of O.C. demos last year? And it ended with the promise that, "This release is part one of two unreleased O.C. EP?" Well, guess what? Part 2 is here!

So, this time around, O-Zone Originals Part 2 isn't all demos like the first one. But they are all unreleased treasures from 1994-1996 that've been previously locked away unheard in O.C.'s vaults. It's also a little more limited than the first volume... there was 200 copies pressed of that, and only 175 of this one.

It starts out with two tracks recorded after Word... Life, but before Jewelz. "Flipside," produced by DJ Ogee, has a smooth, summer cool-out vibe to it. It's honestly a little forgettable, especially if it had come out when it was recorded back in '94, but O.C. rides the beat like a pro and raises it above the glut low budget major label stuff that was dropping in '94. "Master Ya High," produced by Buckwild, also has s slow, mellow groove... in fact, apparently Buckwild wound up giving this a slightly altered version of this beat to Faith Evans when this got shelved, so that tells you how un-hard the instrumental is. But the drums are raw and O.C. is on some serious spitting, so it winds up being a compelling counter-point and a generally better song than "Flipside."

Next up is "Gone," produced by DJ Ogee. You might remember the song from O.C.'s 2005 album, Smoke and Mirrors - the one he did with Hieroglyphics! - but it turns out this was originally recorded for Jewelz, and this is the original version with a different instrumental than the version on Smoke. This one's more stripped down, as opposed to all the R&B singing included on the later version by Mike Loe. I actually liked the singing on that version, so it's hard to pick a favorite, but this one has a whole different tone to it; it's practically an entirely different song.

And rounding out side A we have a radio promo produced by Buckwild for the Kevvy Kev show. It's just a super short, single verse freestyle as opposed to a proper song, but OC sounds great and the beat is really cool. If this was expanded into a full song, it would've sounded great on Word... Life. Unfortunately, he only raps for like 20 seconds here, but what little there is certainly cool.

Then, onto the flip, we finally have a demo joint... like everything on O-Zone Originals Part 1, it was recorded before Word... Life. It's called "Sharp As a Knife" and it's produced by Buckwild. This is the kind of O.C. stuff I'm really after on an EP like this. It's tight, though a little more relaxed than the title might lead you to believe.

Next we've got the original version of "Stronjay," a song from Jewelz. I think this version, produced by DJ Ogee, sounds better better than the released version, even though that one was done by Da Beatminerz. But, frankly, I never really cared for this song, and this hasn't changed my mind. It's cool to have it here as a historical artifact, but otherwise... meh.

Speaking of Da Beatminerz, there's a song by them on here called "Pain." it was recorded for Jewelz but left off. I can't imagine why, though, because this is better than a lot of stuff on Jewelz (like, say, "Stronjay"). The beat is dark and cool, and it has a fresh, uncredited reggae hook on it.

Finally, O-Zone Originals Part 2 winds out with another cool radio promo, this one featuring MC Serch, recorded for The Wake Up Show. Fortunately, unlike the one on Side A, this one isn't over before it starts... though I still wish it was longer. Serch and OC pass the mic back and forth, kicking a funky, staccato flow over a chunky, piano loop provided by Ogee.

Overall, I don't know if this is quite as impressive as the first volume, but it's definitely quality O.C. material that deserved to finally see the light of day, and any serious O.C. fan will want to get this; and they won't be disappointed when they do. Still, it would be nice if those last few, remaining truly vintage and great OC demos could come out on a similar EP one day...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Z-Man and Dan the Automator? Sign Me Up!

This 12" came out at the end of 2010, but I only just found out about it browsing around ughh for other stuff. I blame all the rap blogs that can't stop blabbing about useless celebrity gossip long enough to tell us about the actual, good music that's coming out. I don't care when Tyler the Creator says something disrespectful about Charles Hamilton on his twitter page... I care when Z-Man hooks up with JtheSarge to make a 12" with Dan the Automator!

JtheSarge, if you don't know, is Mykah 9's partner in Magic Heart Genies, the group they formed with DJ Drez... that's why this 12" was put out by M9 Ent. So this is a great combination of several very talented camps. You know, speaking of Odd Future (what? I mentioned Tyler up in the first paragraph), I always thought they were sort of redux of 99th Demention, which is a good thing, because I like them. But listening to some new Z-Man, I gotta say the hip-hop world still hasn't come up with an adequate replacement.

So, yeah. This is a super fresh 2-song 12". The A-side, "On a Hunt for a Show" is not produced by Dan, but JtheSarge himself. It's a really fresh, upbeat, modern-sounding track. This is the kind of track Wiz or Lupe would love to rap over, but unfortuantely for them, it went to some MCs who know how to ride over it a lot better. In fact, if you told me the label got it wrong and Dan actually produced this one, I'd believe you.

Then you get the B-side, which was produced by Dan. Surprisingly, this is a darker, moodier, bass-heavy instrumental that sounds much less reminiscent of his past work than the song he didn't produce does. It's got a really nice horn sample on the hook, though. It all serves as the groundwork for "What's It All About," which pairs J up with two guys I've never heard of: Big Pers and Matt Gamin. They come pretty nice, though; but disappointingly, Z-Man is not on this one. They manage to make up for it, though, by having Tapemastah Steph provide some fresh scratches.

One thing you can't knock this 12" for is quality of presentation. It's pressed on marbleized hot pink vinyl, and comes in a brown M9 sleeve with a sticker cover. You get Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions of both songs, plus a TV Mix of "On a Hunt for a Show." There's a few bonus stickers inside the sleeve and best of all, it comes with a download card, so you can get all the mixes as high-quality mp3s, too. That's first class all the way, and they don't charge any more than the standard coach 12" price.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not Quite a New Shifters Album

The Shape Shifters have a newish album out... sorta. It's called The Shape Shifter Army, and it popped up around the end of 2010. Accesshiphop describes it as a "[t]our only release from the Shape Shifters! Featuring greatest hits, remixes and unreleased or no longer available material!" And if you got it from them or at a show, you received a CDR in a purple slimline case featuring a pretty random track-listing, including a lot of songs that don't appear to be from their past albums. It's a little bit hard what to make of this album, exactly, with such an eclectic collection of songs, but that's fitting for the Shifters, I guess.

So just what do we have here, exactly? Let's see if we can demystify this track-listing a little:

1. G's In da House - This is a track from the incomplete and unreleased collaboration between Circus and Odd Nosdam. The whole thing would make a great official release, even incomplete, it's so strangely compelling. Just the finished tracks, "Circus for President" and the other Nosdam instrumentals would make an awesome CD or limited vinyl. But oh well. Anyway, this was leaked online as an mp3 but has otherwise gone unreleased until now.

2. Soyons Sales - This is a bi-lingual song by a group called Gourmets featuring the Shifters from 2008. This is a cool, wild song that was released on vinyl in 2008 - I wish I knew what the French MCs were saying.

3. Dig Dig Dig - This is another great song - love the hook! It's an ode to crate digging by Akuma & Factor featuring Awol and RadioInactive, from their 2005 album, Dawn of a New Era.

4. Yum Yum - This is from the Shifters' last official album, Was Here.

5. The Funkiestereo - This is the opening track to Existereo's 2004 album, Crush Groove. It's got a dope, 90's throw-back style beat with some hard cuts.

6. Get Acquainted - Another track from Akuma & Factor's Dawn Of a New Era.

7. Three the Hard Way - This one's from another Akuma album that dropped the same year as Dawn, called Eye In the Sky.

8. Tobasco - Another one from Was Here.

9. L.A. Is the Mother Land - This one's from the Existereo & Deskee album, Hopeless Crooks With Open Books.

10. Automatic Movement - I think this is an exclusive song to this CD, another unreleased track. It's a catchy, upbeat solo track by Doc Lewd. If you don't recognize Doc's name, you'll surely remember his voice from other Shifters projects like the Soul Lows album. He was also on "Get Acquainted," above.

11. S.O.T.F. - This is from Awol One's 2004 album, Self-Titled and features Circus and 2Mex.

12. Tarantulas - This is from RadioInactive's 2006 album, Soundtrack To a Book.

13. Welcome 2 America 2012 - This is a Die Young song from Soul Lows.

14. Futuristic - Another track from Was Here. I'm surprised they keep going back to that album, since it was their last official album and pretty widely released. You'd think they'd stick to rarer stuff.

15. Counter Clock Wise - This is actually "Counter Cloudwise," an OMD song from Fat Jack's Cater To the DJ compilation album, mistitled.

16. Beetleborg - This is from Adopted By Aliens, and certainly one of their most "out there" numbers, half in English and half in Spanish.

17. Miracle Business - This is fun, religiously subversive posse cut from Matre's 2009 solo album, Easter Sonday[sic.].

18. Quit Your Job - More from Was Here.

19. FEARS - Another from Awol's Self Titled.

20. Run the Crowd - And, finally, still more from Was Here.

All in all, this is an interesting little album. There's not much unreleased or unique to this disc (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that Doc Lewd song was on some obscure CD I missed). It picks out some nice gems from the lesser known extended Shifters family members' solo albums, meaning only the most die-hard fan would have all these songs already. Some exclusive remixes or something like accesshiphop promised us would've gone a long way, though. And there's certainly far too much of Was Here on here (surely anybody who would be picking up this obscure album would have that one already). So I can't help feeling a little disappointed.

If you're a major fan, this off-beat little Shifters compilation makes for a rewarding listen - certainly there's a lot of good songs. But for the rest of us, don't worry that you're missing out on anything essential. There's not much here by way of new or lost recordings, just recycled product.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Competive Spirit - Kool G Rap Interview

I've got a great one for you guys this weekend. I just got to talk in depth with pretty much the greatest rapper of all time: Kool G. Rap. I got to ask him about all the obscure, finer points everybody else glosses over - yes, my first question for him was about "Movie Review." :-D

There was a track on promo copies of Live and Let Die that didn’t wind up on the final album. It was called "Movie Review." Can you tell us about that?

Right. My recollection is very vague, so I couldn’t really give you accurate information… it did kinda ring a little bell, but it’s very vague. I think it was a skit, if I remember correctly, but that’s about all I can give you on that, it was so long ago and I put so much stuff out there, you know?

Sometimes people post stuff out there that I haven‘t seen in years, I don’t know how they got their hands on it. I don’t have it. In my personal possession. I’ll hear something and be sort of shocked myself, like where the fuck they get that off?

But is there still anything that hasn’t come out yet that you’d like to see released? Was there any song you did that you thought was really hot that Cold Chillin’ or somebody sat on?

You mean like a Lost Tapes type of thing? I have thought about that before, but I think, better than that" I always wanted to put out a collection of all the features I ever did. From known artists to not-so known artists, because I think I did some extremely good work. I don’t just push the envelope when I’m in the studio for a Mobb Deep record, or a feature with Big Pun or MOP. I do that with regular Joe Schmoe Jackson from fuckin’ Minnesota, and spit a crazy verse for that person’s project.

Yeah, one that stands out to me is "Let 'Em Live" with Chino XL, you close out with an amazing verse.

Right, Right. I appreciate that. It could be a track that Dr. Dre wants me to do, or just the average person with no name or nothing, who’s trying to get up and running, and I’ma always put the same amount of effort into my craft. So, with some people that were just trying to get their machine up off the ground, I did some real good work, that people just never heard.

Definitely. That would have to be like a five-disc set to fit all that stuff!

(Laughs) Almost! Because I’ve done a lot of features out there.

Sometimes, though, it feels like it gets marketed like a co-sign, like by you featuring on their record, it’s like you’re validating them. And you’ve worked with such a variety… Is that something that bothers you, or would you say, yeah, if you did a song with them you consider them at a certain level?

I know that’s part of the game sometimes. But yeah, I’m cool with that. I worked hard to have people look at me in that light. So I definitely wouldn’t be offended or mad now that I’m finally there; this is what I wanted from the first time doing it, doing what I do. I wanted people looking at me with the admiration or honor or whatever other things people look at G Rap as. If people look at me in that light, I definitely wouldn’t want to turn away from that now.

You’ve bigged up Silver Fox as being someone in that position for you - inspiring you, an MC to look up to.

Right.

And now Silver Fox is back, he’s got a myspace, he’s doing new songs. Have you guys considered doing some songs together or anything?

There was talk of doing some things, but it’s sort of dissipated. It was probably more to do with that he was busy doing his thing and I was definitely busy doing my thing, wrapping my project up., and running around promoting, photo sessions, press dates. It became a problem: he happened to be working on his project the same time I was working on marketing this album as much as possible and the time wouldn’t allow it. But I wish Silver Fox the best with his project; he’s definitely one of the main inspirations on G Rap and had a profound effect on how G Rap present himself to the world.

It’s interesting, because if you go back and listen to the Fantasy Three records, Silver Fox doesn’t sound like a prototypical G Rap. You don’t hear that and think, "oh, here’s where his style came from," like some early version of you.

Well, I heard him off recordings as well; I heard him freestyle. I mean, the way he was flowing back then, it might not be noticeable now because the art of flowing has gotten so technical with the times, that you probably wouldn’t even notice what he was doing in comparison with to where we at now. You know what I mean?

True.

I mean, Fantasy Three was out around, what ‘84? And by the time G Rap, Rakim and Kane came out, things had innovated already back then. And we’re talking ‘86, ‘88, those years. And we’re all the way in 2011 now. So if you had any kind of futuristic flow in comparison to the times back then, it probably wouldn’t even be that noticeable now. You’d have to saturate yourself in the music that was going on then to hear the difference.

Speaking of your beginnings, when the Terminators started, you weren’t in it, right? I know you’re not on that record - it was Polo and Frost B?

MC Frost, yeah.

But by "It’s a Demo," you’re saying, "we’re The Terminators." So how did that transition come about?

What it was is that Polo and Frost started together first. They were the team first, before I even got in the picture with Polo. Once I got in the picture, to my understanding, Frost was having differences with Polo. Because Polo wanted to do promotional stuff that Frost didn’t necessarily want to do… things they weren’t getting paid for. So when me and Polo linked up, I was for anything to accomplish my dream. Whether it was something we gotta do for promotion, get ourselves out there or get paid, it didn’t matter to me. I was gonna do it because I was hungry and I wanted it that bad, because I knew what I was capable of doing poetically.

When I mention Terminators, it was out of respect for the name Polo had before I even got into the picture. If you notice, I didn’t really use that name anymore other than just using it as a punch line or a metaphor. But I did not affiliate myself and Polo as the Terminators after that. The first time I did it was just out of respect, like, this is your thing you got going before I even got into the picture, I’ma wave that flag.

Jumping ahead a little… on your second album, Wanted Dead or Alive in 1990, you had a song called "Riker’s Island" on the cassette version, which was an older song. That was unusual, especially back then, for an album to add on a song that would’ve been like three years old, before even the first album.

I’m not sure that the copy you see is an actual release of the times, or something that somebody went back and did later and put out.

No, it’s definitely on my original copy I got when it first came out.

Oh, ok. If that was the case, then it was a record company call. Because I had enough songs to make an album; I didn’t have to include something that was put out previously.

I always thought it had something to do with getting Marley Marl’s name on there, so he would be associated with the project? Because he wasn‘t on the album otherwise.

No, not at all. Because I was comfortable with Large Professor being the overall producer of the album.

So, was it pretty much all Large Professor, then? I mean, excluding like the Cool V tracks, there’s been some question of whether it being more Eric B or Large Pro responsible for the music on that album.

What it was… I guess, Large Professor and Eric B had worked out a situation where Large Professor was supposed to produce that album under Eric’s production company. But I wasn’t explained 100% how it was supposed to work out. I didn’t know that he did a situation with Paul, the Large Professor. So I didn’t want to just shit on Large Professor based on their inside, personal business. You know what I mean? I’m like, I gotta give Large Professor the credit; he’s the one that was in the studio every day. It kinda put me in the middle, because I’m close with Eric, and then I gained this relationship with Large Professor because we did the whole album together. So it put me in the middle, and I just gave the credits to where I thought they should’ve went, and I thought, that’s pretty much between y’all. I don’t wanna be responsible for shittin’ on nobody.

Speaking of behind the scenes business, you’ve also written for a lot of artists. How did you get started in that, especially the early stuff? Like Salt ‘N’ Pepa and their first album? That just seems so out of your camp, as opposed to just writing for others within The Juice Crew or whatever.

Well, I was messing with Hurby first. And I actually met Salt ‘N’ Pepa before they made any record.

Was Hurby going to put an album by you out at one point?

Well, I was rhyming for him and that was the intention for him to put me out. But it just didn’t work out that way. I also recorded with The Disco Twins, the guys who put out the NYC Fat Girls and all that back in the day. And then I recorded with Hurby. But then I got with Marley, that’s where it stuck right there. So I still had relationships with people I recorded with before Marley. Me and The Twins were still cool. Me and Hurby were still cool, you know what I’m saying? But I was just doing my own thing then.

Does that mean there’s like a lot of recordings of you with Hurby and all in a vault somewhere?

Nah, because this was before I got into song-writing mode and all that. So there’s not like a lot of material that Hurby would have… maybe like one or two songs with Hurby, tops; and one recording with Disco Twins I have.

Still, that would be great to hear!

(Laughs) You gotta track down Hurby.

Another interesting writing credit you have is that song for Whodini that Full Force produced.

Right, right. Yeah, absolutely right! Wow, I forgot about that.

That was interesting because it was different for Whodini, it was different for Full Force, and then it wound up just on the soundtrack for Nightmare On Elm Street 5 of all places. But it’s a really dope record.

Thanks a lot, man. I got cool with Jalil and Grandmaster Dee. I met ‘em all, but I kinda really bonded with Grandmaster Dee. Jalil was cool, too; and Ecstasy was more of a to-himself type of guy, he has that kind of persona. He acknowledged me and I acknowledged him, but he kept it right there.

You had them rapping faster and more technical than they usually do, but they did it well.

Well, they were definitely fans of G Rap, and appreciated what I do. I assume that’s why they would have me write something for them. Because that was a Whodini call. And they were able to deliver it the way I wrote it to be delivered, because they were familiar my style and they thought highly of it. Just like I respect what they do in the game, you know? But I’m just a different type of rapper. I’m more of a lyrical assassin type of rapper, and they’re more keep the party going type of rappers, and performance on stage type of rappers. They had more of that commercial appeal. G Rap has more of that gutter lyrical assault kind of vibe, but they liked my side of it, where I was at, too.

Right, no doubt. Well, now this you’ve probably been asked about a lot, but when you and Polo split… was that because he wanted you guys to steer in more commercial direction? Because you sort of went more in that one direction, and his solo album was totally someplace else.

Well, I think Polo had more of the commercial flavor to him. Polo had a great ear for what would work generally, like mass audiences. Whatever track he would track would be the track that was a little more mainstream, because you know G Rap is all gutter. I’ma attract the type that wants that hard shit, you know what I’m saying? But this was that time and era when the hard shit was getting accepted by the masses, like it is now. Fifty Cent could come out now and sell fucking nine million records because people embrace that hard shit now. Because you had people that kicked the doors off the hinges like Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Scarface, hardcore rap, hardcore street…

And you too, definitely!

And myself. But when I started doing it, there wasn’t a massive audience for it like that. And there wasn’t so many outlets for us to play like that. Radio wasn’t even trying to embrace a G Rap like that when I first started. But by the time I got to like the 4, 5, 6 album, the doors were a lot more open. Because we had like Nas, Black Moon, Smooth and Trigga the Gambla, MOP, all these real hard streets started coming out and making the audiences bigger and bigger. NWA did phenomenal with that.

Yeah, there’s almost pre-NWA and post-NWA in hip-hop.

(Laughs) Right, exactly. And Geto Boys, all that. But I didn’t have so many vehicles available when I started doing it as kids would later, when the world would embrace it.

And going back to Polo… do you still keep up with him today?

I haven’t spoken to him in a while now, but I have spoken to him… it wasn’t years and years ago, it was more a matter of several months. But yeah, me and Polo are good. We never broke up on bad terms, there was never no conflict or friction. It’s just that, by the time I got to the 4,5,6 album, I had done seven years with him, three albums, and I felt like I’d paid him back enough. Because I’ma very loyal dude. I gave him seven years of my life. But Polo was a DJ; he wasn’t a producer. It wasn’t like he would always come in with all the tracks, so it was like the workload was really just G Rap’s workload. You understand what I’m saying? Like the songs would get done, all he’d have to do is add some cuts and scratches and bring ‘em to shows. And I really didn’t feel like two grown men could eat off the same plate forever under the same circumstances, So it was time for me to move on. But no animosity or nothing like that. Me and Polo still talk to this day.

Does he still DJ at all, or is he in the business still?

I’m not sure to be honest with you. I know he still Djs, but I’m not sure exactly how active he is in the music business. Because I know he was actually recording and actually being the vocalist. I’m sure he was rapping on that album you told me about, because he showed me a video with him and Greg Nice.

Yeah; that's right. It’s mostly guests on every song, though, like Ice-T, Melle Mel… Ron Jeremy of course was the single.

(Laughs) Right, right.

So let’s get into your new stuff. Obviously you’ve got your album coming out in just a couple weeks, and before that you dropped a free EP, Offer You Can‘t Refuse. Are those songs going to be on the album?

There’s one song off the EP that’s actually gonna be on the album, that’s the one with Havoc featuring on it and The Alchemist production. Everything else is all new material.

And that song "Sad" will be on it, with Supa Dave?

Right, exactly. That song is definitely on the album.

So who else is working on this album?

Well, I did a reunion song with Marley Marl, that’s on there. As far as other producers, I got my man DJ Pain-1, he did some stuff with Jeezy. The producer Infamous, who’s actually a Grammy award winner, who did stuff with Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Fifty Cent, LL Cool J. His discography is crazy. And the rest is underground, hungry producers like Leaf Dog. He did a track on the Offer You Can’t Refuse EP, "Baggin’ In the Spot." So if you heard the EP, you know he’s bringin’ it. Supa Dave did the majority of the tracks. He’s the only producer who did four tracks in total.

Supa Dave is really underrated. He’s someone I’m surprised didn’t get a bigger name in the late 90’s, early 2000’s.

Yeah, you know, I didn’t even know his track record like that. Somebody just told me he did tracks with De La Soul and all, I was like damn! No wonder his tracks was crazy.

Yeah, I kept expecting him to blow up more.

Right. Well, we’re gonna cure that little problem. (Laughs) If you can appreciate "Sad," then you know what the chemistry must be like between me and Supa Dave.

Now, I’ve read in an interview you said this was going to be a more personal album…?

Well, you know I touched on subjects I’ve never really touched on before with personal life experiences and things of that nature; but it‘s not like the whole album is a G Rap life story or something. I don’t wanna confuse people. I’m very well-rounded on this album, touching on a little bit of everything. "Sad" was very much me touching on real life stuff, all the people I lost down to my moms, my pops, one of my sisters, some of my friends. So I’m touching on real life situation in "Sad" and another track called "Pages In My Life." But then you’ve got the songs where I’m very metaphoric or I’m messing with the flow, or I’m doing this and doing that. I’m doing the things G Rap is known to do. Then I’ve got the story tracks, like "American Nightmare." I got concepts. The track that I did with the producer Infamous is called "Harmony Homicide." I don’t even want to give the whole idea of It away, but it’s a concept. I didn’t just do anything with this album. I really wanted to have something to say when I did this album, and it all happened to come out, and every way I wanted to display my art as a lyricist came out. This is a well-rounded album, I feel good about it, and I think the fan base is gonna love it.

Nice. And I assume Fat Beats wouldn’t be interfering like Warner Bros, so you’re pretty much free to do it all how you want?

Oh yeah, yeah. Fat Beats is like any other underground label. They accept the artist for who they are. They’re not trying to change you or polish you up. They’re gonna leave it as gritty as it comes. If they make the decision to work with you or do a joint venture with you, they already know what to expect.

So this is gonna be the album people have been looking for, without worrying that Rawkus is gonna swap tracks out or things like that.

Exactly.

It's also exciting to me because it's been a time where a lot of the greats would say they didn't have plans to do an album... like it was just put on hold indefinitely. It was actually getting a little depressing. With the labels closing I guess the greats weren't messing with the new scene, maybe? But now, not just you, but we're seeing Kane is doing a new album, there's talk of Slick Rick coming out on Ice Water Records. Is it shifting back somehow? Are we coming out of that period?

You know what I think it is? It’s been years. Big Daddy Kane’s done Big Daddy Kane for years. Slick Rick’s done Slick Rick for years now. But once you’ve been who you are for over two decades, you know, you go through changes in life. I mean, I had points where I was like, I don’t think I’ma do this no more. Or I’m ready to retire this thing, hang it up, move on. And it’s just my competitive spirit that brings me back all the time. And I’m sure all of them have that competitive spirit… Obviously, they wouldn’t have become what they did if they didn’t have that spirit. It’s just a matter of time before they dust off that old mic, plug it back in the old amp and start rappin’ again. Especially when there’s so many people out there that love them. Kane has so many fans. And Slick Rick has so many fans. And everybody’s sitting there waiting and rooting them on. And that makes you more confident to come out in a totally different era and time frame. It makes you just say, you know what, I’ma just do it for the people that love G Rap, or the people that love Kane, or the people that love Slick Rick. I’ma do it for them. But everybody has their own certain point where they’re ready to be persuaded to do that.

Well, I’m glad you’re doing it now. And on vinyl, by the way. Double LP in addition to the CDs and mp3s.

I’m glad of that, too. Because so many people are still holding it dear. I don’t think the mp3s’ll ever make it to the antique store! (Laughs) Or maybe, you never know, that’ll be an idea for someone to do in the future, an all-digital antique store. But I don’t think they got that yet.

(Laughs) Well, thanks for talking to me. Is there anything final you want to add?

Yeah, look out for the album, Riches, Royalty, Respect. And go out there and get that free mp3 download, Offer You Can’t Refuse. You can get it from koolgrapnow.com, still a free download. You won’t be disappointed.