Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The D.O.C. Gets Busy In the House

Have you ever been listening to The D.O.C.'s fierce, hardcore masterpiece, No One Can Do It Better, and think to yourself: the only thing that could make this better is some upbeat, poppy house rhythms? Of course not, no one in the whole country has ever thought that. But over there in England, it's a different story. UK remixer extraordinaire CJ Mackintosh not only had that thought, but convinced the gang back home at Ruthless Records that they needed to come together to make this idea a reality!

That's right, arguably Dr. Dre's best hip-hop production work of his career got the hip-house make-over, not just in Europe, but on the domestic US single as well.

What I have here is a promo (obviously originally sent to a radio station run by somebody who likes to write on records), but there's also a commercial version with a regular Ruthless labels, a picture cover and the whole nine. But the track-listing is the same regardless: a pair of remixes of two of The D.O.C.'s hardest tracks from the album. No instrumentals, LP versions, etc... just one song per side.

The D.O.C.'s fast-paced lyrical slaughter "Portrait Of a Masterpiece" is now a house song. And a happy, cheerful one at that. The light piano riff sounds like something Mr. Lee would play, and are more than a little bit reminiscent of Kid 'N' Play's "Energy." The bassline would match perfectly with a kiddie rap about ninja turtles. The keyboard flare sounds like something Tiffany would take off her record for sounding too soft, and the drums... well, all house drums are pretty much exactly the same: "Emph, pop!, Emph, pop!" ad infinitum. His fast flow actually matches perfectly with the flow, and The D.O.C.'s enthusiastic ad-libs sound as if they were recorded specifically for this mix (they weren't though; they can be heard on the original).

It actually... kind of works, in a crazy way, if you can get over the sacrilege. It's even fruitier than regular hip-house records. But if you can appreciate hip-house at all, and if you're the kind of person who can get open to a L'Trimm record, then I daresay you should actually enjoy this.

That's the B-side. The A-side is actually remixed by Dr. Dre himself. He takes his dark and atmospheric "Mind Blowin'" and kinda smooths it out. It's interesting - it has a fresh siren sound loop and some "Buffalo Gal" vocal samples. The bassline is cool; not smoothed all the way into G-funk territory, but it definitely plays more relaxed than the original. I still prefer the first version, but both are funky and worth having in your collection.

As for the house mix? Well, I guess it depends how open-minded and eccentric a hip-hop head you are.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let's Not Wake the Hurricane

So, now that I'm back online following Hurricane Irene, I thought I'd do a post on Hurricane G, because I'm a simple sort of blogger, and basic word associations rule my life. But, looking through my collection, I found out I actually don't have that much Hurricane G (and, let's face it, all DJ Hurricane records are boring), so my selection was limited. I could just find this one cassingle of "Somebody Else," her attempt at a crossover single.

This dropped in 1997 on H.O.L.A. Records, a small label devoted strictly to Latino (the "L" in H.O.L.A. - can you guess the rest?) acts. It's the main single off her limited release, CD-only album, All Woman. I believe she'd already split from the Def Squad at this point (though she did a song with Hit Squadians Das EFX for her album, probably as a final "fuck you"), so she wasn't in the best place career-wise. And this was her bid at a broader audience. She actually put out a couple singles for All Woman, but this is the only one that got mainstream distribution (i.e. you could buy the cassingle in NJ shopping malls when I was a kid). And it wasn't a good look.

First of all, let's examine this cover, shall we? It's a pair of eyes - her eyes, presumably - floating over a wing, some coins, a wooden X... what? This cover must've been made using the free stock images that came with PaintShop 2 or something. What is all that random, monochrome junk? I think there might be part of a model train and some bottle caps on the back. You guys click on that image, blow it up to 100%, and see if you can figure out what it all is.

This song uses a very familiar bassline from an old Jones Girls record you've heard on dozens of records; but this time they go whole hog, using pretty much the whole record including the hook and just making a rap version of it. This bassline works well on an upbeat, freestyle track, but here it feels slow, harder and murky on a poppy relationship track. It's produced by D-Moet, as in "King Sun and _-____," who was mounting a bit of a comeback as an indie producer in the 90's.

But it's not so much that this is a bad track, so much as it was a bad choice. Hurricane G came pretty tight, as a super hardcore, shrill, angry battle rhymer who patterned her sound pretty blatantly on the rest of the Def Squad, and did a damn fine job of it. Check out her single "Underground Lockdown" - she was one of the hardest female rappers out there. Thanks to her cameos on Redman's and Murray's albums, she was building a big buzz and people were curious about her - and this was the single with the distribution push that people would here.

Now, I can understand the logic at work here: get the most mainstream song out to the mainstream audience, and put out the underground gritty stuff on the underground level. Makes sense. Except, since this was her first outing and people were curious but uncertain, they wound up being presented with a really bland, generic song. This is like "Female Rap" taken out of any major label's home-starter kit for soundalike female rappers of the time. People heard this and were like, "oh, this is Hurricane G? I thought she was supposed to be some ill, crazy MC? I guess I must've been confusing her with Roz Noble." And close book, end of the Hurricane G story.

I mean, there are touches of her credibility trying to be hinted at in this song... she curses a lot (rendering the Clean Version confusing and unlistenable). But it's so generic and uninspired. She loves a guy, but he doesn't treat her well enough, so she's gonna go love somebody else. It doesn't even feel sincere, like she's experienced this. It's like she just listened to the song they were sampling and said, "I'll just some curses to those lyrics."

More than that, it doesn't feel quite finished. After her last verse, there's a long instrumental portion where she just ad-libs "ooh. Uh. Yeah. Uh-huh." for a minute or so. It feels like there was meant to be another verse in there and they cut it out at the last minute or something. The story - such as it is - feels incomplete. She loves the guy... he treats her bad... the end. It feels like there should be some sort of "punchline" verse, where she wraps up, telling him she found a new guy who's super awesome, or "ha ha, I'm a lesbian now!" or something, anything. Maybe she did say that and her managers panicked and had the label erase the final verse (lol there's an unusually high degree of speculation going on in this post).

I mean... there's sort of a punchline at the end. She says, "you're gonna make me turn into supe-supe-Supa Bitch!" ...Which would be funny if she sold it. But her delivery is so flat, you don't even realize that's what she's saying unless you're paying dogged attention. It's the kind of line Redman could say (and he almost did, with those Soopaman Lova songs) and make everyone crack up over. But Hurricane just sleepwalks through the whole song, and the beat is like, "shh! let's not wake her."

So, yeah, this is just the cassingle. It's got the useless Clean Version on the A-side, and the LP Version on the flip. The 12" adds an instrumental and acapella, and comes in a sticker cover. Give it a miss. But some of her other singles are worth picking up when you come across 'em cheap.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Outsidaz' Idea of "Radio Friendly"

After The Outsidaz' killer EP, Night Life, they were making moves. their label was behind them, Eminem and Rah Digga were blowing up as solo artists, you used to see the Outsidaz van driving around NYC and even billboards. Now, you could blame the collapse of Ruffhouse Records on their fall from mainstream grace, and that was clearly a big part of the marketing suddenly drying up midstream etc. But really, the Outz were a large, ragtag collective (really, even The Outz themselves might have trouble naming all various members who came and left the group in a short period) of Brick City lyricists with a penchant for hard beats and sick (in all senses of the word) lyrics. Were they really built to compete in the post-Bieber hip-hop world?*

The advance version of The Bricks featured a different track-listing from the final, commercial version. And one song they added was this, their big, commercial single. This is the one they shot a video for. This is the song where they rap about relationships with an R&B singer on the hook with only their three, most recognizable members taking the mic. This is "I'm Leavin'," their radio single.

"I'm Leavin'" was produced by Hotrunner, a guy who's done a few other things before and since... nothing to get too excited about, but all of which sort of fits in that same weird gap of rappers not quite going commercial. The track is basically just a loop from a contemporary flamenco guitarist named Armik with the drums beefed up, which is effectively catchy in an offbeat way. It featured a hook by Kelis, who was just beginning her career, which includes a lot of hooks for a lot of rappers and a lot of terrible dance records (sorry guys, I'm not saying she isn't a good singer, but nobody should have to listen to "Blindfold Me" if they haven't committed some kind of awful crime against society).

But this single doesn't feature Kelis. No, she's been abandoned for the "UK versions," even on the US promo 12". Remember, by the time The Bricks was ready to drop singles, Ruffhouse Rufflife/ Ruff Wax was already dying. So here in the US, The Outz didn't really get any singles except a few promo copies. But Ruff Life UK hung on there a little more and actually marketed The Outsidaz over there, releasing this proper, commercially released single in the nice picture cover and all. And over in the UK, some girl group called All Saints was apparently semi-popular and one of its members, Melanie Blatt, was going solo. So they took Kelis off the track and gave the song a new hook by Melanie.

That may sound like a great injustice, and maybe it was to Kelis personally, and swapping out a black singer for a pretty white girl does reek of crass record label politics; but honestly, musically, the difference is pretty academic. They're both capable vocalists singing the same hook, which is a play on John Denver/ Peter Paul & Mary's "Leaving On a Jet Plane" (infamous in hip-hop circles more for its use in Stetsasonic's "Faye"). If you're not coming into this record as a Kelis fan (or Melanie Blatt fan), you're apt not to even notice the difference, much less care one way or the other. And apart from the hook, the song is the same. It's not remixed or anything... maybe it's mastered a bit differently, but it's the same Armik loop and all.

So this is what they made a video for (which you can see on the bonus disc hat came with Pace Won's debut, Won), sent out to DJs, etc. All upbeat and poppy for the soulless music directors, except... did they actually listen to this song? Young Zee spends his whole verse calling some groupie a nasty skank: "You're a virgin? You know you do this often. You're things so deep it could drown a school of dolphins." And there's a brilliant moment of unintended hilarity when they cut to Blatt vamping to the song, looking all cool, sexy and professionally model-y as Zee rags on the cleanliness of her vagina ("your things more dirty than the 'durty sowf'"). What a perfect music industry example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

And it gets worse! Zee at least keeps it to graphic sexuality, which often sneaks under the radar of commercial R&B and hip-hop. But look at Pace's verse:

"Yo, she fell in love with a star, the life, the car,
The Hu-Hu-HAAA!! had her goin'.
Open like: what? With a butt like Kim's.
When I seen it, made we wanna nut right then!
Yo, we got fly, she stopped by,
Spliffed the choc ty and passed it clockwise.
Let me knock the boots 'till I was cock-eyed;
And now she tryin' to act like she ain't got time?
I told her: think of this before you try to be foul:
There's chicks at the bar that could be buying me rounds,
And all type models that be eying me down;
I stay, and you say goodbye to me now?
Fuck that! Diss me, that's what's up here.
You better get yo' fat ass back upstairs!
And if you try to creep, I'ma tie you in the basement,
Catch your little boyfriend and beat is little face in!"

The music video censored the words "butt," "nut," "ass" and even the drug reference, but for some reason, stations still weren't giving this major rotations? What, they're not big fans of domestic violence? Gee, that really came out of left field. Hell, the music video cuts out Rah Digga's portion entirely, where she writes probably the first song in history about her an untrustworthy man cheating on her while in jail: "time to face the truth, when I really didn't wanna. How the Hell all these hoes keep getting my number? Who was it - a kissing cousin? Came to see you in prison, they sayin' you already had a visit! Leaving with these strangers, how do you explain this? Came this close to lettin' you put it in my anus!" This is meant to be their crossover song?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing these verses. The Outz kill it, keep it creative and edgy (although... Zee is capable of better), and manage to keep their integrity on what would normally be an embarrassing footnote in any other artist's career. I actually love this song! and while the video is censored to pieces (an exercise in futility), the 12"includes the Full Length versions, featuring all the curse words and Rah Digga's material untouched. It's also got the instrumental.

Being a UK 12", though... of course it also features some terrible, terrible dance remixes on the B-side. There's the Grunge Boyz Vocal Dub Remix, which is... well, I just can't believe anybody would choose to listen to this on purpose. Put it that way. Then there's the Oddsmakers Clean Remix, which is okay, but the vocals are drowned out by the overbearing samples. And it's not actually a clean edit at all (all the curses, etc, are present), which is nice. It doesn't compete with the original, but it's a cool extra to fill out our Outsidaz collections.

So I recommend you ignore your impulse to skip right over the blatant radio single and add this one to your collections - despite outward appearances, it's another ill Outsidaz classic. Especially considering their catalog is disappointingly small, we can't afford to sleep on anything.


*The shame of it isn't that they didn't continue to blow up bigger and bigger, but that they didn't dust themselves off and continue ruling the underworld as an unfuckwitable collective after Ruffhouse.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rappin' Is Cretaceous

Here's one of the jewels of my collection: "Ain't No Smoke Without Fire," the debut single by Rappin' Is Fundamental. This one's certainly rare - I've only ever seen it, or even heard of it, once - and that's when I bought it. This dropped in 1989, two years before they came out on A&M Records with their album, video and widely released single. Interestingly, this came out on Khafra Records, a super obscure west coast label, whose only other release was the debut 12" of Prodeje, before South Central Cartel and Havoc and Prodeje* even came out. That was their second and final release, and this is their first.

Now, the few of you who are as familiar with RIF's catalog as everyone ought to be (they are seriously under-appreciated) are probably saying to yourselves, "Ain't No Smoke Without Fire? I know that song!" Yes, "Ain't No Smoke (Without Fire)" was on their 1991, major label album. But this 12" features a different version. The lyrics and the primary looped riff of the instrumental is the same - plus Big Daddy Kane's uncredited cameo appears on both, though it's a bit shorter on the LP - but the vocals and the music are different.

You notice it instantly. Again, they're rapping the same lyrics over the same break, but the delivery is different and the mastering is different. JR sounds more laid back and the beat feels simpler. Even the ad-libs sound audibly more raw. And as the song progresses, the changes are more obvious - the first mini-hook, where RIF sing, "smoke, smoke, ain't no smoke" after JR's verse is absent, and instead the break is signified just by a subtle vocal sample of Kane going "Mm, mm, mm" from the intro to "Ain't No Half Steppin'." And the freestyle singing at the end of the song is completely different - at that point, they don't even sing the same words.

The album version has a whole just sounds bigger - they seem to have taken another pass at it to make it sound "more professional." The album version features some subtle "lead guitar" by one Shlomo Sonnenfeld. When I first read that in the credits, I thought, "there's guitar in that?" But when I played it back with my ear to the speaker, I was like, "ah, yeah, it's in there." Well, it's not in here, the 12" version.

So, the question becomes, "well, which is better?" It's hard to say, actually; it's going to just come down to the listener's personal taste. There's definitely something to be said for the epic feel of the album version, and the horns sound less chintzy. The 12" version, on the other hand, feels more natural, like you're in the same small jazz club with RIF as they rap and sing over a dope track. When you hear them both, you realize how much the album version's vocals have been processed, and the 12" version has a nice, organic appeal.

I say "12" version," but technically there are two versions on this 12" version. The Club Mix, and a shorter Radio Version, which shaves a couple minutes off the song's running time.

The B-side is another album track, "You Wanna Trip," and as with "Ain't No Smoke," it's another alternate pass at the A&M version, though the differences aren't so distinct. Where "Ain't No Smoke" has a remarkably different feel, the distinction here is more trivial; you mostly notice it in the background ad-libs, plus the extra drums that come in behind the chorus on the album version haven't been added to the 12" take. Again, it's essentially the same deal - the album version sounds more professional and polished, the 12" feels more low-fi and real. The differences just aren't so strong. Also, again, the 12" features two versions: The full-length Club Mix, and the tighter Radio Version.

But it's not just the alternate versions that make this 12" such a treasure (although they'd be enough), it's the fact that this dropped in 1989, showing that the guys who invented and their own musical genre, Doo-Hop, were even more ahead of their time than anybody realized. Heck, they'd still be ahead of their time if they came out today, considering still nobody else has been able to pick up their torch. And on an obscure west coast label? This record is some serious history.

And it's a treasure because, as you see, it comes in such a fantastic picture cover... although the designers went a little conceptually overboard by designing it to look like a picture printed on the cover of a book printed on the cover of another book (look closely - it's a mock, 3-d book cover on top of another mock, 3-D book cover lol). And as a bonus, my copy is signed by the group to a guy named Charlie. I don't know who he is, but i thank him for parting with his copy so it could wind up with me. =)


*No, there's no connection to Mobb Deep; it's just a strange coincidence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Werner Is Rockin' On the Radiooo

Update: listen to the show here, in mp3; and check out the playlist here.

Well, I will be in a few hours from now. From midnight to 3am, I'll be on the Coffee Break for Heroes and Villains show on WFMU, 91.1 FM. If you don't get the station in your area, you can listen to the show online at coffeebreakradio.com.

But if starting at midnight runs a little too late for you, there'll be an archived recording of the whole show, plus a playlist, which you should check because I'm bringing something a little special for them to play tonight. ;)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Dangerous Diss

Rally Ral's debut single first came out on In-A-Minute and No Limit Records in 1993. But it was later picked up by Priority for their Street Fighter soundtrack; and so it was released again as a single in 1994, remixed and smoothed out. The original's better, and it's got three additional songs on it, which all bump harder than this smoothed out remix, so it's generally considered the one to own. Plus, it's just usually a good rule of thumb in hip-hop: when in doubt, get the original, indie version.

But this second version has a couple exclusives itself - specifically 2 songs featuring E-A-Ski. Now, Ski's appearance kinda goes without saying... he also appeared on one of the songs from the original "Something Kinda Funky" single, and E-A-Ski & CMT were Rally Ral's regular producers who featured him on a couple of their other projects as well. He was pretty officially down with Infared.

So, one of those exclusive songs - "I Thought You Knew" - is just okay. The bassline has been used often, and it usually sounds better than this, plus the sung hook is lame. Still, Ski and Rally come pretty hard, and the scratching, which is kept pretty low in the mix, is kinda nice. But you should watch out, because there's one version of this single that only features "Something Kinda Funky" and "I Thought You Knew." Completists might want it, too, because it's the only version with the "I Thought You Knew" instrumental; but then you wouldn't just be missing out on the picture cover, but a killer Dangerous Dame diss!

Yeah, flip this one over and there's the song "Lost a Few Screws" where E-A-Ski goes hard on Dame. That's a little surprising, considering they were label-mates on No Limit at the time, and it's unclear exactly what the beef's about. They do start out by saying, "what's up with the disrespect," so I guess he said something to start it, intentionally or inadvertently, but who knows? Whatever the reason for it, though, no punches are pulled. While they never quite say his name, if you pay close attention to key lines in the lyrics ("'I Call Your Name' like your wack-ass song, bitch!" or "Make Room 4 Daddy? Nah, nigga, we don't want it!"), there's no possible way they're talking about anybody else:

"Always a has-been nigga on my back 'cause he's wack.
Starvin' for some Ski & CMT tracks. (Nigga, you can't have that!)
So back the fuck up, nigga, 'cause I know,
You lost a few screws from that mickey about a year ago."

That last line, besides justifying the song's title, is a reference to the crazy, but apparently true story Dame told on his Escape From the Mental Ward EP, where somebody slipped him a mickey which literally drove him insane. In fact, this song works just as well as an answer record to that song as a straight-up diss. I blogged about it back in January, including my transcription of the lyrics. It's pretty wild, so if you missed it, check it out here.

"Motherfuckers ain't shit.
Got dropped from Atlantic, now you're lookin' like a bee-itch.
Nigga, you can cup my nuts until they bust;
Lookin' for the Ski and CMT to bring your wack-ass up? (Never!)
I kinda figured you were jealous to the head, hoe,
When we rocked your wack-ass show. (That's right!)
Took niggas off guard with my presence;
An OG fuckin' with these young adolescents."

The whole song is just hard, hostile and personal: "Everyone knows the real scoop; You been rappin' for years, ain't got nothin' to show for it!" They even go on to challenge his authenticity as a ghost-writer. Everyone knows he wrote "Short But Funky" for Too $hort, but nothign else can really be verified, since he's not actually credited as a writer. Or, as they put it, "It ain't a rumor, it's a fact: this nigga's walkin' around sayin' he wrote Ice Cube and D.O.C.'s raps. How the fuck you figure this? A mental block to your skull makes you a walkin' lunatic."

The beat's okay, but pretty subtle. The only thing you're meant to be paying attention to are the vicious rhymes, and that's how it plays out. By the time the song's over, you barely even realize that there was no hook, or that Ski didn't even pass the mic. That's right, Ral doesn't even get on his own song. Ski just grabs the mic, murders Dangerous Dame, and before you know it, the song's over.

So yeah, it's a single worth picking up. I have the cassingle and 12", and both track-listings are the same: the three songs, plus the "Something Kinda Funky" Instrumental. But of course, like I already covered, there's also the earlier No Limit version with different songs and the promo version that's missing "Lost a Few Screws." Plus, there's another 12" which pairs "Something Kinda Funky" with the Hammer and Deion Sanders song from Street Fighter. So you've gotta pay attention to which version you're getting. If you just order "Something Kinda Funky" from some seller on Amazon, there's no telling what'll show up at your door.

Rally Ral might not've been the greatest rapper, or even one of the best gangsta rapper of his style and era, but he was cool because he came harder than most. Unfortunately, most heads were introduced to him by the A-side, this commercially soft "Something Kinda Funky" remix, the least representative of his work or what he was capable of bringing. The back cover says this is from his forthcoming album, Tighter Than a Virgin, but that never dropped. And while Ral put in another guest appearance or two, he never came out with another record after this. So, in the end, I guess Dame got the last laugh.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The First Name In Milwaukee Hip-Hop Returns

When I covered the catalog of Jamille Records, I honestly wasn't sure if they had already run their course in 2010, but I'm happy to report that they have not. They have returned in 2011 with two new 7" singles, definitely on par with their past releases, and even a documentary DVD.

The 7"s are one of each - one's a repress of an obscure, hard to find indie release, and in the case of the other, this music is being released for the first time ever. The repress is by The Ill Chief Rockers, taking two, and presumably the best, songs from their only 1986 single (that 12" also had two other songs, not present here). The Chief Rockers are two guys you'll remember from past Jamille releases: MC Kid Crab, and Strickey Luv, who was one of the guests on the MC Richie Rich & Scratch single, along with Rock La Flow. By 1986 standards, this is as hard as hip-hop got. It's pressed on clear, yellow (yellow) vinyl; and is limited to 100 copies (mine is #74).

Then the next single is two more unreleased joints by Two-Tone. It's my understanding that they'd never put any recordings out back in the day, so these singles singles from Jamille are the first time any of us are getting to hear their stuff. Both songs here are fun, but the B-side wins with its liberal use of The Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces" as its instrumental bed. And once again, their wicked DJ Mike T steals the show - his cuts are so clean! This one's produced on clear (clear) vinyl - my scanner makes it look a lot grayer than it really is - and is also limited to 100 copies (mine is #73).

And now the DVD. Red Beans and Rice is a cool little documentary, clocking in at about an hour long, looking at record digging from the collector's perspective. This isn't about the big-name producers like Diamond or Large Professor, like in Beat Diggin' or Deep Crates 1 and 2. This is more just about the regular heads, from places like Milwaukee, Arizona, Chicago... There are some names you might recognize if you're really plugged in, like DJentrification; but essentially this is just a documentary looking at the "you and me"s of the scene.

You probably have to be a major vinyl lover to appreciate this - I could see your average viewer taking the stance, "what do I care what this guy's favorite record is when I don't even know who he is?" But you know what this is? It's record porn. This is an excuse to ogle peoples' huge private collections and get glimpses into record stores that, unless you there, you'd probably never otherwise get to check out. There are some fun stories: one guy who pulled records especially made for a news network's broadcast out of the rubble of a demolished TV station, and another guy who has two copies of the WaxPoetics poster - one kept nice in a frame, and one with covered in X's as he marks off each record he gets from it like a hit list. One guy has his house so full of records that he's got crate shelves in his bathroom now, because he's run out of room.

It's not strictly about hip-hop digging - heads here are just as happy to talk about The Beach Boys or The Beatles - but there's definitely a lot of hip-hop love throughout. This is obviously targetted at a small market, but I think from my description you can probably decide if this is for you. I'm not sure what the plans are for this film - I was just hooked up with a DVD -maybe it'll start popping up for sale soon... But keep an eye out for Red Beans and Rice if it sounds like your thing. It's a nice little doc, and like everything put out by Jamille Records, made with an earnest sincerity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

More Rarities

I wasn't kidding when I said these Buck 65 tour CDs are addicting... so here's another one. This one is called Pole-Axed: More Rarities, released back in 2006, and according to Buck's website, compiled (he says "recorded") in Paris. Since it's labeled "rarities" not "unreleased" or "exclusives," it's not surprising that most of these have been released before. This is mostly a collection of guest spots he did on releases by artists like Stigg of the Dump, the Molemen, Governor Bolts... stuff like that. The compilation's a little uneven, but by and large, all pretty good stuff.

A couple of tracks are confusingly listed in the track-listing, but nothing actually new, so let's just clear those up real quick. "Styles of Smiles" (helpfully credited "from Granelli album"), is actually the song "Richie's Secret World" from the Jerry Granelli album, Music Has Its Way With Me, which Buck collaborated on as DJ Stinkin' Rich. And while I thought "Centaur (Gordski Rmx)" might actually by an unheard take on the song, it's actually the remix from the Anticon 12" B-side. Gordski's name appears nowhere on that record's label or cover, so I never realized it wasn't by Buck himself... but regardless, it's not version.

So, blah blah blah, that's enough about the previously released songs that us fans all already have. Let's talk exclusives. Now, even if you didn't pay attention to the dates, it's obvious this album closely followed Secret House Against the World, because all the exclusive remixes are from that album.

First up is "Rough House Blues (Masculine Fantasy Rmx)." "Rough House Blues" was always one of the better tracks on the original album, and this remix does a nice job of making it fresh again without taking away what worked about the first version. It features the same (or similar) guitar riff for the body of the instrumental, and the cuts are the same. But the piano has been changed up, and the whole thing sounds down-pitched and darker. And where the short, original mix (it's less than two and a half minutes) ends, this new mix builds into a crescendo with new instruments and non-verbal vocals.

Unlike "Rough House Blues," "Drawing Curtains" really wasn't so appealing. It was interesting, and the production (except maybe for the drums) was effective. But the fact that he shared the vocal duties with Claire Benes (who, to the album's detriment, was all over Secret House Against the World), where they constantly go back and forth, alternating words or phrases in a single sentence, is really abrasive and annoying. It was just the sort of thing that plagued Secret House - it's like he thought, "I'll put a woman speaking with a French accent all over this album and it'll sound really avant-garde, regardless of the fact that her cadence is dull and her delivery's sleepy, lifeless and sucks all the energy out of the songs like a vacuum cleaner." ...Okay, he probably didn't think that second part.

Anyway, Pole-Axed introduces us to the "Crude Version" of "Drawing Curtains." But if you were hoping for an early, temp track Buck recorded all by himself before he laid in Claire's vocals or anything, forget it. In fact, there's barely any perceivable difference at all. This version was just mastered slightly different, maybe? I dunno, every vocal and instrumental bit from this version seems to be on that version, and vice versa. Oh well.

The third and final Secret House exclusive is "The Suffering Machine (Raw Demo Instrumental)." The titling here is a bit odd, since this sounds 100% nothing like "The Suffering Machine" from Secret House... instead, it seems to be the "Raw Demo Instrumental" to another song off that album: "Drunk Without Drinking." I don't know if it's a stupid mistake, or maybe an indication that he was originally planning to record the "Suffering Machine" lyrics to this beat, or what. Anyway, unlike the two versions of "Drawing Curtains," the differences here are easy to identify; there's whole instrumental riffs and elements that are unique to this "Raw Demo" version. It's exclusive just by way of it being an instrumental for a song that was only released as a full, vocal version, anyway; but here we also get to hear a different take on the music and how "Drunk Without Drinking" might've otherwise sounded.

And then the last song on this album is probably it's biggest selling point, because it's a song that is entirely exclusive to this album, and hasn't been otherwise released in any mix or capacity. It's called "Be Careful" and features a big rolling piano loop that could almost have been taken from "Drag Rap/ Trigger Man." The lyrics are a bit lazy, but fun, starting out "be careful, werewolf, the smiling snake still slithers. Pennies in the well, I wanna sing like Bill Withers. Card carrying member: Neighborhood Task Watch, keepin' our children safe from the Sasquatch. Any last thoughts? Some spare change? A little bit? If I live to be a hundred, I will always be illiterate." It's not one of his best, but still good and enjoyable. You definitely get the sense of how this is something he recorded and couldn't find a home for, so a tour CD was a fitting place to make it a little exclusive.

At the end of the day, this is about what you'd expect from a tour CD. Not worthy of being a proper album or suitable for wide release, but as a little scrappy little bonus for the more devoted fans, it's a nice little score. Though, for the fans who have everything (i.e. when all those non-exclusives are already in our collections), it doesn't have all that much to offer... The "Drawing Curtains (Crude Mix)" is pointless, and while "The Suffering Machine (Raw Demo Instrumental)" is interesting, it's not something you'll be going back to for repeat listens. So you have to figure: you'd basically just be tracking this down for one cool remix and one new song which is good but not great. And since only 200 were made, that won't be too easy. So, more of a collector's thing, I guess.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Marley Marl Meets Kurtis Blow

In 1988, Marley Marl made history with by assembling one of the greatest collective of hip-hop artists ever, The Juice Crew, and releasing perhaps the most legendary posse cut of all time, "The Symphony" off his debut album. And on practically the complete opposite end of the hip-hop spectrum, that same year, Kurtis Blow put out his eighth and final album, Back By Popular Demand. But for a brief moment, those diverse paths crossed, as the lead single and title cut of Blow's album featured none other than Marley Marl.

To be clear, Marley didn't produce this "Back By Popular Demand;" it was co-produced by Blow and Van Gibbs and Eddison Electrik, with "Music By" credit going to Kurtis himself. Also, interestingly, big-shot producer Salaam Remi gets "Concept By" credit ...which is odd because "hey, I'm back" isn't really the sort of clever or complicated concept you'd think you'd need to bring in another guy to come up with. I'm sure it has more to do with the fact that Salaam is Van Gibbs' son.

Now, let's talk about the production for a minute. Like many, many hip-hop records, this one is based on a slamming James Brown sample, specifically "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose." But where a lot of hip-hop tracks will base their entire on instrumental on that record ("Give It Up" is a cornucopia of fantastic samples), Blow and co. (heh) just take their drums from the breakdown at the end of the song. And making that loop seems to be the majority of the work Electrik, Gibbs and Blow really did here.

The bulk of the rest of the music, certainly the stuff that really stands out here, is the "Scratch Production," done by none other than our man Marley Marl. The hook is all vocal samples being cut up: "Kuh-Kuh-Kuh-Kurtis Bluh-Bluh-Bluh-Blow!" mixed with a little "Al-Naaflysh" and a few brief distorted samples taken right out of the Marley catalog. It's certainly possible that any of the other producers added the "Back! By popular demand!" vocal sample or something, but it's sure got that classic Marley Marl sound. One really cool element is that the song has looped crowd cheers throughout... you know, like those early Run-DMC records where they're faking like the song was recorded live? But then at the end, the crowd sounds get cut up, and it sounds fresh!

Unfortunately, Blow the MC isn't up to the track. Gibbs and Blow share credit for the lyrics (the album just says "Written by: K. Blow/V. Gibbs/E. Sainsbury," but the 12" specifies credit to those two for the lyrics. It's a bit mind boggling that it took two men to come up with such simplistic, corny stuff as, "I know you missed me, so don't diss me; be down with the history... of rap! So let your fingers snap. Or whatever makes you move... to the groove," or one-liners like, "I'm sure to deliver... like US mail!" And before you say, "oh, it was the 80's, all raps were corny," bear in mind, not only was Marley bringing Kane, Tragedy, Master Ace and G Rap at the same time as this; but this was cornball even for the oldest of old school. Caz, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel wouldn't ever have spit silliness like that; and even Blow himself was capable of much smoother rhymes on earlier stuff like "Rappin' Blow." I really don't know what Blow was thinking putting those bars over this track; it's like he wanted to be written off as hopelessly old school. And that wish that came true with this album's reception.

So, this 12" has the 12" Version, which seems to be exactly the same as the album version, and the 7" version, which is just a shorter edit. But there are some more interesting mixes on the B-side.

If you read the credits of the album, you'll see a "Trumpet Solo" credited to Marc Leford on this song. I was quite baffled by this as a kid, because there is no trumpet or anything resembling a trumpet anywhere to be heard. But they must be crediting the work recorded exclusively for this 12", because here there are two instrumental mixes called "Black[as opposed to Back] By Popular Demand," the first of which is the Trumpet Mix. While there is absolutely zero trumpet on the 12"/album version, there is a ton here. Blow's entire vocal track has been replaced by a trumpet. Then there's also an Organ Version, where his vocals are replaced by a plectrum banjo. ...I'm just kidding, it was replaced by an organ, of course. Nobody is given credit for an "Organ Solo," so I'm guessing it was played by Blow or Electrik, who share that "Music By" credit.

By the way, this isn't the only work Marley did for Blow. Also on the Back By Popular Demand album, Marley is credited with "Keyboard/Horn Arrangements" on the light-hearted tune, "Love Don't Love Nobody." It's also the only other song on the album also produced by Gibbs and Electrik (Blow produced most of the LP by himself). But unlike "Back By Popular Demand," you would never recognize "Love" as Marley's work if you didn't read the liner notes. In fact, the soft keyboard tones sound a lot like the stuff Blow put on a ton of records he produced back in the early 80s.

So, to wrap things up, this single is like the whole album. Sure, on one level it's wack and easy to dismiss. But it's all strangely endearing and catchy. And it's certainly got a unique mixture of musical sounds that nobody else was brave or goofy enough to match. This is a time capsule not only of the wild, unrepeatable 80s, but a brief period when rap albums were starting to get big budgets and no idea what to do with them. I mean, seriously, where was the Organ Mix of "Back By Popular Demand" supposed to play, exactly? And some of the stuff on the album ("Blue Iguana," anybody?) is even weirder. And, hey, it comes in an awesome picture cover! What's not to like?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

This Is By the Convicts

There's a couple reasons you might know of The Convicts. You might've read Unkut's king-making post some years back, dubbing the Rap-A-Lot duo "a testament to the genius of ignorant rap." Or you might know Convicts member Big Money Mike for going on to become an official Geto Boy when Willie Dee dropped out. But if you don't actually know them for their music, you're missing out.

The Convicts, who have an odd habit of contradictorily referring to themselves as The Ex-Convicts in their songs, consists of just Big Mike and 3-2 (later of The Blac Monks). They only dropped one album on Rap-A-Lot Records in 1991 before going their separate ways. And this is the one single off of that album.

Depending on your attitude, you might be pleasantly surprised or heartily disappointed that there's nothing particularly ignorant about "This Is For the Convicts" at all. Big Mike and 3-2 are both really just flexing their spitting skills, kicking your basic, "we're the toughest on the block" rhymes. Mike impresses more, coming off as a seasoned vet even though he wasn't yet one at that stage, but 3-2 comes nice as well. It certainly helps that they're blowing over the dark bassline Paris used for "The Devil Made Me Do It," but laid over a cracking, classic break that really ups the energy of the groove, but keeps it nice and hard. None of that later-year keyboard sound of later Rap-A-Lot releases, this is pure hip-hop.

The one drawback to the song is the minute long intro, where they sign a humorous song about life in prison. What you might find amusing the first time is a torturous minute to get through after you've heard it a few times. Fortunately, the music changes drastically enough that you can see on the vinyl where the song changes and you can needle drop right to the good stuff.

The B-side is another dope beat, slower and chunkier. It runs a bit dangerously close to the intro of the last song, however, in that, while it's not badly sung, it's still a jokey song that can wear out its novelty value with regular rotations. It's called "Wash Your Ass" and it's a collection of amusing anecdotes and complaints about people with poor hygiene.

Both songs are straight off the album, but the 12" does also include both instrumentals. That's nice for "This Is for the Convicts" just because it's a dope track, but even better for "Wash Your Ass," because at this point, it's the preferable way for me to listen to this song. If any of the less original producers out there would like to jack this beat and repurpose it for a more straight-forward acappella, I wouldn't be adverse. Either way, though, this is a nice, underrated 12" that deserves a little appreciation.