Monday, October 31, 2011

Dracula A.D.

As any Hammer aficionado can tell you, Alucard is "Dracula" written backwards, the alias he uses when he returns in modern days - obvious, but still enough to defray suspicion from members of contemporary society who'd never suspect a centuries old vampire could in our modern times. The term comes up again and again in vampire lore, from anime to video games, and it always means the king of all vampires is not far behind. So, I'm just suggesting you might want to have a clove of garlic or two on hand before playing Alucard's debut album, Watch Them Fall.

Watch Them Fall dropped on Creative Juices in 2009. But many of you may've already been familiar with the album by then, as there was an earlier, "mixtape" version in 2008. Of course, it wasn't a real mixtape (or mixCD even), with a DJ expressing his artistry through blends, scratches, juggling, etc - it was one of those "we don't want to market it as a proper album" mixtapes all rappers put out these days, where they just cut out the 2 second gap between each song, stick it in a slimline case and declare it a mixtape so label politics, sample clearances, etc somehow won't apply. But I digress.

So, who is Alucard? Alucard is a Brooklyn MC who's been down with Creative Juices since the beginning, dropping guest verses or full-length songs to their compilations since the early 2000's. He also does most or all of their album covers, including, yes, this one. And Watch Them Fall isn't so much an all-new album, but a collection of his music from over the years, which could partially explain why the album's so uneven.

To be honest, he feels like a horrorcore MC who lacks the conviction to go full-fledged horrorcore, and instead hedges his bets by just acting thug whenever he's in danger of being ridiculed for breaking too far free of the generic rapper mold. So lots of horror references and samples, and lots of "I punch MCs in the face until I break my hands... I fuck your girl and let the rest of my boys molest her"-type lines. So he can wind up feeling like a budget Vinnie Paz (and let's face it, Vinnie Paz is already a budget Vinnie Paz). But also like Vinnie, he has some excellent, compelling production, so when Alucard gets it right, the combination can be a lot of fun. Plus, to be fair, Alucard's flow is a lot less clumsy than Paz's, and his rhyme schemes are more clever.

It's songs like "Hatchling" that make it all worth it. Producer Real 6 loops up the main theme to House By the Cemetery with a hook consisting of crazy quotes from the Werewolf TV series. And Alucard kicks a perfectly bugged out, creative rhyme:

"The metamorphosis mega-force exists
Complex transformation process
Fingers elongate, the song makes
Rivers split to form lakes
Inform hate, violence at high res
Creatures with hind legs
Develop inside eggs
With webbed toes and bat wings
That swoop down to the ground and catch things
Like grapplings
Swings back and forth with chains
From attached rings
And attack kings
Brooklyn-bound Stood on a cloud that floats five hundred feet above the ground
Lookin' down
Lick the MDA off the back of a slimy toad
And dread the windy road
Until the trail ends
Scorpion tail bends

You better have a strong stomach
When the storm cometh
My mouth opens and thousands of hornets'll swarm from it
Form current, leave patches
Heat rashes, deep gashes
I pull the arm from the shoulder until it detaches
And the bones snap like tree branches!"

So, it's a fun album. The lyrics are often engaging, and the production always is. There is one really annoying skit, that consists of a never ending George Carlin quote played over a beat for three minutes. But apart from that, it's good times, and there's plenty of good guest spots by Creative Juices regulars like IDe, Critical, UG (fittingly), Savage, Jise, etc.

So, the 2009 album is just the 2008 mixCD without the endings of all the songs clipped? No, actually not. The 2009 album adds five new songs, which is cool. But the album has 22 songs, and the mixCD had 23. Which means the mixCD has seven songs not on the final version - both versions have unique content. Now, I bet you're thinking, "if only there were a detailed breakdown of the differences between the two versions available online somewhere, so I knew which one was preferable." Man, what're you new to this blog? Sit down and read. ;)

Exclusive to the mixCD:

Oh No - This is a fun, upbeat freestyle produced by IDe. Nothing spectacular, I can see why it was considered expendable, but it's nice to have.

What They Gone Say, featuring L.I.F.E. Long - The beat by IDe is kind of head nodder, but apart from that, this one's kinda boring, complaining about the typical underground rap gripes (what plays on the radio, NY police, etc). Not sorry to see this one go.

Full Of Hate -Another one produced by IDe, the lyrics and instrumental really fit the theme, so I was surprised to see this one go, but some of the rhymes are a bit corny ("church I never go, heterosexual dressed in black from head to toe. Fuck, I let 'em know so fast.")

Octane, featuring IDe, L.I.F.E. Long & Sav Killz - This is an okay posse cut, produced by Alucard himself; but nothing better. It's been replaced by a much better posse cut.

Altitude, featuring Savage Messiah - The track by Ide is cool, but they're trying a more playful delivery that comes off as a cheesy attempt to follow some bad trend, and the lyrics are lame ("I fuck a broad without the bra like Ron Jeremy"). A good choice to remove.

Order Of the Dragon, featuring Deep, IDe, L.I.F.E. Long & Relz - This is a better posse cut, produced by Felony (I don't know who he is, really, but he's done a couple other tracks for CJM). I was sorry to see this one go.

Daisy Cutters - I liked this one, too. Dope beat (by Benefit), good flow. Should've kept this one, I think.

Exclusive to the proper album:

Haunted Cathedrals, featuring IDe - I really like this track, with some tight scratches by DJ Bonus1 on the hook. This really has the more polished, finished song quality that something like "Oh No" lacks; so the change makes perfect sense. Good addition.

Voice Of Reason - The beat, by 2 Hungry Bros, is perfect for this project, and Alucard comes harder than usual. It's kind of short, but adds a lot.

Hatchling - This is the one I singled out above as one of the stand-out songs. This being an exclusive makes a big difference.

Loose Screw - CJM regular DJ Connect provides a perfect beat for one of Alucard's best vocal performances. Clearly influenced by UG, but I'm happy with that.

Cyclone, featuring IDe - The upbeat, old school organ track provided by somebody named White Shadow is fitting, but lyrically it's disappointing, at times even downright stupid ("music's postal. I ship priority, tracking preferred. A hierarchy of words, binary codes. We're all bare beanth our clothes"). Could've done without this one, frankly.

Boom, featuring Critical, IDe, Jise & UG - This is the much better posse cut I mentioned earlier. And of course, you have to get UG on an album like this if you can!

So, final tally? The final album is predictably better. Ideally, I would've swapped around a few different songs and made some different choices ("Cyclone" out, "Order Of the Dragons" in), but it's clearly the more consistent of the two. So I'd say just get the 2009 edition - it's not worth getting both unless you're seriously Alucard's #1 fan - if you want something appropriate for the Halloween season.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nick Wiz - UGHH Exclusive?

Nick Wiz is back, with another double CD - 43 full-length tracks - of unreleased goodness from his vaults. Interestingly, Cellar Sounds volume 2: 1992-1998 is a exclusive. That's fine with me, because they're a good, reliable store, and if more places carried it, I'd've still probably ordered mine from them. But it does make me worry about the future of this series... if only one website is carrying Volume 3, can we be secure in the hopes for a Volume 4?

But enough gray skies for now, let's just enjoy what we've got - another excellent collection of 100% previously unreleased songs. All your old favorites are back: Cella Dwellas, Shadowz In da Dark, Ran Reed, Pudgee, N-Tyce, Milkbone. And, like last time, Nick hits us off with brief notes explaining every single song in this comp. One small disappointment is no Lord Have Mercy. I was enjoying the idea of him having one show-stopper at the end of every disc #1. Also, artists we'd only been first introduced to in previous volumes of this series, like The Native Assassins and Tross, are back with more lost demos.

Highlights this go around? Well, UG comes pretty nice on a couple tracks, including the album's opener... It's titled "Intro," but it's a full song. N-Tyce brings a different style than we've heard from her before on "Bet You Didn't Know." Pudgee comes with a tight, but politically incorrect, sex track called "Sex Ghetto Styles." A group called Pure Sinister from North Carolina recorded a fresh, hardcore demo track called "You Know My Style." And my personal favorite is an oldie from Madhouse - Shabaam Sahdeeq/s first group from even before Shadowz In da Dark, called "The Boom Bip" that has the MCs and the producer both going outside of their normal lanes for a really funky, aggressively upbeat track.

I mean, don't get me wrong - I don't want to oversell this album. Sometimes the formula here can wear a little thin. A lot of the MCs here are good, but wouldn't particularly stand out in a crowded cypher; and they're often hampered by the need to kick a few too many corny 90's punchlines. Plus some of Wiz's lesser tracks can feel a little formulaic, especially if you're listening to this double disc set end-to-end. And while these compilations have taught me to appreciate a couple of these MCs a little more than I did when they were first coming out - cats like Milkbone or N-Tyce, they still fall more than a little short of genius.

But everything here is good, some of it's really good, and there's a lot of stuff here heads have been waiting to get their hands and ears on since the 90's. Plus, two CDs packed with over twenty full-length songs each is a hell of a lot of material for $14.97. I think you'd be really be cheating yourself to pass it up.

So, whither Volume 4? Man, I hope so! I'm still dying to hear those original Cella Dwellas tracks when Lord Have Mercy was a member, and the fact that Wiz keeps hitting us off with tons of material we've never even heard of means you just know he's got a lot more to go from almost these artists. So I'm sitting here with my fingers crossed that "ughh exclusive" isn't a bad sign. And, in the meantime, the liner notes of this set tells us what's on deck from Nick Wiz and No Sleep Records: Nick Wiz Presents Ran Reed "Respect the ARchitect."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Masta Ace Wax

With "Nostalgia" by Marco Polo and that killer song on Top Shelf 8/8/88, Masta Ace is exciting again. I mean a lot of MCs who were great at one time keep putting out records or guest appearances that are OK. But they're nothing like their heydays, and you can't help thinking somebody needs to give these guys a serious shot in the arm or put them out of their misery, because this endless succession of half-ass material where they're just cashing in on the last few remnants of their name are depressing. Well, either somebody gave Ace that shot in the arm, or being a master of constantly re-inventing himself and staying well ahead of the curve, he never needed it. Whichever way, Ace has still got it, and this is his new 12" single.

"Let It Be" comes to us from producer Ras Beats, a Danish producer who lives in Queens. He's put out several other releases like this one - that is, on his own label, Worldwyde; but this is his first release with big name MCs.

And while Ace has clearly taken the time to craft lyrics more substantial than just the quick throwaway guest spot freestyle - this is a proper song with a concept that matches the chorus - one of the biggest reasons Ace stays exciting this time around is that he's got production worthy of him. I'd love to know what's being sampled hear, ha ha. It's got a deep, slow, bassy feel crisp drums and a sung/ sampled hook. I love the decision to reverse the vocals on the last go 'round of each hook.

And this 12" would be impressive enough if it was left as just that; but it's also got a dope B-side, by Ras and Sadat X. It's called "Survive" and it's pretty interesting, because at first it sounds like just a lot of thoughtful but typical, non sequitur stream of consciousness-type rhymes. But it all ties back to the theme/hook - "how you can survive this year?" - of it getting harder and harder to stay in the game.

Both songs come in Vocal, Clean Vocal and Instrumental versions. And both sides also have a Bonus Beat. These aren't your typical Bonus Beats entry on a 12"; they're actually completely different breakbeats Ras also produced. I actually thought the Bonus Beat on side B might've been a more suitable beat for Sadat to spit over than the one they use for the song; but it's all solid production all around.

This is limited to 300 hand-numbered copies... plus, apparently, a couple extra for promo purposes; because in my case, I won my copy in a contest (see, kids, it pays to pay attention to those things), and my copy is numbered "COMP." It comes in a sticker cover, pictured above, and if you were lucky/quick enough to score one of the first 25 copies, you got it signed by Ace and Beats.

"Let It Be" also comes with a colored promo sheet, a la DWG, with a few notes on each song from Ras. More impressively, it also features a download code and password, so everyone who purchases the vinyl gets a free digital copy. I really appreciate it when labels do this... it's not so important for CDs, but for vinyl it's really handy. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the link no longer seems to be working - I guess it was more a bonus for pre-orderers **UPDATE 10/26/11 - it's back! Worldwyde hit me up and said they re-activated the link, so if you get the vinyl now, you can still get the free download. :) ** Regardless, it's a first class release suitable for anyone who wants to get their grown man rap on. It's not available too widely, but you can still order it directly from his website, There's also a digital-only release for the kids.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mixmasta "D" Meets Big Daddy Kane

Mixmasta "D", of the Bizzie Boyz and that killer EP on Dope Folks Records last year made a record with Big Daddy Kane in 1996. Yup. And if you're like me when I first found out about it, the two thoughts running through your mind are, "why didn't I know about this?" and "I've gotta get it!" Well, it wasn't the easiest record to find, but I tracked it down and now I'm able to tell you guys about it and spread the word.

After dropping Turntable Scientist (the first iteration), Dana Mitchell changed his name from the 80's-style MixMasta "D" to the 90ish Dana Lucci. He and the MC from that EP, Flipsyde, (who also changed his name - in this case to Celinski), cliqued up with two other cats from NC: brother and sister O. Shabazz and Rasheedah. They called themselves Da Pit-Stalkaz (named after D's studio, Da Pit), and released this 12" single in '96.

It's hard to say which is the "A" side, since both sides of this record are labeled "Pit Side," but we'll start out with the most exciting one - the song featuring Kane. It's called "Pit-A-Strofik" (a play on the word catastrophic), and even if you didn't know the story behind it, you can tell it's descended from the same origins as Bizzie Boyz and Original Flavor. It's all about fun, lyric-flexing rhymes - think the NC version of Tha Supafriendz (who were dropping "Vowel Movement" the same year). The beat's kinda slow and atmospheric, with that very stripped-down sound of the indie hip-hop vinyl movement of the 90's - it's all about putting the attention on the MCs' rhymes, as each MC kicks a freestyle verse. Some punchlines are witty, some are corny, but they manage to make them all work by keeping the flows light-hearted and engaging.

So, Kane's not actually on "Pit-A-Strofik," but he is on the remix that follows. It uses exactly the same beat, but all the MCs kick new verses. And yeah, this time Kane gets on the mic to spit right along side them. Disappointingly, though, it turns out to be a verse we heard before. Well, not really. At the time it was new. This record dropped in '96, remember. But he brought this verse back in 1998 for his own single, "Hold It Down" (off of the underrated Veteranz Day). I guess he figured nobody'd heard of this North Carolina local record. And I guess I have to concede he was right - even I didn't find out about this until recently. But,. anyway, at least it's a really killer verse, and he sounds good over this beat.

So you get both versions of that song plus the Instrumental, which again, was the same for both versions. But flip this over and you get another dope song: "Represent." It's another, kinda smooth, atmospheric but raw beat, taking its hook from a choice Lost Boyz sample. Overall, this song sounds better - the sound is a little richer, the MCs come off better, and the hook is a big improvement. It just doesn't feature Kane. Essentially, "Pit-A-Strofik" felt more like a live, down-the-line freestyle recorded in the moment (which is, in a way, a plus to be sure), and "Represent" sounds more like a finished studio song. This is definitely the one that'll catch your ear if you do a quick in-store needle drop; but still... "Pit-A-Strofik" has Kane. haha

Fortunately, we don't have to choose; we get 'em both, making for a pretty nice little indie find. "Represent," by the way, comes in EP Mix, Radio and Instrumental versions. The only thing different about the EP Mix is that it doesn't have the curses edited out like the Radio version.

Since this record, Dana Lucci and co. have stayed busy... He and Celinski first put out a CD called Da Pitz: Greatest Hits, and then Dana dropped a vinyl EP in 2001 called Urban Legend. In 2009, he released an mp3 album called Klassic Truck Musik. And obviously, most recently of all, he's linked up with Dope Folks, who're releasing the best of his unreleased vintage material. Their next release has been announced to be some unreleased Bizzie Boyz songs from even before they were on Yo! Records. I seriously can't wait.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Other Classical Jam

The Classical Two is one of those mid-80's hip-hop groups, like The Fresh 3 MCs or The Showboys, that are often written off as one0hit wonders, but in actuality they actually made... two good records. They're known for their debut single in 1987, "New Generation," largely because it's one of the earliest productions (though definitely not his first) of Teddy Riley, who was about to rule the latter half of the decade. It really makes distinct use of his signature funky percussion style and even a touch of the keyboard style from all his later #1 hits, and it features straight b-boy style rapping, so it's often a favorite amongst heads who appreciate Riley.

...And that's usually where the conversation stops when it comes to The Classical Two. But as I said, there's a continuation to their story. The Bronx duo, K-Born and LA Bru (R.I.P.) had originally come out on Rooftop Records through Brucie B, but the single was quickly scooped up and rereleased by Jive Records. And in 1988, Jive and Rooftop decided to put out another record from these guys even if they didn't have Teddy on the boards this time, and they dropped "The Classical Two Is Back."

Now, you can see from the black and white label and the "NOT FOR SALE" admonition (oops - somebody sold it to me!), that my copy is a promo version, but there's no difference in the track-listing. In either case you get two songs in vocal, Instrumental and Dub versions. And in my opinion this single does just what it set out to do: prove The Classical Two didn't need Teddy to carry them to be a viable rap act. Unfortunately, however, the increasingly commercialized industry took the opposite stance and opted to dead their careers rather than backing them for a full-length album. Oh well, even I have to acknowledge that while it probably would've been a fresh, quality album that I would still be enjoying to this day, it probably wouldn't've been a huge money maker if they didn't have at least some kind of gimmick and a new name.

"Classical Two Is Back" is just a fun, upbeat, funky record with just enough soul to keep it from sounding too pop. It's co-produced by Greg B of the Disco Four - a group I was always been a big fan of back in the day - and someone named Robert Wells, who worked on a lot of Kool Moe Dee's early Jive stuff. Possibly it got a little lost in the shuffle because the hook echoes their first single, saying, "we are rap's new generation" ...that shit confuses fans when you're only known for one song! They think, oh, I think I got that record already.

But this one is entirely different, with a completely dissimilar groove and rhythm. "New Generation" was great, too; don't get me wrong. But this is like the textbook definition of a head-nodder, and it does it without sounding half as poppy as Teddy's jam. The looped vocal samples, the subtle groove they don't bring in until the halfway mark, and the cuts by DJ Prince all come together, and the no-frills flows of the MCs just all come together to make one of those perfect rap songs that seem to only exist on old, overlooked 12" singles.

The B-side is interesting, too; but the magic isn't there like it was on the A-side. It's called "New York Is On Fire," and I appreciate their inclination to make a harder, street-oriented track, with rougher flows and a more atmospheric beat... but it just doesn't seem to be their area of expertise. The keyboard instrumentation sounds chintzy and cheap. The MCs go for a clearly Run-DMC-inspired style where they double-up each other's key words, that sounds like it's meant to be serious and intimidating, but they don't pull it off. I mean, it's okay; and the bassline is catchy; but unlike the A-side, this is one of those many 80's records that could slip comfortably into obscurity and not be missed.

But the A-side? That's some hip-hop definitely calling out to be revisited and appreciated. And if you're wondering whatever happened to K-Born, apparently he's been writing for mags like The Source and Hip-Hop Weekly and is/was working on a comeback album. I don't know if he checks in anymore (does anyone?), but he has a myspace page here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Palestinian Hip-Hop

What do you know about the Palestinian hip-hop scene? Me either. Or at least I didn't before I decided to check out this recent documentary on the subject, Slingshot Hip Hop.

Slingshot Hip Hop spends most of its time with the first and most influential hip-hop acts to come out of Palestine, DAM (Da Arab MCs), but also manages to be a pretty definitive look at the entire movement there. We hear how they first discovered hip-hop and get to see some preserved footage of their awkward first attempts at recording an English language rap song in the 90's. And it follows their career as they meet Chuck D, perform illegal rap shows, freestyle, meet with and inspire new groups... it's really everything you could want in that regard.

But more important than just being the story of this crew who persevere in an unfriendly environment is the insight into what the hip-hop scene, and modern life in general is like in Palestine - both inside and out of the Israel controlled areas. Interviews are stopped by police because they're speaking Arabic in public, or because gunfire breaks out. One of the most moving moments is when a Palestinian rapper is being interviewed on the radio, and a caller asks if he'd met any international rap stars, and he says he's really just hoping to meet a fellow Palestinian rap group, who live just 15 miles away, but it's been impossible because they're not allowed to cross borders within their own country. At another point, DAM teach a couple aspiring rappers how to write a rhyme about a friend of theirs who was killed... after their performance, DAM hears that those kids were arrested and their trial won't be for at least a year.

How are they as rappers? It's a little hard to judge since they're not rhyming in English. Production doesn't seem to be their strong point, as they're mostly just rhyming over jacked beats. Their biggest single, "Meen Erhabi" ("Who's the Terrorist?") just uses the instrumental to Atmosphere's "If I Was Santa Claus." Though, to be fair, I checked out the end credits, and they do credit "Music by: Atmosphere" for that song.

But this isn't your typical hip-hop mini-doc that's really just a dressed up DAM showcase; it's a surprisingly deep exploration of these peoples' lives. The filmmakers must've spent a lot of time there, because they cover everything you could hope to see, from struggling artists showing you the very first hip-hop CDs they were able to purchase to putting on major concerts and television appearances. We talk to their families. And while the occupied people cannot cross borders (although we do follow a few people making illegal crosses and going through checkpoints), the filmmakers seemingly manage it, so we see everything from different sides including the outbreak of breaking and graf (especially poignant when you realize they're writing on the giant walls constructed to oppress and isolate them) movements in Gaza to the first female rap group. They must've spent years filming this, and it pays off - it's a surprisingly rich film.

This film's available on DVD - though unfortunately with no extras. A small update or what happened to the artists since the film finished, extra interviews, or even a music video might've been nice. It's not carried by many mainstream outlets (i.e. it's listed but unavailable from amazon), but you can order it direct from the film's official website, or from Invincible's site,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 7: KL's Last Record

So, I really don't know how or precisely when Kamakaze stopped being KL and Kyron and became just KL, but at some point it did. It was always the two guys until it became just the one guy. And perhaps that change is largely responsible for this record's under-performance... people were like, "Kamakaze with no Kyron? On a new label with new producers? No thanks!" That's why you see this record on sale everywhere, $.99, $.69... But, hey, I'll take a KL solo record. Don't throw those out, give them to me!

This is "It's All Good" on Traffic Entertainment. It dropped in 2004, the same year as the Screwed Up compilation and Hostyle's solo record. It's the last year anything came out from Screwball as a group. Poet had already started coming out on Premier's label... Screwball may've already been tough for the guys at Hydra to wrangle together, but this is when they really just went off and did their own things.

So, you've got two tracks, with the full break-down: Dirty, Clean, Instrumental and Acapella. Both tracks are produced by E. Blaze, who may not be a name you recognize, but he produced "Underworld Operations" for Lord Finesse, "Fire Water" for Fat Joe, and just recently a track for Show and Krs One's new project; so he's actually a safe bet. It's a little smoother than your average Screwball track, but it thumps and has some hard samples. And similarly, while KL's flow is a little more relaxed, his scratchy voice still has that distinctive Screwball edge.

And speaking of that Screwball edge, the crew may've split, but it's still held down here. You've got the signature "Hu-haaa!" in both songs, and a guest appearance by Blaq Poet himself on the second one.

"Right Here" is the B-side, and the hook defiantly assures us, "Screwball, we ain't goin' nowhere; we're right here!" It's still a bit smoother than Screwball fans would expect maybe, but it's a lot closer to the traditional formula. The exploitation strings sound just like something Don would've hooked up for 'em two years earlier. The echoey, bongo-style percussion is a new element that E is bringing to the table, but it's funky, so it's impossible to complain. And just to seal the deal, there's some Premier-style scratches at the end, shouting out Queensbridge.

To boil it down to a real simple assessment, the A-side is good and the B-side is great. I guess I can see why people might've been reluctant to mess with this, since it seems like a new, less desirable direction for Screwball. And honestly, an entire album of KL somewhat smoothed out does sound disappointing - I didn't pick this one up right away myself for that reason. I waited until it became one of those records I saw everywhere I turned, super cheap. But if you forget about what it was supposedly foretelling (there never was an album follow-up to this single, anyway, so it's a moot point), and just take this record on its own merits - it's good shit! And the fact that even cheaper and easier to add to your collection than when it was new is just a bonus. Usually it works the other way: you hold off on buying a record because you're not sure about it, and then years later you realize how dope it was, and what an essential piece it is for your collection, and the only way to get it is to pay exorbitant prices on EBay. But for once, cynicism at least pays off a little bit.

And of course, now knowing that it's KL's last record... though not his last appearance. A graf crew he was down with at the time, The Grim Team (that's a Grim Team shirt he's wearing on the picture cover, above), featured him on their album in 2007. But knowing how that it's the last record in his sadly limited body of work, makes it all the more essential.

R.I.P. Kenneth Lewis, KL, a.k.a. Legacy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 6: H-O-S-T-Y-L-E

"We on the same page, same stage - same shine.
Feelings I've been holdin' back from speakin' my mind:
I helped feed ya kids, woulda bust my nine,
Protected ya life, woulda sacrificed mine.
Held you down on stage when you fucked up ya rhymes,
'Cause you was too bent up to remember your lines.
But you really hurt our hearts the most, 'cause you was close,
Stabbed us in the back over bullshit contracts.
Befriend me, befriend us, now you're disliked;
Caught up in your own hype, feelin' your own snake bite."

Most heads were understandably caught up in the drama of guest star Cormega taking on his former crew, The Firm, on the title cut to Screwball's second album, Loyalty. But within Screwball's camp, a much bigger controversy was brewing in that song, with KL directing his verse to fellow member Hostyle.

That;s right, he was expressing his feelings about the crew slowly splitting apart after the stint at Tommy Boy, where that label expressed interest in working with Hostyle if he'd split from the crew. They'd already pressured the crew into using his solo joint, "H-O-S-T-Y-L-E" for the lead single to their album, but that was just the beginning. Hydra Records founder Jerry Famolari explains the situation in his Unkut interview, "[Hostyle] went and did some management deal with some girl, and KL and the group and I went crazy, and that’s where that song came about." So if Loyalty sounds a bit disjointed compared to Y2K, that's because the group was already breaking apart. Famolari explains, "I was kind of holding it together. A lot of that stuff was flown-in as well. A lot of verses were flown-in, and I convinced the guys to come in and do certain things, but it was tough. That album was like pulling teeth."

And explanation pretty much goes for Hostyle's solo album, One-Eyed Maniac, too. "It was certain old songs and a lot of stuff I flew in. I created 75 percent of that. Same thing with the Screwed Up. There was a lot of songs that would not have ever come out. I just took pieces from different things and cuts, whatever I could do to make the album as strong as possible. We had so much money already invested and so much stuff sitting there, I’m like, 'Before I sit on it and have to put out a song here, a song there, a song here, a song there, I might as well just get rid of it.' There was no marketing behind it because there was no group. I don’t even know where Hostyle is. I haven’t spoken to Hostyle in a good eight months." So when you see a record like today's record, we may know when it was released; but we really can't say for sure when it was recorded or for what project.

In this case, Hostyle's "Live From New York" was released on Hydra Records in 2000. It may've been recorded for his Tommy Boy project, or just something he recorded later for Hydra. Who knows? But in any case, it's a cool, obscure little record.

The beat's produced by A Kid Called Roots, and it features one of those "randomly banging on a piano" style loops like Premier used on "D. Original." But that's one of those styles where you've really gotta get it just right, and A Kid Called Roots doesn't quite get it to Premier-level perfection. But it's nice and hardcore, and it sounds pretty good.

More essential to the song than the instrumental is the duo of Hostyle and his guest, Quik. No, thankfully, that's not DJ Quik from Compton - not that I dislike DJ Quik, but those kinds of East/ West collaborations never wind up working out, so I'd just as soon never see him appear on a Screwball record. No, this is actually the debut of Joell Ortiz in Slaughterhouse. After this record, he changed his name to Jo-Ell Quikman for his first single on Rawkus, and then it eventually became just Joel Ortiz. And the pair of 'em just keep passing the mic back and forth kicking freestyle rhymes. It's just one of those rugged joints with zero radio potential that only a serious head can appreciate.

And if this record isn't random enough, instead of having another Hostyle track on the B-side, it was a Godfather Don joint, featuring Prince Po and RA the Rugged Man. Also produced by Don, it's one of those tracks that make you wonder what the Hell he sampled. It also shows that maybe RA should hire Don as a regular producer, because he better here than he usually does. Po comes slick, too; but it's Don himself who comes the tightest. You might have Ill Funk Freaker and The Nineties Selections, but your Godfather Don collection isn't complete if you don't have this one.

And what of Hostyle today? Last I read, he'd changed his name to Ken Kade and had an album in the works called Under the Influence, and he also has some music online where he's partnered with a guy named Rap P. And as for his part of the group? The beef is supposedly squashed, but he's obviously still not part of Screwball today. In an interview this time last year, Poet simply said, "Hostyle, I don’t know what’s going on with him. He’s going through a couple of personal issues. He’s out there and he’s still doing his thing, but I’m not really in touch with him right now." Of course, even back in "Loyalty," KL said, "I don't plan on dissin' you in interviews," so I'm not sure if anything's really progressed since then. But I certainly hope so. Though of course it's nobody's fault, it's already a tragedy we have to accept a Screwball without KL; so I know there's not a Screwball fan in the world who doesn't hope the rest of the guys can pull it together. It just ain't the same without Hostyle.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 5: Who Shot Rudy?

Screwball's second record, again on a pre-Hydra white label, this is their most famous song; and interestingly, it's a solo song. I mean, some of the other members might be adding their voices to the chorus, but the rap verses are all Kyron. He wrote the song while he was in jail, and the controversy it generated nearly bought him back. A DVD I reviewed last year, Legends Of the Hip Hop Cop, talk about how the police targeted him after the song came out. Of course, it was his own damn fault that he already had an open warrant; but according to the documentary, they specifically went out to arrest him and the police even went so far as to go into the label and take all of their songs.

Just in case you didn't already know, the "Rudy" of the song's title is the then mayor of New York City, Rudy Guilliani. He had a very controversial term, because he took a very strong-arm approach to cleaning up the city. He was largely successful, in that he made a lot of notoriously crime-ridden areas safe and tourist-friendly, and had most of the porn, etc removed from Times Square. But he accomplished this by using very brash and ethically questionable methods that seemed to persecute many of the city's poor. The nation got much more unified behind him after 9/11, but at the time of this record - 1999 - he was definitely one of those, you loved him or you hated him-type political figures.

And this song lets you know what Screwball's attitude is towards the man right out the gate with the opening vocal sample of Esther Rolle's "If You See a Devil Smash Him" from Don't Play Us Cheap. Then the strings kick in, and it's another perfect Screwball track by Mike Heron. Screwball worked with a bunch of producers - and some quite regularly, like Godfather Don, who was another great match. but Heron was so plugged into Screwball's sound that he should probably be considered Screwball's fifth member.

According to Blaq Poet, Tommy Boy's nervousness about this song was also responsible for delaying the album, Y2K... in fact, he says in his interview with Unkut, Guilliani had ties to Time Warner (who actually owns Tommy Boy), "Yeah, they held-up the album. Coulda dropped that shit and went platinum if they woulda dropped it at the right time, when we had all that free publicity off the 'Who Shot Rudy?' shit. We was all on the news, in the newspapers and all of that, but they don’t roll with it ’cause they were scared of Time-Warner, and Rudy Guilliani at the time had ties with Time-Warner, who were the distributor for Tommy Boy, so they slowed down with dropping that." On the other hand, the big buzz off this tiny, independent release, may've been instrumental in getting Tommy Boy to mess with Screwball in the first place.

According to the infamous article in The New York Daily News, Kyron came up with the song in a dream: "The taxi drivers were protesting, the frank vendors were protesting, and I just vibed off that... some things are for the better [in the city under Giuliani] but there's a lot of people who are being wrongly picked up and arrested." And there is a somewhat dreamlike quality in how the story is narrated - rather than coming off an angry incitement to violence or the bitter tale of a victim, it's told by a nearly impartial third party:

"Ay-yo, who shot Rudy in broad daylight for cash?
I woke up this morning and heard the newsflash:
They said it happened down at City Hall;
He had his wife with him. Five shots from the crowd made him fall.
It was chaos and pandemonium, blood covered up the podium,
Covered his face, and wouldn't show me him.
I had to see if it was true;
Secret service was mad nervous. So was the boys in blue."

The way he drifts from being at home, watching the events on news, to right there on the scene asking to see the mayor's face on the scene is certainly straight out of a dream. But the incident really just serves as a set-up for the meat of the song: the details of the shooting's aftermath and, of course the final statement that there's an awful lot of potential suspects due to the way the mayor ran the city:

"Sharp lawyer suit-breasted, double-breasted; reporters
Was mobbin' daughters and other mourners,
Pushin' cameras away, blockin' the sights.
Had the riot squad at Washington Heights.
Kennedy Airport stoppin' flights. Niggas was tight,
'Cause they couldn't sell a dime all night; but that was ahright.
The devil died and nobody cried,
They was real like some Jews celebratin' when the pharaoh got killed.
Glasses of Henny were spilled and we got twisted,
Smokin' blunts on the corner like we used to 'cause we missed it.
Knowin' he was gone for good, dead and stinkin', it got me thinkin',
Ay-yo, where the fuck Dinkins?
And Harlem World, Shaolin to Brownsville,
Did Sharpton and Farrakhan make the shit real?
Was it Khalel? You know he keep mad steel.
Did the Bloods or the Crips smoke Rudy on the hill?
Who shot Rudy?"

The B-side... Or rather, the A-side, if you look at the actual record label, is another Screwball hit that's sure to be familiar, "You Love To Hear the Stories." Here they pay tribute to the original ode to Queensbridge, "The Bridge" by MC Shan, and it even features him reprising one of his classic verses from that record. But this isn't the version most heads know from the Y2K album. This is the rare, original version, produced by the aforementioned Godfather Don. I don't know if I can say this is better than Pete Rock, because that's damn good. It's more lush and musical - basically just what you'd expect Pete Rock to bring to the table but this version is harder and a more natural fit into Screwball's catalog. Certainly, it's a good enough song, and the production styles are hot and different enough, that a serious Screwball fan will want to have both.

This is a little bit rarer than most Screwball singles, since Tommy Boy opted not to press a version of this as one of their own singles, which Screwball probably initially expected them to. So you've just got however many copies Screwball pressed up themselves promotionally. Still, none of Screwball's records are really that hard to find, and there's a couple of relatively inexpensive copies sitting on discogs as of this writing. Dirty, Clean and Instrumental versions are provided for both tracks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 4.5: Screw Nuts

So, here it is, Screwball's underground debut single: 1996's "Screwed Up" on Screwball and Hydra Records. The debut of their trademark screwball logo, and their signature "Hu-haaa!" call. The four members artists finally united as a group.

And they come with some surprisingly big-shot guest producers for their first release, The Beatnuts. The 'Nuts come with a sound not too far removed from their usual production style, but it also manages to anticipate Screwball's hardcore sound that would be provided by their future regular producers. Maybe part of that, though, is just that Screwball bring their signature, hardcore flows to the track and make what would've sounded different in another MC's hands unmistakably their own.

You've got a funky little guitar riff sample, which on its own is quite soft. But married with a single deep bass note, hard drums and these strange, atmospheric wailings, it becomes pure, rugged hip-hop. As great as the material Marley's fam was coming with on Warner Bros., this record made it clear that Screwball was the real street shit, but with no loss in musical richness. Everything that makes Screwball Screwball is right here.

"Screwed Up" eventually turned up on Screwball's compilation album of the same title. But the B-side, "They Wanna Know Why," has never been released anywhere else but here.

This one's produced by Screwball regular Mike Heron, who's a pro at complimenting their style. This track's a little unusual for them, though, with a slower, smoother vibe. It's dark and still hard, especially with Screwball's angry flows on top of it - they almost sound like Onyx at times on this. But it's a real cool, head-nodder at the same time, and you don't find a lot of that in Screwball's catalog. There's also a fuckton of nice scratching by an uncredited DJ (unless it's Heron himself?), just to take the song up one final notch. All elements together, this is a monster of a track - a brooding dragon in a cave that you don't want to piss off.

This 12" is a little rarer than most of theirs, but not much, and it's damn sure worth it. Dirty, Clean and Instrumental versions are provided for both tracks. Apparently some were sold in sticker covers and some in plain covers. Unfortunately, mine was one of the later - d'oh! - so if you're after this, make sure to get one with a sticker.

Screwball Week, Day 4: The Origin Story

So, yesterday we looked at the the roots of Screwball's origins, the earliest releases by any of its members, specifically Poet. But there's an eight year gap between those records and the debut of Screwball itself. What happened during all that time? After all, the exact make-up of Screwball can be a bit confusing for more casual fan... I remember back in the days, myself, wondering, "wait, are KL and Kyron the same guy, or is that Solo? Which one's Kamakaze, and didn't someone leave the group?" And I'd feel pretty remiss in my Screwball Week duties if I still left anybody with an unclear idea of just who they are or how the group came about. I was going to just jump into a look at one of their 12" singles today; but instead I figure I'd better do something a little more explicitly biographical first.

So, after those singles with Noel Rockwell, Poet hooked up with a new DJ and producer, Hot Day, and formed PHD (Poet and Hot Day). Hot Day was already down with Marley Marl and The Super Kids, putting out records on Tuff City; so when PHD formed, that was their natural home. Their big album was Without Warning in 1991, but they actually kept putting out records on Tuff City all the way up until 1996.

It's some of these later PHD records that really tie it all together... 1995's "Set It Off Part 3" is a posse cut featuring Havoc (yes, of Mobb Deep - pretty much right before "Shook Ones" blew up), Hostyle and Legacy of Kamikaze[sic]. This was the debut of Hostyle, who would go to be a core member of Screwball. And Legacy also became a core member after changing his name to what he's better known as now, KL. In 1996, PHD put out their final single, which featured another collaboration with both Hostyle and Legacy, "The Grand P.O." It's also worth noting that, by this time in their career, Marley Marl had taken production duties over on PHD's records. And its these singles that transitioned directly to the debut single of Screwball later that year.

But what about the fourth member? Okay, we have to back up a bit. You notice Legacy was credited as being "of Kamikaze." So who were Kamakaze? They were a two man team that Marley was working with, consisting of KL and Solo. Kamakaze was going to come out with an album called Head On on Warner Brothers, along with other acts Marley was working with at the time. But this is right at the time all of that ended - Warner Bros shut down Cold Chillin' in '96, and Marley's acts who were going to come out on through different divisions of Warner, including Sah-B, World Renown and De'1, all got cancelled, including Head On. A few indie 12"s leaked, but basically the group Kamakaze were killed before they came out. And so Solo changed his name to Kyron (his real first name) and became the fourth and final official member of Screwball.

There's more reason why people and rap magazines often confuse Kamakaze with a specific single member of Screwball - because they're not wrong. In the 2000's, KL put out two singles - one through Hydra and then a later one on Traffic - both under the name Kamakaze, just using it as a personal alias. So if you bought "It's All Good," it tells you right on the cover that Kamakaze is one guy: KL of Screwball. So, sometimes Kamakaze means the group, and sometimes it just means KL. ::shrug::

Anyway, it's hard not to notice the similarity of their story with The Wu-Tang Clan's and Gravediggaz': dope disenfranchised artists who'd all had it rough coming up in the music business in the past coming together to form a stronger super group. In that sense (and possibly in others), Screwball is the Queensbridge Wu.

So Screwball took the name of a mutual friend of theirs who'd tragically passed on well before his time (R.I.P.), and and put their debut out themselves, "Screwed Up" on Screwball Records. Yeah, it was in affiliation with Hydra and their parent label, Sneak-Tip Records; but Screwball Records was its own thing which put out a couple other Screwball singles down the line... note the catalog number: SC-001.

After generating some serious buzz with Hydra Records, they signed to Tommy Boy's Black Label, where they released their debut album, Y2K and a bunch of hot singles. When The Black Label shut down shortly thereafter, they didn't skip a beat and went back to Hydra, releasing a ton of material, both collectively and individually with solo projects. It was a flurry of great music until 2004, when they all stopped rather suddenly. Only Poet kept putting out solo material.

Tragically, in 2008, KL passed away due to long-term health issues with asthma. R.I.P. A great MC from one of hip-hop's rawest underground crews; it's a great loss for us all.

So that's the key Screwball line-up. Those four men, pictured above, are the MCs who made up Screwball from their first record to their most recent in 2004. Buuuuut... That's not the very end of the story.

In 2008, an mp3-only album called Screwball Classics* was released. It was a largely just a collection of their past hits, but it also featured new music from a Screwball with an updated line-up. Hostyle is disappointingly out, leaving original members Blaq Poet and Kyron plus new members Scape Scrilla, Ty Nitty of The Infamous Mob (brother of the original man known as Screwball), and Versatile a.k.a. VS (she was that female MC on the NYG'z album). Since then, mp3s and Youtube videos have been popping up here and there, promising a new Screwball album. So we'll see what the future holds, but the Screwball MCs have a long legacy of coming back every time heads counted them out.

*Yes, since day 1 it's been referred to as a CD... and every place from Unkut to Screwball's own myspace page refers to a CD, but I do not believe such a thing exists. I have never been able to track one down, and believe me, I have looked. Even CDBaby, who have CD in their frikkin' name, only carry the mp3s. I mean, maybe if you met Blaq Poet after a show, he would burn you a CD of it... But I'm pretty convinced Screwball Classics was never actually released in any physical format.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 2: Screwed Up Set Straight, part 2

...And we're back! We're continuing directly from yesterday's post, in case you missed it, so you'll want to read that one first. And now let's not waste any time and jump right into CD #2:

Like a Gangster [CD exclusive] - Except for the fact that they spelled "Gangsta" as "Gangster" here, this is a direct life from Loyalty.

The Operation [CD exclusive] - Taken from Y2K.

Gorillas [CD exclusive] - Taken from Loyalty.

F.A.Y.B.A.N. [CD exclusive] - Taken from Y2K.

What the Deal? - This features Cormega and was previously released as a 12" single in 2002.

Where You At? [CD exclusive] - Taken from Loyalty.

On Point (RMX) - The original release came out back in the 90's, and this remix - by Godfather Don - was also included on the "I Ain't Saying Nothing" single.

Heat Is On (RMX) - Okay, the original "The Heat Is On" was on Y2K, and this isn't that version. Both versions feature Prodigy and are produced by Mike Heron, but this is distinctly different remix with a new instrumental. It's not unique to this album; though, it was originally released as a 12" single, b/w "Suck My Dick."

I Ain't Saying Nothing - This was released as a single in 2004 with a remix and a couple other dope B-sides.

Somethings Gotta Give [CD exclusive] - Taken from Hostyle's One-Eyed Maniac LP.

Crime Unit - A hot exclusive produced by Godfather Don quintessential Screwball, high energy and crazy hardcore at the same time.

Ride For Free - Another cool exclusive, produced by someone calling himself FBEE.

Who Shot Rudy? [CD exclusive] - Of course this isn't an exclusive; this is pretty much their most famous song. It was first released as a 12" single, and then featured on Y2K.

Taking All Bets - This was released as a 12" single in 2002, but not under the name Screwball. It's Kamakaze featuring Offdamental, and has a Royal Flush song on the B-side.

Screwed Up [CD exclusive] - You might think this is an exclusive, considering it's the title track and not featured on Y2K or Loyalty. But actually, it's their very first 12" single from 1996, and produced by The Beatnuts.

On the Real [CD exclusive] - This is an infamous song, known for existing in a couple of different versions. However, disappointingly, this is the least rare of the bunch: the version from Y2K, where they replaced Nas with Cormega and Havoc. Check out this post I wrote in 2007 for the full story of the different "On the Real"s.

Shouts [CD exclusive] - This is an exclusive; but it's just 45 seconds of shout-outs over the "On the Real" instrumental.

And thus ends the 2CD set of Screwed Up. But what about the 2LP? There are three tracks on there that aren't on the LP. Let's look at those:

You Love To Hear the Stories (Godfather Don Mix) - This is that original version I mentioned yesterday, from their infamous "Who Shot Rudy?" single.

Return Of the Hu-Haa - Taken from Hostyle's One-Eyed Maniac LP.

Be Careful What You Wish For -
This is also taken from Hostyle's One-Eyed Maniac LP.

So, after all that, where are we? Well, there's a total of 5 new songs/ remixes that are only available on Screwed Up. The CD definitely has the better track-listing
(boo!), with twenty-one songs not on the LP. Both versions have some of the exclusive songs, but only the CD has them all. The only unique stuff the LP has is the old, previously released mix of "You Love To Hear the Stories" and two more Hostyle tracks. Hostyle's album was released right around the same time as Screwed Up, by the way, which is why I think so many songs from that album are featured here - they were trying to sell us on his solo album.

I could see buying the vinyl version just to have some of these exclusive songs on wax, of course. But even though it's padded with way too many songs from Y2K and Loyalty, ultimately the CD remains essential for the exclusives that aren't even on the LP. And they're good, too; you'd be missing something to just ignore them because they're CD only. I know Poet and Solo were putting together a new Screwball group; but we'll never have another album by the original line-up (R.I.P. KL). So we can't afford to let material like this fall through the cracks.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 1: Screwed Up Set Straight, part 1

It's been ages since I've done a "Week," huh? Well, here's one I've been intending to do for a while now: Screwball Week. Now, with all the vinyl Screwball managed to put out, collectively and separately, I could easily do Screwball Month, and with just a bit of stretching, I bet I could pull off Screwball Year. But I'll try to control myself, and keep this to just Screwball Week. heh heh

In 2004, Screwball had two albums in their pocket (not counting all their variant solo and side projects) and were working on their third, the unreleased (and never completed?) Return Of the Hu-Haaa. And since it had been a while since that second album, 2001's Loyalty, Hydra Records put out this interesting, and somewhat confusing, compilation album of their material: Screwed Up.

Screwed Up (mostly) avoids delving into any of the members' solo material, but still manages to be a double album's worth of stuff. It consists of tracks from the past two albums, sort of a Greatest Hits. But two albums can't make up a double album's worth of Greatest Hits on their own (you'd have to include every single song, basically, and then you'd just have a reissue on your hands), so in addition to being a Greatest Hits, it's also a B-sides and rarities collection, where they feature a lot of remixes and songs originally released only as the B-sides to their 12" singles. But, Screwball are still pretty underground, so their market was just heads who probably already had most of those 12" singles, so a necessity for the hardcore fans, they also threw in some unreleased mixes and stuff.

...None of which is distinguished between in the album's liner notes. And what I've read about this album online over the years shows that a lot of people are confused over just what's what on this album, beyond it being "just a bunch of Screwball songs." So, me being me, I've decided to break it down track-by-track, and see what came from where, and what's actually exclusive to Screwed Up. And finally, to answer the question: for the Screwball fan who has everything, is this worth picking up? So, get ready, it's gonna be a long list...

Oh shit, wait, there's an extra complication! The vinyl version of Screwed Up isn't the same as the CD version. The vinyl version is a double LP with sixteen tracks, and the CD is a double disc set with a whopping thirty-four tracks. And even though that means there's eighteen extra tracks on the CD set (trust me, I just took a math course), there's still stuff on the 2LP that isn't on the 2CD! I'm starting to see why people are confused.

Ok, the CD has the most tracks, so let's start there:

Stretch Armstrong / Poet (Intro) - This is new, presumably recorded for this compilation.

Urban Warfare (RMX) - Okay, "Urban Warfare" was on the Y2K album, produced by Mike Heron. This version is also produced by Mike Heron; in fact it's the same beat. So what's so "RMX"'d? It's a vocal remix, with entirely new verses. This is pretty kick-ass; the beat was one of the best on Y2k and it's just as awesome here. And they come just as tight on this version as the other.

Dirt Thugs - From the title, this seems like a brand new song. But it's really "First Blood," their collaboration with Godfather Don from the B-side of "H-O-S-T-Y-L-E" mistitled.

Torture [CD exclusive] - Featuring M.O.P.; this was taken from Loyalty.

Who? - An exclusive song produced by Ayatollah - fire!

That Shit [CD exclusive] - A banger taken from Y2K.

Take It There [CD exclusive] - Also from Y2K.

Guilty - This is from Hostyle's One-Eyed Maniac album. In fact, it was the single.

Seen It All [CD exclusive] - Taken from Y2K.

Loyalty [CD exclusive] - Taken from Loyalty... obviously.

The Blocks [CD exclusive] - Taken from Y2K.

HOSTYLE [CD exclusive] - Taken from Y2K.

Real Niggaz [CD exclusive] - Taken from Loyalty.

Greatest On Earth - This was the B-side to their 2002 single, "What the Deal."

Attn A&R Dept [CD exclusive] - Taken from Y2K.

You Love To Hear the Stories (Pete Rock RMX) [CD exclusive] - Ooh, a new remix of that dope track with MC Shan from Y2K! wait a minute... wasn't that version also produced by Pete Rock? So, I guess he did both versions? No, actually, the original version was produced by Godfather Don and was a 12" only release, but they remixed it for the (Y2K) album. So, really, this is just another direct lift from Y2K.

Be On Your Way [CD exclusive] - Produced by Mike Heron and featuring Fred Fowler from Shango (remember them? From Beat Street?) singing the hook, this is a Screwed Up exclusive.

And that's the end... of CD #1. There's still a-whole-nother CD to go. This is exhausting... I'm sitting here with the CD in my computer and a huge pile of 12"s and LPs over by the record player, running back and forth, figuring out which mixes are exclusive or taken from which release. So I'll take a break here, and return on Day 2 with the second disc, plus the LP's exclusive tracks, and my summation. (Continuation here.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wall Street Rappin'

There's a lot of competition in today's hip-hop blogosphere, and in order to stay ahead, one of the things you've really got to be is "relevant." The internet moves fast, and you've got to really be on your game to stay alive out here. And Werner von Wallenrod's Humble, Little Hip-Hop Blog is all about being relevant. Like, what's the biggest, hippest, underground edgy news story going on in this country right now? The #OccupyWallStreet movement. Protestors, riot cops, the end of capitalism... Some news organizations aren't even up on the whole unfolding story yet, but I see it happening and I act fast. I bust out my copy of a rare 80's rap record about Wall Street that nobody's ever heard of before! Brace yourselves, Huffington Post, you're being scooped.

"Wall Street Rap" by Dr. T. and the Klinic dropped in 1988 (not long after Oliver Stone's movie, which I'm sure is no coincidence) on Prescription Record Inc. It's the label's only release, though not Dr. T's, who in fact dropped a couple other records on different labels. And considering the thematic ties between their names, I'd assume Prescription is the Dr.'s own label, and this is a self release. This wasn't done on the cheap, though. It comes in a cool picture cover where they're dressed in full medical regalia, they've got a full band providing the music (though I'm not sure if they're considered The Klinic - judging by the cover, I'd guess the Klinic are his dancers and back-up singers), and they even had an elaborate music video for this.

It's super corny, of course - this is bordering right on the edge of novelty rap. He rhymes like a cross between Hurt 'Em Bad and MC Hammer, and the music by the band - which consists of a keyboardist, horn player, guitarist, three people credited with drum programming/ percussion, and bass played by Dr. T himself - sounds very much like outsider musicians taking a stab at making some rap music without being familiar with classical styles of hip-hop production. But in a light-hearted, old school kinda way, it all sorta works. All the live instrumentation gives this record an old Sugar Hill Band feel, the hook gets stuck in your head, and the lyrics are actually pretty smart. It almost plays like an education record for kids - think Kurtis Blow's "Basketball" for the financial district.

Now, the track-listing on this single is a little odd... The cover suggests you've got the T.V. Mix on one side, and the Club Mix on the other. But the actual label on the record says you've got the the Radio and Instrumental versions on side A and the Dub Version on side B. Listening to it, I think the truth might be somewhere in the middle... I think it's the Radio and Instrumental versions on side A and the Club version on side B, and there are no T.V. or Dub mixes... but you get into the shady area of what specifically constitutes a dub versus a TV mix and all, for which there really aren't constant and concrete definitions. But somebody, somewhere involved with the making of this record definitely got confused.

If that isn't enough Wall Street rapping for you, luckily, there's one more record out there: "Wall Street Rapper" by Awesome D. Now, while Dr. T.'s single rode the fence, Awesome D's falls squarely on the side of novelty rap. Awesome D is David Lawrence, and on this record he plays the character of a big-shot CEO. When an investor calls, his secretary informs him, "I'm sorry, Mr. Lawrence now wants to be referred to as Awesome D." The CEO has decided to become a rapper and cut his first rap record - and this is it.

It's all about business on Wall Street, of course, and the similarities to "Wall Street Rap" don't stop there. This one's a bit newer, 1992, but still features a lot of live instrumentation - most notably a very prevalent saxophone. It's also got a simple hook sung by two girls and big guitar solos. Plus, it's another self-released, record label one-off (Awesome Records), and comes in another glossy black & white picture cover. This one's got wonky (but listenable) scratches, and a really stilted flow... Dr. T's flow, again, was pretty simple and old school; but Awesome D has a serious, "I honestly don't know how to rap" thing going on... think Barney and Fred Flintstone rapping in that old Fruity Pebbles commercial and you get the idea.

Again, though, the instrumentation isn't bad in a studio musician/outsider kind of way - the bassline's effective - and this one uses a lot of vocal samples of Michael Douglas from the film Wall Street. And while D could never pass as a legit rapper, even in market that gives kids with flows like Kreayshawn a pass, the concept and lyrics are genuinely amusing for a one-off gag single like this. It's not a dope rap record, but then I don't think their aspirations were ever that big, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

So, there you have it, hip-hop's two Wall Street rap records. You won't find these covered on many other blogs, I bet. And CNN, if you'd like to invite me to speak on the air as a leading Wall Street rap authority, just remember: hip, young bloggers with our fingers on the pulse of America's youth like us don't come cheap. So, uh, "serious offers only," dig? ;)