Friday, December 28, 2012

2012's Top Fives

No intro; you know what it is. The ones with links are the ones I've blogged about in depth already, so clicky to read more.

Top Five New Albums:

Young Zee - One Crazy Weekend is easily the album of the year for me.  I feel like I'm one of only a handful of people who even know this actually came out, which is a real shame, because it's delightful.

Low Budget - Poolside I wasn't expecting to like this album nearly as much as I did. It's pretty great and I urge you to check that out.

Freddie Foxxx - The Kolexxxion I didn't blog about this one during the year, but it's pretty obvious combining Freddie Foxxx with DJ Premier is going to be a rewarding endeavor; and they came through like we knew they would.

Mad Child - Dope Sick There was a period where Mad Child turned into a Christian rapper and Swollen Members were a mess, but that period is long gone and their stuff is worth checking for again.

Rime Force Most Illin' Perhaps the only release more slept on than Young Zee's; but it's a must have little EP.

(Also Noteworthy New Music:)

MA Doom - Son of Yvonne I saw an interview where Ace said this was meant to be a mixtape and that explains everything. Ace is a top MC... the beats are old, previously released Doom tracks (his Special Herbs and Spices stuff), which are still good, but it all feels undercooked. A solid mixtape-level venture, but don't expect it to stand alongside Ace's other albums. Kane's appearance is a let-down, though.

Nas - Life Is Good People seem to get amped for every Nas album, shouting "next Illmatic," and then a few months later, everyone looks back on it like, "okay, not really."  But like his last album, there was some nice stuff on here, like "Loco Motive." Leaving off "Nasty" was just stupid, though.

Large Professor - Professor @ Large
I'd put his single as a best of for sure (it's not here, though, because it was 2011). The full-length is not so mind-blowing, but still a very respectable outing, with some highlights like a posse cut with Grandy Daddy IU and Cormega.

Craig G - Ramblings Of An Angry Old Man Not a masterpiece to hold up next to his Atlantic stuff, but a pleasant surprise for sure. Even if you've been bored with Craig in the last, oh, decade or so; I recommend giving this a try.

Kendrick Lamar - good Kid, m.A.A.d city He deserves all the attention he's getting for lyric writing, but his production (and sometimes his voice/flow, depending on the song) are keeping me from putting this on regular rotation. But you should at least listen to it once.

Sole - A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing Kind of a mixed bag, but an interesting, compelling one. Unless you're a hardcore, dedicated Sole fan, you can skip a bunch of Sole projects without missing out on anything important. But for the rest of you, this is probably the one it's worth checking in on. A little (lot?) too preachy this time around, but the production makes up for it.

Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne Didn't expect to see this here? Hey, I dug the "Otis" beat as much as everybody else. The album would be a million times better without Kanye rapping on it, but you still can't really sleep on this.

The Top Five New Releases of Previously Unreleased Music:

Phase N Rhythm - The Force Of the Matrix I'm still doing the happy dance over this.

Craig G - I Can't Stop This one got a lot of flack, and I'm probably surprising a lot of people by including it in the Top 5 above other possible titles. Well, I do agree that 7"s are a disappointment; but regarding the questions about this song's authenticity? This track's great, and it's a nice little presentation. Even if it's a "Top Shelf"-style phony (which I'm not convinced about), it's still great. Just like Top Shelf 8/8/88 was.

Natural Elements - Lost Demos & Instrumentals Not as amazing as the previous release; as this is more instrumentals, promos and solo stuff than the classics on the last EP. But this is still some brilliant, vintage NE material we've never heard before.

Jorun Bombay - Instrumentals DWG totally sneaked this one under the radar... hip-hop's all-time most important, unreleased instrumentals perfectly recreated, and it was just a bonus record in a set. Wow.

JVC Force - The 1992-1993 Unreleased EP Chopped Herring was winning in 2012, no doubt. Seriously fantastic material finally sees the light of day.

The Top Five New Releases of Previously Released Music:

Def Rhythm Productions - Back To the Lab The defining assets of records on this list is the rarity and, of course, the quality of the music. Well, Back To the Lab was on everybody's wishlists for a reason, and this reissue did it right.

Payroll Records - Rare Tracks Just like Chopped Herring was winning in previously unreleased vinyl this year, Dope Folks definitely owned the category of previously released reissues. A terrific compilation of very desirable material.

Lord Finesse - Signature Sevens Series It's frustrating when releases you really want are stuck out on 7" rather than 12", but Slice of Spice did the best 7" job possible with their collection of super rare Finesse tracks that had previously been cassette only, or otherwise in dire need of a vinyl release.

Wizard of Rap - Escape from East New York Seriously, Dope Folks cleans up in this category; this is an amazing record that, let's face it, we were never going to find an OG copy of.

Danger Zone Mobb Sqwad - TL Back To Yell I feel like I should put something other than another Dope Folks release here; but who amongst us hasn't been on the edge of their seat for a reissue of this material since it was first hinted at years ago?

I'm not gonna do a noteworthy list for the unreleased and reissue stuff, because it's pretty much everything... certainly, if you somehow missed DWG's Latee release, or the nice little 7"s from The Legion, you'll want to catch yourself up. The Fat Boys in a pizza box looked pretty cool.

All in all, I'd say not a bad year. New music seems to be experiencing a bit of an upswing, and the issuing of "lost" hip-hop still seems to be growing, when years before I would've assumed we'd plateau by now. All in all, I'm optimistic for what we'll see in 2013.  :)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nu News Is Good News

A few months back, I blogged about how The 2 Live Crew passed off a bunch of Balli and the Fat Daddy songs as rare 2 Live recordings from back in the day. One of those songs wasn't a Balli and the Fat Daddy song, though, it was by some group I'd never heard of called The New Born Clan. Well, now I know who they are, too. I just got their record!

See, Macola got their name a bit wrong (pretty minor compared to everything else they got wrong!); it's actually The Nu Born Clan; and like Balli and the Fat Daddy, they're another act down with Fresh Kid Ice's crew Ice Cold Productions. They're not on the Ice Cold Productions' collective album Masters of Bass that I just recently reviewed, but they are mentioned in its liner notes as being on their roster.

This here is their (I'm reasonably confident) sole outing, a four-song 12" Underground Records (also, as far as I know, the label's sole outing). There's no year here, but considering the ICP's history, I'd say circa 1992 is a fair guess. And, combined with "Serious Conversation" from those "Rock On Crew" albums, this seems to constitute their entire discography on wax.

Who makes up the Nu Born Clan? Well, the jacket is very helpful in that regard. It's a picture cover showing five people, and right on the front it lists the members, sort of... the way it's laid out, it looks like they're saying I.C.U. is the name of five members. But "I.C.U." is the first song on the 12", and I think it's actually just supposed to be the title of the 12". Actually only two of the people on the cover seem to be actual members...  the girls are just models, I guess. They're named on the back cover: Sherry Bogle, Ava Bogle and Colleen Vieux. So I think that leaves the Clan's line-up as Double *07, Dyce, D.I. and 40 Dog (possibly the same 40 Dogg from that Silence record?). Double * 07 (I'm using an asterisk, but it's actually a big dot floating in the center like a hyphen) and Dyce are the MCs, and presumably the guys on the cover.  40 Dog is referred to in one of the songs as DJ 40 Dog, though the only scratching on here is provided by a guest DJ named DJ Altimate. So I guess their role in the Clan's a little more vague (maybe why they didn't get to be on the cover), probably involved in the instrumental aspects... though they're not the producers either, because the producers of this record are spelled out as Darren Moise, Shawn Pittman and L.O.S. Production, plus an executive producer named Rebel T.

Okay, I'm finally done overwhelming you with names we've never heard of. So, how is the actual record? It's pretty good... They sound a bit too low budget, especially on the title track (which apparently just means "I see you" in the context of this song), so you wind up with a bit more of an amateur vibe than you'd normally like. They also go a bit overboard on the "diggity diggity" Das EFX rip-off delivery, which certainly can't be accused of having aged well. Fortunately, they hang that up quick, and most of the rest of the 12" sounds better. "Let's Run It" is a lot like the first song, only little tighter with deep bass drops and hectic scratching, and "Hot Nut" is just about kicking some amusing stories over "The 900 Number" loop. And "Pussy Bent" is in some ways the best song, though they lift a large chunk pretty shamelessly from The Ohio Players' "Rollcoaster." But with a fun dirty hook by Sherry (maybe the same Sherry from the picture cover?), Gene Ann and Adrian Jones, and even nicer cuts than "Let's Run It," this just feels the most like a richly produced rap song that works on all levels, leaving behind the amateurish vibe from earlier. It also shows they're not the preachy church nerds you might've assumed from hearing "Serious Conversation."

Overall, their hearts are in the right place, with semi-fast, hardcore deliveries over pure hip-hop tracks, rebelling against the booty music expectations that's become sadly inseparable from the Miami stereotype. They're not the best MCs, and the production isn't terribly innovative, but it's solid stuff. I could easily see "Let's Run It" turn up on a random rap mixtape, a la DJ Ivory's Hear No Evil series, turning this record into a really expensive collector's piece. Personally, I'm glad I got in early.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Unreleased Boxcar Sessions

We're living in a bit of a golden era (hopefully just the beginnings of even greater things to come) thanks to labels Freestyle Records, Chopped Herring and DWG... but even before, we have occasionally seen otherwise lost hip-hop from a bygone era get thankfully released many years later. Today's case in point: Unreleased Boxcar Sessions, by Saafir.

Now Saafir's been in the game for a minute, and released a bunch of albums and projects both on his own and collaboratively. But he did kinda peak with his legendary full-length debut, Boxcar Sessions, on Qwest Records in 1994. Even when he releases something hot, you have to add the disappointing caveat, "but it's no Boxcar Sessions." Just like Nas with Illmatic, he'a great MC; but he can just never escape that looming shadow of his first album. So when you see "Unreleased Boxcar Sessions" pop up for sale on your favorite little indie hip-hop retailer site, you do a spit take on your keyboard, spin around in your chair a few times, and then quickly paypal them before they sell out.

This is a completely self-released LP from Saafir, a CD-R with black and white paper artwork, though at least a professional sticker label. 2002, Hobo Records. "For promotional use only," it says; but I doubt many copies exist that weren't sold commercially. Eight full-length songs from 1993-1994, produced by his usual Junction crew who made Boxcar Sessions, plus a bonus new song to show you that Saafir still had it.

I guess let's talk about that bonus track first.  It's called It's called "Whomp 2000." Like several other tracks here, it's produced by J-Groove, but it sounds nothing like the Boxcar Sessions material. That's okay, though, because it's dope. The production is rugged but funky, with a big "whomping" bass sound, and Saafir spitting crazy, freestyle battle rhymes:

"I love rappin'; it's just like scrappin', and when you burn a nigga, it sounds like fire when it's crackelin'... in the millennium I'm a get 'em like a pit with rabies on my tongue and sores from eating my dung, I'm spitting bacteria, I'm sic'ing for you niggas in the cafeteria. That's it, give me your lunch money, quarterback. I'm about to intercept and have these fag rappers dressed in drag strippin' on the internet. Is it winter yet? Nah." 

...If only Good Game was like this!

Okay, so now the actual Boxcar sessions. We have three tracks that are earlier mixes of songs from the main album: "Light Sleeper," "No Return:" and "Joint Custody." Of course the original "Light Sleeper" is better... or I should say, the version we've all come to know, as this is actually the original, strictly speaking. There's a reason they picked that one as the lead single. But this is still a tight alternate version, also produced by Jay Zee, that would've been a very welcome B-side in '94 - moody and tough.\

J Groove handled both versions of "Joint Custody," which use the same basic samples. The drums sound different though, and the vocal samples on the hook are completely different. You'll hear instantly why it's referred to as the "Spliff Mix" in the track-listing.  It's hard to one better than the other, and this version isn't a huge revelation; but it's cool to have this as a point of interest.

The instrumental to Jay Zee's "No Return," on the other hand, is completely different. I liked how the album version used the atmospheric photograph sounds from the opening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to open that version; but I like this (very dusty) piano sample even better than the final mix's, and in the end probably prefer this mix.

Now that leaves us three, four... five more songs. These were all recorded for Boxcar Sessions, but left off the album. In other words, they're entirely unheard, vintage material - the most exciting stuff. Production is divided by J Groove, Jay Zee and fellow Junctioneer Big Nous. The tracks all feature that chunky, broken jazz 90's style that also feature Saafir kicking his crazy , staccato, unpredictable flow and abstract battle rhymes: "Another flick of the wrist, I'm pissed, gotta look at the statistics. Ballistics have... no report of a body because watch tower just watched me pass a flower bath. I don't bathe. I'm narrariater[sic.] by trade, I pave... graves."

The track "In the Future..." is a rhyme we've actually heard on one of the first Wake Up Show Free Style LPs, and it was one of the stand-out moments there. Now we get to finally hear it as a fully produced song with a sick, bass-heavy Big Nous beat - it's a killer. These songs aren't just cuts that didn't quite make the roster on Boxcar Sessions... these would have been some of the best moments! Granted, this disc errs on the inclusion side... some of the remixes are just sorta interesting rather than mind blowing. But I always prefer extra over less. And the mind blowing is in here.

This disc is pretty rare... the kind of thing, as soon as you see it, you know you'd better snatch it up quick because you might never get another chance. Well, that goes double now that it's a decade old; so if you come across a copy snatch it up and bark like DMX at anybody how tries to wrest it away from you. Because we may've had to resign ourselves to the fact that we'll never see another Illmatic; but we did get additional Boxcar Sessions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Fake Snagglepuss

(Youtube version is here.)
Update 12/19/12: Snaggapuss himself hit me up on twiiter to fill us in on this mystery: "wc is my dude when i met him we talked about it he didnt know till preemo told him!lol"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Return of the Green Won

Pace Won and producer Mr. Green are back with their follow-up to The Only Color That Matters Is Green, titled The Only Number That Matters Is Won. If they make a third album, they're going to have to come up with a new title gimmick. But this album's dope enough that I hope they do.

The Only Color had some strong tracks, but it started to sink downwards about halfway through. Frankly, all of his solo outings have been kinda mixed... at first I assumed, to quote Canibus, "motherfuckin' Wyclef spoiled it." But then I thought Telepathy was pretty flat, and that Team Won album was kinda cool, but it didn't exactly knock me over either. Maybe Pace got too much of his power from his Outsidaz crew, and without them...?

Well, to some extent, I'm not sure that isn't true... Pace Won seems to have been struggling to find his role in "grown man rap" since his first solo endeavor, where he's just not spitting wild line after wild line on sick posse cuts. He still has clever rhymes, but they're always spread a lot thinner an Outz fan would like. Not many lyricists can really raise above the level of generic... I mean, we often give those rappers a pass anyway, because they still sound good over a dope track. But when Pace isn't spitting vicious battle rhymes - which is most of the time on all of his solo albums to date - you start to wonder how much longer until we have to revoke his pass? I feel like half of what's holding his albums up for me is my compulsion to want to like them as an Outz fan. And so when I hear his hook to "Fresh Air:" "these rappers are nondescript," it's tempting to suggest he not throw stones.

And seeing that his guests include Snoop Dogg, Elephant Pelican (a nondescript label mate), Freeway and Rival - who for some reason goes uncredited here, but he has a verse on "My Song" - doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Of course, Master Ace is on here too, so you know this album will at least have a highlight or two.

Anyway, I'm happy to report that, while he hasn't completely shed his growing pains yet, he's made progress. Relationship raps mixed with excessive pop culture references and name dropping for name dropping's sake still abounds, but he's.definitely more consistently compelling here.

Of course, that might be because Mr. Green has really stepped it up after their last album. The last album had definite moments; but this one is one giant moment. No downward sinks here, and thankfully he's finally stopped dissing Eminem (not that I'm defensive of Emzy or anything; but after three songs and only one worthwhile line between them, it's time to call it quits). Even when they're just updating Chaka Demus's "Murder She Wrote," it works. Granted, I still had more fun with Mr. Green and Young Zee's album (which was released practically in secret); but honestly, every song's a head nodder and I do recommend it.

Specifically, I recommend the vinyl. Not just because vinyl > CD any day of the week, but because this wax version features six exclusive bonus tracks. Two of them are just instrumentals, but the other four are proper songs completely up to par with the rest of the album. There's even some noteworthy guests (Tek of Smif N Wessun and Malik B of The Roots) hidden away on the vinyl exclusives. It's a nice, double LP in a full color picture cover, and it's limited to a run of 500, available exclusively from vinyl-digital.com. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Don't Sleep On the REAL I.C.P.

This is an album that flew so under the radar, it probably managed to hide itself from 90% of its core audience, thus becoming a failure. Which is a shame, because it's good stuff. See, it looks like just another generic bass compilation of marginal bass hits we've all heard a million times before, probably all owned by the same label. Masters Of the Bass, on Joey Boy Records. What a bland title, and look at that generic cover - another boring compilation you wouldn't even bother to focus your eyes on when you saw it your local Sam Goody's.

But it's actually an original album of all new music by the ICP crew. No, not the Insane Clown Posse. I'm talking about Ice Cold Productions, Fresh Kid Ice's team, probably best known for encompassing Balli and the Fat Daddy. The year between their Master Plan album, and Ice's solo debut, The Chinaman (an album I gave a surprising recommendation for as a guest post on Hip Hop Isn't Dead), they released this crew album, like The Juice Crew's In Control Volume 1 or First Priority Music Family's Basement Flavors. I mean, okay, it's not as incredible as those two albums, but it's good stuff.

In my Chinaman write-up, I talk about their compelling display of their proficiency in all types of production styles: classic old school (even disco era) throwback, traditional bass styles, metal influences, and even some pop themes. This album doesn't really go for any of that, it's a lot more street. It has some bass elements to it, especially in a couple songs; but most of it's just gritty and hardcore stuff. This isn't the lost prequel to The Chinaman; it's just a showcase for all their artists, most of whom got too little chance to shine elsewhere.

There are three songs generally billed as being by I.C.P.; then the rest are specifically credited to the individual artists who perform them. You might expect that means these are some sweet posse cuts, but no. These are Fresh Kid Ice's solo songs. I assume they're only labeled this way because Ice was still signed exclusively to Luke Records at the time. Anyway, not surprisingly, these are pretty much the worst songs on the album. The ICP were able to elevate Ice to levels on The Chinaman that he doesn't reach here.

Don't get me wrong - they're not bad. Despite its title, "Dick In Ya Mouth" features a surprisingly tough, gangster beat. Seriously, it would make a hot NWA track. Unfortunately, once Ice starts rhyming, it sounds... like you'd expect a single member of The 2 Live Crew to sound on his own. Tired, cliched sex raps, even recycling some of his lines from past songs that weren't appealing the first time ("nibble on this dick like a rat does cheese"). Damn it, I want to hear Fat Daddy on this cut! Oh well...

"Hey Ho" is a more traditional Miami bass song with lots of "Planet Rock," and a shout and call chorus. More cuts would've helped, but it's still a solid Miami staple. "Ice Cold," then, has Ice trying his hand at harder, freestyle rhymes more in line with the rest of the album. He's still the weakest MC here, but he manages to just squeak by. The instrumental is awesome enough. And there actually is another MC on the mic with Ice on these cuts, but Ice gets the majority of the mic time. More importantly, they sound pretty similar and lyrically they're interchangeable.

Actually (disappointingly), Fat Daddy doesn't rhyme at all on this album. He was definitely down with ICP at the time - he's even listed as being on their roster in the liner notes - but for some reason he doesn't check in. No, the real star of this album is Shake G. He's tied with Ice for having the most songs on this album (three), and they're pretty much the three best. We heard Shake G on The Chinaman, too; but not like this. He's on some Willie D meets JT Money roughneck gangsta shit on here. And the production matches - like "Dick In Ya Mouth," "Grand Larceny" and "Niggas From da Crib" are some seriously hard shit with banging beats and wailing sirens, except this time the vocal tracks live up to the instrumentals. Think "Do It Like a G.O." Good shit! And "Fuck You" is some lighter, bugged out shit, that still actually sounds the most Willie D-ish. Damn, why didn't Shake G ever get an album?

Who else is on here? There's a crew called Underground Regulators, featuring an opening verse by an MC from one of Dem Boyz (or "Dem Boiz," as they spelled it on their Critique single), which is pretty funky yet tough. A group called Da Big Boyz has a song called "Smokin Head." It's got heavy bass and the deep voiced MC from "Christmas Freestyle" on Luke's Christmas album - it's a bit ridiculous, but still dope. An MC named Top Rank closes the show, coming with a hardcore delivery and early 90's backpacker rhymes (expect to hear a lot of words like "electromagnetic" and "ninety-degree angles") on "Immortal." He brings a different style, welcome to the album, but the lyrics haven't aged so well. I remember him being impressive in '91, but listening to him now, he's pretty corny. It's still enjoyable, though. Again, the production raises it to a higher level than it perhaps otherwise deserves.

Oh, and there's one more song on here. I lamented the lack of Fat Daddy on this album, but his partner Balli has a solo joint. It's a dance track called "The Overtown Hop." This came out the same year as Eerk and Jerk's single, "The Overtown Hop," and it's not the same instrumental, but they're definitely in the same lane. I bet there's a story there. Anyway, the two are definitely similar enough that if you liked E&J's "Overtown Hop," you'll like this one; but they're different enough that you don't feel like you're just listening to a minor variation of the same song. Balli sounds nice on the mic (and a little Larry Larr-like), and there are some nice cuts.

Seriously, do yourself a favor and track down a copy of this sleeper. You'll be surprised.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finsta Bundy's Unreleased LP EP

Midsummer, I blogged about how Finsta had not only reissued his rare, debut single, but he'd also included an unreleased track from that same period as a bonus track. That was pretty awesome, but it still left his vaults with some gems left to be excavated. Thankfully, Chopped Herring - the label that blew my mind with their Phase N Rhythm 12" released at the same time - has taken care of that.

Tracks we knew existed, because they'd been released in part on Finsta's Neva Say Never mixtape from the 90's are here, along with tracks we'd never even heard of before.  Now, these are Finsta Bundy tracks, meaning they were recorded after that first 12" (1996-1999) and Finsta'd hooked up with his partner, so these are all two MC songs, just like their most enduring classics. Most of these tracks were meant to part of a full-length Finsta Bundy album that, sadly, never happened - hence the title, The Unreleased Album EP.

So, if you remember Neva Say Never, you'll recognize "Who Wanna Rock" and "Love and Hate;" and it's great to finally have these bangers, complete and unblended (into other songs) on vinyl. But whether you've heard these songs or not, the pattern is consistent, gritty, minimalistic soul sampled tracks produced by exactly who you'd expect: Rich Blak, Baby Paul, Mr. Walt and Finsta himself, plus a track each by lesser known producers Chocolate Ty and Fatal Son, whose work blends in seamlessly. If they're not just as good as The Beatminerz' crew stuff, they at least come close.

I have to say, though, there were no real head popping surprises - the best songs I found were the ones I went in already being familiar with. The other tracks are still quality Finsta Bundy material, with both of them coming consistently nice on the mic at all times; but you can see why these weren't chosen as singles like the songs we've all come to know. It's probably also no coincidence that these are the more modern songs ('98-'99, as opposed to '96-'97). No doubt Finsta fans will be quite pleased with this EP (and, come on, who isn't a Finsta fan?), but don't expect Greatest Hits material.

Sound quality-wise, it's terrific.  Six of the songs come from their original D&D Studio masters and sound perfect.  The other two (marked as such on the label) are old 4-track mixes, so they do sound a bit rougher and more "tapey," but that's how they were originally recorded. ...It's just an unfortunate coincidence that those two 4-Track Mixes happen to be "Who Wanna Rock" and "Love Or Hate." But, still, it's the best they're ever going to sound.

Just like it's sister release, this one comes in a smart sticker cover and limited to 350 copies. 200 on black, 75 on clear (clear) wax and 75 red. Chopped Herring is doing amazing things these days, and I'm constantly at the edge of my seat for what they're going to release next.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Simple Mystery That Is Flo Rida

This post is essentially a response to this video. Hopefully it can also be a larger, more open discussion on the artist known as Flo Rida, and even some hip-hop principles in general.  But you probably won't fully appreciate it if you don't go and watch that video first.  And I have to begin by saying that the chorus to "I Cry" doesn't match the rest of the song because it's just another line from another big 80's song (like "you spin me right 'round" etc) - specifically "Piano In the Dark" by Nina. Flo's just sticking with his pattern of taking the most memorable pieces of older dance hits and turning them into contemporary club jams.
 
"Let It Roll"'s hook comes from "Let the Good Times Roll." "Turn Around" is using "Din Da Da" by George Kranz, which is a song I only know because so many hip-hop artists before have sampled it over the years. "Good Feeling" samples an old Etta James line for its hook - and not just any Etta James song, but predictably, her biggest hit. "Run" uses Bryan Adams' "Run To You." I'm not gonna break down every single Flo Rida song ever - because that would require listening to every single Flo Rida song ever, which is simply asking too much - but you can tell that this is a recurring theme.
 
Now, I'm not trying to play "music trivia one-up-manship" here.  You guys know I'm terrible at naming samples, for one thing, because hip-hop is pretty much the only genre I know.  So I can't exactly throw stones. Heck, I don't mind admitting that I had to google who did "Piano In the Dark" just now.  But it's kind of essential to know the origins if we're going to discuss "I Cry," because it's the missing piece of the puzzle presented in the video.  We're not just talking about some sampled riff buried deep in a layered track; this is a song built as a direct play on another song, essentially an uncredited remix. You can't just breeze over it. I mean, the question that's asked is why this song is a hit despite Flo Rida's lack of fanbase, lyrical credibility, crew association, etc. And the simple answer is that people just like hearing that "Piano In the Dark" line freaked in a club.
 
And don't get me wrong, I'm not even mad at that practice. One of the core elements of hip-hop is how it re-purposes music from other genres, taking the elements that a hip-hop fan would enjoy and removing all the crap we, frankly, don't want to listen to. Is there an awesome break in an otherwise cheesy dance song? Hey, that's how the whole genre started!  Did you find an awesome riff in an otherwise rambling, unappealing funk song, or an apropos vocal snippet in a feature film?  Sample 'em!  Who among us didn't love "Jackin' for Beats?"
 
One of the cool things about hip-hop is that I know if I hear a cool sound in an otherwise wack song, all I have to do is wait, and that sound will come around again in a new, hopefully better, song. People like when hip-hoppers sample "Din Da Da" because everybody enjoys that line of the song, but nobody misses the stuff where he shouts incoherent nonsense for three minutes. Take that piece, and streamline it, and give it some verses which have some flow. Mr. Rida may not be an amazing lyricist, be he's adept at different styles and matching them to the instrumental... and thankfully he doesn't have that affected nasal drawl that seems to be in vogue these days. I'll take him over a lot of current successes.
 
All he's doing is following a long tradition. I love 'em, but I doubt many people knew who The Future MCs were. They just got amped when they heard rap lyrics to Prince's "Erotic City" in the club.  When the Fugee men all started releasing rap versions of "Stayin' Alive," "Electric Avenue" and "99 LuftBallons," I certainly wouldn't have given them props as bold artistic visionaries; or even considered myself a fan of theirs; but I was happy to have rap versions of all these songs.  So I bought the singles, just not their crappy albums surrounding it.  Flo Rida is making his entire catalog with these songs, and forgoing most of that filler, which I definitely appreciate.
 
The only thing that really separates Flo Rida from, say, the King MCs of back in the day, is that Flo Rida actually works with/ for the labels that own these songs.  Back in the days, the labels might've released them as dance remix singles of the original songs (what percentage of the songs he revamps do you think are under the umbrella of the label he's signed to?). Now they're packaged as Flo Rida original works. And why not? He does write (I assume) all his own verses, etc. I mean, it would be nicer if those verses were more deft, substantive or interesting... I'm always on the market for another Rakim. But he really doesn't need to be. Not for millions of music fans, clearly, or for sales or airplay. What he's doing is working for him. Not every successful MC has to be a brilliant urban poet. In fact, there's not even that much overlap. And the secret to his success? Not so mysterious.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Holy Grail Obviated!

For ages, one of my absolutely most wanted records was - like pretty much every other hip-hop enthusiast - Phase N Rhythm's "Hyperactive" 12". Growing up, I loved their big Tommy Boy single "Swollen Pockets;" it was one of those videos I was always dying Rap City/ Yo!/ Video Music Box to play again. And it blew my mind that their subsequent album never came out, and they were essentially a one-hit wonder.  So when I got older and found out that had a rare, earlier 12" from '88 on their own one-off indie label called Funky Tune Records, I was amped.  When I finally heard it online, and it was even better than "Swollen Pockets" my mind was blown.  But it was super rare, a very small run, most copies of which seem to have been lost or destroyed - after all, nobody had heard of them when they were trying to shop it at the time. And the fact that it wasn't just great but a Paul C.-associated production, meant that this was one of the most expensive, hard to obtain "holy grail" rap records of all time.  It might be the definitive one, in fact, that set the standard for what a hip-hop holy grail is. It was certainly at the top of my list.

But now I don't need it anymore.  I mean, I'd still like it as a collector's item. If anybody is reading this and no longer wants their copy, I'll happily take it off your hands.  Heh.  But the thing is, Chopped Herring Records has just rendered it obselete.

See, they didn't just reissue it - although they've done that.  Both songs from that 12" have been pressed up on a nice, new 12" that's can be ordered new for a nice 2-digit price, as opposed to the frightening four-digit cost of the original.  But they've gone and rendered it essentially obselete*. Not only did they go back to the original masters it to make it sound rich and clean; but because they did that (as opposed to just taking a rip of the old 12"), they were able to fix a major problem with the original pressing,

See, the original pressing played the song too fast - several BPMs higher than the way the song was supposed to sound.  Now, it's not bad - and it's not entirely inappropriate to have a song called "Hyperactive" play a little zippy - it certainly didn't hamper my love of the songs all these years.  But this new release, finally issuing the songs as they were supposed to be heard after so many years, does definitely sound better. It kinda took me one spin to get used to it, but I definitely prefer this version now.  I mean, it's not hugely different, but Phase's voice sounds noticeably more cool and natural.

You're never going to bother listening to the old version again.

But that's still not all!  They've also included a previously unreleased, never before heard Phase N Rhythm track record at the same time as "Hyperactive" and "Brainfood." And they've got the Dub version for it, too.  It's called "The Force Of the Matrix" and it's as funky and kick ass as you'd expect a lost Phase N Rhythm song to sound.  Crazy fresh beats, scratches, horn samples (of course!), and Phase has that same staccato yet smooth style he flexes on their other songs.  I'm talking serious rapgasm here!

As we've come to expect from Chopped Herring by now, it's a top notch presentation, with a fresh ticker cover and limited to 350 copies.  75 copies are pressed on a "Pearl mixed color" (whatever that looks like lol), 75 are pressed on a red/yellow mix, and the rest are your classic black.   If you're not a member of their new subscription plan, it's become even harder than before to secure a color copy, but at the end of the day, it's all about just having this magnificent record on wax. If anybody out there isn't deliriously happy with traditional, a black copy... remember, I'm here to take any of this stuff off your hands.  hehe

Postscript #1: If you're anything like me; you're wondering "what about their Tommy Boy stuff? I bet there's most, if not all, of a complete album they recorded for Tommy Boy, that never got released, too!  Well, CH as looked into it, and yes, that's true but... get ready to be saddened... all of those reels were destroyed in a flood, so the world will never get to here it. The DATs with "Force Of the Matrix" and the restored songs presented here are the sum total of the unreleased Phase N Rhythm music we'll ever get.

Postscript #2: Chopped Herring is running one of the coolest contests ever.   The titular "Matrix" of the song is actually a big medallion Phase used to rock when they performed back in the day.  Well, Chopped Herring actually has it and is giving it away to one randomly selected lucky soul who orders this 12" - the original, not a reproduction. I'm in the running, and so is anybody else who... wait a minute.  I take it all back!  Don't buy this record!  It sucks, just forget all about it.  Stay away; leave it for me!


*I say "essentially" because, strictly speaking, it is missing the Dub and Acapella mixes of "Brainfood" (those mixes are here for "Hyperactive" however), so if those are important to you, that is a legit reason to hang on to your original record.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Amazing(ly Disappointing) Hip-Hop Jukebox!

(The equally disappointing Youtube version is here.)

The End Of the Dogs: Learn Along With Werner, part 5

I've explained the history of The Dogs on this blog before; but it's really pertinent for this post, so let me give a quick refresher. In the beginning, The Dogs were just Disco Rick's dancers.  He released a trio of albums on JR Records, one as Disco Rick and The Dogs, one as The Dogs featuring Disco Rick and one as simply The Dogs. All three, however, were essentially solo albums, where he did all the beats and rhymes. But then, when he left the label over financial issues, the label decided to make his dancers rappers and continue the group without him. While Disco Rick moved on to make Back From Hell for Luke Records, The dancers, Ant D and Peanut, released the album K-9 Bass. Ant D then recorded a solo album in 1993, featuring the Miami bass child act, The Puppies, and then their career ended pretty definitively when Ant D was sentenced to death row for a brutal double homicide.

At least, as someone with a pretty strong interest in the crew (reading this blog, you may've noticed heh), I thought that was the end. But recently I stumbled upon an online listing for a Dogs title I'd never heard of before. It's not on discogs or anything, and it was new to me, but it was sitting right there on Amazon: "Do da Dogs." Just one third party seller copy. Now, The Dogs is a pretty generic name for a crew, so my first instinct was that this was just another group, probably a midwest punk band or something, that had the same name. Except, while the listing was bereft of comments or info, it did specify a label: JR Records.

Well, obviously, I had to order that shit, and now I've got it. I thought it might be a cheap, cash-in "greatest hits" kinda tape; but no, it's new material. From 1994, making it the last recording The Dogs ever released. It's a single, presumably from a scrapped follow-up to K-9 Bass. Oh, and Amazon got it wrong. It's not "Do da Dogs," it's "Doo da Dog."

Like most everything on JR Records (especially after Disco Rick left), it's produced by the duo of Calvin Mills II and Carlton Mills. And... I'm actually not sure any of The Dogs are actually featured on here?  The liner notes credit two writers: Terrence Edwards Sr and Calvin Mills II. Now, it wouldn't exactly be shocking that Ant and Peanut didn't write their own song... or get writers credit even if they did; but they were repeatedly and plainly credited on their past outings with JR Records  as having written all their previous stuff. And not only do Labrant Dennis and Keith Bell (the Dogs' real names) not appear here, but there's a "featuring" credit, which names Terrance Edwards Sr (who I will assume is the same guy who got the writing credit, despite the alternate spelling of his name) and Kevin Williams. Are they perhaps the real performers on this song? It's tough to call, since they never had the most distinctive voices... at least one of them definitely sounds different. I think. There are two rappers here, that much is certain. And one guy refers to himself as KD (or "KayDee," whatever), and despite the suggestive cover and title, they don't actually curse at all on this song, which isn't the real Dogs' m.o. So, despite the fact that they gleefully, repeatedly refer to themselves as The Dogs... I'm pretty sure it's not actually them.

But it's not actually a bad song. The Mills brothers are reliable producers, and this is a catchy dance song, that doesn't devolve into verseless shout & calls, or all that other junk that plagued Miami bass hip-hop. If you liked K-9 Bass, you'll like this, imposters or no. It's a simple song about a dance (see the cover; that's the whole idea), but while the lyrics aren't saying anything of note, the MCs flow well over the track and manage not to say anything awkward or embarrassing, which is more than a LOT of rappers can say. And, production-wise, this would be even one of the stronger, moving songs on that album.

You've got four versions on here: Radio, Club, The Mutt Mix and The Bone Mix. The Radio version is naturally just a shorter version of the Club version. The Mutt version is a slightly funkier mix, which uses mostly the same track and vocals, but adds a few samples and makes minor improvements. And the Bone Mix is just an instrumental. So the Mutt Mix is the one; but really, the song works well enough that I wind myself just listening to the whole tape through every time. A song's gotta be working pretty well for that to be the case. I just wonder who made it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Diggin' for Beat Diggers - Jesper Jensen Interview

Beat Diggin', the original beat digging documentary from the 90's, is available now, for the first time on DVD. I've just posted a detailed write-up on the disc, and even more exciting now, I've interviewed the director (and writer, and everything else) Jesper Jensen to get the whole story.

So, how did this film get started?  Did you know right off you were making a film on beat digging, or more just videoing an interview, or what was the genesis?

Yes, i wanted to make a documentary about digging and beat making right off. I had worked with local TV here in Copenhagen, Denmark, interviewing US rap acts touring in Europe, and made a couple of short documentaries and stuff. I was a hip-hop fan and record buyer, and got the idea to make a documentary about how the renowned producers like Show, Diamond, Beatnuts, Q-Tip etc. actually did their craft.

My brother Ras Beats worked at a record store in NYC called Second Coming; and he was telling me these stories about name producers like Havoc, Premiere, Evil Dee and Godfather Don shopping there, hanging out and telling stories. So I started imagining how to attack it from there.

Did you come to NY for the movie, then, or were you staying here anyway?

Yes, I flew over for two or three weeks to film it., and stayed with my brother there. I did everything myself: planning, filming, interviewing, editing, promotion etc. I had some help with contacts, ideas and inspiration from Ras, but that was it. One man indie guerilla filmmaking!

Nice!  What would you've been shooting on at that time? Digital, DV tapes?

Semi-pro DV cam and tape as far as I remember. I remember Evil Dee said "that's not a real film camera!" I answered "no, its a VIDEO camera!"

Ha ha So, you and Ras basically just reached out to the artists you wound up interviewing when they came into the store?

I contacted some from home via their labels and publicists. Others Ras prepped via the record store. Some were really forthcoming and accessible, others were almost impossible to just get in contact with. Some didn't show up.

Yeah, one of the great things about the film is that some of the guys, especially The Beatminerz, seem pretty open about what they're doing, records they're using... You used to think of old school DJs soaking their records to get rid of the labels and producers keeping their all their samples top secret.  Did you have a hard time getting everyone to go "on the record" or were they all pretty open?

Everybody who appears in the film was very open and happy to talk. Even back then in 1997, Evil Dee said: people used to be secretive but now they all had all the same records anyway, so it was about how you used the samples and stuff. Which was cool for me as a filmmaker 'cause then they would show certain sampled records on camera and stuff. But more than just records, they would also talk about their broader approach to beat finding and producing tracks.

One thing I notice is the Beatminerz mention their work on the Shadez of Brooklyn album... which never wound up coming out. Did you get to hear any hot, unreleased material?

Hmmm... No, just the joint "How It's Done" they recorded that night, which came out as a 12" on Pandemonium around 1998. Wouldn't mind a full album of songs like "When It Rains It Pours," though!

When I first heard of the film, it was pretty exciting, because no one was really approaching hip-hop producers from that kind of angle before... Like really asking them what are they buying, etc.

That's the reaction I was hoping for when I made it. As rap fans and rap record collectors we all have some knowledge of breaks, samples, old funk etc. But I wanted to explore how these renowned producers actually crafted their individual sound. Like how individual producers can make the same sample sound different. Or how they seek out different unknown styles and develop their sound that way.

Yeah, it felt like it went beyond other takes on hip-hop producer, which were more like "for beginners" type interviews. This was in the in-depth look for heads who already knew something.

Thanks..I remember reading an interview with The Beatminerz in Rap Pages' DJ issue sometime in 1996 and a couple other interviews which were inspiring, too.

Ah yeah, I've still got that issue! How hard was it, then, getting the film out there once you'd filmed it? What avenues did you pursue?

It was definitely a labor of love. It felt like an adventure to travel to the home of Hip Hop to film some of your heroes and having creative control over it. Even though it sounds like a cliché, I didn't think that it would reach that many people, so I didn't plan a massive promotion strategy.

First I got the film shown in a few art cinemas and on a few local TV stations. Then over the years, I got interest from film and music festivals both in the US and Europe - more art cinemas and public TV stations. And there's been a lot of requests for a DVD from people. It's definitely gratifying that something you did as a labor of love and out of personal interest over a decade ago still mean something to people.

Yeah, for a real long time, I'd only seen short clips of the film... like 90 seconds of Godfather Don in a record store, never the whole thing. ...I also remember, after clips of Beat Diggin' had come out, another film (Deep In the Crates, then pt 2) came out, definitely in the same lane as yours... I think a lot of heads were probably even confused that they were two different films.  Did you ever talk to those guys directly, or when did you first find out about those movies?

I heard about Deep Crates though the grapevine, and talked to Beat Dawg who made it via email once or twice when he was working on it. I still see cats confusing Beat Diggin' with other beat making-themed films online now! Kinda funny, but it also tells you that your're kinda never finished promoting your stuff, especially if you work independently. There's  always potential audiences who haven't seen your promotion clips etc.

So, now this disc has two versions on it... the original, and the expanded.  I feel like all the content in the expanded version is strong... did you just cut it initially for length? I know it can be tough to place a short film, the longer it gets.

I was happy with the original version but when the feedback and requests for a DVD started coming, I felt it could use some more "weight" or "length." The original was only 22 minutes! But I also rewatched some unused footage of Buckwild and other things that somehow didn't make the first cut. So then I made the 2003 re-edit, which has a better flow and better quality, plus Buckwild and Baby Paul.

Well, the DVD's definitely got more weight now, because it's also got two of your other films on there, and there's some good stuff. Master Ace kicks a killer freestyle in Beats, and Rise's appearance made me want to go through my crates and see what I had by him!

Yes, Ace is a giant. See, as a longtime rap fan I felt confident that if I approached the films as a rap fan they should resonate with other rap fans. So that's great.

To me, it's interesting to see Who's Next? 10 years on and see who's still active and who's not. But also just the hunger of up-n-comers and their attitude towards keeping with the tradition and values of this Hip Hop thing.

I like that you followed up with Queen Heroine (someone who we barely got to see much of in the media, too, by the way) after the Juggaknots performance of their "Dreams of an R&B Bitch" update.

Ha ha, yes that was a funny cut. Breeze kills it with the cocky sex rhymes for 2 minutes and then we cut to his sister for a comment. Haha...

Yeah, you could tell her opinion was divided on that one.

Juggaknots are dope! They released a CD of some of the songs they performed, "M.O.N.E.Y.," "Dreams of an R&B Bitch" and more. All their stuff is great in my opinion. The Use Your Confusion album from 2006 has some joints!

So how did you wind up linking up with Crate Escape for this DVD? Were you looking for someone to put this out now, or did they come to you...?

I came to them. I liked the Kurious and Soundsci releases Crate Escape had put out, and it seemed like a suitable partner for a limited hip-hop documentary DVD! It was sorta in the same category as those records.

Yeah, it's great that this is finally out. I think it was an important film in that it kind of redirected a lot of the dialogue that was happening about hip-hop production at the time... even though a lot of us were just seeing clips from it.

What do you mean by "redirected?"

Just getting deeper into it, or taking a stab at it from another PoV. Even up into the 90's, a lot of hip-hop coverage would still be really basic.  But this film came at a time, also with stuff like Vinyl Exchange, to kind of usher in our little scene, taking the conversation in directions vinyl heads really wanted to go. Like asking Mr. Mixx how he made the beat for "Throw tha D" instead of all the "The 2 Live Crew's raps make parents want to cover their ears!" kind of articles.

Thanks. YES!! I wanted to explore the craft seriously and also show an insights into the mentality and attitude of our heroes who often remain faceless and talk with their hands. There's definitely a trend recently of exploring craftsmanship and history in Hip Hop. Like your blog which is really comprehensive, the Diggers With Gratitude board, my boy Andreas' blog othersounds.com and stuff. I liked your old post about truly random rap where you picked out some forgotten Profile 12"!

Ha ha, yeah I should do that again. Before we finish out, I want to mention too, that I know you've got other films besides these... Tape Masters, Vinyl Heaven... Is there a way for heads to see those films?  Or is anything pending?

No plans for those two. I made Tape Masters before Beat Diggin' and I'm not sure it's up to par, even though we interview Kid Capri and Ron G about mixtapes. And Vinyl Heaven focuses on Danish record dealers, in Danish language. But if there's interest who knows? Right now we're focusing on making Beat Diggin' available to anyone interested. Anyone who watched a bad rip on Youtube or requested a DVD now has the chance to own it on crispy DVD.

New Life for Beat Diggin'

A couple years ago, I reviewed the original hip-hop documentary about hip-hop production from a crate diggers' angle, Beat Diggin'. Well, I'm reviewing it again. Why? Because it's finally been released on DVD (for the first time ever, even though it  was made back in '98). And what's more, it's an all new, substantially different version of the film.

In my initial review, I bemoaned the fact that there was no legit, "purchasable option;" Beat Diggin' was only available to be seen via crappy online streaming and dodgy downloads. So I'm very happy now that it's finally got a proper release. And before I get into the "new version" here, let me address some of you skeptics out there as a fellow purist.  The original version of the film is on here, too.

So, how do the two versions differ? Well, again, for my basic review of the film, I'll refer you to my first post on the subject. But I should point out that the version I reviewed was actually neither version here. In fact, my biggest criticism of the film - that the performance footage in the middle really seems out of place - applied only to that weird, online version. Both of the versions here are much tighter watches. The original is 22 minutes of just the diggin' and production talk. And the new version expands on that, adding an additional 12.

The more superficial changes include new, English credits (the original were in Danish, because while this was filmed in NY, interviewing all NY producers, the director is actually from Denmark). So there's that, new music and interstitial shots that give the film a more polished, professional feel. It's also been upgraded to stereo sound and re-framed/cropped for widescreen. That last one's the only potentially controversial alteration, but again, remember purists, the original version is on here, too.

So those are the little things. The big thing is the sizable chunk of new (shot at the time, but unseen 'till now) interview footage. None of this new stuff feels superfluous or tacked on. The film's been re-edited to incorporate the additional material, which is all strong. It's cool having the original here, but it winds up becoming more of an artifact, because the new version not only improves on, but essentially replaces, the original.

Then this DVD also includes two of director Jesper Jensen's other films: Beats, Rhymes and Videotape (shot from 1994-2001, but only completed in 2009) and 2003's Who's Next? To be honest, Beats feels like the weakest of the films... almost more a collection of footage than a film with focus and drive. But it's dope footage, so it's still a real treat to have. There's interviews with acts like Gangstarr, The Pharcyde,.. Master Ace in particular kicks a really awesome freestyle.

Then Who's Next? feels more like another, proper film, with more on the MCing side (rather than Beat Diggin's production), looking at up and coming, underground NY hip-hop acts of the time (now ten years ago). This one's notably longer than the others (54 minutes), with a good mix of interview and performance coverage. There's a lot of great freestyling on-hand (Rise impressed me in particular), and what's great is that we get a nice in-depth look at a lot of dope artsists who we otherwise don't see nearly enough of, like Ge-Ology, Juggaknots  Poison Pen, and J-Live.

So, Beat Diggin' is really the most important film here, but the whole thing adds up to a really nice package. And while this was shot on the pure, indie low budget tip years ago, so you can't expect the image quality to rival your Avatar Blu-Rays, I have to say it looks noticeably better than the stream I watched two years ago. This disc is order-able direct from Crate Escape Records - the same label that brought us Kurious's demo four years ago.  It's Region free (R0), but US heads should be aware that it is PAL, not NTSC, so you might have to watch this one on your computer. And it's limited to 200 hand-numbered copies, so don't wait too long.

And if you're a fan of this film, stay tuned... I've got a special treat coming right up for you guys - an exclusive interview with the director himself!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Finally, an Obtainable Oneliner

So I mentioned earlier that we were in the midst of an Omniscence triumvirate; and here, finally, third part: Dope Folks Records has rereleased his incredibly rare and sought after EP, The Funky Oneliner. The Funky Oneliner originally came out in 1993 on 6th Boro Records - a small run on an indie label, making it one of records you rarely see, and when you do, it goes for hundreds and hundreds of dollars. So basically, unless you were rich or incredibly lucky, you couldn't have one. Until now, of course.

1993 means, yes, this came out before his all too brief stint on East/West Records. He was a virtual unknown, who only had one compilation appearance under his belt, so most the world slept on this at the time. It was only after he started making "Rhyme Of the Month" that heads went back and tried to track copies down.

Like the title suggests, dude had punchlines for days. And fortunately, they were more along the Big L/ Notorious BIG-style punchlines, focusing on wit rather than just pop culture references for their own sake. coming with a scratchy voice and smooth flow, he was accompanied by jazzy, understated production that was the perfect compliment for his style... not showy, just pure head nodders. With some nice, subtle scratch hooks by his DJ, T-Luv.

Of course, you know the production's gonna be hot just looking at the label. It's produced by Fanatic, The Funké Leftover. The same Fanatic from Bizzie Boyz and all those Payroll classics. The "Funké Leftover" part of his name is a reference to a project he was coming out with at the same time, being half of a crew two-man crew called The Funké Leftovers. I really wouldn't be surprised to see a Dope Folks release on them one of these days.

This EP actually isn't very long. It's just four songs, plus instrumentals. The original EP version also included Radio Edits for all four songs, but I'm happy to see them gone in favor of more vinyl space (quick rule of vinyl: the more music you cram onto a single side of wax, the worse the sound quality gets, which is why heads are often seeking out rarer, 2LP versions of albums). These songs sound great here. It's worth noting that one of the songs, "I Gotta Maintain" is the same as "Maintain" song I wrote about that was intended for his Rhyme Factor album. It's great to have it here, since that album never came out; but it's just interesting that he was intending to include an older track on his major label debut.

...Also, he takes a shot at Kane on this EP. What's the story behind that?

Anyway, as always, this is limited to 300 copies, and I think Dope Folks sold out even before they shipped. So if you see a copy, snatch it up quick. You don't want to have to end up paying through the nose like heads did for the OG pressing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The First Rule Of Ho Fights...

Last Christmas, I vlogged about Disco Rick's mysterious crew Silence. They're not mysterious because they particularly acted tor marketed themselves that way, they didn't wear hooded cloaks like The Dopplegangaz (well, as far as  I know) or anything. There's just next to no information about them because their career was so short lived. I've never seen any interviews with 'em, they never released an album or anything with a picture that shows the group. And also, like I said in last year's vlog about a Silence 12", Disco Rick seemed to be doing almost the whole thing by himself. Just who is Silence? What did they do: beats? Rhymes? Or is this another Jamie Jupiter situation?

Well, I half examined that issue by looking at one of their 12"s, but they made two. So to get the full story - or at least as much of the story as one can glean from listening to their records - it's time I looked at their second. This is "Let Them Ho's Fight" on, of course, Vision Records. And unlike "Santa Clause Commin'," this one has a year on it: 1994.

And that's not the only way this label is more helpful. It also has detailed credits naming the MCs. Yes, this time the MCing isn't all Disco Rick (though he is one of 'em). While the 12" is again billed as Silence featuring Disco Rick, in the specific song credits they specify that it's by Disco Rick (not really, but I'll come back to that), Crew Chief, 40 Dogg and Sexy C. 40 Dogg also did the production. Heck, they even tell us who the background chants are by: Ken 2 Win, John Ragin and Randy.

Of course, there's no telling which, if any of these guys, are considered official members of Silence. Sexy C is a female MC down with Disco Rick since back in his days with Joey Boy Records and The Dogs. I have her album, it's a good time and probably the subject of a future post. :)  But is she a member of Silence, or just a guest? I'm going to guess, and this is purely going on intuition here, that Silence is just the two guys. But who knows?

Anyway, there's 3 versions of "Let Them Ho's Fight" on this 12": The Smitty Mix, the Radio Mix and the Knock Out Mix. The Radio Mix is pretty self-explanatory, so basically The Smitty Mix is the main vocal mix, and the Knock Out Mix is a purely instrumental remix. It's a pure, super high bpm party track, cliched samples, sped up chorus and all, like the kind of thing Luke would put out.

So let's go back to the Smitty Mix. It's a pretty hardcore track, except for its surprisingly catchy, upbeat bassline. Otherwise it's tough drums, tortured Public Enemy horn squeals and all (as in, not PE style but directly lifted from a PE record). It's a surprisingly good song, in fact, whether you typically like Miami stuff or not. I mean, lyrically it's nothing amazing, but they flow really capably over a really fast track, and they manage to throw in several memorable sound-bites, including a fun homage to "La Di Da Di" and a dark usage of Tag Team's famous chorus. In fact, I really like Sexy's verse here. It's pretty much just all hardcore freestyling. The hook has a concept: "let them girls fight" (Worldstar really needs to make this their anthem), but like Silence's last record, none of the verses really have follow the concept of the song title or hook. I guess that's just Silence's schtick.

What's interesting here is that while, again, this 12" is billed as Silence featuring Disco Rick, he neither rhymes on the song or produces it. It's a three verse song, with one of the guys first (I've know idea which is which between Crew Chief and 40 Dogg), Sexy, then the other guy. And we know from the detailed credits that Disco's not even one of the chants on the hook. So, while the last Silence featuring Disco Rick record seemed to be a Disco Rick record without Silence, this one seems to be a Silence record without Disco Rick!

Anyway, the bottom lime is that this a damn good, albeit trashy, song. It just makes me all the more disappointed that Down 4 Life never surfaced, because both of their singles suggest it would've been a good album.  We need a DWG-style label that specializes in rescuing lost Miami; there's so much I'd be excited to see unvaulted and released today. But at least, in the meantime, there's this 12", which I recommend for anybody doesn't feel too classy to own a record called "Let Them Ho's Fight."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2 Fresh Midwest DJs Back On Wax

Jamille Records is back with a new, limited 7" release of ultra-rare, midwest hip-hop. This time around it's a split 7" single, with a joint from the 90's on the A-side, and an 80's track on the flip. And, like I've mentioned in previous posts on Jamille releases, they've got a tradition of dropping super rarities alongside completely unreleased material, and once again they've done both.

Let's start with the 90's.  We've got a DJ Fresh Kidamore solo joint called "Kidamore On the Mic" from 1994. Kidamore was down with the Ill Chief Rockers collective that've had a couple joints repressed through Jamille already. He produced "Lamont Is the Baddest" on the Kid Crab & G.F.C. 7", and did some scratching on the "Jealous" single. Those were all 80's joints, so this one's from a later phase in his career, and I gotta say... it's not as compelling. Not because it's newer (lord knows, there's plenty '94-era material I'd bust a gut for); this just feels under-produced, with Kidamore kicking some generic rhymes over the "Big Poppa" instrumental. And he's no Biggie Smalls, Honestly, that's never a good comparison to invite on yourself.

The only element really worth getting excited about are the new cuts he laces over the track - he's quite nice on the tables, and those parts sound really fresh. But they're not enough to carry the full song when they're stuck playing a supporting role to blah rhymes, a lame hook and a beat every single one of us already have in our collections. Certainly, it's good to see any extra little piece of history like this preserved, and this is the first time the song is ever being released. But frankly, this feels like mixtape filler to me. Not wack - the cuts really are impressive and worth the listen... I'd love to hear him flex his (DJ) skills on more projects.  But "Kidamore On the Mic" just isn't the sort of joint you'd feel compelled to seek out on vinyl on its own.

Fortunately it's not on its own, and the flip side more than justifies your purchase all by itself. "DJ Politician" by Rap Master B and DJ E.Z. D is a lot of fun.  It's really raw - perhaps too raw, as it really doesn't sound professionally mixed or recorded, but that kinda just adds to the throwback feel. And the song is so engaging, that you'll get over any initial misgivings as it pulls you in. B provides the big, big beat and wild rhymes about his DJ using one wild presidential reference after another. I'm not sure I know enough American history to truly appreciate what it means to be "the Harry Truman of mix economics," for example. But I know there's plenty of scratches being showcased here, and that's enough for me. They're not as artful as Kidamore's, but they work really well within the context of a song that's already quite a good time.

This one originates from a rare 12" from 1987 on Ice World Records, which had a couple other songs on it. I've never heard it. In fact, I'd never even heard of Rap Master B before. I only know about the original 12" because I found this listing in a search. But this definitely has me wondering what those other cuts are like.

Like they always do, this Jamille 7" comes pressed on colorful wax: a clear, yellowish green (yellowish green) limited to 100 hand-numbered copies.  Mine is #69, a detail not lost on my inner child.  And as you've surely gathered from the scan above, this time around they've provided a cool picture sleeve, too. Even though I was a little nonplussed by the A-side, I definitely recommend this record, so get it while you can. Especially since the price is always right with Jamille. I mean, granted, that's because they're just little 7"s instead of nice, proper 12"s; but at this point, they've got a pretty neat tradition going for themselves, and I'm really enjoying collecting the whole series. I can't wait to hear what they'll introduce us to next. :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween Horrorcore

Yay! Today is Halloween! No, really, it is. Here in the state of New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has signed an executive order decreeing today, November 5th, to be Halloween in NJ ('cause of Hurricane Sandy, so kids wouldn't have to step on downed power lines in order to trick or treat).  So, repping NJ as always, it is definitively Halloween today.  And here is my Halloween video.  Enjoy!
(Oh, and the Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I Got (the) Power!

It's been a long time... sorry I left you. But I'm back! Hurricane Sandy decided to shut me, and the rest of the East coast, down for a bit. So I apologize for the lack fo updates for a minute there. But let's not waste anymore time on that - I'm back online now; my power's been restored.

If you're into hip-hop enough to be reading this blog, you probably know some of the story of "The Power:" Chill Rob G did it first, then a cheesy, pop group called Snap! copied it and released it as their own, with a much bigger marketing budget, nearly erasing the original from popular consciousness. But it's even more complicated than that; and it doesn't help that nearly every source, online and off, seems to get at least one major detail wrong. For instance, did you know that the original recorded is actually by Power Jam featuring Chill Rob G, or that the whole song's really just a remix of an earlier Chill Rob record?

Reading the original 12" label turns out to be both enlightening and additionally confusing. "A Wild Pitch reconstruction of a Logic reconstruction of a Wild Pitch production by DJ Mark, The 45 King," it says. One one pressing. On another pressing it says, "A Wild Pitch reconstruction mixed by Nephie Centeno Original production by DJ Mark, The 45 King," So that's what that song is. But what the Hell did that actually mean?

Okay, let's go back a year. "The Power" was released in 1990, but we want to start with Chill's last single from 1989, "The Court Is Now In Session," specifically the B-side, "Let the Words Flow." If you've got it in your crates (or if you just have Chill's '89 album, Ride the Rhythm - it's on there, too), give it a listen. I'll wait. Okay, got those lyrics in your head? Now listen to "The Power." Oh yeah! "The Power" is just a glorified remix; it's the same vocal track.

"Let the Words Flow," was produced, like everything Chill Rob G had put out by that time, by DJ Mark the 45 King. That's the "Wild Pitch production by DJ Mark" they're referring to on the label. Neither Mark nor Chill had anything to do with the creation of "The Power" besides recording their original song, "Let the Words Flow." Turning that underrated track into "The Power" was all Power Jam, who just used the Acappella off that 1989 12".

Now, Power Jam's not exactly a "real" group. There are no other Power Jam records out there. I assume the name is just a reference to the title of the song they created. So let's go back to the messages on the label, starting with the first pressing. Wild Pitch is obviously the Chill's label who put this record out, but who or what is Logic?

Logic was an underground German label that specialized in dance music. There, two DJs/producers named Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti created their new track. They used some elements of the original instrumental, like the wailing sax riff that opens up "Let the Words Flow" (it's actually not a sample, but played by Jack Bashkow, who winds up getting credit on both the "Court" and "Power" 12" labels), and the recurring refrain where Rob's vocals stutter, "it's getting, it's getting, it's getting kinda hectic" is just a line from the original acappella being played with. The rest of the instrumental, though still largely sample based, sounds nothing like The 45 King's work. And since the original Chill Rob G song only had two verses and an extended instrumental break-down for the final third, so to make it a more traditional 3-verse song, Michael and Luca just repeat Chill's first verse a second time to be the thirds verse.

And the hook is sung by Kim Davis. ...At least, on my 12" it is. Yeah; now it's going to get even more complicated. See, the hook everybody associates with this song is actually a sample from Jocelyn Brown's "Love's Gonna Get You." If you watch the video, you hear Jocelyn's sample. But not on this record; it's another singer, whose voice... frankly isn't nearly as arresting. Sorry, Kim. It's the same basic line being sung, but it's not the sample. The difference is pretty obvious to me, but if you're not sure, stick around 'till the ending, where she starts changing the line to "you've got the power" and even, "you and me and Chill Rob G." That's obviously not sampled from Jocelyn Brown.  It's also not Penny Ford. Who's that? Well, stick with me.

In an interview with Unkut, Chill Rob talks about how Wild Pitch came to put this out, "I think Stu Fine [head of Wild Pitch] probably had a deal under the table with Arista records out in Germany, and he actually licensed the record to them – but they didn’t have a deal for the US. So since the record was doing so big out there, Stu came to me as if he had no idea what was going on and he said 'Yo Rob, let’s put the song out. I mean it’s doing really well in Germany, we might as well make some money out this.' I mean it was me, it was my stuff, so I said 'Cool, let’s do it.'" I believe it was at this point that Wild Pitch commissioned the second version, which replaced the sampled hook with Kim Davis.

So to be clear, since nobody who writes about the dueling versions of "The Power" ever seem to acknowledge it - there are two versions of Chill Rob G's "The Power," not even including Snap!'s.

Wild Pitch put out both of Chill's versions on separate 12"s in 1990, and also included the song as a cassette and CD bonus track on Chill's album (it's not on the original LP). And like the second 12" pressing, the liner notes of the tape and CD credit production to this Nephie Centeno guy. I don't know too much about him; but he's a hip-hop writer and producer who also did the remix of Chill's "Make It" on his next single. So, I believe he's the guy who actually went in and replaced the Brown sample with Kim Davis for the second Chill Rob G version.

Because then, of course, you've got the whole remake version to talk about. The original German producers, Power Jam if you will, hooked up with Arista Records to put this single out as well. As you could probably imagine, now the song was caught up in an intricate web of uncleared samples, and different artists and labels claiming the rights to it. So Michael and Luca formed Snap!, under the aliases Benito Benites and John Virgo Garrett III. They didn't have Kim Davis in their camp, so they got a new singer, Penny Ford, to sing on their version.

They also got a new rapper. See, for Snap! to release this without Wild Pitch, they not only couldn't use Kim Davis, they couldn't use Chill Rob G, whose acappella started the whole thing. So they got this new guy, Turbo B, to record all new rap vocals. I mean, in a way, I actually kinda like his vocals. Certainly the way he keeps ending his verse with "or I will attack, and you don't want that" is charming in a very camp way. And even the rest of his rhymes aren't actually bad. But despite the fact that he's got a similarly deep voice, he's no Chill Rob G (and the way he emulated the stuttering "it's getting kinda hectic" parts just with his natural voice instead of a stuttering sample is pretty goofy  Correction 11/10/12: My bad; as pointed out to me in the comments, while Turbo lip-syncs that part in the video, interestingly, Snap! is still using Chill Rob G's voice even in there version for that clip). So the distinction was forever drawn: Chill Rob's version is the one preferred by hip-hop heads, while Snap!'s version is the hokier one for the pop music masses.

But Chill's version of the "The Power" gets the short end of that deal, too; since really discerning heads don't truck with any version of "The Power," favoring instead 45 King's not-remotely-euro-dance-themed production, "Let the Words Flow." I'd probably have to go with that, too; but "The Power" is still a dope alternative. and worth having as well. And for my money, the version to own is the original Wild Pitch single with both Chill's vocals and the Jocelyn sample.

Time to get technical. As I've said, Wild Pitch put out two 12" versions of this in 1990, with the two differently convoluted production credit explanations. The first one has three tracks: Vocal, Instrumental and Acappella versions. That's the one that credits Logic. The second one[pictured], which credits Nephie, has four tracks: Vocal, Radio Edit, Instrumental and Acappella. The Logic one uses the sample; and the Nephie one uses Kim Davis. There's also a 2006 repress (you know, Wild Pitch's "When MCs Had Skills" series), and that's a repress of the original with just three tracks and the sampled hook. And the bonus track version on the Ride the Rhythm CDs and tapes is the Kim Davis version. So now you know. And Knowledge is power. Derp.

It's good to be back!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Collaborating With the Dead

While we're on the subject of living performers using verses of more famous, deceased rappers to make fake collaborations, let's talk about probably the most egregious example in hip-hop history. Remember Trapp? He's actually a singer, who made a whole career collaborating with Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac... at the same time. After they were dead.

This is his first single, "Stop the Gunfight" featuring 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., off of his album Stop the Gunfight, featuring 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G.  That's how it's billed on the cover. This came out in 1997 on Deftrapp Records. Guess who owns that label? Hint: it's not 2Pac or Biggie.

So, guess what Trapp didn't have? Exclusive, unreleased verses from 2Pac or Biggie. Surprised, huh? These are just verses taken from a song called "Runnin'," That's right, the song 2Pac and Biggie already recorded together. He didn't even get creative and take verses from different songs to make something a little less familiar to us fans.

"Runnin'" has a bit of an storied history. If you read the review for Interscope's Thug Life vol 1 by 2Pac's first group of - as Unkut would say - weed carriers that appeared in The Source back in 1994, you probably got excited hearing about this collaboration of 2Pac and Biggie.* Then, when the album actually came out, you wondered where the Hell it was. That was certainly my experience. But then, the following year, it appeared on the One Million Strong compilation album... an album built around a posse cut inspired by the million man march. It was full of interesting odds and ends like this. Then, after Pac died, the song started appearing on every dedication mix tape and unofficial Machiavelli compilation under the sun. Finally, Interscope decided to finally release it themselves on their Resurrection soundtrack album (the same one that featured the 2Pac and Eminem single I covered before) and even its own single.

Oh, and at some point during all that mess, Trapp took it to use for his own purposes.

Now, because "Runnin'" was recorded for Thug Life's album, it also featured those guys; but of course they've been cut out of this version, to give us more Trapp crooning time. Nothing else has changed. Unlike "Kings," or other songs of this ilk, Trapp didn't even change the music - it's the exact same instrumental.  All he did was remove the Thug Life guys and put himself in there. Now, to be fair, Trapp isn't a bad singer - he's kind of weak voiced, so you have to keep reminding yourself to pay attention to him when he's singing; but otherwise he sounds good. But obviously the original version, with all the other original rap verses, is infinitely preferable. This is just a song made to capitalize on all the mainstream fans who have no idea this isn't recycled music they probably already had in their collections.

My cassingle here features three versions... Two are both labeled as the Original Version, though one is actually a clean version with reversed curse words. And #3 is the R&B Version, which basically just a shorter mix featuring Trapp singing over Thug Life's instrumental by himself. And there's also "When I Come Down," which is a Trapp solo song from his album. That's right, the album billed as Trapp featuring 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. actually doesn't feature Biggie or Pac on most of the songs... yeah, try to look surprised, guys.

But Trapp didn't stop here! Oh no. First there's the matter of the album. It deatures both versions of "Stop the Gunfight," so there's nothing exclusive to the single except the radio edit... and interestingly, it also says the R&B version is featuring 2Pac and Biggie, even though it's very specifically the version that cut them out of their own song. And all the rest of the songs are just solo Trapp songs except one. And he released that one as his second single: "Be the Realist."

I bet you forgot 2Pac and Biggie did another song together, huh? They were both guests DJ Eddie F's 1994 album, appearing in the posse cut "Let's Get It On" (also with Heavy D, Grand Puba and Spunk Bigga). So, what has Trapp done? Cut out Puba, Spunk and the Heavster, leaving only 2Pac and Biggie. Yes, using the original instrumental and everything again. And Trapp dioesn't even sing or appear on this one at all!  He's just made and appropriated a short, edited version of "Let's Get It On."

That was all in 1997. But a couple years later, we see Trapp was persisting with this enterprise! In 1999, he released four compilation albums on DefTrapp: Ladies of Gangster Rap, Latino Gansgter Rappers, Dirty South and The Pac and Biggie You Never Heard (spoilers: you DID hear all that Pac and Biggie material before; and also Trapp features on that album a lot more than either of them). They all feature a bunch of popular rap songs and of course many Trapp songs. Yes, even Ladies of Gangsta Rap features Trapp solo songs. And 2Pac and Biggie were stuck on the Latino Gangster Rappers album despite neither of them being remotely Latino.And to think, they never even knew Trapp when they were alive.

I'm not sure what happened to Trapp after 1999, but I figure there's a good chance the story ends with somebody from Death Row or Interscope sending him to the bottom of a river. But whether it ended grisly or not, I think this tale's already appropriately spooky enough for the season, don't you?.

Rappers, you'd better play it safe this Halloween... keep one eye over your shoulder and stay away from the graveyards... or else you might find yourself Trapp's next unsuspecting collaborator! MUAH HAHAHAHA!!!! 


*The November 1994 review by Kharay Turner says, "On a lighter note, the Notorious B.I.G. drops the funniest line on the posse cut "Runnin' From the Police": "Me, run from police?/ Picture that/ I'm too fat/ Nigga fuck around and catch an asthma attack."