Friday, January 20, 2012

Bring Me a Shrubbery!

You may remember a time, back in 1994, when a label called Wrap/Ichiban, home of artists like MC Breed, Kilo and Success-N-Effect made a major bid to bring the old school back to the new. They signed and put out brand new albums by The Fearless Four, Kool Moe Dee, Kwamé, MC Madness (as in "DJ Magic Mike and _________"), Doctor Ice. MC Shy D... they even threw their own MC Breed into the mix, giving him the signature white on orange spined release, since it had been a while since he'd had a hit. And the flagship group of this short-lived movement was The Treacherous Three.

They were the flagship in that they were pretty much the first, and easily the most heavily-promoted. I've read recent interviews, where members of T3 (as Ichiban liked to abbreviate them) complained that their album flopped because of poor promotion, but they actually got a pretty good deal: big ads in The Source, press interviews, etc. I mean, it may not've been the kind of promotion Def Jam gives Jay-Z with giant subway billboards and big endorsement deals. But compare what T3 got to all the other old schoolers on Wrap, who you usually found out about by being surprised to see them in the store ("MC Madness? Could this be that MC Madness?") and these guys were super stars.

They squandered a lot of that by making their big, lead single a remake of their classic "Heartbeat" called "The New Heartbeat" which used the same beat, hook, and many of the same lyrics... it was so similar, it was downright pointless. And maybe, for most not-terribly0interested fans, that's about where it ended. A pointless single and a lackluster album. But there was another single that snaked out, like most singles by most of these guys, completely unheralded 12" that most heads - including serious fans of the artists who would've been quite interested - didn't find out until they started popping up as bargain bin listings on the internet many years later. And in the Treacherous Three's case, it included an exclusive shrubbery.

Now, the single was for a not-particularly exciting album track called "We Come Phat." The deliveries are very old school, pass the mic back and forth mid-sentence kind of party rhymes. It appeared early on the album and was a nice sign that these guys weren't going to try and copy the latest gangster rappers or whatever other trends they could latch on to; they were going to be the same Treacherous Three we remembered from ten years ago. But it was just meh. It featured vocal sample from The Fat Albert Show, and the main loop that Nice N Smooth used on "Early To Rise," but flipped into a duller mix... with live bass, apparently, by Jimmy O'Neil. I don't even hear any additional bass, though. I guess they're replicating the main loop instead of sampling it, which might help explain why it doesn't sound as good as it did for Nice N Smooth. This is no "Action;" the production almost seems determined to counter-act the effort the MCs are making to inject energy into the song.

And for some reason, on that 12", it's referred to as The Shruberry Mix. Besides being one of the most screwy, peculiar names for a traditional hip-hop track, it's also odd because they're just labeling the album version. Well... I think that's accidental. See, the next track on here is an exclusive remix, and that's just labeled as a Full Mix. So, I assume the label screwed up and reversed the two subtitles. And that's not the only gaff. The production, according to the album, is by someone named Joseph Carne. According to the 12", however, it's produced by Steve Philips and Edd Miller. I'm inclined to believe the album credits over this 12"s labels, just because the 12" seems to be on unreliable in a number of areas. Those two names (Miller and Philips) don't appear anywhere in the album credits.

Anyway, let's talk about this version that's probably meant to be called The Shruberry Mix. If the last beat failed to deliver the appropriate amount of energy, this beat, by O.C. Rodriguez, is like the intentional antithesis: dark and ominous. The bassline's pretty cool and all, but it's the sort of instrumental where you'd expect some shady, independent MC to tell you a slow, somber tale of how his man got shot in an alley during a drug deal gone bad, and that's why crime doesn't always pay. But instead it's set to:

"Down... down... down... down!
I can't get off the ground; the heavy weight's holding me down.
I'm caught up in the groove, got me hemmed up in the bass,
Kickin' like the 808, resonate, wait wait!
Listen to the zoom... zoom... zoom!
Put the needle to the groove,
Now watch it phatten up the room!
I hear the beat, I catch the Moe, I flow;
I'm off and runnin', black;
I rhyme to the P to the H to the A to the T;
God, I'm phat!"

And it's still got that crazy Fat Albert sample. It's actually interesting, and I like it better than the album version for sure. While the album/Full Mix just feels dull, here the difference is extreme enough that it makes for an interesting contrast. I mean, it's still no "Action," but this could've fit in well on Terminator X's second album, say.

Then flip this over and there's a couple album tracks. There's "The Mic Wreckers," which is produced by Rahiem of The Furious Five, but it's pretty underwhelming. Far more interesting is "We Wit It" which is by far the stand-out track of the album. It features Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D, Grandmaster Tito, Grandmaster Caz, Heavy D (who they credit on the album, but they forgot to here... like I said, the labels are all kinds of sloppy), and Grandmaster Melle Mel. It's a massive posse cut (especially when you consider T3 brings three solid MCs of their own to the mix), and the track is a good but not great mix of ever-changing, familiar breaks by someone named Ken Fambro.

"We Wit It" is pretty much the sole reason for anybody other than hardcore T3 fans to buy the album (some of the MCs really come nice on this track)... so it's nice that you can just get it on this single instead. And the ridiculously titled Shrubbery Mix is better than most of the album tracks as well. So it's no masterpiece, but you don't have to explicitly share my fetish for obscure releases by known artists to appreciate this one.

1 comment:

  1. the special k 'sun is up' solo track on the lp is worth the admission price alone imo, perfect summer day vibes, i demand you re-check it :)

    pz akki, manfinger