Thursday, May 17, 2012

JVC Force, Hot Damn!

Remember when The JVC Force returned, after their masterful run on B-Boy (and Idler) Records, with a new single called "Bix Trax" in 1992?  Remember how it was on Big Beat, with big ads in The Source, etc, and we all thought, now they're on a major, the new single is sick, and this album's going to be incredible? And then... nothing. Eventually Curt Cazal came out on the indie tip with his new partner Q-Ball, and they had a fruitful indie career; but the Force had just vanished from the map like they flew into the Bermuda Triangle.

Well, hey, here ya go. Look what just dropped! The 1992-1993 Unreleased EP on Chopped Herring Records is five choice cuts that would've come out after on Big Beat/ Atlantic had the group not split up (AJ Rok cites "creative differences" in this interview for Platform8470) and gotten themselves dropped. We only had to wait twenty years. But I'll tell you what: it one hundred percent lives up to my expectations I had back in high school, expecting to see their album appear in stores any day now.

Let's start from the bottom up. The B-side isn't quite as compelling, in my opinion, though it's all good stuff. "Pump It Up" has some nice drums and subtle cuts, plus a few simple samples and an okay bassline. Actually the bassline's a little soft. But the Force just don't quite sound like themselves on this joint. In fact, one or two of the verses almost sound like an uncredited guest spot by some new kid who didn't come up in the JVC school. More likely, one of the original's just updating his style in a less than preferable way. But either way, it's a good song, but nothing to get excited about.

Then the other B-side track, "3 Ways To Rip It," is their reggae-influenced track. It's mostly to their credit that the JVC were always exploring different styles and sounds on their albums, but it did usually wind up leading them astray from their best work.  Plus, everybody had to have one in those days, and this is theirs. Not that they get all crazily raggamuffin on here, mind you. They pretty much stick to their standard, American flows; but the bassline and the little horn sample are pure reggae flavor, and B-Luv does some straight-up reggae chanting on the chorus. It's good, it works, and it could fit right in with the music on their past albums... it just wouldn't've been one of the stand-out cuts on those albums, like it isn't here.

Now we come to the A-side, which is the material we're really here for. First up is "3 the Hard Way" and NOW they sound like the JVC Force we know and love. They come with the voices and flows that made them great over a tight break beat and some scratchy jazz samples. When the bass notes come in, they dance with the drums and the MCs voices in that funky staccato style JVCs pioneered. There's some cool cuts on the hook, and once B-Luv gets on the mic for the second verse, it's over. We're in JVC heaven.  =)

And we don't come down for the next track. "Fun" actually uses the same I Dream of Jeanie sample Jazzy Jeff used for "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," but they chop it shorter so it sounds more raw and purely hip-hop. If you didn't recognize it, you'd never guess it was from some campy 60's sitcom. Plus the big drums they lay it over, and the way JVC kick their signature flows, this is Greatest Hits material, dammit; I can't believe this has been sitting on a shelf gathering dust. I didn't even mention the points where the beat changes up to entirely different sample sets, which sound brilliant. This is even better than the last song.

Finally, "An Episode of My Favorite MC" isn't quite as great as the last two songs, but it comes close. Once again, they're really on a different tip here, definitely embracing some more modern 90's styles - at the beginning it struck me as being very Funkdoobiest inspired; and B-Luv has a Phife thing goin' on for his verse. And this track definitely DOES have an uncredited guest rapper on it - an early appearance by Q-Ball! In fact, I'm not so sure he isn't on one or two of the previous songs I mentioned (although this is the only one he has a writing credit on)... While all composition, arrangement and production here is solely credited to JVC Force, he's certainly shouted out as being "behind the boards" on "Pump It Up." But if his influence was a contaminant there, it isn't on this track. This is a different style song that completely works. It's an upbeat, catchy song with light-hearted rhymes, playful flows, and an addictive horn sample that sounds like it's been lifted off some serial or cartoon from the 1930's. But somehow that adds up to being kinda smooth at the same time.

Now, my understanding is that JVC's third album was completed before the split, so either Chopped Herring has just cherry-picked their favorite joints, or they're planning a volume 2 in the future. Either way, it's is an absolute must-have for any JVC fan.  And, really, isn't being a JVC fan an absolute must for being a hip-hop head? So this is an essential release. And one that makes me very happy - I'm smiling just holding it.

And, of course, Chopped Herring's consistently top quality presentation doesn't hurt. The sound quality is crisp and clear - it probably wouldn't have sounded as good on wax from Big Beat. It's limited to 300 copies, 75 of which are pressed on marbleized gold colored wax, 75 are platinum (platinum), and the remaining 150 are on classic black. It comes in a fresh sticker cover, and oh yeah - it also includes the Instrumental version of "Favorite MC" as a bonus.

The "limited labels" have been putting out many of the best hip-hop releases (in every way) in recent years, and this stands out as one of the best of those. Get on it.

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