Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Misplaced A-Town Rushes

Kilo is an Atlanta pioneer; one of the first to ever do it, along with cats like Shy-D and Hitman Sammy Sam; and he started pretty young. He dropped his first album (America Has a Problem Cocaine) at the age of 15, and it was some seriously raw, hardcore shit. He had diss tracks for Shy-D and Sam. But he also had a kind of unique production sound... it just kind of mixed Miami bass with more traditional hip-hop in an interesting way, and he wound up signing to a major and releasing a whole grip of albums over the years.

But in between his debut and signing to a major to release his second album, A-Town Rush, on Wrap/ Ichiban, he put out a rare, indie version on his local label, Ariva.  Now, for the most part, it's the same album... it just came out indie first, and then Ichiban picked it up and gave it major distribution.  But, before making it nationwide, they made some changes.  Predictably, these were for the worse.  I guess there's the rare exception, like when Jive picked up E-40's Mail Man EP, and added two extra tracks without removing or ruining anything.  But 95% of the time, it's the same old story: label execs who don't know shit about hip-hop tinker around with an album when they shouldn't, and so the album most heads wind up owning isn't the good version, and they need to seek out the rare, original version.

So what exactly did Wrap do? Well, first the good news. They added two songs. Don't get too excited, though, as these are both lifted off of the first album.  They included "My Ding-A-Ling," which was the fun, party record off the original album (seriously, I don't think it's possible not to smile and bop along to the hook on this one), and "America Has a Problem," which was the single, but probably not one of the tracks serious Kilo fans hold closest to their hearts.  I have no complaints about bonus songs, but if you have the first album (and if you only have one Kilo album, that's the one to have), it's just redundant.

At least one song isn't completely redundant, because "America Has a Problem" has been remixed. They've added a jittery sample and generally made the song hyper, with the DJ busier on the breaks. It might actually be an improvement; and even if you don't think so, it's at least cool to have something a little different. Plus this newer version fits in better with the more modern production style of the rest of the second album.

But the problem is that, in order to get these additions, we trade away two songs!  And the remix is cool; but not that cool. When it comes at the cost of original material that actually belongs on this album? Fuck it, take it back!

So just what did we foolishly trade away? Well, first off, we lost one of the most important songs, "The Piz," where Kilo kicks a flow and slang that Atlanta heads revere as an innovator in the city's style.  On paper, the main conceit sounds pretty corny (and maybe this is what the label execs thought, too): he throws an "iz" syllable into all his key words, like Das EFX did with their "iggidy" stuff: "Cobay is my mizan; he's down for his crizown."  But, damn, his flow is so smooth, the story is so cold and sounds so right over the super cool beat.  It's one we've heard before, but I daresay we haven't heard it sound this good.  And when the DJ starts cutting up The Beasties' "It's the new style!" on the hook?  This is one of those songs I could play for a NY head who would look at a Kilo album like, "this looks corny as Hell; why would I want to check for this dude?" And immediately after, he'd be buying the album.

Then the other lost song is "Ain't Nothing Like Kilo." Kilo flips the instrumental for "Just the Two of Us" a decade before Will Smith or Eminem,and frankly his beat sounds better than either of theirs, because he gives it the Kilo treatment, adding new, minor but consequential elements to the instrumental. Horn samples, extra snare... it's fresh. Kilo's back on his smooth "Piz" flow again... it's not quite as impressive here as there, but it still sounds really good.  It's got some really nice scratches, and the sung hook is juvenile (like a lot of Kilo's stuff... he was a teenager, after all) but funny, and a cool follow-up to one of his earlier songs.

Finally, just to seal the deal, they've cut off the opening of "She's Got Me Eatin' (Pussy)." Now, it's one of the weakest songs on the album, so if they had to mess with one song, at least it's this one. But the intro is probably the coolest part; where they loop the same Anita Baker sample Ras Kass used for "Understandable Smooth" (the opening scatting of "Caught Up In the Rapture") but at the original pitch. Afterwards, the song's just an excuse to talk dirty and put his boys (Red Money and Cobay) on record; but that intro was cool.

Breaking it down, it seems like the label, for whatever reason, just wasn't comfortable with Kilo using his ultra-smooth flow.  He kicks several different styles on this album, but the two they cut are the only two he rhymes like that on.  Maybe they figured his fans would think he'd gone too soft (it would explain the removal of the Anita Baker bit, too)?  The album as a whole is definitely softer than his debut, which was legitimately a disappointment.  But these two songs are some of his best, and if anything go a long way towards selling Kilo as an MC who can rap in a way other than just like a young LL.  They make the whole album work, and taking them out is like removing key support beams from a bridge; they're holding the rest up and it collapses without them.

So, yeah, the original album is better. The second version might have a more "cohesive" sound or or something, but who gives a crap? Cohesion, if it's worth anything at all on an album, isn't worth two of its best tracks. Serious, dedicated fans might want to pick up both, just for the exclusive remix, but most heads only getting one should definitely pass on the Wrap version and put in the extra effort to secure the original.

One final note: looking on sites like discogs and Amazon, it looks like there are also versions of Wrap's A-Town Rush that are missing either "I Wish I Was Kilo" (just a skit anyway, so no great loss) or "Baby Take a DH." I'm not sure if either of those listings are possibly incorrect, but I own the cassette, and it features both of those, for a total of 13 tracks, not 12.

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