Friday, June 1, 2012

The Mysterious Rock On Crew Exposed

This post is unusually long, but I promise you it's worth it.  :)

In the early 90's, a lot of labels wanted a piece of The 2 Live Crew. They had mega-hit records like "Me So Horny" and "Banned In the USA," genre defining dance classics like "Trow the D" and "Move Somethin'," and they were possibly the most controversial rap acts of all controversial rap acts - their music was declared so obscene they were arrested for it, records were seized, and it went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Where they won.

And, at the same time, Luke's penchant for failing to pay his artists meant the group was fraying. Mr. Mixx put out solo albums, Brother Marquis formed a new group called II Nazty, and Luke formed a whole New 2 Live Crew. So, not only did every record label want a piece of the 2 Live Crew, but there were enough pieces to go around.

One such label to get lucky was the great, west coast monopoly, Macola Records. Pretty much every rap group to come anywhere near Macola, from NWA to Digital Underground, put out records through Macola. And that included The 2 Live Crew... before they moved down South to Miami. Back before Brother Marquis joined and they hooked up with Luke, Mr. Mixx and Fresh Kid Ice put out 2 singles, for a total of three songs - "The Revelation," "2 Live" and "What I Like" - with another founding member, Amazing V.  All the hits The 2 Live Crew recorded with Luke were locked up with Luke Records, but Macola could capitalize on these early tracks and release them in the 90's to their hordes of new fans.  Perfect, except... 3 songs wasn't enough to fill up an album, even when they tacked on original 12" instrumentals.

And so The Rock On Crew was formed. Macola apparently enlisted the disenfranchised original 2 Live Crew members Fresh Kid Ice and Mr. Mixx to record new music under a new non-contract-violating name. Thus the very unusual 2 Live Crew/ Rock On Crew featuring Fresh Kid Ice split album, Deal With This, was conceived. And just who is that on the cover? There's no way that's Ice and Mixx. They're just some mystery dudes; but that's not the half. This album would go on to have a long and fanciful journey, but it started here, on Macola Records, in 1992.

Now, if you're familiar with the original 2 Live Crew stuff, you know it's nothing like you'd expect from the famous 2 Live Crew. It's not hyper, it's not dirty - it's the antithesis of As Nasty As They Wanna Be. "Revelations" is a slow, plodding message rap with Ice and Vee talking poverty and the bible over early electro rap beats (the cow bell and the whole bit):

"You see, the road to vanity
Is filled with flowers,
You'd better be careful
Of its hypnotic powers.
While the road to truth
Is long and full of distress;
But if you make it through,
You're truly the best!"

Granted, the other songs are a little closer to what you'd expect... both "2 Live" and "What I Like" are more upbeat, with Fresh Kid Ice kicking fast-ish raps over big TR-808 drums and a ton of cuts by Mr. Mixx. They're still far from what you'd expect as a kid raised on "We Want Some Pussy" and "Fuck Shop," but they effectively bridge the gap between "Revelations" and "Trow the D."

And the new music recorded by "The Rock On Crew?" Well, on first crack, it definitely sounds designed to be a throwback to that earliest material. It starts out with "Serious Conversation," which might as well be called "Revelations Part 2." It uses a lot of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" (used a lot in hip-hop, but most notably by Scarface for his single, "A Minute To Pray and a Second To Die"). It features the album's only guests, The New Born Clan. Whoever that is - it sounds like one of the members says his name is "Dice Spliff?' Anyway, they're pretty good... they have a much more natural flow than the original 2 Live Crew which is good because... they don't seem to be on this song at all. The liner notes may say, "Performed - Rock On Crew Featuring - New Born Clan," but this seems to be The New Born Clan all on their own.

Then "What I Like" is properly attributed to the 2 Live Crew, but for reasons unknown they re-title it as "Fresh Kid Ice Is Back." Later on the album, they still call the instrumental "What I Like (Inst.)," so really, who knows?

The third song is "Tab Ski Cuttin' Up." Now, who the heck is Tab Ski? I thought Mr. Mixx was the DJ for both groups? Well, the liner notes say it's performed by the Rock On Crew, produced by Mixx and Ice and written by Ice. But now they've just gotta be straight up lying to us. Because this song is actually "Tad-Ski [note the spelling] Cuttin' It Up" from Balli and the Fat Daddy's 1990 album, The Master Plan on Miami Bass Records. That's right, Tad Ski was their DJ and this was his song on their album... Mixx and Ice didn't perform this as Rock On Crew or any other name; this is crazy! Interestingly, Fat Daddy was very associated with Fresh Kid Ice around this time, producing and rapping many songs on his 1992 album for Luke, The Chinaman, and is even credited as a featured guest on "2 Live Freestyle" by The New 2 Live Crew (though, for a final irony, he doesn't seem to actually appear on that song at all).  Confused yet?  Let's press on.

Next up is "Revelations" and then another Rock On Crew song called "Dead Ass Broke."  Wait a minute... That's a Balli and the Fat Daddy song, too! And let's just jump ahead... another Rock On Crew song called "Jack Boy Story?" Yup, another one from their Master Plan LP.

What's left? Well, there's a 2 Live Crew song called "It's Gotta Be Fresh." Never heard of it? That's because it's another random re-titling, this time of "2 Live." And there's a final Rock On cut called "Freestyle," No, there's no song called "Freestyle" from Balli and the Fat Daddy's album. ...But there is one called "Miami Bass," and that's what this is! Balli and Fat Daddy say their names an amazing number of times in this song (it's literally over 20), so it's a terrible choice to try to pass off as another group. What's more, they end the song by saying "Balli and Fat Daddy recording for Miami Bass Records." On this album, they reverse that line so you can't hear them name the label!

So where did we even get the idea that this Rock On Crew was Mixx and Ice? Let me show you the big notice they publish (in large text taking up the whole page; this is no obscure "small print") inside the tape sleeve: "This is a new release featuring Chris (The Chinaman) Wong Won AKA 'Fresh Kid Ice' and David (Mr. Mixx) Hobbs. They were the original "2 Live Crew", Fresh Kid Ice (Chris Wong Won) is still an integral part of 2 Live Crew, and both these artists are performing on this album as 'Rock On Crew' by special arrangement with Luke Records. This album contains 5 newly recorded songs (recorded in Miami) and 5 previously recorded songs (recorded in Los Angeles)" [.sic on all that funky punctuation]. What an incredible web of lies - practically none of that is true! Amazing.

Oh, but we're not done. That was just the first incarnation of this ridiculous album. Now let's jump ahead to 1995, when Blue Dolphin Entertainment and Hitman Music collaborated to bring us a self-titled album by The Original 2 Live Crew. Here's what their liner notes have to claim, "WHAT YOU'RE HOLDING IN YOUR HANDS IS A COLLECTORS ITEM! Carefully compiled for the first time ever on CD [yes, it says that on the liner notes for a cassette], 'The Original 2 Live Crew' contains fourteen rare recordings from that notoriously controversial rap group."

Wow. Neat. Let's look at some featured songs... "Jack Boy Story," "Dead Ass Broke," "Freestyle"... Excuse me, I lost consciousness for a second there. Yes, this album has picked up all the "Rock On Crew" songs (and the New Born Clan song) and now accredited them to The Original 2 Live Crew.  At least they're smart enough with their cover up to re-title "Tab Ski Cuttin' It Up" to just "Cuttin' It Up." It's the entire Deal With This album all over again. My favorite part is when the liner notes explain, "contained within this collection are distinctly different styles of songs that bridge the gap of the group's early days to from a decade ago." Yeah, the new songs sure sound different than the old ones, don't they? Almost like they were written, produced and performed by an entirely different group!

What separates this version is the bit about "fourteen rare recordings." Deal With This had ten, so what's new here? There's "Intro," "2 Live Nasty Mixx," "Nasty Mix" and "From the Vaultz Megga Mixx)." Interestingly, the credits for these songs include not just Mr. Mixx, but DJ Unknown, Tony G, Julio G and DJ Flash.DJ Flash even raps on the intro - whoah! Granted, "Nasty Mix" and "2 Live Nasty Mixx" are essentially two different edits of the same track, but I'm still impressed. How did these guys all get tangled up in this mess?

"The Original 2 Live Crew," you might say if you're a fully blown rap nerd like me, "that name sounds familiar. Wasn't there a previous album credited to an Original 2 Live Crew?" Why yes, in 1994, 2 Live Bass by The Original 2 Live Crew came out on Boomin' Records (home of DJ Whiteboy and Sheep Doggy Dogg). This is... another weird album. I can't wait to read you what these liner notes have to say!

"Motherphuckers talk that shit about Luke and The 2 Live Crew, but if it wasn't for those 4 Niggers... Bass Music wouldn't be shit right now. 'Tryin' To Get Paid Like Luke' is a bad ass track that is showing that a Nigger from the Ghetto 'will get paid'. The original 2 Live Crew was some bad motherfuckers and that shit was dope. Then Luke came along and took that shit to another level: Special thanks to Luke, Brother Marquis, Fresh Kid Ice and Mr. Mixx!" No, that's not a Youtube comment; that's what's written in the liner sleeve.

It starts out with an original remix of "2 Live" called the LSD Remix, where they basically just loop a very short, repetitive keyboard riff over the entire original song. It's kind of an awful, half-assed attempt to give it a g-funk flavor. They also include the original "2 Live," "Revelation" and "What I Like."

Then there's two original instrumental mixes by DJ LSD, which are admittedly a lot better than his "2 Live" remix. They're very derivative of the "Mega Mixxes" Mr. Mixx did on 2 Live Crew's Luke albums, only simpler and not nearly as good; but hey, at least they're listenable. And there's a new vocal track called "Jackin' 4 Bass," which is actually the best song on here despite it having absolutely no connection to any formation of the 2 Live Crew. But you want to hear about that last song, though, don't you? "Tryin' To Get Paid Like Luke" is also produced by DJ LSD, and features lead vocals by World Famous DJ Spankx. In it, he mostly just raps about having a lot of money and wanting a lot of it, with very little reference to our man Luke except for dropping his name on the chorus. The beat uses a lot of "Triggerman" with some other stuff scratched on top. It's actually kinda enjoyable in a shady, low-fi kinda way.

And, just in case this whole story wasn't convoluted, crooked and insane enough for you, the Deal With This album was released one more time, in 1998. Street Dance, a label that specializes in these kind of dodgy "before they were famous" rap compilations (they have about fifty by Dr. Dre) put this out as a Fresh Kid Ice solo album. They call it Fresh Kid Ice Is Back, naming it after Macola's curious re-titling of "What I Like." And they do also name the 2 Live and Rock On Crews on the cover, just to perpetuate the confusion, I guess (the lies have been cited verbatim on every site from AllMusic to Wikipedia). The track-listing is 100% exactly the same as Deal With This, right down to the "Tab Ski" title.

Blue Dolphin released their version again in 2000, as one third of a 3 CD set called Legends of Hip-Hop, again crediting all those Balli and Fat Daddy (and New Born Clan) songs to the 2 Live Crew, and there are a bunch of overseas albums by labels like Dance Factory and Street Dance that feature some or all of these songs credited to 2 Live Crew, with nutty titles like Dr. Dre Presents Mega Big Gangsta Rap.  Balli and Fat Daddy, I hope you got paid for all these albums... but somehow I suspect you didn't.


Update 12/4/12: Found out The New Born Clan is a misspelling of The Nu Born Clan, a short-lived Miami group that was a part of - unsurprisingly - Fresh Kid Ice's Ice Cold Productions. They had one single called "The I.C.U."

5 comments:

  1. Very interesting stuff.
    Props for this, & all the other good stuff you put out.

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  2. thanks for sharing.

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  3. never heard of the "2 live bass" album, can't find anything about it anywhere!

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