Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Zone Of Zero Funkitivity

When hip-hop started sampling P-funk, it was awesome. Listening to X-Clan's first album, for instance, was mind blowing (though P-funk admittedly wasn't the only mind-blowing element to their debut).  When Digital Underground came out, damn they were cool. Then everybody started sampling P-funk like crazy, gangsta rap completely transformed into G-funk, MC Breed started sporting a giant afro and bell bottoms, and the original P-Funk all stars from back in the day were popping up in every corner of music media, collaborating with rappers of all types and quality, and the same samples were being used again and again and again until you just wanted to rock back and forth in your closet, covering your ears and wishing it would all go away..The mothership had dropped the bomb and damn near killed hip-hop dead.

Somewhere in middle of all that was Ground Zero. I don't mean metaphorically, in the middle of the devastation of P-funk's shock and awe... I mean, there was a short-lived group literally named Ground Zero. They came out in '90/'91 on west coast label Lethal Beat Records, home of MC Twist, and their big single was "Lettin' Ya Know" featuring Bootsy Collins. Yup, this was the beginning of those guys turning up everywhere. It wasn't Bootsy's first comeback appearance, mind you - he'd already made his super huge, attention getting cameo on Deee-Lite's "Groove Is In the Heart" by then - but for a rap record, this was still a big deal. Especially since Ground Zero seemed to be nobodies who'd come out of nowhere.

Ground Zero was made up of two guys: E-Smooth and 1/2 PINT (Discogs thinks it's the same 1/2 Pint who later put out a bunch of bass records on On Top Records, but I really don't think so - they sure don't sound alike), and their whole deal was using P-funk samples (hooked up by their producer $ Makin' Mike). "Lettin' Ya Know" had a video which got huge rotation and media attention, and they wound up releasing it as a 12" single, a second 12" with a bunch of remixes, and including it on their EP, Future Of the Funk.

So, yeah, this is the main 12" pictured. It comes in a sticker cover and just features two versions: Radio (simply a shorter edit), and the Extended P-Mix, which is really just the full-length version of the song, and not a remix like its name suggests. These are the same two mixes on the EP, too - the "Radio" is naturally the same as the "Radio Mix;" and the "P-Mix" and "Extended P-Mix" are exactly the same, despite the extra extension implied in the name.

And there's not too much more to be found on Future of the Funk... it's really a stretch to call it an EP. The cover lists six tracks, but there's really only five (that's because a tiny intro, "Grim Reaper's Prelude," is actually blended into one of the songs, not separated into its own track like the cover says), and remember, they've put "Lettin' Ya Know" on here twice. One of the other tracks is just shout-outs, so there's really only two additional songs besides "Lettin' Ya Know." Three songs = a single, not an EP, in my book.  :P

Anyway, for all my complaining, I like this joint. The instrumental is made out of a commonly used loop from "Disco To Go" by Collins' band Brides of Funkenstein (and I think "Atomic Dog" drums).  In fact, I doubt Bootsy had anything to do with the music on this Ground Zero record at all, apart from being the sample source. But he does add some vocal ad-libs to the track, and it does add some extra charm to have him shouting "boooombs away" and stuff during the breaks; but really, for all the stickers and labels throwing his name on the cover of the single and EP, him starring prominently in the video and CD artwork; this record is basically complete without him. And, no, he didn't participate at all on the other EP tracks (except, again, as a sample source). It's all just a glorified co-sign. But, while neither rapper are particularly impressive, they at least have voices strong enough to carry a really bumping track. It bumps.

I remember being really excited to pick up this EP based on the video. But the rest was a let-down. The only song worth repeating was "Lettin' Ya Know." But still, it was enough to keep me eager for their upcoming full length, Zero Tolerance, and their promised future collaborations with Bootsy. But they never happened. There was going to be a second single ("Nuthin' 2 It," which is actually also on the EP, and... meh), but that never came, and neither did anything else. Check out this interview on Video Soul, where they talk about how they're going to do a bunch more songs together - see?

So, where did these guys go? Bootsy declared them "the P Masters of the Universe" and seemed pretty locked into a long-term working relationship with them. I mean... I guess the death of Lethal Beat Records is what happened, but really,m this single was big in the back of the day, and Bootsy and the gang weren't so over-saturated and played-out in 1991; his co-sign was a big deal then. I'm surprised no other label picked them up, at least for another single. I mean, okay, looking back it's probably not such a big loss as I thought of it back in the day, always waiting and expecting them to turn up again. But I bet there's a story there... just what happened after that Donnie Simpson chat? I've been wondering that for over twenty years now. But at least I got a pretty cool P-funk rap record out of it all. You know, one of the good ones before it all went to pot.

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