Saturday, October 13, 2012

War Declares Ice-T Is OK, Too

"Rap Declares War" wasn't War's first affair with hip-hop. Back in 1989, Ice-T tucked an unexpected remix on the B-side of one of his less attention-getting singles. Freedom Of Speech... Just Watch What You Say was a big album for Ice, despite not having any big singles. The biggest was his posse cut "What Ya Wanna Do," which at least got some MTV play; but for the most part he was blowing up without the boost of another "High Rollers." You might be surprised to learn that there even was a single for "Lethal Weapon," I just barely remember it, because there was a video for it with one of the worst examples of somebody pretending to play a sampled instrument, since the saxophone carrying bikini model in Biz Markie's "The Vapors."

Still, it's a tight track. Ice comes as hard and fast as he can over a hot and really dark beat by the underrated Afrika Islam. With another MC, this song could've been a hip-hop masterpiece (it feels like it belongs on Eric B & Rakim's Let the Rhythm Hit Em), but it's still pretty solid. There were two 12" singles for it (not counting promo versions and foreign versions, of course). This particular one comes in a lavish picture cover, includes the Instrumental (yay!) and another album track called "This One's for Me" on the B-side. That one's okay, he has a kinda interesting verse talking (nicely) about Public Enemy; but overall it's kinda forgettable.

But there's one more track on that 12". A remix of "Heartbeat." Remember "Heartbeat?" It was on his previous album, Power. It always stood out as one of the stronger tracks on that album, probably because it made very heavy use of a War track, also called "Heartbeat." It uses the main looped groove, and even War's vocals in the background and on the hook. And in 1989, Ice brought it back as a B-side, remixed with War themselves.

This 12" Remix turns it into a real, live jam session. It's a full eight minutes long, and features War again performing their classic material without Ice-T jumping in until almost the two minute mark. It still uses the same smooth bassline and basic break, but adds tons of additional instrumentation and even percussion to the proceedings. Every time Ice breaks for a hook, it turns into a War concert.

The only disappointment is that they took out Evil E's scratching on the breakdown. What, were they afraid the song would run long? I think they could've safely pushed it to 8:20 to hang onto one of the original's best parts.  ...I mean, I get what they're doing. And to be fair, it's kinda cool... they remake the part where Evil E is cutting up War's famous chorus by singing it themselves, but echoing the way it was chopped up by E's cuts. But, I still think they coulda left the cuts in. It would've made the song just that extra bit even better.

Anyway, it's still a pretty awesome remix. And for as much as War is allowed to strut their stuff and have this song act like a lesson in War appreciation, it never gets away from Ice or the original version from Power. This isn't War over-running Ice-T. Instead it's like they took the original and just exploded it, giving it a much lusher, richer form by calling in the original players to bring it to life. Because that's exactly what they did.

What's cool, too, is that Ice-T changes the final lines of the song. The vocals are the same all the way through up 'till then, so you're not expecting any kind of lyrical remix. In fact, if you think about it, the lyrics don't seem to fit the remix as well, since he's talking about E's cuts, spinning the record, and making the beat with Islam. But then, where the original version closed out its third verse with the lines:

"Break out the Dom and pop the corks.
I catch a flight to New York;
Hit the LQ, watch Red spin...

(It's closed!) Brooklyn strikes again."

Ice switches it up to:

"Break out the Dom and pop the cork.
Catch a flight to New York;
Back to LA by car,

Remake the 'Heartbeat' track with War."

What a cool surprise. If you feel classically west coast hip-hop, you'll dig this. It sounds really good. Definitely pick it up. And since "Lethal Weapon" is such a low-key single*, you can get it super cheap. This plus the "Lethal Weapon" instrumental and a crazy picture cover? What a great, little sleeper.

*This "Heartbeat" remix was also later given its own promo 12", since I guess Warner couldn't believe Ice was going to just throw this away so under the radar.

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