Friday, October 12, 2012

War Declares Rap Is OK

Everything I know about War I learned through hip-hop. The same can be said for pretty much anything funk, disco or soul group. "Those are those guys who played the sample in ___ and ____." War, specifically, was a Latin funk band from the late 60's and 70's, probably best known for recording "Why Can't We Be Friends?" and "Low Rider." They broke up roughly in the early 80's... it's tough to put an exact date on it, since members left and were replaced throughout their years - saxophonist Charles Miller was actually murdered in 1980. Today, apparently the group touring as War only includes one original member.  But certainly, by 1984, the band War was no longer releasing music.

That is until hip-hop brought them back. In the early 90's, inspired by the multitudes of successful hip-hop artists sampling them, from 2Pac to The Beastie Boys, and the similarly hip-hop reincarnations of George Clinton and all those guys, the surviving members reformed to record one final album, Peace. But before recording that, they decided they specifically needed to remind hip-hop audiences just who was coming back to them, so they released a compilation album called Rap Declares War, featuring some of hip-hop's biggest hits based on War tunes.

Now a guy like me needs another hip-hop compilation album full of previously released songs I already own like I need a hole in the head (and contrary to what any of my old high school guidance counselors may've told me in the 90's, I don't need a hole in the head). War, or their management, must've realized a number of us felt this way, and so they recorded a brand new single for the album, also titled "Rap Declares War." Even if you had everything, you didn't have this.

"Rap Declares War," the song, ostensibly features War themselves (I say "ostensibly, because, listening to this, I'm not 100% convinced their participation wasn't completely manufactured via samples) performing with a bevy of young hip-hop cats. Specifically, west coast Latin American hip-hop cats. So they wound up with a pretty interesting line-up:

Kid Frost - Pretty much the premiere Hispanic rapper. Of course, he wasn't the first - you'd have to go all the way back to the Cold Crush era, before hip-hop was even being captured in commercially recorded music. But after a couple (very cool) electro-style singles, Frost became the first rapper to make his Latino heritage a key portion of his public identity and take that to MTV, etc. Later, you had everybody from Mellow Man Ace to (ugh) Gerardo, but Kid Frost was the original.

A Lighter Shade of Brown - Kind of a poppy hip-hop duo who had some nice singles and a bunch of albums throughout the 90's. Lyrically they were a bit light, but I was a big fan growing up.

Hi-C - the crazy guy from DJ Quik's camp. Seeing him included was the happiest surprise, though of course he qualifies.

Proper Dos - Debuted on Skanless Records (the reason I picked up his album) with Mexican Power in 1992, and has had a long, if out of the limelight, career over the decades that followed. To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with that one album I had of his, but it was alright.

The Hispanic MC's - I almost suspect these guys may've formed specifically around this project, since they haven't done much else... though they did put out one single on Thump Records around the same time.

So, here's how the song works: you've got a sung chorus by War, specifically titular chorus from their hit single, "Why Can't We Be Friends" (which, again, sounds like it might be a sample than anything freshly recorded). And in between, you've got single verses from each rapper or crew, spit over a different classic War groove, So the music isn't really new, more a compendium of their greatest hits. But they are some pretty effective hits, and a posse cut where the beat changes for each rapper is a nice formula.

And, as to my theory, it's worth noting that all the War classic heard throughout this are credited as "samples" in the liner notes on the back of the sleeve. It's all produced by somebody named Andrew "Juice-The Electric Wire" Smith. So I'm calling it (albeit with reservations) War are only present via samples. But I also gotta say, it's probably better that way. Every once in a while Brand New Heavies or Morcheeba or somebody will put out a single that really works, but for the most part, hip-hop and live bands can be a sloppy mix. Give me a selectively sampled banger any day.

So, the raps are kind of all over the place... LSOB raps about racial unity, Hi-C has an anti-drug message ("if you smoke dope, you're at War with yourself") and Proper Dos comes out against street violence. It's a little too preachy (except for the Hispanic MC's, whose only message seems to be that they like girls), but everybody sounds good here, especially Hi-C over the same loop Nice N Smooth used for "Funky For You."

Fortunately, this was released as a single (including the instrumental, if you can track down the cassette version), so you can pass on the album assuming you already have "Potholes In My Lawn" and "New Jack Swing." If you're a super completist, I should point out that there are two other tracks recorded fresh for this album, also ostensibly pairing War with Latin America rappers. One features Kid Frost's short-lived group the Latin Alliance, and the other is another song from The Hispanic MC's. But me, I'm happy with the single.


  1. Sup W,

    didn't Mellow Man Ace predate Kid Frost with the whole Hispanic heritage steez?

    Chriz the Wiz

    1. Well, kinda, yeah. They both were doing records for a long time before they broke the angle. Frost came first but was on some crazy electro stuff (which I think was great)... then Ace came out and did more straight hip-hop. Listening to both their early singles, you'd never know they were Hispanic unless you were a real fan, paying attention.

      In 1990, Frost came out with "La Raza" and Ace came out with "Menteroas". Those are the records that really blew them - and the concept - up. And of those, I remember Frost's coming out first, but Ace's crossed over more. Like, Frost would be on Yo! MTV Raps, and Ace would me on regular MTV. lol

      But it's true that some of Ace's earlier stuff had a lot of overtly Hispanic content before Frost went there (including his album title)... it just didn't blow up and become a "thing" then.

  2. thanx W...I thought "Mentirossa" was '89 but you're right they both were '90 singles.