Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Unreleased Boxcar Sessions

We're living in a bit of a golden era (hopefully just the beginnings of even greater things to come) thanks to labels Freestyle Records, Chopped Herring and DWG... but even before, we have occasionally seen otherwise lost hip-hop from a bygone era get thankfully released many years later. Today's case in point: Unreleased Boxcar Sessions, by Saafir.

Now Saafir's been in the game for a minute, and released a bunch of albums and projects both on his own and collaboratively. But he did kinda peak with his legendary full-length debut, Boxcar Sessions, on Qwest Records in 1994. Even when he releases something hot, you have to add the disappointing caveat, "but it's no Boxcar Sessions." Just like Nas with Illmatic, he'a great MC; but he can just never escape that looming shadow of his first album. So when you see "Unreleased Boxcar Sessions" pop up for sale on your favorite little indie hip-hop retailer site, you do a spit take on your keyboard, spin around in your chair a few times, and then quickly paypal them before they sell out.

This is a completely self-released LP from Saafir, a CD-R with black and white paper artwork, though at least a professional sticker label. 2002, Hobo Records. "For promotional use only," it says; but I doubt many copies exist that weren't sold commercially. Eight full-length songs from 1993-1994, produced by his usual Junction crew who made Boxcar Sessions, plus a bonus new song to show you that Saafir still had it.

I guess let's talk about that bonus track first.  It's called It's called "Whomp 2000." Like several other tracks here, it's produced by J-Groove, but it sounds nothing like the Boxcar Sessions material. That's okay, though, because it's dope. The production is rugged but funky, with a big "whomping" bass sound, and Saafir spitting crazy, freestyle battle rhymes:

"I love rappin'; it's just like scrappin', and when you burn a nigga, it sounds like fire when it's crackelin'... in the millennium I'm a get 'em like a pit with rabies on my tongue and sores from eating my dung, I'm spitting bacteria, I'm sic'ing for you niggas in the cafeteria. That's it, give me your lunch money, quarterback. I'm about to intercept and have these fag rappers dressed in drag strippin' on the internet. Is it winter yet? Nah." 

...If only Good Game was like this!

Okay, so now the actual Boxcar sessions. We have three tracks that are earlier mixes of songs from the main album: "Light Sleeper," "No Return:" and "Joint Custody." Of course the original "Light Sleeper" is better... or I should say, the version we've all come to know, as this is actually the original, strictly speaking. There's a reason they picked that one as the lead single. But this is still a tight alternate version, also produced by Jay Zee, that would've been a very welcome B-side in '94 - moody and tough.\

J Groove handled both versions of "Joint Custody," which use the same basic samples. The drums sound different though, and the vocal samples on the hook are completely different. You'll hear instantly why it's referred to as the "Spliff Mix" in the track-listing.  It's hard to one better than the other, and this version isn't a huge revelation; but it's cool to have this as a point of interest.

The instrumental to Jay Zee's "No Return," on the other hand, is completely different. I liked how the album version used the atmospheric photograph sounds from the opening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to open that version; but I like this (very dusty) piano sample even better than the final mix's, and in the end probably prefer this mix.

Now that leaves us three, four... five more songs. These were all recorded for Boxcar Sessions, but left off the album. In other words, they're entirely unheard, vintage material - the most exciting stuff. Production is divided by J Groove, Jay Zee and fellow Junctioneer Big Nous. The tracks all feature that chunky, broken jazz 90's style that also feature Saafir kicking his crazy , staccato, unpredictable flow and abstract battle rhymes: "Another flick of the wrist, I'm pissed, gotta look at the statistics. Ballistics have... no report of a body because watch tower just watched me pass a flower bath. I don't bathe. I'm narrariater[sic.] by trade, I pave... graves."

The track "In the Future..." is a rhyme we've actually heard on one of the first Wake Up Show Free Style LPs, and it was one of the stand-out moments there. Now we get to finally hear it as a fully produced song with a sick, bass-heavy Big Nous beat - it's a killer. These songs aren't just cuts that didn't quite make the roster on Boxcar Sessions... these would have been some of the best moments! Granted, this disc errs on the inclusion side... some of the remixes are just sorta interesting rather than mind blowing. But I always prefer extra over less. And the mind blowing is in here.

This disc is pretty rare... the kind of thing, as soon as you see it, you know you'd better snatch it up quick because you might never get another chance. Well, that goes double now that it's a decade old; so if you come across a copy snatch it up and bark like DMX at anybody how tries to wrest it away from you. Because we may've had to resign ourselves to the fact that we'll never see another Illmatic; but we did get additional Boxcar Sessions.


  1. I have 2 copies, with slightly different covers but both with the same glitch in 'Killen Kydz'. Interestingly I found mp3s of the album without the glitch.

    1. Oh, that part where it kinda pauses and repeats a word? Maybe somebody just fixed it in audacity or something.

  2. That's the glitch I'm referring to. I always thought maybe it was ok on initial releases, but something went wrong with the "master" files and all the later CDRs had the glitch.

    I don't know exactly how the manufacturing of self released CDRs typically works, but I've run across a similar issue where all current "pressings" of those two Nonce CDRs have the same minor glitches.