Saturday, February 25, 2012

Disco Rick Departs On a Happy Note

A couple months ago, I made a video about what I thought was Disco Rick's last record. I mean, not his final record as a producer, but as a recording artist himself. But even with that caveat, I was still wrong. Sorry! There's one more 12" that post-dates The Bankrupt Boys and all the Vision Records stuff.

It's a white label called "Go Dadee." There's no info on the label; just a single sticker with "Disco Rick" and "Go Dadee" printed on it. But one listen, and there's no question that it's our Disco Rick. And thanks to some references in the song (he talks about doing The Bankhead Bounce and loving Master P's record, "Bout It, Bout It"), I can guess with some confidence that this is from 1996, making this his absolutely final record.

It's just the one song, though you've also got the instrumental and a shorter edit as well. Again, nothing's labeled, but I'd guess it's meant to be a Club Mix on side A and Radio Mix on side B.

It's called "Go Dadee" because he's actually got his kids on the record, cheering him on for the chorus. Actually, the experience isn't much different than some records people did with The Puppies around that time. Disco Rick isn't angry at all here. He actually raps from the perspective of his kids, which is interesting, talking about how, "he be movin' it, movin' it. Matter of fact, I think my daddy's losin' it!"

The instrumental is full of all the Southern elements you'd expect... old school whistles, horn stabs, "Trigger Man" sample. It's high bpm, busy, and really just completely fun and endearing. There's even a breakdown where the little boy says, "hold up, wait a minute, let me put my mama in it!" And while no Mrs. Rick ever actually gets on the record, I think you're supposed to imagine that's the part of the record she dances to as her son enthuses, "go mama, go mama - that's my mama!"

This technically comes in a sticker cover. The exact same sticker that's on the label is also on the sleeve. I don't know how many copies were made; I expect not very many, though I've seen a few for sale online. It's nothing groundbreaking, but if you're just looking for a real, Southern good time, this is a prime choice. And next time you get in a fight, you can play this and make your girlfriend sigh, "awww!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

That's It, Hater

At some point when ughh was having big clearance sales (good times), I noticed an Eminem diss on vinyl for $2 by somebody I didn't know. I google'd the guy and it turned out he was one of those guys from The White Rapper Show. So I passed on it. Then, I noticed the price dropped down to $1, but I still wasn't interested. Then fifty cents. Finally, it hit twenty-five cents[!!], so I decided fine, I'm curious enough to throw it in the cart with some other stuff for a quarter. Now, I could take a cheap shot and say this record still wasn't the price I paid for it, but no. I'd say .25 was a fair price for the value.

So, here's what I did when it arrived. First, I skipped straight to the Eminem diss, which is actually track 3 on the 12". Then I went back, and played the other songs through. Then I put it away and forgot about it. But recently I came across it when putting some other records away and thought it might be amusing to revisit it and blog about it. You know, before I put it away for another couple years.

So the guy's name is Dasit, and apparently he was voted off The White Rapper Show in the first episode. Not a good sign. He's also "mentored" by Hammer (another bad sign), and he sounds exactly like Eminem. It's something he addresses (of course) in his first song, "Dasit:"

"'Cause people see my songs and say, 'you sound just like Slim;
Your style, your voice, everything sound just like him.'
[At this point, the music turns into a quick reinterpretation of "The Real Slim Shady"]
Got you thinking we bought his first CD
Got as far as the first song and said, 'I'm the real Slim Shady.
But all I hear is stereotypes"

...Now, I'd have more sympathy if he just happened to have a voice like Eminem's and yet everyone gave him a hard time about it. But as he even admits in his own bars, it's not just his voice... his flow, his delivery, his structures, the way he does his back-up ad-libs with silly voices, even the production is a complete rip-off of Eminem - he's worse than Asher Roth. He might claim to be "blessed with a curse of Eminem's vocal tone" (seriously, he wrote that in his CDBaby bio), but I don't buy it - this has to be an intentional impersonation.

He even signed to Big Willz Records, his manager's label. Never heard of 'em? Well, that's the personal label of Byron "Big-Naz" Williams, Eminem's former bodyguard who wrote a tell-all book about Em and recorded his own Eminem diss record with his crew, The Wadsquad, called "Shady Bizness." Yeah, that's his label and manager. So this shit's straight out of Eminem Hater City.

So okay, back to the record at hand. The first song, as I said, is called "Dasit." He explains his name ("it's like 'that's it,' but usin' slang") and freestyles on a bunch of random, autobiographical non-sequiturs, which are really just excuses to cram in a bunch of punchlines. It's produced, like the rest of this 12", by somebody named Frankie Biggz; and it all just sounds like low budget Slim Shady records. To be fair, though, there is an aspect of his raps that doesn't sound entirely like Eminem. The way he forces awkward jokes into his flow, and the maybe slightly higher pitch to his voice... he's not so much Eminem as - god help us - Eminem meets Hot Karl*. Check out these bars, for example:

"I told my mom,
I'm gonna marry a black woman when I'm ready.
She said, "if you do that,
Then I ain't coming to your wedding."

"I'll start my own clothes line,
Call it G-Y-A-I-T.
(What's that stand for?)
Get Yo' Ass In These jeans!"

God, he goes so far for these cheap laughs (if the first one is even meant to be funny... I'm not sure). He even changes voices for the roles of himself on the phone and his racist mother. Then he gets somebody else to jump on the record just to ask him what the name of his imaginary clothes line means. I'm sincerely embarrassed for him, listening to this.

I'd feel sorry for bagging on a clearly underdeveloped amateur here, but there's such an ugly side of crass marketing in the way he latches onto Eminem in a cynical attempt to cash in. And we didn't even get to "Hater (Eminem Diss)" yet. He lays it out oddly on the line, asking in his song, "am I really a fake rapper trying to be just like you, comin' from a fake city with a fake ass crew? Tell me it ain't so, Slim; tell me you didn't say this! Do I really join the list of Everlast and Limp Bizkit?" Apparently, though, Dasit has a specific grudge that spurred on this particular diss song:

"I just wanted to do a song on your soundtrack,
Was that so bad?
There's a reason I didn't tell you my manager
Was Big Naz.
Just wanted you to listen
And give my music a chance.
And you listened to it in your trailer,
Turned it up loud,
And the word is
That you don't like me now."

The hook even goes, "Eminem, why you don't like me? Why you so angry - you wanna fight me? Why, I ain't do nothin'. It's like you mad because another white guy is tryin' to steal your light or somethin'." He's literally whining.

I can imagine the reason Eminem never answered this record - I mean, besides the obvious - is because Dasit said what Eminem would've already said back anyway. "Yeah, you lied about your management and gave me a song for my soundtrack. I listened to and didn't like it, so I didn't use it." Is Dasit aware he's supposed to me making the other guy look bad in a diss track? The rest of the track are more general disses, and at least directed towards the right party, but it's all so juvenile. Like, check this out:

"Hold on, I gotta mention this.
Your fans won't believe this shit you did, Slim.
(What he do?)
Had sex with a girl in Arizona...
(Oh, that's not so bad.)
But he forgot he had a sex change!
(Oh my god, Eminem's a fag!)"

But that's still not everything. You get one more song on this song, called "C.O.P." At no point during the song does he tell us what C.O.P. is supposed to be an acronym for, but the hook of the song is "cops ain't shit!" So you get the idea. It's another Eminem sound-alike song, with him complaining about how he's unfairly persecuted by the police. Example? He was pulled over for his license plate light being out. Really. That's in the song. It may actually be the first song of this nature that makes you feel bad for the police, having to deal with whiny little punks like this all day. But even if you're going along with the sentiment and shouting, "hell yeah, cops ain't shit!" to the chorus, he undercuts the whole thing by repeatedly stopping to point out, "I just wanna say, I know a lot of good cops and detective put their lives on the line every day. It's just a few bad apples makin' ya all look bad." I mean, that's true and I guess that makes the message of the song a little better, but way to suck the energy out of your own song. It would be like if "Fight For Your Right To Party" had an extra verse saying, "except don't party so hard that you neglect your responsibilities. Work hard and get good grades to the best of your abilities. Don't drink too much, ingest illegal substances or neglect to shower. Treat girls with respect and get to bed by a reasonable hour!"

Anyway, this is a single-sided 12", and comes in a generic white sleeve. For twenty-five cents, it's kinda fun to have a silly footnote in hip-hop history like this on your crates. Apparently, this guy has a bunch of other CDs and even 12" records... I'm not sure how low the price would have to get for me to check out those.

Update 2/27/12: It turns out, five years after this record (so, 2007), Dasit released a "Hater 2" via mp3 only. Instead of going after Em some more (though, amusingly, he bites another of his styles), he goes on about The White Rapper Show... he has some generic disses towards Serch ("mad at me 'cause I can't get no whiter" - what does that even mean?), and some of his fellow contestants who nobody remembers anymore. I had a hard time finding it, because this song's drifted pretty far off into obscurity... which is probably right where it belongs.


*He made a much better podcast host, though.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Profile Records Rap Anthology

Wow, I remember these! Back in the days, growing up in the suburbs, I didn't have access to many vinyl records. It was all cassettes and CDs. So, if you wanted to own a bunch of Sugarhill Records classics, you didn't go buy all the original 12" singles; you bought a compilation album that featured all their hits on one tape. And there were bajillions of these bad boys, with all different titles and themes. This was great at first, until you had all the big hits, and now wanted some of the less famous tracks... There were multiple times in my youth I'd buy a whole CD full of songs I already owned, because it included one different song I didn't already have. Every Sugarhill compilation had "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message" - I wound up buying those songs like twenty to thirty times - because I had to buy one that featured a West Street Mob or Mean Machine track that wasn't on any of the others. Thankfully, those days ended for me when I was able to go to places like Philly and NY to get the exact records I wanted... and even better when the internet came about, and suddenly everything was (just about) was findable. Now one can just order pretty much every Sugarhill Records 12" for 99 cents and own the originals, which are cooler collectors' items anyway. There's no more need for these crazy compilations... or maybe there is?

It's a nostalgia trip for me just seeing this release. Doubly so, I guess. Because on the one hand, it's a bunch of classic rap records getting re-released; but more so for me, just seeing one of these compilations again. Even a collection like this from Profile, specifically, is a return to the old days. From the original Rap albums of 1984, where Profile first assembled all their big rap singles of the time onto a two volume collection, to Diggin' In the Crates: Profile Rap Classics in 1994 and Profilin' the Hits and Profile: The Singles, both in 1999, this has been done before. But 1999 was 13 years ago; evidently it's time to do it again. 8)

So, first let's compare this to the past incarnations... it fairs quite well indeed on that score. While you might prefer certain past Profile comps for being on vinyl (this is a CD only release); if you put aside the format, this is easily the best in terms of content. Because this is a 2 disc set, it simply has more tracks than any of the past iterations... And since Profile has no shortage of brilliant rap releases in their vaults (they could easily release dozens of compilations like this, with no repeats), there's no question that the all the songs are top notch. Most of the songs from all those past releases I named are on this set, with only one or two exceptions per release (although Profile: The Singles has the advantage of also including instrumentals).

This set also goes the extra mile by including a substantial booklet. It starts out with quotes from various, major DJs praising Profile Records collectively or specific singles. I'm not going to give it all away - you'll have to buy the set - but here's one example: DJ Rob Swift on "Fresh" by The Fresh 3 MCs, "F-R-E-S-H FRESH, FRESH, FRESH, Yo, that's FRESH! That hook will forever remind me of the year 1983. I entered the 6th grade in the fall of 1983 as a 12 year-old kid from Queens. It was the year I got my first kiss! It was the year I decided to become a DJ. It was the year that changed my life. Now that's FRESH!"

You've also got several pages of photos, and several pages of liner notes by Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback, a massive tome I still plan to review here on this blog, assuming I live long enough to finish it. ...Plus pages of the proper production credits for each song. Also, according to the sticker on the shrink-wrap, everything in this compilation has been remastered... but I'm not sure anything on Profile has ever really sounded poor in the first place; so I can't say I notice a big difference.

Disc 1 feels like a really strong, cohesive rap album; all early to mid 80's hits featuring fun raps and giant, programmed drums. The label had a huge, varied roster, but it all managed to have a cohesive, recognizable "Profile sound." That's out the window for Disc 2, which covers the late 80s to the mid 90s. Imagine Nine, Run DMC & Aerosmith, 2nd II None, King Sun's love song (seriously, of all King Sun singles, why this one?), Camp Lo, Onyx, Special Ed and DJ Quik all on the same disc - it's chaos! It's still all good material; but none of it fits together... now the fact that it's all on the same label feels like an arbitrary reason to compile all these songs together. In future, I can see myself reaching for the first disc to play a bunch of dope, related songs together in a go. But I doubt I'd ever do that for Disc 2.

The real question, though, is whether people will be interested in a compilation like this in 2012. As these albums go, it's quite a well-made one with a lot going for it. Care was put into assembling this, and it shows. But is there an audience for this anymore, or is this a doomed dinosaur, misguidedly resurrected in the modern age? I'd be quite interested to see the numbers on this in the next couple months.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Beatnuts Meet da Lench Mob

Ice Cube's official "weed carrier" group, Da Lench Mob, actually date all the way back to his very pre-NWA beginnings as The CIA Crew. And, just like Ice Cube himself; they were pretty dope when they were on the raw hardcore tip... you know, before smoothed-out, watered-down cross-over g-funk[send more hyphens!] became the order of the day. You could be forgiven for sleeping on their debut album, 1992's Guerillas In the Mist, at the time (especially if you were from NY). We were spoiled then; Who knew that twenty years later, we'd be begging for unreleased scraps from groups that came as hard as everybody we took for granted in the 90's? And, anyway, these guys still lacked the punch of a classic Ice Cube solo track. They just needed a little something extra to make that truly hot, enduring record - maybe a hot remix?

Well, this remix 12" brought it. Dropping in 1993, it was their third and final single off their debut album, and their last release before they swapped J-Dee with Maulkie, and generally softened up. You've got four mixes, including the LP Mix, and a green or red sticker cover, depending on whether you have a promo or commercial copy [mine, pictured, is the latter].

So, let's start with the album version. Even though it's actually the last to come up on the single, it's the one we were all already familiar with from the previous year. Like all versions, it features Cypress Hill's own B-Real, who lends his voice for the hook and back-up ad-libs, but - thankfully - not a verse. And you know who else doesn't rap on here? Ice Cube. Or K-Dee, or any of the Lench Mob except J-Dee. Yup, this is actually a solo song. It's one of those message songs that only hardcore hip-hop could do... because in the twentieth century, kids weren't falling for corny message raps like "Don't Talk To Strangers" by Mr. T. But a group like Da Lench Mob were expert in making a song so hard, raw and vulgar that they could actually impart some pretty seriously heavy-handed social commentary and guides for proper behavior and have them go over with their audience. And J-Dee is lyricist enough to make it a genuinely artistic endeavor, too. It's some serious shit.

It starts out with J-Dee just dissing on some girl for being an easy slut. All us rotten little preteens could get into that. Then it gets more serious as it turns out she's a drug addict and stealing money to pay her rent. Turns out she's a single mom, "so you can sell his shit, and go get you a hit, when you need to be at home with your goddamn children. That's why your landlord wants you out the buildin'." Oh shit, this got serious fast. "Went into my pockets, and got a twenty dollar bill. I said, 'go buy your motherfuckin' kids a Happy Meal;' and followed her to Mickey D's and made sure she bought the shit. And if she wouldn'ta, man, I swear to God I woulda hurt the bitch." Real talk, but edgy and excessive enough that his audience isn't dismissing a corny moral but hanging on every word. And by the end of the song, it turns out this girl he started out dissing and wound up physically threatening and planning to kill ("now I gotta do her with a slug!") was his own mom. Damn.

The beat's pretty rugged but busy and sorta fast, kept up with some jazzy elements mixed with dirty beats and a rugged bassline. It's produced by Ice Cube himself, and I've gotta say I'm pretty impressed. I didn't know he was capable of creating stuff like this - it's very reminiscent of Eric B & Rakim's fourth album. Still, though, the mix is pretty muddy and no individual parts of the instrumental really stand out and grab the listener. As dope as it is, I can still see why they felt the need to remix it for the single.

So we come to the first remix on the single, the one they used for the music video and everything. By The Beatnuts, right? I know, you read the title of this blog; but don't get ahead of me. No, this is actually a remix by Da Lench Mob's own T-Bone. Surprisingly, they didn't use the 'Nuts mix. Still, you can see why they did choose this one. It's got a catchy, old blues guitar riff and choice vocal sample in the loop. The backwater blues vibe makes the proceedings feel slower, but if nothing in the LP Mix grabbed the listener, something sure does here. You could play this song, nodding your head to the beat and feeling the soulful loop and realize by the end of it that you didn't even notice the lyrics. It's that gripping. Of course, an audience missing the lyrics isn't really a good thing, especially on a song like this with a lot to say; but that's what repeat listenings are for. And this mix surely inspired a lot of repeat listenings.

Okay, so now we come to The Beatnuts mix? No, not quite. next we get Night Stawka's Remix. Who's that? Ya got me - I've never seen his name pop up anywhere else. But if he only has one credit to his name, at least it's a good one. It's dark and got lots of deep, ominous bass and wailing guitar stabs. It's not gonna be anybody's favorite anything - the elements all sound a little overly familiar - but it's a good, solid mix and a good listen. This is one of those singles where you can just play it end to end, like an album.

Finally, the Beatnuts Remix is pure, Beatnuts funk. They add their own ad-libs on top of the pre-existing ones, so that gets a bit crowded. But who cares? It's all about the funky beat with the groovy bassline and snazzy horns. And they add a killer breakdown; smooth but with personality - this is what you hire the Beatnuts for. And unlike the other mixes, it doesn't distract from the rhymes. In fact, the opposite - it really brings attention to the narrative. I could see someone who was listening to Guerillas for a full year and just realizing when he heard the Beatnuts version that he was rapping about his mom.

If you only own on Lench Mob record... well, it should probably be "Freedom Got an AK" or something that showcases more than just one member. But this is pretty must have, too. And try and pick up the promo version if you can. Partially because you also get two instrumentals - Beatnuts and the T-Bone (video) ones, exactly the two most desirable instrumentals. And more importantly, because - even though the label doesn't say so - all four versions on the main (green) label 12" are radio edits! Gah! And there's a lot of cursing integral to the lyrics, so it's a little more obscure, but promo all the way if you can do it. Even if you can't, though, the commercial's worth picking up, because the remixes are hot in any condition.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Werner In Record Collector Magazine

While browsing through the magazine stands this month, be sure and take a moment to leaf through the latest issue of Record Collector (Feb '12, #398) for a spot of writing from little ol' me. I'm one of multiple contributors to the latest installment of Dudley Jaynes' Hip-Hop Collector's Guide series of articles. As the intro explains, he "gathered 17 passionate hip-hop heads from different corners of the industry to examine 40 classic albums (and a few EP's) from rap's formative years." It's a nice four-page spread, featuring contributions from a lot of our favorite writers 'round these parts and some great (and some unexpected) album choices - you may even wish to take the issue home with you.

It's not a specifically hip-hop geared magazine, so most of the rest of the mag is focused on other genres. But the recent Black, Rock & Ron reissue also gets a pretty nice review here. If you can't find a copy near you, you can order one from their website: recordcollectormag.com. And if you're a subscriber, apparently you can also read the article online, as well. So, yeah, check it out. 8)

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Original Gangstress

Today, Antoinette is just known as the female MC who lost when she dared to tangle with MC Lyte. You know how you keep hearing MCs bragging about how "yo, I'll kill your career" in diss records? Well, this is one of the few instances where that pretty much actually happened, It didn't help that the rumor had it that Lyte wrote her own rhymes, while Antoinette didn't (I'm not sure how 100% that is, though... Antoinette may have written at least some of her own verses - she does get a writing credit on her album, after all - and it's no secret that Lyte has had writers for her records over the years; but it didn't matter. Lyte came out with the hardest diss records from a female MC ever - I don't think even Antoinette's parents would debate who won.

But it's still a shame, because Antoinette put out some hot records. I mean, if you tell me Big Daddy Kane ghost-wrote a song (and he supposedly did ghostwrite for her), that's gonna sell me on it, not put me off it. So good writers, a good voice, hard flow, producers like Mantronix and Ced Gee in their prime... sign me up!

Not that every 12" is a buried gem ("Never Get Enough" can't get lost enough to the sands of time IMHO), but a lot of them are, including this one: "Who's the Boss." "Who's the Boss" is the title track off her debut album on Next Plateau, and just one of several dope singles that album yielded. Antoinette comes tough, rattling off hardcore rhymes, including a quick semi-subliminal shot at Lyte ("Grab your cup and I'ma fill it to the brim. So take a sip; don't bite your lip; don't take bites out, or it's gonna be MCs' lights out"). But it's really not another Lyte diss record, just a general battle joint that goes hard.

It's produced by Jay Ellis and IG Off. That's right, remember that DJ Spinna duo that made a lot of noise in the backpacker scene in 1999, IG Off and Hazadous? Well, long before that, he and his earlier partner were regular producers for Antoinette, doing a grip of tracks on both of her albums; and they were good at it, too. "Who's the Boss" plays it a little safe by using one of the most classic and oft-used breakbeats of all-time, James' "Give It Up or Turn It Loose" Remix; but there's no denying that the Jungle Groove sound is raw as Hell. And I like that, instead of using any of the many brilliant horn samples that pop up all over that record like many, many artists - from the great to the wack - who came before them have. Instead they brought in their own from somewhere else, and it compliments Antoinette's tone perfectly. Finally, add 360's cuts as the final ingredient and voila, it's très magnifique!

Oh yeah, there's also this Mission Impossible schtick in the song, where some guy tells Antoinette that she's our future and her mission is to destroy MCs or something. It works a little better in the music video than the when you're just listening to the record; but basically, the less said about that the better. It at least manages not to be too distracting.

So, you've got a great 80's rap record on your hands. And it's got the Instrumental, Acapella... But that's not the half. Also on here is the Club Mix by DJ Pooh. Yeah, that DJ Pooh, the great west coast DJ producer from The Compton Posse. Apparently he was able to get away from making hits for King Tee long enough to come east and do a remix for our girl. And it's even stronger than the original. Pooh keeps the same breakbeat for the drums in parts, but then swaps them out for other drums intermittently, also stripping away the horns to add whole new layers on top. Most noticeably, he pulls in that killer piano loop that Gangstarr turned into "No More Mr. Nice Guy," bringing it in and out. 360's cuts are also brought up in the mix and sound a lot cleaner and aggressive. This is one of those, "damn, why don't they make rap songs like this anymore?" records.

You also get the Instrumental for DJ Pooh's Club Mix, and then flip it over and you get another 12" exclusive. A whole new song (and its accompanying Instrumental) called "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." But this one is... not so good. This is a very poppy track - a rap cover of Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" replete with an uncredited woman (I assume it's not Antoinette herself!) singing a Benatar impression for the hook. It's produced again by Ellis and IG Off, but this is obviously a product of the fact that Antoinette came out of Hurby Luv Bug's camp. This is probably something Salt 'N Pepa were gonna use, then decided against. There are even back and forth interplay bits, which Antoinette does... with herself?

"Boys make noise!"
"They do?"
"Of course they do.
"Move your hands, boy..."
"No, chill. I want him to
Do it to me groovy."
...
"I won't repeat it;
He gets me heated."
"You're dreamin'!"
"No, I'm schemin',
Baby!"
"I think you're buggin'."
"I think he drives me crazy.
I'll be his wild thing;
Just give me some room,
And push it harder.
In fact, make it boom!"

Yeah... this interplay was surely meant for the duo. Also, I think "push it" is a reference to their big hit, especially since the whole song is set to the "Push It" drums; though the "make it boom" line must've been added to personalize it for Antoinette ("Baby, Make it Boom" was her single right before this one). Of course, the most obvious one is the Tone Lōc reference. This has "please play this on MTV" written all over it, except they neglected to actually shoot a video for it. It's got a simple, electric guitar riff dominating the instrumental - a tinnier version of the main refrain in the chorus of Benatar's original.

Still, it's engaging and enjoyable enough in an empty-headed pop kinda way if you like that stuff. I mean, you could take from a lot worse sources; and they turn it into a proper hip-hop track with proper drums, etc. I can see every contributor who's ever written for Rolling Stone face palming as I write this, but I'm certainly gonna choose to listen to this over Pat Benatar's original. This is the hip-hop version, after all; and I'm a rap fiend. So if you're in the mood for L'Trimm, Young MC, Nicki Minaj-type pop rap and you don't care about the lyrics; this one's serviceable enough.

But of course, the reason to own this is the A-side. A great album version made even better by an exclusive DJ Pooh remix. Don't front on Antoinette; she had some seriously hot joints. Just... push the pop stuff out of your mind.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Tuff Crew Ride Through the House

There aren't a lot of 12" exclusives from The Tuff Crew. After their rare, debut singles "Get Smart" and "Philly Style" - which are so old school they don't even sound like the Tuff Crew we know and love - it's pretty much a case of: if you've got the albums, you've got everything. The "My Part of Town" Remix was an exclusive for a minute when it first dropped; but a few months later, it turned up on the Crew's next album. Really, if you're after vintage remixes and exclusive B-sides, there's only one 12" single you need.

"She Rides the Pony" dropped on Soo Deff Records in 1989, the second single off their third album, Back To Wreck Shop. Kind of late in the Tuff Crew's legacy, it's already signalling the group's change in tone and direction. Rather than a bombastic ode to their hometown or their incredible DJ's turntablism, it's a sex song. Times were a-changin', and the Crew, to their detriment, was changing with them. If the hip-hop world wanted smoother, more gangsta, west coast-style rap, the Crew was gonna go there for us, which is why their next album is easily their worst.

But they hadn't gone there completely yet, we're just catching the first glimpses here. Fortunately, the beat is an incredibly funky production, and this track owes as much to The Jungle Brothers' "Jimbrowski" as it does anything from Compton (they even refer to "my Jimmy" about fifty or sixty times in the song). Unfortunately, I guess the vibe they were going for was too low-key to let DJ Too Tuff detonate the ace deuces; but it gave them a chance to prove they could make a killer track without lathering it in exultant scratching. Instead, they take possibly my favorite drum break of all time (Tommy Roe's "Sweet Pea" - most memorably used for MC Lyte's "Lyte As a Rock," but tons of great artists utilized it, from Gangstarr to Chuck Chillout, De La Soul... even, Tragedy for his best record ever), but marry it with a fast, rumbly bassline and 45 King-style horn stabs. If you can 0ver the juvenile aspect of the lyrics and the fact that there are no cuts on a Tuff Crew record, this can stand right alongside their greatest hits.

Oh, but I was talking about 12" exclusives, right? Well, okay, right after the album track "She Rides the Pony" comes the Remix. It keeps the same drums, but replaces the bassline with dominant funk guitar loop, which may've been inspired by South coast hip-hop of the time, but the Crew manage to keep it from going too far afield of the original's sound. It's also got some new stabs and horn samples - as well as keeping the horns from the original mix; making the whole thing feel more upbeat and lively. So it's a little more club oriented, but enough to alienate Tuff Crew fans, who'll surely want both mixes.

Then you've got a Dub mix of the "Pony" Remix, and another album track called "What You Don't Know." This is the one they had the video for, which makes sense, because I imagine "She Rides the Pony" would've been a tough sell to the FCC in 1989 (today, they'd probably be happy for a song so innocent; but in 1989 it was edgy). It features another funky break as its main selling point, some funky understated congos. And this time, they let Too Tuff get bust, cutting up the hook and getting busier on the breakdown. Overlord's distinctive voice dominates most of the track, but Tone Love comes in near the end to breathe some extra life into the track just as it was starting to run short. Overall, it's a pretty cool track, but doesn't quite click like their best work... it's dope, but never totally takes off.

The label apparently felt the same way. But their solution was to... hire an outside producer and turn it into a house track? Yup, and this is actually the version they used in the video. EC LaRock keeps a lot of elements from the original, including the congas, though he sometimes swaps them out for some more new jack house percussion. He also adds keyboards and some really traditional house samples for the breakdowns.

That might sound like a travesty, but it actually works. There's enough of the original track, the Crew's rapping and most importantly Too Tuff's cuts to keep the proceedings down to Earth. This is "Tuff Crew meets house," not your typical "house music tropes completely overrun whatever music it was added onto" mix. It actually gives the verses and cuts that extra kick that the original version was calling for. This song manages to make the extremely short list of house mixes that even the die-hard hip-hop purists who would normally accuse the subgenre of ruining half a decade of rap music will have to give it up for.

So, overall, you get two quality album tracks, a Dub and two exclusive remixes. Not bad for a Tuff Crew fan who's been starved for more material... Reminder for Solid Ground Records: don't leave us hanging on that Danger Zone Mobb Sqwad material!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hell Raising and Bush Killing

Hip-hop didn't get much more controversial than Paris's second album, Sleeping With the Enemy. I remember first searing him when the video for "The Devil Made Me Do It" hit. I wasn't in a terribly receptive frame of mind, but by the end of the song I was blown away. This guy was coming harder than NWA (and the line "attitude but I ain't from Compton!" showed he wasn't afraid to say it to their face), merging it with the social awareness and revolutionary talk of Public Enemy. I immediately bought the single, then soon after the album, which also featured his earlier, more underground singles that I'd missed, "Scarface Groove" and "Break the Grip of Shame." This guy was the hardest ever (exactly what I was after at that age) - I mean, sure, I guess you had guys like The Geto Boys; but Paris wasn't kicking shock value songs like "Mind of a Lunatic" or "Chucky;" this was serious, socially conscious "message" rap that managed to be so edgy. And, wow, this was coming out on Tommy Boy?

Apparently, Tommy Boy couldn't believe it either, because when it was time for his second album, he was too hot for them to handle. First of all, the guy wanted to make his first single, "Coffee, Doughnuts and Death" a first person narrative about revenge killing cops over some "Atomic Dog" drums. The rapping doesn't even start until a minute and a half, because it opens with the extended sounds of a cop raping a woman. Tommy Boy was a subsidiary of Time Warner, and this was the year of the heavy metal song "Cop Killer," so it's not surprising that the label nixed that idea. ...I mean, can you imagine the music video?

But hey, they just passed on that as a single; they only wanted to him to go back and pick another song. We haven't even gotten to the real deal breaker yet.

See, one of the reasons "Cop Killer" was such a controversy, besides the obvious, is that the president himself (who at the time was George Bush, the senior) spoke out against it, calling the song "sick," pressuring Time Warner to remove the song from the album, which they did. ...So take that fact, and combine it with the fact that Paris was surely no fan of Bush's politics in the first place, and we come to the concept Paris came up with for his second album cover... George Bush is waving at the press as he walks around the White House, and Paris is seen hiding in the foreground, dressed all in black and holding a machine gun, about to take him out. It would go with the new song he was recording, called "Bush Killa" where... no, see; Warner Bros wasn't having that. Paris also shopped it around to the other major hip-hop labels - no takers.

But Paris was generating enough controversy with this stuff that he could release the album on his own independent label, Scarface Records, with just as much distribution as Tommy Boy could. So he put out Sleeping With the Enemy himself with a safer, non-threatening cover. But, while I'm not so sure about the LP and CD; the cassette does feature that original cover photo on the inside [pictured above], as well as the track "Bush Killa." But that's not bad ass enough, dear reader, for this blog. I still haven't gotten to today's record.

On the album, "Bush Killa" came with a long introduction. The first minute was a skit (yeah, that's one of the problems with this second album), where Paris snipes George Bush at a parade. Then, that's followed by a one-minute freestyle; and finally the song starts. Remember that? Okay.

Well, today's record is the first single off Sleeping With the Enemy, "Days of Old," a slower, calmer song reminiscing on his youth. I guess even Paris saw the wisdom in releasing safer stuff when it came to putting out on his own dime. It's an okay song... it still has a message, but even in 1992, it was a tired "heard it before" sample. I mean, Paris's voice does sound pretty good over it, and he adds a few tiny new elements; but he's basically using a giant chunk of an old record that had already been used to great effect years earlier. I mean, not only did Shakespeare and the Last Empire flip it first years earlier, but The Almighty RSO had just used it earlier in the year; and it was still in everybody's decks. So, the video got some play; and the single comes in a dope picture cover and includes the instrumental, but it's all pretty shrug-worthy.

Until you flip it over, that is. On the back is the "Bush Killa" Hellraiser Mix - now this is the reason to buy this record. The first thing you'll notice on the label is the running time: eight and a half minutes! And, when you start playing it, you'll realize that he cut off the minute long skit AND the minute long freestyle introductions. Since the original was just under five minutes; that means he added 5 and a half minutes worth to this song, almost tripling its length!

It starts out just like the album version ...except, again, minus the first two minutes. But once the album version kicked in with the song proper, it was pretty much the exact same thing as how the Hellraiser song plays. Same vocals, same guitar (by Kenny M, who also played on Paris's first album), same ominous bassline and the same "Atomic Dog" drums. "Wait a minute, Werner, didn't you say he used the 'Atomic Dog' percussion on the cop killing song?" Yes, well, along with the skits, that's the other problem with this album: unoriginal sampling. Regardless, it sounds good - there's a reason it's used so often... it's a classic break. And combined with the scratches and other samples brought in on here; it sounds pretty incredible.

But where the album ended with gunshots (which, if I recall, lead into another skit); this 12" mix is just at the 3 minute mark. The gunshots are blended into some juggled percussion and instrumentation. Then Paris comes in with an all-new verse:

"Now you know...
That I ain't never been a slave to the bottle;
All I see on the tube is the punk black role models:
The passive girl-like she-men
That make and dictate the lives of black men.
And sometimes I wanna give up hope,
'Cause all they wanna do is grow up and work for white folks,
Or be a pimp, drug dealer or sports star;
It ain't no wonder the blacks don't go far.
Now the trick is stay quick to bust shit.
Got to be equipped so the devil can't flip;
And be aware of the government plan to keep
Young black folk walkin' in our sleep.
Fuck the games; I still feel the pain,
I still feel the shame, 'cause ain't nothin' changed.
I can't fade peace when the war is all around;
You better run 'cause the lost are bein' found.
Choose your team, square up and take sides,
But don't be punked or a skunk when the gat fire.
'Cause I'm the first one to let the caps go;
No more vetoes or negroes
Who run scared, full of fear when the devil squawk.
Funk is on to the dome; the glock'll talk,
And be sure that a devil is peeled.
Make way for the motherfuckin' Bush Killa!"

Then the song transforms into a crazy, hardcore megamix! A ton of records are brought in, sometimes for quick vocal samples, other times to flip the whole song and add in entirely new musical elements. Kenny M then goes for a huge, wild guitar solo, until they finally let the beat ride some more and eventually fade out. Paris effectively turned the song into an epic to match the song's infamy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Lyrical One

Papoose gets a lot of shit on the internet. Mostly because he tries to walk that fine line between backpacker and thugged out gangster, resulting in a lot of tough talk and attention-getting punchlines which are sometimes clever ("I serve my beef with shells like a fuckin' taco"), sometimes silly ("set fire to y'all ass like heated car seats") and sometimes.... just trying too hard ("If Kay give me the nine, then I'ma go squeeze off. That means I had K9 like a police dog").* ...Also because he gets in the news for doing stupid shit like this. Through it all, though, he maintains a consistent fanbase. After all, he has a mean flow if you don't scrutinize his lines too hard, and he can probably out rap most of his critics.

Plus, a lot of us heads still have this memory of the young, lyrical cat who made his debut on Kool G. Rap's underrated Roots of Evil album (to clear things up; there's no relation to the west coast Papoose who was down with Chunk years earlier). Unlike the 5 Family Click, who you knew G Rap put on only because he married into the family; Papoose and Jinx da Juvy were these two hardcore but lyrical younger cats who G Rap was bringing out like the next generation. Not that he was ever in any danger of them taking the crown, but they at least earned the right to sit by the throne. And it's that tiny place in history I go back to every time I revisit the only Papoose record I own, his debut.

"Thug Connection" dropped on Select Records in 1999 (this was right around the end of Select, when they signed one last small circle of underground MCs). At the time, he was going by the longer name, Papoose the Lyrical One, sort of like how AZ went by AZ the Visualiza on his first single. Maybe sharing that connection is what convinced AZ to appear on this track. Not really, I'm sure it was the fact that he and G Rap were working a lot together around that time, and he was appearing because he was also on this. So, you've got a hardcore, lyric flexing showcase track featuring Kool G Rap, AZ and produced by DR Period (for some reason, under the alias The Lab Kats)? Hell, even if Papoose was complete garbage, I'd own this record. But this is 90's Papoose; when he was a seriously respected MC, so this was a crate essential.

One gimmick came dangerously close to ruining the whole outing, though. And no, it's nothing corny Papoose says on the mic (in fact, he doesn't spit any bad punchlines and manages to show and prove here). The instrumental is a synth-heavy reworking of the theme song to that crazy 80's show, The A-Team. But you know what? It make be a little bit cheesy, but works. It's high energy, it hits pretty hard (despite being all synthy... a testament to whoever composed the original theme song), and it feels like an anthem - perfect for three MCs spitting with the specific intent to impress. And the cuts definitely help.

Considering Papoose's album never came out on Select (and, in fact, while he's still an active musician putting out music; he's yet to drop a debut album), it's great to these tracks on vinyl, and not just tucked away on a crappy mix-tape blended into other shit. You get Clean, TV Track (instrumental with ad-libs) and most importantly the untampered with Dirty Version.

Then, flip it over, and you've got Main and TV Tracks of "Alphabetical Slaughter," also produced by DR, er... The Lab Kats. This one doesn't hold up so well for me, but it seems to be generally considered his masterpiece amongst his fans. It's reasonably clever; he raps his way through the alphabet, using words that start with A for a few lines, then B, and so on... Naturally, he skimps on letters like Q, X, Y and Z. His flow is nice, but when you look past the gimmick, the lyrics are empty, plus we've all seen this alphabet schtick done several times before, and it's nowhere near as smart as "Vowel Movement," or even as catchy as KMC Kru's "Alphabet Rhyme." The beat just feels like a heavily watered down version of "Broken Language" ... those Nexx Level cats tried to recapture that lightning in a bottle a bunch of times, but they should have just let it go. Still, though, it's not bad - Papoose's flow saves it. But I'd rather just lift the needle up and restart the A-side again than flip this over to the B-side.

So, I don't know if I'd go so far as to fuck with his other records, or his seemingly never-ending saga of mixtapes; but I definitely recommend going back and giving this one a listen. It's a fun one.


*I just grabbed all those lines from his "Otis" remix.