Saturday, March 31, 2012

Catch the Vibes

Last summer, I blogged about a cool vinyl diggin' documentary called Red Beans and Rice, from Jamille Records. Unlike most diggin' docs, it didn't focus on the great producers or celebrity DJs, but the average (read: super hardcore) record collector. There were DJs, but they weren't selected for their star power, but their love and connection to records.

Well, they're back with a sequel. Red Beans and Rice vol 2: Audio Vibes sticks to the ethos of the original: no celebrity gossip, no cheeseball narration, the content is dressed up in flashy editing and distracting CGI... As such, its appeal is probably pretty limited. But if you are in its demographic, meaning you're a lover of shameless vinyl porn, then you're gonna love it.

Audio Vibes finds a whole new collection of people. It's mostly interviews with vinyl lovers: DJs, collectors, and shop owners, just sharing stories of their mutual love. How they got into records, rare finds, digging stories. It's not hip-hop specific - a lot of people are more interested reggae, R&B, rock, etc -- but there is a lot of hip-hop on hand... probably even a little bit more than last time. We also get to explore different record stores and sales - I want to go to some of those places!

Like the last one, this one also clocks in at about an hour. Interestingly, this time more of the diggers are female than male. And one of the subjects interviewed pretty heavily is DJ Frane, who put out a really underrated instrumental album on Goodvibes in the 90's. And once again, they're all over the map. A lot of the spots they look at are in California, but also Arizona, Chicago, Washington, Michigan... even the UK.

I found this to be a really easy, engrossing watch. But this probably isn't one of those documentaries where, no matter what the subject is on the surface, the film-making will draw you in. If you're not a serious vinyl lover, you just might be bored to tears. So I give this a cautious recommendation: if you know this is for you from the description, then go for it, you'll definitely be pleased. If not, try something by Errol Morris.


P.s. - Two movies in, and I've still no idea why these are titled Red Beans and Rice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who Remembers Jibri Wise One?

Jibri Wise One dropped his self-titled album in 1991 on Ear Candy Records, a label that traditionally had very little to do with hip-hop. Honestly, when I saw it in stores I just bought it because of his name. I guess I was expecting a Lakim Shabazz/ YZ-type rapper? That's not quite what we got... he has as much in common with Young MC as he does either of those two. I mean, he does have positive message songs, like "Time To Get Black Up." But most of the production, all handled by the duo of Angelo Ray and Chip Allen, who give away the kind of corny pop production they're going to provide just with their names, was clearly going for the "let's appeal to kids" route. And Jibri's delivery went right along with that.

But hey, I was pretty much a kid myself in 1991, and I dig this album. The poppy production didn't bug me, I liked the variety, and I didn't really notice the lyrical short-comings. It was all good to me. But even at that age, I could see this guy wasn't going to blow up. I was happy to see his video on Yo!, but of course they chose his house song for the lead single. It was a pretty cool mix of "Atomic Dog" and "Rapper's Delight" (or "Good Times," I guess, strictly speaking), but you don't debut with a house song if you want a career that lasts more than two records. Craig G just barely got away with it because of his Juice Crew status, and even now it's his record heads politely don't talk about.

And his second single, this one, I don't think they even bothered to make a video for. They chose his token love song... it's like Ear Candy wanted him to fail. The song is "I'll Be There for You," which at least forgoes the ultra-sappy, bland whispering non-flow over soft R&B crooning* in favor of a very upbeat, new jack swing style. At the end, even kicks a little Keith Sweat style singing. It's as corny and commercial as any rap song ever got in 1991, but it's fun if you dig records like Heavy D's "Somebody for Me," and clearly objectively better than a lot of the really corny stuff from the album, like his rock hybrid song "Livin' In the Life" or the silly "Life Ain't No Movie."

But there's a reason heads give this particular single a second look when they come across it in bins: it's got a 45 King remix! For the first and only time, they reached out in the realm of real hip-hop producers for Jibri and... they couldn't've picked a worse time.

They didn't give him a dope, street B-side to produce... they asked him to remix a pop, new jack swing love song. Say what you want about the original, but it works for what it is. The production is slick and and has a consistent groove that persists through a bunch of different song elements, from the keyboards to the chorus.

So here, we get some of the original new jack swing pieces, including the girls singing the chorus, and some signature 45 King-style jazz samples in tight loops. The King's pieces would sound great on their own, but merged with "I'll Be There For You," it just doesn't work. Jibri is clearly rapping for a pop tune, not these funky, dusty horns. And the original isn't even on here, so unless you have the album, you can't hear how the song is supposed to go.

What you do get is 4 versions of the 45 King mix [I've got the CD version,a s you can see... but the vinyl has the exact same track-listing]... The full Vocal, a shorter Vocal Edit, the Instrumental and shorter Instrumental Edit that matches the Vocal Edit. And, finally, there's one bonus remix: the 7" Nati Mix, where Ray and Allen take their own stab at remixing the song. And, well... The 45 King can at least take it as a consolation that these guys didn't fare any better than he did. Well, actually, their mix is a little more consistent, but they're trying to make it into like a Euro club track or something, and shit just always sucks.

So, it's interesting. I still find myself enjoying Jibri's album, despite a strong dose of corniness. And "I'll Be There For You" is one of his better cuts. But, ironically, the album version is much better than the remixes and the 45 King mix is to be avoided (except for 45 King completists). So, if you're interested, you're better off just investigating the album and skipping this single, despite what every instinct is surely telling you. heh


*He has one of those on his album, too, of course.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Free Alias!

So yesterday we had a HipHopSite freebie, now let's look at some competing Sandbox freebies. By the early 2000's, Anticon's Alias had pretty much turned his focus completely to production. He still did guest verses and stuff, but he was really devoting his energies towards a prolific, and still ongoing, run of instrumental albums.

Now, just speaking for myself, strictly instrumental hip-hop barely holds my interest; if it doesn't have a lot of cuts, change-ups or... some fucking thing happening, I get bored pretty quick: Once the same drum pattern and sample loops for the fifth time with absolutely nothing different from the last four, I'm ready to go home. And, producers, that little drum roll every seventy seconds doesn't cut it. Now, granted, Alias's instrumentals are a little more alive than that sort of worst-case scenario I'm describing (more on that in a bit), but it's the same principle - instrumental hip-hop just doesn't compare to the stuff with proper vocals.

So I was on the fence about buying any of his post-Bits & Pieces releases. The Other Side Of the Looking Glass had a hot song with Dose One, and Muted featured a great song with Pedestrian. But buying entire albums for just one song apiece, even really compelling ones? Granted, I'd done it before, but still. I needed something to push me over the edge. And Sandbox was there for me.

This four-track CD of completely exclusive material came free with an order of The Other Side Of the Looking Glass. Three of these tracks are also instrumentals, which means they're probably more interesting to other Alias fans than they are to me, but hey. They're exclusive, they help make a nice collectors' item, and it's not like the music isn't any good.

"Kill My Television" features slow, abrasive drums, a cool piano loop, and distorted vocal samples that go a long way towards keeping your attention as other elements start to feel monotonous. It also has a nice breakdown.

"Firstsong" doesn't have any helpful voices, but it's constantly changing, introducing new synths or other distorted elements. It picks up around the minute mark once it's got more layers in the mix, though it starts to collapse on it self and repeat before it's over.

And "Waves Hello" features a lot of backwards percussion and wavey drawn-out keyboard notes. It's the mellow, low-key one of the bunch.

But the most interesting track here is "Times Up Remix." I remember seeing that and thinking, "I don't remember Alias having a song called 'Time's Up'." Well, that was right, but of course you know who did have a song called "Time's Up:" O.C. Yup, this is Alias's take on his classic Wild Pitch debut. And, interestingly, this isn't the only time Anticon's taken a stab at releasing their own remix of this song - Sole also remixed it for his Secret History Of Underground Rap compilation.* And like that one, honestly, it doesn't hold a candle to the beloved original (or the phat Eclipse remix on the same 12"). But, wisely - and also like the Sole version - it doesn't try.

While the vocals are of course the same, this version is so different, it plays like an entirely different animal, not a competing alternate. The opening lines come stuttering in, and then they're merged in with a sort of distorted, low-fi electronic sound made up of of belligerent computer noises and drums that sound like they were played (intentionally) way too loud so they broke when the meters went deep into the red levels. He essentially turned into into a El-P joint. It's pretty effective in its own right, though the original "Hey Young World" scratches sound out of place on this mix. He should've replaced them with something new for the hook on this mix, if you ask me.

Two years later, I was really not feeling the idea of buying another entire Alias album for another single song. Even when Sandbox again read my mind and presented another bonus CD, I still wasn't taking the bait. But then, thankfully, Alias released a 12" single off of that album, which featured the Pedestrian song. Perfect, that's what I really wanted! If only he'd done the same for "Opus Ashamed"... But, anyway, somehow I wound up getting a free copy of Muted from them, too - and with it, the bonus disc.

This is a three tracker, and like the other disc, all the songs are exclusive, never having been released anywhere else before or since. And this time it came in a nifty, circular CD case. They're all instrumentals here, too, but I like these better. I'm not sure it's because he's grown so much as a producer, as I like some of his old stuff as much or more as his later material. But I think he's gotten noticeably better at making instrumental hip-hop tracks that stand alone as complete songs, rather than sounding like unfinished song pieces that are missing their vocals.

"Drunken Piano" sounds very DJ Shadowy to me. And I mean the good DJ Shadow era that everybody likes; not his cheesy hyphy stuff or whatever he drifted off into. As you'd expect, there's a lot of piano sample going on here. And though it's mostly a very short six-note riff, there are some nice change-ups, and even more importantly, it all plays on top of a very moody, shifty soundscape. But it still has very fast, distinctly Alias-y drums. And usually that would be a criticism, because I often feel he's replacing soul by trying to distract you with high energy busyness... but here I like his drums. 8)

"Forgotten" is in some ways similar. It has a bunch of slower, moodier samples playing to build a richer atmosphere, which works well. But this time the main samples that drive the song are boring and unengaging. It's like if a label gave a really talented producer a really shitty record and told him he had to use that sample as the body of the song (which I'm sure has happened more than once in this genre). He takes it and pulls out all the tricks, chopping the drums and flipping extra little horns and what-not, which improve it and show off his talents; but at the end of the day, it still doesn't fly with audiences, because it's built around a lousy idea.

Things pick up again with the last track, "Rhymeoverthis." Is that a dare? Because this beat really doesn't lend itself to rapping over it. But it's still pretty fresh. It samples a lot of chimes and bells with a smoother, slower track. Again, like the last CD, he ends with the cool out song, like we should all lay down, get high and stare at the stars. And this one goes for over six minutes, but I still don't get bored listening to it, which is a huge compliment from me for instrumental hip-hop.

So, even though I could've done without "Forgotten," this disc actually shows me why there's an audience for this stuff. Still, though... it's not really for me, and after this review I'm sure I'll be putting both discs away to go unplayed for a very long time. In favor of songs with actual vocals on them. I imagine these are more exciting and essential for Alias fans who are into his instrumental albums. But even for the rest of us, they were cool, free bonus discs.


*And he used a line from it for the hook and theme of one of his earliest 12" singles, "Respect." This was obviously a very inspirational song for them back in their early days n Maine.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mind Tricks the Body, Body Thinks the Mind's Crazy

Sorry it's been a little long since the last post... I've been working hard on the dot com. I'm happy to say that all of the broken images on my discography pages are now finally fixed - many with brand new, better pictures and logos. Also some discographies have been updated, and I'm starting to add cross-links back to matching blog articles... part of my long-term plan to make it all more interconnected and useful. It took a lot longer than you'd think it would, but I was so sick of having broken x's on my site, so I just plowed through and basically did nothing else until it was done. There are still some graphics I'd like to update to higher quality ones (some date as far back as the 90's, after all, when we were all new to the internet and nobody knew WTF we were doing), and I have plenty more updating and cross-linking to go, but it's a crap-ton better than it was. And I'm now back to doing regular stuff like my blog posts and videos. :)

In 2002, Jedi Mind Tricks' debut (and best) album, The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological, And Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness, was rereleased on CD. Previously, it was a vinyl-only release on JMT's own label, Superegular. But now they were on a comparatively bigger label, and it was time for this rare, underground record to get a wide CD release. To sweeten the deal, they included a bunch of bonus tracks. I already owned the vinyl, but those extra tracks had me on the hook... I might have to get the 2002 version, too.

But if I still had any doubts, I could thank the great Sandbox/HipHopSite war for pushing me over the edge. Since they were in such direct competition, they were constantly trying to one-up each other. And that often meant free posters, t-shirts, and other little bonuses when you pre-ordered the big event (in underground terms) albums from them. Occasionally, that even meant exclusive musical releases, which trumps the Hell out of swag. And in this case, HipHopSite came with the bonus CD, a three-track CDS, now a sweet collectors' item.

Let's cover the less compelling tracks first. See, Amber Probe was their debut EP, and some of the songs from that EP carried over to the subsequent album. But it still had some exclusives. This 2002 rerelease included one more of the Amber Probe's exclusive songs, leaving really just one exclusive (not counting instrumentals) to the EP: the original version of "Neva Antiquated." So, that's on here.

"Neva Antiquated" is, ironically, pretty antiquated. Stoupe's production famously involves really lush, vivid soundscapes. But this is the song that broke JMT: a superficially simple track dominated by a very short, repetitive sample that sounds like it's taken from sone ancient educational program about science. But damn it, it's frustratingly catchy. And the sparseness is perfect for directing attention to the MCs, who the spit crazy, complex rhymes that blew everybody's minds in 1996. Oh, and I said "superficially simple," because there's actually a lot of subtle elements and change-ups through-out the instrumental. If I just played it for you once, and asked you to describe it, you might say, "oh, it's just a little boop boop be boop" loop played over a drum pattern, but actually there's all kinds of sound effects and strange samples mixed in there, not to mention a nice gritty bassline that keeps the whole song moving forward.

So we've got that, but that's not so exciting since fans already had it on the Amber Probe EP. It's a little handy to have a CD version of it, I guess; especially since we're getting CD versions of all the other tracks; but that's about it. And next we have the Instrumental version of that song, which was also on the EP. And like the EP version, it's still a scant, seventy-one second truncated version. Fine as a little extra bonus, but really nothing to get excited about.

But the this song (actually the first in sequence) is the interesting one. It's an exclusive, still never otherwise released track called "Judge Wisely." Now, before anyone gets too excited, it's not as compelling as another 1997 JMT track. It's sort of just a freestyle. I mean, it's mastered better than your average over-the-radio freestyle; but it's just a single verse over a stolen instrumental. But it's the perfect instrumental (Gza's "4th Chamber"), and Icon sounds great over it. It's "off the dome," as he specifies before he starts spitting, but he's clearly stringing together a bunch of preconceived rhymes in there. But that's okay by me - it makes the finished track a lot tighter than him fumbling around for awkward words to finish his lines.

So, yeah, it's not like an OMG Epic Lost Masterpiece. But it does make for a genuinely cool little disc worth owning. It's probably awfully hard to find now, but when you do come across it, it'll probably be sitting on a 99 cent bin or something. So scoop it up and relive the days when Jedi Mind Tricks were a really impressive group.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rare Buck 65 From Edgefest

Here's a little Buck 65 rarity that had been eluding me for some time: the Edgefest Murder EP from 1995. Murder Records was the label he was signed to as Stinkin' Rich, where he put out the "Stolen Bass" 7" and his Game Tight album. SixToo's crew, Hip Club Groove was also signed to them; and he appeared on their album. And that's pretty much it with them... except for this exotic little 7".

This is sort of a sampler EP from Murder Records, given away at Edgefest 3, an annual outdoor concert celebration of Canadian rock music. There's four songs on here by Murder acts; Stinkin' Rich being the only hip-hop artist among them. If you're interested, here are the other tracks on the EP:
  1. The Super Friendz' (not to be confused with The Supafriendz) "One Day the Warner," produced by Al Tuck,
  2. Jale's "Frightened Of," produced by Andy McDaniel,
  3. and Thrush Hermit's "West Island Rockers," produced by Local Rabbits.
I've worked it out, and from left to right on the picture cover, that's The Super Friendz, Stinkin' Rich, Thrush Hermit and Jale. Now that's all I'm going to say about the other bands because they're not hip-hop and I have zero interest. You'll have to find another blog to learn more about their contributions.

Stinkin' Rich's song is called "By Design," and it's exclusive to this EP (actually, all the groups' songs here seem to be exclusive). It's self produced, of course, and kinda short (just over ninety seconds). But that doesn't keep him from letting his creative beat build, kicking a dope verse, or getting busy on the turntables before the music fades. Actually, apart from the unusual and compelling vocal sample that's looped through much of the song, this instrumental has a real 90's (well... appropriately), grimy NY sound. This is the kind of track I could imagine groups like Godfather Don or The Freestyle Professors dropping in those days and getting mad underground love for it. But then he goes the extra mile by unleashing some show-off scratches at the end. And, of course, his verse is... just a little different. It's your typical, braggadocio freestyle, but with his own distinct emphasis on unexpected wordplay, kicking bars like, "I write dope rhymes in copious amounts, and get out when the winner when the trophy is announced," and asking, "so whatcha think, swinger? Can you make the ink linger, or ya fuck around and risk gettin' the stink finger?"

For some reason, the volume's decidedly lower on side B (the side Rich is on), but the sound quality is fine once you crank it up. As you can see, this comes in a picture cover and also includes a small insert promoting the Murder Records albums of all the artists on this EP, plus a couple other 7"s. According to the back cover, 1000 copies were pressed, so I'm surprised this seems to be as rare as it is. Possibly a lot of copies were treated casually and lost by recipients at Edgefest. Their loss.

Allah Got a Shotgun!

Lord Mustafa and DJ King Born Allah had a disappointingly brief but amazing run as Movement Ex on Columbia Records. Not that their careers ended after the release of their sole, self-titled album in 1990 - DJ King Born went on to produce for Erule through pretty much his entire career, and Mustafa became a freestyle legend on The Wake Up Show.* But their stint together as Movement Ex was almost more exciting for how quickly it came and went, like a sudden flash of light across the night sky. These guys were tough, high energy, serious and controversial. And not "stick Nine Inch Nails in each one of your eyeballs" shock value-style controversial, but real "we're here to say some political, social and even religious shit that mainstream America absolutely does not want to hear" controversial.

If you're not sure what I mean, just read the title of today's single: "Freedom Got a Shotgun." A rallying cry for armed revolution packaged in picture cover with no picture, there's nothing cute about this record. With a syllable-flipping flow, he tells us he's out for "the blood sucking serpent that needs to be impeached!" But just in case you think he's only talking about impeachment, he comes back to clarify that Bush needs to suck his gun barrel like "the gays in Egypt." He announces, "This government's full of shit; this gun will be the laxative," and even gets into racial conspiracy theory territory like, "it's a scheme, they inject the blacks with syphilis... then they tried to take us out with the AIDS virus!" Amazingly, Columbia put out a video for this.

Produced by their regular producer Sir Randall Scott, this is a hell of a track, too. Just the horn sample could stand alone as a killer instrumental, but coupled with rapid fire drums, an angry electric guitar riff and fast bass notes, and you've got the perfect sound-bed for some rough, energetic raps - the antithesis of g-funk.

The 12" starts out with the Single Edit, which is the version you heard in that video. It's shorter, and naturally replaces the curses ("this government's full of it"). It also replaces the conversations that took place on the break of the album version: "Did you read that article in Newsweek, man? They're trying to diss rap! Them, the FBI, The PMRC. Yo, that shit should stand for premeditated rap conspiracy! You know what I'm saying? And what about that time they dissed Griff? I don't understand these people." And they cut off the shout-outs. In a way, the Single version is actually tighter and might be preferable.

Then you've got the Power Mix, which disappointingly just turns out to be a slightly extended instrumental. And you've got another album track, "I Deal With Mathematics," a smoother, funky track that definitely deserves the extra shine of being highlighted on the single.

But the most compelling exclusive they save for last. "Freedom Got a Shotgun (Allah's Mix)" is a an all-new remix. They really change the tone - the signature horns are gone (for the most part, a piece of them comes back in the hook) and the guitar foundation. This is smoother... similar to "I Deal With Mathematics" in a good way. It almost plays like a whole new song, except fo course the words are the same. And considering how short the world is on Movement Ex songs, that makes this a real must-have.


*Quite un-intuitively, the rapper now known as Born Allah was Lord Mustafa, not King Born Allah.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Poolside

video
(Youtube version is here. And here's the link I promised where you can pick up Poolside and all their other stuff: gentlemansrelief.bigcartel.com)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Forgotten Special Ed Record

Special Ed made big waves during his time on Profile Records. He seemed to change his image with each album, so each time felt like a comeback - but he kept pulling it off. He came back to scoop up more underground cred with his impressive indie 12", "Think T.W.I.C.E.," which got shine on DJ Premier's NY Reality Check. And his last album, Still Got It Made? Most fans are trying to forget it, but they certainly all caught notice of the publicity surrounding that return. ...There's just one little record that Ed dropped in between "Think T.W.I.C.E." and Still Got It Made that somehow managed to avoid receiving any attention at all.

"What Up Love?' dropped on Dolla Cab Ent - the same label as "Think T.W.I.C.E." - in 1999. This is a nice, little two-track 12" that really only exists for the B-side. But let's me thorough and cover the A-side first.

"What Up Love?" is produced by Special Ed himself. The track's kinda dark and definitely subtle. It would make a really dope instrumental for a really lively, out-there collection of MCs, like The Pharcyde, LOTUG or something. But instead, Ed goes it solo with his deep voice, rapping as if he's chatting up a girl after a show. Like I said, the subtle track would be a great counterbalance to a pack of wild, frantic MCs; but instead, with a deeper, slower flow... it just kinda makes you sleepy.

It doesn't help that it turns out Ed doesn't have much to say to this girl. He's not professing a deep love or spitting humorous, excessive game. He's not bragging about having "a frog, a dog with a solid gold bone and an accountant to account the money I spent," he's just saying, "I need a back rub, in the bath tub, what about you, love? Tell me what you want, what you really, really want." It's like he's trying to seduce this hypothetical girl by being the most boring... sorta bragging, but undercutting that with how he's busy and has little to offer, "what you want from me? Only got bubble gum, honey?" And yes, that was a Spice Girls reference earlier, and even in 1999, that song was three years old.

I can kinda see what he's shooting for: a lighthearted look at someone trying to spit over-the-top game tempered with reality. But he fails to make the game extreme or amusing enough, and the reality feels pretty fake, too. Combine that with a beat that begs you not to pay attention to anything he's saying or the song as a whole, and you get a not terrible but thoroughly unengaging misfire.

But now we come to the reason to own this 12", the B-side "We Come Back." Curiously, the production for this one is credited to "Boogie Down Production[sic] and Big Mo." Listening to it kinda clears that up, however. Big Mo, whoever that is, is the producer here. The reason Boogie Down Productions is credited is because they've got Ed essentially rapping over the instrumental to "Poetry." Big Mo's big contribution, then, is playing some soft keys on top of it. I know, playing keyboards over "Poetry" sounds like a terrible idea... but it actually works - it both sounds good and makes Special's Ed smoother flow merge more naturally with the antagonistic beat that would otherwise require a far more aggressive flow.

And he's thankfully off the "concept song" tip (gimmicky nature of the BDP angle aside), and back to straight spitting his creative, wordplay-heavy battle rhymes we love him for. He never quite reaches the heights of his greatest hits or even "Think T.W.I.C.E.," but it could sit quite comfortably on any of his albums as a good, solid Special Ed track that any fan would want to have in their collection. Both songs also come with Instrumental and Accapella versions, which is nice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Go Mad With Madtoons

Here's a fun, random little 45 from 2000, 2001. It involves the Anticon guys (back when the Anticon line-up was interesting), so there's a lot of about this record online. But most of the information out there is wrong, not least for the fact that a lot the info provided is a goof. So let's sort this out... Ostensibly, this is a split 7" by Madtoons Beat Orchestra on side A and Black Light District on side B.

The Madtoons Beat Orchestra is pretty much just one guy: a DJ named Madtoons; and his song, "So Long, Mike Part 1" features Odd Nosdam and Why?. Or you could say they comprise the "orchestra." It breaks down pretty straight-forwardly to beats by Nosdam, vocals by Why? and cuts by Madtoons. Like you'd expect from Odd, the track is an unusual mash-up of disparate samples, which somehow manage to blend into something chunky but coherent. Imagine if Steinski were commisioned to produce a B-side for Al Bowlly in the 1920's and you're close.

Why?, too, is at his pre-indie rock best, subverting hip-hop's formulaic imagery to the suburban mundane. He alternates between singing about having "two hundred and fifty channels, and I still watch the weather" in a pitched-down voice, and rapping in a crazy foreign accent about how he'll romance us, "you can bet our jet will be the best; and if Finland's on your mind, then to Finland we will fly. Breakfast in Helsinki, lunch in gay Paris; We'll bike the Bering Strait and rowboat the Galilee."

It's all more than a bit silly. They're playing characters, dropping in a bevy of vintage vocal soundbites and even pausing for an Egyptian Lover breakdown. But the music is robust enough to keep things from descending into the realm of a throwaway gag song.

The self-titled B-side by Black Light District is a far more down-to-Earth hip-hop track. It plays less like a showcase for Nosdam's massive sample collection, with a beat by producer Da Proof that stays pretty consistent. There are still a lot of compelling change-ups; it's just not as "all over the place" as the wacky A-side. And the MC, Crest, isn't presenting as a cast of eclectic people from different eras, he's just flowing over a pretty cool, jazzy beat. They're pretty much casual, "not saying much of anything" type of freestyle bars that feel more like an excuse to simply bide the time until their DJ, Quack, gets busy over Proof's smooth breaks.

Unless it's all just another gag... because Crest sounds suspiciously like Why?... And in fact, it's really the same three guys performing on both sides of the record! It's actually impressive how well they pull it off. I could really see people saying, "I can't stand those Anticon guys, but Black Light District on the B-side are real cool."

According to discogs (I'm not really sure, but I'll take their word for it), this was limited to 500 copies. But a dozen years later, this still isn't hard to find at all, at least online. It comes in a cool, picture cover as you see, and also includes three(!) inserts, replete with real and fake bios (I'm assuming the e-mail address for Richard Famous, Black Light District's supposed manager, is as fake as the wacky album covers they show as "also available"), lyrics and a whole, nonsensical back-story about how Madtoons Beat Orchestra formed in the 1940's. Both songs have vocals, but this is really one for the beat junkies... or those just looking for something off the wall.

As for whatever happened to DJ Madtoons? I'm pretty this is his myspace here, which has some newer music on it. But he seems to be more focused on the visual arts. For example, see what you can make of this site of his.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Who Is Cadillac Dee?

Alright, guys. If you want to push the boundaries of exploring rare and obscure hip-hop, today's post is for you. Today's post is about a rapper named Cadillac Dee. Never heard of him? Me either, and I'd love to hear from somebody who has.

All credit goes to TheOldSchoolRapKing for bringing this find to me. He discovered this on a dig in Virginia, so I'm going to assume that's where this project is from, as there are no other hints as to its origins; but of course that's not at all definitive, and should be taken for what it is - an assumption. There's no J-card (it may well've been born with one, but it didn't have one by the time it got to us), so the only information we have is what little's written on the tape itself.

The artist is Cadillac Dee and the title is New School - Vol 2 ...which implies, naturally, that there's a Vol 1 out there, as well, somewhere. It's produced to us by someone named D. Rivers (who isn't Dee, because he says his real name in one of the songs is Donald Bacall) for Light Years Productions on New Style Records, and it's from 1989. That's what we know.

From 1989, but it sounds more like 1986. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of those old Profile 12"s; not the least of which is his use of a synth version of the Dragnet theme on "Court." It's a lot of synths, a lot of big, 80's programmed drums, and some seriously old school raps. I guess it's a throwback (ironic, given the title) because the recording was (presumably) so far removed from the major hip-hop scene.

The track-listing is screwy, too. It promises seven songs, plus one instrumental, but really 2 songs are clearly missing. "Rastaman" and "Cadillac Dee - Battle" are both promised on side B but never materialize.

The songs we do get are "Never Say Never," an inspirational tale with big synth horns and "Court," a story about how getting arrested for selling crack and for some reason he keeps going back to court and getting his sentence increased. That, plus the Instrumental makes up side 1. Then on side 2, we have "Dear President," the message rap about how we have "poor people out there on the welfare. The president knows but he don't care."

"You're a Sucker" starts off the most promising, rubbing in what I think are the opening drums to "South Bronx;" but then the same generic drum machine kicks in. It's got actual scratches, but they're so muddy. It's still objectively the best song... "Never Say Never" might be catchier with its fake horns and many synth lines all playing at the same time; but on paper at least, this is the best song. Echoey handclaps at least make for the only attempt to do something different with the percussion, and he changes his flow towards the end to a reggae style... wait a minute. This is "Rastaman" now, isn't it? Yeah, "You're a Sucker," "Cadillac Man - Battle" and "Rastaman" are actually individual titles he gives to each verse of the same song. That's weird, but at least I get it now. I think.

Then, finally, "My Cartoons" is essentially just the instrumental to "Dear President," slightly altered (although you could really say almost all the instrumentals here are essentially the same, just slightly altered); but he occasionally says some popular cartoon phrases like, "yabba dabba doo." A pretty disappointing note to end on.

This is a fun artifact, but not a great album. The simple and repetitive beats can best be described as "plodding." Most of the songs let the beat ride for several minutes after the rapping is done, too; so it feels like every song ends with the Instrumental version. It sucks the energy down a lot when you're just like "when is this going to end?" And the raps aren't bad, but they're pretty flat - imagine someone like Spoonie Gee, minus the wit, wordplay and personality.

But now I'm making it sound worse than it is. The best moments are genuinely enjoyable. This would've worked better as just a 12" with two songs; but it's extended nature at least makes it a more fascinating piece of lost art from hip-hop's past. Who was this guy? Was he from Virginia? How many more of these tapes did he put out? Did he go on to anything else? Somebody must know.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Father - MC = 69

In the early 90's Uptown was going through a big image change. And after two albums of combining R&B love ballads with new jack rap, I guess they felt Father MC was should change along with them. He hung up his sensitive lover persona for a that of a pimp on the Who's the Man soundtrack, and while he sort of walked the line for his third album; Sex Is Law definitely showed a harder, no-more-romance side of him. And, taking a cue from Hammer (never a good idea), Father dropped the MC from his name. This was the new, Notorious B.I.G.'s on his way Uptown, and that wound up spelling bad news for Father.

I remember being heavily disappointed by this album at the time. Just like The UMCs going thug, this was one of the most transparent and unwelcome image changes in hip-hop history. I didn't hate it; and I still picked up the singles as they dropped... but the Father MC we'd become fans of with his surprising break out "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated," and in his place was - what? A corporate shill? The fact that he changed his name to be like Hammer's markedly after Hammer's star had already flashed and burned out made a pretty easy case for anybody who wanted to argue "sell out" (in 1993, fans felt that meant something... you younger heads will just have to use your imaginations).

But revisiting it twenty years later, while I still don't hold it in as high regard as his first two albums, it holds up surprisingly well. This was the last of Father's big budget albums, meaning he still had an impressive line-up of the many producers Uptown could provide: Clark Kent, Eddie F, Ski, Pete Rock, Vance Wright and... on this single, the one and only Teddy Riley. And, while there's no Jodeci or Mary J on hand this time, Father still plays it pretty safe, doing what he does best: using classic, old school samples and keeping the raps pretty simple and straight-forward.

For Teddy Riley, this was the time of "Rump Shaker," not his earlier, more signature sound (a la "I Want Her" or "My Prerogative"), and it sounds it. This instrumental could easily have fit right into Wreckx In Effect's Hard Or Smooth line-up; and if it did, it could've been one of their hit singles. It's a pretty perfect blend of the tried and true "Jungle Boogie" break, including the horns and vocal ad-libs, by Kool & the Gang, mixed with the dark, ominous bassline from Hard Knock's "A Dirty Cop Named Harry." Two very different tones combining to make an interesting, new hybrid - the ideal instrumental illustration of the new Father.

Lyrically, it doesn't hold up so well. In fact, actually, even at the time it felt a bit silly. It's all a bit juvenile, like they just found out about a popular new sex term, and they wanted to launch that into a popular song... which is probably exactly how it happened. The chorus - "written and performed by" Buttnaked Tim Dawg, according to the liner notes... not really something I'd brag about, personally - goes, "I wanna hit you with a 69; I gotta hit you with a 69." I mean, y'all know what 69 is, right? Not exactly a position you "hit" somebody with.

But if there was any suggestion that maybe Father was using the term without knowing quite what it meant, the graphic lyrics clear him of that charge: "Nibble on my tip, now you got a taste of chocolate; let me lick you up and down... When I'm gonna bust, I put my milkshake on ya tummy." Okay?

To be fair, though, the song is a little more clever than I'm making it out to be. He makes "69" into a double entendre, as he explains that 69 is the code you should beep him with on his pager (he was really into pagers on this album... his other single was "I Beeped You") for an intimate encounter. So it's only a sex song for those hip enough to be in on the term. But the excessively explicit lyrics - not to mention the fact that, in the video, he actually staged a 69 position with his dancer, so we could all see exactly how it's done - kind of spoil the "this song has a secret double message" aspect to it. Obviously it has a double message; he's saying them both outright!

That's the album version, which is here on the single, too; but this release also includes an exclusive remix. The Uptown Swing Remix, by Teddy Riley as well, features the same "Jungle Boogie" elements, and the same chorus and all... but it turns the deep bassline down super low so you can barely make it out. I'm not sure why anybody would want a version of "69" where you can't hear the bassline, but here it is. It feels more like an unfinished version than a proper remix; but I guess it brings some more attention to the snappy percussion, which is cool.

The 12" features those two mixes, and the Instrumental of the Album Version. My cassette maxi-single[pictured above] is a little better, because it features all that plus the Uptown Remix Instrumental. And there's a promo 12" that's even better still - it features all four of those tracks, plus the Acapella... but the caveat is that it doesn't come in a picture cover. At the end of the day, I don't know if I'd recommend this, since the only exclusive remix is so underwhelming. But you might be pleasantly surprised revisiting the Sex Is Law album as a whole - did I mention it has a Pete Rock track?

Thursday, March 1, 2012