Monday, April 30, 2012

Mikah's Lost Love

In 1999, Freestyle Fellowship's Mikah Nine released his solo debut, It's All Love, on Pure Hip Hop, Inc. Like PEACE's debut, it's a very home-made release: a CD-R with Mikah's name sharpie'd on it, and artwork printed on color paper for the case. It was pretty limited, and even marked "ROUGH MIXES FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY." But these Fellowship cats were once major label artists, so again, like with PEACE's album, you know this had to get re-released, right?

And re-released it was! In 2001, Mary Joy Recordings (a Japanese label that specialized in lyrical, underground US artists) finally picked it up and put it out a professional version with a newly subtitled name, It's All Love: American Nightmare.  But Mary Joy albums could be tough to find in the states (most of us just ordered 'em off the internet), so The Goodlife collective's label decided to give it another release in 2002. And since all of these releases were CD-only, Twentyfour Seven Records selected seven choice cuts and pressed them on vinyl in 2003. That's a lot of It's All Loves.

But the Pure Hip Hop version had something none of the others had: a different track-listing and some unique songs.  Again, like PEACE's album, songs got switched around, making the original pretty essential.  Actually, wait... both versions (the Mary Joy and Afterlife versions are identical, content-wise) have 19 tracks.  So that means both versions have unique songs and are essential.  Clever marketing, record labels.

So let's look at what the later, more accessible versions have first.  Most of the songs on are the same across the board, naturally, albeit in a different order.  But two differ (and no, the vinyl EP doesn't feature any of the exclusives from either previous release... it does have an exclusive Bonus Beat, though).  On the American Nightmare version we have:

18. On the Line - This is a pretty fresh song, that's never been released anywhere else, with Mikah kicking a pretty non-stop flow over a really fresh beat by Joseph Leimberg, who produced all of the American Nightmare version, and most of the original version. You may know Leimberg better by another name, Dr. Soose. Yeah, he was the trumped player in Mad Kap! Well, apparently, his talents weren't limited to just that one instrument, because he laid down something nice and perfect for Mikah to flow over.

19. Outro - Yeah, this is a bit of a "who cares?" one. It's essentially a reprise of one of the album tracks, "Come Up Off My Love." Nice to have as a bonus if you're getting both versions, but "On the Line" is the only real reason to score hunt down the a later version.

Okay, so now let's look at the original's two exclusives.

4. Come Up Off My Love (FJ) - There are actually two mixes of this song on the original album, one subtitled "FJ" and on subtitled "JL." The initials stand for the producers - so "JL" is Joseph Leimberg, of course, and "FJ" is for Fat Jack. To be honest, both versions sound a bit different than what we hear on the later versions (remember, after all, these are rough mixes), and none of them stand out. They're all very low-key productions with Mikah doing some not-too-impressive singing.  Still, if you dug the later ones, you'll probably enjoy the Fat Jack one, too; as it captures the same feel.

14. Homegirl - An exclusive song, never released anywhere else. The beat has a really deep, soulful feel - I don't know if any of the music is live instrumentation, or if Joseph just did an excellent job of making it sound that way; but either way it works. Unfortunately, Mikah's singing isn't up to the track (his singing was a problem with a lot of his material at this phase in his career), but the beat manages to carry him.

So, in the end, it's pretty much all good news. Both versions give you some exclusives, so you can be happy owning either or both versions. But the exclusives on the original aren't so great that, if you're not a huge Mikah fan, you'll have to drive yourself crazy trying to hunt down an OG mix. In fact, the newer one easily has the best exclusive.  So casual fans can just pick up the later one and feel satisfied. But for the hardcore, there is more out there to be found; you can even pick apart the variances between the rough and later mixes, and maybe find a new preference among the other album tracks  And Mikah got to sell his album multiple times to many of the same people. Everybody basically wins.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Viper and the Doctor

A couple weeks ago, I got a nice e-mail and a request for a blog post on Vandy C. Then I got distracted by other posts I wanted to make and forgot about it... but look, I've remembered! Yayy, me!

- Now, before I start, I'll point out that Fifth Element has recently gotten through with a terrific series of posts on Vandy C, including a pretty definitive video interview.  Some of the best hip-hop blogging of the year, so be sure and check that out, starting here. - 

So I decided to take a look at Vandy's very first record, "'V' the Viper."  I found out about this record pretty early.  By "early" I mean early for a kid in the suburbs who didn't have access to old school, underground vinyl and was just buying the latest rap tapes at the local Sam Goody's. But word of this record stood out because of one of the featured guests, Doctor Ice.  I was big into that whole Select Records scene, including UTFO and of course Whodini, too - so I was really curious about this obscure, old school record that featured an early appearance by the Doc.

And, not having heard it... I wasn't even sure if it was the same Doctor Ice. After all, there was a Doctor Ice who put out a record on Enjoy Records all the way back in 1981.  In fact, I'd bought that record thinking it was the Doc Ice I became a big fan of by the time he dropped his solo album, The Mic Stalker. So I was pretty disappointed when it turned out to be some other Doctor Ice. I didn't want to get burned again. Over the years, I started to see Vandy C's name come up as a producer on some pretty random projects (Kid Flash, The Don)...

So fast forward a bunch of years when I became older and more learned, and started picking up classic vinyl, etc. I finally got this, and was happy to discover two things. Yes, it was the "real" Doctor Ice like I was hoping it would be, and also this Vandy C had the talent and sensibilities to make a good rest of the record.

This is a two-song 12" from 1986 on Whop Records (and yes, we will be doing the whop before this review is out).  The first song is the song without Doctor Ice on it: "'V' the Viper."  It's an interesting blend of hardcore street and an upbeat dance record.  It's all about rocking the club, but with hardcore horn stabs, rough deliveries ...well, by 1986 standards.  It's not quite "It's Yours," but they were definitely one of the early groups ushering in the new, post-disco rap era. The rhymes are tight, and as super old school and low-tech as the instrumental is, unlike many records of that era, every element of the track holds up today - when you listen to it now, it works just the way it was supposed to back then. And it's not every record you get to here the MC brag about his Centipede score.  =)

So then track two is "Do the Whop." This was the era when everybody had a smurf or whop record, from Jalil to Blaq Poet. And so this is their perfunctory dance track. But they make it more than just another generic entry in a long line by A) just having some tight production chops with a big, infectious beat and some really catchy vocodering and B) turning it into a minor posse cut. You've got Vandy and his partner Bill Blast, plus fun guest verses by none other than the original Doctor Ice (I think I may've mentioned already him already?) - he brings all of his charisma and a sense of fun to the table, even kicking a little chorus of Dr. Pepper commercial.  And lastly T-Funk, who's got a funky deep voice - Vandy C went on to produce his record the following year.

Vandy C was a dope producer, and I can safely recommend pretty much every hip-hop record he laid his hands on (with the possible exception of The Don); and this, their first outing, is definitely right up there. It's a fun, old school party record, but considerably more street than you'd expect... and that's definitely a good thing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tuff and TL Back To Yell

The Tuff Crew's reign ended in the early 90's. They released their fourth album, Still Dangerous, with only three members remaining in 1991 - one of whom was a new addition (Smooth K). And by 1993, Ice Dog (one of the two remaining)'s solo 12" dubbed him "Formerly Of Tuff Crew." Two of the core members conspicuously absent from the Still Dangerous line-up were Tone Love the Teacher and probably the biggest draw of the crew, DJ Too Tuff. It turns out, they were off working n their own project in '1991, as the mostly unreleased Danger Zone Mobb Sqwad.

The Danger Zone Mobb Sqwad were preparing their debut album, TL Back To Yell. It was never finished. But they did release a very rare, cassette only (essentially... I'll come back to that) single on Sure Shot Records. And that single has just been pressed on vinyl and released in 2012 by Dope Folks Records.

What we have here is two versions apiece of two tracks. The rhymes and production are handled by TL and Mac-G (who also produced the TL tracks on the recent Remember? EP on Solid Ground, the label which, interestingly enough, first announced this release), and the cuts are of course by DJ Too Tuff.

"Flp'n Keeloz" is a pretty solid track, with a lot of seriously in-depth talk about the drug trade. Seriously, there have been thousands upon thousands of rap songs about drug dealing, but after having heard them all, you're still gonna feel like you're learning a lot from this one. The hook consists of a lot of well-selected Scarface (the DePalma version, of course) vocal samples, and the beat consists of a nice break, funk guitar riff, and a very effective kettle drum. Still, it definitely fits in a lot better with their less compelling 90's material, than they're seriously banging 80's stuff, where the Crew really excelled. Too Tuff having no scratches on the track is a part of it, but the whole thing just has that less exciting, 90's vibe to it. It's a good song, but disappointing considering the Crew's track record and the reputation the Mobb Sqwad single has.

That reputation is earned much more on the other track, though, which features a lot more energy, freestyle rhymes, banging drums, a fast rolling bassline, and yes, scratches by Too Tuff. I can see why they chose this for their title track, and I suspect, even if the album was finished, this would've been one of the best songs on it. There's no real breakdown or anything where Tuff really gets busy, though - he's just providing very clean, choice cuts on the hook and back-up, making a strong song even stronger. I was way more excited by this song from the opening seconds, but when the horns came in, it totally took me back to the best Tuff Crew moments. "Flip'n Keeloz" is a cool song to have, too; but "TL Back To Yell" is exactly what we're hoping for anytime we fans pick up a Tuff Crew release.

And didn't I mention there were two versions of each song? Yup.

The Montana Mix of "Flip'n Keeloz" isn't too wildly different from the Straight YaYo Mix. It's the same rhymes over the same instrumental with the same vocal samples for the chorus. The Montana runs a few seconds longer, but the main difference is that, on the hook when they play Scarface clips, they also switch to an instrumental piece from the Scarface soundtrack, whereas on the Straight YaYo Mix, they keep the same beat going through it. And during the final breakdown, they take another synth line from the original film and lay it over their track. Personally, I prefer the Montana Mix... the bulk of the instrumental is unchanged, so you don't feel like you're losing anything from the Straight YaYo Mix, and yet the Montana Mix feels richer, and the drama of the narrative is more engrossing, with these other musical elements from the film. This B-side remix raises my opinion of the song a lot and makes it feel like a more worthy companion to "TL Back To Yell."

The differences between the "TL Back To Yell"s are more obvious: The Come Back Mix is a dub/TV version of the Strong Mix.

Now, I said I'd come back to the original release being cassette-only. That's because there is actually a super, incredibly rare promo-only 12" version. If discogs is to be believed, there are only 5 copies in existence. So, realistically, we don't have one and we're not going to get one. Making this Dope Folks release practically the sole vinyl version available. And even if you did own one of those 5 copies, that 12" is missing the Montana Mix of "Flip'n Keeloz" (the better version!) and the Come Back Mix of "TL Back To Yell," so you'll want to pick this up anyway. As always, the Dope Folks 12" is limited to 300 copies, sells for $20, and can be ordered directly from their site.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Return Of the Freeze Force Crew

"Boogie Down Bronx" is one of the real all-time greats. It's by Man Parrish - an early 80's hip-hop and pop producer of the electro/ freestyle variety, also releasing "Hip Hop Be Bop" - featuring The Freeze Force Crew. It's a true classic, and yet the Freeze Force never seemed to get signed or release any records of their own. They seem like the perfect example of a "one hit wonder," except... that's not quite their whole story.

Rama is an electro disco group who had released a record called "Don't Want You To Be" the same year "Boogie Down Bronx" dropped, 1984, and on the same label: Sugarscoop. So the next year, they returned with their second single, "Go Go Get Down" featuring DJ Kool and MC Johnski. Who are they? They're The Freeze Force Crew, back with their second and only other record!

"Go Go Get Down" came out on Sugarscoop Records, just like the all the other records I mentioned above; so everybody was playing on their home turf, so to speak. Now, Rama was a singing group; but this song is pure rap. I mean, Rama are probably on the hook singing "Go! Go!" along with the others, but essentially all the vocals are verses by John Ski and DJ Kool (despite having "MC" in one name and "DJ" in the other, they were both rappers), and it's funky. Like the title implies, there's a lot of go-go in the percussion, and there's also some brilliant horns. They're specifically credited as "The Uptown Horns" on the label, and credited to Michael Rudetsky, a regular Parrish collaborator.

It really ranks right up there with "Boogie Down Bronx." I'm not a huge go-go head, but I appreciate it when it's good; and it's perfect here. The music is really full and alive. It's hard to tell exactly what elements are programmed versus played on proper elements, but this definitely has the feel of a live band, jamming and improvising the whole way through - especially when you flip this over for the seven-minute Dub on the B-side. The SugarHill Band housed a lot of under-appreciated talent; but honestly these guys are funkier.

Now, granted, neither MC are exactly Melle Mels; there's no really impressive lyricism on display. But they have great voices that compliment their instrumentals perfectly. They have some fresh interplay, and especially on display this time around, as this is a go-go infused record after all, they have a lot of contagious energy. Their verses are short and simplistic here ("I'm DJ Kool in the place to be, and next on the mic is my man Johnski." "My name is Johnski and I'ma let you know, that if you wanna get down you got to go go!"), but I really can't imagine anybody not having a good time with this record. Only "Pump It Up" stands alongside this as the a top, quintessential go-go/ rap hybrid.

Unfortunately, this really is the end of the Freeze Force story now. Johnski another appearance or two with other artists; but this was it for the Freeze Force Crew. DJ Kool and MC Johnski only made these two records together - it's a shame no label ever signed them and gave them a chance to show us what else they were capable of. It surely would've been pretty great.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Soulman, Lost In Time

Let's talk about the one Phill Most Chill record that always gets overlooked... DWG's fantastic excursions into his vaults of course get a ton of props. And then people go back and hold up his early classics like "On Tempo Jack" and his Baritone Tiplove material, and are now sweating his new releases, "Power Man & Iron Fist" and The Fast Rap EP. But there's one release that floats awkwardly in the middle - long after his early bangers, but before he was rediscovered. He dropped it in 2005, under the name Phill Most the Soulman on Puma Strut Records. It's called The Lo-Fi Theory EP.

You've got four songs (one very short!), with all the instrumentals on the flip. The cover is cool; a homage to Phill's other artistic profession, drawing. And it's got a pretty simple but compelling concept: he's taking beats he made back in 1994 and rhyming over them with new (for the time of its release) 2004 lyrics. So you know, not to take anything away from Buckwild and Celph Titled, but Phill Most Chill beat them to the idea they got so much buzz over by about five years.

So, let's take them separately. The instrumentals feel a little less busy than a we're used to from PMC; things are a little more smoothed out. But in all other respects, they sound exactly like Phill Most Chill beats, and all the positive things that implies. Each little sound that goes into the track stands out on their own, yet they come together to form something strong and absolutely hip-hop.

And the vocals? Well, he seems a lot more punchline-oriented in 2004 ("your whole style is fake; you couldn't beat Em back in the days when he made the 'Black Girls' mixtape"), and his delivery seems designed to play up the cleverness of what he's saying. His rhyme pattern often stretches to twisty, labyrinthine lengths to accommodate jokey similes ("Soulman, I bring the heat 'till your hair is wiltin'. A lot of rappers are famous without talent like Paris Hilton"). It's not bad, he still comes off with a solid flow and dexterous wordplay; but I don't like it as much as his earlier material, where he put the flow first, instead of playing to the gallery with easy attention grabbing pop culture references. Ha. I still feel like I'm talking about Nineteen Ninety-Now.

Anyway, the two elements together? It's a good fuckin' fit! Phill sounds damn nice over his vintage tracks. It defintiely should've been regarded as one of the stand-out releases of its year, but unfortunately no one was paying attention to Phill then. But the up side of that is that these aren't rare at all, and you should easily be able to scoop this one up at a standard 12" price, rather than the frightening, inflated numbers his rare material goes for. Not his penultimate masterpiece, but definitely a good, entertaining release to add to your crates while times are tight.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hen-Gee, Evil-E & Krs-One

"Lil Trig" is the lead single (followed only by a forgettable love song - what were these labels thinking?) from Hen-Gee & Evil-E's sole album, Brothers, on Pendulum Records in 1991. You could be forgiven for thinking of them as just one of many forgettable, failed hip-hop acts that came and went with the quickness as labels signed them, released an album, and then dropped them when audiences didn't embrace them. But these guys actually have some history to them. Evil-E was Ice-T's DJ for a long time; and the pair of them were active members of The Rhyme Syndicate. They were putting out records back in the 80's, too; only then they were known as The Spin Masters. They were better back then - their take on "Bustin' Loose" was hot - 'cause along with the name change they adopted pretty much all the big fads of the time, creating a weird new jack swing/ gangsta rap hybrid style.

A quick perusal of their album and it's easy to see why audiences didn't embrace them. There's lots of synth production (all by Carlos Alomar, a regular collaborator of David Bowie's, and Hen himself) and sappy love songs, heavy-handed messages... they even included their old 1985 single, "Brothers" (yes, Hen and Evil are brothers, by the way) and made it the title track of their '91 album. Yeah, they remixed it to update it, but... that just ruined what was originally a fun song.

But, damn it, I liked "Lil Trig" as a kid and looked forward to this video popping up in regular rotation on Yo! MTV Raps. And even today, it's really not that bad. Yeah, the production is all drawn out keyboard notes and an R&B chorus; but this is the song on the album where that formula pays off the best. The notes sound cool over a deep, funky bassline, and the hook's actually damn catchy, yet still soulful. You can see why they picked it as the single.

Lyric-wise, it's a narrative of an inner city youth (Lil Trig) who gets caught up in a life of crime, culminating in his own death. But while many of the messages on this album miss their mark, here he avoids getting preachy and just lays down the tragic story and asks us, "what made Lil Trig that way?" Maybe a little simplistic, but by and large it holds up as a serious song tackling real issues in a meaningful way.

So I bet heads were pleasantly surprised to see the 12", where the commercial production was stripped away in favor of a brand new remix by Krs-One, ey?

But wait. Before we get to that, we have Hen and Carlos's own remix on the A-side, the Funk-U-Up Mix. Well... it is funkier. The bassline and percussion are really funky, and it's got a bunch of hard horns and other tough samples. Instrumental versus instrumental, it's easily superior - in fact, it's quite dope. But it doesn't totally jive with the narrative-style of the vocals, and it especially clashes with the chorus, which the instrumental almost seems intentionally trying to drown out.

Then we come to Krs One's Fat Mix. You sure don't have to read the label to know that this is a BDP remix - it uses the same signature horn stabs as "South Bronx" and then rolls into a bassy reggae groove. The beat keeps changing, which is cool, though that means some of the beats are decidedly better than others. A couple are a little weak, and they all sound like they were stolen from Just-Ice. If the Funk-U-Up Mix clashed with the original song, this one speeds full throttle into a head-on collision with it. There are some nice cuts, beats and horn samples that sound really fresh on on here, but the song as a whole... is wack.

It's like if you're a DJ going up to the decks, picking out two songs you know everyone in the room loves - let's say Gangstarr's "Just To Get a Rep" and Wu-Tang's "Protect Ya Neck" - and decide, "these songs are so good... the only thing that could be better is to play them both at the same time!" I know hip-hop can be tough and abrasive compared to light jazz and shit, but music just doesn't work like that. It just overlaps into obnoxious noise.

Remember last week, in my Jibri Wise One review, where I actually recommended the crossover-attempting new jack swing version by Ear Candy Record's in-house producers rather than The 45 King remix? Well, writing that is what brought this record to mind, because it's really the only other example I can think of where the same principle applies. The remix instrumentals are cool, and thankfully their both presented here as well, albeit with the hook awkwardly left in; but the one to stick with is the original, which remains the best and definitive version despite being the corniest. Because it's the only one that fits the song.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Smooth Connection

Thanks go out to Jamille Records for hooking me up for this review. I've come across Smooth Connection plenty on EBay and been curious, but never took the plunge. They're a local rap and R&B duo from Arizona, consisting of Ako Mack and KaPenda Anderson. For the most part, the girl sings and the boy raps, but sometimes the girl raps, too. I don't think the boy ever sings, though I'm not sure... they occasionally have sung male background vocals; but they also use multiple background vocalists, so I'm pretty sure they account for 100% of that. They feature big, programmed drums and a fair amount of live instrumentation. And over the course of 1990, they put out three singles on Gemini Records.

The first (judging the sequence from the catalog numbers) is "Cry of Freedom," their message song, featuring Lost European, a techno-rt rock band of aerospace engineers (their bio says they worked on "the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the all-composite Starship, the Space Shuttle, the Concorde, the Apache Helicopter, and other top-secret aircraft") also from Arizona. This collaboration yields is actually what we get on all of Smooth Connection's singles: hip-hop that sounds like it was created by non-hip-hoppers. There's a very British, 80's Euro MTV vibe going on here... even in 1990, this would've sounded dated. There's a big sax solo by Gemini staffer Jimmie McElroy, and the rest of the production, including plenty of keyboards of course, are handled by Gary Strausbagh, the man behind all of Smooth Connection's releases.

KaPenda really gets her new agey-groove on singing for this one. And when the background vocalists join in, it has a real "We Are the World" feel, but still with a post-modern bent, like the pop stuff Bambaataa drifted into when he wasn't with The Soulsonic Force. But Ako is here to sort of fill the Soulsonic role... or maybe more like MC Tee to the group's Mantronix, but with less dexterous wordplay, kicking the straight-forward rap verses about how, "never will the struggle for peace be done, until I reach freedom."

There's your basic Radio Mix main version, and then a 7+ minute Long Version, which draws out the chorus and instrumental bits. But for this song, that tactic actually kinda works. And when I first listened to it, I thought hey, this version gives us an extra rap verse; but then I realized they're just repeating one of his verses from earlier in the song, which is kinda weak.

Second, we have "Oh How I Love You," which, like the title suggests, is their schmaltzier love song. Jimmie McElroy is back with some major sax, and Strausbagh provides most of the rest of the music, though there's also a guitarist and several more background vocalists. The best part is hearing KaPenda trade rap verses with Ako, in sort of the love version of a Kid N Play back-and-forth exchange. The hook and music is nice if you go for that early 80's "modern" romantic R&B sound. I mean, all this Smooth Connection stuff is cheesy as can be - it's amazing how dependably picture covers can accurately tell the whole story of a record before you hear it - but it's well done if you're up for that kinda thing.

Finally, we have their best single, "Diamonds Aren't Forever." This is their more upbeat dance song... KaPenda here seems to be channeling 80's freestyle singers like Debbie Deb or Connie, and when she raps, she sounds like Samantha Fox minus the accent. The back-up vocalists even do Full Force-style back-ups. Akon gets on the mic, too; and it spices things up to add his voice into the mix (and it's pretty funny when he tells the girl who cheated on him that "the mink coat I bought you? Yeah, that was dog skin"), but this is really KaPenda's show. She could make this a solo song if she wanted to, and it'd still work.

There are a couple versions of this song, mostly just edits of slightly different lengths, plus a Dance Mix which adds more traditional club percussion. But the one that stands out the most is the Spanish Mix, where all the rap verses are in Spanish.

So, I believe these three singles are the sum total of Smooth Connection. These singles feel more like demos than commercial singles, but I guess that's local music for you. The back of the "Oh How I Love You" single mentions a Smooth Connection LP, but I'm pretty sure that never surfaced.

If you're looking for the next obscure random rap jewel for your crates, this stuff definitely ain't it. In fact, you could easily dismiss this as some incredibly wack, corny shit and get no arguments from anyone. But if you're open to some light-hearted, dusty rap history that's probably more connected to 80's pop music than anything hip-hop was doing at the time, then get 'em cheap and these singles will keep you genuinely entertained. Especially "Diamonds Aren't Forever" - that one's really pretty fresh.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The South Central Cartel Does Vanilla Ice Liberace Style!

You know how die-hard hip-hop fans had been screaming for someone to make a sequel to Vanilla Ice's hit, "Ice, Ice Baby," since it dropped in 1990? Yeah, me either. Actually, something like that would probably go over much better today, in hip-hop's current hipsterish, irony-drenched scene, where it's understood that every public move any musician makes is a marketing gimmick. Now, heads are pretty far removed from the the genuine animosity Ice's antics inspired; and nobody's surprised to find out Rick Ross is really a prison guard, etc. But back in those days, associating somebody's name with Ice's was a grave insult. In 2002, Charli Baltimore leaked an update of "Ice, Ice Baby" and it turned out to be a big fiasco. People couldn't stop talking about whether it was a bold, brazen move or insanely stupid - time proved it to be the latter: a final nail in the coffin, burying her chances to ever get an album out.* So, it was definitely a surprise to me in 2000, two years earlier, when a promo copy of Self Made Legend: It's My Time To Shine!, the solo debut of South Central Cartel's own Hava Rochie featured a sequel called "Millenium Ice."

Just to be clear... there are two rappers who's names are based on the word "havoc" in the South Central Cartel. There's Havikk the Rhime Son, who put out two solo albums in 2008. And there's Havoc da Mouthpiece, who put out three albums with fellow SCC member Prodeje throughout the 90's. And no, Havoc and Prodeje are no relation to Havoc and Prodigy, the duo that makes up Mobb Deep. And, while we're at it, Prodeje and Young Prodeje are two different people... both members of the SCC, but not the same guy. It's all a bit ridiculous.

So Hava Rochie is Havoc da Mouthpiece. And to add to the ridiculousness, the name Hava Rochie was crafted to rhyme with Liberace, because this is Havoc's new identity, created in homage to Liberace, the famously flamboyant pianist. This was his new image for 2000, where he hung up the street gangbanger image for the rich, flossin' bling style that was popping at the time. As he explained it in his press sheet, "Hava’Rochie’ is Havoc Da Mouthpiece reincarnated for the new millenium. It’s a new approach and new style for the new era. Hava’ Rochie bites from Liberace, giving you flash and entertainment on a grand scale... The gangsta grit of SCC is gone, bling blinging the way for tracks like the single release." So... I guess it all adds up that he'd wind up making a sequel to "Ice, Ice Baby" on this album, and it even makes since that he's doing what Puffy's camp (Charli and Mase) would wind up doing two years later.

His press sheet also explains that, "Self Made Legend is 18 tracks strong with Hava’Rochie doing what Havoc Da Mouthpiece never did. That is rap." That's right, you knew Havoc didn't rap, right? And no, he's not one of the DJs or producers either. Prodeje produced a lot, but Havoc... well, he got the occasional co-production credit. But basically, he never did much of anything. If SCC were Public Enemy, Havoc would be Griff, just getting on the occasional track to say a few words. Think back to their big single, "Gang Stories," when Havoc got on mid-song and said, "South Central LA is the gang capital of the world where brothers walk around strapped daily and won't hesitate to smoke yo' ass in a minute. Take it from da Mouthpiece, this is just another gang story." And then another MC gets on to spit a real verse. Yeah. That's pretty much all he does.

So this album is the group's hype man rapping for the first time and channeling Liberace to embrace the east coast crossover fad of the day. You may not believe me when I tell you this, but most of this album's not very good. The raps are lame and the production is often surprisingly amateurish. He does pack in a bunch of the usual guest appearances by his crew and friends (including The Jungle Crooks, who have an album advertised as coming soon on the back of this disc that never materialized), which gives the album some salvageable moments providing some better verses and beats. But, just listening to the opening, title track, I was stunned that his SCC crew allowed him to come this bad.

And "Millennium Ice?" Well, it's definitely all about Vanilla Ice's original. They even use the whispered "ice, ice baby" for the hook. I suspect instead of using the same sample, they've replayed it (so they wouldn't have to clear it), but it's the same or very similar drums and of course the super famous bassline riff. But the music goes back and forth, alternately bringing in a bunch of new elements, church bells and stuff, which do liven up the proceedings. Havoc is joined by an uncredited guest rapper (sounds like they're saying "JM"), who definitely comes nicer that his host; but his verse is still pretty unexceptional. Havoc does an awkward kind of shout-rap style, spitting bars like,

"I'm a Rockerfeller,
In it for the cheddar.
It makes me feel better.
That's when I jet-ah
Get me to the jewelry store,
Buy me some more
Of the stuff that I adore!
There's something about it;
I can't live without it.
Ever since I laid my eyes on it,
I've been on the hustle,
Like Russell Simmons,
To leave my mark in rap history."

It's quite upbeat and the new musical elements are interesting. I think it could make for an enjoyable listen (unlike a lot of the album) if you're specifically in the mood to listen to something stupid, and nobody's around to hear the music you're playing. But it's pretty terrible. And neither Havoc nor his guest come anywhere close to performing on the level Vanilla Ice did on the original in 1990. Now that's an April Fool's!

*I get what she was going for, but she was just the wrong MC to attempt that. If someone with more unquestionable integrity had reclaimed that beat, like I dunno... Sadat X, it would've gotten a big, positive buzz. After all, it is a tight loop. But since Charli was already seen both as 1) Biggie's ex shamelessly cashing in on his media attention and 2) a model trying to parlay her looks and image into an undeserved music career, her critics just took it as further proof of what they already felt about her: she was as corny as Vanilla Ice.