Saturday, October 27, 2012

Collaborating With the Dead

While we're on the subject of living performers using verses of more famous, deceased rappers to make fake collaborations, let's talk about probably the most egregious example in hip-hop history. Remember Trapp? He's actually a singer, who made a whole career collaborating with Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac... at the same time. After they were dead.

This is his first single, "Stop the Gunfight" featuring 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., off of his album Stop the Gunfight, featuring 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G.  That's how it's billed on the cover. This came out in 1997 on Deftrapp Records. Guess who owns that label? Hint: it's not 2Pac or Biggie.

So, guess what Trapp didn't have? Exclusive, unreleased verses from 2Pac or Biggie. Surprised, huh? These are just verses taken from a song called "Runnin'," That's right, the song 2Pac and Biggie already recorded together. He didn't even get creative and take verses from different songs to make something a little less familiar to us fans.

"Runnin'" has a bit of an storied history. If you read the review for Interscope's Thug Life vol 1 by 2Pac's first group of - as Unkut would say - weed carriers that appeared in The Source back in 1994, you probably got excited hearing about this collaboration of 2Pac and Biggie.* Then, when the album actually came out, you wondered where the Hell it was. That was certainly my experience. But then, the following year, it appeared on the One Million Strong compilation album... an album built around a posse cut inspired by the million man march. It was full of interesting odds and ends like this. Then, after Pac died, the song started appearing on every dedication mix tape and unofficial Machiavelli compilation under the sun. Finally, Interscope decided to finally release it themselves on their Resurrection soundtrack album (the same one that featured the 2Pac and Eminem single I covered before) and even its own single.

Oh, and at some point during all that mess, Trapp took it to use for his own purposes.

Now, because "Runnin'" was recorded for Thug Life's album, it also featured those guys; but of course they've been cut out of this version, to give us more Trapp crooning time. Nothing else has changed. Unlike "Kings," or other songs of this ilk, Trapp didn't even change the music - it's the exact same instrumental.  All he did was remove the Thug Life guys and put himself in there. Now, to be fair, Trapp isn't a bad singer - he's kind of weak voiced, so you have to keep reminding yourself to pay attention to him when he's singing; but otherwise he sounds good. But obviously the original version, with all the other original rap verses, is infinitely preferable. This is just a song made to capitalize on all the mainstream fans who have no idea this isn't recycled music they probably already had in their collections.

My cassingle here features three versions... Two are both labeled as the Original Version, though one is actually a clean version with reversed curse words. And #3 is the R&B Version, which basically just a shorter mix featuring Trapp singing over Thug Life's instrumental by himself. And there's also "When I Come Down," which is a Trapp solo song from his album. That's right, the album billed as Trapp featuring 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. actually doesn't feature Biggie or Pac on most of the songs... yeah, try to look surprised, guys.

But Trapp didn't stop here! Oh no. First there's the matter of the album. It deatures both versions of "Stop the Gunfight," so there's nothing exclusive to the single except the radio edit... and interestingly, it also says the R&B version is featuring 2Pac and Biggie, even though it's very specifically the version that cut them out of their own song. And all the rest of the songs are just solo Trapp songs except one. And he released that one as his second single: "Be the Realist."

I bet you forgot 2Pac and Biggie did another song together, huh? They were both guests DJ Eddie F's 1994 album, appearing in the posse cut "Let's Get It On" (also with Heavy D, Grand Puba and Spunk Bigga). So, what has Trapp done? Cut out Puba, Spunk and the Heavster, leaving only 2Pac and Biggie. Yes, using the original instrumental and everything again. And Trapp dioesn't even sing or appear on this one at all!  He's just made and appropriated a short, edited version of "Let's Get It On."

That was all in 1997. But a couple years later, we see Trapp was persisting with this enterprise! In 1999, he released four compilation albums on DefTrapp: Ladies of Gangster Rap, Latino Gansgter Rappers, Dirty South and The Pac and Biggie You Never Heard (spoilers: you DID hear all that Pac and Biggie material before; and also Trapp features on that album a lot more than either of them). They all feature a bunch of popular rap songs and of course many Trapp songs. Yes, even Ladies of Gangsta Rap features Trapp solo songs. And 2Pac and Biggie were stuck on the Latino Gangster Rappers album despite neither of them being remotely Latino.And to think, they never even knew Trapp when they were alive.

I'm not sure what happened to Trapp after 1999, but I figure there's a good chance the story ends with somebody from Death Row or Interscope sending him to the bottom of a river. But whether it ended grisly or not, I think this tale's already appropriately spooky enough for the season, don't you?.

Rappers, you'd better play it safe this Halloween... keep one eye over your shoulder and stay away from the graveyards... or else you might find yourself Trapp's next unsuspecting collaborator! MUAH HAHAHAHA!!!! 


*The November 1994 review by Kharay Turner says, "On a lighter note, the Notorious B.I.G. drops the funniest line on the posse cut "Runnin' From the Police": "Me, run from police?/ Picture that/ I'm too fat/ Nigga fuck around and catch an asthma attack."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shaq Chino and Pun

So Chino XL's new album just came out. It's actually a double CD (no vinyl, naturally), called RICANstruction: The Black Rosary. The caps are there because otherwise you'd never get the pun. I'm me, though, so I had to check it out immediately. There I was, listening to the sound clips on ughh, and I see that one of the songs features Big Pun. I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you reading this that Pun died twelve years ago. I got to interview him right before he left us; he really was a Hell of an MC. So immediately, the instant I see that, my heart jumps a little and I'm wondering: wow, has Chino sat on an unreleased Big Pun collabo all these years? After all, he said exactly that when he was promoting this album back in 2009 ("I do have a project that everybody is about to hear with him. ...it is vocals [from Big Pun] that no one has ever heard."). This could be some crazy, ill... But my brain doesn't even let my heart finish that notion. Don't set yourself up for the world's most predictable, crushing disappointment, dummy. Give it a listen, and it's gonna be some old Wake Up Show freestyle or something that you already have.

So I play it and it's a new song, called "Kings," produced by a guy named Focus, who I think was one of the many younger producers on that DoItAll album. Anyway, it's a duet. Chino brags about it on the hook: "this collaboration is biblical, mythical, insane... Chino and Big Pun, a true lyricist dream." And for some reason, the DJ feels compelled to make a thing about the fact that both Chino and Pun have referenced Nat King Cole at some point in their careers[oh, and that's why this song is called "Kings." I honestly just got that this second. Oy vey], by cutting up both of their old lines in the hook. Well, regardless, Chino makes no bones about the fact that he wrote his part long after Pun had passed on, saying, "Big Pun's in Heaven making angels sing; Chino is still in the physical, making your name ring." Predictably, though, Pun's verse is hauntingly familiar.

I just couldn't quite place it. We're now past the point where any teeny, tiny piece of me might still be holding onto the hope that we've been given a killer, unreleased Pun verse. Now my brain just wants to label it as a part of whatever song it's from and file it away forever. Fortunately, this is the internet age, so instead of spending all night dwelling on it, I just google a couple of Pun's lines and see that they originate from a song called "BX Niggas," which debuted in 2008. Apparently it's an epic, unreleased track discovered by the filmmakers of a retrospective Pun documentary called Big Pun: The Legacy; and to hear it all, you've gotta buy the DVD.

Bull shit on that. I recognize this Pun verse, and I've never heard of this screwy doc before. I reviewed another, quite good documentary on Big Pun; but this ain't that. This is something I feel confident calling screwy even though I've never seen it because they're advertising some tired, old Pun material as a special unreleased exclusive for their movie.

So back to Google. Now I'm getting results that say it's a part of some song "The Bigger They R."  Apparently it's an unreleased song from the 90's that we're only getting to hear these days because it's been leaked onto the internet by producer Domingo. But, no, damn it! Whatever song this verse is from, it's something I own and have had in my collection for years. Long enough, at least, for me to have completely forgotten what the heck it is. Get out of here with your phony Youtubian "internet leak" mythos. Whatever I've got, I know it's not called "The Bigger They R." But, looking at these later listings, I come upon the piece of the puzzle I needed to put it all together.

This song features Shaq. Yes, that Shaq, the only Shaq. It also features Fat Joe, but that doesn't narrow anything down when it comes to Pun. Shaq, however? I have every single record by Shaq ever released. I don't just mean the full-length albums; I have all the 12" singles, guest appearances, the soundtracks, the multiple promo EPs of his unreleased Superfriends album, the picture disc that looks like a basketball, the greatest hits, the German 12", Kazaam. And in return for me sharing that last little piece of information with you, all I ask is that you never ask me why. I just have it.

And now I can picture the record sitting right there on my shelves, with a bright, blue label and their names running along the top. Pun has only appeared once on any of Shaq's projects, and it's this 12"! It's called "Shaq Crack and Pun," and it's a dodgy white label (well, it has blue labels, but you know what I mean) release claiming to be from "Avalanche Recordings," and the track-listing is all screwed up. It lists a Dirty Version on one side and a Radio Version on the other; but just looking at the wax, you can plainly see there's four versions on here. One's an instrumental and one's a TV Track or something. But hey, it's "Shaq Crack and Pun!"

The track's nice and hard... I'm assuming the internet's right about Domingo having created it, because it sounds like his work, and an excellent example of it at that. Of course Pun steals the whole show and there's really no reason for anybody else to touch the microphone after him; but Fat Joe manages to come with some slick rhymes too. And Shaq? Well, he just kinda bounces around from one silly reference to another (he is, after all, the world's only graduate from The Fu-Shnickens' school of MCing), mashing up the English language to force multi-syllable rhymes and concepts that don't really exist: "movin' like the predator, camouflage injectorer, rhyme wreckerer." You can tell exactly the kind of fast-paced, rugged, mind blowing bars he wanted to deliver here. But hey, I bet Joe and Pun wouldn't've looked too impressive on the basketball courts either. Life has a nice way of balancing everything out.

As for "Kings?" It's got an all new beat (for that matter, "BX Niggas" seemed to have an original instrumental, too) which is pretty bombastic and pulls you along with it. And this is hardly the first time a deceased rapper's material has been recycled so a newer MC could make like they were collaborating with one of the greats. It's not even the first time it's been done to Big Punisher. The practice has become so common, it doesn't seem to even trip radars anymore. Notice how I'm the only blogger talking about this. But - and I'm not being entirely facetious when I say this - I think I would've enjoyed this even more if Chino had left Shaq on there.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Natural Elements Demos Unreleased Still.

Now here are a couple of interesting items that hit EBay at the same time Chopped Herring released their Lost Demos and Instrumentals EP. This could be directly related to that release, or it could just be a timely coincidence. But either way, it's quite interesting for us Natural Elements fans. Demos! Here's the tracklistings for all three (taken from the auction descriptions):

Left: 1) Bust mine 2) Money and moves  3) We all f@#$%*g high
Center: 1) Live the life 2) Relax 3) Don't sleep 4) Puttin in work
Right: 1) It's a triple team 2) I gots it hard 3) Life ain't fair you only here for a minute 4) Every single day 5) Wishing on a star

Some of these titles are decidedly more recognizable than others... "Bust Mine," for example, is probably their greatest, best known hit; while "We all f@#$%*g high" is more mysterious. It's also worth noting that the tape on the left is specifically labeled as "joints for 97," so we know when that one's from. So let's see exactly how much we can glean from these track-listings, shall we?

As I said, "Bust Mine" is obvious. And the EBay listing description gives us a little extra info to go on: "Bust Mine was the only song to come out on Dolo Records single release." But "Money and moves" sounds familiar, doesn't it? That's probably because the hook to one of their other biggest hits, which just so happened to come out on the same Dolo 12" as "Bust Mine," uses that expression as the body of its chorus. The hook for "Paper Chase" is, "it goes money and moves, moves and money. Gotta make money, 'cause bein' broke ain't funny. On a paper chase, ain't nothin' for free. Everybody got a price; everybody got a fee." Color me cynical, but I think the odds are very high that "Money and moves" is just "Paper Chase," and the seller is wrong about "Bust Mine" being the only previously released song from there. Especially since, except for the middle one, I don't see any song titles written on the tapes. Which makes me think the seller listened to the tapes and guessed on the titles based on the music... and "Money and Moves" would be a very good guess for the title of "Paper Chase," if you didn't already know it.

The next one is an L-Swift solo tape. Here we're told (again in the item description), "Live the life was the only song to come out on a EP 12" single release." That would be absolutely correct if it weren't woefully out of date (remember, these auctions just ended under a week ago). "Puttin' In Work" was on Chopped Herring's 2011 Lost Demos EP, and the other two are on CH's brand new EP.

Now, the description for tape #3 doesn't tell us anything about its songs. But four of those songs are the first four songs on the Lost Demos EP, so not much mystery there.

Of course, without hearing them, any of these songs could, I suppose, be alternate versions. There is,  after all, more than one version of "Life Ain't Fair" floating around out there, as I've covered in a previous Natural E post. And hey, maybe "Moves and Money" isn't "Paper Chase." It probably is, but we can't be totally sure without hearing it.

So I'd love to be able to hear everything and find out what's what. But essentially, we're just left with two songs that are really compelling: "We all f@#$%*g high" and "Wishing on a star." Are these just screwy titles for songs we already know and love? Or are they awesome, never heard before killers? Maybe whoever won them will let us know. Or maybe they're currently being remastered for Chopped Herring's next vinyl release.

P.s. - Also of note is the fact that the same seller had a two-song Last Emperor demo tape up at the same time, which was all produced by Charlemagne. The titles were "Meditation" and "On!" "Meditation" later appeared on his compilation CDs, but I'm not sure what "On!" is...

Natural Elements Demos Unreleased No More!

It's time to get excited, Natural Elements fans!  ...Again.  Because Chopped Herring Records has just (finally) come out with their follow-up to last year's amazing Lost Demos EP, called Lost Demos and Instrumentals.

So, the title pretty much lays it out for ya. It's another six-song EP, but this time it's half unreleased demo joints and half instrumentals. Instrumentals, that is, of three of the unreleased demo joints from their previous EP, which, frankly, I never imagined we'd ever see. I mean, it's (painfully) rare enough when great, unreleased demo tracks get unearthed and pressed on wax. How often do the instrumental versions of such unreleased demos get unearthed and released on wax? Pretty much never! So, I'm sure I'm not alone in being less excited by the instrumentals as by the full demo tracks; but it's damn impressive, and I'm sure there are instrumental heads who are very excited to see these on wax. ...And, it's also important to note that Chopped Herring is only charging half their usual price for this EP, exactly because it's half full of instrumental-only tracks.  They deserve a lot of credit for that!

So, I won't say much more about the instrumentals... You can already read about the full songs in my post on the Lost Demos EP.  I'll just clarify that the instrumental version of "Life Ain't Fair" is the harder version from the Lost Demos EP, and not the R&B-ish one I wrote about for Hip-Hop Connection.

So, should I stop wasting time and get to the tracks we're all really curious about? Okay! First up are two L-Swift solo tracks, "Relax" and "Don't Sleep." Actually, Mr. Voodoo seems to be lending his voice to "Relax," too, but he never kicks a verse, so it's essentially a Swigga solo. And they're great, vintage songs, both recorded in 1993 and recorded by the only producer whose name should be on this project: Charlemagne.

By the way, both of these are specifically noted as being the "Demo Tape Versions" on the label here, just like "Puttin In Work" on Herring's last record. I asked the question in my last blog if that means there are alternate, Non-Demo Tape Versions still waiting to be released. But I suspect this is just CH's way of confessing that these particular tracks have been ripped from a cassette, when they usually work with the original master recordings for optimal sound quality.

Well, I recall saying that "Puttin In Work," "seems like it may've been sourced from an actual cassette; but it still sounds surprisingly good." But apparently that wasn't enough for Chopped Herring, who explain on their website that, "Now we have had the cassette joints re-mastered at a different facility than the last EP we did (always thought Puttin in Work couldve been better) and now we can proudly present 2 other tracks from that tape." And I do agree that these tracks do sound even a bit better than "Puttin In Work." It's just a teensy bit tinnier than a nice master would be, but it's beyond just "acceptable." And Chopped Herring are apparently very convinced nothing better will ever surface, saying, "We can assure you that NO OTHER BETTER VERSIONS will ever come out on vinyl - the originals are LOST and all that remains is the demo tape, so if you hear the odd bit of vocal distortion sorry cats, but its the only surviving source!" I mean, you can't argue with that; they used Caps Lock. And seriously, I'm quite happy with what we've got here.

Finally, then, we have "Yes Yes Y'all," a 1994 radio promo recorded for DJ Mayhem's radio show. To be clear, this is no quickie on-air freestyle. Mr. Voodoo and especially L Swift kill it here; kicking all original verses over a perfect, indie NY track. And it all sounds recorded like a professional song, with a nice scratch hook. This is labeled as the Radio Version, but there are no censored curse words or anything. I guess that's just CH's way of identifying its radio promo origins?

If you're a Natural Elements fan (and if you're not, are you sure you're in the right genre? This is hip-hop, son), you know what this is: e-fucking-ssential. And Chopped Herring have again brought this to us with first class treatment. It comes in a sticker cover, as you can see above, and they've really got the material sounding as good as it can, considering the limitations of the source. This is limited to 350 copies, 75 of which are pressed on mixed black and silver (silver) wax, 75 on turquoise (turquoise), and the rest on your traditional black. This can be ordered direct from choppedherring.com; and remember, the price is right on this one, too!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Whoa! Werner's Got a Face Lift?

Not me, but the blog got a face lifr. For me to get one, that's gonna take large cash donations alongside any e-mail requests. heh So yeah, though. I actually started work on it ages ago, got stuck (it looked like crap and some of the features started giving errors), and so gave up on it and left it alone. But then when my Twitter feed mysteriously died, I went back into my secret Test version of this blog and got stuck back in. Now I've finally fixed the problems I got held up on and have brought over the changes to the live blog that I'd actually been planning to implement for a while.

So it's not a huge graphical overhaul or anything. I didn't want to change the basic look, feel or classic Bloggery style. It's really about functionality and improvements. So what's now?

The third column: That's the big, in your face change. I'm sure some people would suggest I just get rid of the cumbersome, ever-growing link list of all the artists I've blogged about. But, no way! I love it; I love that it keeps growing, and there's such an exotic list of hip-hop artists on there, from the great to the seriously under-appreciated..You'll have to pry that out of my cold, dead hands. But giving it its own column does take some of the ridiculous length out of the page, which is nice. Also, if anyone's concerned, the main blog column hasn't gotten any narrower. It might look that way, with two columns alongside it as opposed to one, but no; it's the exact same width, no encroachment. I've just widened the whole blog to accomodate the new column.

Editorials - That extra width allowed me to add another button to the navigation bar I'd actually had in mind when I first created it (the nav bar): Editorials. That's basically for all my posts that aren't write-ups of a particular record or movie, like the majority of my posts are. This post is an, "editorial," as is - just for examples, my video talking about the Lord Finesse v Mac Miller lawsuit or my post about digital download cards being packaged with vinyl releases.Since they're not necessarily posts about a particular artist, it's just a handy little way for keeping them from getting lost into the ether.

New Gadgets - Now that I've got a whole third column, I don't have to keep that stuff so pared down. So I've stuck in a few things that are fun or maybe handy, and easily ignorable for those uninterested. Let's see, we've got:
  • New Twitter - This one's better than the old one I used to have, because it also features the retweets I make of compelling links and articles from other twitter folk. My twitter handle there at the bottom is also a direct link to my Twitter page.

  • Search Box - It's back! I took it away years ago because it didn't really work. If you searched for, say, "Outsidaz" it wouldn't even bring up all the posts I'd written about The Outsidaz that were specifically tagged "outsidaz." But it seems like Google's improved it since then, so from some quick initial tests, at least, I think it's working as you'd expect now. Plus again - there's more room so why not? Even an imperfect search might be handier than none at all. Though of course, I still prefer the huge list in the middle.  ;)

  • Popular Posts - I'd always stayed away from this option because it seemed a little cheeseball, but I tried it on the test blog and I dig it. I like the look with all the little thumbnails, and I've never been one to look at my "google analytics" and all that stuff, so it kinda blows my mind which posts have been determined to be numerically the most popular. The Father MC one I know, because of the insane comments that have been going on there for years, but that Treacherous Three post? I think it was a pretty solid entry, but really, why? I wonder how often that list will change. And Wanda Dee is number one - go, Wanda!

  • Other bits - I've also enabled direct links to the RSS Feed for the blog and its comments, plus the "Subscribe by email" option. Is that really useful for anyone? I dunno, it might be, so what the heck. I'll probably be tweaking what's floating around the bottom of the last column for a bit, so if anything seems a bit goofy, it'll probably get fixed.

So, I don't expect I've blown anybody away with what I've done here. I didn't go all fancy flash design or anything. But I you generally agree that they're changes for the better.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Juice Crew Greatness

This is one of those records I didn't find out about until years and years later, when it was quite old. Growing up, I was a huge Juice Crew junkie. I was a big fan of a lot of artists, but pressed to pick an all-time favorite, it would have to be The Juice Crew (and a favorite within the Juice Crew? Unpossible!). And, man, was I missing out back then. This record is one I'd dream about - literally! Sometime after "The Symphony II," when it seemed like the crew was winding down as a cohesive unit, I can still picture a dream I had of turning the TV to BET late at night to catch a music video for a huge, brand new posse cut from the whole line-up: MC Shan, Kool G Rap, Shanté...  Come to find out decades later, thanks to the internet, such a record actually existed!

The Juice Crew Allstars, collectively, put out a record back in 1987 on - of course - Cold Chillin' Warner Bros. And it's not just one Juice Crew super posse cut, it's two!

The A side is called "Evolution," and it's not just your typical braggadocio skill flexing. It's actually a serious song with a message, where each MC takes the role of a key figure in black American history. MC Shan is Martin Luther King, Kool G Rap is Malcolm X, Glamorous of The Glamour Girls is Maya Angelou and Debby Dee is Harriet Tubman. TJ Swan sings the hook, and it's produced, of course, by Marley Marl.

What? You don't remember any Debby Dee in the Juice Crew? Well, it doesn't help that they've spelled her name differently here; she usually put out records as Debbie D. No, I don't mean Dimples D. Debbie D was an MC who Marley was working with in the 80's and early 90's. She probably didn't leave much of an impression because she went pretty poppy; but if nothing else, you should know her as one of the original Us Girls from Beat Street!  So yeah, she's an original Juice Crew member; now you know.

And, boy, does it sound like a classic Juice Crew track - it's got all the elements. Rough, echoed drums, a simple but funky bassline, just a hint of synths, Shan's distinctive voice and Swan's singing: it is pure, undistilled Juice Crew history. You might wince when you hear Glamorous mispronounce her alter ego's name (she pronounces the last syllable of Angelou like Lou Grant), and some of the early deliveries feel a bit stilted (especially compared to the later work of guys like G Rap), but it's still a treasure.

If you think that comes up lacking at all, though, the self-titled "Juice Crew All Stars" on the flipside fills in all the gaps. If the line-up to "Evolution" felt like it came up just a tad short, how about we keep Shan, G Rap and Glamorous, but also add Craig G, Tragedy and Roxanne Shanté? And this time we cut the shit and just have everybody go for theirs and flex skills. All over another traditional Marley beat with even bigger, "Kill That Noise" style drums and his trusty "Oh my goodness!" vocal sample.

This is nice and hardcore. G Rap opens up with some, "Kool G Rap terrorist, metaphor analyst, fans I enlist, foes I dismiss" shit, Shan brags about not only having a come prepared with a bullet proof vest, but "bullet proof sneakers," and Trag is in full teen-voiced Percy mode, but still coming vicious with a slick echo effect when he says, "my brain is the bomb, my mouth is the detonator!" Even the girls come tough. And how many other times do we get to hear Kool G Rap and Tragedy on the same track together? None! This is the only one in history; can you believe it?

These joints were never released on any albums, just this sweet, sweet 12". If you missed it like I did, it's pure Juice Crew wish fulfillment.  And if you were hip to it back in the day, it's still a great record to go back and revisit.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

War Declares Ice-T Is OK, Too

"Rap Declares War" wasn't War's first affair with hip-hop. Back in 1989, Ice-T tucked an unexpected remix on the B-side of one of his less attention-getting singles. Freedom Of Speech... Just Watch What You Say was a big album for Ice, despite not having any big singles. The biggest was his posse cut "What Ya Wanna Do," which at least got some MTV play; but for the most part he was blowing up without the boost of another "High Rollers." You might be surprised to learn that there even was a single for "Lethal Weapon," I just barely remember it, because there was a video for it with one of the worst examples of somebody pretending to play a sampled instrument, since the saxophone carrying bikini model in Biz Markie's "The Vapors."

Still, it's a tight track. Ice comes as hard and fast as he can over a hot and really dark beat by the underrated Afrika Islam. With another MC, this song could've been a hip-hop masterpiece (it feels like it belongs on Eric B & Rakim's Let the Rhythm Hit Em), but it's still pretty solid. There were two 12" singles for it (not counting promo versions and foreign versions, of course). This particular one comes in a lavish picture cover, includes the Instrumental (yay!) and another album track called "This One's for Me" on the B-side. That one's okay, he has a kinda interesting verse talking (nicely) about Public Enemy; but overall it's kinda forgettable.

But there's one more track on that 12". A remix of "Heartbeat." Remember "Heartbeat?" It was on his previous album, Power. It always stood out as one of the stronger tracks on that album, probably because it made very heavy use of a War track, also called "Heartbeat." It uses the main looped groove, and even War's vocals in the background and on the hook. And in 1989, Ice brought it back as a B-side, remixed with War themselves.

This 12" Remix turns it into a real, live jam session. It's a full eight minutes long, and features War again performing their classic material without Ice-T jumping in until almost the two minute mark. It still uses the same smooth bassline and basic break, but adds tons of additional instrumentation and even percussion to the proceedings. Every time Ice breaks for a hook, it turns into a War concert.

The only disappointment is that they took out Evil E's scratching on the breakdown. What, were they afraid the song would run long? I think they could've safely pushed it to 8:20 to hang onto one of the original's best parts.  ...I mean, I get what they're doing. And to be fair, it's kinda cool... they remake the part where Evil E is cutting up War's famous chorus by singing it themselves, but echoing the way it was chopped up by E's cuts. But, I still think they coulda left the cuts in. It would've made the song just that extra bit even better.

Anyway, it's still a pretty awesome remix. And for as much as War is allowed to strut their stuff and have this song act like a lesson in War appreciation, it never gets away from Ice or the original version from Power. This isn't War over-running Ice-T. Instead it's like they took the original and just exploded it, giving it a much lusher, richer form by calling in the original players to bring it to life. Because that's exactly what they did.

What's cool, too, is that Ice-T changes the final lines of the song. The vocals are the same all the way through up 'till then, so you're not expecting any kind of lyrical remix. In fact, if you think about it, the lyrics don't seem to fit the remix as well, since he's talking about E's cuts, spinning the record, and making the beat with Islam. But then, where the original version closed out its third verse with the lines:

"Break out the Dom and pop the corks.
I catch a flight to New York;
Hit the LQ, watch Red spin...

(It's closed!) Brooklyn strikes again."

Ice switches it up to:

"Break out the Dom and pop the cork.
Catch a flight to New York;
Back to LA by car,

Remake the 'Heartbeat' track with War."

What a cool surprise. If you feel classically west coast hip-hop, you'll dig this. It sounds really good. Definitely pick it up. And since "Lethal Weapon" is such a low-key single*, you can get it super cheap. This plus the "Lethal Weapon" instrumental and a crazy picture cover? What a great, little sleeper.


*This "Heartbeat" remix was also later given its own promo 12", since I guess Warner couldn't believe Ice was going to just throw this away so under the radar.

Friday, October 12, 2012

War Declares Rap Is OK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Return Of Omniscence!

Man, it is a good time to be an Omniscence fan. In fact, what with his debut album getting eaten alive by East/West Records, and plans for it to be finally released online decades later also never materializing, it may be the first really good time us Omniscence fans have during his twenty-plus year career. First we've got Dope Folks Records rereleasing his epically rare debut appearance on the Back To the Lab compilation (you can expect a blog about that soon, as well), and then they're also releasing his original indie debut EP, The Funky One Liner (more on that in a later post, too!). And on top of all that back catalog finally being put into the hands of his fans, he's got... brand new music?!

Gentleman's Relief Records, the same label that put out Low Budget's material, which you may remember me excitedly praising, has just put out a brand new, 7" single of new a (2012) Omniscence song: "Raw Factor 2.0." Raw Factor, as you may recall, was the title of his unreleased album; but seventeen years later with "2.0," we find he hasn't missed a beat.

Paying attention to his lyrics, we can tell this is brand new material, with references to internet porn and Debonair P (of Low Budget), his producer this time around. His rhymes - clever yet subtly using punchlines that manage to never cross the line into becoming too jokey or corny - his flow - smooth with a touch of gruffness - and even his production, all would have fit in perfectly on Raw Factor one, alongside his earlier singles like "Amazin'," without sounding the least bit out of place or time. Just check this syllable-flipping verse and tell me it's not completely in keeping with his "Rhyme of the Month" back in The Source so long ago:

"Let's raise the issue,
Hit you with the flavor crystals;
Who played with pistols,
And pushed the latest rentals;
Basic misuse of the supreme alphabetic,
How pathetic would you MCs be
If you had no promotion?
Back where you came from,
Doin' the locomotion.
Kill the commotion or get lost like Billy Ocean.
Suddenly, you try to bring trouble to me, G,
Strip your title like WBC.
My clique thorough rockin' with the sixth borough;
I leave that ass dizzy like my man Derrick Fitzgerald.
Omni, comin' back with no changes,
And to quote Ginuwine, 'I'm so anxious'
To get the show on the road,
You know like Lollapalooza.
This style y'all gotta get used ta.
But I've been doin' it too long to ruin it;
Fuck a dollar and a dream; I'm pursuin' it."

And Debonair doesn't try to stick Omni with that boogie sound he creates for his group (as much as I enjoy that); he comes with breaks and vibes just like Omni had back in the day. If you missed the old Omni stuff (you're missing out - go get his old 12"s, quick!), then think of Grand Puba's production, that cool vibe he had on tracks like "2000." And being a DJ, Debonair is more than capable to provide Omni with the kind of slick scratch hooks he favored back in the day, too.

So you get the main mix on side A, and a remix (also by Debonair P) on the flip. The remix is nice, too; basically swapping out one set of instrumentation for another, while keeping the same skeleton and scratches. It's hard to pick a favorite, I think it's just a question of which you're in the mood for - the A side is a little edgier, and the remix is a bit smoother. Both are very worth having.

This is available in a limited run of 300 7" singles, 150 of which were pressed on white (white) vinyl, and 150 on light blue. And they come in a hot picture cover, as you can see above.  And, further in keeping with bringing the spirit of '95 back to life, GRR is also pressing up a limited run of cassette singles, available soon.  Click here to go back in time. 8)