Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Thawed Out Saafir

Years after Unreleased Boxcar Sessions, Saafir cooked up another self-released collection of unreleased material that had been left in the freezer. This material was more modern though, so less exciting; but Saafir's always been a compelling talent, so I jumped in with enthusiasm. And this release is notable because, unlike Unreleased Boxcar Sessions, this one came out on two formats: CD and vinyl. That might not sound terribly noteworthy at first, but the thing is: both versions feature completely different track-listings, with actually only two songs in common. ...So, of course I had to get both.

So let's start with the CD, since that was actually released first. The title for this EP (both versions) is One of the Hardest and the cardboard sleeve helpfully explains that this is "Limited Edition Archived Material 1997-2002."  Right off the bat, this doesn't have the jazzy feel of the UBS, but still has the rugged, bass heavy style of production The Junction's been rocking since the beginning. It does feel trendier, rocking elements of west coast production of its time... but I guess you could say Boxcar Sessions only had the jazzier elements because that was the style of its time. Fair enough, but that style was better - more sample based and less studio sounds.

There's still some good stuff on here, though. "Bad Bitch" might not grab you off the bat, since it's a concept song rather than a battle rap; but it's a pretty well-written twist on both pimpin' and relationship songs.  "Touch Somebody" is harder, with an effective appearance by Xzibit. And since the sleeve promises in big text that this EP features Golden State, yeah there's another track with X and Ras Kass. It's no "Plastic Surgery" or "3 Card Molly" (hell, Xzibit's verse is about Brittney Spears!), but it's still a respectable outing.

The stand out track is "King Sizzle," though. This is one of those songs that, still to this day, I'll put on repeat and listen to multiple times in a row. In some ways, it's the Hobo Junction version of "The Ruler's Back." It's even got a silly voice member of court talking about "Sire" at the beginning.  But this song's version of royal instrumentation is deep, west coast thumping sounds as opposed to Casio horns. It's not quite a masterpiece; Saafir doesn't kill it lyrically like he does on his greatest hits, but he still spits thoroughly enjoyable braggadocio rhymes over a really fun track with a super catchy hook.

So now let's look at the vinyl. One weird thing you'll notice right off the bad is that the first three songs - "Crispy" "Cash Me Out" and the title track of this set, "One Of the Hardest" - are also the first three songs on Saafir's 2007 album, Good Game: The Transition. I mean, let's just count the ways that this is weird. One, I'm guessing this means all the tracks - on the vinyl at least - aren't strictly from 1997-2002. Two, "Crispy" was even the single... and "Cash Me Out" was the B-side! Yeah, given the concept of the Good Game album, it's possible that we were meant to see some of the songs on that album as old material, but did his label realize they were previously-available-on-wax material when they pressed it up as their 12" single? Also, the title track of this EP isn't even on the CD version, which is a little weird, too.

But it gets deeper than that. The version of "Cash Me Out" on here is actually different than the version released in 2007. The instrumental's exactly the same, but this earlier version features an nncredited (most of the MCs on this set of dual EPs are uncredited, so that's no surprise) female MC. To be honest, though, her verse was corny (you might think lines like "I'm not a hater but a congratulater," haven't aged well, but I for one always thought that shit was terrible), and I believe Saafir did the right think getting rid of it. Especially since he replaced it with a new verse of his own.

So the OG "Cash Me Out" might me worth having for the die-hard completists. But basically, they're three tracks taken off the already unremarkable Good Game album. Also, I mentioned at the beginning that two songs here were also on the CD version. "Left Work" on the vinyl and "Less Work" on the CD are actually the same song... and I think they're both actually supposed to be titled "Let's Work," given the context of the song. Also the Golden State posse cut, which was probably considered the big deal selling point even though it's pretty meh, is on both.  So that doesn't leave a whole lot exclusive to the vinyl version.  The final track, "The Day," about judgement day, is pretty cool, though.

We're not given much by way of production credits here. There's nothing on the vinyl, and the CD slip case credits the producers: J-Z, Jelly, Protest, Saafir himself, and Khalil; but doesn't say who did what. And like I said, the guest MCs aren't credited either, except to tell us that Golden State appear somewhere on the CD and the vinyl credits their appearance on "Back Up." So it's all left pretty muddy.

Overall, I'd say the wax is for the hardcore collector. However, even if you're a vinyl head, or already have the other version, you should try and track down the CD. It's not his best work, but it's solid Saafir. And you're missing out if you haven't heard "King Sizzle."

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