Friday, June 21, 2013

Dream Team Adieu

the 12" label
Sorry if I've been overloading you with LA Dream Team posts lately, guys; but even before I started the DTP post, I knew I was going to follow it up with this one. What we have here is the final Dream Team record. There's no release date on either the vinyl or CD release; but internet sources place this at 1996, and that sounds about right. Now, Rudy Pardee had been keeping the Dream Team dream alive since the group broke up by releasing solo singles or with new collaborators. But the original pairing hadn't made a record together since they were dropped by MCA in 1990. But this is it: a proper reunion. A new and final LA Dream Team Record, back on their own Dream Team Records, before Rudy Pardee tragically died in 1998. Yes, Snake Puppy is back.

The A-side is called "Faces" or "Smilin' Faces," depending on whether you're looking at the CD or 12" record. Yes, the song title is different on the two versions. But the song itself is the same, a reworking, naturally, of "Smiling Faces" by The Undisputed Truth. Now, The Dream Team were hardly the first to discover this territory. Big Lady K and Whodini both released singles remaking this song in 1990 and 1991, respectively, and Kid Frost had one on his East Side Story album in '92. So this is well trodden turf, with a very familiar R&B hook (provided by Sharon Hall and Phillip Ray) and the famous, atmospheric bassline. Here, they tone the atmosphere down, though; going for a very calm, smooth and definitely west coast sounding track.

The B-side, titled "Got'ta Be O.G. Sometimes," is more instrumentally original, though it's actually very similar to "Faces." The bassline and R&B hook (this time by Tre Unique) are no longer patterned after "Smiling Faces," but every production element in this song is otherwise just like "Faces." The notes are just a little different.  And while both songs are produced by Rudy, and co-produced by Snake; this one gets a special credit saying that the music was written by Mike "The P" Perison. But, since they're so similar, your opinion on which is better will depend entirely on how keen you are for another "Smiling Faces" remake. If you're happy to re-experience that soulful bassline once again, "Faces" brings it and kinda sounds better objectively. But if you've heard it one too many times over the years, you'll be glad for the less derivative "O.G."

Instrumentally, this isn't bad but it's kind of a dud. They just play it so damn safe. It's not at all compelling, and yet too decently produced to be bad in an interesting way. This absolutely does not have that re-listenable quality of "Rockberry (Revisited)." But, the story of this record isn't really the music. That barely even matters... to the point where it feels like the Team specifically was trying to set it to music that wouldn't matter or call attention to itself. Anyone who cares about this record cares because it's Rudy and Snake back together again. How do they come off?

Eh. I definitely prefer hearing Rudy paired with Snake than any of those cats he brought in as substitutes. Snake brings a, yes, O.G. quality to his rhymes. This is his and Rudy's house, and the pretenders to the throne need to scat. And, lyrically.... well, they say pretty much exactly what you'd expect them to say. They don't really mention the break-up or reunion, except very indirectly, and mostly are mostly just concerned with establishing themselves as veterans. Here's a taste of "O.G.:"

"Welcome to Los Angeles,
City of Angels.
(No, city of the scandalous!)
But the O.G.s can handle this.
Four twenty-five's not my salary
But you know, I clock my dough
From my street mentality.
Reality's a mother.
I'm tired of gettin' judged by my color;
It's time to make somebody else suffer.
I'm a O.G. hustler,

I never had no love for a buster
Get to close and I'm gon' have to cut ya.
I'm true.
I'm down with my race and I'm down with my crew;
I'm down with my niggas smokin' blunts and a brew.
That's what we do everyday up on the streets;
Represent the real, 'cause you's an O.G."

So, you know, like that. Snake tells a little tale of being a youngster which pumps a little extra energy into things; and "Smilin' Faces" naturally incorporates the subject matter of the Undisputed original (though I like the line, "he snaked on a Pup and now I'm locked up"). But it ultimately all boils down to the same stuff.

The record label doesn't mention it, but the back of the CD promises that this is "From the fourth [sic.] coming album GUESS WHOS BACK?" Sadly, that album never came out. But I can't help wondering if it was ever completed, considering how much Rudy seemed to record and not release throughout the 90's (be sure to read the comments of my DTP post to find out even more of Rudy's underground saga!). The record comes in a plain sleeve, while the CD has the picture cover posted above; but both have the same track-listing: Street, Radio and Instrumental versions of both songs. I'd recommend this to long time fans of the Dream Team.  If you're excited at the prospect that they got back together for one last record on the underground tip, it's decent enough that you'll enjoy this. But anyone else can give this a miss.

Update 6/25/13: You know, I put that "[sic.]" in the phrase "fourth coming album," because obviously the word is "forthcoming."  But thinking back on it, I'm realizing that had it come out, Guess Whos Back would have been the LA Dream Team's fourth full-length album. Maybe I just wasn't giving them enough credit. What do you guys think? Intentional, punny double entendre, or stupid mistake? Bear in mind that their should also have been an apostrophe in "who's," so I may just be reading too much into it.

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