Monday, October 14, 2013

Further Around the Outside

I didn't really tell the whole story in my last post. That Rakim mix of "Buffalo Gals" was followed up by a full-length album, chock full of remakes and sequels to Malcolm McLaren's hip-hop work, including yet another "Buffalo Gals" remake. It's got a couple interesting names lined up, including Krs-One, De La Soul, and of course Rakim from the single we already looked at. But it's mostly handled by unknowns (who remained unknown after this project) and lots of filler.

It's hard to decide where to begin with this album. Like everything McLaren's released, it's a total mixed bag that at least manages to keep you guessing. It's 23 songs long, but a good half of these are skits.

There's basically two kinds of skits on this album. One is an interview with McLaren, broken up into a bunch of short audio clips spread throughout the album. He talks discovering hip-hop in the Bronx, meeting Afrika Bambaataa and wanting to make the first record where scratching was the lead emphasis. It's all set to music, which mostly just serves to cover up background noise, because it doesn't sound like this interview was recorded for this album, but instead is some found footage recorded out on a city street someplace with lots of traffic noise. But I'm not knocking it. It's a compelling story, told succinctly by the man himself. The only problem is that - as with almost all skits - once you've listened to the album through the first time, you're not going to want to hear it again and again. Interviews don't work like songs where you want to keep replaying them. So you wind up having to keep your finger on the skip button or just endure them.

The other kind of skits are proudly proclaimed right on the back cover: "clips from the legendary radio show WHBI. 105.9" (meaning the World's Famous Supreme Team Show, of course). That sounds pretty neat. Until you realize that the clips from the show are the same clips McLaren sampled and put into his songs back in the 80s. And since the original songs AND their remakes are present on this album, you wind up hearing the same soundbites over and over again. I can only assume somebody was deeply confused when assembling this album.

And did I mention the original songs are on this album? Yeah, this album is 50% new album and 50% greatest hits compilation. Like the 12" included the original "Buffalo Gals," this includes that plus "Hey DJ" and the rest. Of course, McLaren didn't have all that many hits, so space is further filled up by including the instrumental versions. And again, when you include the skits, it's really more like 33% greatest hits and 33% new album.

So never mind the bollocks, let's get to the new stuff! Well, after the first interview skit, the album starts off with the world's most boring spoken word piece, by a guy named Da Boogie Man, that basically just strings along a series of old school names and catch phrases. Then, after the Rakim mix, there's the first proper new song, called "Bring It Back" by Soulson. I've never heard of him before or since, but his name's all over the album credits here, so he was clearly an integral part of this project.

It's a bid for credibility, actually. He name drops everybody from Grandmaster Caz and Grand Wizard Theodore to 2Pac and Biggie. He talks about "old school pioneers" and "true MCs" while dissing "fake gangstas" and "culture vultures." Really, this song is the thesis for the whole album. McLaren and co. are legends who really want you to respect them. That's why McLaren tells his origin story in skits throughout the album. That's why half this album is a greatest hits collection. That's why they hired the big names to cover their material. It's all to say, "we are important!" So, okay, point made. Otherwise, the song's just okay. The production is decent but a bit cheesy, with a girls chorus in the background that sounds like it something from a Conan soundtrack, and the MC dropping corny lines like, "you feel me like double Ds." But, the beat's alright, and he's got a decent flow and voice in general. It's nothing to run out and buy this album for, but it gets by alright.

But, oh boy. Talk about corny lines. After another skit, we get "Off the Top" by Hannibal Lechter. It's the most original song on here - pretty much the only one that has nothing to do with McLaren's old school hits. It's just a jokey freestyle session with this guy who songs like a cross between Doctor Ice and MC Paul Barman, if you can imagine that. Every line is delivered like a Catskill comic's punchline, and he's not credited, but Soulson appears on this one, too. It actually kinda works, in a weird way. The beat is kinda funky and head-noddery, Lechter has a ton of enthusiasm... the only problem is that so many of the punchlines are so corny, it winds up being the kind of song you'd be embarrassed to be caught listening to ("like playgrounds, I swing," "get up in you like vaginas," "squeeze me just like Charmin, I be harmin'" etc etc etc).

What else is on here, let's see... another boring spoken word song by a guy named T'Killa, which covers a lot of the same territory as the first one, and there's a musically set shout outs track by McLaren and two guys named Burn One and Forrest Gump. Let's skip to the big name stuff.

Krs One drops a song called "Let it Flow (Do You Like Scratchin'?)" The name implies that it's going to be an update of McLaren's original "Do You Like Scratchin'?" which is basically just a dub mix of "World Famous." And yes, the original versions of both those tracks are on here. But anyway, interestingly, Krs's track seems to have no connection to "Do You Like Scratchin'?" besides the title. The instrumental is completely different. Krs doesn't mention scratching or McLaren or the Supreme Team Show. It doesn't even have any scratching in it, nor does he bring up the concept. It's basically just Krs freestyling over a bass-heavy beat similar to Rakim's "Buffalo Gals." It's got a cool breakdown where he stops rhyming to kick a short spoken word segment which is actually really dope. It's just a good self-produced Krs 90s track. I actually wondered if maybe they just purchased an unreleased Krs track from his vaults, but he does shout out McLaren at the end, so he was genuinely involved.

Speaking of wondering if he was genuinely involved, it also occurred to me to wonder if Malcolm McLaren was actually personally involved with this project. I mean, there's an awful lot of names in the credits of these songs (though the full-length's credits are actually rather lacking), with all the producers, MCs and writers creating this album. Even the back cover says, "made by the New York hip-hop community in dedication to the pioneers who made this possible." This could just be a tribute album, not one of McLaren's own projects. I mean, sure, he has a lot of writer credits here, but since everything is a remake already, it's hard to tell if his credit applies to the new stuff or just the old material. ...But, no. We do actually here some new vocals by McLaren. He did actually work on this album first-hand. It's as much a McLaren album as any of his others, which are also generally crafted by the teams he assembles more than himself.

Oh, so yeah. The De La Soul song. Eh. They remake "Hey DJ," down to covering the original lyrics. "Hey DJ" has been covered by everybody over the years, from A Lighter Shade of Brown to Zhane; and most of those at least came up with some new words. De La Soul slows the song down, just like Rakim did with "Buffalo Gals," but "Hey DJ" slowed down with De La vocals doesn't pack the same punch as a dark Rakim track. It's just boring. That's all there is to say about it.

Finally, what would this album be without yet another remake of "Buffalo Gals?" Yes, they've done it againnnn. This time it's called "Buffalo Gals (Back To Skool Part 2)." It's by - you guessed it! - Soulson. So, like Rakim's Back 2 Skool version, it turns it into a more traditional hip-hop song with full rap verses and less upbeat craziness. The most interesting aspect of this is that it actually uses a lot of "Buffalo Gals II" from 1990, using the awesome R&B hook by Seduction from that version. Unfortunately, Soulson's contributions, and the instrumental changes along with them, don't really add anything, and I can't recommend this one at all. Seduction still sounds great, but you should just listen to "Buffalo Gals II" where it all works better as a more enjoyable song.

All in all, it's not a good report card. But I still have to recommend this album if you don't already have many of McLaren's hits. Duck Rockin' really just had two good songs on it (both of which are also on here) and a lot of experimental non-hip-hop junk. But this complies the few hits, and throws in some random bonuses like the Rakim mix and the random Krs One song. The CD booklet comes with trading cards you can cut out of all the album's personnel; so that's kinda fun. I mean, look, The World's Famous Supreme Team's album is definitely worthwhile, but as far as Malcolm McLaren himself? His hip-hop legacy can really be boiled down to just a tiny handful of 12"s, and all those songs right here on this CD (I think there's also a vinyl LP), so this album is as good a way as any to cop that stuff. And like everything McLaren gets involved with, it has a bunch of added curiosity value to at least keep you engaged.

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