Friday, October 11, 2013

Rakim's Buffalo

Malcolm McLaren's released a bunch of albums, singles and compilations, all built around very few actual songs. And of all the songs he's remixed and re-released over the years, the most egregious example is easily his biggest hit, "Buffalo Gals." There's about two dozen 12" pressings, plus it was featured as a B-side on his other singles "Double Dutch," "Hobo Scratch" and "Would You Like More Scratchin'." And there were a couple different mixes on those 12"s - like the awful Trad. Square Mix, which basically turns it into a straight out and out country square dance tune [seriously, avoid that one], the Special Scratch version, and even the song "Hobo Scratch" itself made liberal use of "Buffalo Gals."

On The World's Famous Supreme Team's classic "Hey DJ" Divine sings the chorus to "Buffalo Gals" until Just stops his partner, saying, "no, no, no! See, man, That's our last record. That's already been a hit!" How ironic; they clearly had no idea what was in McLaren's future. He featured it on his main album Duck Rock, which you'd expect, but then he also included another version called "Buffalo Love" on his second album Swamp Thing. He reprised it some more on 1986's "Duck Rock Cheer" and on his third album, Round the Outside! Round the Outside!, he made "Buffalo Gals II (Remix)."

Finally, by the mid-90's, he seemed to have worked it out of his system. He was releasing orchestral jazz music in France, singing [terribly] in a mix of French and English; and the words "buffalo" "scratchin'" or "World's Famous Supreme Team Show" were nowhere to be heard. He didn't have to keep recycling the same song - he finally had a new thing going on.

But those albums didn't seem to really sell [seriously, it was his singing], and that phase eventually ended. He put out a couple little house records but I guess he eventually had to stop and ask himself: what will sell? "Buffalo Gals," of course! So in 1998, he signed to Virgin Records and put out this record. "Buffalo Gals." Updated again.

But if you want to sell a sixteen year-old song to a modern audience, I guess the move is to enlist the artists who are hot at the time. And Rakim was pretty hot. He was right at the peak of his post-Eric B solo career, having just released The 18th Letter and The Master just around the corner. "Guess Who's Back" drummed up a lot of fanfare and "It's Been a Long Time" was killing it on the radio thanks to DJ Premiere. Even Suave House put out their own version. Rakim was the man to get and McLaren got him, not just as an MC... but as a producer?

Yeah, Rakim raps on AND produces "Buffalo Gals (Back To Skool) (Rakim Mix) [two sets of parentheses?]." And you'd be right Rakim had never produced anything up 'till now. I mean, yeah, he's credited as a producer on "Juice (Know the Ledge)," and you might well say that's more than enough credential; but we all know The Bomb Squad (who're credited as remixers) made that track what it is.

But, with that said, it's not bad. It's remaking the original, so naturally much of the work was already done for him, as a lot of the major instrumental elements are carried over. What he mainly does with the track is slows it down considerably and lays in a thick, smooth bassline and some subtle, background keyboard tones. In other words, he turns it into the kind of beat you'd expect to hear Rakim on. Even the hook features cuts of his own voice from "Eric B Is President."

The rest of the hook is Rakim updating the original "Buffalo Gals" chorus. He changes:

"It's a pity that you're so dirty;
You're only dancing just to be friendly.
So pretty you drive me loco.
You're so silly you make me blush so-oh!"


"You dress jiggy and you're so pretty.
Are you dancin' just to get wit me?
You're so jiggy, your style's original.
You're so pretty, your style's addictable."

Somehow Rakim makes "addictable" work, even though he's making up a word just to force a rhyme. After all, this is the man who brought us the lyric, "hello, good lookin'. Is this seat tooken?" But that's entirely too much "jiggy," especially since he repeats the chorus a few times. 1998 WAS the year Will Smith released "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It;" but I was really hoping Rakim would've risen above it.

But once the first chorus is over, we can get to the rapping. Yeah, smooth beat, Rakim's deep, serious voice... wait a minute. That doesn't sound exactly like his voice. No, actually the first verse is by somebody else, and if you look deep into the fine print, underneath the credits for the engineer, mixer and assistant, you'll see there's rapper credited: Hassan 7. As far as I've been able to tell, this is his only project. Now, maybe I'm being unfair here; but I honestly suspect that they're seriously trying to pass this off as a Rakim solo song; and they've got this guy doing his best Rakim-like flow so you don't realize they only got Rakim for one verse. Serious fans will recognize it's not his voice, but I'm sure nine out of ten casual listeners have no idea that it isn't Rakim there, and I'm pretty sure that's the idea.

So Hassan's verse is okay, but never manages to reach interesting. And once Rakim comes on for the second verse, you can really hear the difference in quality. his flow, the way he parses his rhymes... he's not saying anything more than "I like to dance with girls," but he says it so damn well. He's a real pro and his verse here is actually tighter than a lot of his later material. The cuts, which aren't terribly athletic, but just a nice, simple blending of "Buffalo Gals" and "Eric B Is President," add a lot. I actually have to really recommend this track. I mean, you could totally skip that first verse; but overall this is worth seeking out.

Also on this 12" is the original version of "Buffalo Gals," which was nice to have on there just to catch up younger audiences who didn't already have it in their crate. And there's another new version - this one called ""Buffalo Gals Stampede B-Gals Stampede." This is a Eurodance mix by Roger Sanchez. It mostly uses the original, but does also bring in pieces of Rakim's version. It's pretty bland and forgettable except for one thing. It's got scratching my Company Flow's Mr. Len; and he's actually getting pretty busy on the tables almost from beginning to end. He really comes off nice on this, so I recommend you listen to this track at least once just for that. But you probably won't revisit it much after that, because it's still basically a boring dance mix apart from that.

Overall, it's a pretty weird release, flawed but not bad and surprisingly catchy. What else would you expect from Mr. McLaren?

1 comment:

  1. I remember a few years back Hassan, was being promoted as one of Rakim's artists or recent signees, I remember thinking it was random since Hassan was based in Seattle and couldnt find anything on Rakim signing artists , now searches turn up nothing