Monday, April 29, 2013

Lost Portals To Secret Realms

Where IS it? Damn it. Way back in 2010, Creative Juices Music released a sampler album with a couple very tantalizing songs by UG of the Cella Dwellas. "Taken from the forthcoming album: Portals," it said. Wow, not only were we finally getting the first solo full-length from UG, but after listening tot he songs, it was clear he was reclaiming his crazily creative  mystical style! By 2011, Portals was being announced all over the blogosphere... videos of UG in the studio were posted... it had (and still has) a "coming soon" page on ughh. They even had an exact date - May 17th. Creative Juices had it listed on their website and every email blast if you were on their mailing list. It was there... and there... and there... It was there all the way until Spring of 2012, when it wasn't there anymore.

Well, I contacted Creative Juices and asked them about it. They gave this disappointing reply, "Since its been there for over a year we decided to take it down until we knew more about what was going on. Thanks."

If you look at Creative's output from 2010-2012, UG was all over it. He's got mad cameo verses and guest spots. He had a couple more songs on their second sampler album in 2012. That album unfortunately didn't specify which projects each song was from, so it's hard to say if any were intended for Portals or just guest spots... Well actually, "We Not Playing" wound up on an Ide album. Even one of the "taken from Portals" songs from the first sampler, "Scripts and Scrolls" eventually wound up being placed on Ide & Alucard's latest album.

Remember the announced return of the Cella Dwellas, too? Where they were doing a reunion album with Nick Wiz? They had a video and everything. It's been a long time since we heard anything about that, too.

Did UG just disappear? His twitter hasn't been updated since 2001. It feels like the UG appearances we were seeing by 2012 were stuff recorded for Portals and Creative Juices just stuck them on other projects rather than let them go to waste. I mean, look at that ad. The album was to be produced by Ide and feature Ill Bill... then there's a song with UG and Ill Bill on Ide's Rite of Passage album? That's gotta be a Portals song. Dude could've dropped off long before his material quit dropping.

And it's especially frustrating because Portals seemed so right for him. Creative Juices has great production that's perfectly suited for UG's voice and exotic lyrical content. I mean, let's face it, some of their core artists are really just guys emulating UG's lyric-writing. But he was still the master. The stuff we heard of him on CJ was some of the best we've heard from him since the Dwellas first came out in the early 90s. Were some of his 12"s or mixtapes a little below par through the late 80s and early 2000s? Yeah, okay. But this album was setting to become a return to form... and that's not just speculation, because we got to hear some of it. Granted, I would've preferred a Necro-produced beat for UG than a verse for his album; but overall this was going to be a great album.

So where is he? Where's Portals? I'd start calling hospitals, except I'm starting to think those calls should've been made back in 2011. But seriously, I want answers. Somebody must know something.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Obscure Debut of Rick Ross

Before I begin today's post, I'd just like to point out that I managed to resist the urge to title this entry: The Young & Rossless. You're all welcome.
 
Rick Ross blew up off of the song "Hustlin'." It came out independently on Slip N Slide and Poe Boy Entertainment in 2005, and that's what got him signed to Def Jam. They gave it a much wider release in 2006, Ross dropped his first album, and love him or hate him, you all know the rest after that. You surely also knew he was working as a prison guard before he blew up, because that story was broadcast any and everywhere until the press finally caught on that nobody cared. But he was also doing music for years before "Hustlin'." A quick look at discogs, and you'll see he has credits going back to 2002, including appearances on albums by Trick Daddy, Cognito, Cash Money Millionaires, and Trina's song from the All About the Benjamins soundtrack. But he actually goes even a bit farther back than that; his origins actually date back to being put on by one of the Young & Restless.

Young & Restless broke up after their second album (though they had plans to come together for a reunion album at one point); but both members stayed in the game. Dr. Ace put out solo records under the names Da Real One ("U Like Pina Coloada" on La Face) and Mr. Charlie, and became the front man for Southern Conference. And Prince P. scored a solo hit with "Give Me '50 Feet" (the "boom boom skeet skeet" song), before recording his debut full-length in 2001, The Power of Dollars. And that album features not one, but two songs (plus a skit) with guest verses by the then unknown Rick Ross. Yeah, P.O.D. put him on. Notice how Ross's first 12" of "Hustlin'" came out on Poe Boy Entertainment? Well, that's the label P.O.D. came out on; he was their lead artist and the first album they produced. In fact, the guy who ran Poe Boy (and still does... Flo Rida is their main artist now), E-Class, was P.O.D.'s producer all the way back on "50 Feet." Eventually, E-Class became Ross's manager and started the bidding war that ended with Ross being a major artist on Def Jam.

So, Rick Ross is on two songs here, you say? If you've got this CD in your hands, I couldn't blame you for being confused. The track-listing names some of the guests, but not others. They even leave out the most famous guest star at the time, Trick Daddy ...though as you see, he's mentioned on the front cover. So yes, don't let the incomplete credits fool you; he's on two songs (plus a skit).

The first song is "Wise Guys," a mafia-themed gangsta track just like its title suggests... not so much P.O.D.'s element (though I believe a major goal of this album was to show that he was versatile), but it's pure Rick Ross. It also features Brisco, who's still down with Ross to this day. It's a decent song, with an energetic and engaging, sample-free beat, and each MC bringing a fast and furious flow. P.O.D. actually comes the tightest lyrically, but Ross gets attention with his commanding voice. Disappointingly, though, some of the rhymes mumble their way into the depths of the sound-mix, and it has a hook about how they don't have a hook, which is the same stupid thing Shaq did in 1994, only worse, because this is a more distinct and refined, clearly delineated rhyming hook. It's still a good listen, though, and sure to please any Ross fan. I mean, who but Ross would come up with a diss like "ya little jet ski bums?" Some enunciation, or at least printed lyrics in the booklet, would've gone a long way, though.

Even better, though, is the next one, which is either titled "Somethings Going On" or "Something Going On." See? I told you the track-listing was messed up. Anyway, after a short skit with Rick calling the Prince on his phone ("this is Ricky with a 'Y;' what's goin' on?"), a massive, massive beat drops in. Produced by Spida Man, who also did "Wise Guys," it's one of the ultimate examples of Miami-style sample-free production, with deep bass, kicking drums, spacey key riffs and fake but powerful horns. An uncredited girl sings an ultra-catchy hook, plus subtle background work for the verses by P.O.D., Trick Daddy and Rick Ross. This song's not so much on the gangsta tip, though of course Ross can't help himself: The other two MC's are just coolly boasting about their lifestyles as rappers, "Ain't no caviar dealers for the Daddy Dollars; I'd rather eat chicken wings and collards. I'd rather drive my Impala, smoke and pop bottles; King of Miami, me, Mister Dollars. I be thinkin' 'bout runnin' for mayor, boy; look here. If I win that shit change 'round here!" It's just one of those songs you can put on repeat and listen to over and over.

"Something(s) Going On" was eventually discovered by Complex Mag, which listed it as one of The Top 50 Miami Rap Songs (also click there for an audio sample). But it appears nobody on the internet has figured out that Ross actually debuted on two songs here; and both are hot. This is what lead to his collaborations with Trick Daddy, Trina and those guys, his management, and the take off of his whole career. I'm not sure what led to P.O.D. dropping out of the picture just as everything was taking off, however. I keep hoping to at least see Ross throw him on a posse cut.

Update 4/29/13: Whoa! It turns out Ross's career actually dates even farther a little back than I realized. As has been most helpfully pointed out in the comments, Ross is featured under the name Teflon da Don on Erick Sermon's Erick Onasis album on Dreamworks from 2000. Seeing the track-listing back in the day, most of us probably just assumed it was that Teflon guy who was down with MOP, but there's no question it's our guy. We all know Rick often refers to himself as the Teflon don, and he shouts out his Carol City Cartel on the track. Plus, his voice and style are just unmistakably the Ross we know today. The song itself, entitled "Ain't Shhh To Discuss," is, eh, okay - definitely underwhelming compared to the P.O.D. tracks. The production is mellower and kinda limp, Ross's verse is pretty solid but the other guys really aren't bringing their A game here. It's absolutely notable as Ross's debut, but otherwise I wouldn't rate it much above album filler.

I never picked up this album back in the day (hence the cameo slipping under my radar, I suppose); I just grabbed the 12" with Slick Rick and ran... too many ill-advised east/west collabos with Eazy-E, DJ Quik, Xzibit, Too $hort (again!) and Suave House Productions. Nothing against those artists; but their styles were just to divergent to mesh well with the Def Squad's. And if you're wondering what the heck a then completely unknown Rick Ross is doing on an Erick Sermon album, that last collaboration explains it. "Ain't Shhh" was produced by Suave House; and any Ross fan can tell you about Rise To Power. That's the Ross album that came out after Port of Miami, but featured older, unreleased material he recorded for Suave House years before. In fact, you'll notice the third guy on this track, Noah, is also featured on a couple Rise To Power numbers. So it makes sense when you connect the dots.

This revelation had me going through my old Suave House tapes looking for even older Teflon appearances; but even though I'm far from having everything on that label (not that much of a fan, TBH) I really think this is it this time. ...Or is it? Will someone turn up a Rick Ross verse from - gasp! - the 90s?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Yvette's Revenge

THE LEGEND

To tell the story of Yvette's Revenge, we have to get into the history of Yvette. Both Grandmaster Caz of The Cold Crush Brothers and LL Cool J dropped songs about a girl named Yvette in 1985. I think some people think of LL Cool J's coming first, because he was the bigger artist on what would become a major label (Def Jam), and it may actually have been released first. But Caz's record, on Tuff City, was just the latest (not the last, as we'll see later) step on a long road for his "Yvette" song. It's a classic rap \of his that he'd regularly break out at shows back in the day. If you want a more concrete confirmation, just check out the Cold Crush album All the Way Live In '82, which features Caz performing this song right at the end. 'It just so happened that the year Caz finally preserved it on wax was the year LL featured his take on his debut album, Radio. And there's no question LL would've been familiar with Caz's version; he's always name-checked Caz as a major influence whenever the question arose, and even featured Caz on his last album. I'm sure LL's song was meant to be a follow-up, really an answer record, to Caz's.

Caz's song is a fun, light-hearted narrative rap about what happens when he hooks up with a girl. It was possibly the number one punchline rap back in the day... I won't spoil it here (go listen to it if you've never heard it), and I'm sure it doesn't hold up as strongly today now that the novelty value of surprising punchlines has long faded from hip-hop; but hearing it for the first time back in the early 80's was a real "holy shit!" moment. And probably more importantly, it's a precursor to these girl story raps, a la "Roxanne, Roxanne," "Evon Is On," "Oh Sally," etc. Sure, by the time Tuff City actually got it out there, it wasn't so ground-breaking. But again, if you think back to when Caz first started doing it, that was ground-breaking. Furious Five, Soulsonic, Sugarhill Gang... none of those guys had anything like that. The opening verse of Spoonie Gee's "Love Rap" is really thing I can think of that got into the same territory back then; but he changes course after that first part.

So anyway, LL's song is a response, a sort of open letter to this girl named Yvette who he heard (from Caz's song, right?) that she gets around. I've seen it described as a message song about teenage promiscuity, but let's face it; it's really an excuse to come up with lots of funny ways to call a girl a slut: "They say you're a man-eater during the full moon - mascot of the senior boys' locker room. They said Yvette walked in, there wasn't too much rap, her reputation got bigger, and so did her gap." You've really got to have your Apologist's cap on tight to try to spin it as a positive song for girls; but this was young LL making a young record for an equally young audience. Nobody bought this tape in '85 looking for a feminist manifesto.

But here's where it all starts to come together... While, like I said, the original "Yvette" easily pre-dates "Roxanne, Roxanne" and clearly inspired it, the Yvette records didn't come out until the infamous Roxanne Wars were in full swing. Roxanne Shanté, The Real Roxanne, Sparky D and dozens of novelty acts were already hip deep in answer records .So to have a pair of major rap records, one mainstream and one underground, with a new girl's name on it, you know a new female rapper had to come out of the woodwork, adopt the name, and make an answer record as a vehicle to jump start her own career!

THE DISS

Introducing E-Vette (presumably because they figured kids looking for records by Yvette would look under 'E'?) Money, coming out of Philadelphia in 1986 with her version of "Roxanne's Revenge," naturally titled "E-Vette's Revenge" on Slice Records... the same label that put out "Do the Roxanne" by Doctor Rocx and Co. With her DJ, Kydd Freshh, E-Vette makes it perfectly clear who she's responding to and why, "Mr. Cool J, I heard you wrote me a letter. I wasn't gonna answer it, but then I thought I better. E-Vette, that's me. Cool J, you'll see that no one gets away from what you said about me!"

"E-Vette's Revenge" features big, programmed drums with almost the same pattern as LL';s, but a lot more echo-y. And the hook is delivered in the exact same cadence and style as LL's, with a chorus of girls instead of guys, changing "dear... Yvette, dear Yvette. Dear Yvette, Dear... E... Vette" to "You'll... regret, what you said. You'll regret, fuck them, Yvette!" Yeah, for all its suggestive talk, LL's song is free of any curse-words; but not Yvette's, she curses all over her diss. "I really don't know how this shit began, but to clarify this letter, I will - goddamn! First, not last, I will say this: LL Cool J, you know where to kiss!" She even goes in on his crew:

"I remember the time I first met ya, L;
Downstairs of the lobby of a damn hotel.
You, Cut Creator, Rick and Earl
Was explainin' to the world why you don't like girls.
'Guys fuck better!' you said real loud,
And suddenly, J, you attract a crowd.
Pretty pink men in their pink pleather pants
Dragged you and Cut Creator by the ass for a dance.
The lights went down, not a moment too soon,
And suddenly it got real hot in the room!
I heard a few moans and some voices said [or something. Those last couple words are hard to make out],
'LL Cool's gay so we fucked 'im from the back'!"

Pretty much her whole song boils down to denouncing LL as gay. Sure, she's basically just replacing misogyny with homophobia; but you've clearly gotten lost if you've come to these records expecting anything P.C. This is the 80s, these are teens, and these are some pretty hardcore diss records. Get the stick out and enjoy!

There's a couple versions on this 12": Vocal, Dub and Street. The Vocal version is actually a clean version with altered vocals... for example, "downstairs of the lobby of a damn hotel" becomes "downstairs of the lobby of The Hilton hotel." The Street mix on side B, then, is the dirty version. And the Dub is pretty self explanatory, but it's worth listening to just once because there's some guy on there (Kydd Freshh?) constantly calling LL an asshole and other profanities during practically the whole mix.

THE AFTERMATH

So, of course the Yvette saga didn't quite explode like the Roxanne sage, but there were a couple more entries in later years. In 1991, Grandmaster Caz hooked up with Malcolm McLaren and the Worlds Famous Supreme Team to re-record "Yvette" as a single on Virgin Records. It's got a crazy hook, totally different instrumental track and an all new title, but it's the same rap. This time they called it "Romeo and Juliet" because they were making a Shakespeare-themed record (if that sounds weird, it was - read the whole story of that project here). And Master Ace recorded his own answer record, also called "Dear Yvette" for his 2001 album, Disposable Arts  It's kind of the anti-promiscuity sermonizing some people pretended the LL song was.

And just like Shanté, Roxanne, and Sparky, E-Vette (as well as Icey Jaye, The Ghetto Girlz, Salt N Pepa, Anquette, etc etc) did use the attention garnered from her debut answer record as a springboard to record more, unrelated records of her own. She dropped a couple more 12"s on Slice before getting signed to 4th and Broadway Records. They put out one single on her in 1988, but her album never came out. She hung in the industry for a while longer (she has a verse on Lorenzo Smith's first album, way before he was with Luke); but unless she changed her name, that's the end of the story. You couldn't really count on a second Roxanne-level phenomenon. But if nothing else, we got a fun, early LL Cool J diss record out of it that's definitely worth keeping in the back of your crates.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

From Dopeland To Jersey; What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

Almost any other record would be eclipsed by this story. Pretty much an exact year ago, GoodFelons Records announced one of their most exciting upcoming projects, Kev E Kev and Ak B's Welcome To Dopeland. GoodFelons was a good little label that was releasing limited vinyl of some exotic, old school hip-hop that never got the proper vinyl treatment back in the day. You may remember my review of that sweet Mood EP last year, that packed their first two 12"s with some previously unreleased bangers. Well, this may've been their most desirable release yet, so a lot of us heads quickly pre-ordered and waited... and waited... and waited.

The release date was pushed back. Okay, that shit happens. Then it was pushed back again. Then the label stopped replying to emails or posting updates on their facebook or twitter. People who'd ordered other records never got their wax. There were rumors... one of the guys who ran the label wasn't returning the other guy's calls... Donte (of Mood) announced that he never got paid... Hurricane Katrina possibly messed up their computers... there was a crazy mafia drug connection?!  Seriously, click here, then here, spot the common name and draw your own conclusions.

Whatever the Hell had gone on behind the scenes, the Goodfelons' store closed, everyone who'd paid was out some serious cash and worst of all, this fantastic and important piece of art was lost to the world. But enterprising diggers have an amazing knack for connecting with their precious vinyl, which must never be underestimated. The record plant that pressed the vinyl was discovered, and what's more, the Welcome To Dopeland EPs were there! In a box, waiting to be paid for.by the MIA head of Goodfelons. They wouldn't sell them to us, the people who'd already paid for their records, but at least they existed; they were somewhere in the world, so there was hope we might eventually see them.

Well, after some frantic lawyering, Kev E Kev was able to wrestle the records free and into the secure - and overseas - arms of Diggers With Gratitude. And faster than anyone could say, "throw me the idle; I throw you the whip," they got the records into the arms of us who'd been dying for them since last April. It would have to be a pretty damn good record to be worth all of that, wouldn't it?  Well, thankfully and impressively, I can now say: this baby was worth it.

This here is the definitive Kev E Kev and Ak B record. Label-mates of Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud, these guys released two highly regarded 12"s ("Listen To the Man" and "Keep On Doin'") in the late 80s - both of which are included here. Like their DNA International brethren, this features that brilliantly crisp and funky sounds of Paul C, who mixed, engineered and co-produced just about everything on here.

But this release goes far beyond just re-issuing their classic singles. It also features four, previously unreleased Kev E Kev and Ak B tracks, all also produced by Paul C. And three of them are fantastic... I'm a bit soft on "Protected," which has Ak B kicking a different, smoother style over a boring lead sample. Kev's cuts definitely elevate matters, and it's a well written song... but I'd file that one under Good rather than Great. But the other three are everything you could hope for... the title track may actually be better than their known hits.

Oh, and that's not everything on here. Rounding out this EP is "Out for the Count," which originally appeared on Marley Marl's In Control vol. 2, which introduced Kev and Ak to an international audience. It's a banger that had us all hoping they'd be in the second wave Juice Crew roster. Oh, and it's not just the album version we all remember from 1991; it's a never-before-released Extended Mix.

And Goodfelons really did this release up right, too.  Limited to 350 copies, 75 copies were pressed red, 75 are yellow (yellow, which I went with because I thought it matched the label colors more) and the remaining 200 are standard black. The labels feature a fun rendition of the Goodfelons' name in the style of the old DNA logo, and as you see, it comes in a sweet picture cover. An even more limited (250 copies) Instrumental version was also released, in a sticker cover and pressed on wild "splatter" color vinyl.

Honestly, as proactively and doggedly as I've been following the story since day 1, I still don't know enough of what went on behind the scenes to say whether Goodfelons deserves the degree of ill will they've garnered from this mess. Were they just a little label that went bust because their reach exceeded their grasp, or a surprisingly aptly named criminal outfit? I understand that one of the guys from Goodfelons actually played a role in freeing these records from the label and getting them to Kev; and they obviously put this great project together in the first place. And I don't know if DWG has anymore room for goodwill after all they've amounted over the years, but if they do, they've certainly earned it with their efforts here. This is probably the end of the Goodfelons label, but looking at this record now, I think everyone involved with this record deserves a round of applause - it went on a heck of a wild journey, but came out as what we'll surely look back on as one of the top releases of the year.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Retail Ginacana Story

So, I've done a couple posts on Kool G Rap's somewhat infamous sixth album... The Unreleased Giancana Story, about all the mp3 leaks, The Other Giancana Story, about the bootlegged Rawkus version, and a post about "Holla Back," one of the best and most important tracks from the album. Well, today I'd like to touch on the actual, official, final version that was released by Koch in 2003. Because, while I can't exactly say it gets an unfair rap - most of the criticisms leveled against it are valid - it does have some under-appreciated qualities. And, much like pizza, sex and Ingmar Bergman films... even "bad" Kool G Rap albums are good.

The important thing to remember about this album is the position Koch was in when they released it. This was an album Rawkus had already dropped the ball on. They'd been dangling it in front of fans' faces for years, and then collapsed before they could actually release it. But not before, as my previous posts have detailed, it could leak online. In fact, it leaked more than once, with alternate track-listings as the album was still being worked on, and then re-worked on to address its commercial viability after the initial leaks. The hardcore Kool G Rap fans already had the bootleg double LP on wax. So what did they do?

They actually went about it exactly the way I would've hoped a label would.  Instead of just repressing the bootleg and calling it official, they went back through all of the G Rap's vaulted and focused on the as-yet unheard and unreleased material. Most labels would've just tried to sell us the same material we already had.  I know I wouldn't have bothered getting that. But no, Koch really took the right, commendable approach in my eyes, and dug up what we didn't already have. Sure, they kept the signature Giancana tracks... the biggest single, the amazing "Black Widow" track, his awesome Jinx duet and "Holla Back" (minus Nas, but I'm sure that's because they couldn't afford him, not because they somehow imagined the song would be better without him). You just couldn't call it The Giancana Story without those. But so much on the album, after being booted and leaked to high heaven, was new to our ears. They actually managed to put together another record that belonged in the collections of a G Rap in 2003.

Just think of it a Bootlegs and B-Sides compilation, a la Ice Cube. Yeah, the Rawkus version is easily the better of the two Giancana Story's... it's got the Premiere remix, the awesome track with CNN... If you only get one version of Giancana story, absolutely get that one. In fact, if you've heard the Koch version back in the days and were unimpressed, I recommend you go back and find the bootleg album; I think you'll be impressed.

...But if you really appreciate KGR, there's no reason to limit yourself to just one Giancana. This version features a couple of the earlier singles, like "Streets" and "My Life," which the Rawkus version for some reason left off, and eschews the lame Snoop collabo in favor of a far grittier team-up with Havoc called "Thug Chronicles," which features some amazing bars from the Kool Genius. It's got "It's Nothin'" with Joel Ortiz, though he only gets to do the hook because G Rap just can't stop spitting amazing lines long enough to pass the mic.

And yeah, there's some weaker stuff, too... "Fight Club" has G Rap and Ma Barker catering to some club styles of the time, and the production on "Drama" really doesn't live up to the MC. Even tracks with a more traditional NY-style, like "Thug for Life," are still pretty weak in the production department compared to the jewels he'd been blessed with from guys like Marley, Extra P and Sir Jinx throughout his career. But they're still preferable to songs we already owned, and like I was saying above... G Rap at his worst still easily outshines music recorded by most MCs at their best. And for every no-name produced track, there's another by Rockwilder, Mike Heron or Buckwild. I'll still take this out of my crates and spin it any day of the week.

Koch gave this a nice, double LP treatment, so there's not much to complain about. No, I wouldn't rate most of the material here alongside his classics, but I still wouldn't want to be without it. And I'm grateful Koch rescued some stuff from the vaults that otherwise surely would've gone forever unheard otherwise, second tier or not.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Youtube Vs. Werner and Fair Use Law

So I, or rather my Youtube channel, was just made the focus of a fairly extensive article on the site fairusetube.org. Apparently, Youtube has a hitherto unknown contract with UMG (Universal Music Group), and possibly other labels, to ignore DMCA counter-notifications regarding videos that involve their content.  And I was unlucky enough to be one of the first test-cases, I guess. In other words, Youtube is ignoring Fair Use law because labels are paying them to.

The article explains it much better than I am, so please, have a read. And if you don't know much about copyright law and how it applies to the 'net, DMCAs, etc, browse around the rest of the site; it's an excellent, educational resource.

Update! Torrentfreak.com has picked up the story. They interviewed me and did some more research on their own.  Check it out here. Hopefully, this leads to us getting some information, so people could know what YT will and won't support.

A second update! (I hope you brought your reading glasses): Techdirt has picked up the story, too.  You can read it here.

Lucky update #3: The Daily Dot just interviewed me for a new article covering the on-going story.  Check it out here. I don't really expect we'll convince Youtube or UMG to get right on this issue (though that would be great), but we should at least find out what these contracts are, who they're with, and which Fair Use videos Youtube won't protect as a consequence.

Howzabout a fourth update?: PCMag has picked up the story; you can read it here

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Force Is Slammin'

I appreciated Tha Grimm Teachaz project, and "Loco-Motive" was hot... but what if you're trapped in the 80s? Jurassic 5 was live, but they took it all the way back to the 70s. I know, you want that Sleeping Bag vibe. I know because so do I. Well, have I got the throwback rap project for the both of us: The Force Is Slammin' EP by Rime Force Most Illin'.

Rime Force Most illin' is the latest project from Sacred Hoop's Luke Sick, and partner in rhyme Rob Rush. Last summer, I posted about their Supalove prelude tape, which featured a DJ mix of a couple of their upcoming tracks on side A, and a live show on the flip. Well, the project they were building to is finally here, another killer cassette tape (of course!) release on Mega Kut. And, actually, it's pretty much all new material. I was expecting all the songs we heard on the mix side of Supalove to be here, just in full, unblended versions, but no. The original mp3 ("On Dope") they dropped on the 'net when they first announced the group is here; but otherwise, it's all different stuff on both tapes. We did hear live versions of some of these songs on side 2 of Supalove; but the tracks from the mix are all exclusive to that tape, so hope you picked that one up!

But if you did sleep on that tape, at least make sure you don't sleep on this one (and hey, you can still get the mp3s from their bandcamp), because this in no way disappoints. It's just a six-song EP; but it's so damn good, I'm kinda glad they didn't risk diluting it by adding five or six more songs. Now, the production credits aren't too clear... they tell us Fatees, Vrse Murphy, Proe, G-Pek and Rob Rush produced the tracks (and DJ Quest did the cuts), but they don't specify who did which ones (though I think I can guess one that Vrse did!). Regardless, for all the chefs involved, this tape has a more consistently old school feel than the Supalove tape. It's less a blending of the Gurp City and 80s style, and more like Rob and Luke just went back in time to record with The Tuff Crew.

The opener, "Biggest Party of the Century" is perhaps the best example. Constant cuts, hand claps, cowbell, familiar samples... but all crazy hardcore. And it ends with a perfect breakdown at the end where they declare, "now check out my boy as he imitates Prince," and Quest cuts up a signature guitar riff."Rime Force Most Illin'" has more of a west coast influence, and "We Get the Most Props" has a fast-paced rolling bassline that sounds like something DWG should be preserving. "On Dope" shakes things up with a bold, strident piano loop over its crackly drum track; and the title track has a great rudimentary, random rap feel to it. The only track that doesn't really fit the mold is "Rawhide," but you have to forgive it, because it's a masterpiece of instrumental and cinematic samples; one of those songs where as soon as it's over, you rewind it back because you just have to hear it again.

This limited edition tape is available for only $5 from rimeforcemostillin.com, and that includes a downloadable mp3 version as well, so there is really no reason for anyone not to get this. If we're chatting six months from now and you tell me this isn't in your collection, iw ill literally be disappointed in you. I'm tellin' you.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sheep Doggy Dogg

Well, it's April 1st! And you may be looking at the artwork to the right and thinking: nice one, Werner. But I must assure you: that is no April Fool's Day joke. "Give a Dog a Bone" by Sheep Doggy Dogg is a real single by a real artist that was really released in 1994. The artwork is obviously a play on that of Sheep's namesake, Snoop Doggy Dogg, who Joe Cool (Snoop's cousin) depicted as a similar cartoon dog on his early album covers (Doggystyle, plus the singles for "Gin & Juice" and "What's My Name"). Just in case you thought it might be, no, this cover art is not by the same person, but a guy named Jerry Sprankel.

A couple interesting things to note about this cover, though, before we move forward:

1) Sheep is depicted as a stripper on the cover. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions there.

2) There's a dog holding the "Sex & Money" sign; but that other sign, "It's Like This" is just floating in space. Look at it.

3) The whole thing is so damn silly, it feels like a parody record... but like it says right there on the cover, this is "the female answer to da Snoop Doggy Dogg." It's not a joke song riffing off his hit single, where instead of rhyming about loving gin and juice she professes a love of shepherding and docking. This is actually played straight.

I should point out now that Boomin' Records and Sheep Doggy Dogg are from Florida. Not that it sounds like a Miami bass thing; but that's probably because this is clearly a variation on "What's My Name?" It's actually pretty well done, in how it mirrors every element of Dr Dre's infamous instrumental but doesn't duplicate it. The drums, bass, keys... all clearly similar enough that they're meant to be recognized; but they're different enough that it's a distinctly different song. It's actually refreshing to hear something more original than the "Atomic Dog" drums again, so I've gotta give props. A pleasant surprise.

The hook's not quite so impressive. Part of it's a 90's style shout chorus, where they flip Dre's line to "bow wow wow, yippie yo, yippie yay, Sheep Doggy Dogg's in the motherfucking house." And the rest is some guy named Paul Hawthorne singing a variation of the "What's My Name?" hook. But this guy comes nowhere near the Funkadelic-style chorus of the original, it sounds like the worst budget knock-off you could wind up with. It's not so bad that it ruins the song, per se, but it definitely makes it less fun than it otherwise would've been.

And the rhymes?  Well, Sheep takes the song pretty earnestly, sort of coming off like a Lady of Rage-lite.  But she also keeps name-checking herself, which causes a schism: we can call you Sheep Doggy Dogg or we can take you seriously, but we can't do both. It seems like maybe everybody wasn't on the same page here. She's not being funny, and she's also not dissing Snoop, though she's referencing him and his record constantly. It's like half the team was making a novelty answer record, and the other half was trying to establish Sheep Doggy Dogg as a legitimate artist, laying down the groundwork for a long-term career. But again, you really cant do both at the same time; it just comes off as a knock-off who's taken copying a hit artist's sound to a whole new level of rip-off.

Now, I'm showing you the cassingle above, but there is also a 12", minus the picture cover. The track-listing is the same for both. including a Radio Edit (which does not edit out the curses), Extended Radio, and Bow Wow Wow Mix (basically a TV Track) of the main track. There's also a B-side, "It's Like This (Live)," which features two of her label mates, Def-Soul and LSD, who produced this single. They're basically just advertising their own album, Nigga Bass, over Scarface's "A Minute To Pray and a Second To Die" instrumental. Sheep isn't even on it. And it's also not really live; they just loop some fake crowd sounds over the whole song. LSD adds some nice cuts on the hook, though.

Sheep actually followed this up with a full-length album, Doggystyle Funk, also on Boomin'.  This features both songs from the single (there is no non-"live" version of "It's Like This"). It also features songs with titles like "Dear Bitch," "Get a Job Bitch," "Don't Ask Me 4 Shit" and "Deep Money." I do have it, and in short... the quality seems to have dipped after the single. There's too many guests (including DJ Spankx, of "Tryin' To Get Paid Like Luke" fame); Sheep's on less than half the album(!); and nobody's verses are compelling enough to hold your attention when they're not connected to Snoop, which basically none of this album is. There's a song called "F**k Snoop Dogg," but it's a false promise - it's really just an unfunny skit. The best songs are an instrumental megamix called "Gangsta Groove" and "Child Support Blues," with a liberal but effective use of a Stylistics classic, some nice cuts, piano and a good topic; but the rapping is too basic and clumsy. What I suspect is that they just recorded the single as a one-off; but then found stores were interested in a full album. So they just quickly threw something together using a bunch of random left-over recordings and outtakes they had in the studio.

Surprisingly, though, Sheep's story goes a lot deeper. She actually made a record years before, in 1991, as the front-woman for Operation Panic, called "Ring On My Finger" (also produced by LSD). What's more, she's then changed her name to Red Sonya, and is still doing her thing to this day. Here's her facebook and her youtube. If you search around, you'll see she's put out tons of stuff on CDBaby, Datpiff, Itunes, myspace, etc over the years. In a few more years, she may turn out to be the longest lasting female MC in the genre - wouldn't that be a heck of an April Fool's surprise?