Saturday, March 8, 2014

Verb, Luke and Devastator X's Secret Garden

Okay, you've just seen my Verb interview preview, and the full text piece is coming up. And I know Verb's catalog may seem small, though if you look through my past coverage of him you'll see I've been unveiling rare and hidden songs by him for a while. But there's still more generally unknown, obscure Verb cuts to be discovered that I thought I'd take this opportunity to point out. Several are tucked away on Luke's Greatest Hits album from 1996 on Lil Joe Records, one of the earliest releases from that label after they bought up Luke Records' back catalog.

I never picked this up back in the day because I already had his albums (plus it's not like I was ever a huge Luke fan). And the cover pretty strongly suggests that it just groups together songs from his three previous albums. But look at that blurb in the lower right hand corner: "Features 4 New Remixes and 4 New Songs Previously Not Released." That's the interesting stuff. And once I found out it included a heavy dose of Verb, I ordered it online.

Greatest Hits opens with a Special Edit of his biggest hit, "It's Your Birthday." Fortunately, this isn't counted as one of the four exclusive remixes, because it just the same album version minus the annoying intro where Luke sings "Happy Birthday" acapella. This is probably just a way to cheap out and save on publishing, since the "Happy Birthday" song is famously not in the public domain (Lil' Joe would continue to use this shorter edit on their future compilations and reissues); but frankly I'm happy to see it go anyway. It's just like a shitty, irritating skit tacked onto the front of the song.

The other non-new tracks are basically four of his singles up to the point of this album: "Breakdown," "I Wanna Rock" "Where Them Ho's At," and "Work It Out," plus the random In the Nude album track "Whatever." That's it; everything else on this album is new. Shit, if I'd realized that, I would've bought this album back when it came out.

So, let's look at the remixes now. All four remixes were made in 1996 by Mr. Mixx. That's a pretty big win - Mixx's production was definitely the biggest loss Luke Records suffered in the early 90s. Hearing him back on Luke's material now is pretty sweet, although I'm not sure he really put his all into these four mixes.

First up is "Dr. Dre Is a BXXXh AXX." You're probably thinking, wow, I've never heard of that song before! But it's really just a retitled "Cowards In Compton." Well, I mean, it's not just a retitling; it's an all new remix by Mr. Mixx, which is pretty interesting. He slows it down a bit and gives it a pretty minimal instrumental, with just a P-Funk noise sample and a very g-funky bassline and keys. They also add a new chorus with someone saying, "Dr. Dre is a bitch ass nigga... Suge Knight is a bitch ass nigga" in a deep, pitched down voice. It's... okay. The way it's kind of stripped down with the "Atomic Dog" effects is a good idea and should work on paper, but it feels under-cooked. I feel like if Mixx had spent another week toying with this, it could've been really dope; but as it is, it doesn't work. But it is at least cool to hear a song with Luke's real MCs (JT Money and Clayvoisie) on this album instead of just his generic shout and call party jams.

And that quality carries over to the next Mixx remix, "Head, Head and More Head (Pt. 1)," featuring KT Money and Jiggie Gee. It has kind of a similar remix style as "Dr. Dre," with a new bassline, and syrupy keys. The bassline is funkier here, though, and it's all a lot more upbeat and catchy, thanks in large part to the nature of the oiginal song. Still, it feels like Mixx is hung up on keeping up with the times and learning new production styles, as opposed to his earlier 80s work, which he was a deft master at.

The other two of Mixx's mixes are "Come On," another of his shout and call singles, and "The Hop," a random Freak for Life album track, also in the shout and call style. These aren't in the same style, and feel more like genuine alternate takes of these songs. Like, these could easily have been on the 12"s.

Finally, we cone the new songs. All four are produced by Devastator X (who'd worked with Luke even before the Luke/Lil Joe split on an earlier single edit of "I Wanna Rock"), and three of which feature Verb. The first is "Welcome To Club Hell," a busy, hyper track full of sirens and samples, cuts by Devastator and Kool Dee Jay Flex, and Verb doing some fresh fast raps to keep the pace."Dance" is similar, though a little less hectic, and also features Devastator on the mic. He's chiefly a producer, but has rapped on his own records and with MC ADE. He's fun and has an engaging voice, but he sounds a little too old school on these more modern tracks - a little fish out of water.

Anyway, these songs are barely Luke songs; I strongly suspect he never actually had a hand in creating any of them. They basically just sample his voice for hooks and background. That's probably more of a pro than a con; but I think we'd be even better off if they were allowed to drop the pretense of these being Luke songs and just making the best songs they could on their own. But... I guess you can't be mad at a Luke Greatest Hits album holding to every song at least being Luke-related.

So the last two songs are "Bounce/ Rock the Beat," which again features the pair of them and has X more adeptly kicking a fast, modern flow. I think his vocals may've been artificially sped up a bit, but still. The other song, then, is "Lipstick On My DXXk," a Devastator X solo cut, though it actually has the most Luke samples on it and sounds the most like an actual Luke song. It's kinda funny that you can actually make whole Luke songs without Luke's actual involvement. It's just a formula anyone could assemble with the right studio equipment.

Overall, this album is a pretty boring listen with way too much shout and call junk. I mean, it beats the average Luke album in that it's not full of long skits, tedious talking "songs" and other album filler he always padded his album with. And the shout and call songs work instrumentally, as their great showcases for his various producers to make rich and lively megamixes. I mean, listen to "I Wanna Rock" and block out Luke and his frat boys blurting out "doo doo brown" constantly, and it's actually a fantastic hip-hop instrumental mix that just needs a little extra scratching or actual verses to fill in the gaps. But Luke isn't a DJ or a rapper, so he could never hold a whole album, even his greatest hits.

BUT, also like all his other albums, there are enough guest appearances and good producers working overtime to make the albums worth picking up for more serious fans who are willing to skip through 75% of the albums to find the exclusive highlights. Nothing here is as great as the highlights on his official albums were - the new stuff here is definitely the skimpy budget version of those. Mr. Mixx's remixes are alright, but disappointing enough for even Mixx fans to skip over, and the Devastator X and Verb songs are better, but again would've been better off without having to shoe-horn in Luke. This project definitely feels like what it is - a miserly money grab. But I think the new songs are worth it if you can get this cheap, which you definitely can. And it's hard not to want this alternate Dr. Dre diss, even when you know it's going to be underwhelming.

1 comment:

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