Friday, May 23, 2014


Today I'm going to take a long-deserved look at (the only) two singles by The Rumpletilskinz. To put it dismissively, The Rumpletilskinz were The Leaders Of the New School protege "weed carrier" group. They made their first appearance on LONS's debut album, and came back again on their second. In between that time they were signed - let's face it - largely off the Leaders' buzz and released one album, What Is a Rumpletilskin?, which had these two singles. When the Leaders split, they 'Skinz were dropped and they were never heard from again. Well, collectively. There were a couple indie solo 12"s.

[Note: for the following five paragraphs - the indented blue ones - I go on kind of a rant on their name. It makes this post pretty long and is probably a little self-indulgent. So, it's up to you; but if you're not feeling it, you might want to skip down to where the formatting returns to normal for a more concise, solid read.]
I always thought these guys - Jeranimo, LS, Sha-Now and RPM - had one of the dumber group names in rap history.  I mean, first of all taking the name from a children's fairy tale character Rumpelstiltskin to a group whose angle seemed to be that they were the harder, "realer" version of LONS, which was more mainstream with their more fun and cartoonish personalities. Dinco was more upbeat, Busta was wild and eccentric and Charlie Brown was Charlie Fuckin' Brown. These guys brought more of a darker, slightly Onyx-ier tone to the music. And again, continuing with what's becoming the theme of the week for me: purer journeymen rap artists as opposed to their more colorful, media playing counterparts.

I mean, it always kinda made me wince when hip-hop groups started getting marketed to kids like Ninja Turtle toys, where each member has one defining, identifiable personality trait each. Genius is the leader, like Leonardo, Method Man is the angry one, like Raphael, ODB is Michelangelo, and so on. Then, they'd take on new personas when the first ones had already sold through... Meth became "Johnny Blaze," RZA became "Bobby Digital." Just like when the original wave of Batman figures had gotten old, so they'd release a second line with "Winter Knight Batman" in a white suit with skis or "Deep Sea Batman" with a Blue Suit and scuba gear. I'm going off on a real tanget here, so I'll reel it back in and get back to the Skinz. But you know what I mean, right? You've seen it. That's rap marketing, and it was at its worst, I think, in the 90s.

So, first of all, it's already hard trying to explain to your friends that you're buying a tape buy a crew named after Rumpelstiltskin because they're hard and real. Plus, there's the whole weak, lack of originality in modern hip-hoppers' penchant for taking their names from pop culture... I'm a fan of the Cella Dwellas, but I've always had to admit it was cheesy that they took their name from a silly Charles Band flick about a killer comic book and their individual names from another 70s horror flick and the silly bounty hunter from space in the Critters movies. What? What? was a silly name, and I can understand her impulse to change it as she got a little older, but Jean Grae naming herself after an X-Men comic is actually a slight step down in my opinion. And taking your name from drug dealers and foreign dictators isn't much better. I mean, what happened to naming yourself based on some aspect of yourself? And HOLY CRAP, I'm even further off on another tangent. So, reeling it back in again, because I really do have a lot to get to about The 'Skinz still.

So, okay, they're named after who they're named after, no more about that. But then on top of that, they're applying the "intentional misspelling" schtick to it, where you can't be sure they're doing it because they're just trying to show you how hip-hop they are, or if they just didn't know the proper spelling. And this was in '91/'93, you can't argue that they were doing it for SEO. But no, it didn't really get dumb until you heard their explanation for the name (thought up by Busta Rhymes, apparently). It might've been a bit clever if they were saying that they spun gold out of their lyrical wordplay, just like their namesake from the fairy tale. But no, according to their interview in The Source magazine (October '93 issue), it's actually meant to be read as a three word phrase. LS explained, "The beats are 'rump.' They're chunk fat 'rump.' It won't stop 'til' death. It's definitely deeper than the 'skin,' and the z makes it plural." Then Jeranimo (also a poor name choice) elaborated, "Everybody wants to be 'rump,' you know what I'm sayin'? Rump is a form of ghetto terminology for being the best at what you can do. 'Til death' means I love my music and I'm striving for longevity. 'Skin deep' because it's in the heart. It's sacred." See how the logo on the cover above helpfully separates the "Til" so you can see it as three words?

But apparently everybody loved this concept and was fully on board with using it as their name. I mean, they didn't even just use the name and move forward, they made it a huge issue. Their album was titled What Is a Rumpletilskin? and it opened with a minute long skit talking about the meaning of their name. Look at that 12" cover again. A big question mark is popping out of his cup thing because you're supposed to be wondering about the mystery of their name. It's one thing to have kind of a hokey name and keep it moving, but they're trying really hard to make you think about it constantly. That had to have worked against them, career-wise.

But moving past the questionable nature of their name, I actually think these guys deserved more, because they did some really nice work here. "Attitudes" is my favorite of the two. The production is pitch perfect, dark but not too moody, jazzy but not too fancy, with varying riffs from horns that sound like they've been stepped on and flattened. It's subtle and just sounds really good.  And they just landed on a really good concept for a song, with the hook that simply repeats, "My attitude is fucked up ...and real shitty!" I mean, I don't quite understand why it's titled "Attitudes" rather than "My Attitude," but whatever. It just captures that raw, rebellious attitude of youth music by ironically quoting what's surely been repeated to them their whole adolescent lives and turning it into an anthem. Everyone can relate to that... it just works perfectly as a hook. And while lyrically, their goal seems to be to pack their verses with as little substance as possible - I think they idea is that they're displaying their bad attitudes, but it doesn't really come off as much more than random rhyming words loosely strung together - it's refreshing to hear a more straight-forward, rugged alternative version of the LONS style.

The only disappointing aspect of this single is that there's not much to it. You get the Original Mix, a Clean Version and the Instrumental; and that's it. On the one hand, it does come in a pretty cool picture cover, but then again the comic book-style monster drawing gives the whole thing a high school horrorcore vibe that really doesn't fit the song at all.

Their second single I only have on CD-single, as you can see; but whichever version you get, it increases its value by having an exclusive remix not featured on the album. But, on the other hand, it's not as good a song. This one is called "Is It Alright?" It features the same kind of strained jazzy production, which, like all their other material, is handled but the 'Skinz own RPM. I'm surprised he didn't continue on after the group died, because I would've loved to hear more production like this behind other artists. Not that it was particularly original, but he was damn sure expert at it.

But this time they're going for a slightly softer feel - not actually soft, mind you, but less hard than "Attitudes." And this time the hook and song concept just doesn't stand out like their last single. It all sounds too generic. I know I was just kind of praising "generic" as a positive quality earlier, but it can definitely go too far. There's just nothing to really latch on to here. It reminds me of the disappointment I felt when I first What Is a Rumpletilskin? and I realized the reggae guy from the Leaders' songs wasn't actually a member of the group or featured here.

The remix helps a bit. It's better. It's a bit tougher and doesn't lean on a keyboard riff underlying the album version. Both versions are fine, though, and neither is amazing. But between the two, I give it to the remix, which also supplies a bit more energy. Considering these guys' style consists of shouting and twisting their voices constantly, you wouldn't think energy would be a problem for these guys, but it is. That's where they come up shorter than LONS, and it shows here more now that they don't have a phat hook and concept. Now you really feel how it's just a bunch of young guys with nto much to say.  Don't get me wrong... it's still pretty good. When you hear it, you'll say it's dope for sure. But then you probably won't bother to go back and relisten to it for a long time.

This single also includes both Instrumentals, an A Capella, as well as another album track called "Hudz," This one has a cooler, ever-changing production style that's really interesting. Overall, you can see why it wasn't chosen to be a single itself, but it's a pretty compelling listen instrumentally, and work to distinguish themselves more as individual stylists, compared to their other songs where they can sound like just an indeterminate number of guys. It actually makes a pretty good advertisement for the album if all you'd gotten was the single. Again, it's disappointing that RPM never broke out of confines of his group, because I feel like his work had a real future to it, even if their MCing didn't.

But either way, if you're a 90s head, these guys are going to be right up your alley. And their flows and production combined should make these must-haves, even if they were a little lyrically light. While their LONS connection certainly got them through the door, it's a shame they couldn't get out from under their protective wing fast enough to survive after it collapsed. Not that I could see a group like this surviving on to today (and again, I don't think their name did them any favors), but at least a little more from these guys would've been very welcome.

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