Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Funkmaster Wizard Wiz, Released and Reformed

I remember reading an issue of The Source - it was their special crack-themed issue - and they had a small article looking back at Funkmaster Wizard Wiz. He had recorded one of the most audacious (and possibly the first?) crack-related records, after all, "Crack It Up;" so it was a little look back at that coupled with a little "where are they now?" And, for those who don't know, Funkmaster Wizard Wiz started out as a member of DJ Magic Ray and the Undefeated Three before going solo with a totally wild, out-there persona. Sort of a cross between Biz Markie and an old school ODB, where he didn't have the vocal stylings of ODB - because hip-hop hadn't broken so many boundaries yet so his delivery was more conventional - but he had a crazy costume that definitely captured a homeless aesthetic, he famously posed eating dog food and had songs like "I Stink 'Cause I'm Funky." He actually worked with Marley Marl and Ced Gee, and while he never crossed over to mainstream audiences, he definitely had some impact in New York, and it might be fair to say that if there had never been a Funkmaster Wizard Wiz, we wouldn't have had an Ol' Dirty Bastard.

Anyway, this Source issue came out the 90s (all that Funkmaster Wizard Wiz stuff was back in the 80s), and the answer to "where was he now?" was that he'd found religion, changed his name to Optimist Prime, and was making a comeback with a more genuine, credible image. Aaron Fuchs had given him a second shot to make a new album for the new decade after serving a drug-related prison sentence. That album never came out, and I thought the article was pretty much all that had really materialized of this comeback and new image.  But thanks to the internet, I discovered that, while the album indeed never came out, Tuff City did put out two under-the-radar Optimist Prime 12" singles. And so I ordered one.

This is the first of them, "She Flipped On Me," which came out in 1994, the same year as that Source issue. Notice that they included Wiz's old name parenthetically so as nto to shake all his old fans. It's produced by Sha; and after everything he went through, if you were expecting anything autobiographical, anti-drug or pro-religion on this record, nope. It's more on an "I Need Love"-inspired, spoken word love song with a synthier, new jack swing style instrumental. It's got a sung male R&B hook as Wiz/ Prime tells a regretful tale of how he trusted a woman who he "thought was my one and only until she flipped on me."

It sorta does deal with his real life struggles, though, because this relationship disintegrates while he's in prison. The point is she doesn't stay true while he's doing time. And this is where some of Wiz's distinct personality shines through and raises the value of this record from something sappy and disposable to worth listening with lines like, "She said, 'I was comin', but I got sick.' The only place she's comin' is on another brother's fish-stick. ...All you can do is look, as you climax... on a Playboy book." It reminds me of Oran "Juice" Jones ranting at the end of "The Rain;" he undercuts the cliche with a humorous reality. To boil it down, it's just an unexpected injection of good writing that elevates the proceedings. I mean, you might look at that quote and see it as just hopelessly juvenile, but he manages to put it across. So you're never going to listen to it and be like, oh my god, this is so dope! But you're going to want to listen closely to the whole thing and wind up smiling, which is a lot more than you can say for most pop music these days.

So it's just the one song on here. It comes in an Unedited Mix, Radio Edit Mix and an Instrumental. He did follow it up with one more single, produced by The 45 King, which I'll probably tackle on this blog someday. But this was a fun one; it's a shame it got completely under promoted and overlooked, because it would've been nice to get that second album. Even with the hokey name change and the passage of time, Wiz still had more to give.

2 comments:

  1. There's an unreleased Optimist Prime video on Youtube from 1991:

    http://youtu.be/MdFzCn4ncf0

    Dancers, classic early 90s fashion, was this a single? You need to get to the bottom of this, Werner!

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    1. Oh shit - that's crazy! And if that date is correct, 1991, that puts it well before his comeback 12"s on Tuff City. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more about this...

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