Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Grand Invincible Sessions On Cassingle?

Okay, I know cassettes are coming back in to vogue as collectors' items. And for an old school guy with a huge cassette collection (and players to play 'em) amassed over a lifetime of youth spent in the 80s and 90s, that's pretty sweet. So we've had brand new cassette releases by everybody from Ghostface Killah to MF Doom to Omniscence. But has anybody in this modern era released a classic cassingle, in the cardboard slip sleeve style before? If it's not a first, it's certainly the first I've copped, and damn if there isn't an extra kick of nostalgia in sliding a brand new cassette out of its tight cardboard wrap. It's like I've just walked out of Record Town, amped about a rare, underground find they only had one copy of.

But a novel release isn't worth the crazy materials it's composed of if the music it holds doesn't move ya. Fortunately, in this case we've got two def cuts from the Grand Invincible sessions. According to the back cover, these tracks (which, to be clear, have never been released to the public before now) were recorded in 2011, though this blog by producer/DJ Eons suggests their roots reach back even further.

"Go Fast Boats" has Luke Sick spitting hard over a booming, "Broken Language"-like bassline. just slightly smoothed out by some extra instrumentation (is that a harp in there?) and a guest verse by Brandon B from Arizona's Supermarket (of Dump Koch fame). The only issue is that it's hard to get a handle on the song, lyrically. Did Luke just say, "the new fanny pack is the Blue Tooth?" What does that even mean? And Brandon B is taking random pop culture shots: "shit ain't funny; you're played out like Paula Poundstone." I don't know. Luke's flow sounds great over the track, though; so it's real dope as long as you don't pay real close attention and ask too many questions.

The B-side totally eclipses it anyway. The production's even better, with a funky, orchestral sample (more harp?) and a super funky "lyrics get dropped like napalm" vocal sample for a hook. Brandon B is credited on this song, too; but this time he's just doing supporting back-up vocals - lyrically, Luke is flying solo, and comes off tighter than on "Boats." It's really one of those rare songs where as soon as it's over you'll want to rewind it back and hear it again, repeatedly.

Like most proper cassingles back in the day, this features both songs on the A-side, and the two instrumentals on the flip. The cassette itself is made out of a cool, scrap metal gray plastic. A little labeling might've been cool, but as I said before, it does come in a cool, double-sided cassingle sleeve. And MegaKut is selling these for only $8, including shipping, so there's really nothing to complain about - that's about what you would've paid for a cassette single back in the 90s, and you'd've been hard pressed to find a release as cool as this.

MK says these are limited to a ridiculously tiny amount of 25 copies, but I suspect that's how many they have to allotted to sell online, not how many were actually made, because most of these are being handed out at Luke's shows. But still, that means if you're a Grand Invincible fan and don't live out in Cali, you'd better jump on this fast, unless you look forward to be coaxing this off some local fan on EBay. And if I can ever bring myself to stop rewinding and replaying it, it'll make me smile again just to stick it in my cassingle box right between Grand Daddy IU's "Don't Stress Me" and Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio's "Mr. Big Stuff."  8)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Can He Come Out? Can He Come Out and Slam and Jam?

So, you may remember back in 2009, Chubb Rock teamed up with newcomer Wordsmith to release a mixtape called A Crack In the Bridge. It was just a little mp3-only thing that was leading up to their official, real album, Bridging the Gap. But that never came out, except as another bunch of mp3s, because of some problem with the distribution which apparently made the label lose all interest in the project and leave it in limbo. Pre-orders were taken everywhere from ughh to amazon, but were left eternally unavailable. Suncoast/ FYE even took my money for, sent me a DJ Whoo Kid CD, then had me send it back, and still kept my money. That's because FYE are a bunch of crooks; the second biggest reason you should never do business with them... the first being their prices. Wait. What was this post about again? Oh yeah. heh

Bridging the Gap never came out physically. But lookie what I found! This is a promo-only CD for the lost album's lead single, "Old 2 the New." This came out in 2009 from NU Revolution Entertainment - this is the one they made the Matrix-themed video for - and was apparently initially sent to a radio station. So I'm not sure how many of these were made, but there are probably at least a few more. The only remnants of the Chubb Rock album that almost was.

As you can see in my photo, "Old 2 the New" was produced by Strada, who did a lot of stuff with Wordsmith in 2009, including a lot more of the missing Bridging the Gap, and Word's solo album A Baltimore Martini, which he did put out. The title's rather unimaginatively taken from a Nice 'N Smooth song from 1994, which became a hit and lead to a ton of compilation albums and mixtapes to be released with the same title.  In the 90s; I was kind of surprised to see it still pop up again in 2009. But don't let the recycled title put you off; it's actually a cool, little song.

The concept is pretty simple: Chubb Rock is old school, Wordsmith is new school, and they're working together. That was also the whole concept for Bridging the Gap. Lyrically, it's not gonna split your skull with beams of light or anything, but both MCs come off rather smoothly and pleasantly. And the track has two distinct instrumental forms it keeps shifting between depending which MC is rapping. Chubb's part is driven more by a cool funk guitar sample, and Word's by some nice keyboard riffs and fake horns. I can see said fake horns limiting this song's appeal to the more serious heads with strict standards, but if you're open-minded, this is a fun, catchy track.

So it's just the one version of the one song on here. It's just a CD, not vinyl, and of course the song's been rotting on the ITunes vine for years. So there's probably only a very small subset of a small subset of heads who'd be excited about this find, but I'm one of 'em.  :)  It's the only physical release from the Chubbster in a decade, though he's been teasing us with online only material like crazy: a bevy of myspace songs and ITunes collabos with mostly R&B types, of course the Wordsmith stuff, an EP dedicated to Obama, an appearance on the latest Unkut mix, and most recently an EP with DJ Mighty Mi. It looks like he's been long retired in the real world, but on the internet, he's been pretty damn prolific. Which I guess is pretty "old 2 the new" of him. But he better not ask us to pre-order anything more music through FYE :P

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ras Kass Demos Remastered

If there's one thing Ras Kass is consistent at being, it's uneven. For every amazing rhyme, there's a weak beat. For every strong album track there's a generic west coast cliche. Even if you're a strictly east coast head and not a fan, you have to begrudgingly admit he's had some really impressive moments in his catalog. And even if you're a die-hard Stan with "Ras Kass" tattooed across your belly, you have to admit there are a few low points you can't bring yourself to cosign. Every time he releases an album, you can't help feeling you're missing out on something else that could've been tighter and more exciting had it been released differently, like a master chef's immaculate souffle that burnt for being left in the oven too long.

So it's only natural for us to hope that this release of Ras Kass's Pre-Soul On Ice Demos from Dope Folks Records will finally be the answer to our hunger for a flawless masterpiece. But as we should've expected by now, it's not... but still pretty damn compelling.

So where to start? Ras Kass demos have been circulating the tape trading circuit before most of us even knew what the internet was. Complex, of course, included some of them in their famous "Greatest Demos" article in 2011, and back in 2008 Rap Reviews reviewed his demo tape, calling it, "a poorly preserved album-length [tape] that, allegedly, was even better than his official debut, at least lyrically, and certainly better than any of his new stuff. ...a few great tracks, and a lot of mediocrity fabricated into whole-cloth greatness." In short, a potential masterpiece marred by unevenness. The track-listing typically looked like this:

1. Everything I Love
2. Core Audience
3. High IQ
4. Won't Catch Me Running
5. Capital R-A-S
6. Blood Is Thicker Than Water
7. Interlude
8. Take a Deep Breath
9. Remain AnonymouS
10. Take a Deep Breath (Remix)
11. Walk the Walk

A large part of why people might've been nonplussed Ras's demo tape certainly has to be that much of it was turned into Ras's debut album, Soul On Ice. So rather than being a collection of completely unheard songs, it was a collection of a few unheard songs and a lot of rough drafts of songs we already heard. So any given song might be slightly weaker lyrically, but have harder production... or the inverse. And it didn't help that a number of the demo tracks, though not featured on any of his albums, were pressed on vinyl as his earlier singles. "Remain AnonymouS" is great, but any head dedicated enough to track down his demos has already got a much better copy.

So Dope Folks has made the wise move of making more of a "best of" demo EP, which includes the only strongest tracks from that original tape... plus some other stuff.  There's really no better away to explain it any further than to dive right in, track by track, so let's go:

1) Capital R.A.S. - As you can see from the track-list above, this is right from that tape. And what's more, it's one of the tightest tracks, with some of Vooodu's cool, original production. Lyrically, the punchline heavy flow (every other sentence has a "like" line like "so get to steppin' like the Delta Sigma Thetas") does sound dated and wouldn't really fly today. But for all of us fiending for vintage Ras Kass material, it's a welcome artifact of its time. Plus Ras did it better than almost anyone, so no one checking for this release should get hung up on it.

2) "Core Audience" - Also from the original tape and probably the strongest one. It's got a dark, rugged track by Bird and some serious, compelling rhymes from Ras:

"We all lick shots with unregistered burners,
And at one time or another played Ike Turner.
Ain't shit to be braggin' for,

Ass backwards actors pack gats for show and tell
So they can sell and certify gold,

Chart billboard claimin' they killed more niggas.
Underground hardcore.

But far more mainstream than Hammer.
Poppin' trunks, stuffin' pumps and smokin' blunts

Sells more records than 'Pumps and a Bump.'
Violence is a new platinum gimmick.
Call it the double-cross crossover;
A rose by any other name is Seal.

You claimin' that you represent the real niggas' life,
But only represent it for a price.
'Cause if next week the new fad was hip-hop fags,
You'd find a lot of hardcore niggas in drag.
Shit is bad; and we acknowledge this,

But after a certain point, you only perpetuate it.
So next time you rhyme about physically buckin' somebody.
Instead of 'nigga' say 'white boy'
And see how quick the devil protest it.
Wanna see your ass arrested?

Your label wouldn't suggest it.
They say it's best if you're stickin' niggas,
So some 10 year-old can claim he pimps hoes.
Find his daddy's glock nine and give his sister a 2 inch hole
Between the eyes. The influence is obvious.
Music ain't supposed to be raisin' your kids,

But in nineteen ninety-five it is."

See? That's the kind of must-have shit we've been needing on wax!  ...If only we could surgically excise that contrived line about Seal and "Kiss From a Rose." But it'a still a fantastic verse on a fantastic song, and it's flat-out crazy to think that this has lived only as a revered, unreleased dub until now.

3) "Handle the Truth" - This is not from the same demo album, but an equally legendary unreleased track that's been a jewel in tape trader's collections for just as long. You don't need production credits to tell it's produced by the same man (Vooodu) who produced "Nature Of a Threat" and other greats. It's a sick posse cut featuring Saafir, Vooodu and The Almighty Arrogant that's been in desperate need of a legit release for decades. As a matter of fact, I'm proud to say I suggested this one to Dope Folks when they were still conceiving this project. Another 100% absolute must have.

4) "Blood Is Thicker Than Water" - Back to the O.G. tape, this is the song where he kicks the punchline "like Jeru's enema, I come clean," which he later re-purposed for his Chino XL guest spot, "Riiiot!" as "I come cleaner than Jeru's enema." Actually, it's unfair that silly lines like this overshadow what's otherwise a killer song with some nice, rare production by Bird, with a phat piano riff and Marley Marl-style echoed horns. It's also got a pair of R&B chicks crooning on the hook and background, one of whom, from her last name, I'm guessing is a close relative of Ras Kass. That, of course, would fit in perfectly with the song's theme.

5) "H20 Mash-Up" - Now we veer off into oddball territory here. This isn't really a proper Ras Kass song, and certainly not a demo song circa or pre- Soul On Ice. As its title suggests, it's a mash up, presumably taken from a mix-tape by Ras V, since he's credited as a featured guest. The first half is just "H20 Proof," a single off of Ras Kass's Rasassination album, then mid-way through, it cuts to an old Big L freestyle. It's the Kay Slay one that's been featured on several of L's unauthorized albums. I'm not exactly mad at having this as long as you think of it as a sort of random bonus; but it's crazy to think one of the many other demo songs - even if they aren't quite as good as the ones we do get - was left off for this. The two aren't even artfully blended, though at least the cut between the two pieces is timed so that it remains on beat. It's a pretty big WTF moment for this EP, but oh well... it doesn't take away from the rest of it.

6) "Deep Breathe" - Finally, we're back on track with one last cut from the original tape. Personally, this is one of the most exciting inclusions for me, simply because it features some of the other Western Hemisfear guys who sadly never got enough material out in their prime. It's a little posse cut with Vooodu, Meen Green and another beat by Bird. I'm not sure why they altered the title, especially since the vocal sample they use for the hook clearly says "take a deep breath," but this is the song known as "Take A Deep Breath" - #8 on the track-list above, not the remix below it. I actually kind of preferred that remix, but both are dope and I"m happy to get either one on wax. This is exactly the kind of song I was pining for back in the 90s.

Unfortunately, now I must address one more point before I can wrap this up with a 100% recommendation. Right in Dope Folks' item description, it says, "We've cleaned up the demos as much as possible, to give you the best versions of these rare tracks. Taken from Ras Kass' own personal archives." So yeah, these are not crisp new masters taken from original DATs or reels. These are remastered by their guy (Justin Perkins, who always does impressive work for DF) forced to work with the same kind of crappy recordings we've all been stuck with for decades. Now I've got the vinyl right here and have compared it with my old tape from the 90s, older Youtube uploads and an old folder of mp3s I downloaded from SoulSeek years ago. I invite you to compare along with me by checking out Dope Folks' Youtube uploads (which, now having the wax on hand, I will say are highly accurate representations of what you get on the EP) directly to past Youtube uploads from previous sources.

On the one hand, I am pleased to report that this new EP sounds buttloads better (to use a technical term) than anything we've heard before. It tramples the worst sounding copies and even exceeds the best. But on the other hand, even if you just placed this record on your turntable and knew nothing of the history or what was sourced from where, it's immediately apparent these are taken from old tape and digital recordings. They do not sound perfect or even great. They sound like old demos pressed on wax, so if you're expecting the usual limited on vinyl, top notch sound quality, buyer beware. But again, there is a definite, substantial improvement. And what can you do? Dope Folks was working with Ras Kass himself on this release, and even he didn't have anything better.

Now who knows? It's possible someone will track down Bird for an interview and it will turn out he's got a closest full of original recordings. More likely, if they still exist at all, they're dissolving into a puddle in Priority Records' basement, never to be shared with the public. So basically, this is likely to be the best we'll ever hear them. And they are mostly (I don't know what to say about "H20 Mash-Up") terrific, must-have songs that are finally making their debut on wax. And Dope Folks doesn't exactly charge One Leg Up prices. So while the sound quality issues have necessarily diffused much of the excitement that would've otherwise surrounded this release, it's up to you to decide if it's still worth the purchase. For me it certainly was, despite being traditionally uneven.

Friday, September 19, 2014

An Epic Curiosity Piece

Here's a random, little curiosity piece I picked up in a recent record haul: a 1995 Epic Street Records sampler EP. It features six songs - well, almost - of some pretty random stuff. I mean, it's all hip-hop material Epic Street had coming out at the time. It's not that random, like an indie heavy metal song and a thirty year-old polka record. But I think it's fair to say they made some pretty unusual choices here. Let's have a look.

It starts out predictably enough. The first song is "I Be," by the Mystidious Misfits, a pretty underrated little group of style-over-substance MCs that who really threw themselves into the gimmicky styles of the 90s and who, as a consequence, couldn't have existed at any other point in time than the short period they were active for. But they had some fun, slept on singles including "Upside Down" and the Buckwild remix of "I Be." The version here, though, is the album version, which is still pretty tight.

Then next is Funkdoobiest with "Rock On." Funkdoobiest is always a little unorthodox to feature on anything, just by virtue of their style. But "Rock On" was just the latest single at the time, taken from their Brothas Doobie album.

But now things get interesting... Next up is "verse" by Kool G Rap. It's not even capitalized like a proper title, because it's not a song called "Verse," but just a random, isolated verse by G Rap. So is it some radio freestyle or something? No, disappointingly, it's actually just a bit snipped out of one of his latest records at the time. Specifically, it's his part of "Take Em To War" (easy to recognize because the leave the hook on the at the ends) from his album 4.5.6. Basically, it's the song he did with B-1 and MF Grimm,  minus their parts, which I guess is kinda neat to have on wax if you're a G Rap fan who was never too impressed with those other two dudes. Turn it into a short Kool G Rap solo song.

But things are stranger still on the flip side, as next we have Mista Grimm's "Situation: Grimm (A Capella)." That's right, not the full song, which isn't included anywhere here at all... just the acapella. By the way, just to clarify since they often get confused, MF Grimm is the wheelchair bound MC who's down with MF Doom, and Mista Grimm is the dude who did "Indo Smoke" with Warren G and Nate Dogg. They're two separate dudes from opposing coasts. I once bought a Mista Grimm single when I was younger because I made that mistake, so I wanna make that clear to be sure no child out there ever falls into the same trap.

Anyway, "Situation: Grimm" was meant to be on Grimm's album, Things Are Looking Grimm; but that never came out (though promo copies exist). It was, however, released as a single. But not even that 12" had the acapella on it; so that makes it an exclusive to this EP.

Next up is Lil Vicious with his big single "Life Of a Shortie" featuring Shyheim and Doug E Fresh. He was a flash in the pan signed briefly to Epic Street and this was his only notable song, so nothing shocking about this inclusion.

And then, finally, another acapella. This one's by Dana Barros, the uhh... basketball player.  Epic Street put out a compilation album around this time called B-Ball's Best Kept Secret, centered around the terrible idea to get a bunch of professional athletes to record rap songs. I guess Epic liked Dana's the best, because they made a video for it and released it as the single, with remixes by guys like DJ Jazzy Jeff and Muggs. But you won't hear any production here, because again, we're given the acapella only. But, as with Mista Grimm, the acapella wasn't featured on the 12" single, making this another EP exclusive.

So, yeah, this is kind of a strange duck. That's partially a result of Epic's eclectic line-up that year, but the decision to include exclusive acapellas on a sampler (were listeners expected to dig the sound of the vocals and think "I bet it'd sound even better with music!" and go buy the albums?) is a bit of a head scratcher. And the idea to turn Kool G Rap's "Take 'Em To War" to just "verse" is weird; the label doesn't even tell you it's a portion of a fuller song, so it's not like a snippet tape. Maybe someone at the label figured G Rap was being weighed down by sub-par guests and thought it would make a better impression as just a quick, two minute song? He might've been right, but it's not like the other two guys were some wack, g-funk dudes who couldn't fit in with their host.

As for how desirable this is? I guess it's kinda neat, and I certainly got it cheap enough (less than a dollar). Some decent stuff on here, but it's not all solid. The exclusive acapellas are exclusive enough, but it's got to be a pretty short list of fans who would care for these particular ones. And the G Rap song, I mean, you could get the same effect by playing 4.5.6 and just pressing the stop button after the first verse. So, I don't know. It has a place in my collection, but I wouldn't pay much for it. It's just one of those random slices of wax that's out there in the universe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Watch OR Sweat My Moves (Paul C Vs. Dooley-O)

In 2002, Stones Throw Records released one of their best records, Dooley-O's "Watch My Moves." If you don't know, Dooley-O is Stezo's cousin and a highly underrated Connecticut producer. As you can see above, the single is actually titled Watch My Moves 1990, because this record is actually from long before 2002... in fact, I would think it would have to be even a couple years older 1990, but we'll come back to that. The point is: it's a classic, long lost recording that was finally unearthed over a decade later, and has some compelling historical significance, in addition to being pretty damn funky.

The second guy on the cover there (above, not left) is Chris "C" Lowe. You may remember him from his numerous 12"s on Bronx Science throughout the 90's, including one with Large Professor. Chris and Dooley came up together and made their earliest records together, including this one. It was, by all accounts, the very first record to use the now famous Skull Snaps break from "It's a New Day," one of the most often used, and still greatest, break beats of the genre. Chris and Dooley discovered, used it and broke it on radio with this song. But, while it played over the air, it was never really properly released on wax. So when Stezo wound up sampling the same break for his debut single, 1989's "It's My Turn," that wound up going down in history as the first record to use Skull Snaps instead. Stezo has full production credit on that single, but Chris and Dooley have both said - and no one's contested - that it was their idea taken from their record.

...See what I mean? If Stezo took it from "Watch My Moves," for his 1989 record "It's My Turn," then "It's My Moves" has to be older than 1990. I didn't go to college for nothin'.

So this is already a great record with a compelling story, and really I could just wrap up this post talking only about this record. It's a killer instrumental and Dooley sounds dope over it. It's also got a cool, vintage B-side from that era called "Headbanger's Ball," with an instrumental almost just as tight. Plus an instrumental-only song called "So Let It Be Written;" another sample-heavy banger.

But the story just got twice as interesting when one of my readers (shout out to Dom for this!) forwarded me a link to this:


"Sweat My Moves" is a title pretty similar to "Watch My Moves," obviously, and hey listen - it's the same break-beat and virtually the same instrumental all together! Reading the description and the poster's comments, this "was a beat designed by Paul C. for the group Cko & Sta-La-Fro, they was signed to the record label DNA International Records in 1988-1989." Ah-ha! This is a record I've known about for years, but never actually heard or been able to track down (because it was essentially a promo-only unreleased single).

CKO & Sta-La-Fro. I knew the story but hadn't even known their names 'till now. There was a great article that got posted on all the diggers' forums back when Stones Throw was releasing this and the Stezo record. I can't find the post I originally read it on, but here it is, cited in full on a blog called The Lowe End Theory. It's basically all about the Stones Throw singles and the story of the Skull Snaps discovery; but let me quote a small part of the article that brings this all together:
"Having recorded "Watch my Moves" and "Crazy Noise", Dooley, Stezo, and Lowe took the cuts to the University of New Haven’s radio station for immediate airplay. This would prove to be a telling glimpse into the future of Dooley’s Skull Snaps break, as one listener jacked it from the airwaves the first time it was ever played! A student of the University of New Haven (UNH)and the nephew of the owner of DNA records (of Super Lover Ceo and Cassanova Rud[sic. ...Although if he makes a modern day comeback, Cee should consider changing his name to Super Lover CEO; that could work for him] fame) had looped the opening parts of the song, and made his own version of “Watch My Moves” called “Sweat My Moves”. It had the same beat, same lyrics, and the same hook (with the word “sweat” replacing the word “watch”). One week after debuting the original on the UNH radio station, Dooley heard the other kids version on the very same show. He walked down to the radio station, roughed-up the DJ, and never heard that version again."
This is that UNH record! The Paul C. connection makes sense, since DNA was where he was working with Super Lover Cee, Kev E Kev and whoever else... I think he did the Too Poetic record as well? That was his place of employ. So if owner's nephew (Sta-La-Fro?) came in with this recording, it makes sense that they would've given it to Paul to mix and engineer. It's worth pointing out, though, that it doesn't have the same lyrics, just the same hook and beat. In fact, the MCing is so different, that this is more than just some cheap knock-off, but an actually compelling little record in its own right. Yeah, it's cornier (CKO's real name is Oscar - CKO stands for Cool Kid Oscar - so he sings the Oscar Meyer Weiner theme song, not once but twice), but it's still kinda fresh, and probably actually works better now, glossed over in nostalgia, than it would've struck heads listening to it back when it was created.

I guess this was actually pressed on wax, at least a couple promo acetates or something, since the Youtube poster talks about having had vinyl copies of this; and I guess that's what the college DJ would've been playing. I'd sure love to stumble upon one someday. The same Youtube channel, WarbucksNYC - apparently a hip-hop producer himself, also has three videos interviewing CKO in more modern days. But unfortunately they don't talk about his foray into music, just his car. It seems he has a PhD now and is pretty happy living in New Jersey.

There's also a link to an ITunes mp3 of the song, but it's dead. Apparently this was also once listed on Amazon Music, too, but it's also been removed. Check out that amazingly cheesy and inappropriately milquetoast stock image they came up with to go with the song, too! Anyway, I'd assume those mp3s were killed because this Warbucks guy (could he be Sta-La-Fro today, or am I over-reaching now? confirmed: he's not) posted them and was making the money from it, and then DNA stepped in. Because the song is now listed, as of February 2014, on ITunes and Amazon as part of a digital-only compilation called DNA International Music Group "Greatest Hits", Vol. 2.  ...Curiously, there is no Vol. 1.

So it's great that Stones Throw cast light on this lost little bit of history and gave us a terrific single to boot by releasing Watch My Moves 1990. I'm not usually a big Stones Throw guy, but I highly recommend this one. Dooley-O went on to release the full, lost LP of that material, which he also titled Watch My Moves 1990, on Solid Records in 2003. And he's since released more unreleased music he made through-out the 90s, and just this year released an all new album called OG Status.

And it's even greater to finally hear the last piece of the puzzle by CKO and Sta-La-Fro, especially since it turned out to be a credible song in its own right and not just a 100% amateurish duplication. And considering Paul C's name is attached to it, I'm pretty confident DNA could make a little money by pressing it up today as a vinyl single (hint, hint).

Oh, and guess who mixed Stezo's "It's My Turn" record? Yep, Paul C!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

P.S. Phuk U2

Ah, The Penthouse Playas Clique know how I feel.

I just found out this morning how Apple has forced U2's latest album onto everybody's iphone and ipad. When I first read the stories, I was thinking, ah, not me. I don't go for all these manufactured fads, turning on all those icloud and iTunes Mating features whenever the corporation unleashes them. I stay away from that nonsense. But just out of idle curiosity, I'll have a quick check and OH CRAP; THERE THEY ARE! Right in there between the Tuff Crew and Unique, U2 have been demonically teleported into my phone's tiny mp3 library.

If you try to delete the tracks, they start playing. And if you DO delete them, they just come back! The only way to get rid of them is to turn off your itunes purchase downloads and turn off the "Show All Music," option, which sucks if you actually wanted those options on for your legit purchases.And even that doesn't get rid of it. It's also on your itunes account on your home computer and in your cloud, and you can't delete it. You can only "hide" it, so it's still sitting there, insidiously taking up space and waiting to return when you least expect it.

So I was inspired today to break out this little number from the PPC, "PS Phuk U 2." Okay, granted, it's not really a diss record directed towards U2 (no matter how hard we wish). It's just their cutesy way of spelling "fuck you, too." But that was enough to for me.

Technically, "PS Phuk U 2" is the B-side on this 12" single; but they did  wind up making a video for this one too. The A-side is either "Explanation of a Playa," which showcases their strong MCing abilities and some nice scratches by DJ Quik, or "Trust No Bitch," the infamous posse cut with Quik and Eazy E, depending which pressing you have. All three are album cuts off their sole LP, Paid the Cost, on Ruthless Priority Records from 1992.

Anyway, onto "Phuk U 2," or as they called the clean version, "PS Play U 2," despite the fact that it makes no sense. Both "Play" and "Phuk" also feature Eazy E, but only as a host. He doesn't actually rap on this, but he gives each MC a spoken word introduction, including telling Tweed to, "fade 'em, my skinhead nigga." It also features DJ Quik, who does have a proper verse on here, as well as full production credit. They're basically using the same piano-heavy instrumental as The D.O.C.'s "Mind Blowin'," but with extra fonky Quik-style instrumentation laced over the top of it. It sounds pretty great.

The only downside is that, because Eazy E's dialogue is the only hook for the song, we never actually get to hear anyone utter the phrase "fuck U2" throughout the course of the song.I mean, seriously, they're gonna call that "the biggest album release" when they just forced it on a ton of unwilling Apple users? Why not call the McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" theme the biggest record, then, since even more people have heard that play through their TVs and radios. And at least those the people at least elected to watch; it hasn't been surreptitiously uploaded onto their devices without their knowledge or permission. ...Yet, at least. We'll probably find that find tomorrow morning..

Friday, September 12, 2014

AMG's Bitchin' Trilogy

A couple years ago, I did a post about AMG's obscure, 12"-only prequel to "Once a Dog (Janine 2)" from his debut album. But that 12" alsow wound up being the beginning of a trilogy of records AMG would take the next twelve years to create. Twelve years is the exact same length of time JRR Tolkien took to write the Lord Of the Rings trilogy., so maybe that gives you some idea of what to expect. Or maybe it doesn't. I'm talking about "Bitch Betta Have My Money" and it's lesser known sequels.

"Bitch Betta Have My Money" was AMG's first single, released on Select Records in 1991. I explained in my previously mentioned post about the two versions of that 12" already, and obviously explored the B-sides for the preferable version; but now it's time to talk about the song itself. This would obviously be an important song for AMG, as we'll explore, but among other things, it wound up being the title for his debut album. The title line and hook comes from Ant Live's closing line to Big Daddy Kane's "Pimpin' Ain't Easy" with Nice N Smooth and Scoob & Scrap Lover.

And it's based on a surprisingly overbearing heavy metal guitar sample for an underground west coast hit from the DJ Quik camp. It's produced by AMG himself, though Quik gets a second co-production credit, along with Tracy Kendrick and Courtney Branch, so it's hard to say exactly who's responsible for what. On the one hand, you want to say Quik's the "real" producer, so he probably did all the heavy musical lifting. But then again, it sounds nothing like the rest of Quik's body of work. And on the album itself, Quik's co-production isn't even mentioned (though Kendrick's and Branch's still are), so I'm tempted to say AMG did the just about everything creative on this one, and the other guys just helped on technical and business ends. But that's just a guess.

Anyway, "Bitch Betta Have My Money" is one of the most successful rap songs to feature guitars at appealing to us "I'm not a rock & roll fan; please stop adding all this cross over guitar playing to everything" types. Or, to put it another way, it's one of the least garage band sounding rap songs to be dominated by guitar riffs AMG's high pitched but crisp delivery .is perfectly suited for the too-young-to-be-listening-to-this crowd, with his unlikely boasts about being a teenage pimp and long list of almost non-sequitor sexual claims. On the one hand, it's the perfectly cliche "this is what America's youth are listening to" song for the daytime talk shows of its day... but it's also good/ There's just a higher level of quality in everything Quik and his camp was releasing; and even if Quik didn't actually make any of the music here, the standards and quality control must've rubbed off here.

So almost ten years later, long after AMG was dropped from Select Records (the fact that he beefed with Quik and made an entire album without those cats really hurt him), it's no surprise AMG was looking backwards. Reunited with Quik and now on his own label, 304 Entertainment, AMG gave his album a throwback title to hopefully reclaim lost fans: Bitch Betta Have My Money 2001. And yes there was a title track to go with it, and yes it was on the debut 12" single: "Perfection" b/w "Bitch 2001."

Naturally, AMG has had a number of songs with the word "bitch" in the title (he's just that kind of artist), including "Mai Sista Izza Bitch," "Be Mai Bitch" and "Trust No Bitch;" but there's no doubt that this is a direct sequel to "Bitch Betta Have My Money." Besides the fact that the album title spells it out pretty explicitly, AMG's very first words on the track are the softly stated "part two," before he starts rapping. And the definitive Ant Live quote is back on the chorus. I think the title is just shortened here because people at the label were sick of typing it out.

Now, the A-side is produced by DJ Quik, but unfortunately, "Bitch 2001" isn't by Quik or AMG, but by somebody named The Noma. The track's not bad, it is kinda funky, but it really feels like the bland kind of instrumental a lot of west coast acts had once they signed to major labels and lost their underground sound. AMG's delivery is sort of an intentional match for the original, but he clearly has to tailor it somewhat to fit this new track, which has a fairly different vibe to the original, but I do like how they bring in the vocal sample of The O'Jay's "For the Love of Money" and merge it with Ant Live for the hook. It's honestly not bad, but AMG seems more off the track lyrically, filling the song out with junk like instructions for the listener to, "hit the website for merchandising." It's no longer about being a teenage (or older) pimp and more just a state of the union address about his rap career.

Despite the title, that record came out in 2000, but before we get to the final entry in the trilogy, we have to make a quick stop at this 2001 release from Germany. If "Bitch Betta Have My Money" was The Fellowship Of the Ring and "Bitch 2001" was The Two Towers, this would've been The Silmarillion. ZYX Records had a big run of remix singles of American rap hits in the 90s, and AMG's "Bitch Betta Have My Money" was no exception. There are five mixes on here, but that includes the original version and the "Bitchstrumental" from the original 12", plus a Radio Cut and X-tended Mix of the same basic remix. So basically there's just the one new remix. called the Jiggy Pascha Remix.

You can see on the cover [I'm showing the CD cover because it's pretty novel, but there is a plain sleeve vinyl version as well] that production credit is given to DJ Quick [sic.], but checking the fine print reveals that this new mix is actually created by Isy B and DJ Lil' Tommy. I don't know anything about either of them, really, except that they've done a lot of production and remix projects like this, often for ZYX; and frankly, that may be all there is to know about them anyway. It throws in the Busta Rhymes "Wild for the Night" vocal sample that every DJ on the planet was guilty of over-using in those days, and lays a bassline over the original guitars, which kind of conflicts. It sounds like these guys were unable to get an Acapella version for their remix and just had to do the best they could by adding sounds on top of the completed record. It's okay, and would be impressive if a DJ just did it as a live mix right in front of you at the club. But there's really no reason to buy this record. Actually, the most original and creative thing about this single is the fact that it opens with a skit, spoken in German, where I think a guy is supposed to be talking to a woman giving him head. ...I have to admit I am pretty curious what's being said there.

So now, okay, you might be saying: Werner, I knew all about "Bitch 2001," but what is this third part you're supposedly building up to? Everyone knows "Bitch Betta Have My Money" and at least AMG fans who've bothered to keep up with him know about the sequel, but our Return Of the King is pretty obscure. But it exists, and it's even on vinyl.

See, in 2002, AMG put out a pretty obscure, CD-only greatest hits compilation called Greatest Humps, Vol 1. AMG had just about enough songs to fill out on greatest hits album, by the way; and the idea of stringing it out over more than that was a mistake, and there never was a Vol. 2. But in order to get fans to buy an album of songs they would've already owned, he of course made a little new material to stick on there with his biggest hits, and one of those songs, "No," was given a 12" single release in 2003. And the B-side to that? "Bitch Give Me Back My Money."

I hadn't bothered with the Humps collection, but I was happy to throw down for the 12" when I saw it. The new song and the exclusive new B-side. But prepare to be disappointed. Because ""No" is a new song and it's alright. It's got a heavy guitar loop very reminiscent of "Bitch," actually, and AMG's still flipping that same style. But it's definitely not as good. Still, it was alright and at least lived up to my low expectations for a new AMG song in 2003.

No, it's "Bitch Give Me Back My Money" that's the real disappointment. It starts off with a useless skit with AMG talking to a girl who wants money from him, and I'll just leave you to guess what he tells her to do. Then the song starts and it's... the same instrumental and all the same vocals as the original "Bitch Betta Have My Money." He didn't even re-perform them, it's the same vocal track. The song has just been lightly remixed. There's some extra cutting, which is admittedly rather good, actually. But it's not a new song; the new title never enters into it. Some DJ (there's no credits on the record) has just taken the original song and played with it on his turntable. Oh and they actually cut in the skit, "When She Calls" from the Bitch Betta Have My Money album into the song. On the positive side, it's really well done and would've made a sweet B-side to the original 12" in 1991. It's just not what we've been lead to believe. The new title is a lie.

The true title is "Bitch Betta Have My Money (Ghetto Life Remix)," which is taken directly from Greatest Humps. There are a couple new remixes of his early songs on there ("Jiggable Pie (Nu Pie Mix)" and "Vertical Joyride (Nu Ride Mix)" are handled the same way), I suspect because he had rights issues licensing the songs from Select Records and had to make new versions to include them without paying a lot for them. Or maybe he just fucked with them because he wanted to make the album more compelling to his fans who probably had all those songs already. In either case, it was a big let down when I first laid this down on my turntables only to hear the same old song. But, then again, a 2003 sequel probably would've been a wacker disappointment anyway, and this new mix, taken on its own terms of being strictly a slightly cut up remix, is actually dope and something I'd recommend. Would I have actually wound up with something I could recommend if there was a "Bitch Give Me Back My Money?"  I doubt it.