Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Old Ca$hflow Tape

So, if you've been paying attention to my twitter (and if you haven't, you might as well just go jump off a bridge now, because you've just missed out on all the precious moments that make life worth living), you know I've been looking back through my tape collection recently, pulling out the stuff I bought decades ago and have since forgotten what they sound like. You know, some timeless albums you go back to again and again, and others, even if they're not bad, you just keep passing over. So you know, recollection, nostalgia, reevaluation... good times. This one I pulled out I decided was worthy of a whole blog entry, so here we go.

It's the self-titled 1986 debut album (they had two) by Ca$hflow. These guys weren't really a rap group, but they did sometimes rap. In fact, I think that's why they got signed... to sort of bridge that gap between the burgeoning hip-hop movement and R&B/funk groups like The Time and Cameo. Especially Cameo, because Larry Blackman was personally involved with Ca$hflow.

Now, they didn't rap on every song, but they rapped on several of them. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to revisit this album was to hear for myself how many songs they did actually rap on here; because all I remember is that I was disappointed they didn't rap as much as I expected, but it was more than none. And, well, the answer is three. Not that much, but remember, this is back when albums didn't tend to have so many songs on them. The first side of the album is just 14 minutes long. Ca$hflow had seven, making it almost half. And when you consider a lot of the really old school hip-hop albums (by groups like Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow and The Sequence) used to load their albums with singing songs (because rap was still just a fad back then), Ca$hflow was pretty close to the mark. Although there is still a pretty key distinction: on those rappers' albums, their rap songs were basically 100% rap. They sang on other songs, but when they rapped, they really made full rap songs. Here, Ca$hflow is doing the more mainstream sung pop songs with rap verses. So I still wouldn't actually call these guys a rap group; just a group who sometimes rapped.

If you'll indulge in a little speculation, I think part of why Blackman got these guys is because they'd already had success with adding a rap verse to what turned out to be one of their biggest singles, "She's Strange" but were reluctant to get pulled further down the hip-hop road. I mean, later Cameo hits like "Word Up," "Single Life" and "Back & Forth" sound like they were created by God to house rap verses, but they just don't go there. Maybe the label was even pressuring them to, but they didn't want to. So basically they signed Ca$hflow and said: that can be your job! You guys can be the group to bridge that gap. If it works, everybody gets rich, and if rap blows over, Cameo distances themselves, credibility untainted.  ...Or maybe not; that's just my little pet theory. Maybe it's the opposite, and Blackman always wanted to really jump into being a rapper and his label and band mates never let him, so this was his way of getting closer. But I find that harder to believe.

Anyway, let's leave the speculating and get to what's actually, factually there on the tape. The album starts out with one of my favorite songs, "Party Freak." Being one of my favorites, you know it's one of the ones with a rap verse; and this one's extra special, because the rap is performed by Cameo's Larry Blackman! It's a fun rap about how he picked up a girl at a bar, but she turned out to be such a party freak, she stands up in his car and starts break-dancing "on highway eighty-fiiiiiiive!" Otherwise, the song's okay. It's a pretty basic party funk jam with some good instrumentation, but it all lays a little flat. Like, it's on par with the work of their peers, but if it weren't for Blackman's rap, none of those groups would have made it a single, more like decent album filler that really needs a catchy horn or keyboard riff to put it over the top.

Their biggest hit, I guess, was "Mine All Mine" which does bounce a little more, especially thanks to a classy horn line; but it's still a little limp. Like it feels like an early single that should've led to a lot more, not a career pinnacle."Spending Money" is my favorite song; maybe it helps that it fits with the group's theme, but I think it's just an overall better song. It's got a slightly silly chorus that goes, "spending money. I like spending money. On youuuooooooooh." Plus it does have a catchy keyboard riff. And even though they're going for a smoother vibe, it all just flows more naturally and engagingly. Blackman's one verse is all we get for his rapping, so the duty now falls to lead vocalist Kary Hubbert. He's not the rapper Larry was, and his verse feels more generic and amateurish; but he's so damn cheerful it's hard not to go along with him; and any weaknesses are more than made up for by having a better song all around it, anyway. I really think this should've been a single; I think it would've caught on for them, even more so than "Mine All Mine," but oh well.

What else is on here? "Can't Let Love Pass Us By" is pretty good, but it sounds like it was made for hair dressers and dentists' office waiting rooms. "Reaching Out" is their slow song, and it's boring. "It
s Just a Dream" is their most funk-ish song, with more of a 70s vibe. And finally "I Need Your Love" is their most rappy song, with a legit rap verse, a quasi-rap intro, and plenty of electric drums, handclaps and other 80s hip-hop elements. Pretty fun, but the singing is weak on this one. I didn't like "Reaching Out," but I thought it showed he could sing a lot better than he does here. Oh well.

Overall, I guess this album still matches by faded memory: okay, but could've definitely been better, with a lot of waiting for the next really enjoyable moment. They're a good band, but even if you're not as much as a specifically hip-hop devoted purist as I am, it's a lot of sifting around looking for the good parts. I can see why I ultimately found it wasn't worth it and put this album aside for more consistently strong albums from beginning to end.

The only other Ca$hflow song I have is "Big Money" from the 1987 Disorderlies (The Fat Boys' movie) soundtrack. On the one hand, they sound more like they're trying to sound like Cameo on it. On their first album, they may've been under Blackman's wing, but they felt more like their own group. Now they sound like they're trying to be Cameo. But it's also a lot more upbeat and danceable, with another fun rap verse. In fact, I think Kary's gotten better at rapping since the debut album. And I guess they knew it was working for them because they wound up titling their second album Big Money in '88. I never got that album, though. I should check it out.

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