Monday, October 12, 2015

Rakim's Three Gunmen

In 1993, Rakim released his debut solo single without Eric B. Their last record together came out in 1992, so this was pretty quick, and fans were obviously anxious to hear him come back after the controversial break-up. It was produced, surprisingly, by a Danish production team called Madness 4 Real. They'd already made a dent in the US end of the industry producing some of Eazy-Es and MC Ren's post-NWA material, though, so it wasn't so far out of left field. It was more surprising just because you'd expect Rakim to have come with a heavier hitting producer like Large Professor or somebody. Anyway, this came out on MCA Records, not because he'd just signed with them as a solo artist, but because this single was for the Gunmen soundtrack, a presumably cheesy action movie (I never bothered to actually see it) pairing Christopher Lambert with Mario Van Peebles.

Now, the cassingle version pictured here features two mixes: the main version and The Wiz Mix, produced by Gary G-Wiz. G-Wiz is one of those guys who wound up joining The Bomb Squad later on, but wasn't part of the original line-up, and was a member of one of Chuck D's pet projects, Hyenas In the Desert. He has co-writing and production credits on some heavy jams, though, like "Know the Ledge" and "Nuff Respect." Who's hard to call who's really responsible for what in situations with group credits (Hell, he can't even trust solo credits all the time), but I think he earned his right to be producing for Rakim's solo debut, and seemed a more fitting selection than Madness 4 Real.

G-Wiz certainly came with a funky bassline, nice cuts, a dusty horn look for a hook, cracking drums and a nice little piano loop. A solid mix. But surprisingly, those Madness guys handily top it. They've got a lot of the same elements, which I guess makes sense since they made the track and G-Wiz was just remixing it. But their bassline is so much deeper and jazzier on this version. It just sounds more raw, tough, and exactly what you'd expect Rakim to come with in 1993. In fact, it fits in perfectly with "Know the Ledge" and the musical style Eric B & Rakim were coming with on their fourth album. And the G-Wiz mix is upbeat and bouncier by comparison, feeling like he tinkered around with it way too much. I mean, he doesn't ruin it, it's a cool variation; but it's clearly inferior.

But disappointingly, neither of the two 12" pressings of this single feature both mixes. And worse, they don't leave off the remix, they leave off the original! So they only have the G-Wiz mix on it - what? Admittedly, you could get the original on vinyl by getting the Gunmen soundtrack album, but that only had three original hip-hop songs on it, and a Young Black Teenagers track taken off their second album. Not too enticing. One of the other songs was by Frost, which was pretty boring and released as a maxi-single anyway. And the other one is really the only other song that's actually worth caring about, "Gunman" by Big Daddy Kane. And there's actually a 12" of that with a superior remix, too. So it's kind of a waste buying the whole soundtrack just to get the one Rakim song on wax.

Fortunately, there's a promo-only 12" to save the day. It features the Album Version, the Wiz Mix, an Acapella, a Noise-A-Pella (the acapella with some of the sparser instrumental bits in the background), and the Wiz Mix Instrumental. And it's also got a third remix, exclusive to this promo, called the One For the Bronx Remix. It's also produced by G-Wiz, but makes the effort to stay harder and darker, like the original. It's not as good, though. It's mostly got kind of a dull, filtered bass sound and a couple samples used in the previous versions. It's mostly boring and sounds a little unfinished, though it's not bad and does manage to recover some of the mood. It's worth having, but again, nothing tops Madness 4 Real's original mix.

I think some heads only caught the G-Wiz mix (because, again, that was the only version included on the commercial 12"s), so they weren't quite as impressed with this single as they should've and would've been had they heard the original mix. Again, it really maintains the sound Rakim had on his previous work, which is more than you can say for pretty much any of his solo work after this. It would be several years before he'd actually get signed and come with some albums, and he had a couple strong singles in that mix. But "Heat It Up" really should've been the lead in to a killer album showing he hadn't missed a step after the split. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and he did wind up missing some steps. But do yourself a favor and at least get this 12", which despite outward signs is actually quite good.

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