Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stezo's Unfinished Second Album

Stezo released his debut album, Crazy Noise on Sleeping Bag Records back in 1989. Since then, over the years, he's released a slew of underground singles, some guest verses with his crew and recorded a couple full-length demos, but to this day he's never had a second album. He did begin recording a second Sleeping Bag album, though, which was meant to closely follow the first in 1990. And Dope Folks Records has just released those tracks on their brand new, limited EP Unreleased and Rarities.

Soundclips for "Police Story" drew my attention even before this record shipped. It uses the same descending piano sample Biz Markie used on his third album and Gravediggaz used for "Constant Elevation." But this was recorded before any of those, so if the album had come out, Stezo would've had it first. Lyrically, he breaks down a real life encounter he supposedly had with a police officer, where an officer stops him thinking he's a drug dealer but then jocks him when he finds out he's Stezo. It's definitely not as dramatic a narrative as K-Solo's "Fugitive," and it's all very low energy; so it feels like it would've been a cool album filler track, but it's not really a single.

Now that I've actually got the record and have been playing it through repeatedly, "Here To School Ya" is my jam. This one is single ready. He's just busting freestyle rhymes over a sick drum track and a killer jazzy loop. And I love the horns on the hook; it all reminds me of classic DITC; I love it. The other song is "I Have a Dream," which is nice, too. It uses, obviously, Martin Luther King Jr. vocals for a hook, and I love speech samples as rap choruses; they always sound great. Lyrically, the song's kinda preachy and on the "I'll Take Your There," "Erase Racism" kinda tip. It's cool, and obviously a good message, but you probably won't drive around bumping it in your car like "School Ya."

So okay, that's it for Sleeping Bar era stuff, but there's still plenty more on this EP - the rarities of the title. Now, two of the songs on this EP were first released on an indie 12" in 1996 on a label called E&R Music. I wasn't up on it at the time, but I can remember buying some completely generic mixtape at the mall just because it had those songs on it. One of them featured K-Solo, who'd been out of the public eye since his second album for Atlantic in 1992 (this came out just before he appeared on Redman's Muddy Waters and wider audiences found out about his comeback). This was right at the heyday of the Def and Hit Squads, so I was pretty psyched to see Stezo coming back and with K-Solo to boot. Had he linked back up and joined Sermon's crew again? We didn't know. It made enough noise to get picked up and re-released by J-Bird Records in 1997. And that second version, which I ultimately picked up on CD, featured two other songs from another indie 12" Stezo had put out in 1996, this time on Funktown Flav Records. In fact, Stezo credits Funkmaster Flex for spinning that 12" and creating the buzz, which got him signed to J-Bird. So the 1997 record is basically a merger of the two earlier records stuck together, and this release is everything all combined. No B-sides or anything are left off, just instrumentals and an acapella.

Still, these songs are less valuable since they've all been released before... twice even. They're nice if you don't already have them - they were both hot singles, produced by Chris Lowe - but even if you didn't, they were still already available. But Unreleased and Rarities has one last little surprise on here: an exclusive DJ Funkdat remix of "Where's the Funk At?" This wasn't included on the '96 or '97 releases because, I'm pretty sure, it's newly recorded for this single. Funkdat is a younger producer from Slovakia, so I'm pretty sure he wasn't working with Stezo in 1996. And "Where's the Funk" is the only one of these four songs that included the acapella on the old records. But he does a great job of creating a very 90's-style instrumental that if I didn't know better, could easily have me convinced it's vintage.

So, this EP is limited to Dope Folks' usual 300 copies. 200 Are pressed on traditional black vinyl, or you could splurge a little ($5 extra) for one of the 100 yellow (yellow) copies, pictured. I think it looks particularly good, matching the yellow on the labels. Anyway, sound quality is excellent on these. I mean, the 90s tracks always sounded good, so Dope Folks would've had to have done something wrong to mess those up. But I was happy to hear the 80s tracks sounding so good. This record is a real win for Stezo fans.

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