Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Some Old Sluggo Guest Spots

Today I'm revisiting a couple of early guest appearances by Slug, as in the lead MC of Minnesota's Atmosphere, plus Deep Puddle Dynamics, Dynospectrum, etc. These are some local, home state collabos from long before Atmosphere ever got on MTV or any of that craziness. It's also more traditionally b-boy kinda stuff, compared to the material with any rock influences that might've creeped into his music later on. He's young, his friends are young. Not that this is his very earliest material, that I suppose would be the first Headshots tape when he still used the full name Sluggo. But this is pretty raw, don't worry.

First up is Beyond. This one's pretty obvious, since he was a fellow Dynospectrum member; but it came out in 1996, which seems to make these Slug's first properly written and recorded verses (since the early Headshots tapes were just freestyles and live performances, not proper songs like the later tapes). Beyond went on to change his name and record as Musab, but his debut album, Beyond Comparison, is the first vinyl and CD Rhymesayers ever pressed, preceded only by those first Headshots tapes.

So Beyond's got two songs featuring Slug: "B.L.A.K. Culture" and "Unaligned Sperms" (the latter of which is only on the CD version), both produced by A.N.T. The beats are pretty simple boom bap drums with a couple samples on top, but "B.L.A.K." has Slug performing a catchy hook that goes, "Life, love, stress and set-backs. For those trying to breath, show me where your head's at." That's all he contributes to that song, however; the raps are all Beyond.

"Unaligned Sperms," on the other hand, opens with Slug rapping. He's actually kicking a verse from Headshots 4. But I guess it would be more accurate to say he's performing that bit he recorded for this album live on the Headshots tape. But either way, it became a fairly famous (by indie, underground 4 track rap standards) verse by Slug. "Shut your eyes and count to twenty 'cause I'm hidden. Religion made you think that you saw me comin', but you didn't. The jizzim and I come past; you dumb ass kids that be tryin' to run past these tongue lashes. I must be numb 'cause I don't feel you. Arise from your sleep and smell the burnt brain cells, kid. You felt it hurts; the truth hurts, but no pain is no gain. So cut your cocaine with Rogaine. I aim to clench you by your nose hairs. You flinch from the air he hits. I'm taking care of kids. Happily, rappers be catatonic when I splatter vomit verbal yellow chunks. Smell the spunk and the lacerations that I castigate when I notice the mental masquerades and focus on the masturbation. Out come: dripping fascination. You can ask my sibling Nathan; he knows the Headshots sinks from the hatred. I scratch 'till it flakes, and I scratch 'till it aches, and I scratch 'till it breaks like the back that I dismantle on a Camel Light 100. No, I'm straight, dude. And when you're dead, I hope somebody digs you up and rapes you. I hate you and your fake crew, but I'ma bust a fat nut in your embalming fluid. Beyond, run through it."

It's got a lot of raw wordplay, rambling cleverness mixed with youthful, slightly cringey gags. You know, putting the phrase "bust a fat nut" into a battle rap is pretty teenagery; and I'm sure Slug would never write a trite punchline like "I must be numb 'cause I don't feel you." So maybe it hasn't aged so well; but you can still see why all us 90s backpackers would've sweated it. With the way he keeps flipping his delivery and making so many different lines instantly memorable, you could tell Slug was the MC to watch of the crew, the guy who'd be going places. And that's just the first minute of the song, which has three more of Beyond and Slug just passing the mic back and forth, dropping names and flexing their skills.


Then, in 1998, A crew called Kanser dropped one of their earliest tapes, called Network. It's a purple tape, a la The Cella Dwellas, Raekwon and Sonya C. They've got two guest spots by Slug, one called "Progress" and one simply titled "4/10/98," which is presumably the day the song was recorded. Interestingly, A.N.T. produced their first tape, and has a song on here, but not one of the ones with Slug, which are both handled by Kanser's own Mesh.

"4/10/98" is just a fun, freestyle song with head nodding flows over a strange, little beat. The Kanser guys sound really good on here, but their voices are all kinda eye, so it's a welcome moment when Slug's baritone kicks in, "Yo yo yo, tell 'em to shut the fuck down and tell 'em what they feel, 'cause I've been flippin' lyrics since D-Nice had a deal. Back when the Jungle Brothers was on Warner Brothers, I was on a Minnesota corner flippin' rhymes with ya older brothers. And oh brother, if they could only see you now, they'd whup that ass and make ya go home to work on ya style. So I'm a stand tall 'till all starts fallin' and The Source starts writing an obituary column." It all feels off the cuff, like it was freestyled in one take, errors (you can even hear the twitchy slip of the tongue where "shut the fuck up" accidentally fuses with "sit the fuck down" to form "shut the fuck down" as he says it) and all. This has aged well, since it's still a blast; and any flaws that might be more apparent today just trip more nostalgia anyway.

"Progress" feels like a more polished song, but Kanser brings all the same qualities here that they did there. Slug's verse feels a little more mature, too; although he still squeezes in tacky (literally!) innuendos like, "eat that sandwich. Ingredients is good for ya head. Plus I spread my special mayo on both sides of the bread." Maybe it's not high art, but both of these Kanser songs have high replay value that I'm still getting a kick out of in 2015.

Finally, let's look at a song called "Hunger Pains II" by Oddjobs. It's off their debut album, Conflicts and Compromise, from 1999. Their line-up has changed a bit over the years, but on this album it's Anatomy, Deetalz, Advizer and Crescent Moon. Besides Slug, "Hunger Pains II" features a guy named Carnage and New, one of the guys from Kanser. In fact, Oddjobs were on Network, too, just not the songs with Slug. The CD's booklet doesn't specify production credits (although it tells us there's some live guitar by someone named Alex Macintosh on the song), so I guess it's just by Oddjobs as a collective.

The beat's kind of a perfect blend of upbeat and hard, just right for a big ol' posse cut. Although Slug describes it another way on his verse, "this ain't a posse cut; it's a farmer co-op. And I'm a vendor pushing vegetables to boil on your stove top. Hungry? To hell with hungry, I'm starvin'. I'm tryin' to catch a carton of Camels and some land so I can grow a garden. Pardon me, but I'm just tryin' to handle. It's hip-hop, and everywhere I walk is an example. And I linked more words to the ink in this pen, than I do the ink printed on that paper that you spend. Silly rapper, your rapper ego don't move me. You studied too many actors, you've watched too many movies. And soon we will capture the wasted canned soupy attention spans that gather near the base of my loose leaf. So here's a slap on the wrist. Class dismissed. Go home and practice before that ass ends up a past tense. Quit tryin' to be like and sound like him. Plant your own seeds and grow your own limbs. Minneapolis!" This was the kinda rhymes Slug was delivering in the 90s, tongue twisty battle rhymes with plenty of Camels cigarette references.

By the way, if you're wondering about "Hunger Pains 1," you've got me. I guess it's from some obscure demo? In 2004, Crescent Moon made "Hunger Pains Three," though, with Doomtree member P.O.S., for Rhymesayers Ent.

Anyway, it's kinda fun to think all those fancy new Atmosphere songs sprung from this. It's also nice to hear him without the rock and country elements that've drifted into his more recent music. Everything wasn't all better back then, shit was flawed, and dude was just beginning to find himself. And maybe nostalgia's infecting my tastes a bit. But I'll still take these messy old songs over the last couple Atmosphere albums any day of the week.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Spyder-D's Jazzy Break Dance Fusion

So in 1984, a jazz/ Caribbean/ Latin fusion kinda band headed by Matt Bianco released an instrumental called "Matt's Mood," which was a pretty big success for them. They've stuck together over the years and released sequel songs "We've Got the Mood (Matt's Mood '90)" and "Matt's Mood III" in 2004. Yeah, this kind of music doesn't interest me either. I think it sounds like what plays when you call your college and they put you on hold for fifteen minutes.  But it's got a catchy little riff in there I guess; and anyway the point is that it was a big enough record for a hip-hop crew to make a break-dance version of. The group is The Breakout Crew, The Breakout Krew, or The Breekout Krew. They've released records under all three spellings. And even though most pressings don't credit him, including my copy, the MC they got for it is none other than Spyder-D.

Frankly, I'm not even convinced The Breekout Krew is an actual crew. They're all basically produced and performed by one guy, Tony Carrasco, who's done a ton of dance record under his own name and others. I suspect, at its core, The Breekout Krew is just Tony plus whoever happens to be in the studio with him whenever he's in the mood to make a breaking record. I don't know; maybe somebody will cough up a glossy press photo of like four guys posing with different instruments and we'll know that's the official line-up; but I'll believe it when I see it. All their stuff has Carrasco's sound.

Of course, "Matt's Mood" also has Bianco's sound. If you've heard the original, this version is instantly recognizable. The same bassline and basic instrumentation... it's the same groove. This one just has bigger drums and hip-hop elements laid on top of it. Oh, and of course it has raps by Spyder-D.

I've seen some references to this song that imply Spyder's only on the Rap - O Version released in Germany. You can see why people would get that impression, because it's the only pressing that actually credits him on the label or cover, spelling his name Spider-D. So if you were going by discogs or something, you'd just see him on that version. But if you listen to the song, that's his very distinctive voice on all the more common versions. It's the exact same vocal track... In fact, the Rap - O Version doesn't sound any different than the US version. I think that was just what they called it to distinguish it from Bianco's original in Germany.

Anyway, Spyder-D sounds pretty great over this track (and for the record, he spells the crew's name with an "E-A-K"), and the chintzy instrumental sounds pretty decent as a slightly harder hip-hop dance track. It's kinda corny, maybe, and but it's actually pretty cool. Spyder's lyrics don't particularly help, he lets his delivery carry all the weight. But he always sounds great, especially on these early 80s style tracks, so it works. There's a little bit of singing on here, too; which is cool but by someone who is clearly not an accomplished singer. I actually think that might be Spyder, too; but maybe not [Confirmed by Spyder himself on twitter. He also posts a couple other fun facts about the song, so click here and here!].

There's a B-side, which is a pretty cool, more traditional break dance track called "Break, Break." It's basically an instrumental, with just a few sporadic vocoder lines. It's pretty funky and typical 80s break dance stuff, not based on any jazz fusion kinda stuff. Both songs also have Dub mixes, at least on the Next Plateau US pressing I've got. If you're in the mood for an upbeat, fun time that doesn't call for a lot of analytical brain power, throw this one on. It's pretty neat.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Big Daddy Kane's Two Additional Gunmen

Alright, so we just looked at the best single from the Gunmen single, now let's look at the second best: Big Daddy Kane's "Gunman." Now, Rakim's single was a wide, general release; but Kane's is promo only. This single definitely came out single, because Rakim's 12" and the full soundtrack are both from 1993, and this is dated 1994. It's interesting to note that Kane's last single for Cold Chillin' was in '93, and he started coming out on MCA in 1994, so this single may've played a part in that transition - maybe it's even what got him signed.

"Gunman" is produced by Kane himself and co-producer Michael Stokes. Stokes is an old funk/soul producer who got his start working with Kane on "Groove With It," so uh, not a good sign. He also produced that Patti LaBelle record Kane, which was also on MCA, back in 1991; so yeah, I'm sure we're seeing the hints of how Kane switched labels in here. Anyway, fortunately, "Gunman" is not a poppy dance record like "Groove" was; it's a pretty hardcore track. It's got a shout chorus: "gun 'em down, gun 'em down, gun 'em down!" and some old west-style samples over a slow drum track. That old west sound kinda reminds me of "Road To the Riches" or "The Symphony" vibe, though I wouldn't hold this record to those standards. But it's a pretty cool record with Kane in hardcore more; his voice sounds great here.
By the way, all this Gunmen talk got me curious to actually watch the movie tonight. It's not a western, which makes Kane's sample selection a little odd. It's also not a good movie, which I anticipated. But a fun surprise for hip-hop heads, all three guys from the soundtrack have cameos. Frost has a quick scene with Christopher Lambert improving some corny joke to him. Rakim is sitting next to Kadeem Hardison like, "yo man, we gonna do this business?" And Kane? Man, he's performing almost the entire "Gunman" song. See, Kadeem's character hangs out in some inexplicable American hip-hop club in the middle of South America or where ever this movie's supposed to be taking place. Ed Lover and Doctor Dre even cameo here ("yo, man, why does everybody here have guns?"). So yeah, Kane's up there performing, and not just in the background. The movie pretty much stops dead so he can do the first half of his song.

Later on, the characters return to this club and Rakim is performing "I Know You Got Soul" with Eric B! What? How did they manage that? Did they break up mid-film, so they shot those scenes and then Rakim was like, nah, I'm doing this song myself?

Well, anyway, back to "Gunman." The song's not quite Greatest Hits material, but it's a solid Kane track. But like the Rakim 12"s, the single doesn't have the album version on it (you have to get the full soundtrack for that). Instead, it's got an exclusive Remix Master Version. This version Kane did by himself, and it's an improvement. The original version was fine, and this one is still no masterpiece, but it's a little doper. It's still got some of those wild west instrumental elements in it - even new ones - but it's faster and tougher. It compliments Kane's flow a little better, too. There's some really cheesy voice saying something indistinguishable during the chorus which I could live without, but despite that, this one's better.

If you've only heard the album version, I recommend checking out the remix; it's dope. And if you've never heard either mix, while the album version isn't much worse; I'd say you can skip right to the remix and just cop the 12". It's got the Instrumental on here as well. So this and the Rakim promo 12" are the two to own, and then there's really no need to bother with the full soundtrack album.

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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The OTHER Other "High Rollers"

I got another "High Rollers" 12" to talk about. This time it's by Proof (R.I.P.). I've got a bunch of these white label 12"s by Proof and have been looking for an excuse to write about one, so here we go. After Ice-T released his "High Rollers" in the 80s and Father MC released his in the 90s, came Proof's in the 2000s. There's no date on the label, but we know from promo CD singles (plus the general release of the corresponding album and music video) that this came out in 2005.There's also no credited record label, but this is a single off his Searching for Jerry Garcia (I assume a combination of an arbitrary Search for Bobby Fischer reference, with Garcia added due to his penchant for glorifying pot smoking) album on Iron Fist Records, which was Proof's own label. It's actually the B-side, though, so let me briefly cover the A-side first.

Hmmm... Impressions of "Gurls Wit da Boom." Let's see... Oh, I got it! It sucks!

Yeah, it's pretty crap. If this was anybody's introduction to Proof, they'd be completely baffled as to how he got his reputation as D12's most credible lyricist. It's from pretty much the weakest period in his career, when he was trying to crack mainstream success as sort of a 50 Cent Lite. He's doing that soft vocal fry thing with his voice, and lyrically he's just telling us that he likes sexy girls for five minutes ("I know you suck dick. Well, that's my accusation. I'm really wonderin' if you're acceptin' applications"). I do like that he's making a L'Trimm reference almost 20 years after the fact, but he never really plays that up in the hook or anything, which might actually be for the best. I mean, vocally, it's not so much terrible or anything, it's just mediocre and sounds like the most crossover stuff of that period. It's really the minimalistic bip-boop-a-beep-boop instrumental that really brings it down. Say what you want about EDM replacing hip-hop aesthetics, but I'm glad it killed this kind of club beat everybody was rapping over in the 2000s.

"High Rollers" doesn't have a lame club beat at all, though. It's based on a real cool, old school sample... the same one that Poor Righteous Teachers used for "Word Iz Life," but this one chops it differently, leaving part of the vocals in the loop as well. It's also got some high profile guest verses by Method Man and B-Real. This time "High Rollers" is just a cheesy pun - they're high and they roll blunts, get it? And even the vocal in the loop is saying "I'm high," nyuck nyuck. But while the subject matter is old news, especially for B-Real; they come up with some cool wordplay and harder deliveries that sound great on the track. Predictably, Meth steals the show at the end, but everyone comes off well on this, even B-Real, who I'm not often swayed by.

The 12" is full of versions of "Gurls:" Explicit, Clean, Squeaky Clean, Instrumental and Acapella. But there's just the one version of "High Rollers," here misspelled as "High Roller." "Gurls" is also the one they shot the video for, again they were clearly shooting for the kind of audience Fat Joe and G-Unit were pulling in. But I think if they'd pushed "High Rollers," instead, they would've gotten more attention. Trying to blend in and sound like everyone else is how NOT to draw attention to yourself; not the best strategy for selling records. But if you're collecting today, this is worth getting cheap for the B-side.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Other "High Rollers"

Ice-T's "High Rollers" was a triumph of style and mood in late 80s hip-hop. It was a trailblazer from it's street hustler lyrics set over a bad-ass blaxploitation loop (I think it was Larry Cohen's Hell Up In Harlem) to his ultra cool, naturalistic delivery. It wasn't the first time T had used that style, but it was the first to get heavy rotation on MTV and really break out of the California scene. It was one of pioneering records in gangster rap being smooth rather than shouty hardcore, which I'm sure heavily influenced everybody from Scarface to Dr. Dre. This, however, is not that record. This is a 1995 single by Father MC.

So let's place this in the Father MC timeline. This is very early in his independent, nomadic, post-Uptown years. He had just started putting the "MC" at the end of his name. "Hey, How Ya Doin'?" was the first single of his comeback, and I believe this was #2. It's hard to say exactly, because "Sexual Playground" came out concurrently on another label; and while all three were definitely 1995 records, it's hard to nail down the exact order. But until the president of Moja Entertainment comes here to tell us different, we'll assume this is his second single.

Now it says right there on the label, "From the title album 'This Is for the Players'," which is a curious grammatical structure. But it's interesting because if you'll remember, that was the album that was essentially released twice, with almost all the same songs on two different labels. But like "Hey, How Ya Doin'," "High Rollers" is only on the This Is for the Players version, which suggests it was recorded a little later than most of the rest of the songs.

Say what you want about Father MC, even on the later indie stuff, he had a great ear for old school samples. And I really like what he's done here. Tons of rap songs before him have sampled The Gap Band's "Outstanding," from Rob Base to Rich Nice to Shaq. It's got a really iconic, instantly recognizable groove, and many who use it go pretty whole hog, even singing the same chorus. But Father (and/ or his producer here, Fabian Ashe) uses the opening drums and some other elements, but not the signature guitar or more "musical" parts, and flips it into a slow, moody song that feels nothing like the other "Outstanding"s.

Lyrically, he keeps things pretty simple. So he won't impress anyone, but at least he doesn't say anything corny or dated. It just kinda floats there in the safe median. Unfortunately, the hook doesn't fare so well. It's kinda lame, with him repeating, "only players play this record; only G's got this joint.  All the high rollers know what I mean; you can be down if you're on point." It actually looks better written than it sounds. I mean, it's not terrible, but as clever as the sample flip was, the total of this song is not one that was ever going to last through the years or even get a lot of spins when it was new. Not a bad effort, but it didn't deserve to be a single.

Which is maybe why the 12" has an exclusive remix, Soni's Chronic Mix. It's clearly so named because it's heavily influenced by Dre's Chronic-era production. It's produced by Soni D (a play on the orange drink, Sunny Delight? And surely not the same Soni D who made "Soni D Is Fresh" back in 1987?), and... just doesn't work. I could see them thinking they'd ride that wave, hence making this the single (even the Radio Edit on here is a radio cut of this remix, not the album version); but it just comes off feeling like a cheap knock-off rather than a proper song. When the bassline comes in over the hook, it doesn't even match. It feels like somebody's playing two songs at the same time. I could see turning "High Rollers" into a g-funk track working, at least to some degree, but this attempt is a failure.

This 12" closes out with the title track, "This Is for the Players," which for the record, was on both versions of the album: Sexual Playground and This Is for the Players. It's very similar in tone to "High Rollers," with him bragging about his game in a low energy, smooth style over a slow, bass-heavy instrumental. It's got a much more effective, sung hook, though. Honestly, if the lyrics were just a little entertaining, I think this could've had the strength to even appeal to listeners outside of his core audience. But as it is, it's just another acceptable Father MC song for Father MC fans; but you could hear why he wasn't going to put himself back on top with anything from this period. It's not even one the lifelong fans probably revisit that often, but it's really not that bad.

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.