Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tragedy's Infamous Cop Killer Song Finally Discovered and Released!

Wow, this is a major one, folks! Two of hip-hop's leading limited vinyl labels, Heavy Jewelz and Diggers With Gratitude have joined forces to release one of the most important recoveries of lost vintage material to date. Hopefully you remember a couple years ago, when DWG released the first Black Rage EP, a collection of three original demo mixes of songs from Tragedy's second album. It had the unheard remixes on side A, and released versions on side B. That was pretty damn cool, but Black Rage Demos Part 2 is an even bigger deal. This EP doesn't need to be padded out with tracks we already have, because it's six (technically eight, but two are instrumental skits) track collection of the rest of the unreleased Black Rage project, including completely unheard songs, including his infamous "cop killer" song "Bullet."

Most of us are already familiar with the legend of the song, though you've probably never heard it. The whole "Cop Killer" controversy had just happened over Body Count's song, and Tragedy was on the same label, Warner Bros, as The Intelligent Hoodlum. Well, technically he was on A&M, but Time Warner owned A&M Records along with a bunch of other labels. Warner was running scared and had Tragedy pull a song called "Bullet" off his upcoming album, Black Rage, which was eventually retitled Saga Of a Hoodlum (he didn't even get to keep the album title), because it also had reference to cop killing.

There's a pretty good article from the September 3, 1992 issue of The Chicago Tribune which interviews both Trag and A&M president Al Cafaro. Trag said, "I was approached with an option by the president of the record label: 'If you want to put it out as is, you can take it to another record label.' ...I don`t want the song to be misunderstood, but I will admit that the song is a cop-killing song. However, it is a reaction to cops killing... It was like, 'Yo, this is a touchy subject right now, but we're going with it.' That was the vibe at first. But as the Ice-T situation escalated, the label felt more responsible to the label than to the song." Cafaro added, "When I heard the song, I was taken aback... This song really stepped over the line... The conclusion I reached was that I couldn't stand behind [the song]. I couldn't in good faith release this, and then, if called upon, stand behind it and defend it." There's plenty more in the article, including more from both of them, plus details of other artists' songs that got removed from their albums for referencing cop killing, too. So go ahead and read the whole thing here.

And now that we get to finally hear it, yeah, it's not just a song that references cop killing, it is a full on ode to it. It opens up with the chorus, "shoot a cop, gonna shoot a cop dead! (Buck buck!) Kill a cop, put a bullet in his head!" And none of the verses soften that message. Interestingly, it's got some extra samples on the hook, but the instrumental is essentially Master Ace's "Music Man." Now I'm not one to cheer on hate speech, but I do like my artistic expression undiluted and uncensored, and there's no question that this song and the other tracks on this EP would've made for a hotter, more compelling Black Rage album than the Saga Of a Hoodlum LP (which was still quite good) we got.

And just what else is on here? Well, let's start small, with the two skits, "Intro" and "Fuck George Bush." The first is a funky, little breakbeat and the second is based on a vocal sample loop saying exactly what you think. Then there's an alternate version of "Underground," a song which did make the Saga Of a Hoodlum cut. This version isn't very different, with the same vocals and the same samples flipped the same way. The "here we go" chorus is different, though, and it doesn't have the scratching on the hook. I guess the main difference is that it has a less sleigh-bell heavy drum pattern, which I do prefer; but ultimately it's too similar to the album version to be very exciting. These are just nice little extras to have, I'd say.

Now let's get to the more exciting stuff. "Black Rage" is the title track that never was, and there are no production credits, but it's got that funky early 90s Marley Marl feel, but a little rougher, in tone with the song's clear concept. And "Rebel To Amerikkka" takes it even further. I don't think I can put it any better than the press sheet that calls it, "a worthy (and considerably angrier) successor to 'Arrest the President'." That's true both lyrically, where he aggressively goes after Bush, and instrumentally, which is frantic but tough. These songs are great; it never ceases to blow my mind how much great music artists and labels have just shelved and forgotten about.

I should pause to point out here, though, that this song and "Bullet" also feature uncredited guest verses. I'd love to find out who this is. I do have a guess, but I wouldn't say I feel very certain... could it be Scram? I don't know much about Scram, but he seemed to be a DJ for Trag around this time. He gets shouted out at the end of "Posse (Shoot 'Em Up)," and I was googling around trying to find any info on him, but only found out that RapGenius seems to think it's a reference to Scram Jones, a producer Trag would work with in his later Khadafi years. I may not know much about Scram, but I do know that's wrong. First of all, SJ has done some good stuff, but I'm fairly certain he's too young to have been around back then. But also, primarily, he's a white guy. Here, go look at some photos on his website. Now look at this photo, clearly labeled, of Trag and Scram from the inside of the In Control Volume 2 cassette [right]. That's a different dude. And Scram does get name checked on this EP (particularly the "Black Rage" song). So that's my guess. But who knows? It could be anybody without a distinctive enough voice to rule out. He comes off well on this EP anyway.

So what else is there? There's "Adolescents At War," which has a nice slow funk feel to it. And all these songs, combined with the first Black Rage EP, apparently represent the entire unreleased Black Rage album now (after all, some of it WAS released as Saga). The fact that every song on here is highly socio-politically charged is really powerful and honestly, if Black Rage had come out as originally intended, I think it would've make much bigger waves. But at least we finally get to hear it now.

And that's not quite everything. The last song I don't believe was ever intended for Black Rage, but it's from the same period, and definitely fits in conceptually with the rest of this material. It's an unreleased remix of "America Eats the Young," Trag's song from Marley's second album. Interestingly, it's a lot smoother. I don't think it's as effective as the screechy, high energy track that did get released was, but this is a cool alternative. This mix also doesn't have Chuck D's back-up vocals, which is fine, since it was always disappointing he never kicked a verse on the original anyway. Instead, they have a chorus of children repeating the mantra, "America eats the young," on the hook.

Sound quality is great. I think it's all taken from professionally released, official promo tapes, and then further remastered, just like the recent Young Zee album I was involved with. It's all clear and robust.

This EP is limited to 300 copies, and as of this writing is still available from DWG's Fresh Pressings store. As pictured above, it comes in a sticker cover and with DWG's traditional press sheet. Now, 150 of them are pressed on traditional black wax. But if you copped it as part of a bundle with DWG's other new release, Jae Supreme's Life Work EP, which includes the vinyl debut (FINALLY!!) of Nas's demo track "Villain," then you got one of the 150 blue/green translucent vinyl copies, which is now sold out. But the black is still available, so don't sleep. Releases like these don't come around too often.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Godfather Don's Final Unreleased Project

Not to be confused with Godfather Don's recent EP of the last unreleased Cenobites' tracks on Chopped Herring Records, this is an EP of the last of his unreleased solo tracks on Chopped Herring Records. Directly titled Final Unreleased Project 1989-1998, this is a 5-song 12" of demos that, unlike the Cenobites EP, have all gone pretty much completely unheard up 'till now. Every single one of these is completely new to me, which is fun.  (=

1989-1998 is a pretty long span, and on this record, it's split by sides. In other words, side A consists of all songs the 1989 era, and side B has songs from 1997-1998. For me, side A is more exciting. 1989 means these date all the way back before his involvement with Ultramagnetic. I mean, I don't know exactly when these tracks are from. The label doesn't specify, and I've seen it written many places online that all the tracks on side A are from 1989. But in the first song, "Rhymes From the Market," he references his Hazardous album, which came out in 1991; so it must be at least after that, right? So the exact years are up in the air, but in general, the A side is the older stuff, and the B side is late 90s.

The first two joints are some really hype, freestyle demos. The only downside is they sound like demos, sourced from a cassette. I'm sure it's the best these songs could possibly sound, but these don't sound like the perfectly mastered songs we're used to from Chopped Herring's EPs. They have that second generation tape quality, but it does kinda fit the low budget feel of the songs themselves. They're fast paced races through light-hearted freestyle rhymes over two def tracks.

The third, and the last of the earlier side A songs, is called "Imitation of Life." You'll recognize the instrumental right away, it's the same loop as Kool G Rap's "Edge Of Sanity." Don even uses it the same way, to kick a narrative rap crime story. G Rap's had extra live instrumentation added to it, some very west coast sounding stuff that indicates Sir Jinx's hand, so this is a little more stripped down. But the use of the same loop combined with the same style of rhyme makes me think there's a story here: one of these guys heard it and bothered it from the other one. With no specific dates for the Don tracks, though, it's impossible to say which came first.

Flip this record over and the feel is totally different, with Don kicking his much denser, deliberate rhyme style and the sound quality sounding cleaner and better mastered. These last two tracks definitely come from his Hydra error. In fact, the second song, "Talk the Talk," uses the phrase "diabolique" as the bulk of the hook (backed by a nice Pete Rock vocal sample from "Fakin' Jax"), so perhaps it was an early pass as the title track to that album? It's a totally different instrumental and collection of verses, though, so it isn't some lost premix; it's a totally unique song.

Overall, this is a great EP that Don fans will love even all of the tracks don't sound professionally mastered. It's five killer tracks we've never heard before, and they're better than some of the stuff we have, like say the Donnie Brasco album. As usual, this is limited to 350 copies, with 75 on white (white), green and red mixed vinyl, 75 on a mix of gold, clear (clear) and red, and the remaining 200 on standard black. And as you can see, it comes in a sticker cover with an illustration by Don himself (or maybe not, see the comments. I just assumed 'cause it kinda looked like his style).

And by the way, if you're a fan of Don's (and if you've read this far, I assume you are), you should also check out his recent 7" with producer Soulicit. It's a brand new song and it's really great - Soulicit has made a track perfectly suited for Don, with some nice scratching by none other than Mista Sinista of the X-Men. There's a Mighty V.I.C. remix on the B-side and instrumentals for both. It comes in a picture cover and green and white (white) colored vinyl from KicDrum Products. Usually, I tend to pass over 7"s, but I strongly recommend this one. But if he keeps making dope music like this, he's going to wind up creating more hot unreleased music, and Chopped Herring will have to make a Final Unreleased Project 2015-2051!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Cenobites' Final Unreleased Joints?

Remember when Godfather Don was swarming the limited marketed, with hot releases on One Leg Up, DWG and No Sleep? There was his solo stuff, and there was a sick Cenobites EP on OLU. We were loving it, but then the well seemed to run dry. A lot of heads assumed that we'd just thoroughly cleaned out his vaults; there just wasn't anymore. But us super(nerd)fans who followed all the mixtapes, radio recordings and Napster mp3s knew there were still a couple more Cenobites tracks left unheard.  What was the deal with them? Maybe the masters were lost, and those terrible sounding rips were the best we would ever get. But a brand new record from Chopped Herring called Pull the Trigger and Step disproves that notion - they've got "Kool Keith & Godfather Don's final, unreleased joints from the mid 90's Fondle 'Em Records sessions!"

And yes, songs we've known about and heard are finally presented on here. Even better, completely vintage but new to our ears songs have been found and presented here! The only strange thing is that they say "final, unreleased joints," but just like we knew and I wrote in 2008, we know there's still a couple more still unreleased. Maybe those masters really are lost? But, regardless, this is an awesome and welcome release, so let's dig in and break it down track by track:

1. Cold Peein On Em (Remix) - Yeah! "Cold Peein On Em" is the song I've probably seen requested online the most that never turned up. And here it is, sounding great. But... it's a remix? So, there's one still unreleased track right there - where's the original mix? I mean, actually this version sounds like the one that people have heard. It's got the same killer horn sample on the hook, same lyrics, same funky track. I guess we've never heard the original version? So, that's good because that means people are getting the version they want here, and we've never heard it in full quality on vinyl before.

2. Hot Crib Promo Pt 2 w/ Cage - "Pt 1" was on the Demented Thoughts EP, and like that one, this is another radio freestyle that was previously featured on Cage's self-released For Your Box tape and CD. This its debut on vinyl, though, and it sounds notably better here. I guess they got a better source from Don, so I'm happy to have it here.

3. Pull the Trigger and Step - Whoa! What is this? I've never heard of this one! Like I said, this EP introduces us to new unheard material, and this is one of the best Cenobites tracks across all their records! No wonder why CH made it the title track.

4. Lazy Woman - Finally. This is a dope little song about the perils of attaching yourself to someone who'll just use you for your money that's been floating around for years and years. Now we're finally getting it on vinyl in high quality.

5. Break Em Down - This is another we've been waiting for. This is a really funky track from Don, and Keith comes kinda smooth on this one, though with his trademark craziness, too, of course: "I get a piece of your neck just like a haircut. Deep in that booty, I'm rubbin' alcohol. Okay. MCs wanna play play, soundin' like they're gay gay, I tap 'em all on their shoulder and say yo, hey hey. No snappin' necks. Piss and shit on the floor. Yo, give me your address, I'm comin' over... right now."

6. Your Time Is Now - This one's been floating around as a Kool Keith demo entitled "Suckas Be Gone," because Don doesn't rap on here. But he made the track and it sounds very much in keeping with the other Cenobites tracks here, which is a compliment 'cause the Cenobites sound is great.

And by the way, unlike the Demented Thoughts EP, this EP heavily features Keith. This isn't another one that's practically a Don solo EP with a token appearance by Keith. Both of them are on almost every track.

So what's still MIA? Maybe not a ton (that we know of), but there's some stuff for sure. Well, again, that mysterious O.G. version of "Cold Peein On Em" of course. There's one called "You Lose," which is more just an interlude than a full song, but it's got an original instrumental and all... it's not a skit. And most importantly of all is "We Can Do This," a wild posse cut with Ultramagnetic's TR Love and Mike L from some of Don's early 90s records. I love the flute sample on that one, combined with the frenetic beat. Plus, there's the extended version of "MCs Out To Murder the World" (which is double the length of the original) and "Stretch and Bob Buggin Out" freestyle joint that One Leg Up only put out as mp3s on ITunes. I think there's just enough for a solid Volume 2 here, that would be worth the purchase. So hopefully that word "final" isn't too etched in stone.

But again, let's focus on what we have got. I'm impressed with the sound quality here. There's always been a low-fi feel to The Cenobites' recordings, but it's nice and crisp, even if it doesn't have the lush sound of a glossy U2 album recorded in a billion dollar studio. It's certainly a huge upgrade from the old cassette dubs I've had all these years, or what's still kicking around Youtube. As you can see, it comes in a sticker cover. And Chopped Herring have bumped up their limited run a little bit, pressing 400 copies of this: 75 on clear (clear), black & green mixed colored vinyl, 75 on white(white), green and blue mixed colored vinyl, and the remaining 250 on your standard black. It's a great day for fans.

Friday, December 4, 2015

And Now Han Solo Takes the Mic

Following up yesterday's post about Shamroc the Abstract Jedi, we have one of Sham's crew members (I'm guessing he's another member of The Abstract Jedis, but at the very least he's another guy on Oh Sham Recordings with a Star Wars themed tape), Dahflow a.k.a. Han Slow Flow a.k.a. Adolfo. His first single and he's already given himself three names; this guy's worse than Kool Keith. With the new Star Wars movie's big selling point being the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, I guess this post is extra fitting.

So this is a single called "Step Up," which according to the inside notes, is "[f]rom the upcoming album 'Step Up.' Available on cassette, vinyl and CD." As with Shamroc's album, though, I'm not sure that ever happened. But we've got the lead single, at least on cassette. This also came out in 2000.

This tape, though, isn't really Star Wars rap. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of Hal Solo references, including soundbites from the movies. It opens with a clip of Armageddon where Owen Wilson and Ben Affleck bicker over which one of them gets to call himself Han Solo. And there is a Star Wars themed song called "The Next Jedi Break" which sets some of the Star Wars score (and, nicely, it selects other moments than the most famous themes) to hip-hop drums, but it's strictly an instrumental. Dahflow never brings Star Wars into his lyrics on this one. And let's not lose sight, that's actually probably a good thing.

We've basically got two songs (plus "The Next Jedi Break"), the first of which is the title cut, "Step Up." It's your standard battle rap directed at nobody in particular, with a hook that goes, "so y'all think y'all beats are better than mine? So y'all think y'all beats are better than mine? Well I think y'all need to go back to the lab and practice a lot more before you (step up)!" Of course the "step up" part is the same vocal sample Gangstarr used on "Step Into the Arena" and then 2Pac lifted on "I Get Around." It's a pretty good track and Dahflow rides it pretty well, with a Scott Lark-like style; but I don't know that it's really exceptional enough to make it worth seeking out an obscure release like this.

And that applies even more so to "Stare," which I guess is sort of his "Bonita Applebum." He sings his own hook, which is interesting; he's shooting for more of an atonal Erykah Badu style than a full Johnny Gill. And it's got kind of the funky, soulful yet quirky vibe of "Applebum," but less so. It just doesn't have that super catchy sample that Tip had found, and lyrically it gets a little corny: "so we get in her van, act like long-time friends, grab my hands and now I'm in like Flynn. Puerto Rican peekin' Asian, slight taste of Caucasian. She had to be one of God's beautifullest creations on the planet Earth. I wish I knew her since birth because I definitely woulda been puttin' in work."

So this is a cool companion piece to the Shamroc tape, but on its own it's just okay. And while it makes plenty of token gestures, it doesn't really deliver on its promise of Star Wars-related novelty. It does make me wonder what else from Oh Sham actually got released... They actually still have an official website online as of this writing, but all of its sections are blank and infortmation-less. I suspect the Abstract Jedis' Alliance album might actually be out there, because the two tapes I've got have a picture of its cover on their interior artwork. Shamroc and Dahflow's full-length albums I'd say are less likely, but you could maybe find The Alliance. And it probably has plenty more Star Wars content for you if you do.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Is It Time To Break Out the Obscure Star Wars Rap Yet?

So you probably haven't heard yet, because they're playing it pretty close to the vest, but Disney is planning to release a new Star Wars movie this month. And yeah, I'm already planning to see it with some friends. I mean, not on opening night, because what're you, crazy? But, so yeah. I thought I'd indulge in a little Star Wars fever with this obscure indie release from 2000: "War Of the Stars" by Shamroc the Abstract Jedi.

So yeah, this is some nerdy backpacker stuff. Of course, who else would go whole hog into Star Wars rap? There have been others (I already blogged about Phoenix Orion's entry into the topic), and they've all been indie, backpacker, "super lyrical" guys. Nothing wrong with that, though; I dig that stuff!

So, this is essentially an EP. You could call it a single, but it's loaded with B-sides. There was a 12" version as well, but that has more accapellas not found here, while this cassette has exclusive remixes instead. It does purport to me from an upcoming full-length album called Return Of the Abstract Jedi. I'm not sure if that ever came out, but Oh Sham Recordings did get at least one other project out there, so it might've.

And by the way, this Shamroc isn't a complete nobody out of obscurity. He and his crew - The Abstract Jedis are also a group, who were set to release an album called The Alliance - seem to be from San Diego, and he's got Drez (as in "The Cool Fantastic") producing and cutting on a couple tracks here.

Anyway, "War Of the Stars" is the title track, and it's a hip-hop beat making heavy use of the classic Star Wars theme... You know, that "bom, bom, bom, bom ba-bom, bom ba-bom" that booms when Darth Vader marches into frame. And Shamroc's rhymes are all Star Wars references, though he's not actually rapping about the film. He's using it as more of a metaphor for him being a hip-hop savior, come to turn hip-hop from gangsta and bling rap to old school hip-hop lyrical integrity. But believe me, you won't feel shorted of Lucas' space adventures in your listening experience. They even play a clip from the original film (when Obi Wan is training Luke to use the force) before the song starts. And there are more vocal samples from your favorite characters throughout the song. And once he starts rapping, it's all:

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,
Hip-hop was fresh and real B-boys had somethin' to say.
Today it's pimps, playas and hustlas, who hip-hoppers don't play,
And the humanoid Shamroc the Abstract Jedi saves the day.
I'm A New Hope..."

And it's non-stop Star Wars punchlines from there on, like "I open mics like tauntauns," "fake MCs fall to the dark side," or "others' main concern is wearing gold like C3PO." Although it doesn't stop him from squeezing in politics and points like "I know Hilfiger was a racist." It's interesting, and it's great that it's got this extra layer of substance to it; but you've to be prepared to take your hip-hop extra nerdy to rock this. I mean, really, if he came out just a few years later and posted this song on Youtube, he would've been in the Nerdcore documentary.

The whole tape's not Star Wars rap, though. The next song, "Make It Mo' Betta" is a Drez instrumental with a healthy dose of live piano over the top. and there's another instrumental called "Still Unknown." Then "Uranite Stance" is an old school throwback, full of 80s samples and Shamroc rapping a medley of classic rap lyrics with his name in them, i.e. "MC am I, people call me Sham." It's fun and Drez provides a lot of cuts, but it's too derivative to really get excited about. So it makes perfect sense he's made it an little B-side. It ends with a nice scratch DJ showcase, though, which is practically a whole other song, except it's not listed that way in the notes.

Flip the tape over and you get instrumentals for "War Of the Stars" and "Uranite Stance," and the exclusive remixes for both. The "War Of the Stars" track by DJ Mane One is pretty cool, with a lot of funk guitar samples and some nice 70s-style horns. But anyone listening to this song is surely going to want to hear the version with the Star Wars music - they should've saved that instrumental for another song. And the "Uranite Stance" remix is cool; it's more classic samples, largely blending Eric B & Rakim's "Check the Technique" with Sugarhill's "Tonto."