Thursday, August 18, 2016

West Coast Rap's Mysterious Dynasty

In 1992, Rhino Records released a pretty sweet series of compilation albums called West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty.  This was in an age when compilation albums were big, because suburban kids who missed out on all the rare 12"s could get whole bunches of them on single tapes or CDs.  But unfortunately, almost all of the old school rap comps featured the same handful of songs: "Rapper's Delight," "The Message," "White Lines," "The Breaks"... Sure, these are great classic songs that belong in any serious Hip-Hop head's collection, but how many times could they keep selling us just the same few songs released over and over again? And they usually weren't even the full-length versions, but short radio edits.  But by focusing on west coast history, and just some more obscure stuff in general, these albums were full of great, and still historically important songs that most of us didn't already have.  I mean, okay, some of you old school west coast DJs might be waving your hand like, "I had 'em all," but not a lot of cross-country kids had stuff like "Feel My Bass" by DJ Matrix or "Groovy Ghost Show pt. 1" by Casper.

So Vol. 1 and 2 came out together, then Vol. 3 came a few months later. To give you an idea, it featured artists like Rappers Rapp Group (and their many spin-off acts), LA Dream Team, early 2 Live Crew, Rodney O & Joe Cooley and Ice-T. In fact, there was a lot of Rappers Rapp because member DJ Flash was involved in producing these compilations.  Clearly some bias in the selection.  But that's fine with me, because Rappers Rapp were great and totally slept on, so they were mostly the highlights for these compilations to me... although, as an essentially "greatest hits" series of west coast classics, highlights abounded.  But anyway, then came the maybe the weakest, but also the most fascinating and important, final entry in the series, not called Vol. 4, but West Coast Rap: The Renegades. The title change was because entry included newer material, so it was no longer the "first dynasty."  But what made this one so "fascinating and important?" It features a bunch of unreleased material!

But actually, the unreleased material started sneaking through the cracks back on Vol. 3.  I'm pretty sure two of the tracks had never been released, certainly one hadn't.  The liner notes even refer to it as "the odd man out," their bonus unreleased cut at the end of the comp. It's "Tainted Love" by X-Calibur (spelled on these albums as Excalibur) featuring King MC of the Rappers Rapp Group.  Yes, it's a rap version of the 80s pop song by Soft Cell.  Apparently it was originally recorded in 1982, but updated in 1990.  It's pretty fun - a rap version of "Tainted Love" really works, though the lyrics are a little corny, and the updated beats are a little tacky.  Frankly, I wish they would've included the original 1982 version, but I'm happy to get this instead of the song remaining completely lost forever.

So that's the only song they list as unreleased, but as far as I can figure, DJ Flash's "Hittin' Hard" has never been released either.  The notes say it's from 1985, and it's sort of like "Scorpio," in that it's all slowly rapped vocoder rhymes over an electro-influenced beat, and he references other old school west coast records like "Egypt, Egypt."  I've looked, and I'm pretty sure this was never a B-side or anything on other records.  Either I'm getting senile, or this has never been released before either.  It's popped up on a couple subsequent compilations, which are essentially re-releases and variations of the First Dynasty series.  But I've never been able to find a DJ Flash or Future MC's record with "Hittin' Hard" on there.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because now we come to Renegades.  Although, the entirety of the Renegades album isn't unreleased.  A good chunk of it is just more compilation of west coast hit records like "Your Chance To Rock" by Rodney O & Joe Cooley and "Naughty Boy" by Uncle Jamm's Army. And those are "first dynasty" era, but they also include newer material like Madrok's "Skin Tight" featuring The Ohio Players. That was on his album and it was his big single.  But then they also have another Madrok song, that was never on his album or ever released before at all called "I.E.'s In the House," about Inland Empire, which is okay but a little too reliant on "Atomic Dog" for my tastes.  In 1993, though, it wound up being featured on the soundtrack to a Lou Diamond Phillips action movie called Extreme Justice.

And Captain Rapp makes a comeback here with "Bad Times - Part 2 (The Continuance)."  "Bad Times" was on Vol. 1 and is a pretty historically important, early west coast message rap.  It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis before they blew up.  Now, the original "Bad Times" 12" from 1983 had a "Part 2" on it, but don't let that confuse ya.  That was basically just a shortened instrumental version of the original song.  This is a newly recorded song with all new lyrics.  Even the girl who sang the original hook, Kimberly Ball, is back to sing essentially the same words the same way.  They probably could've saved some money and just sampled the original hook, but hey, it's cool to have her back. Anyway, the instrumental is essentially the same as the original, but a little sped up and modernized, but Rapp has all new raps referencing Rodney King, etc.  His verse about Jeffrey Dahmer gets morbidly detailed, verging on horrorcore:

"I hit the script that rips and grips the paradox, a fiend with a scheme like a scene from Hitchcock.  A serial killer who unleashed the apocalypse! A gory story to depict his crypt: a tiny apartment, six graves with no tombstones, and held a cellar who's full of guts and bones.  A psychopath whose tests[?] get hideous, undaunting and flaunting, he was sick and insidious.   He charmed, disarmed and turned and tricked 'em.  His kills brought ills to sixteen victims.  Strangle, dismember, and eat the body parts.  Drink the blood that flowed the human heart.  Families mourn after questions, why?  Remains in a barrel were left to acidify.  He's locked in prison, but streets aren't calmer.  Somewhere out there lurks another Jeffrey Dahmer!"

Ummm, wow.  Okay.  Overall, it's pretty cool, but so close to the original that it's hard to get very excited for it.  Kimberly also has "I Can't Stand It" later on the album, which is essentially the same song but with just her singing extra verses to replace Captain Rapp's contribution.


Perhaps the strangest inclusion is two new songs by a completely unknown artist named Kid Solo.  Not only had he never done anything before this, he never has since.  I guess this was a kid DJ Flash was managing maybe, because he has production credit on one of the songs, and again, Flash's fingerprints are on every aspect of these albums.  So maybe he was just showcasing his new act.  One of the song's is a rap version of "That's the Way I Like It" and neither of them are very good.  He's a very poppy dance rapper, sounding inspired by acts like B.G. Prince of Rap and C&C Music Factory, and doesn't seem worthy of inclusion here.

Or, no.  Actually I think the strangest inclusion is "Hold Back the Tears" by a duo called P.A.N.I.C. Like Kid Solo, this is their only song anywhere, and it's a dedication to Magic Johnson.  DJ Flash's name isn't even on this one, so I'm extra puzzled why this was here.  It's not very good, with some corny rhymes ("you don't have to be a Tinkerbell to get a virus from Hell") and a really awkward hook.  I guess this album was an excuse for Rhino Records to throw in whatever west-coast related stuff they had on hand?

Anyway, it's not all material by nobodies.  Egyptian Lover made a new megamix of some of his earlier hit records for this album, called "Egypt's Revenge."  He later wound up including it on his album Pyramix, though.  And remember when I said I wished they'd included the 1982 version of X-Calibur's "Tainted Love" on Vol. 3?  Well, I think they heard me and decided to do the opposite: they recorded and included a newer Dance Re-Mix, which downplays the rap vocals.  And DJ Flash made a new track specifically for this compilation called "The First Dynasty- Mega-Mix," which like its name implies, is a mega-mix of a bunch of the hits from the previous three albums.  But interestingly, it has new verses by 2 Bigg MC, Hammer's former hype-man who put out a record in 1990.

Finally, they've got two unreleased songs by King MC, one serious: "Ghetto Drama", and one silly: "Double-O Seven," which is another rap song using a James Bond theme.  And unlike, say, "I'm Large," he also raps about being James Bond in the lyrics.  King MC moved to Europe after his stint with The Future MC's, and he put out some records with dance and club artists over there.  These are from that period, but a little more traditionally hip-hop.   Not his best work, but good enough that his fans will be happy to get them.

So, I wouldn't recommend Renegades to casual listeners.  I would recommend the Rap Dynasty albums, especially if you missed a lot of these records the first time around.  But most people can stop after Vol. 3.  But for serious fans and diggers interested in the history, Renegades is kind of a slept on treasure trove of exclusive odds and ends.

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