Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 1: Rhymin' About Nothin'

This might be a "Week" you weren't expecting.  I was just going through my records looking for something that might be good to write about, and I kind of surprised myself stumbling on all these Mr. Complex records.  I remember being impressed with him back in the day and excited as each new 12" dropped.  I was a straight up fan.  But I haven't thought about this material in years.  I literally haven't spun this wax in decades.  But it's not because I now think he's wack or anything.  I remember he had a video a year or two ago of some new music, and he hadn't fallen off.  But these old records just haven't even crossed my mind in ages.  So I'm gonna spend the next week revisiting his vintage material.

If you don't remember, or you're younger and missed it, Mr. Complex is a Queens MC who started out by virtue of being friends with Organized Konfusion.  He was an Unsigned Hype artist in an early '95 issue of The Source (intriguingly, the write-up of his demo mentions an unreleased song called "Standin' On a Verb") and with that and a couple radio appearances under his belt, he pressed up his debut 12" on his own label, Corecords: 1995's "I'm Rhymin'."  It was the kind of indie record I couldn't find locally but was able to order from an old Point Blank catalog (remember them?).  It got a lot of underground coverage and even peaked into the mainstream mags.  It was all favorable and you could feel the excitement around this new cat.

Mr. Complex's style was like rapping for rapping's sake.  I don't know if he'd be keen on the label, but you could definitely file him under backpacker.  He starts off one of the songs on this 12" by saying, "this song right here's about nothin'. But it's the way that I'm saying nothin' which makes it somethin'."  So that should give you some idea.  Mainstream audiences looking for an emotional connection to their music may not find a lot of appeal to this 12", but rap nerds were in hog heaven.

The song "I'm Rhymin'" has a fun and easy concept to latch onto.  As the hook goes, "I'm rhymin' the same words, same words."  And that's the idea.  He rhymes the same words but with alternate meanings, like, "My name is Complex, I’m very complex. I have a complex, plus I’m comp. Don’t flex."  It's fun. It's got kind of a cool, staccato piano beat produced by Pharoahe Monch, though the recording has a really low-fi feel, almost like it's a radio freestyle rather than a properly recorded song.  I mean, not quite that extreme, but along those lines.  I wouldn't have minded a fresher record of this.  The acapella (as well as the instrumental) is on here, so it would be easy for anyone to remix.

Anyway, next up is "Very Complex Skit," which is just a snippet of a Stretch & Bobbito show where they name drop Mr. Complex.

Next up is "Against the Grain," produced by Prince Po.  This one doesn't sound so raw; it's a really funky, percussion-heavy track, with Complex just flexing wordplay like "oh what a relief it is when I get bus - ness, like a toy store the day before Christmas. Miss, ask Mister, brother man ask sister how I twist her, or dissed her, it's a lyrical fist-icuff when I puff mics.  I straighten out dykes with my T-square; I swear like a sailor. You get hemmed up and pressed up like permanent press but, uh, I'm not a tailor."  It's got a nice Kool G Rap vocal sample from "Death Wish" for the hook.

Finally, there's "Feel Me," which has the most flush instrumental, produced by somebody credited as... Godlike Yabach UAC of Peace of Mind.  Whoever the heck that is.  It's a real head-nodder, though, and in 2016, probably the one that actually holds up the best.  This one had plenty of punchlines, too; but the music competes more with the rhymes, whereas on the other two songs, it feels like they hang more on the novelty of his lyrics.  And the punchlines don't age was well as the flows and rhythms.  The instrumental for this and "Against the Grain" are on here, too, making for a pretty loaded 12" single all told.

I've also got this demo tape of his first single.  It only lists the two songs, but it's actually a complete rip of the 12", instrumentals, acapellas and all.  The side break even comes mid-song and resumes on the flip, which is annoying.  And if you listen through the blank space at the end, you hear a brief clip of an Xzibit song, so it's a nit of a half-assed demo, with nothing exclusive on it, but still kind of a nice, tiny piece of history to have.  So I've enjoyed revisiting this one; it's still fresh.  And it's not rare, so if you want it, it can be found cheap (the 12", I mean, not the tape).  But I'm looking forward to moving to his more polished efforts after this one.


  1. "Feel Me" was credited to Lee Stone later - could be his early alias?