Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mr. Complex Week, Day 2: Gettin' Visual Wit It

Okay, today's the day I was kind of dreading in Mr. Complex Week, the one that made me think: maybe I'll just write about his first record and leave it at that.  Why?  Because now we're up to his second record, 1997's "Visualize."  And is it wack?  No.  Do I dislike it?  No, it's just played out.  I heard it about a million bajillion times back in '97-'98 and I don't feel like I need to hear it anymore.  But it's been ages and due for a reevaluation, so we're doin' it.

"I'm Rhymin'" got him attention, but "Visualize" is the record that really put him over the top.  For just this one record, Complex was on J-Live's label (as in he was signed to it, didn't own it), Raw Shack Productions.  It was featured on every mixtape ever that year, even the Beat Junkies mix that was legit pressed and sold in mainstream stores, and it was included on the Underground Airplay tapes.  Everybody was quoting the damn thing; I remember somebody I was tape trading with (Millennials, don't ask) had the "three roaches" line as his email signature.  If  you were in New York in the 90s, you surely knew when every single radio in the city was either repeating "who dat, who dat, who dat, who dat, whoooooo" or that Little Orphan Annie sample from "Hard Knock Life" 24/7 and you felt like you just couldn't escape it.  Well, this was like that but for underground heads.  If Mr. Complex was Will Smith, this would be his "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."  The Fresh Prince was a genuinely talented and appealing MC, but you want "Touch of Jazz" or "Brand New Funk," not that crossover joint.

It's hardly Mr. Complex's fault.  "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" is a genuinely inferior pop song designed to appeal to dull masses.  Complex just made a good song that the people responded to.  And you couldn't blame them.  Mr. Complex has a great, friendly voice and comes up with genuinely appealing rhymes and wordplay.  He's the MC you just want to sit and hang out with.  And on "Visualize," he combined that with Slick Rick-style storytelling in a way that just worked.  It was one of those rap songs you just wanted to memorize.

And I have to say, it wasn't irritating like I was expecting it to be to revisit this.  I immediately got right back into it, and that simplistic, overbearing but funky "whomp whomp" sample is still catchy.  This is where Complex first linked up with DJ Spinna, who he'd later form Polyrhythm Addicts with.  In fact, Apani's on here as well, though she just provides ad-libs, no actual verse.  And the hook features some slick cuts by DJ KO.  It's all really undeniably well crafted; but after this revisit, I don't think I'll break it out for another ten years.

What I probably will replay more often is the B-side, which I'd totally forgotten.  Another Spinna track, this one's got some really nice horns and a cool, smooth track with classic drums and KO cutting up a classic Steady B record.  The label promises the song is "featuring Pharoahe Monch," but like we just saw with Little Shawn, it's another fake-out, with no actual contribution by Monch, and they're just crediting a vocal sample (not even a whole word) in the hook.  Fortunately, the song doesn't need him, and Complex is more than capable to carry the song on his own.  He sounds great over this track.  Still a bit of a rip-off, but the song is really dope and my favorite so far.  But let's see what's still ahead.

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