Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 7: Tony D's Eminem

I've covered the most recent Shawn Lov projects before, but this is the perfect Week to go back and look at his most recognized record.  If you go through his catalog now, it's not his first release, but basically any of the earlier stuff is online-only material that most fans have been discovering in retrospect.  This was his vinyl debut, produced by Tony D in 1999 on his own Cha-Ching Records label.  And this is really when he started appearing on diggers' radars, in no small part because it had a real Eminem vibe just as the Eminem craze was blowing up.

I don't mean to say that Shawn was like an Eminem clone; this is no Dasit situation.  Even in his super early stuff, Shawn was very much his own artist.  And I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle for a while about every white MC getting compared to Eminem and accusing them all of sounding alike, a la Asher Roth's "As I Em."  But first of all, Asher did come out with Em's sound, and secondly, that complaint is kinda B.S.  Nobody ever said Vanilla Ice sounded like The Beastie Boys or the Insane Clown Posse sounded like 3rd Bass.  In fact, at the time, Eminem was getting a lot of his signature style from The Outsidaz.  But ever since I first heard this single, you're going to have a hard time convincing Tony D didn't put Shawn on thinking he was catching a little bit of the Eminem wave with this kid.

And to be clear, that's not a bad thing.  When people were saying The Wizard of Rap sounded like Rakim in '89, that wasn't their way of saying, "waiter, take this back to the kitchen."  It was more of a reason why "you gotta get this record!"  Eminem is still one of the most respected rappers around, but there was no better time to sound like Em than '97-2000.  That was his peak.  Think about it: Tony D producing an indie 12" for Eminem back then, wouldn't you want to hear that?  Well, you almost kinda sorta can.

So let's finally talk about this record for a minute.  The first song "That's What's Up," is just a fun, punchline heavy battle freestyle rhymes over a bouncy beat.  And yeah he sounds like Eminem sounding like The Outsidaz... his voice with the higher pitch, the way he races from line to line, changing voices to respond to himself.  But then the B-side, "Respect This," is less so.  He sounds more like himself here, more natural.  The beat is heavier, too, and the rhymes are less jokey.  He's free of the influence, and actually I think this song has aged much better for it.  In 2017, this is really the song I mostly revisit the vinyl for.

But there's one more song, called "Pathetic," and I think this is actually his most Em influenced sounding of all.  Instrumentally, it's not.  Tony D lays down a cool and jazzy but very familiar track.  But then Shawn comes actually sounding like he's doing a deliberate Emzy impression on this song.  The way he packs syllables into punchlines, pitches up on the hook and again changes voices is all so much like "Just Don't Give a Fuck."  It's almost like Tony made a smoothed out remix with Em's Acapella.

Now, let's head over to Shawn's bandcamp page, because he wrote out some cool descriptions for all his back catalog, and I'm curious what he says about this.  The songs here were only physically released on this 12", but he has a whole mp3-only album (or maybe there was a rare CD?) of these sessions he recorded with Tony D called The G.O.D. LP, and all three songs are on it.  One quote from there kind of confirms my theory, at least partially: "Recorded in 1998... The G.O.D. was the album that was intended to introduce Shawn Lov to the Hip-Hop world at a time when there were no other 'White' Emcees with comparable talents."  Pay particular attention to the "recorded in 1998" part, because he also writes, "I'm Pathetic,' a self-deprecating song created a year before Eminem came along, who enjoyed global success using the same humorous shtick."  I'm glad to see this because it shows I'm not the only one drawing the Eminem connection.  But more to the point, the 12" was released in '99, but these songs were recorded in 1998.  Okay.  And what year did The Slim Shady EP come out and make the underground scene go crazy?  1997.  So my timeline holds up.

But "Pathetic" has a unique premise which is not out of the Slim Shady playbook.  It's basically a diss record directed at... himself.  Non-stop vicious and comic lines putting himself on blast, "I feel frightened and alone even when my crew's around, 'cause they don't even give me pounds," "I ain't got no rhythm, no soul, no breath control.  What I need to do is grab a control and start playin' rock & roll, 'cause I ain't nothin' but a wack-dressed crash test dummy.  I only lost my virginity 'cause this big bitch took it from me!"  It's a genuinely clever, original concept.  The only song I can think of that came close to that idea is Esau the Anti-Emcee's "Boo."  And since I've just been breaking Shawn's balls about timelines, I have to give him full credit and say this handily pre-dates Esau's record by 2-3 years.

All told, this is a cool slice of wax that belongs in the crates of any underground late 90s heads.  Of course, it's a must for Tony D collectors.  And ironically, most of us were checking for this back in the days because of the Eminem sound; but now the song that holds up the most is the one where Shawn steps out of his shadow.  The 12" comes in a sticker cover and features instrumentals, dirty and clean versions of the first two tracks.  Unfortunately though, "I'm Pathetic" only has a clean version, and it does include a few curse words which get silenced.  But it's not too distracting.

Oh, and by the way, Day 7 was naturally going to be the last day of Dirty Jersey Week; but tomorrow I'll be adding one more last minute bonus day.  And yes, I'll actually post it tomorrow-tomorrow.  😛

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 6: The Lost YZ/ Shaq Collaberation

Here's an interesting limited vinyl (and CD) release I almost passed over: the unreleased EP by The Rat Pack called Porno Stars From Mars.  Okay, but who the heck is The Rat Pack, you ask.  It's a crew YZ put together in the late 90s.  It's four up and coming (well, at the time) MCs, specifically Delowe Marshalis, Sean Pender, The Third aka Boo the Product and Canon, with YZ producing them.  Can YZ even produce?  Has he done it before?  Well, he's had co-production credit on a lot of his earlier work, so maybe?  Surely we'd rather he rapped, but well, let's find out.

Porno Stars From Mars is an EP worth of material: six songs and a skit from 1998.  And actually the production's pretty solid.  The opening track in particular sounds hot, with a great chopped piano loop over some crispy drums, and the smooth vibed "Supa Shine."  With four MCs you've never heard before, I can't say any of them really distinguish themselves; only the guests do.  And this EP has some noteworthy guests: Taji from Souls of Mischief, Keith Murray who sounds really good on here and, yes, Shaquille O'Neal.  He sounds like his usual clumsy self, "The conceitedness of Brick City's Wells Fargo.  Get it, motherfucker?  'Cause I got a lot of dough.  And all y'all hatin' ass niggas, y'all be makin' me sick.  But since y'all pussies, squeeze your balls and cut off your dick."  Um, okay.

Overall, it's a pretty solid EP.  The production's better than I was expecting, and you definitely won't be able to listen to some of these tracks without nodding to them.  But I really wish YZ was rapping on here.  These guys are on a cool, hardcore tip, but sometimes their content's a little too basic.  The EP's limited to 500 copies, the first 100 of which come in full color picture covers pressed on translucent red wax.  Both the vinyl and CD also come with a photo postcard of the group (the one pictured above), and you can also buy a bundle which includes a T-shirt as well.  This is all on the Nustalgic record label, with all the B-Fyne material I covered on Day 1, which brings me to some other CDs they have on there I want to touch on briefly.

There's another group on there, who you've probably never heard of anymore than The Rat Pack, called Good Biz.  Well, Good Biz is actually a project B-Fyne was doing around 2010, basically a pair up of him and a guy named KP.  There's also sometimes a third member who sings some of the hooks; I think she's part of the group like Miss Jonez was part of The Get Fresh Crew.  But she did make it onto two of the covers.  Anyway yeah, they have a bunch of material: two EPs (Principles & Interest and Checks & Balances), a CD single ("Mr. Original"), and a full-length album (Sound Investment), plus another digital-only remix EP (Soul Proprietor) and KP solo album (Slaps).

I've been going through their stuff, and it's good but not great.  B-Fyne is a better MC than KP, and a lot of their production sounds kind of cheap.  But some tracks stand out with richer production, and there's some very interesting guests interspersed, including YZ (on a couple songs), Crusaders For Real Hip-Hop's Rahzii Hipowa, UGK's Bun B, Cool Nutz (remember, B-Fyne has a Texas connection) and Brother J.  Some of the more noteworthy songs are "Mr. Original" with YZ about sneakers and B-Fyne doing a little Special Ed homage, and of course the song with Brother J.  A lot of the production is by The Are, who they say is "of The Track Masterz," but I'm pretty sure The Track Masterz consists solely of Poke, Tone and sometimes Frank Nitty.  I think this might actually be the guy from K-Otix.  Some of these tracks also have some nice, subtle scratching on them, which is a plus.

Anyway, it's good to hear more material from B-Fyne and YZ.  It shows they've still got it.  But I also actually kinda hate some of the music here, like "Y'all Can't Ball" and "One For the Money."  They've got the kind of roster I love to cover on this site, but musically, I'd say it's better to pick through this material than go nuts and buy everything.  Most of the digital versions of the Good Biz projects are free, so you can download all that, and see if any of it inspires you to throw a CD in your cart while you're picking up some of the bigger ticket items, like the Blaque Spurm and Rat Pack.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 5: Redman Going Solo

Here's a really interesting record: Redman's "It's Like That (My Big Brother)."  What's so interesting about it?  Well, let's work our way up.  One thing that's interesting is that it's pretty typical for a major single to have a promo version and a nice picture cover version.  But the promo doesn't usually have its own, unique picture cover.  Red definitely can't complain that Def Jam was fronting on the marketing budget for his upcoming third album; this is down-right excessive.  But, hey, it's cool for DJs and collectors to have something more than just a black and white no frills label in a plain sleeve.

The next reason is that it marks the comeback of K-Solo.  He'd basically disappeared when his deal with Atlantic wrapped up in '92.  Plus, when EPMD split, he seemed to side with PMD's less successful Hit Squad than Sermon's powerhouse Def Squad.  Not that he made any appearances on Hit Squad projects either.  But now he was coming back on the most anticipated release from any of these guys, and it was on the Def Squad side, not Hit Squad.  The beat for this is co-produced by Erick Sermon and Redman (though it's basically just a slight tweak of Mantronix's classic "Cold Gettin' Dumb" for Just-Ice with a little "Top Billin'" laid over the top).  Did this also mean the Def/ Hit Squad split was healed?  Had everyone gotten back together and was an EPMD reunion next on the way?  Fans were understandably excited; and yeah, next year EPMD was Back In Business.  But K-Solo's career got left in a closet somewhere.  All he got out of it was a guess appearance on Stezo's indie 12"; and that guy was more on the outs that Solo.

So anyway, you already know the song on the Muddy Waters album is called "That's How It Is (My Big Brother)."  Redman and K-Solo trade verses back and forth over "Cold Gettin' Dumb."  But on the promo 12", the song has an alternate title: "That's How It Is (It's Like That)", and one of the versions on there, besides Instrumental and Acappella, is "(My Big Brother) - Radio Edit" (the Dirty version's on there, too).  So, that begs the question, what is "That's How It Is (It's Like That) - Radio Edit," a completely separate track without the "(My Big Brother)" part?

Let's look at the retail version.  Here, we get entire different sets of song credits for "It's Like That (My Big Brother)" and "That's How It Is (It's Like That)," even though they have identical writing, production, mixing, mastering, publishing and sample clearance credits.  There's just one difference.  Only "It's Like That (My Big Brother)" also credits additional vocals to K-Solo.  Yes, both 12"s have the duet you're all familiar with from the album and music video on them.  But they also have an alternate version with the same beat, but minus K-Solo.  Redman's verses are all the same, but since removing K-Solo would make the song about 90 seconds, he also has all new, additional verses at the end.  The song also has a different hook and is missing the "Reggie Noble's stinking ass" intro.

I'd love to know the story here!  Did Redman record the song solo, and then K-Solo came around last-minute, so they re-edited it to cut him in?  Or did they record the duet and then remake it without him?  Was this the result of the tumultuous Hit Squad/ Def Squad drama still bubbling, or maybe Redman just wanted a solo version so he could tour with the song when Solo wasn't around?  Which version came first?

Anyway, I've always been a K-Solo fan, so I like him being on there.  I mean, his return was what made the song so exciting in the first place, and the two of them going back and forth with their distinct voices gives the song more energy.  If the song's not a duet, it's a little too much like just an unnecessary "Cold Gettin' Dumb" rehash.  But on the other hand, any Redman fan is going to also want the solo version with twice as many bars of him going crazy like, "I go down to White Castle to get a bitch who's on the dick for the whip. The lyricist is shit; I explode at full blitz to put Time Warner on the fritz."

Both 12"s have exactly the same track-listing, which is unfortunate because, while they come fully loaded with the instrumental and radio edits of both versions, they only include the Dirty and Acappella versions of the K-Solo song.  And yeah, I like that one better; but it means we don't have an uncensored version of the Redman solo song; and as you just read, he definitely throws in some words that they had to cut out.  Still, either 12" is a big step up from only having the album and the one, famous version of the song.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 4: Old School Blue

(It's time to take it back, way back, to an obscure, 80s Camden group... who may actually have roots in Philly, but never mind.  It's Dirty Jersey Week Day 4!  Youtube version is here.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 3: More Wax

Okay, now that we're past the novelty rap, how about some brand spankin' new Jersey Hip-Hop?  The Custodian of Records is one of the contemporary producers I've been most excited about in the last couple years; he's produced for projects you've me carry on about like 7 Immortals, Sparrow the Movement, Shawn Lov, and the Written On Your Psyche guys.  Now he's finally hitting us with his debut solo vinyl release, Less Work, on his own imprint, Adult Edu.  You might remember me tweeting about his GoFundMe campaign for this record last year.  Well, it reached its goal, the whole project's completed and donators are now getting their wax.  And happily, since I never like to spoil it for myself by listening to any digital musical samples in advance of a physical release, it lives up to expectations.

Every time I cover an instrumental album, which isn't often at all, I mention that I'm not a huge fan of instrumental Hip-Hop albums in general.  Hip-Hop instrumentals are usually more simplistic and repetitive than other forms of pop music because the lyrics are so much more dense and require concentration.  And that all works great for complete songs.  But when you get a break-beat album, you're like, "this is a nice little loop, but these three seconds are just going to replay unchanging for the next four minutes?"  Even DJ Shadow albums and the like, yeah they have more change-ups and samples swapping in and out, but they still seem to ask you to vibe out to some pretty basic grooves for long periods of time.  And all that's fine if you're a DJ buying a breakbeat album to mix or produce with; but it leaves regular listeners a bit cold.  Or at least to me, it feels like reading a screenplay instead of watching a movie.  But Less Work is more in line with, say, DJ Jazzy Jeff's "Touch of Jazz" in that it's meant to be listened to and keep you hooked.  Except without the scratches.  Maybe next EP, Custodian could add some cuts.  But then again, listening to this record, it doesn't need any.

Less Work is eleven tracks deep, though in terms of length, it's essentially an EP, as most are two minutes or less.  So that helps keep the pace up.  But more than that, it's just that these tracks are  more complex than just break-beats, with lots of vocal and instrumental samples coming and going.  And the tracks fit nicely together despite having really different types of drums and moods.  The fact that it keeps shifting definitely makes it feel alive, so you're rewarded for paying attention and you want to.  It's actually disappointing every time you hit the end of a side of the record, because it's pulled you in and left you wanting more.  It's definitely not often you find albums you can say that about.

So as you can see in the picture above, this comes in a fresh sticker cover.  This is available even if you didn't contribute to the original campaign, but it's super limited; only 100 copies were pressed.  So that doesn't leave a you a big window of opportunity to jump on this.  If you want to order a copy, new copies are being sold through discogs.  That's about it; it's a pretty exclusive release.  And very much worth it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dirty Jersey Week, Day 2: No Foolin'

Whoops!  Did Dirty Jersey Week happen to fall over April 1st, the holiday I always post some silly, crazy rap thing?  Where am I going to find something completely crazy, ridiculous and yet absolutely real from New Jersey?  Oh, don't worry, I've got just the thing!

A lot of you younger folk probably don't remember Joe Piscopo.  He was a New Jersey-born early Saturday Night Live cast member, who went on to have a career mixing stand-up and impressions.  He's also dabbled in movies (Dead Heat with Treat Williams is a lot of fun), and he also did a couple of comedy records.  And these days?  He's preparing to run for mayor to replace Christie (no foolin'!  Hey, he'd have to be an improvement).  Naturally, he also made a couple comedy records.  Like, he would do skits or sing rock & roll songs as Frank Sinatra covers.  He had some big budgets in his prime, so when he would do a Bruce Springsteen cover, he had actual Springsteen band members playing on the record.  If you ask me, though, it's all crap except for one masterpiece.

In 1985, he released "Honeymooners Rap" featuring Eddie Murphy.  It was the lead (and only) single off of his 1985 album, New Jersey.  The concept is pretty simple, they rap with Piscopo doing a Ralph Kramden impression and Murphy doing Ed Norton.  But surprisingly, if you're willing to tolerate a complete silly song, it really works.  And that's thanks largely to the budget and who Piscopo was able to collaborate with again.

Yeah, there's a seriously legit Hip-Hop artist involved who turned this into a real rap song as opposed to the cheap, tin-ear stuff most novelty rap songs are made of: Grandmixer DSt.  Yeah, the guy with The Infinity Rappers who made some of the earliest and best Hip-Hop records of his time, including some big singles like "Crazy Cuts" and most famously "Rockit" with Herbie Hancock.  In fact, this is a very "Rockit" style instrumental, full of busy instrumentation, a leading electronic keyboard riff, big, rudimentary scratches (hey, this was 1985; don't come looking for any reverse crab flares) and heavy, heavy drums.  And it's not just DSt.; if you read the credits, there's a bunch of guys playing synths, horns, drum programming, etc.  In fact, they've got The Uptown Horns on here!

And to Piscopo's credit, A) he does a legitimately good Kramden impression (Murphy's Norton not so much, but it works well enough for the song), and B) really took his time writing the lyrics.  Each verse details the plot of an actual Honeymooners episode, as told first person by Kramden and Norton.  Like, they didn't knock this out in five minutes.  Somebody sat with tapes of old episodes, found the jokes and the sources of the most famous references, and then made a really complex Hip-Hop instrumental for it.  I mean, I remember as a little kid genuinely, non-ironically like this song, and I have to say, if you appreciate 1985-era Hip-Hop, it still holds up.

Now, this 12" was featured on a lot of compilations (where I first heard it), including Laff Attack: Rappin' and Goofin' and Rapmasters 7: The Best of the Laughs.  Curiously, they don't credit Piscopo at all, and list the artist as Lost Episodes.  I've listened to them all thoroughly, and we're not talking about two different "Honeymooners Raps" here.  One isn't a knock-off or a cover.  And the Piscopo album and single never ever makes a reference to "Lost Episodes" in their liner notes, so I have no idea what that's about.  Are the compilations somehow avoiding cutting Piscopo and Murphy a check by listing a fake name?  I mean, those Rapmasters tapes were broad, nationwide releases on a major label.  That sounds like the kind of trick a little white label would pull.  And you'd think those albums would sell a lot more copies if they could've had Eddie Murphy's name on the cover in the 80s, so it's not like they'd want to obscure the real credits.  It's very strange; I'd love to know the story behind that someday.

Finally, I have talk about the 12" specifically.  It's on CBS/ Columbia Records, and as you see comes in a pretty unexciting picture cover.  It's worth noting that the 12" puts Eddie Murphy's name right up front, when he isn't even credited on the New Jersey album.  But most importantly about the 12" is the Captain Video Version.  There's also an Album Version, which like its name implies, is the one on the album; and all the compilations feature the Album Version.  So does the 45".  But the Captain Video Version is an extended version with an all new verse, based on another Honeymooners episode (where Ed and Ralph buy a TV together and yes, Norton becomes Captain Video), plus an extended breakdown with some new cuts and instrumentation.  There's also a King Of the Castle Version, which is essentially just a dub mix, but Piscopo and Murphy improvise a little extra dialogue at the end that's only on that version.  So if you do appreciate this nutty song, you'll definitely want to track down the 12".