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.  😛

1 comment:

  1. Peace! Thanks for including this record in your Dirty Jersey Week.

    Tony D started the label Cha-Ching label itself as a response to us not being able to get our collaborative project on any major labels. I paid for 50% of our Skylab costs and the stickers, he footed the bill for the vinyl. So it was absolutely not a situation of him trying to put me onto his label because I sounded like Eminem, it was us working side-by-side to get our project signed since early 97 and having to release it independently as a last resort. That sticker on the album I created and printed out and cut with scissors myself at triangle arts off of Route 1. We'd tried Profile, we had sat in the office with Kevon Glickman, we had thrown everything at it but the kitchen sink- and in the end, released this vinyl. Low-Key did the label's logo, I drew the "Play it or Die" cartoon flyers, ect. It was very difficult to get that vinyl recognized. I was performing many of the songs live for well over a year before we recorded them. "I'm Pathetic," and "That's What's Up" were the last songs recorded out of about 20. There's no doubt an Eminem flavor to the "I'm Pathetic" song in particular, but to add context, we were recording it in the exact same building with Chris Schwartz and Kevon Glickman had their offices, Studio 4, where Lauren Hill might come in and sweatpants to get some items, Where the Outsidaz would be freely coming in to record. The majority of the G.O.D. album was recorded before Eminem was known to us, none of us knew about the Slim Shady EP. And as you'll hear the majority of the God album sounds nothing like him. Artists like Kaaos can confirm we did the majority of this project without Em's influence, he was working on the chorus with me and Tony for the song Bare Essentials in that studio 4 a year before we'd heard of Eminem. So the song itself predates Eminem, but the delivery certainly is with respect to his success. I was more influenced by the battle styles of Punchline and Wordsworth, and the Outsidaz themselves, so you could say me and Eminem might have had the same source material.

    Before then, 97-98 I would be out in Philly on second street at what was then known as the blue funk café, performing "I'm Pathetic" live as spoken word on the same set as a young, Unsigned Musiq Soul Child in a much different delivery style. I have video. It was during those years that B-Fyne was also promoting a cassette and we would bump into each other from time to time at places in Philly like "The Edge."
    So the interesting thing about our first project together, is Tony D and I started work on it at the end of 96/early 97 way way way before we had heard anything about Eminem, and by the time we had released the music, Eminem was a major star.

    Randy Alexander, a journalist well known for the music section of the Trenton times did a huge spread about the project I was working on with Tony D back in September of 98. I have copies. Months and months before the "my name is" video dropped and Eminem's name doesn't get mentioned once, even though it's an article about white rappers, and the Slim Shady EP technically had been released. It's interesting to go back and read that article and what he was saying about our collaboration before the world knew about Eminem.

    So if that slept-on 12-inch identifies me as Tony-D's Eminem, I suppose thats better than Tony D's Vanilla Ice. B.u.t. I know I was more than that to Tony before and after that slept on single. So if I was his Eminem, it was only for a minute.

    Peace!! Thanks for including me- I'm always flattered and pleased when you consider my music and I'm very glad you do the same for other lesser known artists from Jersey and elsewhere, Keep up the great work!