Monday, December 25, 2017

Have a No Limit Christmas, Everybody!

(Happy Holidays, everybody - let's all have a No Limit Christmas!  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas in your culture, just give Master P and friends a chance to change your minds.  🎄  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Star Wars Rap!

So, hey, big surprise what the number one movie is this winter: another Star Wars.  This is their tenth movie, not even counting the weird DTV Ewok flicks, holiday specials, and what not.  So yeah, Stars Wars TV commercials, Star Wars McDonald's cups, Star Wars on every aisle of your super market.  Well, I hope you haven't come here hoping for a little break from Star Wars franchise marketing, because that's what I've got for you today.  Except, this isn't officially licensed merch, this is that off-brand, underground Star Wars rap, just barely flying under the litigation radar.  This is Walkmen's 1998 single "Fortruss" on Cybertek/ Atomik Recordings.

So, let's start with who the heck the Walkmen were.  Well, they were a Florida group managed by Celph Titled (who's all over this record).  In fact, Atomik was his label, and almost all of their releases were by The Walkmen and his own group, Equilibrium (with fellow MC DutchMassive a.k.a. Autologik).  According to their official bio, the leader of the group was Tino Vega a.k.a. Bloodsport the Spanish Prince.  And on this single, there's really only one other guy: Storm Trupa the Arch Angel.  I think he later got replaced by Murdoc, and maybe a couple other guys who were either a part of the group or just down with it; it's not entirely clear (a la Cappadona or Killarmy's relationship to the Wu).  Even their bio doesn't attempt to break down the line-up, just calling them an "ever changing collaborative crew" that has "gone through many transitions since then."  But for the purposes of this single, the Walkmen are a duo: Tino and Storm.

So yeah, these cats were from Florida, but they're nothing like The Jam Pony Express or that whole genre of Hip-Hop.  This is like anti-Miami bass, strictly representing very pure, traditional east coast Hip-Hop.  And for "Fortruss," of course, repping Star Wars 100%.

Produced by Celph Titled, the track is made up entirely of Star Wars soundtrack.  Little clips from the movie serve as the intro and outro, the instrumental is a blending key moments from John Williams' score, and the hook is more Star Wars soundbites being cut up by DJ Kramtronix.  It's seriously fresh what he does to R2D2.  And if you know Celph's work, you'd be right to expect a very polished, addictive sound.  He seamlessly blends some of the most famous, bombastic moments from "The Imperial March" (a.k.a. Darth Vader's theme) to these light, exploratory flute riffs... all over boom bap beats, of course.  I've already covered other examples of Star Wars rap, but if you want to hear Star Wars music turned into rap beats, this is the quintessential track.

What's interesting about this song, lyrically, however, is how much these two guys are not on the same page.  Now, I don't know the Walkmen well enough to say whose verse is whose based on their voices, but I'll guess by their names and subject matter that Tino is up first.  He just spits basic battle raps, not even making slight references to Star Wars like "I'm a lyrical Jedi" or anything like that.  As far as he's concerned, I guess, this is just a basic rap record that just so happens to have a Star Wars-based instrumental. But Storm Trupa (again, I'm assuming) has just dived 100% into full Star Wars rap mode:

"While my squadron stands in a tight formation on the platform of an Imperial battle station, TIE fighters stand by for aviation... Then I annihilate.  Cloak my ship to investigate; jump into hyperspace, headin' back towards Echo Base.  This is my fortress, this is my place where we integrate with any other alien race.  Scouts give chase.  The Storm Trupa illuminates like a flare.  There's no despair when the Seventh Squadron is there!"

It's a weird oil and water combination, especially on the third verse, where they split it 50/50, and neither one is willing to give an inch.  Tino even brings in lyrical references to other franchises in his parts, "control your mind like a Sega, Street Fightin' all opponents like Vega."  Maybe nobody told him what song they were recording his vocals for?

There's a B-side, that isn't Star Wars themed at all, which is both a disappointment and a relief.  It's disappointing, because most people who copped this single probably bought it because it's Star Wars rap; and so for them, the second song doesn't deliver.  But objectively, I'd say it's a better song, and so it's a relief that the Walkmen get to be more than just a gimmick, and they've made something you can listen to while taking yourself a little more seriously.

"The Countdown Theory" is again produced by Celph Titled, and this time he raps on it, too.  The beat is smooth and this time more original, making nice use of Method Man's verse from "How High" for a hook.  There's also a remix of "Countdown," also produced by Celph, but it's not as good.  They get Kramtronix to add some more cuts, which is a plus, but he doesn't shine like he does on "Fortruss."

So the vinyl version features those three tracks, plus the three instrumentals on the flip.  I'm sure a lot of DJs appreciate getting the Star Wars beats to make further use of.  But here's the bummer: it only has the censored Radio Edit of "Fortruss" where the curse words are replaced by Star Wars sound effects.  That's actually a little amusing, but still I'm sure most heads want the uncut version.  Well, it's not on wax, but there's at least a CD single that put the uncut version into the world.  It has Street, Radio and Instrumental of all three tracks; so nine as opposed to the 12"s six.  It also gives us a picture cover with photos of The Walkmen (further confirming that the group = just the two guys at that stage), since the record only came in a plain sleeve.

The Walkmen only released one other single after this one: "The F-L-A-Team."  Get it?  It's like the Florida A-Team.  And yes, they created the instrumental out of The A-Team television theme.  I think that really shot them in the foot, because it made it look like they were a total gimmick act, only releasing music based on famous soundtrack themes.  Plus, it doesn't sound half as dope as the Star Wars stuff.  Celph produced it, too, and Kram did the cuts.  Storm Trupa's not on that one, but Murdoc is, plus a couple other guys on the B-side.  I can't say the end of The Walkmen was a huge loss.  They sounded alright, but Celph's a better rapper and even when they were doing Star Wars raps, their lyrics were kinda basic, "like Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, in any confrontation, I pull out my light saber."  You could get your little nephew to write that stuff.  The reason to get this single is Celph and Kram's slick re-working of the Williams score.  You know, listen to it on your way to see The Last Jedi in the theater, and then put it away 'till next year, when they release that Han Solo movie.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Chino XL vs. Kool G Rap

Alrighty.  This 12" has been high on my "to write about" list since I started this blog over ten years ago.  But I just keep putting it off and pushing it back in favor of something else.  Why?  Because I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this record that I've still never fully settled.  And if you can't tell from the picture, I'm talking about Chino XL's "Let 'Em Live" featuring the great Kool G Rap, a 12" single from 2000 on Warner Bros.  After his time on Ill/ Def American, Chino was very briefly signed to Warner Bros.  There was the white label of "Last Laugh" and this 12", both singles for his upcoming album I Told You So.  But he was already dropped by the time album came out, which wound up being a CD-only release on a little label called Metro Records.  So mainstream audiences that weren't copping promo vinyl wouldn't have even seen it, but there was a hot second when he was on Warners.

So we've basically just got the one version of the one song on here, which is the same as what wound up on the album.  I mean, yeah, we get Instrumental, Acapella (which is why there's so many amateur remixes of this song on Youtube) and all that.  But just the one set of vocals over basic instrumental, produced by Nick Wiz.  And the beat is... ummm... not amazing.  I like Nick Wiz.  Hell, everybody likes Nick Wiz.  And on one hand, I do like this track.  It suits the high energy battle rap style these guys are kicking, and it's got some dark atmosphere I know both of these MCs like.  But it's also that kind of sample-free, stock sound effect, big horn stab track that you expect to hear terrible rappers use in a Youtube battle.  Wiz is talented enough to lay some nice touches underneath it all to hold everything together and blend the vocals to the track.  So it pulls you into the lyrics, which is great.  But this is never a song you'd play because you want to hear that instrumental.  So yeah, I'm a little conflicted about it.  I guess, at the end of the day, it's a track I'd concede in any debate isn't very good, but I still kinda like it.

But that isn't the half of the conflict I feel over the record that's made me keep pushing it off.  It's the lyrics.  Kool G Rap unquestionably kills it on here.  I mean, I know some people are sick of the gangster topic from him, and in that regard, this is absolutely more of the same.  He raps about a mugging, gang warfare and the glittery drug life.  I get it if you've had enough of that.  But if it doesn't matter that he does it spectacularly well, I don't know what to tell ya.  On a technical level, on a delivery level, in terms of cleverness... I could listen to his half of the song all day.

Unfortunately, he's only on half, or even slightly less, of the track.  And that brings be to Chino XL's part.  I've been a fan of his, too; and a hardcore battle rap track over a Nick Wiz beat?  That's his home court right there.  But god, his punchlines can make you cringe.  "keep shit in a bag like a colostomy; I'm pro, you're junior varsity," "you'll retire like Seinfeld, waiting on titles that I've held.  Rock and roll like Dennis Leary, blastin' assassins sent to kill me," "more Colt 45 than Billy D collectin' disability, I'll shoot out with Bill and Hillary, still won't run out of artillery."  Those are just a couple of examples from a single song ("Nunca," also off I Told You So).  I don't even get that last one.  Is there any reason to throw in the Clintons' names besides the fact that they're in the zeitgeist and Hillary rhymes with artillery?  At least Jerry Seinfeld had recently retired from his show at the time.

G Rap's verses are very clever in terms of grammar and construction, but they never get corny like that, full of gags and arbitrary pop culture similes.  To be fair, though, I was grabbing examples from another song because I think Chino realized you don't get that jokey on a duet with Kool G Rap.  And when it comes to sick wordplay, Chino can spit with the best of them.  Here's a little taste of his actual bars on "Let 'Em Live:"

"Universally disperse a cursed verse, controversial;
Illest on earth so,
Out of this world like Captain Kirk's ho.
Get Patty Hearst dough;
Commit you to the dirt slow.
Even worse, though,
High yellow Chino'll leave you needing what a nurse know."

Okay, wait.  There's like three jokes and two celebrity name drops in there, too.  But all those lines at least kinda work, and the fact that they're embedded in a wild rhyme pattern really helps sell them.  But compare that to G Rap's material, where his rhyme scheme is just as mind blowing, coming up with ingenious ways to rephrase ideas we've heard in a million other rap songs to make them fresh, and yet none of the shtick:

"I spit my shit like a flame thrower,
The frame blower.
Came with the brain exploder
Inside the Range Rover.
Load the six-stain holder;
Lay you and your dame over.
Banging your main soldier
'Till my aim strain my shoulder."

And those are just from his quick introductory bars.  Also, just as a fun fact, it's also not his only reference to Range Rovers in the song.  I guess he just likes the way the phrase sounds over this beat, because he also has the line, "one hundred and twenty five grains rearrange your Rover."  And sorry to go off on a tangent mid-point, but that brings me to something else about this song: they're hard to catch.  I looked up the lyrics on OHHLA, and it's chock full of errors, most of which I think I'll be happily able to correct for you today (fairly certain it's not, "one hundred and twenty five grange we arrange the rover").  Rap Genius's take is barely any better (they clearly scraped OHHLA), and the only other version I found was even worse, but I won't link it 'cause I think English wasn't their first language anyway.

So like, Chino's line in his first verse should probably be, "start kneelin' and pissin' in bed" not "start nailing and pissing in bed," and in the chorus, I'm sure he says, "you'd be holding your breath forever tongue kissing a fish," not "your fist."  And I've got some other corrections I'm dropping in the quoted verses.  But it's tough.  For the life of me, I can't figure out what the last line of G Rap's first verse is, though I'm sure it's not, "nigga trade ya rover for the redrum stains you sober."  So if anybody can figure that one out, please post a comment.  It's been driving me nuts for years.  Oh, and the only other line I can't quite figure is Chino's, "blow dinero like Ferrigino?"  There's a reference I'm not getting, but I'm sure it's not "blow Deniro like oregano," as was previously guessed.  I'm certain he's bragging about spending money, not giving sloppy oregano-flavored oral sex to the star of Meet the Fockers.  😂

So where was I?  Oh yeah, so Chino spits pretty hard, but doesn't quite manage to avoid the one-liners.  And to be fair, that's what he's known for, and a lot of his fans would be disappointed if he left them out.  And I'm not mad at all of them.  I'm good with "the best MC's always float to the top unlike the son of John F. Kennedy," because it's just so cold.  I respect that.  His closer, I'm more of two minds about: "catch a L in the circle like a fuckin' Lexus logo."  Like, that's really clever, and I know it's one of his more popular lines.  I wouldn't've ever come up with it.  But it's still pretty contrived.  At the end of the day, I'll take it, but you can see why half the time I could just listen to an edit of this song with just the G Rap parts, right?  You have to be in a certain mood to play a song where the MC suddenly sings, "Dah da na na na - watch me change to Super Niggaro!"  But you don't have to be in any particular mood to be blown away by G Rap's verses:

"Yo, don't fight the heist if you treasure your life,
'cause my trife is measured in ice;
Put your wife at the edge of my knife.
And it'll be my pleasure to slice;
The bitch'll be forever with Christ;
Get hit twice with this real nice
Berretta device,
Nickel plates to your North Face
Put feathers in flight;
Let my lead strike and sever your life,
Leaving you red and wet in the night;
Head bright from infrared sight;
Cock back, squeeze and let it ignite.
Placing your body where the bedbugs bite.
Baby you thug, right?
A slug might open your mug like
I'm checking your blood type.
The drug life,
We hop in the Rolls,
Shoppin' for clothes,
Rockin' our foes,
Put you in a coffin with the top of it closed, you know?
Put a fuckin' glock to your nose!
Run up in your spot for the O's of blow;
Shove cock in your ho.
We 'bout to blow,
Nothing stopping the dough;
Most popular flow;
Like ice, I'm at the top of the globe."

And seeing them typed out doesn't even begin to do justice to the way he says them.  Like, when he comes back to, "put feathers in flight" you're like, holy cow, is he still knocking out that first multi?  He never lets up.  It's almost always a bummer when MCs recycle their own material and spit the same verses on more than one song.  We've heard guys like Common and Krs-One do that, and it's disappointing when you bought a record 'cause they're on it only to realize you already own those raps.  But in this case, I really wish G Rap would take what he wrote for this collaboration and flesh it out into a full song.  Because that shit would be incredible and I'd always be in the mood to hear it.

But that said, I'll always keep this record.  Because sometimes I definitely do want to hear what all three of them - Chino, G Rap and Nick Wiz - created on this record.  And since I Told You So turned into a CD only once it went indie, this 12" is a great way to have it on vinyl.  Comes in a sticker cover to boot, and since Warners made it, you know they pressed a ton and you can cop it dirt cheap.  You can even use the acapella and make your own remix.  Although, after having just gone on a jag listening to about twenty of them on Youtube, I'll advise you right now, don't mix your main sample so loud it overshadows the vocals.  Just about all of those cats did that, and it's wack.  Really, if you want to appreciate Nick Wiz's work a little better, just listen to everybody else fail to make the track work like he did.  Although, admittedly, some of the weirder ones, like the G-Funk remix, were dubious ideas that I think were doomed to fail from the start.

Anyway, that's "Let 'Em Live."