Saturday, March 18, 2017

Learn Along With Werner, part 9: One and One More

Several years ago, I blogged about the two records by a somewhat obscure, 90s duo called One and One.  It was actually sort of a secret comeback record for UTFO's Doctor Ice, who signed with a new label (Next Plateau) under a new name with a new, updated style.  The other member was his cousin, and they called themselves Harry Balz and Sonny Boy (Doc = Sonny), which he later changed to Sonny Bumz.  The records were hot, especially their debut single "Phenomenon," but you know Next Plateau wasn't exactly launching careers in the late 90s, so they never got the recognition they deserved, and they just had the two records.

...Or so I always thought.  But recently I got to have another one of those awesome moments where the internet showed me a record I never knew existed back in my day.  Apparently, before signing to Next Plateau, they pressed up their lead single independently, and used that to get industry attention.  It makes sense, as that's exactly what Doc Ice had done just a couple years prior, releasing his first solo comeback single on his own label, Rely On Selph Records, before getting it picked up on Wrap/ Ichiban and coming out with his second solo album.  It's actually pretty impressive that Ice could keep resetting his career and with a single 12" get a new record deal, considering most rappers go their whole careers struggling to get signed once.  But even if you don't like his style, think he's too old school or maybe some of his humor's corny; that guy's an undeniably talented MC.  And so here we have "Phenomenon" by One and One on a little label owned by Tyrone Thomas called Streets Of Sound Records.

So, "big deal," I hear you say.  "A rare, early pressing of the same single that came out wider a little later on?  Maybe you can get your collector jollies on, but otherwise it's just the same song, right?"  And it is.  I listened to them back to back, and the it's not even an alternate rough mix or anything.  "Phenomenon" is exactly the same, including the spoken intro.  It even features the same four versions: Radio, Album, Instrumental and Accapella.  But this original, indie pressing has something the later records haven't got: an exclusive B-side.

So forever, I thought One and One only had three songs to their name (well, unless you count that weird, Absolut vodka compilation album).  But no, there's a fourth!  And by the way, this record also teaches us something else very interesting.  The Next Plateau single always credited the production of "Phenomenon" to Swing Of Things Productions, whoever the heck that was.  But this early record label spells it out; it's Mark Spark, along with a partner named Hasan Pore.  And they produced both the tracks on this 12".  And the instrumental's on here, too, for those wondering; though it's more of a TV track.

So how's the new song?  It's cool.  It's definitely not clear to me why Next Plateau didn't choose to include it.  I mean "Phenomenon" definitely stands out as the cut that could really make noise in '96; but both are solid tracks; there's definitely no reason to bury "What's On Your Mind."  It's got some cool, moody production.  And it's a relationship song, but it's much closer to "Looking At the Front Door" than some pop love rap.  It's about the frustration of not being sure what your partner's really thinking even when she's saying all the right things.  Is she really cheating on you or just doesn't want to see you?  Doc does his first verse from the perspective of a man in jail writing to his woman at home, and he ends with a pure sex brag.  The whole record is on a surprisingly street tip you never would've expected from the UTFO guy in a lab coat and stethoscope.  Werner approves.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Return Of the Box Cutter Brothers

So, late last year I did a video about the ill, Vietnam-themed records MF Grimm has started coming out with.  As a bit of an addendum in that video, I talked about another project his producer put out on their label: a CD by The Box Cutter Brothers.  The Box Cutter Brothers is the duo of producers Ayatollah (who's worked with everybody from Mos Def to Moka Only to Rakim) and Drasar Monumental (Grimm's producer), and it was a breakbeat CD, where Ayatollah produced the first half of the beats and Drasar did the second half.  The one I had in my video was their first album, but they'd actually put out two more by the time I made by video.  Part 2 was also on CD, and I think Part 3 was mp3-only.  But now Part 4 is dropping, and they're putting it out as a proper, vinyl LP.

But if you've kept up with this blog, you probably know I tend not to get terribly excited over strictly instrumental hip-hop.  It can feel like holding the blueprints instead of living in a house; I want vocals, I want the full song experience!  I've discussed this before, so I won't carry on about it.  But if you want to see why Box Cutter Brothers 4 really got my attention, look at the bottom left-hand corner of the picture cover... "Vocal Version."  Yeah, every track on here is a full, vocal song!  And they didn't go the expected route of wrangling all their friends and connections to make a producer-themed compilation album, like Marley Marl In Control or that DJ Bazooka Joe album on Dope Folks.  They're doing all their own rapping; like when Diamond D decided he didn't need Master Rob anymore.

And I'd say the Diamond D comparison is fairly apt, because neither of them are going to make anybody's Top Fives, they both know how to flow over their own work enough to make a solid record.  Ayatollah goes for a very low, literally whispered flow over his smooth, somewhat dark beats.  It's got a very atmospheric, organic feel that draws you right in.  He re-uses his vocals for two songs at one point, but it all sounds good, which is what counts.  Drasar, on the other hand, takes a very different approach.  Here, each song is very distinct, and he has a more bombastic style.  I'm not talking Mystikal or Waka Flocka levels here, he's actually got kind of a Pete Nice style; but after the A-side, you really feel the extra energy.  And instrumentally it's the same; he rocks some pretty crazy loops on his side.

And it's not just rapping over breaks.  There's cutting, plenty of vocal samples and hooks.  These are full fleshed out songs.  But, still, the production is primarily what's on sale here.  I recognized a few samples... a stray piano loop on the Ayatollah side, and they sampled by homeboy 2XL.  But even when I was familiar with something, it was completely re-purposed and contextualized into a new, unique instrumental.  The only weakness to this album is that there's no real single to grab you.  You know, like JVC Force's whole album was hot, but "Strong Island" was that amazing joint that immediately got everyone hype.  Drasar hits some nice, head-nodding peaks (and substantive topics); but there's still no "Strong Island" equivalent here.  The whole album is one tight listen, but you have to be prepared to settle in for something subtler than quick thrills.

So yeah, this is a full LP in a picture cover available directly from Vendetta Vinyl, and I assume will start appearing at the usual online retailers soon.  AccessHipHop had the first two CDs, after all.  And there is also a CD version of this one, for those who'd prefer that over wax, plus an LP/ t-shirt combo.  The fact that this is labeled a "Vocal Version" does suggest to me that an instrumental version might follow one of these days; but nothing's been announced so far, and this is the ideal version for me anyway.  I was impressed by this record - you can listen to soundclips here - and I hope BCB 5 is a Vocal LP, too.