Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Awesome Foursome You've Never Heard

(Before they were The Audio Two and Kings of Swing, they were The Awesome Foursome.  And before 2018, these songs were sitting on a shelf somewhere, unheard.  Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

White Boys, You Know They're Down By Law

So, I got an email a couple weeks ago asking if I knew about the 80s rap group known as the White Boys.  And I gave 'em a quick answer, but I thought their story would make for a fun post.  They had an album called ...On a Mission on Polydor in 1988, with two 12" singles.  They obviously look more like a rock group than a Hip-Hop outfit, but apart from a few Run DMC-influenced rock twinges, they're definitely on a straight rap tip.  Like, just to give you an idea, the opening and title track is a straight up "Mission Impossible" inspired jam (yes, sampling the famous theme) about how they're being sent on a mission to overcome the "plan by unfriendly elements to undermine the efforts of the Hip-Hop generation."  Yup, it's pure 80's cheese, completely reminiscent of other "Mission Impossible"-themed raps like The Bad Boys' "Mission," World Class Wreckin' Cru's "Mission Possible," Mellow Tone's "Mission Is Possible," etc.  Look, nobody's calling it an original or great concept, but my point is it's nothing like when Faith No More or whoever started mixing rap into their rock.

So, who were these guys?  Well, as you can see there's three of them.  From left to right, on the CD cover, it's M.J. Precise, M.C. Exact and Mr. Ed.  M.J. Precise is the main guy, who put the group together, does half the lead MCing, produced most of the beats and did the DJ cuts.  MC Exact was his friend who he brought in to be the other MC, and Mr. Ed plays guitar.  I said "produced most of the beats," by the way, because their album also has beats courtesy of Marley Marl and Cutmaster DC.  So yeah, there's actually kind of a reason to pick up their stuff besides the novelty of the picture covers.

With that said, though, Marley just produced one song and I wouldn't exactly say he gave them his top shelf material.  It's okay, but actually some of the best production comes courtesy of M.J. himself.  "Some," because this album is all over the map.  They have upbeat songs, harder songs, a token sappy love song and a cover of "Play That Funky Music White Boy," because of course they do.  The times they do touch the 80s metal sound, like on "We Live To Rock" or their single "This Is Hardcore (Is It Not?)," are often their best moments, not because I'm much of a fan of rap/ rock hybrids, but just because that's clearly when they're playing to their strengths, and Mr. Ed actually has something to do.

On the other hand, some of their more pure hip-hop tracks like "Continuation" and "Running the Show" (the Marley Marl one) are pretty fun, too.  Their rhymes are straight corny ("Your toe is tappin', your hand's movin' back and forth.  I'm takin' a stand, like Oliver North!"), but the production's pretty polished and the cuts are nice so long as you don't try and take anything seriously.  They really only run into major trouble when they try to stretch themselves, like with more pop songs, the love ballad, or their goofy reggae-style message song called "Human Race."

I've actually read two conflicting origins for the group's name in interviews.  Either they were originally trying to go by another name, but everybody who booked them where ever they played just called them "the white boys," so they decided to adopt the moniker...  OR, they shared management with The Fat Boys (they were both on Tin Pan Apple) and The Skinny Boys, and they insisted on giving all their acts the most obvious, uncreative names possible.  Either way, I gathered the point was they didn't want to shoulder responsibility for their cringey branding.

So, unsurprisingly, the group didn't last long.  But you can see the talent in the group is MJ Precise.  I mean, I don't want to get into splitting whether Precise or Exact was the better rapper - half the album they're doing that 80s "say all our bars in unison" thing - but you could tell Precise knew how to make a professional rap track.  So, it's still definitely surprising that any of The White Boys continued on in the industry, but of any of them, it makes sense that it would be Precise who'd go on to become the thoroughly credible producer known as T-Ray, member of DJ Mugg's Soul Assassins who produced solid material from legends like Kool G Rap and Percee-P to artists like OC, Double XX Posse and more mainstream acts like House of Pain, Cypress Hill and Mick Jagger.

And if you're wondering what he's been up to even more recently, since he doesn't seem to be doing much as T-Ray anymore either, check this link out!  Yeah man, I've gotta say, it looks like he's had a pretty fun career.  I wonder if he ever got MC Exact to guest on that show.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Let's Get 2 Deep, Part 2: Did Thomas On Time Just Diss the Juice Crew?

...Continuing on from Part 1, there's a lot of key info I didn't even get to you about 2 Deep.  The first big thing is that they were on Cold Chillin' Records.  Throughout the 1980's, Cold Chillin' meant one thing: Juice Crew.  From the very beginning, every single record released on Cold Chillin' Warner Bros (and there was a lot) were from members of The Juice Crew.  Seeing the Cold Chillin' label on an album's spine was the same as seeing the Juice Crew Allstar logo once you opened it up.  And 1990 was the first year they strayed at all from that, with two artists outside that family: Grand Daddy IU and 2 Deep.  And those two acts were barely outside the Crew.  IU was being produced and managed by Biz Markie and Cool V.  Honestly, the reason I sprang for 2 Deep's album after copping their "Homework" single based on the video was seeing that Cold Chillin' logo in the stores; it meant "must have."  These guys had to be some kind of Juice Crew affiliates!  And what was 2 Deep's connection?

That leads us to the other major point I left out of Part 1... who was the other half of 2 Deep?  Jae Supreme was pretty much the lead and only MC, and based on his later career, clearly played a major role in the production.  And the guy doing all the dope scratching seemed to by that DJ K-Slim dude (2 Deep's liner notes really sucked in terms of giving proper credit).  But there's obviously two guys on all the album covers and in their video.  So who's the other half of 2 Deep?  Thomas On Time.

If that name rings any bells, it means you were a rap nerd like me reading all the credits in your rap tapes.  He came up a bunch in early Juice Crew projects, seemingly in a largely technical capacity.  You'll see him listed as an engineer or mixer, and his name stood out, because he had a nickname.  Here, for example, check out the credits to Craig G's first album, where he's featured quite prominently.
...Okay, not as prominently as Marley Marl.  But still, you can see he seems to have been a pretty big player on that album.  And he worked on a bunch of Juice Crew/ Cold Chillin' projects.  So, I assume that's why 2 Deep got an album.  He put in his time behind the scene, spent years working on their projects and they finally decided to give him and his partner a shot to shine for themselves.  They probably also pressured them into doing a school about "Homework" they could market to the kids.

But like I said, that was the only Kid 'N' Play-type song they had.  The rest of the album was more traditional, going for a pretty smooth type of vibe over all.  They had a couple house songs, because of course they did, and yes, the token whispery love ballad with a rather underwhelmingly sung hook.  One song had guest production by Larry Smith, but otherwise 2 Deep produced everything, usually together, but each had one solo effort, too.  It's got a lot of familiar samples other hip-hop artists had already used - plenty of James Brown staples - but always with a unique little spin to it, and a very polished, professional sound.  They might not have been pushing the envelope, but these guys knew how to make a quality record.  And yeah, Jae was really the front man, who did all the rapping.

Except on one song (well, two if you count the posse cut I wrote about in Part 1).  Deep into side 2, Thomas On Time takes the mic for a solo joint called "For Those Who Dissed Me."  It's a harder track, again with very recognizable samples: "Funky Drummer" mixed with the classic "Take Me To the Mardi Gras" bells.  It's sort of like a more hardcore "The Vapors," where the T.O.T. just goes off on everybody who didn't support him, and how they must all feel bad now that he's a big success.  It's pretty straight forward and starts off safely generic:

"There's not a soul to blame,
Just cold cash to gain.

So when you hear my name?
Add fame.
Thomas, p.k.a. I'm the T.O.T.
For all those who dissed me!"

We get it, right?  But as he gets into it, there are lines where it starts to sound like he's got someone specific in mind:

"Run! Run and hide, you dirty maggot!
These nineties I'm claimin' - watch me bag it.
Put me down those times I begged for support?
Now excuse me, hold that thought.
...
You didn't want me around like some low-life;
Cut me from the crowd you ran like a sharp knife.
Bet you those old days you regret,
Wouldn't let me touch your set.
Now, peace my man, I hope you live longer;
Things you did just made my pride stronger."

Things are sounding a little more personal, but still, it's fairly generalized.  Could be just some generic artist he didn't get along with one day in the studio.  "A composite, like New York Magazine does!"  Except there are some lines that really seem to be singling out somebody in particular:

"Yeah, you played yourself.
Now you're low in health, poor in wealth.
Never thought I would succeed - the last one picked.
But I stick.
Seems to me that your daily plan
Was to mentally destroy this man.
I got a life to live, a lot to give,
And you're a fucked up man with how many kids?"

Okay, he's definitely talking about somebody, right?  This isn't just a general record for all the people who didn't think he'd become somebody, this is aimed at somebody.  But who?  Unfortunately, there aren't enough clues for me to quite figure it out.  But there are a few specific lines, so maybe if we all put our heads together in the comments we can figure this out.

"I admire a child that has a goal,
And not one selling their soul,
Sucked in by those nickel and dime days;
You'll be in debt for life thinking crime pays.
I'm not mad, but hot enough to cause a heat wave,
So stand up tall and be brave.
I'm not trying to be a teacher,
A preacher,
Heal you like a doctor,
The one that shot ya."

So, someone in the industry who Thomas worked with, who's now falling on hard times, fathered a bunch of kids and did some dirt.  An artist who wouldn't let him touch his set, and who got... shot... by a doctor?  I swear, that's what he's saying; he's got a pretty clear delivery, plus the lyrics are typed out in the J-card (though they're a little inaccurate, and I've had to correct them here and there).  So who the heck could he be talking about?  Most of the rest of the song is just him talking about his own success and plans to "make g's at ease from beats that keep the crowd intense."  But there's one more line where he really tips his hat:

"I got a show to do,
There's no time for you
And your crab-like No Juice Crew!"

He's going at The Juice Crew!  Or at least somebody from it.  Marley?  Maybe a rapper like MC Shan?  Or someone more on the business end, like Fly Ty or Lenny Fischelberg?  I don't see why he'd be going after Cold Chillin', though, when they just put him on and gave 2 Deep their album.  I could see them coming out later and having beef with those guys, but not right in the middle of their album.  The stuff about not letting him touch his set and going broke sounds more like an artist than a label executive, anyway.  But this album shouts out the Juice Crew artists (and the Cold Chillin' staff) in their liner notes, and I couldn't spot any conspicuous absences.  Jae even name-drops most of them at the end of "Rain Dance."  In fact, this song ends with shout outs, and T.O.T. doesn't name any Juice Crew guys, but he does shout out Lenny and Ty, so they have to be in the clear.  There is one line, though, in the shout-outs that aren't included in the printed lyrics: "A lot of people in Queensbridge... there's also a lot of people out there who did diss me, but I said I wanna give thanks to those who didn't."  So it's someone from Queens?


I mean, again, it's possible he's thinking of different people who dissed him during different parts of the song.  It's even possible that he meant that Juice Crew line to be like, "we're down with the Juice Crew; you're in the No Juice Crew," which would be corny as Hell, but possible.  Maybe it is all just referencing a hypothetical nonbeliever.  It's just that some of those lines sound really pointed, like he's zeroing in on some specific guy... who sired a lot of kids.  And him burning bridges here would explain why Thomas On Time never seemed to appear in any liner notes after this.  Somebody must know the answer to this mystery!  2 Deep had one more single off of this album (the love song... god knows whose decision that was), and that's the last time I've seen his name anywhere.  As we know, Jae Supreme moved on to other things.  I kinda feel bad for T.O.T.  There's no lost masterpiece here, but even in 2018, Honey, That's Show Biz is still pretty listenable.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Let's Get 2 Deep, Part 1: Jae Supreme's Kiddie Rap

Look, okay, I know this post is about some easily dismissed kiddie rap.  But hey, I was a kid once, so yeah, I used to rock this stuff and it had an impact on me and probably a lot of people my age.  Like, you know how a couple years ago, DWG discovered Fifth Platoon's killer B-side, "Hallelujah, the Fifth Is Here?"  Well, I'll confess.  The reason I was already up on it isn't because I was the world's greatest digger of the finest, most obscure random rap.  I'd bought that single back in the day for the silly A-side, where they exchange goofy stories about meeting girls on a party line.  "Well, excuse me.  (Excuse who?)  Excuse me.  (Well, who the Hell are you?)  'Ey yo, they call me BooGee.  (And what do you need excusin' for?)  Because I have to speak.  (About who?)  Vanessa.  (Vanessa?)  The light skin freak that I met on the telephone.  (The telephone?)  Yeah, that's the one that won't leave me the Hell alone.  (Oh no!)  She's a tight freak that calls me twenty-five, eight days a week.  (Well, I can't recollect her.)  Man, open your mind.  (Oh yeah, that's the freak that you met on the party line.)"  I just typed all that out from memory, and I could keep going.

Anyway, it may not be a good look now, but as a little kid it was all good.  Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" was the cutting edge topic in grade school classrooms.  We played The Fat Boys and kept the volume down so our parents couldn't hear Eazy-E or 2 Live Crew.   I still remember being torn because I had Young MC and Gangstarr's first tapes in my hands at the music store, and I couldn't afford both.  We would go back and forth over whether "Principal's Office" was better than "Bust a Move" because it was funnier.  Plus, I'm from the suburbs, so songs like "Turtle Power" and "Parents Just Don't Understand" were the hits I could talk to the other kids about, because nobody else seemed to be excited about Lakim Shabazz's "Black Is Back."  And this was the kind of time when even artists like Craig G had songs like "First Day of School."  So yeah.  I say all of that just to explain why 2 Deep's 1990 debut, "I Didn't Do My Homework," was a Day 1 must have purchase for me.

Because this is about as cornball kiddie rap as it comes.  Like it's title says, it's a light-hearted narrative rap about a guy who should've done his homework, but didn't feel like it, and now has to pay the price.  The 12" mentions special appearances by West and Will, whoever they are.  I'm guessing they're the guys who do the character voices, because the during the breaks, we get little skits with "Mrs. Buttercup" chewing out our MC, Jae Supreme, for not having done his homework.  It's absolutely Fresh Prince/ Young MC knock-off territory:

"It was a Friday afternoon and the only thing on my mind?
Huh, was having a good time,
At the party tonight.  But then I quickly woke up
To the sound of Mrs. Buttercup.
She said, 'okay class, you've been good this week,
So I'm only gonna give you two hundred pages to read
Over the weekend: chapters one through twenty.'
I wasn't laughin', 'cause there was definitely nothin' funny
About staying in the house with my nose in the book.
I was waiting for the joke, the hook.
But she was serious;
I got delirious;
See, I got the same from six classes previously.
There goes the weekend, and all the fun I planned.
How can I get out of this jam?
Missin' one assignment couldn't hurt.
I wonder what would happen...
If I didn't do my homework?"

Oh boy, you'll have to listen to the whole song to find out how this gripping drama ends!  Spoiler alert, though: it's never as clever or amusing as the more popular records they're emulating.  But maybe you noticed something.  Did that name, Jae Supreme, ring a little bell?  Maybe you remember a lost Nas classic called "I'm a Villain?"  Yeah, this is that Jae Supreme!  This is his beginning in the industry, producer and lead rapper of the short lived rap group 2 Deep.  He became known for producing a lot for Cormega, and Heavy Jewelz & Gentleman's Relief Records recently recovered his lost 90s album with his crew Sons of Light.

But Jae didn't produce "I Didn't Do My Homework;" some guy named Tuta Aquino did.  Don't feel bad if you don't recognize that name.  I had to look him up myself; he really wasn't a Hip-Hop guy.  This was an exception in his career, which mostly consisted of a lot of dance and pop stuff, including Sinead O'Connor and Duran Duran, and more known for engineering and remixing than production.  It's actually not a bad track, though.  It's a little too smooth to have been quite the break out crossover hit they were obviously looking for with that song, but it makes it a little easier to revisit this song in 2018 without cringing.  In fact, 2 Deep have some really nice cuts by DJ K-Slim on the hook.

So as you can see above, the 12" comes in a full color picture cover and it splits the song into a slightly shorter Radio Edit, the Deep Vocal Mix, and a Kingston Regga Muffin Mix.  That last one really isn't as dramatic as a change as it suggests, there's no new reggae-style hook or anything.  The instrumental is just a little more reggae influenced and a lot more forgettable.  If you've got the album, you don't really need the single for any of these mixes.

Finally, the last song on this 12" is "Simply Done (LP Version)," a posse cut featuring his crew, the S Double R Posse/ Tore Down Posse.  The line-up (pieced together from the album's shout outs, since they're never properly credited) are Jae, Enforcer L.D., Troop and Rob Well.  Rob Well's the only one of those who seems to have recorded outside of this endeavor - he had a split single with T-Wiz on DNA International that 2 Deep also produced.  Anyway, "Simply Done" is a pretty cool, darker groove with backwards drums like a Paris track.  They're all going for a fairly similar smooth but hard style, and they each prove rather adept at it.  It's not mind blowing, but it's a respectably solid effort and a world away from the preteen targeting material on the A-side that probably pushed away as many potential fans as it attracted.  In fact, their whole album turned out to be fairly removed from that kind of stuff.  But we'll get into all of that and delve into the less public face of 2 Deep in Part 2.

Monday, June 25, 2018

2 Black Across 110th Street

Okay, I've got some crazy records I'm looking at blogging about in the near future.  Some kinda unconventional, even silly or legitimately kinda wack stuff.  So before I sunk too deep into mode, I thought I'd get something real in the bank first.  I've written about 2 Black 2 Strong MMG before, but this right here is their best record.  They'd gotten a lot of controversy with their debut EP, but I think this single better represents them: "Across the 110."

2 Black 2 Strong MMG's name can be a little confusing, and I don't think I really cleared it up before.  "2 Black 2 Strong and the MMG" would make more sense, because 2 Black 2 Strong, a.k.a. Johnny Marrs is the front man, and MMG, or Mad Motherfucking Gangsters, is his crew.  So yeah, it's really just the one guy rapping, and the production is by... Chill Will of The Get Fresh Crew.  I guess Chill Will had another side of himself he wanted to express after doing all the soft, party records with Dougie, because he also produced the classic, hard rock single "Begs No Friends" by Strickly Roots.  ...Or not, that was Chill Will From the Eastside, the mixtape guy.  See the comments.

So, the title is in reference to 110th St, famous for being the dividing line between Harlem and the gentrified Central Park.  There's a classic, gritty 70s film about it called Across 110th St, which sparked the even more famous Bobby Womack song of the same name.  So this is kind of the rap version of that (though Pretty Tone Capone also made a pretty terrific "Across 110th St"), though it doesn't make the obvious choice of sampling any of it. Instead it flips a super tough break from a Lyn Collins record produced by James Brown and his band.

And really, the break makes this record.  It sounds incredible.  Really abrasive instrumentation and slow, smashed drums.  The subtler smooth bassline sounds like it's taken from somewhere else, but it's the same sample.  Then the dusty horns come in on the hook; it's perfect.  Because, honestly, Johnny doesn't exactly have the nimblest, most impressive flow.  He's no Rakim; he gets most of his vocal strength just from yelling.  Not that he doesn't make it work.  I described him before as a cross between Public Enemy and Willie D, but here he's on more of an early Fat Joe meets Freddie Foxxx tip.  And lyrically, he doesn't have much to say besides you better think twice before stepping onto his side of the 110 and shouting out every single member of his crew.  But that's all you need; this is a killer, no fucking around record.

The 12" makes it look like it might have some interesting remixes with titles like "Uptown's In the House Mix" and "Harlem Radio Mix," but really they're just minor edits of each other.  You also get the Instrumental and Acapella, which is nice.  And the B-side is the album track "Only the Strong Survive," also produced by Will.  It's a much faster, higher energy track with a killer "Funky Drummer" break and a dramatic piano loop.  It's pretty hot, too; and his flow's a little tighter when he's forced to rhyme twice as fast.  There are album, radio and instrumental versions for that one, and it comes in an inconspicuous sticker cover.  It's one of those records I really feel doesn't get the attention it deserves, probably because MMG got overshadowed by their own controversy of the previous record.  But it's too bad, because this is the one that really stands the test of time; a legit Harlem anthem.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Back On Tilt

(A new On Tilt album means the return of Vrse Murphy, with raps by Luke Sick and QM!  Youtube version is here.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Silver Fox Is Back, Back Again

About this time last year, I made a video about the comeback single of The Fantasy Three's Silver Fox, the MC probably best known as being the inspiration of Kool G Rap.  It was a little 7" on the new label Hip Hop Be Bop Records, a new venture from from hiphopbebop.com.  Obviously, I've already espoused on that record in said video, but I was really happy with how it turned out.  And now, as the title says, he's "Back."

Again on Hip Hop Be Bop and again with the same, virtually unknown producer, Clandestine, this one's a little different; and I think a lot of heads might actually like it better.  Where the first one reached back to the Fantasy Three-type of records Fox was known for, this one still definitely has an old school throwback feel, but not in that upbeat early 80s way.  There's nothing like those kind of upbeat, electro synth riffs looping loudly over the beat.  This is more of hardcore, battle-style track, you could imagine the Grind Mode Cypher guys taking turns on, except faster and more high energy.  And that energy is tripled by DJ Credit One, who's going ham on the turntables the entire time, cutting up the vocal samples for the hook and just randomly getting busy almost the entire time Fox raps.

And Fox handily keeps up with the pace.  He doesn't go for punchlines, but he's definitely flexing his skills on this one.  Where "The Buck's Still Here" had a lot to impart socially intertwined with the more fun, freestyle rhymes; this one has nothing to say but "we hittin' the door like a wrecking ball."  It's just a fierce flow, constantly playing with syllables and how he chops up his bars.

In my video on his first record, I neglected to comment on the remix, or "Rawmix," on the B-side, where the new wave-style loop is pulled back and the drums hit more prominently.  Well, I won't repeat that mistake, because this one has a remix on the B-side, too.  And the strategy is similar: removing some of the samples to let the break dominate the track a little harder.  They do add another little string sample to this version, though, and Credit One's cuts are the same on both mixes.  In both cases, I prefer the A-sides, but the the remixes are valid enough that I can easily seeing people preferring them instead.  It's a close call each time and I'm glad to get both versions on wax.

Like "The Buck's Still Here," this is a 7" release that plays at 45 and comes in a plain sleeve.  It's technically still a pre-order, but the release is tomorrow, so assuming there aren't any delays (and since I have my promo copy safely in-hand, we can probably assume it's safely past the pressing plant stage), it's basically out now.  I also can't help but notice that the catalog number here is HHBB-7-003, and the last one was HHBB-7-001.  Is HHBB hiding another interesting 7" up their sleeve?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Brooklyn's Disgrace... The Weirdest 3rd Bass Diss You'll Ever Hear


(Here's a weird one for you.  3rd Bass get dissed by someone named MC 29.  I can't even tell... is he meant to be funny, a la Biz Markie or Busy Bee, or an actual joke, like MC Pillsbury or Rappin' Duke?  Listen and decide for yourselves.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I Shouldn't've Left You

What's up, guys?  I've missed y'all!  I mentioned it in my last video, but if you missed it, I've been busy with my last semester of grad school, so I took a step back to keep my grades pretty.  But now all of that is over and done with, and I'm back with a thematically appropriate record to talk about today: Rakim's "It's Been a Long Time."  But not that "It's Been a Long Time," I wanna talk about the Suave House Remix 12", also from Universal Records.

One of my pet theories I've developed during the years of writing about music is that we tend to get hooked onto artists as fans; and then it's easy for us to be lead astray.  By that I mean, we use our full judgement at first; we can be resistant to embracing an artist, and hem and haw over whether their latest record is really all that good, etc.  But once people cross the line into becoming a fan of someone, they start accepting a lot of BS and letting some pretty mediocre stuff slide.  You know, like every post-Marley Marl Juice Crew All Star project.

Or, for a really on the nose example...  Pretty much every discerning Hip-Hop head basically had to be a fan of Kool Keith in the heyday of the Ultramagnetic MCs; but how long did it take most of us who came up with him to question his new material?  I remember being super excited for the Ultra and Sex Style albums, or listening to him on Chino XL's album just thinking how great it is he's on there being super eccentric.  It wasn't until, like Matthew that I finally started questioning: do I really need to be spending money on this?  If some new jack had come out with those albums, I would've casually passed on it right away like, "nah, I'm not feeling it," but because it was Keith, I needed to unlearn.  Anybody with I Am the West or Tical 0 in their collection knows what I mean.  It's hard to let go.

So when I came across this one in my crates the other day, I immediately got on my own back.  Ah, you're such a Rakim nerd you even had to buy this totally excessive, mainstream crossover remix.  I mean, what corny outsider label exec thought it was was a wise idea to pair Rakim up with flavor of the month Texas gangsta rap beats?  Dumb idea, and dumber me for lapping up whatever they dumped in my lap.  But I figure I own it; I might as well revisit it.

And hey, you know, it's actually not that bad.  It obviously doesn't stand up against the original, but that's because the original is a killer DJ Premier track by the man at the peak of his career.  But this version's surprisingly effective.  The synthetic sound effects of the Suave House don't come off so well in direct comparison to the musicality of Premier's mix, but this is a darker track that actually suits Rakim's vocal stylings quite well.  The bassline draws you in, and it helps a hell of a lot that they left Premier's cuts in for the hook.  And it did get fairly popular; it wound up being included as a bonus track on most versions of the album.  But if the first version didn't exist to overshadow it, and this was the only version of "It's Been a Long Time" on the market, I think this would be more critically regarded in Rakim's canon as well.

Plus, it ain't the worst, incongruous cross-coast remix of a 1997 Rakim comeback single Universal put out.  There's another one you've probably forgotten, found on this oddball little Universal Records sampler album, U.N.I. Vs. All.  I mean, first of all, it's just odd to imagine anybody being psyched for a compilation unifying around one of the most ugly, corporate conglomerate record labels in history.  Like, listen to the intro, with some guy screaming, "it's you and I verse all!" against lightning and thunder sound effects.  I don't know whatever happened to that dude, but I bet he's not associated with Universal anymore than any of the "soldiers" on this roster that got chewed up and spit out.

Also, because it's a big international label, the artists don't have much to do with each other.  New York legends, west coast gangsta rappers, Twista and Crucial Conflict out of Chicago, Tracey Lee out of... where ever he was from.  It's a real random, disparate grouping.  Of course Rakim is rapping over Suave House beats on this album.

But it's interesting because just about everything on here is exclusive.  It's a lot like a Hip-Hop soundtrack album, I guess.  A bunch of songs by big artists you can't get anywhere else.  That Crucial Conflict song was never on any of their albums.  Psycho Drama, Mafia and Rex Freestyle teemed up to create an original song just for this compilation.  Eightball and MJG have an exclusive remix of "Middle Of the Night," with Twista.  And I imagine "Take the Train" would've been featured on The Reepz' album if the label had ever put it out.  They had a video for that song and everything, and yet it's only on here.

Some of it ain't really so exclusive, though.  They threw on that crazy Canibus/ Lost Boyz/ A+ song "Boyz 2 Men."  I've always really dug that one, despite A+ brandishing some of the most obvious ghost-writing in the genre's history.  But it wound up being included on his Hempstead High album.  Plus they couldn't resist including Canibus' "Second Round K.O." since it was their hottest single at the moment.  And other songs were made to look like exclusives, but are really just deceitful retitlings of mixtape freestyles that had already been widely released (just like that shady Big L compilation).  "It's Logic" and "Shout Out To the Lost Boyz" are just the famous Canibus freestyles from Tony Touch's and DJ Clue's mixtapes, respectively.  McGruff's, Tracy Lee's, and Panama PI's are just freestyles, too.  They're dope, so I can't complain too much, but sticking new titles on 'em made fans buy the tape hoping for new material, then finding out it was just stuff they already owned.

Anyway, getting to that Rakim remix.  This time they remixed "Guess Who's Back," and by they, I mean Jermaine Dupri.  That one was a nice Clark Kent banger, but this time it doesn't just lose by comparison to the original; it's a loser on its own merits.  We just get a cheap, chintzy beat that doesn't have a moody atmosphere or addictive bassline to pull you into Rakim's rhymes.  Plus, Jermaine adds two weak little verses of his own.  He also leaves the scratches on the hook, they don't connect to the rest of the instrumental, and instead just come off like two different sounds playing at the same time.

That remix was also featured on some of the 12"s (though not all versions).  The "Guess Who's Back" 12" remixes also include another Suave House remix, which is interesting with a more upbeat, almost 80s pop R&B vibe.  There's a Buckwild one, which is cool and more understated, as his production tends to be.  And there's a Prophecy Entertainment which was pretty mediocre.  That Clark Kent version was really distinct, so I don't think any of the other versions really hold up, but the Buckwild's pretty good on its own terms and the Suave House was... interesting.

So, I guess at the end of all this, I'm not really mad myself for picking up either of these singles.  They're kind of excessive, because none of the remixes could ever replace their originals; but they're alright.  You can't go wrong putting any Rakim 12" in your crate.  Except for that single with Linkin Park.  If you bought that, jeez...  Even I'm not that big of a Stan.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Obscure 80s Rap for Easter

(Happy Easter, everybody.  I'm still here!  And I brought a some albums by an 80s Christian rapper a few of you might remember.  Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Luke Sick Strikes the Clutch and Tells the World To Ask the Dust

Here's a brand new release that took me by complete surprise.  Luke Sick is back with a brand new project called Strike the Clutch, a limited cassette-only single/ EP (four songs; it's right on the bubble).  Luke, of course, is the front man of Sacred Hoop and so many other groups and projects, all of which I've been covering over the years, because he's been putting out reliably dope Hip-Hop for 20 years, which is more than I can say for just about anybody.  Admittedly, I wince a little when he strays outside the genre, but even then it's always at least worth your time to check out.

So when Strike the Clutch first popped up on my Feedly, I wasn't even sure if it was another one of those punk/ rap crossovers or what.  All I knew was that this was Luke Sick in collaboration with some guy named Damien, co-released by Luke's label Megakut and some other label called I Had an Accident Records.  Never heard of 'em, but apparently they've been putting out cassette-only releases since 2006.  Scrolling through their catalog of almost 200 releases, I do recognize a handful of names, like Ceschi, K-the-I??? and Bleubird.  But Luke's the only one I'd feel safe taking the chance on.

And first of all, no, it's not punk or any other genre meshed with Hip-Hop, it's just the pure stuff.  Apparently this Damien guy is a producer from Spokane Washington, and he's not about to replace Vrse as my favorite Sick producer, but he makes some solid, moody tracks that Luke knows absolutely how to lay into.  Just reading the titles like "Fake Happy" and "Ripping Gut," you already know this tape is bloody with the same bleak attitude he cultivated on his earliest tapes.  It's like Bring Me the Head of Sexy Henrietta part 2; even the Fletch references are back.  Sonically, it's smoother, more laid back and atmospheric.  But older fans will probably get the most out of this, because lyrically, these bars laying into sucker MCs are a total throwback to his first 12" in '96:

"Maybe you get rabies spittin' that crazy, or lames who think they strange but they're lazy little babies, and crazy rats thinkin' they can rap and need to chill, while their chicks get pealed like a loose seal.  I get weeded, get drunk, now I'm rippin' good; you wonder why the shallow graves keep gettin' dug.  'Cause something's wrong when they test my worth, endin' up on the ground with their face in the dirt."

Strike the Clutch is limited to just 100 copies, which I personally think is too limited.  Like, you don't want even your biggest fans to be missing out on your projects, right?  I ordered this the same day it popped up on Megakut and it was already sold out before it even arrived at my house.  But I guess it's been working for these I Had an Accident guys for about twelve years now, so what do I know?  Anyway, as of this writing, a couple copies are still available on their bandcamp.  Hoopsters, don't miss out; it's a tight little tape.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

You Love To Hear 'Bout Father, Again and Again

Okay.  Last year, I finally wrapped up writing about every single Father MC 12" single.  But that doesn't mean the fun has to stop.  There's still plenty more of his oeuvre to explore and discover.  In fact, I bet y'all never heard of this one before: Kym Rae featuring Father MC: "Just Be Good To Me" on Situation Records from 1996.

Now, Situation is located in Teaneck, New Jersey; and career-wise, 1996 would situate Father after that whole Moja/ Spoiled Brat mess, but before he moved to Florida and hooked up with Uncle Luke.  So that all makes sense, right before his single on Echo.

Kym Rae was an R&B singer, not a rapper; but the type who was very tied to working with Hip-Hop acts.  She was being produced and probably managed by Redhead Kingpin and had done songs with K-Def, Sadat X and McGruff.  She was meant to have a full-length album in 1997, including this song; but it never came out.  Later on, she came back and signed with Renegade Foxxx's Still Hustlin imprint, but he never put out any records by her, so she basically just wound up singing a bunch of his hooks.

So, anyway, "Just Be Good To Me" was Kym's first single, and yes, it's a syrupy cover of the S.O.S. Band's "Just Be Good To Me."  You know the one, "I don't care about your other girls..." or, if nothing else, you've surely heard a million and one songs sample the line, "people always talkin' 'bout... reputation."  Yeah, it's that song.  But where the original was catchy and funky, this is going for a slow, smooth but 90s tip.  By 90s tip, I mean that "Real Love" style of lacing a traditional Hip-Hop breakbeat under the whole thing.  In fact, it's the very same breakbeat: "Impeach the President," this time with an extra piece of MC Shan's "The Bridge" still married to it.

So, it's not exactly an exciting record.  A song that's been covered a hundred times already with a derivative production style.  But it still sounds good if you're in the mood for a very 90s R&B groove that doesn't aim particularly high.  Kym doesn't stretch herself much vocally either, by reaching impressive high notes or challenging ranges.  She just softly sings, relying on her admittedly nice voice.  It seems surprisingly low effort for someone trying to make a name for herself with her first single, but it's definitely not bad.

But what about Father?  That's who we're all here for, right?  Well, me anyway.  Well, he's got two verses.  A real quick opener, than he comes in with the more traditional R&B guest verse in the third act.  It's... not his best stuff.  he really sounds like he's trying to imitate the trends of the day on this, opening with the line, "I keeps it hot; on the real, I keeps it raw. Father freaks the flav; I kick game out the back door."  Like, Father MC in his prime would never have said "keeps" or "flav."  And even if you're not a fan, you have to admit, Father MC had established himself and found enough of his own voice by 1996 not to have to try and fit in with the youngsters.  On the plus side, though, he doesn't just throw in a quick verse that has nothing to do with the concept with the song at large.  She's singing to her man about how she doesn't care that he's a player, and he portrays that player.  Of course, he's spent entire albums rapping about being a player, so it's not exactly a stretch.

But it's actually smartly written how he comes back in his second verse to explain how he will treat her just like she's asking for: "I'm gonna bless your finger, get you laced in white; feed your appetite tonight as I serve ya right.  Have Versace Victoria's Secret; peep it, a spread of white roses on silk satin covers, what?  I go all out 'cause you be representin' me; I be representin' you.  Don't change, Boo.  I feel blessed."  It's nice how it all works together instead of pulling in opposite directions like these collaborations often do.

Now, this 12" has a couple versions on it.  And like the name of the Kym and Father Version implies, most of the others don't feature Father MC.  Situation's an indie label, but there was a music video for this, and Father ain't in it.  If the album had ever come out, presumably he wouldn't have been on there either.  This is just a remix single.  On this single, it's the Kym Vocal Mix.  Then there's an Intimate Mix, which contrary to its name actually has some bouncier, subtle but more cheerful instrumentation.  Interestingly, Kym's Bonus Beat also features Father and Kym's vocals - is this 12" mislabeled, possibly?  Anyway, the difference is the track on this one is more stripped down, putting the Hip-Hop beat more prominently and doing away with most of the extra R&B keyboards and music.  Then the Original Bump Demo Mix is just what it sounds like, a slightly less polished recording with all the same elements, but an extra "bump" kicking through the percussion and some very minor variations and a little acapella finish.  And finally, the Instrumental is an instrumental of the main track.

Frankly, none of the variations actually vary enough to make them worth bothering with.  There's basically the version with Father, and the one without for people who hate rap.  The rest is all excess; and as you can see, the 12" comes in a sticker cover.  The song is fine, but nothing to get excited about.  I mean, you're still better off just listening to the S.O.S. Band's original.  The world doesn't really need all of these knock-offs and cash-ins.  But as far as they go, this one's pretty listenable and inoffensive.  And if you're a fan of Father's, maybe even a little charming.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Candyman's Xzibit?

(Would you buy an album for just two good songs?  What if it was super cheap.  Taking a look back at west coast rapper TNT on Pump Records.  Experimenting with a new webcam and my teaching myself FCPX for the first time, so pardon any technical shortcomings.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

That Time Havoc Kicked Coolio and Blondie Off Their Own Record

Say, did you guys watch Kendrick Lamar perform with U2 the other night on The Grammys?  Me either.  Who ever wanted to see those two collaborate?  More big money, bad idea, cross genre noise pollution that's, hey, just like today's record!  But unlike last week's post, this is a real collaboration that actually happened, and not a patch-worked fakery.  I'm not sure if that necessarily makes things any better... in fact, given my choice, I might prefer more Hip-Hop artists faking their team-ups with rock bands rather than actually going through with it.  But in this case, it at least made things a little more lively and interesting than Wyclef's sleepy mess.  I'm talking with Blondie's comeback single "No Exit" featuring Coolio, Mobb Deep, Inspectah Deck and U-God.

In a way, this is more awards show generated nonsense, since the big performance of this song took place on a 1999 broadcast of The American Music Awards.  But they did release an properly studio-recorded version of this as a single on Beyond Records, plus as the title track of the Blondie comeback album (their first album in 17 years according to Wikipedia, who I'll trust, because I don't know or care about these non-Hip Hop groups) and even a music video.  But the only version most of us are apt to care about is this particular 12" on LOUD Records, where Havoc decided to take things in hand and make a good version of the song.

So let's talk about the main version first.  Strictly speaking, this 12" draws a distinction between The Loud Rock Remix and The AMA Performance Version, but the latter is really just a slightly extended version of the former with about twenty extra seconds of instrumentation.  Basically they're the same song.  And it's a pretty eccentric song, which I suppose makes sense when you think about the personnel.  Unlike the Small Soldiers version of "Another One Bites the Dust," this song clearly features the band members playing their instruments on the song, which definitely injects a lot of energy into the song if nothing else.  I mean, they're talented musicians, so it's not bad in that sense, though they make some really weird choices, using riffs from "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and Bach's classic Phantom Of the Opera theme, with a loud, distorted rock guitar style.  It's actually very much like the Goblin soundtrack for Lamberto Bava's Demons, to the point where I honestly believe they're deliberately cribbing.  But at least that's fun.

So Deborah Harry not only sings the chorus, she raps.  And her rap style hasn't changed at all since we last heard it on 1980's "Rapture."  As you can imagine, when on the same track as Mobb Deep and them, that flow comes off pretty stilted by comparison.  And she's followed by Coolio, who sounds kinda silly warning us against putting "whimpin' and simpin' up in your pimpin'."  Then the rest of the song is Harry singing the hook between verses by Havoc, Prodigy, Deck and U-God, none of whom deliver career-topping performances, but all come off a lot slicker and more listenable than Deborah and Coolio.

That's the version most people have.  In fact, I think there's actually an even more milquetoast version that features Coolio but none of the other guests.  But if you're a real head, the only worthwhile version is on the B-side.  Havoc produced The Infamous Hip Rock Version, which actually aims to please some Hip-Hop fans.  First off, it's got an stripped down, pure Hip-Hop beat, with none of that guitar noodling or any other live instrumentation.  It's a classic, 90's New York street style track, with a break beat and a bassline and that's pretty much it.  It has no connection to Blondie's music at all, which is A-O-K with me.

Even better?  It jumps right to the Mobb and Wu.  Blondie's rap?  Deleted.  Even Coolio!  Deleted.  Off the record.  Perfect!  Now it's just a Mobb Deep record featuring some second string Wu players (collectively dubbed the "LOUD Allstars" on the sticker) that sounds like it was recorded for any of their mixtape projects from that time.  Harry's chorus is still used for the hook, and there is a brief guitar solo tagged on at the end; but if you just heard this version you'd never suspect it was an off-shoot of some bizarre goth rock hybrid record.

Unfortunately, if you remember Mobb Deep's Koch Record solo albums from that time, though, you remember they were a little lackluster and the production was pretty dry.  So even this version is no awesome masterpiece.  So don't come in expecting "Shook Ones" meets "Protect Ya Neck."  It's closer to some Golden Arms Redemption material... but it would definitely be one of the better songs on there.  No Greatest Hit, but actually a record Wu and Mobb fans might want to have in their collection, unlike the A-side.

As you see, this 12" comes in a sticker cover, and also contains both instrumentals, not that you'd really want either.  Also on the B-side is a Talvin Singh Rhythmic Radio Edit of another song from Blondie's comeback album, called "Maria."  No rappers on this one, and Blondie barely even sings.  It's mostly four minutes of synth-y ambiance over high bpm club drums.  I suspect the original was more traditional pop rock song with guitars and singing, but I don't intend to find out.  It's the exact opposite end of the spectrum of what anybody buying this record wants to hear.  They should've included the "No Exit" acapella instead; and then I'm sure we would've heard the LOUD Allstars on a lot more mixtapes.  But, oh well; no great loss either way.

This is the kind of record you can always find dirt cheap, and for that price, I recommend it.  Fans will be pleasantly surprised by the B-side, and the A-side is at least a novelty, which I guess is all the AMA's really wanted in the first place.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wyclef and Canibus Spendin' Spielberg Money

Major record labels just have too much money.  That's the only records like this exist: "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen with additional vocals by Wyclef Jean featuring Pras and Free.  Or the way it's credited on the version I bought: Queen/ Wyclef Jean featuring Pras, Canibus and Free.  I don't know jack about musical genres outside of Hip-Hop, but even I'm familiar with Queen's rock classic "Another One Bites the Dust" from 1980.  It's the one that reprises the bassline from Chic's "Good Times," which Grandmaster Flash famously mixed together on "The Great Adventures Of..."  But this one's from 1998 on Dreamworks Records.  DreamWorks is the label Steven Spielberg co-owns with two other media moguls.  DreamWorks is much better known for their DreamWorks Pictures division, which makes blockbuster movies.  But yeah, they have also have a record label for nonsense like this, when their films aren't burning through enough cash on their own.

Now, the way they write that: "Queen with additional vocals by..." sure makes it sound like a historic rap/ rock collaboration of the giants, along the lines of when Bob Dylan made a record with Kurtis Blow, or more recently when Kanye West teamed up with Paul McCartney, when Eminem remixed "Stan" with Elton John, that time LL Cool J made "Accidental Racist" with Randy Travis, or... wait a minute.  These collaborations aren't historic; they're terrible!  Massive miscalculations of celebrity culture and ego that should always be shot down at the conception stage.  But hey, this record isn't actually one of those; it's a fake rap/ rock collaboration.

Not that it was a serious hoax.  Anybody who'd be interested in laying down money for a Queen record would know that the band's lead, Freddie Mercury, had been dead for years.  And another core member had also passed away before this record.  That just leaves two guitar players or whatever, and I'm pretty sure they didn't play on this record either.  It doesn't sound like there's any new, live instrumentation at all.  Really, this is just Wyclef remixing Queen's old record to put himself on it.  That was really his entry way into hit records... after Lauryn's "Killing Them Softly" - which was cool but still kinda pointless as far as I'm concerned since Roberta Flack still sang it better - he just started doing "covers:" "No Woman, No Cry," "Gone 'Till November, "We Trying To Stay Alive," etc.

I know Hip-Hop has a legacy of making rap songs out of big records that were hits at the time, like Spyder D and Nu Shooz.  But I honestly think the fun of those records was that audiences were of course fans of those songs, and it was fun to hear the raps on the breaks.  "Erotic City Rapp" was made for fans of Prince's "Erotic City."  But in the 2000s, making hits off of records that were decades old, feels pretty sneaky, selling them to kids unfamiliar with the original.  The people most impressed with Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage" were the people who'd never heard of Lakeside.  So when I see Wyclef releasing "Guantanamera" as a single, it just feels like he's trying to pass off another song writer's talents as his own to kids who are encountering that chorus for the first time.  Especially since, like "Fantastic Voyage," he was just making versions worse than the originals.  Like, I'd rather listen to "I Can't Wait (To Rock the Mic)" than "I Can't Wait," because that's adding all these great rap elements which I love.  But Wyclef barely even raps; he just kind of mumbles a few low energy lines over the lulls.  I'd certainly rather hear Freddy Mercury belt out the lines, "how long can you stand the heat" than 'Clef, wouldn't you?

But okay, maybe that's just me being sour because I don't really vibe with Wyclef's energy.  Here, he obviously uses the instrumentation of the original, including its iconic bassline.  He chops it up, and swaps out the drums for a more traditional breakbeat.  But he is definitely trying to make it sound like he recorded this in the studio with Mercury, which is weird.  He'll say "Freddie Mercury, where you at, yo?" and then some old acapella of Mercury's vocals will play, as if the two were standing right next to each other in the vocal booth and 'Clef just cued him to sing his next line. The whole thing just feels like a strange endeavor.

And why is it on DreamWorks of all labels?  I mean, it probably took DreamWorks to buy Queen's name, and release it like a new Queen record (it even later wound up on one of their greatest hits albums, if you can believe it).  But Wyclef and Pras were signed to Columbia, and EMI had Queen.  DreamWorks were involved in this instance because this song is from the soundtrack to Small Soldiers, a CGI children's movie about action figures coming to life in a kid's bedroom, like Toy Story.  If I ever get the chance to interview Joe Dante someday, I'm just dying to ask him if he insisted that his film needed a song by Queen and Wyclef on it and made it happen; or if he even had any say in his movie's soundtrack at all?  What was he thinking as he saw this project unfold?

But yeah, this is already a long post, and I've got so much more to go into, so let's keep things moving.  Like I said at the top, there are multiple versions of this 1998 cover, with or without Canibus.  This came out just as Canibus was blowing up (and before his career just as quickly deflated), so there was still a craze to own every 12" single with his name on it.  But you had to be careful to get the version with the run-out groove PRO-A-5118 instead of the one with PRO-A-510, because that one doesn't have Canibus on it.

See, originally, the song featured Wyclef, Pras and Free.  That's what's on the soundtrack and the original single.  I said that Wyclef just mumbles some lines, which he does through the bulk of this song and much of his output; but to be fair, he does have a full rap verse on here, as do the other two.  These guys are pretty all over the map.  Wyclef starts shouting out "the kids on the blocks shootin' at the crooked cops," which gets cut out of most versions, because Small Soldiers is a children's movie like Toy Story, and what was he thinking?  But really, nothing he says in one line connects to what he says in the next, talking about Idi Amin, then doing a Woody Woodpecker impression.  It's like he's just stringing together buzz words for an easy pay check.

Meanwhile, Pras and Free are dropping terrible lines like, "believe me, you gotta let me fly like R. Kelly. Bite another dust with my man Freddie Mercury," and "I don't go down 'cause I'm a vegetarian," respectively.  I really don't understand why Free didn't go back and say write me another line that isn't a third grade schoolyard blowjob joke for my big major label debut.  Because it's painfully obvious, with bars like, "practically, I tactically destroy; deploy more decoys than a presidential convoy," that she's just delivering another verse written for her by Canibus.  Another "Patriots."  I was interested in her as an artist and hoping for an album until I realized she was being puppeteered like A+.

Anyway, that's the version on the soundtrack album.  This 12" features a bunch of remixes and alternate versions, including some where Pras is taken off the song and substituted with Canibus, who was the only reason to care about this song in 1998.  So, first version on the 12", LP Version, is the same as on the soundtrack, but the Small Soldiers Video Mix is the one with Canibus.  Yes, there was a music video for this song, too.  I never saw it back in the day - I don't think the Hip-Hop shows ever played it; but it's on Youtube.  It's a weird, silly video where Wyclef is a security guard at a wax museum with a display dedicated to Queen.  None of this has anything to do with Small Soldiers, by the way; but at least the video doesn't try to keep up the charade that Queen actually somehow recorded this track with Wyclef; they recognize that he's passed on.  Anyway, a dance party breaks out because this is a music video after all, and the Freddie Mercury statue gets stolen.  So Wyclef goes on a secret spy mission to recover it.

You actually need to know that to understand this version of the song, because otherwise Canibus's verse doesn't make sense.  A lot of it is him doing his typical, complex battle rap with exotic imagery schtick like, "My rhymes cut through the radio waves like machetes; the predator becomes the prey in the Serengeti."  But he's the only one who plays along with the movie saying, "I'm a small soldier."  And later he talks about how, "I breach national security purposely to safely return the statue of Freddie Mercury."  I'm honestly not sure if he wrote that verse on the set of the music video to make it actually relate to the song, or if maybe the director heard that line in Canibus's rap and was inspired to make the video about that.  It's got to be one of those; it's too much to be a sheer coincidence.

But either way, it's kind of a shame, because Canibus spoils his own verse with these crazy, silly tangents.  You just can't get lost in a fierce, sick lyrical attack when he's talking about Small Soldiers.  But the whole mess has way too much talk about shooting and murdering people for little kids to just enjoy it as a silly theme song to their movie like Will Smith's "Here Come the Men In Black."  So it's like a song for nobody.  In the music video, the song is censored to pieces, with long stretches of protracted silence over the instrumental, which just adds to the feel that Wyclef is half asleep the whole time.

Anyway, there's also a Team 1 Black Rock Star Main Pass mix on here.  It's the Pras version again, but this time with the instrumental varied up a bit, thanks to Wyclef's cousin, Jerry Wonda.  It's a little more interesting, because "Another One Bites the Dust" is so over-familiar even the first time you hear it; but the bulk of the song is still based around the same basic bassline and all.  There are also both instrumentals, a clean edit of the Black Rock mix and an A Cappella (With Pras, not Canibus).  Now in the days of discogs, it's easy; but back in the 90s, it was tricky to find this particular 12" version with Canibus instead of the normal one.  Unfortunately, now that the Canibus craze has passed, I can also see it wasn't really worth it.  But at least it makes for an interesting curiosity piece.  The Small Soldiers soundtrack also featured a song with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Black Flag, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers... and I believe they actually did record it together for real.  I don't know if anybody actually likes that song either, but what else was DreamWorks going to do with their excess millions?  Give to charity?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Chino On Metro

So I thought I'd follow-up on my recent Chino XL post, about his brief stint on Warner Bros with this one about his one 12" on Metro.  So, like I said then, Metro is the indie label he wound up putting his second album (I Told You So) out on after Warner Bros, well, changed their minds.  Essentially, Metro didn't bother with any singles for that album, since Warner Bros had already done that job for them.  They just released the CD.  But there was this one, little promo 12" for "What You Got."  And the B-side?  "Let 'Em Live" with Kool G Rap again.  What makes this 12" interesting, besides being the only way for serious Chino fans to get "What You Got" on vinyl since I Told You So was CD-only?  Exclusive remixes.  But before yo get too excited, let's have a closer look.

I'll start with the A-side, since A comes after B, even though I'm sure we're all much more interested in "Let 'Em Live."  But "What You Got" is actually a pretty fun track.  It's just Chino going off showing off his skills in full braggadocio freestyle mode, naturally packing in as many punchlines as he possibly can.  Yes, that gets a little corny.  "Give ya more blood clots than two Jamaicans arguin'," "what I do to push your hairline back Rogaine won't help," "I'll turn on channel 2 if I wanna see B.S.," etc.  I mean, that last one might get a pass in some kind of politically minded song where he was actually commenting on the media; but here it's just a cheesy pun that has nothing to do with anything, thrown in because he fills his music with every pun he can think of.

Despite that, though, it's actually a pretty good song.  Like "Let 'Em Live," the beat is again created by Nick Wiz without any instrumental samples.  I specify instrumental samples because the hook actually makes use of some great vocal samples from Carlito's Way, which is a huge part of the song's appeal.  The rest of the track is carefully constructed studio sounds.  It's got more of a catchier, upbeat feel than "Let 'Em Live," but it's the same kind of thing.  And that upbeat feel might throw you off at first.  It sounds like something better suited for a junior member of Terror Squad to boast about his bling on than a battle rapper like Chino.  But I kind of like the unexpected merger of a hardcore rapper over a poppy beat; like Yah Yah with 5th Lmnt.  A pop rapper over a pop beat is crap; but there's a cool contrast on songs like this, with Chino flowing ruthlessly over the track, both elements feeding energy into the other.  It works.

It's obvious why Warner wanted it to be his next single.  I mean, I'm not sure it would've been a great idea even if they had done it.  Putting Chino on more of crossover track would smell like mainstream appeal to a corny label exec, but I think a more savy Hip-Hop A&R would realize the two elements would probably cancel each other out commercially.  The kids who were making "Wobble Wobble" and "Whistle While You Twurk" the #1 rap songs of the year weren't going to latch onto Chino XL rapping about how, "at a lynching I smile, cut myself down, murder your guest list."  But the whole thing's too damn jiggy for the underground screwfaces and purist backpackers who would've been interested in listening to complex battle rhymes.  Especially with that music video.  No wonder why Warners quickly drew back like whoa, we made a mistake with this one.

Oh yeah, did you know there was a music video?  As far as I know, it never aired, but it was included as an Enhanced CD bonus on Chino's next album, Poison Pen, which came out in 2006 on another short-lived indie label, Activate Entertainment.  I got the autographed "2 DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION" there (sorry, the shiny silver lettering doesn't scan very well), but the video is on disc 1, so even if you've just got the standard release, you've got the video.  And by the way, I've got a lot of shit to say about Poison Pen, but that's a whole 'nother blog.  So for now, just take a look at this video:
And yeah, that image is the full picture quality.  We're talking about an mpg hidden as a bonus track on a music CD in the year 2000, so it's relatively decent.  But the actual video?  It's clearly where all the label's budget went instead of clearing samples, with a dozen bikini models dancing in sandals around a rented mansion's swimming pool and driving around Miami in a company sports car.  Who would have listened to Here To Save You All and thought all it needed was a "Pumps and a Bump" make-over to blow up?  Well, somebody did.  It ends with a giant "© 2000 Warner Bros Records, Inc" screen, making you wonder if it was even legal for Activate to put it on their CD.  Probably not.

So, finally what we're really here for: the exclusive remixes!  Both songs feature Beat Shop Mixes in addition to the Album versions ("What You Got" also has the Instrumental), and despite the billion and one "Let 'Em Live" remixes I talked about last time, these official remixes aren't online anywhere.  Beat Shop is an alias a producer named Taurus occasionally used around that time, and he produced some stuff for guys like Guru and B-Real, so I assume he did these remixes.  Here's the thing, though.  They use the exact same instrumentals (and vocals, naturally).  Basically, they just beat juggle a little bit.  Like at the end of "Let 'Em Live," when they're saying, "knock 'em out the box, Chi?"  Well, now "Let 'Em Live" has about twenty seconds of that at the intro before going into the first verse, too.  That's the only difference.  It's maybe a one percent improvement for "What You Got," and I actually prefer the album version without that bit on "Let 'Em Live."  So don't all rush out and track this 12" down for the exclusive remixes.

The only other thing on this record, is at the end of side 2, is a short track called "Beat Shop Samples."  It's just little vocal soundbites that you used to see on those DJ battle tools records.  Like, a line from South Park and the sound of a gun shot.  None of these samples were used in the Beat Shop Mixes of the two songs or anything; they're just a random little bonus tacked on at the end.  So, all in all, an interesting footnote of a record, but not much more.  I don't know; it might seem like I'm bagging on Chino a lot here and last time, but I enjoy his stuff.  I bought his records for a reason.  Maybe I've grown out of them somewhat;...I think the whole genre's grown out of that jokey punchline simile style; but I wouldn't be going back to these records if I wasn't enjoying it.