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.