Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Gurpy Dozen

So, there's a new album from the Gurp City crew.  If you follow this blog, you know who Gurp City are, because I've covered a whole ton of their releases already.  But just in case you don't, Gurp is the label/ collective of the Bay area family of artists including Luke Sick, Z-Man, Brandon B, QM, TopR, Eddie K, Eons One, Lightbulb, DJ Quest, Brycon...  it's always struck me as a somewhat loose knit affair, and it's not always clear who's actually a member, and who's just a frequent collaborator of some or all of them, or who's dropped out over the years... White MicG-Pek DJ Marz?  It's pretty amorphous.

Anyway, it may be hard to believe considering how long these guys have been assembled under the banner, but apparently this is the debut album from the whole gang as a pack: Rap Camp, Vol. 1: The Flood.  Previous compilations like Fresh Out Gurp City didn't count?  I don't know; their press sheet calls this their debut.  And like all music these days, it seems to be primarily a digital release; but I'm happy to report that there are actual physical copies in existence.  You might have to contact them directly to cop a CD, or corner one of them at a show, because I can't find any place to order it.  But they exist!

And how is it?  Well, I'll be honest, it's overlong and I was a little disappointed with it at first.  It reminds me of the Shady Records Re-Up album, where it feels like a bunch of artists you're a fan of have gotten together with some you're less familiar with to pound out a lot of songs pretty quickly.  It starts out okay, with "Guess Who's Back," including some cool scratches on the hook, an enthusiastic posse cut vibe, all three MCs sound good riding the beat, and it's exciting when Luke clicks in at the end like a king.  One thing I have to say about this album right off the bat is that the biggest names are heavily featured.  You know, if you buy a D12 album, you don't want to find out Eminem's only on one song and you've wasted your money.  That's definitely not an issue here; Luke and Z-Man are all over this.  The only artist on here more than them is Eddie K (Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters), who's on every song but one... I wonder if this song started out as an Eddie K album?

Anyway, back to Re-Up, or Rap Camp.  The problem is we've got a lot of lyrically shallow verses over some pretty bland beats mostly by producers whose names I don't recognize as opposed to the more atmospheric or exciting work we've gotten used to on Gurp City projects.  Tracks like "Drop It" sound like old strip club rap songs the genre left behind years ago, and others like "Mad Scientist" just don't have the energy to lift off the ground.  A couple songs in, and the album starts to feel like a slog to get through.  I don't mean to overstate my criticisms - things here never actually get bad per wack (though "Drop It" probably gets the closest), they just never aim high enough to hook you when there's so much other music out there you could listen to instead.

But, but, BUT!  If you have the patience to stick with it, things pick up.  The best stuff is mostly in the second half of the album, and there are some real gems.  "Tribe & Brew" is a crazy duet between Eddie K and Luke Sick where they meld their Gurp styles with the instrumental and vocal stylings of A Tribe Called Quest.  Even diggers who would normally pass over these guy's best stuff should at least check this song out; they'd get a real kick out of it and it's genuinely real funky.  "Cups Up Off the Wall" is just a fun, old school throwback with a Kool & the Gang inspired chorus, and "Young Throats" has a smoothed out addictive track you're going to want to go back and replay immediately.  They have moments where they take the alcoholic theme to interesting places with lines like "high tolerance but I ain't proud of it," you can just feel these guys' talent pushing at the seams to burst out.

So, ultimately, I'd say if you're a serious fan of these guys, you'll want to get this album, too.  Again, like if you're a big Emzy fan, you'll want all his side projects and be happy finding all the points where he shines to appreciate.  But if you're looking for the masterpieces, this ain't The Slim Shady EP; don't start here.  Check out On Tilt or Yole Boys instead.  Either way, though, at least go to their bandcamp and check out that "Tribe & Brew" cut; I'll really be surprised if you guys don't like it.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Infinite Stezos

Look at the picture above and see if you can spot any similarities.  Ha.  Okay, I was just messin' with yas.  Those two objects have nothing in common; it was a trick question.  Oh.  Well, except, looking at it now, I suppose you could say they're both CDs... by the same artist... with the same photo on it.  Okay, actually, I guess they're very similar, except one is from 1996 and one is current, from 2018.  So what's the deal?  Well, Dope Folks - as you should know from reading this very blog, - has been putting out rare and unreleased Stezo tracks for kind of a while now.  And now they've put out this CD version, limited to 250 copies (there's a purple cassette limited to just 50 copies, too), that compiles a bunch of that stuff and adds some more.  And that includes pretty much everything from his rare EP, Where's the Funk At.  Hence the referencing covers.

So let's break it all down and see what's what.  If you have all the previous Dope Folks vinyl EPs, do you need this album?  And yes, at eighteen tracks deep, I'd call Bop Ya Headz a full-length album.  And an alternative question, if you have all of Stezo's vintage, indie material, do you need this album?  Because this release definitely dips into both wells.

So what's on here?  Okay, first up are all the seven songs from Dope Folks' Unreleased and Rarities EP, which I covered here and includes the three previously unheard kick-ass demo tracks, and all four tracks from Where's the Funk At.  So, to be clear, those four tracks appear on both the Unreleased and Rarities EP and the original Where's the Funk At CD, as well as now Bop Ya Headz.  Stay with me, it gets a little complicated.  Because then it also features the four instrumentals from Where's the Funk At, which were on the original 1996 CD, but not the Dope Folks EP.  So if you've just got the Dope Folks EPs, you don't have those.  But, one thing Bop doesn't have is the "Where's the Funk At" remix, which I believe was newly recorded in 2015 specifically for Dope Folks' Unreleased EP.  So getting Bop doesn't completely invalidate Unreleased.

And just to clarify further, and hopefully not confuse the issue, I should point out that there was also a different "Where's the Funk At" 12" released back in the day on Funktown Flav Records.  That, and its B-side "Figure It Out" are both the same songs featured on the aforementioned Where's the Funk At EP and, by extension, the Unreleased and Rarities EP.  All the same versions of the same couple songs.

But that's not where Bop Ya Headz ends; it's just the first half.  It also features all five songs, from Dope Folks' 2017 More Rarities EP.  All five of those songs had been previously released on two indie Stezo 12"s, "Bop Ya Headz" on Funktown Records in 1994 and "Mr. S" on Funktown Flav Records in 1997.  And Bop also throws in the two instrumentals from the 1994 12" (though not the ones from the 1997 12").  Those are the same two instrumentals they put on More Rarities, so nothing different there.  Except More Rarities had another, different remix of "Where's the Funk At," which is exclusive to that EP.  And I'll just mention that those two 12"s were top shelf Stezo material, even better than the Where's the Funk At EP, so if you dug the other stuff, you'll definitely like these tracks.

So that's it.  Let's tally up.  If you just get the Dope Folks' EPs, the only thing you'd be missing out on is the "Mr. S" instrumentals and the "Where's the Funk At" acappella, which was on the Where's the Funk At EP... which explains how Dope Folks was able to make those remixes.  Bop Ya Headz nets you everything except those new mixes and the "Mr S" instrumentals.  If you just have the original records, you'd not only be missing those new remixes (which I have to say are pretty good, though, especially the Handz Remix from More Rarities) but the three 1990 demo tracks.  So you'll want to get at least one of these newer releases for sure; but you may not feel the need to spring for everything here.  This is more of an easier way for Stezo fans to get all that stuff Dope Folks was putting out for the last couple years in one convenient album, and obviously more for CD/ tape collectors who would've given the vinyl a miss.  If you're all caught up on wax, there's no new music to be discovered on this one.

Getting all this compiled feels a bit like they're wrapping up, a final summation.  But could there still be more vintage Stezo in Dope Folks' future?  We know there's still more unreleased demo tracks out there that could make for a pretty sweet release or two.  We'll just have to wait and see...

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Introducing The Fascinating Force

(Here's a video I've been meaning to do for a long time now, on a talented but unfortunately forgotten crew known as The Fascinating Force. Youtube version is here.)