Monday, December 24, 2018

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Guess Who's Made a Comeback? You'll Never Guess, So I'll Just Tell You!

Even as another year fades away, it marks one last interesting development in Hip-Hop.  You guys'll never guess which old school MC just made a comeback with a brand new record.  Well, except those of you who looked at the picture on the right.  That's right, it's Sugar Bear, the Strong Island MC who only put out one, exciting and highly regarded 12" single back in 1988 on, well... it originally came out on an indie label called Coslit Records, but it's far better known for the more broadly distributed second pressing by Next Plateau Records.  Red Alert blew it up on his classic We Can Do This album.  I wrote about it a bit here, in a post on KC Flightt, as Sugar Bear was the one who actually beat both him and Chuck Chillout to the popular "Once In a Lifetime" break, but at some point, I should give that record its own post, because it has an equally great, "Once In a Lifetime"-less B-side.

But anyway, yeah.  That was a great record, but that's all he ever put out.  He did a couple guest spots, most notably on producer Richie Rich's I Can Make You Dance album, "Coming From London" ("can't you tell, from the way I walk and talk, I'm coming from New York? But what brought me to London: a homeboy that was really somethin'").  Apparently in the 90's he also did some token rap verses on R&B songs, none of which I'd ever heard of before until I checked out Sugar Bear's discogs page.  So I guess he did keep his hand in it for a while.  But even so, it's been a very a long time, and he has to be one of the last guys I was expecting to see jump dramatically back on the record with a brand new single.

And you bet your ass it's on vinyl.  "It's Hot" is the latest release from Hip Hop Be Bop Records, the guys that delivered Silver Fox's comeback last year.  If this becomes their regular schtick, mounting hot comebacks by the genre's most neglected legends, I will remain permanently enthralled.  I am 1000% on board.  Oh, and by the way, you may remember me mentioning in my post about their last record, that their catalog numbers curiously jumped from HHBB-7-001 to HHBB-7-003, which raised the question, what happened to the elusive HHBB-7-002?  Well, this is it - the single that was evidently originally planned to come out between the two Silver Fox 7"s.

Now, getting down to business, The Powerful Powerlord sounds as good as ever.  His distinctive voice sounds just the same, energetic as ever, and he's kicking a style very faithful to his '88 debut.  He hasn't missed a beat in all these twenty years.  "Stop sweatin' me; you're runnin' out of towels.  Who?  Look at you; now you're an owl.  This is the new kind of style, comin' from Strong Isle, so let's get biz.  You think it's a game and I bet that you're havin' fun; but there will only be one Powerful Powerlord Sugar Bear in the atmosphere, so you can't tear up nothin' but a piece of paper. There's no excuse for catchin' the vapors.  Gonna rip up the contract, do my contact and you best believe that I had to come back."

Production is once again provided by Clandestine, who knows just the kind of track to lay down for Sugar Bear's vocals: hardcore, but with a focus on high energy rather than street gruff.  Fresh drums, a heavy classical music-type loop and a deep horn tone reminiscent of The UBC Crew's ominous sounding "UB Style."  There's also a remix which is pretty cool when you focus on it, but overall feels a little flat.  The one thing that keeps this single from quite hitting the heights of the 1988 record is the samples.  This feels more made up of studio-created elements than raw, chunky samples; so it doesn't really have the soul of the original songs.  But the fact that it's still the original Sugar Bear holds it all together.  And of course, one element that really sold Sugar Bear's old school stuff was the tight scratching sequences he included on both songs.  And thankfully, that's just as present here, thanks to DJ Credit One, the same guy who also did Silver Fox's joints.  His cuts are really slick to the point where I don't understand why I'm not coming across him on more records; he should be getting a lot more work.

So this record's a 33 1/3 7" and comes in a colorful picture cover that recalls the logo and artwork from the original Coslit cover (even more rewarding for those of us who only have the Next Plateau version that came in a generic label cover, which is most of us).  I definitely recommend this for anyone everyone who's been bummed for decades that Sugar Bear only ever had the one single.  And Hip Hop Be Bop's got me on the edge of my seat for what they're going to come out with next.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Labels and Other Bits and Bobs

(Ready for something new? Check out the latest "EP" by Whirlwind D. Youtube version is here. And the "Labels" music video mentioned in my vid is here.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First REAL Beastie Boys Record

This is a record I've been meaning to get for a long time, and then, after I finally scratched it off my Want List, it's a record I've been meaning to cover here for an even longer time.  It's a fairly famous record, even legendary in fan circles, but also not quite so rare as it's often made out to be.  It's the kind of record people probably wind up overpaying for.  It's the Beastie Boys first record for Def Jam, even predating "She's On It" from Krush Groove and the MCA solo single, "Rock Hard."  It's so well known because it's the song that wound up getting left off of the album, or any wide release, because they got sued by AC/ DC for sampling their song "Back In Black."  So it's a semi-unreleased classic Licensed To Ill-era Beastie Boys song, and it's good.

Now, I call it the first "real" Beastie Boys record because it's not actually, strictly speaking, their first record.  They put out two indie singles on a tiny little punk rock label called Rat Cage Records: "Polly Wog Stew" (1982) and "Cooky Puss" (1983), later repackaged with a couple unreleased demos onto a compilation album aptly titled Some Old Bullshit (1994, on their own Grand Royal label).  "Polly Wog Stew" is a pure baby punk band record, straight out of The Decline of Western Civilization (part 3).  Then "Cooky Puss" is a silly "Buffalo Gals/ Hobo Scratch" parody, with the famous "all that scratchin' is making me itch" line becoming, "these pussy crumbs are making me itch."  They're at least starting to venture into Hip-Hop territory, but it's just a cheap novelty record (without any rapping) where a few copies were pressed up to make a local teenage crowd smirk for a hot second and that's it.

But 1984's "Hard Rock" sounds exactly like the Beastie Boys we know and love.  Sonically, it would have fit right into Licensed To Ill, and even have been a popular track.  Admittedly, though, I've always been a "Dope Beat" (a.k.a. "Hope Beats") man myself.  That's the early Boogie Down Productions record that chops the same "Back In Black" sample in pretty much the exact same way.  I generally prefer Krs-One's more natural voice and flow, and I love the way the beat strips itself and breaks down throughout the song.  I know everyone focuses on AC/ DC's guitar licks, and the song certainly wouldn't work as well without them, but I just love how they freak the drum machine on that joint.  Compare it to Stretch Armstrong's remix of Eminem's "My Name Is," for example, which also uses "Back In Black," and that's just a simple loop that repeats and repeats almost to the point of irritation.  "Dope Beat," on the other hand, keeps pulling out elements until sparse bass hits are just floating out there by themselves.

Other noteworthy uses of the same "Back In Black" licks include Hard Corps, a short-lived rap/ rock hybrid group who did a straight up rap cover of the song in the early 90s, and of course the great MC Player.

Anyway though, if you go back and revisit "Rock Hard," it actually does a lot of dope, percussive tweaking like "Dope Beat."  Those massive, bassy beats lifted off the AC/ DC record.  That's probably Rick Rubin's influence, because yes, he was already down by then.  In fact, during this brief period, The Beastie Boys were officially a four-man group, with Rubin the fourth member going by DJ Double R.  He does some scratching on this record, and he's no Mixmaster Mike, but for 1984, hey, it at least jives with the rest of the music.  In fact, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on instrumentally, with some flavor no doubt being added by editors The Latin Rascals.  Plus, there's a lot of live guitar on here, besides just whatever they lifted off the AC/ DC record, probably being played by Ad Rock, who brags "I can play guitar - not just B-boys but real rock stars" in the lyrics.

And that's another thing about this record, the lyrics are, for a Beastie Boys record, strangely cohesive.  Usually, when I think of Beastie Boys lyrics, I think of an endless string of Greg Nice-ish non-sequitors.  Not that all of their songs are like that... "Fight For Your Right To Party" is a very simply themed, direct song.  But you know, they're generally credited for throwing in a million references, but they're almost never substantive, just throwing in arbitrary mentions of old movies and their girlfriends.  Like, "I'm as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce; you've got the rhyme and reason, but got no cause. But if you're hot to trot, you think you're slicker than grease, I've got news for you crews, you'll be sucking like a leech. Well I'm Dr. Spock, I'm here to rock, y'all; I want you off the wall, if you're playing the wall..." and so on.  That's from "So What'cha Want," but it could be from almost any of their songs, right?  Most of their records are just like a lyrical stew, where one sentence doesn't connect to the next or previous one.  Why bring up "Spock" except that it's an obvious rhyme with "rock?"  Anyway, that's my general little Beastie Boys rant.  I only bring it up to say this record isn't like that.  It's no epic poem like "The Illiad" set to music - the guys are basically just telling us how awesome they are at rocking the show - but it's at least a cohesive song that flows together.

After "Rock Hard" is "Party's Gettin' Rough," which is basically just a crazy, extended dub mix of "Rock Hard."  It extends the instrumental, adds a lot of ad-libs, including a long shout and call sequence of random syllables, but no actual rap verses or anything.  It's cool if you're digging the instrumental enough that you want it stretched out into a ten minute song, but it doesn't stand on its own.

More interesting, though, is the B-side, "Beastie Groove."  In fact, one curious aspect about it right off the bat, is that it doesn't feature any AC/ DC riffs, but was still left off of Licensed To Ill or any subsequent official release, including the bajillion times that album's been officially reissued.  Why?  I don't know!  Maybe they just didn't like it as much, possibly thought it sounded a little too old school?  It does feel a little rougher than most of their Def Jam work, but it's pretty solid with just classic early 80s beats and a hook that throws back to The Treacherous Three's "Heartbeat."  They really sound good over the track, and again, they're just doing standard braggadocio rhymes, but they're not on that random non-sequitor tip.  Ad Rock even flexes an impressive "New Rap Language" inspired flow for his verse.  But the Beastie Boys definitely give their record an updated, tougher edge, especially for its time.  "Beastie Groove" might not be Greatest Hits worthy, but I'd take it over most of their post-"Pass the Mic" indie rock junk, that's for sure.

The 12" wraps up with the instrumental.  So this was an early Def Jam 12", so it's a little on the rare side.  Like, you won't find it in a 99¢ bin.  But it's not like copies were recalled from record shops after the lawsuit, so copies are out there.  And it's been bootlegged plenty, sometimes with slightly altered track-listings, with fake Grand Royal labels.  And there's even a European Def Jam repress that came out in the late 2000s (music licensing laws seem to be a little different over there), all of which probably helped bring the original 12"'s market value back down to Earth.  So yeah, it's not that impossible to find an O.G.; you can own it if you want it.  And I think it's definitely worth it.  I've only sprung for a small percent of Beastie records over the years - most of it just feels like hipster bait to me - but this single is one of the essentials.