Friday, September 18, 2020

4 Tracks, No Mics

I just received the latest release by SF MC QM.  Long time readers of this site will know him as one half of On Tilt, a group I've covered here several times before (and, spoiler: will be doing so again very soon).  But as I already explained in at least one of those entries I just linked, his career spans back a lot farther than his current partnership with Luke Sick.  But 4 Tracks & S 20's is a different sort of release even from his other solo albums; it's an entirely instrumental album... EP?  It's eleven songs, but each track averages under a minute and a half, so I'll let you work out that classification for yourselves.

QM has, I believe, had a hand in the production of some of his previous projects, but he's definitely better known as a MC than a producer.  So I guess this is him striking out a bit.  His brief description on bandcamp just tells us that, "[a]ll tracks were were played live and recorded in real time on the 4 track in one take."  And as you can see on the cover there, this is "hosted by Young Ivy," his young daughter.  If that sounds like it could be annoying, don't worry.  It's sweet, and she's used sparingly, not to mention pretty low in the mix.  If the cover hadn't clued me in, I would've thought it was just some movie sample occasionally getting sprinkled into the mix.  It's not like that time MC Shan put his wife and kid on his record.

Anyway, let's talk about the actual music.  This EP is more about creating a classic, Hip-Hop groove than breaking new ground.  It's packed with familiar samples, like a chunky loop of Salt-N-Pep... err, the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," or the opening track, which is 70% "Children's Story" with an extra little sample or two laced on top.  Things get less recognizable in the second half, and often I'd be thinking I recognize a bassline from, say, Positive K's "Shakin'," but not whatever new elements it's being mixed with.  It feels somewhat like it's taking us on a gentle tour from the late 80s and 90s through to a more modern, indie Hip-Hop sound.

It is strictly instrumental, so there's less to hang your hat on in a way.  I'd be interested in a couple of these being turned into full songs down the road, although for the most part, I think these work best as they are.  But you know, I can't imagine getting in the running to become anybody's favorite album or anything.  This is more of a mood; something to nod your head to as you work in your office only to be surprised how much time flew by.  Keeping the tracks short prevents it from slipping into the "and it just goes on like that" sand-trap that plagues a lot of instrumental Hip-Hop, where a basic loop gets run into the ground quick without anyone flowing on top of it.  In fact, it almost feels like one, long song with a lot of change-ups than an EP or LP.  I suppose the single take recording plays a part in that as well. 

4 Tracks & S 20's was originally released in July with a very limited production of just 50 copies, which yes, has already sold out.  But there's a second batch now, that's still available as of this writing from I Had an Accident Records.  The cover is slightly altered (red border = 1st printing, green = 2nd), but it's the same track-listing on both tapes, with the same cool Fostex/ Akai print on the tape itself.  It's a very inexpensive little release; just something to cop when you're looking to catch a relaxing vibe.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Unforgotten Heard

 

(Some groups are revered as much now as in their hey-day: BlackStar, The Fugees, Tic and Toc... But for whatever undeserved reason, Unspoken Heard seem to have faded somewhat from the conversation.  Well, maybe we can give 'em a little nudge back into the popular discourse.  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Crazy Story of 1979's Other Hip-Hop Lady

You all already know that 1979 is a critically important year for Hip-Hop since it's the first year rappers started to actually release records... Fatback and King Tim III kicked open the door, and suddenly everybody from The Sugarhill Gang to Kurtis Blow came pouring out.  This is real basic, 101 stuff.  And for historical first female rappers on wax, everybody names the obvious ladies: The Sequence, Paulette & Tanya Winley, and of course Lady B.  Lady B's the radio DJ from Philly who released the classic "To the Beat Y'all;" but there's another Lady who rarely gets talked about: Lady D.  We all know those other ladies' stories, but what about Lady D?

She came out with her first and only record in, yes, 1979: the self titled "Lady D" on Reflection Records, a disco label that dipped into Hip-Hop a few times.  In fact, it's a split 12" with "Nu Sounds" by MC Tee, who actually went on to have the longer, more notable career.  No, this isn't the same MC Tee as the guy from Mantronix.  In fact, as a kid, I knew him best as that guy who disappointed me when I bought his record and he wasn't the rapper from Mantronix.  But in retrospect, this MC Tee was alright, too.  He developed a soft, whispery style, signed to Profile Records and put out several indie singles throughout the 80s, some better than others.  Here, though, he doesn't really have the whisper thing going, sounding younger and more fresh-voiced.

But what's notable about this pairing is that they're both rapping over the same funky disco groove with a deep, catchy bassline and a lot of funk guitar.  So it's sort of like that Psycho vs. Iriscience 12", where it's two different artists' take on a single instrumental, although nothing on this record suggests they're trying to make it a competition like those guys were.

Lady D has the A-side and is my preferred version overall.  It's a fun narrative rap that turns into a little message about being wary of guys only out for one thing.  She meets a guy named Eddie (which I assume is a reference to Eddie Andre, who produced this record for his own E.A. Productions) who drives a Mercedes and quickly charms her.  It's mostly just a fun rap about their date... they go to Studio 54 and watch a kung-fu flick ("we saw kung-fu fighters fighting to the end - one fell down and got up again!").  But at the end of the night, he makes a move and she kicks him to the curb, when a chorus of male voices join in for a chorus, "don't try to see her ever no more!"

MC Tee's isn't really a conceptual song like Lady D's; he's just freestyling on the mic.  He's introducing himself and rapping about rapping at first, but it slowly evolves into a rap for the ladies Big Bank Hank style, explaining his love-making skills.  And though he never veers off into Blowfly territory, he takes it surprisingly far: "You hide your pride, you take a ride, you put the grease on the meat, that means I slide your hide."

MC Tee has writing credit for his song, but Lady D's is written by King Ronnie Gee, a rapper with his own singles on Reflection Records who went on to form the group G-Force and contribute to the epic legacy of "Roxanne, Roxanne" answer records.  His single "A Corona Jam" is particularly noteworthy because, besides also coming out in 1979, he's rapping over the same instrumental as Lady D and MC Tee!  In fact, looking at the catalog numbers, his single came out first.  So, really Lady D and MC Tee are using his "Corona Jam" instrumental, that's also of course produced to Eddie Andre.  And did I mention that it's also a split 12"?  The other side is "Spiderap" by an MC named Ron Hunt, and you guessed it... he's also rapping to the same instrumental!

Crazy, right?  Well, Reflection Records put out more rap singles in the early 1980s, but they only had one other in 1979.  It's a novelty record called "Take My Rap... Please" by Steve Gordon and the Kosher Five.  It's basically the same gimmick as The 2 Live Jews and M.O.T. but decades earlier, where the joke is that they're rapping while being Jewish, and stringing along exaggerated stereotypes to sell the premise ("let's boogie until we plotz!").  But that's not the most ridiculous part once you know the whole story.  The most ridiculous part is that he's doing his joke raps over the same instrumental, too!  They use a different series of catalog numbers for this one, but I'm pretty sure, chronologically, this came after the Ron Hunt and Lady D records.  And by 1980, the other Hip-Hop singles on Reflection had new, unique instrumentals.  But it's crazy that for a whole year, this label just kept on releasing rap songs over that one, damn track!

So I guess that's why we don't hear about Lady D these days... she was just one in a long line of rappers hired to record alternate versions of the same record.  But she was pretty cool, and hers was better than most - or even arguably all - of the other guys' who got to take their rap careers further.  Why not her?  Just another indication of how it's always harder for women in the industry, I suppose.  But I wish we could at least find out what the D stood for.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Original Goodfella Gangster Rapper

I have a bit of a fascination with The Unit, by which I mean the third iteration of The Flavor Unit, where Queen Latifah finally and truly ran the classic legacy into the ground.  You know the deal already I'm sure; I've written about it before: first you had the 80s, with DJ Mark the 45 King producing a seemingly endless series of records, mostly on Tuff City, with a whole pack of strong MCs, which included Latifah as the "Princess Of the Posse."  Then, generation two in the 90s, when Mark's drug problems drove him out and Latifah took over with manager Shakim, forgoing most of the original members, letting only a handful hang on as she made deals with all sorts of big, established names like Heavy D, D-Nice and The Almighty RSO, all of whom were also quickly forgotten after the explosive debut of Naughty By Nature (not counting The New Style).  It was definitely way more commercial, but still a lot of good stuff.  Finally, there was the third wave in the 2000s, where she dropped the "Flavor" and signed a whole pack of new jacks and the whole thing was a corny disaster where they dressed in matching outfits and danced around imitating Bad Boy (they even made a "Benjamins 2002").  That disaster is what's fascinated me.

Partially because, after all, it wasn't 100% garbage.  They had DR Period producing for them, and several of those artists were perfectly average, not terrible, and might've even made a few notable records under completely different circumstances.  Storm P went on to put out a single on Fully Blown, a label I like, though I've never actually heard that one; and Rowdy Rahz actually had a couple 12"s under his belt before joining The Unit.  But then you had these other guys really diving headfirst into every early 2000s cliche with corny lines and no impressive bars between them.  And weirdest of all, you had this group called Confidential.

If you remember The Unit's only video and single, The Confidential guys are split up.  First is the rowdy DMX-sounding dude who looks like a pro wrestler.  Apparently, he's from Body Count and went on to play in other rock bands after this stint in his career?  And then best/ worst of all, is this utterly wild final verse where the song stops so they can do a skit where one of the supporting cast members from The Sopranos, and always played a gangster in movies like Carlito's Way and The Jerky Boys - he was a bit player in Goodfellas - to introduce the final MC, this white guy who raps essentially about being a Martin Scorsese character, full mafia cliche.  In fact, it turns out his name is G Fella (get it?), and the 100% Hater Proof liner notes explain their whole schtick as venturing "into mafia territory, where no rap artist has dared to go."  He has lines like, "Leave 'em sleepin' with the fishes like Hanks in the Splash."  And on the album they go even further with it on their song "Calzone."  Oh boy.

And being so fascinated, I've of course googled these guys.  Confidential as a group (which also apparently included other members Chiqui Tin, E Que and Lou E. Fingaz) didn't last longer than The Unit project.  But look on Youtube, and G Fella's never stopped making mafia-style music.  He even has another video with that guy from The Sopranos made, like, then years later.  He's got songs like "Guido Christmas," "Guido Wonderland," "Guido," "G Thing," "12 Days Of Guido Christmas," "G Fella's Christmas," "G'd Up," "Mobbed Up," "Mob Wives" and "10 Mob Commandments."  Sensing a theme?  And yeah, of course that last song's rapped over Biggie's classic beat.  He also has a bunch of tribute songs, including more with Biggie, Big Pun, 2Pac and Derek Jeter.  He has "official" songs for The Yankees, The Jets and The Rangers.  It's not just over a decade of stuff on his channel, he's got multiple collaborations and a super group called The Vintage Dons with a couple other mafia-themed gangster rappers, calling themselves, "THE PIONEERS OF THIS ITALIAN HIP HOP!!"  Guys, I have dived so deep into this rabbit hole.

But this got me thinking, are they really the pioneers of this?  Has no rap artist dared to go here before?  If you readers know me at all, you know that's just the sort of thing I can't leave called out.  Of course, Italian Hip-Hop has existed before, but that's fine.  We all know they don't mean actual Italian artists in Italy rapping in Italian, which there's a whole packed scene of going all the way back to the 80s.  They mean this heavy-handed mafia guido stereotype stuff, and this 2002 debuting G Fella definitely didn't start that either.

That's right, this was all just a crazily round-about intro for me to talk about Goodfella Mike G, who's absolutely been in the same lane years earlier, first appearing on wax in 1996.  And even he wasn't really the pioneer.  We had Tony D digging deep into all that on a couple of songs, most notably 1993's "La Cosa Nostra," who packs the song with cheesy references to famous Italians from Joe Buttafuoco to Body By Jake and drops lines like, "it's only right for me to say 'mama mia papa pia;' you suckers get tossed like dough at a pizzeria!  Holy-moly ravioli roly-poly, I'm not Mr. Hand and of course I'm not Spicoli. Fags at the coffee wearing wigs and mascara while I'm home eatin' mama's mussels marinara.  I like Italian hoagies but I don't call it a hero; I'm down with Joe Pesci and his boy Robert DeNiro."  And speaking of Joe Pesci, he made his own Italian mafia rap record (no, honestly, he did) called "Wiseguy" under the alias Vincent Laguardia Gambini, his character name from Goodfellas.  That was in the 90s, too (1998).

Hell, there was actually a group called The Guido MC's (Matt "The Horse" Wiseguy and Franky Flash) who made a record called "Guido Rap" in 1987, which sampled the famous Godfather riff.  They changed their name to Organized Rhyme and continued to drop all the Italian guido references with the one and only DJ Doc on production.  Even earlier than that you had Sir Rapsalot featuring The Mobsta Three, with members Edward G, Humphrey B and Jimmy C mixing old school mafia cliches with Hip-Hop references while doing silly old timey impressions of Robinson, Bogart and Cagney, respectively.  Though in their case, I'm pretty sure they weren't actually Italian; in fact I rather suspect it was The Urban Lord Posse clowning around.  So not even considering the myriad of MCs dressing up like mafia dons for the music videos like Eric B and Rakim, or naming themselves after Al Capone, John Gotti, etc; or tellers of old school mafia tales from Kool G Rap to Scarface, or the bajillion and one gangsta punchlines referencing The Godfather and Goodfellas everybody and their uncle has made...  Even discounting all the songs like "Good Fellas" by Jake the Flake or "Good Dwellas," or groups like The Untouchable Goodfellas and The Notorious Goodfellas, and just strictly limiting it specifically to Italian Americans who built their entire rap personas around stringing along every guido/ mafia cliche in the book...  Even then, this was tired, old territory. 

But it was at least a little fresher when Mike G got to it.  Mike got his start as part of The Soul Kid Klik, appearing on their first single in 1996, the dope posse cut "Mortal Kombat."  Mike's doing his mobster character even on that, though nobody else is, which is interesting.  He stands out because he kinda sounds like a cartoon character with his exaggerated accent talking about how "the flow's mafioso."  But that didn't stop him from putting out the second record on Soul Kid Records as his solo single, "Strictly Dago."  If you don't know, "dago" is an old school Italian slur.  Klik producer G-Clef, an in-house producer at Tuff City who's made dozens of those sample compilation" LPs they used to produce like crazy, slowed things downed and added some more classic gangster movie music to create a silly but genuinely funky track.  And it's just an endless stream of guido mafia references, "making you an offer you can't refuse, like Don Corleone," "since I'm a slow guinea I'll take the chicken tetrazzini," "I'm hard hitting the Mean Streets like Martin Scorsese," "I'm the spaghetti eatin', wine drinkin', ill dago man," "you better go pull your guns, trooper, because when I swing by, I'm like Pesci, super" and so on.

So you can't take it too seriously, but it's genuinely pretty smooth and a bit of an ear-worm, making great use of a fun Biz Markie "Goin' Off" sample for the hook ("and I don't eat spaghetti without the meat sauce").  You can't hate it; it's a cool track and Mike G rides it well.  Also on this 12" is a remix of "Mortal Kombat," which doesn't improve much on the original; but is probably there more to lend Mike G the credibility of his crew.  And there's another track called "Two Guinnies With Soul" where Clef, who's also Italian American, takes the mic up to duet with Mike.  It's sort of more of the same with plenty of "fuhgedaboudit"s and references to guys like Pacino and DeNiro.  But it's more of a straight, raw Hip-Hop track with some references dropped into more traditional battle rhymes.  And Clef has a more straight-forward delivery.

You know, it's a weird thing.  They're selling an over-the-top unreal persona on the one hand, but both Mike G and G-Fella are clearly interested in making quality music and showing off their genuine rap skills for us.  I'm half Italian myself; I'm definitely not trying to suggest there's anything foolish about people with Italian ancestry including that in their lyrics, but to some degree at least, they're playing it for laughs.  Mike G's bars are a series of punchlines where the stereotyped references are the joke ("they call me Grande Provolone, a.k.a. The Big Cheese" isn't a serious gangsta rap flex); and the lines get very fuzzy between these guys and acts like Chingo Blingo or The 2 Live Jews - at what point exactly are we meant to regard them as legitimate artists, as opposed to novelty acts?  Even Rappin' Duke or Sheep Doggy Dogg clearly tried to make their music as good as possible, but I wouldn't say they were trying to pass themselves off as credible acts to be taken seriously beyond the initial joke of their personas.  But The Soul Kid Klik and The Unit weren't pushing their guys for laughs.  I guess it's just meant to be lightly tongue in cheek, like that Tony D song.

I'd say it works as a single.  "Strictly Dago" is humorous, the other two songs are less (if not 0%) gimmick.  But then Mike G went on to release a whole album.  It's called Time To Make the Pasta, and with songs like "Wise Guyz," "Fredo's Dead" and "Looking For Mr. Goodfella's," it's just blown way overboard.  I'm fine with not taking things too seriously and rocking with "Strictly Dago," but this is like when Rappin' Duke made two comeback singles and an entire LP.  The gag doesn't stretch that far.  And it's not like this is just his honest-to-god, natural persona and I'm giving him a hard time for innocently being himself.  Before he was Goodfella Mike G, he was just regular Mike G, a member of the new jack swing rap group 4PM on Reprise Records that Farley Flex was producing.  He had that deep voice and smoother flow even then, but he definitely wasn't this character he created on Soul Kid Records.

Anyway, his career didn't end there.  He had a recurring role on the first season of HBO's Oz in 1997, and he continued to appear on Soul Kid Klik records as a full-fledged member where he still maintained the Goodfella persona ("yo, I want him dead, face down in manicotti").  And if you're a fan, here's a real treat: somebody's uploaded a music video he made for an unreleased song called "Fuggedaboutit" onto Youtube.  He feels a little more in on the joke than G-Fella.  At the end of the day, I'm glad to have this record in my crates; I do like Mike G.  In small doses.

Update 8/17/20: Major thanks are due to rlydoe on Twitter for this update, for rightfully pointing out a key absentee in this discussion: a Bronx rapper called The Shark.  Now, I was vaguely familiar with him, basically just for a couple records he made with with Raekwon and Fat Joe in the late 90s and early 2000s.  And I even came across him during my latest dive, because he's also a part of that Vintage Dons group.  But I initially thought I was doing him a favor by leaving him out.  Because like I said, I'm not trying to suggest there's something wrong with Italians including their heritage in their music, like The Lordz of Brookyn (though even their debut record cover, if you'll recall, was a mock pizza box with the cartoon chef), and this guy really wasn't putting on that "Oh-a boy-a, At'sa spicy meatball" tone with his music.  He was doing more serious, hardcore gangster rap, much like Kool G Rap's Giancana stuff, except genuinely Italian.  But after giving The Shark a second look now, I see that I really can't make up a title like The Original Goodfella Gangster Rapper without mentioning someone who has a strong claim on such a crown.  Honestly, I didn't realize how far he went back.  His first record was in 1996, too, and if you weren't sure if his inclusion was worth making such a fuss over, let me tell ya: it was called "Italiano" on Italiano Records.

It's produced by some guy named Wize Guy (because of course) and Terror Squad affiliate Rated R who've actually crafted a terrific, dark track.  Lyrically, it's the long stream of references you should expect by now if you've read this far: "when we go to war, hit the mattress, or I'll be sippin' Saki with Gus Farace.  Pullin' drive-bys on a Kawasaki; chillin' on my jet ski up in Orchard Beach.  Yo, my peeps got it locked for San Gennaro Feast: we own Italian restaurants, fine wine and veal.  One love to Fat Joe; the shit is real.  This goes out for the fans, for all my racketeers in the can and my cousins on the lam.  For crime, I take a stand with a mic in my hand.  'Bout time the industry heard a real white man."  He's got a respectable hardcore flow, though, that lives up to the track, and at least he isn't lifting all of his rhymes from a pizzeria menu.  I read a comment labeling all this stuff a subgenre called "Pasta Rap."  Anyway, "Italian" was just his debut; The Shark's gone one to put out a whole grip of 12"s, a full-length album, including "Forget About It," "It's Over" and "Country Club" with JoJo Pellegrino.

Yeah, if I'm going to reach back and pick up The Shark for this post, I also absolutely have to talk about JoJo, who's another member of The Vintage Dons.  I pretty much only know him as the guy who did "Bah Dah Bing, Bah Dah Boom" on Skribble's album, but he actually dates back to 1996, too!  Having all these guys come out the same year makes it nearly impossible to judge who came first, although I don't think it's a case of anyone ripping the other off.  I'm sure it's absolutely no coincidence that they all immediately follow Raekwon's wave-making Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album, when the whole Wu -Tang Clan adopted their "Wu Gambino" names, and even Nas felt compelled to add Escobar to his moniker.  In fact, The Shark sampled the hook for "Italiano" directly from "Knowledge God."  So to try and say Mike G got it from The Shark or The Shark got it from JoJo is to miss the fact that they're all the sons of Lou Diamonds.

So now anyway, JoJo didn't actually have any records of his own until years later, although he did briefly sign to Loud Records in the early 2000s for one single called, predictably, "FoGedAboudDid."  But in 1996 he was a part of a little known group called Mafioso Chapter who put out a 12" called "Crime Family," with fellow members Pino Pesci and Casablanca.  Despite those names, though, this is another credible track, more akin to "Italiano" than "Strictly Dago."  Lyrically, it's a little weaker, but basically more of the same: "Pesci, I be the one in the mix.  Catch me chillin' with the honeys and the tricks.  Sippin' champagne in my private air-o-plane, Gucci Lucci while I'm rubbin' on your coochie.  Luciano, Capone-type of fellow, I'm mellow, Italian bitches screamin' hello.  Wanna take a ride in my limousine?"  That was the Chapter's only single before they split up, and JoJo didn't go on to build an extensive vinyl catalog like The Shark, but he's continued to make new music online, too.  Just last month he posted his latest video, a remake of Fat Joe's "Flow Joe," where he's still rhyming "Sinatra" with "pasta."  Gotta love it.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Wordburglar Vs The Grouch

Wordburglar's one of those artists who's always pinged just on the outermost edges of my radar.  For example, The Bassments of Badmen was a must-have late 90s compilation album I eagerly hunted down for its early appearances by underground Canadian artists like The Sebutones, Jorun and others.  Wordburglar was on Bassments Volume 2, which I never actually copped.  And he's done a bunch of guests spots with artists I've listened to over the years; he just somehow never quite landed on a project I bought.  He's always been a "yeah, I know who he is" guy, though I've never actually heard any of his music until now.

If you haven't heard him either, well, I've got his two latest albums on CD here and he's really dug his heels into the style of 90s punchline raps.  Personally, I'm glad we've moved beyond the constant dad joke similes and arbitrary pop culture references, but if you've been pining for that era, boy, have I found the guy for you.  So how much of that is a criticism depends on you.  For me, he's way too jokey.  Humor's always played a critical role in Hip-Hop, all the way back to DJ Hollywood rapping poon-tang before Hip-Hop had even been committed to vinyl.  It's just a question of degree.

And to Wordburglar's credit, he doesn't sacrifice his rhythm and flow just to stuff in as much superficial cleverness as possible, like some rappers I could name.  Nor does he come with that too familiar, self-satisfied tone pointing out that how he's better than conventional rappers who always rap about bling, hos, and whatever other stereotypes.  He just presents himself as an affable guy rapping about whatever nerdy content he likes, and has more of a classic B-boy sound to his music.  His bars are carefully written and he's clearly mastered all the fundamentals long ago.  Like, the thing about most of those rappers in that Nerdcore For Life documentary is that they were mostly terrible amateurs with no ear for, or interest in, music, who were just trying to sell us on the novelty of their subject matter being comic books and after school cartoons.  Wordburglar's actually a adept MC who just happens to also be rhyming about comic books and after school cartoons.

So Rhyme Your Business is the first and his sixth album, and after a silly opening skit reminiscent of De La Soul's first album, the punchlines are flying right from the very start, "saying I don't fire fully? That's like Melania claiming to stop cyberbullies."  Every line is another simile.  "The rap addict, mad rabid Cujo, we're not the same dog, like Goofy to Pluto."  Or "[i]f you're not on my page, please, make like a tree on maternity... leave!"  Oy vey.  And that's just from the first song; it goes on like that, "something's afoot, and it's not the thing on my leg, so let me mix it to this beat like an omelette egg."  For his next album, I'd like to see him tackle a few self-imposed challenges, like not to use the word "like" once.  I think it might really help.

Not that it's all Catskills Rap.  Battle and skill flexing punchlines are one thing, but we dive into real nerdcore content as well.  I grew up with the cartoon and toys, and I still had to google to understand the title "Wrong Ralph Pulaski."  Wordburglar, we learn, has a serious dedication to GI Joe raps.  He already made an entire album of it, in fact, called Welcome To Cobra Island.  But silly as it is, committing to a narrative makes the song more engaging.  The same goes for another album highlight, "Verbserker," where he dons the persona of a Conan-like berserker in a Dungeons & Dragons-style world ("in times of brawls and war, I'm the guy you send a giant falcon for.  And if dying's your wish, I got a hungry pet that's a dinosaur fish"), incorporating cinematically atmospheric production and using the humor more creatively.

There are a few noteworthy guests as well.  "Used Crate of Mind" features Peanuts & Corn's Birdapres, and about half his Backburner crew show up for the posse cut "The 2nd Last Song."  The one that'll draw the most attention is surely Esoteric on "Damage Control."  It features some killer LL Cool J samples being cut up Uncle Fes (Fes and DJ Irate's turntablism contribute to the consistently impressive production on both albums).  I just wish they didn't waste the opportunity by doing nothing but name-dropping Marvel characters.  Recognizing a string of references just isn't all that engaging on its own... I thought we all learned that from that terrible Ready Player One movie.  The last song on the album, "Barter In Nostalgia," tells us he's at least self aware.

It's easy to be put off by all this.  I was.  But I have to say, what is probably Rhyme Your Business's best song, "Make Fun Not Bore," makes a strong case for everything he's doing here: "In the discog, nothing is boring.  Never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of snoring.  Buzz a beat like Kyle Lowry.  In an audio medium, you can hear me smile loudly.  Rowdy, Roddy Piper, kinda troublesome.  Styles so fresh I get ID'd buying bubblegum.  (How do you stay so young?)  Well, probably because mentally I believe I'm twenty-three and dress like I'm seventeen.  And by any means put fun number one, by (w)rapping all around you like a cummerbund."  How mad can you really be at his good natured attitude, just opening up about what he likes and trying to spread joy?

Album #7, SpaceVerse, is more singularly focused on sci-fi IP raps.  The opening cut drops endless Star Wars references over a loop of the official score, like that Walkmen record.  "From Earth" stands out as a more original concept, where he inverts the tradition of telling us extraterrestrial rhymes to instead explain our planet to space aliens.  There are Transformers and Star Trek songs... and I think one is Dr. Who (I recognize the term "Sonic Screwdriver," but I haven't seen the show enough to be sure that's what the whole song's about).  Star Wars comes back for songs called "The Mos Eisley Rap Show," "Remember the Hoojibs" and "Dude Where's My At-At At?"  Kool Keith appears on a song called "Space Defense Force" because of course he does.

Several of the songs on here (five, to be specific) are remixes of older songs.  For example, the original "Angels and Monsters" was on More Or Les's 2013 album Bigger On the Inside, which the liner notes helpfully point out each time.  I guess one goal of this album is for Wordburglar to collect a bunch of guest spots he's done in recent years, though also giving them a new spin for the completists who'd already had them all.

Speaking of the liner notes, this album also gives you a helpful statement about each song.  Well, they're more fun than helpful, I suppose.  For "Torontaun," it says, "[g]rowing weary of the constant galactic battles being waged on his frosty homeworld, Torontaun packed up and moved to Toronto in search of life, love and warmer temperatures!"  If you don't already know that a tauntaun is the camel-like creature from The Empire Strikes Back, though, you're still left in the dark.  And tauntaun's one of the easy ones.  Like I said, I grew up on all this Transformers/ Star Trek stuff, and a number of these songs still have me feeling like I have no idea what the heck this guy is on about.  So, I'd say Rhyme Your Business is the more accessible album, and SpaceVerse is for the more dedicated fan looking for deeper cuts.

Also, fans who also respect Hip-Hop's vinyl legacy - or those who just want an easy way to add the biggest marquee guest appearances without springing for two whole albums - will want to look out for his latest 7" single, too.  It takes from both albums with his Esoteric collaboration on side A, and the song with Kool Keith and Mega Ran on the B-side.  It's on Black Buffalo Records, the same label that did Buck 65's latest LP, and comes in a colorful picture cover.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Please Do Not Disturb Werner... He Already Is!

Last year, I made a video trying to cover all of the recent Luke Sick albums... there's been a bunch since; I haven't even been able to get my hands on all of them, and I'm pretty damned dogged.  You see, they press so few copies (in this case: 50), they sometimes sell out now in a matter hours, and before you even learn they exist, you've missed out on them for good.  It's like a maddening attempt to shake us loose, a high speed chase where they cut across traffic and race down blind alleys to leave their fans in the dust.

But I am dogged. You may remember a brief moment in that video where I mentioned a rare, limited cassette of a fourth Disturbers album called Infidel Producer.  I flashed a small photo of the cover I grabbed online and figured I'd have to leave it at that.  But I never actually let go of the bumper, and well, I finally found a copy.  Turns out there's a vinyl single, too.

Here's the story.  This isn't a new Disturbers album, except in the sense that it wasn't released until last year.  But according to the liner notes, it was recorded in the "early 2000s."  And this time the line-up's a little different.  It's still Luke Sick as the front-man of course.  But this time Curator only produced one song out of the twenty-one tracks included here.  This time the music man is Son Tiff, who produced a lot of Hoop Legg.  He also produced a little of Negusa Negast and Go Hogwild under the name Tiff Cox.

So I think the first question that pops up with any Disturbers album is what it's like?  Is it more rock than Hip-Hop?  Is it a junk drawer collection of demo scraps?  Well, my first impression is that this has a more polished feel than previous Disturbers projects.  Maybe credit for that should go to master Bay producer Deeskee, who freshly mastered all this music.  Nineteen is a lot of songs for a single album, and as you can guess, you've got some short ones and strictly instrumental stuff mixed in, though no skits.  Tiff plays a lot of guitar and stuff on here, but it does have a smoother than previous Disturbers albums.  And yeah, as a strict head, this is satisfyingly Hip-Hop, with lots of tight breaks, some classic samples and Luke is killing it on the mic.

But there is still a raw, first draft quality to the album.  "Money To Burn" has a funky beat, but it feels like they're just playing around laying different vocal samples (particularly a Stetsasonic line they keep repeating) and bits over the track rather than turning it into a proper song.  The opening song sounds dope once Luke finally raps on it, but he just has one short verse at the end of a four minute track.  The last song, "Pre-Party (Swamp Boogie Remix)" is credited to Jason Slater of 3rd Eye Blind, and more pertinently, Brougham.  But Swamp Boogie is a producer who's been credited on Negusa Negast and even Retired.  So, has SB always been an alias of Jason Slater?  That's a fun bit of trivia to discover if it's true.  Anyway, the remix isn't very far removed from the original; it just feels like the same beat remastered with more bass and reverb.  Throwing two very similar versions of the same song definitely contributes to Infidel Producer's "and the kitchen sink" attitude.

But apart from two country-ish songs that feel tacked on at the end, I'd say this is the most accessibly Hip-Hop and easily listenable Disturbers album of them all.  Whatever ideas Luke is trying to communicate on "Daydreamin'," if any, are utterly mystifying, but it sure sounds fresh.  There's a ton of fun throwback and homages to the old school inextricably mixed with Luke's defiantly grimy, Bay area bar-stool aesthetic.
And then we come to the single, a 7" lathe cut limited initially to just 26 copies.  Then there was a second pressing, which I think was another 26?  I'm not even sure which pressing I have.  Like I said, it's like they're trying to sneak everything past us.

Anyway, the two songs here aren't actually produced by Son Tiff, but by AC415N a.k.a. Alex 75 of the legendary San Francisco Street Music.  And I don't think these two songs are from the same early 2000s recording sessions.  The first song is "Creep Player (Indian Summer Remix)," and "Creep Player," if you'll recall, is from Luke's 2019 album with DJ Raw B.  This remix slows and calms it down, giving it that kind of vibe for when you're splayed out on the couch and don't wanna get up.  I thought he gave it new lyrics at first, because the feeling is so different, but when you go back and compare, no it's the same content, just totally transformed.  And the B-side, "Cold Clutch," is some ultra-smooth west coast player shit.  The "Creep Player" remix is cool, but this song really steals the show.

Both of these tracks are also mastered by Deeskee, but otherwise I'd say this is more of just a new Luke Sick single than anything Disturbers specific.  But maybe Son Tiff had a hand in the instrumentation?  Definitely nab a copy if you can find one.  Who knows, maybe they'll do a third pressing, or they'll quickly throw up a few extra copies on one of their many bandcamps.  You just have to watch 'em like a hawk.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Powerule's Off the Wall

I got a very nice email a couple... weeks ago?  I don't know, it's a pandemic; time has no meaning anymore.  But anyway, he suggested I should do something about Powerule; and my first instinct was to go to my site, find one of the multiple posts I've written and forward it to him in a nice reply.  But holy cow, he was right; somehow I've never done anything on Powerule over all these years.  So yeah, definitely time to correct that.

Powerule basically had three stages in their career.  1)  Their major label period, where Interscope picked up their indie single "Revenge" and put their album Volume 1 in every shopping mall in the country.  2)  Their raw 90s indie era, where they were putting underground 12"s on labels like Hydra and Stretch Armstrong's Dolo.  And 3) their recent internet-era comeback, which includes their second full-length album and a 7" through Red Line and Fat Beats.  Except for the fact that most groups don't have the tenacity to hang in there that long and go through each stage, it's a pretty typical, predictable story.  I don't mean that in a bad way, just that we've seen this path taken so often; if you were to fabricate a backstory of a hoax rap group, this is exactly how it would go.  Except there's one curious anomaly that doesn't make sense in the narrative.

"Brick In a Wall" is a 1990 single that came out on Revenge Records.  That's the same label as their 1989 indie debut, "Smooth."  When Interscope signed them, they included "Smooth" on that album, made a video for it and everything.  Then they put out the first single they recorded for Interscope, "That's the Way It Is" in 1991, which of course is also on the album, as is their next one.  But for some reason, that one single right in the middle, isn't.  It's not on any album, it's an outlier 12"/ cassingle-only single, with an equally exclusive B-side.  Why?

I suppose because of the sample?  This song is easily best known for being heavily based on a Pink Floyd sample, "Another Brick In the Wall."  Me being a purely Hip-Hop guy, I grew up with this single, completely unfamiliar with the source.  I recognized the "Big Beat" drums, but had no idea about the Pink Floyd.  I mean, I did notice it was making heavy-handed use of some kind of rock sample.  Besides the looped guitar riff, they even sample vocal chorus for the hook, which sounds like some distorted bunch of kids mumbling "[something something something] brick in tha wall!"  It didn't exactly sound like something Powerule orchestrated themselves.

So it makes sense that Interscope just couldn't clear the sample.  Except, then, why didn't they use the B-side?  I wouldn't think it's any kind of conflict with Revenge Records, since "Smooth" was on Revenge, too, and they grabbed that up no problem.  Oh well, guess we'll never really know.  Either way, I'm not mad at having some exclusive bonus songs from their Interscope era that they felt were strong enough to be a single.

That said, it might only be a single for the novelty.  I don't care about the Pink Floyd connection, but a lot of people seem to.  Personally, I don't think this is half as dope as "Smooth" was.  Still, a classic break beat turns it into something more credible than just a rap version of a rock song.  Ax provides a nice scratch breakdown in the middle of the song, and Prince knows how to capitalize on the mood of the instrumental.  But the rhymes include a lot of trite and easy platitudes, like "There's plenty of ways to get paid, so pursue it.  Just do it.  (Get into it!)  Be somethin', somebody, yo, anybody.  It's better than nobody.  Find yourself or you might take a fall and be another... brick in the wall."  His heart's in the right place, but he sounds like he's biting Ms. C. "Rappin" Pittman, The Rappin School Teacher: "in the school of cool, the first thing to learn is somethin' that brings me great concern.  This lesson can bring you tons of wealth.  Lesson number one is to love yourself.  Some of you say 'I love myself' and this just might be true; but you can't just say it, you have to prove it, by doin' the best you can do."  I also don't know why they title the song "Brick In a Wall," when both Powerule and Pink Floyd are clearly saying "the wall," which makes more sense metaphorically.

The B-side is actually sample-reliant as well.  "Let the Years Roll" is a nostalgic look back at how Powerule came up in their early days, "let's step back further in the Price Power's path, take a long look deep inside the hour glass.  'Cause years back, I wasn't down in videos, or even thinking of going to the studio."  It's got a decidedly funkier track with big looped horns, and each hook consists of the DJ playing a medley of classic breaks and samples.  "Brick" is always going to get the most attention, but I think "Years" holds up as the better song.

The cassingle pictured above just features the two songs in a cool picture cover.  The 12" has the same cover but also includes instrumentals and acapellas for both cuts.  There are definitely singles in their catalog that I prefer (the Erick Sermon-produced "Rock Ya Knot Quick" is a killer).  But this one's not rare or expensive at all, so if you're a Powerule fan, there's no reason not to have it in your collection.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Bla.Zé the Live Homie

Here's one that's grown on me.  And by that, I don't mean I thought it sucked when I first heard it - it's inarguable that dude can rap right at the top.  But if this hadn't been on vinyl, and it was just another mp3 or youtube video, I would've listened to it the once and forgotten about it just like the bajillion other up-and-coming artists on the internet who you barely catch in passing and instantly forget.  But since I've actually got it on wax sitting here next to me, I ran it back a second time, paid a little more attention...  And then later that night, without expecting it, I've got the flow in my head and I find myself feeling the urge to go back and play it a couple more times.  I know springing for physical releases is a luxury we all can't afford, especially right now; but there's something palpable that makes audiences meet you half way when you commit your music to tangible form.

Hell, if you've been following this blog just a tiny bit you know we're still discovering obscure rarities from decades ago, while digital-only tracks by recent cats that had serious backing have completely vanished.  Did you know Grand Daddy IU, for example, had an EP called Long Island's Finest, back before Stick To the Script?  It's gone now; you can't find it on the 'net or anywhere else anymore.  And that's a crazily talented, established artist who's been signed to major labels and made great music for decades (apparently he has a new album called The Essence coming soon!).  Very few have that kind of staying power, so if his mp3s don't stick...

Well, with that indulgent tangent over and done with, let's get back to Bla.Zé.  The point I was dancing around up there is that this newcomer's debut single was good enough to draw me back, though he's fortunate he got Hip Hop Be Bop Records' backing to make that possible.  HHBBR made a name for themselves giving new voice to old school greats like Silver Fox and Sugar Bear, but now they seem to be investing in new artists.  But they're still given the full HHBB treatment... And I don't just mean that it's a small hole 45 7" in a slick picture cover, but they're bringing him in-house with production by Clandest and cuts by DJ Credit One.

But if you're guessing this is another UK rapper, you're mistaken.  Bla.Zé is from Wisconsin (I do believe that's the St. Louis Arch on his cover there) and his two-song single is "Never Give Up (Man On a Mission)" b/w "Awaken'd."  The A-side, as you could surely surmise from the title, is an aspirational song.  It's got a breezy, smooth summertime groove that's an ideal panacea for these depressing times, with a cheerful, throwback hook: "I'm all around the world, hangin' with the fly girls, feelin' like the Fresh Prince.  Shout out to Will Smith."  The beat's got a cool early Tribe/ later Jazzy Jeff vibe to it - my favorite part's probably the "Dis Be the Def Beat"-style shakers that come in on the chorus, along with Credit One's subtle but infectious cuts.

"Awaken'd" has a similar feel, but comes with a little more energy thanks to a combination of some catchy, rolling drums and a more tongue-twisting flow from Bla.Zé.  This is more of the skill flexing calling card track.  The one thing that might be a little divisive are the Rocky-like key-horns.  They're pretty catchy and definitely take you along for the ride.  Personally, I don't mind them.  But if you find the artifice cheesy, they might put you off at first... It doesn't help that they're associated with almost every corny battle rapper's debut CD from the last 20 years.  Still, the fast-paced bassline that has to hustle just to keep up with Bla.Zé's complex rhyme scheme ("I awaken from my slumber to the sound of the thunder; and I don't know how long that I've been sleepin' down under. I need some nourishment to calm my spiritual hunger, my astrology's a lottery and I'm playin' them numbers.  I'm searchin' for the missing piece of the puzzle; they think that I'm trouble, don't need no more, no need for rebuttal. They leave in a huddle, they're measly, they're needin' more muscle. I'm just speakin' what's on my mind, no longer needin' a muzzle"), and some more showy cuts by Credit One should keep anyone's head nodding.  Just stick with it.  Like I said, it was immediately obvious this record wasn't bad, but it wasn't until my second or third listen that I was able to get fully on board with what these guys have created.  But now I'm glad that I did.

Monday, July 6, 2020

2020: Year of MC Mechanism

(DJ Too Tuff's recordings with MC Mechanism the Articulate One have finally been secured on vinyl thanks to Chopped Herring Records. Youtube version is here.)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Willie D On Juneteenth

You'd think there would be considerably more Hip-Hop songs about Juneteenth, or at least mentioning it.  But outside of stuff released in the last few years, say before 2017, it's surprisingly rare.  I've been racking my brains, and have come up with one: Willie D's "U Still a aggiN" from 1992 of his second solo album, I'm Goin' Out Lika Soldier.  Rap-A-Lot was pretty stingy with singles in those days, but this did make it out on 12", too, as the B-side to the album's sole single "Clean Up Man."  There it's spelled "You Still a Zaggin," but if you think about it, I'm sure the album spelling is correct.

Looking at the cover suggests this was meant as more of a split single for "Clean Up Man" and "Rodney K," as in Rodney King.  Both titles are on the cover and you've got a sexy lady's hand with a cigarette holder and a hand-written letter on the left, while there's a black man screaming as police cars descend on him on the right.  Apparently, there was a 7" single with the full "Clean Up Man" imagery released in full by itself.  But whether you consider it a "double A-side" or whatever, "You Still a Zaggin," which isn't even hinted at on the cover, is a B-side.

"Clean Up Man" is a fun, gender-flip of the classic 70s record "Clean Up Woman" by Betty WrightJhiame (here spelled Jiame) sings roughly the same hook with reverse pronouns, and they both loop the same funky guitar riff.  It's the quasi-radio friendly joint about stealing girlfriends they made the video for and everything.

Then "Rodney K" was more the real lead single for the streets.  Besides going considerably harder musically, with a killer track, "Do It Like It G.O." energy and cuts by DJ Blaster, it was super controversial.  Because the hook repeats "fuck Rodney King," not "fuck the Rodney King incident" or "fuck the police who beat Rodney King," but actually Rodney King himself.  I remember having to explain that one to my mother back when I wanted to buy this single in the store as a kid.

Of course, the reason he's saying this is because the song didn't come out in 1991, when he was attacked by police; but in 1992, right after he spoke out against the protestors who had taken to the streets following the police officers' acquittals.  I mean, it's not fair to say he spoke out against them, but his famous "can't we all just get along" call for non-violence was understandably taken by many, including apparently Willie D, as asking black people to simmer down in the face of this terrible injustice.  Of course, he explains it better himself in his song, "I'm tired of you good little niggas saying 'increase the peace and let the violence cease,' when the black man built this country, but can't get his for the prejudiced honky.  Rodney King, god damn sell out, on TV crying for a cop?  The same motherfuckas who beat the hell out ya!  Now I wish they would've shot ya.  'Cause this shit is deeper than Vietnam; and ain't no room for the Uncle Tom.  Let the white man dress you up, and mess you up; I wouldn't be surprised if he sexed you up.  'Cause you look like a gay, letting them white folks tell you what to say."  I'm pretty sure I didn't even attempt to tackle the homophobic angle to my parents.

But I'm here to talk about the third song.  Sorry, it's easy to get distracted by a number like "Rodney K."  It's actually interesting, I was just writing about how the message of one of Chubb Rock's songs was essentially neutered in its clean edit by the removal its critical, repeated line "you're still a nigga."  Now here's Willie D making the same point with the same line five years earlier.  That point being, the systematic racism built into our country is still going to mistreat minorities with racism no matter what they say or do in terms of appeasement, playing along, etc.  Of course, Willie D puts it a little less gently, "Now even if you're light, and damn near white, you'll get smoked because you're in the same boat.  Surroundin' yourself with white folks in your video; like Paula Abdul, she's a silly ho. Although you might only be one percent black, troop, they still consider you a mook. But she says she ain't black. Now how the fuck she figure? Yo bitch, you still a nigga." 

There's a common theme here of laying blame on victims of racism, not just the perpetrators.  Willie D didn't title his debut album Controversy for nothin'.  But didn't I start out this post by saying this was a Juneteenth song?  Yep!  In fact, this is where I first learned about Juneteenth as a kid.  So say what you want about the negative aspects of his music, but Willie was demonstrably successful in communicating positive messages with his music - I'm living proof.

So, let's set the scene.  This is a slower song, especially coming after "Rodney K," with Willie in his smoother mode.  He's rhyming over a classic Sly Dunbar sample, and we've got that reggae element amplified by K-Rino delivering a tough ragga chorus (a style I was disappointed he didn't continue with on his own albums).  Willie lays it down, "mama's outside, barbecuing ribs and links. It's Juneteenth, but to me it don't mean stink. It's a date of emancipation, but everybody wonder why Willie ain't celebrating. But things ain't perfect. I'm looking beyond the surface. So instead of drinking beer and playing dominoes, I'm sitting in the room with my eyes closed."  Again, I can't think of another Hip-Hop song that ever named Juneteenth once [please, leave them in the comments if you guys can], let alone make it the topic.

Actually, I called K-Rino's part the chorus, which they sort of act as in that they come between each of Willie D's verses with a more sung vibe.  But he's actually dropping full complex verses himself, which differ each time, going off on those he considers to be "white man in the middle yet them black outside" and imploring, "black man, get the government's dick out your eyes."  So overall, the point is that he can't bring himself to celebrate Juneteenth when things are still so unfair; and unfortunately, that message reverberates as strongly now as it did twenty years ago.

I was surprised when Rap-A-Lot wound up releasing a video for this song, too (though not surprised that they didn't attempt one for "Rodney K").  It's a strong, black & white representation with the slightly scrubbed title "Still Black" and some re-recorded cleaner vocals.  There were even promo 12"s of "Still Black," which I've never heard, but apparently have a radio friendly version of "Rodney K" on 'em, too.  The main retail single of "Clean Up Man" b/w "Rodney K" and "You Still a Zaggin" features the explicit, album versions of all three songs though, plus their instrumentals.  They're retitled "Fuck Rodney King" and "You Still a Nigga" on the vinyl single, but I believe this cassette is the only one with the picture cover.

Friday, May 29, 2020

X-Clan Says "F.T.P."

Gee, I wonder what brought this song to mind tonight?  If you're not immediately hip to what "F.T.P." stands for, X-Clan removes any doubt with their shout and call hook, "F.T.P. means? (Fuck the police!)"  Now, Hip-Hop songs protesting the police go way back, and of course this isn't the first "Fuck the Police."  NWA's is the most famous, and it was also abbreviated to "FTP" on the 12" to code the title enough for stores to sell it.  Then Jay Dilla had a single called "Fuck the Police" many years later, and acts like Success-N-Effect had "Fuck 1 Time;" and again, there's a million great songs critical of corrupt police from "Coffee, Donuts and Death" to "A Dirty Cop Named Harry."  But the one I've gravitated to right now is X-Clan's.

It's from their second album, 1992's Xodus, but it was also released on a 12" single, as the B-side to "A.D.A.M.," which is the one they did the video for and everything.  And unfortunately there's no sweet remixes or alternate versions here, not even an instrumental.  You just get the album version and a Censored one where they flip the curses.  But at least it comes in a classic picture cover and gives the song a little more breathing room than the LP.

A lot of people I've talked to seem to hold this image of X-Clan as one-note and humorless, but the inventive way they marry the classic bassline from Special Ed's "I Got It Made" with En Vogue's "Hold On" is a creative, and despite the context, fun blend.  But of course, the context does turn it into a dead-serious call to arms.  Brother J's cadence and flow is very similar to his classic "Grand Verbaliser, What Time Is It?" on this one.  But now he's here to settle some very specific scores:

"We the people that are strong and able
Remember Yusef onto Gavin Cato,
Eleanor Bumpurs, Steven Biko, Huey P,
Murderers of Malcolm and death of brother King.
Government’s producing that white Kryptonite,
Making sun drinkers into zombies of the night.
So now I walk the street, more or less discreet,
‘Cause the one to take me under might sing the same beat.
But how many brothers must a brother see
Shot in the street by dishonorable defeat,
By a silver badged chump uniformed like a redcoat?
I might just catch a flashback and tighten up your collar.
Don’t scream a whiff, I won’t help you if you holler."

That last line will strike as especially pertinent to anyone who's seen the video of George Floyd's murder.  But of course the whole song's just as pertinent now as it was nearly 30 years ago, which is both its power and the problem.  For a while it seemed like we were making at least some progress, but the way this song feels like it was written explicitly for today says otherwise.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Monday, May 18, 2020

What's Chubb Rock Hiding From Us!?

Sometimes I still think about Chubb Rock's last album, specifically the long time between when it was initially promoted and finally released, and how it presumably changed along the way.  I wrote in a past post about an interview where he said the then upcoming album was going to feature a number of up tempo tracks, which we never seemed to get.  Initial albums titled the album Clear the Decks, but looking back at the interview now, I forgot that it was also at one stage going to be titled Don't Sleep.  ...The Mind was the final title, in case you've lost track.

He talks in that interview about how it had never taken him so long to finish the album, and puts the blame on Select Records being slow to give him a proper budget.  But the fact that it was advertised like it was basically finished, only to be pushed back and delayed repeatedly makes me think multiple versions of the album were probably completed and then re-worked.  There must've been some push-back on those up-tempo joints, and he probably wasted time trying to talk Erick Sermon into appearing on "Beef."  Another big clue is that this album features a song called "East Vs. West (Remix)" when there was never an original "East Vs. West" released.  It's always begged the question: what else was left on the shelf?

But we did eventually get to hear the original "East Vs. West," thanks to sweet little white label 12".  The remix is a pretty cool track with a dark, moody beat produced by Domingo.  Rock makes the concept of the song pretty clear: "I don't understand all this east/ west bullshit."  Like his opening single "Beef," and a couple other points throughout the album, he laments the current state (at the time) state of Hip-Hop.  That material hasn't aged as well as much of his other stuff, since it's not all quite so relevant (is the genre really divided by coast much anymore?), but there's no such thing as a bad Chubb Rock album.

Anyway, this white label features "DomingoClean," "DomingoDirty" and "DomingoInst." on one side.  And on the other side, there's just regular "Clean Mix," "Dirty Mix" and Inst. Mix."  And by the way, listening to the Clean version really cripples the song, because it cuts out the whole point he's making (which, unfortunately, is still poignant in 2020).  But anyway, the Domingo side is obviously what we heard on the album, right?  And it's cool, but it doesn't really fit the song.  It sounds like it was made for a gritty crime story from the Raidermen, not Chubb trying to unite the Harlem Uptowners with the "Country Grammar" kids.  So it's great to finally hear the original concept.

And this one is more mellow, using the same sample Premier did for his famous "Shit Is Real" remix.  Perhaps it was a little too famous, and that's why they nixed it?  Maybe every single person he played it for mentioned the Fat Joe track so he decided he had to take it back to the drawing board.  Because otherwise I don't know why you'd drop it.  It still sounds good, and fits the tone a little more.

A little more.  It still doesn't quite feel like the lyrics and the beat are on the same page.  It's almost too much of a summertime vibe rather than stressing over this unwanted conflict.  And remember on the album, where Chubb Rock goes, "whether it's _____ or _____.  Whether it's ______ or ______?"  It sounds incomplete, like the instrumental was supposed to drop signature east coast and west coast samples in there.  Like: "whether it's ["Impeach the President" break] or [Roger Troutman G-funk whistle]," right?  But it's just blank, like they decided that part didn't get with Domingo's beat, so they just left it strangely vacant.  It reminds me of when they bootlegged Big Daddy Kane and 2Pac's "Untouchable" before Snoop could record his hook for it.  Like we're glimpsing the song's exposed bone.

Well, it's left blank in this other mix, too.

So is this even the original version?  Or is it just another scrapped alternate version by some other uncredited remixer?  And who's the DJ cutting up "Scenario" on this?  He's on this other version, too, so I'm thinking it's probably not Domingo, though the album credits don't name anybody else.  And what other tracks are still sitting in Select's vaults?  I bet there's a bunch, and it kinda drives me crazy still not knowing 23 years later.  😬😬😬

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The "Don't Believe the Hype" for Our Current Administrations

There's a lot to be said for an artist who keeps a consistent schedule... one who doesn't keep overloading fans with slightly varied reissues featuring one exclusive new song every month, but who also doesn't disappear for half a decade leaving you to wonder if it's all over and done with.  It's 2020 and Whirlwind D is back with a new vinyl single called "M.D.M," and even before placing it on our turntables for the first time, there's a consistent level of quality we can count on, in terms of everything... the production, the writing, the physical product.  We already know we're not going to be let down.

"M.D.M.," which we're told at the end of the first verse stands for Modern Day Media (don't feel dumb; it's not an abbreviation in common parlance) is a topical stance against news and social media outlets pushing false narratives.  Rather than calling out names, it makes both the more general and nuanced point that the risk isn't just the obvious danger of believing and acting on obviously fake news, but how the proliferation of disingenuous takes can subtly shift the Overton Window to mislead even the savvier among us.  Or perhaps worse, it'll still reach the strongest holdouts through the society we share:

"False media, welcome to reality, a gallery of flattery based on big salaries ... Liberal views are extinguished invisibly.  Newspaper editors, now trained predators, brainwash a nation with lies and sedatives.  Alternative truths through arguments reduce.  Experts arrested while the rest are seduced ... Soon public policy plops from the sky like astronomy."

This song has D venturing a little further than usual into Public Enemy territory, and that's definitely not a bad thing.  D's delivery is a little more aggressive, and Djar One's loud, fast-paced guitar loop and horn stabs definitely feels like a blend of the lusher musicality we're used to from B-Line family (although technically, this 7" is being released by AE Productions) and the sort of thing Terminator X used to cook up.  I mean, it's an obvious connection to make, since the hook literally features Specifik cutting up some classic "Don't Believe the Hype" vocal samples, so no points for me there.  But the connections definitely run deeper.

If I had a complaint, and I guess I do, it's that the busy instrumental competes with the vocals making it hard to follow the lyrics.  Like, if I were to attempt to transcribe the whole song, I'd have several "[??]"s, which would be less of an issue with a simpler or more cliched song where we can fill in the predictable blanks even when we miss a syllable here and there.  But when it's fast paced and complicated, any little hiccup can make you lose the thread.  And this is a compelling topic where you absolutely want to get every detail, so it can be a little frustrating.  On the other hand, I don't think I'd want them to lessen the impact of the instrumental, so maybe I'm just saying an acapella track or even a lyrics sheet would've been nice.  You know, you only need to be told once that Erick Sermon's saying "Samurai Suzuki" to hear it right in your head for the rest of your life, but until that day, it's like a little jolt of static constantly disrupting the message.

Anyway, the B-side, "Time Waits For No Man," is Djar One's take on a six year-old track, originally produced by Phil Wilks.  In fact, it was D's first 7" single (as opposed to his previous 12"s), which I wrote about here.  It's a fitting companion to "M.D.M." as its themes feel more timely than ever.  Sonically, Djar One swings in the opposite direction, giving this one a calmer, more mellow vibe than the original, with slower drums and a dominant funk guitar loop.  Specifik's cuts seem to be the same ones from the original version, where they may've felt a little more at home, but they still work just fine here.  Pushed to choose, I do prefer the original, but this one's different enough to stand on its own.  And again, paired specifically with "M.D.M," it does form a cohesive whole that's somehow more than the sum of its halves.

If you're only in the market for escapism during this lockdown, this may not be the record for you.  This is for audiences who want their art to stand up and look them in the eye.  And like I said, the physical record's an attractive product in its own right, with a stylish picture cover.  It's a small hole 45 and as you can see above, also comes with a sticker.  If you've been collecting Whirlwind D records all along, this definitely isn't the one you're going to want to miss out on.  And if you haven't been checking for him yet, you might want to give this one a cursory check just for its immediate cultural relevance.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Slept On and Shelved Works Of Supreme C

(A proper look at Supreme C's body of work has been a long time coming... so here's my crack at it.  Youtube version is here.)

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Nightmare On Elm Street rap, part 8

(Wow, there's more!  Freddy Krueger is back on the mic, in this series' first answer record, and this time he's out for MC ADE's blood... again!  Youtube version is here.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Chevy Chase On the Mic Gettin' Physical

It's April Fool's Day, gang, and once again, I'd like to present to not waste your time with a fake gag post but present you a very real, incredibly silly Hip-Hop record.  How about, oh, I don't know... Chevy Chase's stab at rapping from 1980?  Yes, that Chevy Chase, from Vacation, Fletch and Caddyshack.  1980, of course, is quite early in the days of rap records, and his song is called "Rappers' Plight," which, of course, is a riff on The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."  Now Sugarhill's record had been such a phenomenon that Chase was hardly in original territory to take a stab at "Rapper's Delight."  Female rappers Xanadu and Sweet Lady had already released a female version in 1979 on Joe Gibbs Music and there was a Canadian parody 7" released in 1980 called "Rapper's De Feet," where yes, they rap about feet.  There's also a curious cover version from Panama by a group called the Yimiyon Gang, but I'm not sure quite when that was released.

Anyway, it's not that surprising to see Chevy Chase take a stab at releasing an album.  This was after his time at SNL, and The Blues Brothers had already blown up.  Plus, he already had a history in the music industry before he became the Chase we know today.  He started out in a band called Chameleon Church, who released a major label album in 1968, and he was even the drummer for Steely Dan before they became famous.  So it was almost inevitable when he released his own self-titled album on Arista Records, which was even produced by one of the major musicians behind the Blues Brothers, Tom Scott.  And unlike some other SNL alumni who went on to release records, Chase was at least smart enough to stick to joke songs.

Such as it is.  I mean, "Let It Be" is just a straight cover of The Beatles' original, except his voice is pitched up, a la The Chipmunks.  And it doesn't get much funnier throughout.  A lot of the humor just comes from inserting drug references, and I think it's fair to assume this was all recorded under a variety of influences.  So his version of "I Shot the Sheriff" goes, "after toking all the PCP."  He has a parody record of "Short People," which was already a joke record, but he just inverts it.  So instead of "short people got no reason to live," he lists reasons why they're actually better off.  He does a version of "Wild Thing," where the whole joke is that he's crying as he sings the lyrics, and in the chorus he blows his nose.  I think one of the problems is that like when other comedians release albums, they want to prove that they’ve got genuine musical ability, too.  So the clever lyrics we're hoping for often take a back seat to indulging these guys' jam sessions.

But we're here for "Rappers' Plight."  And the good news is that you don't have to cop the whole Chevy Chase LP to get this on vinyl if the perverse sensation ever takes you.  The only single released for the album was "Short People" b/w "I Shot the Sheriff," and that was only on 7".  But there's a promo-only 12" called Three Cut Rebate From the New Fall Chevy, which as you can see comes in a sticker cover.  The first two songs are just "Short People" and "I Shot the Sheriff" again, but the third song is "Rappers' Plight."

And it's interesting.  Because he's got Scott and the whole band, it's got a well-played disco groove that definitely emulates the famous Chic bassline, but is otherwise distinctly original.  It starts off with Chase making fun of Wonder Mike's famous scatting, "a hip hip diggity dog and a bibbity bobbity boo, zippity do dah, coo coo ca choo."  Then we get into the first verse, where again, the joke is Drug References.  "The party don't stop if you wanna bop, I got uppers, downers, LSD.  Don't be low, have a blow, a little get-up-and-go, Joe.  Have yourself a little freeze."  And through the rest of the song, he does characters: a smokey drug dealer, and most memorably, a milquetoast square who's somehow wandered into the wrong party, "excuse me fellas, I hate to be a bother. I was wondering if any of you happened to have seen a little alligator purse; it belongs to my wife. She left it on the corner of the sofa over there."  This plays almost exactly like Bobby Jimmy's stock broker bit in his parody of Ice-T's "Colors" nearly a decade later.

Eventually the characters are talking over each other as the song devolves into chaos and it all wraps up in a weird sort of skit where Chase has walked out with everybody's stolen property.  I don't know if I'd say it's really actually funny, but it's amusing and easily the best thing about Chevy Chase.  I don't recommend the album, but if you're the kind of person who likes to mix a few quirky options into your crates, the 12" isn't terribly rare or hard to find, so it could make a fun, cheap score for the holiday.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Anybody Remember Illa-Dapted?

Illa-Dapted was a cutting edge Bay Area group from the 90s and early 2000s.  It consisted of MCs Elyoptics (who also released a couple solo projects), Tendai, Pic Riley a.k.a. Pic-Vicious, DJ BullShit and producer Froilan Ramos.  A bio on their long-dead website contains a particularly apt description, "While their urban contemporaries comment on the harsh realities  of inner-city life and provide escape through “ghetto fabulous” fantasies, Illa-dapted comments on the emotional vacancy and shallowness of mid-American life and capitalism." And what I've got for us today is a 2-song promo tape of theirs from around late '99, early 2000.

The first cut is "Unfortunately," as in: "unfortunately, the world's full of people like me - frightening!  We live with no apologies!"  And while most of their music was produced "in house" by Froilan, this particular one was produced by Anticon's Matth.  The instrumental is dominated by a metal guitar riff; but the loop is so short, it no longer resembles a rock song and plays more like a gritty bassline.  The drums are being smashed as hard as they can, and it's all off-set by a subtle, repeating ringtone-like sound.  And the lyrics are pretty slick.  "Who could get us in?  I'm with the right crowd right now; I could get us in and no shame, we're perfectly sane.  I could get us some ill shit to smoke for the ride down, and I could get us out the small frame we're stuck in.  Fuck it, I could get us through the flames without burning our brains.  I could get us all paid without workin' all day.  I could get us to get and stop gettin' words in the way; and I could get us livin' when it's all gray.  But I think we're paranoid..."  Finally BullShit gets on at the end for some swift flare scratches.

The B-side is called "Mainy," and it's definitely calmer with Ramos back behind the boards and a decidedly more west coast feel.  Even the accents sound more pronounced.  "It's lookin' lovely; it's lookin' ugly.  Got my mind on somethin' mainy, somethin' mainy on my mind."  It's a bit of a nostalgic trip just to hear the term "mainy" being used on a record again.  This one's got a smoothed out playalistic vibe to it, though lyrically, of course, they're up to something deeper.  "It's good to suffer every now and then, 'cause taken in moderation, pain is a medicine.  And since I know the pain, and Hip-Hop's my Novocaine, see rainbows every day as I walk in that acid rain.  I rap for fame with the mentality of a dick, I'm here to fuck the world since life is just a bitch.  I must admit my clinical depression's in my cynical expression with subliminal suggestions."  I think they were looking to take some mainstream heads by surprise with this one.

Illa-dapted were pretty prolific for a while there, but it's been a good fifteen years since we've heard anything from them.  I think they were pretty well respected in their scene but never really broke out to audiences outside their niche.  Anyway, this is a pretty rare tape, but if you feel you must have this, don't stress.  Both songs wound up being included on their 2002 album, Youthful Indiscretion, with a bunch of other great songs, including one produced by Vrse Murphy.  "Mainy," was even pressed as a vinyl single.  And both of those are much easier to come by, so if you missed out on these guys the first time around, it's not too late.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

ATL To the 2nd Power

I'm in a nostalgic mood tonight, so I went digging through my tape collection to find something I haven't listened to in ages.  Preferably something that never gets written about online either, so I'd also have something good to blog about.  And I landed on 2nd Power's sole album, Da Soul Man from 1991 on WRAP/ Ichiban Records.  Their whole history's been pretty much slept on... perfect!  This'll be fun and educational.

Like I said, this album came out in 1991, but you know WRAP/ Ichiban.  They liked to scoop up indie artists that are already making noise and give them broader distribution.  They weren't great about marketing and pushing their artists into the big leagues, but they'd buy some half-page Source ads and get your tape stocked across the malls of America.

So yeah, then as you can guess, 2nd Power first came out with an indie single.  It was called "Don't Rush My Beat" on a little label in Georgia called So Low Records in 1989.  That's the one with the orange label.  So Low repressed it with a yellow label in 1990.  Either way, it's a fun, hype bass track with an MC named Boxx getting busy with his DJ Reggie Reg.  It had fast, but stripped down 808 beats, energetic MCing and some nice cuts.

I think (though I'm just guessing) they were called 2nd Power because there was two of them, but by the time they came out with their Soul Man album, you can see their roster expanded.  One of them is a second rapper named Hype-One... and I believe the other two are the dancers T-Rock and B-Rock.  We'll circle back to them later, because on this album, I don't think they do much besides contribute to some shouty background vocals.  In fact, I'd say the group is still mainly the original pair, since Boxx gets sole writing credit on every single song and is clearly doing the bulk of the rapping on this album.  But Hype-One does pop up to kick some verses and he manages to keep up on some high bpm tracks, so let's not sell him too short.

Their production's pretty tight, too.  I suppose credit is to be shared between 2nd Power themselves and a trio called Ain't It Bunky Productions, made up of Rock, G-Man and La Paco.  Their liner notes are a little unclear about exactly who did what, but Bunky and Power were working together before WRAP/ Ichiban and continued on with each other after, so I like to imagine it was a fairly loose, family affair.

Now, I don't know if it was the group's idea to try and prove their versatility, or (more likely IMHO) the label pushing them to expand in more commercial directions, but Da Soul Man weakens itself by trying to offer a little bit of everything.  They delve into street tales on "Livin' Like a Gangsta" and "People B Trippin," and sexy/ sappy love balladry on "Private Freak."  And every time they try that, they come up short.  Like the beat to "Livin' Like a Gangsta" is still okay, but these guys don't exactly stack up alongside the masters like CMW.  Songs like "Make It Fonkay" and the title cut have some fresh break-downs but the lyrics just feel like they were written to fill the space.

But fortunately, there's more material that sticks to their core strengths.  "Get Busy" has the two MCs exchanging verses on a hype track with Reggie Reg stealing the show with some slick turntablism, and "Funkay Drunk Ghetto Bass" relies a little too heavily on Luke-style shout & call responses for my tastes, but it lives up to its title.  They only came out with one more single through WRAP/ Ichiban, "People," which doesn't quite click, mixing P-Funk with smoother new jack swing vibes and unengaging rhymes.

And that was it for 2nd Power... technically.  But in 1993, an Atlanta group called Zone 4 dropped a single called "Drop That Pussy" on Pot Belly Records.  Who were Zone 4?  Why just Boxx, T-Rock and B-Rock with DJ Reggie Reg and co-production from Ain't It Bunky's Rock.  Plus a new guy called Money Mose.  It's presumably inspired by "Pop That Pussy," but this one's a little harder.  Then, in 1995, Boxx changed his handle to T-Mac (not to be confused with the T-Mac that's down with Indo G), and dropped another album with Ichiban called T-Mac and the P-Squad.  This time it's more blandly generic booty music; they that single "Jig-A-Loosie:" "come on, come one, come on, jig-a-loosie!  Come on, come one, come on, jig-a-loosie!  Come on, come one, come on, jig-a-loosie!  Git git git jig-a-loosie!"  And it's noteworthy that the squad seemed to consist primarily of a new partner named Krazy T and, you guessed it, DJ Reggie Reg.

So, yeah.  Even though there was just the one 2nd Power album, their legacy continued.  Reggie Reg also produced a couple other ATL artists, like Creep Dog and the G Boyz.  Anyway, Da Soul Man's pretty decent.  It's something you're probably going to want to skip around rather than play all the way through, but there's some really fun stuff on here.  I enjoyed my evening diving back in.