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.