Saturday, March 11, 2023

Larry Larr Meets The Fat Boys!

Okay, he met one Fat Boy.

It's been a while since I've written a proper post on here, so I'm coming with what I'm sure you're all demanding: Larry Larr's love song.  "Larry, That's What They Call Me" was Larry's big single from his 1991 debut album, Da Wizzard of Odds on Ruffhouse/ Columbia Records.  There was a video and everything.  But unfortunately it didn't blow up and by 1992, he was unsigned again.  But there was one more single the label before Columbia gave up, proof positive that the label didn't know what to do with this raw talent: "Confused," the token love song every rapper had to do for a major label to prove they were versatile.

That said, Larry was versatile, and he was able to make this song swing.  It's not one of those slow, whispered, "hey girl, you know I love you, girl, from the night until the day, girl, until you're mine forever, girl" songs everybody started making since "I Need Love."  I mean, he does lay down a bunch of cliches interspersed with the word "girl" a lot in the first verse: "girl, I hate to strut you inside my rap, but girl, you got me hooked; you're all that.  I love the way that you look, the way that you walk, the way that you dress and the way that you talk.  Girl, I'd like to have you for my own.  Girl, I can't help it, let me take you home."

But he's rapping fast on a high energy track with that hard P-funk "zoom" effect X-Clan used to love being constantly cut in by his DJ Mad Ice.  It's like a hardcore new jack swing track with live funk guitar and this girl Stephanie Miller singing her heart out for more than just a repeated hook.  She gets to delve into some back and forth, reminding me of Kwamé's "Ownlee Eue" or the songs Grand Puba used to do with Mary J BligeChuck Nice produced most of the album, but two guys named Craig "Make The Gruve" Caruth and Rob Williams did this one.  Which makes sense, since this isn't the kind of Philly street track Larry was the real master of.  But honestly, this song works and even manages not to feel out of place on the LP.

If you want to hear an out of place song on that album, check out the CD version which has an exclusive house song called "Get Funky."  Wow.

Anyway, that's "Confused."  It's super 90's.  Like, check out this exchange, "(Larry, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to hurt you.)  Girl, I'm cooler than the cat in the Cheetos commercial."  But the writing gets better when they get into the meat of the song and why it's called "Confused."  It's about young, capricious lovers cheating and naively wounding each other.  Stephanie really killed it here.  I tried looking her up online but apparently she didn't take off like she really should've.  Discogs links one or two credits many years later, and I'm pretty suspicious that it's a different Stephanie Miller.  But it surely didn't help her that Columbia kicked her off the single.

Yeah, "Confused" is an album track, but the single is notable because it has exclusive remixes that it puts first.  I have the CD single, which has all the same versions, but the 12" single has a B-side called "Keep On Y'all," which is right off of the album.  The back cover credits vocals by EST, but disappointingly, he doesn't rap on it; he just comes in to do the shout outs at the end.  It's a slick song, though, and the kind of thing Larry's fans really wanted from him; it makes a lot of sense to see it on the B-side.  Alternatively, the CD-single just has a bonus radio edit.  Otherwise, the two's track-listing's are the same.

So let's get to the Fat Boy already!  Yeah, who's an artist you'd least expect to turn up and remix Larry Larr?  Prince Markie Dee and the Soul Convention?  Well, it fits considering this is a 1991 new jack love rap.  Yes, the two Marks have gotten on board not just to remix but "Remake" it.  They'd already started making a name for themselves producing this kind of stuff for Father MC, but this was before "Real Love" and before they came out with any of their albums and people had really caught on that Prince Markie Dee had reinvented himself outside of the Fat Boys.  But they've turned it into a real Soul Convention song, with their signature piano and completely replacing all of Miller's vocals with their own whole group of uncredited R&B girls.  And honestly, they're good, too, riffing and crooning behind all of Larry's verses besides just the parts in between.  They've turned it into a sweeter song, though they keep some of the original percussive elements and "zoom" effect, stretching it out to over six and a half minutes with lots of solos and extended choruses.

They even made a music video for it, though I don't remember ever seeing it on Rap City back in the day.  It's cut down considerably to a more traditional radio-friendly length (and yes, shorter than the Radio Edit on the CD single).  So you don't really get the Soul free-for-all vibe of the full-length version, which lets the girls open the song acapella and take over the last few minutes until it's almost a gospel song, except instead of professing eternal love for Jesus, they beg for Larry's forgiveness.  It's actually kind of epic.

There's also a Hip-Hop Mix of "Confused," also by Mr. Make the Gruve.  Instrumentally it's pretty dope, just layering in a bunch of classic breaks and samples.  It's got the famous Lyn Collins "Think" break, famous as Rob Base's "Woo! Yeah!" "It Takes Two" beat, as well as the "Mardi Gras" bells.  It's got some "Let's Dance" in there and that sick shredded electric guitar sample Professor Griff used for "Pawns In the Game."  It's dope, even though Larry's relationship raps don't really fit.  But it really falls apart when they try to lay Stephanie's vocals on them and they don't gel at all.  It's pure tissue rejection.  Too bad they didn't set Larry's "Get Funky" vocals to this instead.

But anyway, yeah, this didn't work out for Larry Larr.  He got dropped.  But things went better for Prince Markie Dee, who'd go on to produce a host of A-list artists and sign to Motown to release his own albums with the Convention.  It's a shame he didn't reach back out to Larry and fit him into Love Daddy somewhere.  But then again, they probably wouldn't've been able to recreate the magic they got here.  Because this single's surprisingly good.  So actually, maybe it would've been better if Stephanie Miller joined the Soul Convention.  Then again, maybe she did.  I don't think those girls tended to get all their credits on those albums.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Back In the UGSMag

The new issue of UGSMag is out, and guess who has another feature article in it!  Good guess, but no.  I'm actually talking about me!  I've got a big, seven-page interview with renowned NJ producer The Custodian of Records.  And it's not my usual career-spanning kind of interview.  This time I wanted to talk about something specific: the business of releasing music today.  Pressing vinyl, CDs, streaming platforms, working with indie labels vs doing it all yourself.  I feel like I've been studying it for so long from the consumers' side, I wanted to understand it from the artists' side.  And he's got some good stories.

There's some other good stuff in there, too: a Noah23 interview, book reviews, a whole interview with Charli 2na about his action figure and my personal favorite: an interview with the head of Hand'Solo Records.  It actually compliments my piece really well.  And yes, I'm already working on something for issue #4.

Oh, and I trust you guys all know about this by now.  If not, get on it!  I'll do a proper video on it when my copy arrives; but yeah, it goes right alongside Young Zee's Musical Meltdown as a project I'm excited to have played a small part getting out to the world.  And yeah, it's not the last project with the Dust & Dope guys either.  😎

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Blackface In the Crates

This is the kind of shit I don't write enough about.  What I have for us today is a tape I'd long forgotten about until I was just aimlessly perusing my own collection.  It's a single I bought in the 90's for a pretty simple reason: Fat Joe and Showbiz's names on the cover, especially since this was back before Joe started doing all those jiggy club records in the 2000s.  In fact, flipping it over, we see that Showbiz produced their track, too.  So okay, I had no idea who this Blackface was, but it was still a no brainer.  At least back then.  I wouldn't buy a tape (or record or CD) for just a guest spot now, as a wise and wizened adult.  But I was more reckless and naive back in the 90s.

Anyway, it worked out, because Blackface is pretty dope.  He's actually a Florida artist (his label here, Backstage Records, is based in Miami) who had an album and a couple singles through the late 90s.  But somehow he wound up connecting with the DITC guys enough to get a feature on his debut 1996 single ("from the South Bronx to South Beach").  They didn't do anything else with him.  The rest of his album and other singles all seem to be by the one producer, Hugo Boss, who also did the A-side, "Cornbread."  But dude is definitely on the NY tip; this isn't like if Showbiz and Joe teamed up with Dem Boiz to perform another "How Much Boodie."

But let's start with "Cornbread," because it is the A-side, after all.  On the album, the title is extended to "Cornbread Style," and it's just a colorful way to announce he's from the South, coming "cornbread style, collard greens style."  Still, though, he's got that NY style, and Boss provides him a pretty unique, head nodding sample to rock over.  This really sets you up for something like Down South's "Southern Comfort," but it's just hardcore battle rhymes with some pretty clever rhyme schemes:

"I have you all leapin' like frogs.  I'm sayin', dog, why ya got to be a playa hater?  Let me be a playa now, and nigga, hate me later.  I'm a greater nominator with bites of an alligator.  You need some seasonin', playa, your style got no flavor.  I thought you woulda followed that recipe that I gave ya, ya non-writin' rhymer, ya damn two timer.  I'ma beat ya bad, beat ya bad, beat ya when I find ya.  This flow is for my shitty niggas that understand.  If you don't like it, I don't give a jigga-jigga-damn.  Slammin' punk niggas on the hard concrete.  I got more rhymes than the whole world got crimes.  I break mics, rappers, bones and even back spines.  A nigga's gettin' paid and it's about time."

I seriously was not expecting this guy to come that nice.

So now let's hear him rockin' over some Showbiz.  On the album, by the way, "Sessions" title is shortened to just "Session."  Anyway, it turns out the front cover is a little misleading.  Showbiz doesn't feature on "Sessions;" it's just Joe and Black.  Although yes, he does produce.  It's got some nice drums and a simple but catchy piano sample.  Blackface handles most of the verses, with Joe coming nice and hard on the hook ("yo, black, pass me the motherfuckin' heat!") just the way he sounds best.  He talks some crime stuff and even a bit of a serious message, "ain't no secret I won't tell about night fall, the black ski mask I keep is raw.  Like creepy critters huntin' for food in the dark, gun shots ignite the flame the metal sparks, like fireworks, but it's not the fourth of July.  Every second, every minute, one of my peoples die."  But Fat Joe comes in at the end to kick a solid, tough verse repping Terror Squad and "New York, New York, the big city of dreams."  Lyrically, Black owns this song, too, but Joe's voice sounds great on this track, so I'm glad he showed up for more than the hook in the end.

Together, both tracks add up to a surprisingly dope single.  Now, as you can see, I have the cassingle.  There is a proper 12" that comes in a full color picture cover with a couple additional versions: Instrumentals, a Radio Edit, even a remix of "Session."  That's the preferable version for sure.  But I'm good with the Showbiz version of "Session," so I've never bothered to upgrade.  But going back to this tape does have me wanting to cop his album and maybe some of his later singles.  I can see why Blackface never got much recognition, coming out of left field like he did, and without a major label to push him into everybody's face.  But it's too bad, because if that happened, I think a lot more people would've started checking for this guy.  Blackface did not get his due.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Even When They Were Crossing Over, De La Soul Was Great

So the Judgement Night soundtrack was a pretty big deal when I was in high school.  The movie itself wasn't, but the soundtrack was.  It paired many of the biggest Hip-Hop acts of the day with the biggest rock bands of the day.  I remember being excited for it, because I was a big fan of many of the MCs.  People still reminisce about how great it was, but honestly, I didn't really care for it.  Some of the songs, like the Fatal one, swung the pendulum too far in the rock direction, where it felt like, okay, a rap artist may've technically been involved, but they just made a full-out rock song.  Some of the acts - like House of Pain, Cypress Hill (of course they had two songs on there), and Ice-T - I was already kind of over by '93 anyway.  And even songs where they struck the balance better, like the Run DMC and Boo Yaa Tribe songs... I just felt like I'd rather hear them without these bands.

Honestly, there was only two songs on there I'd go back and replay.  But at least they were on the tape back to back, so you could play the last song on side A, flip it over to the first song on side B, and then you'd be almost cued back up for the first song on side A again.

One was the Del song, which was with a band called Dinosaur Jr.  They mixed Del's raps nice and loud, and gave him a pretty genuinely funky back-drop.  And the other song, of course, was "Fallin'" by De La Soul.  Oh and some band called Teenage Fanclub.

I had at least heard of every rock band on the Judgement Night soundtrack except for these guys.  I couldn't escape the hit singles by groups like Pearl Jam as much as I wanted to, and I'm not sure I've ever actually heard a Slayer song, but I've certainly seen the t-shirts.  But Teenage Fanclub were a new one on me.  Looking at their Wikipedia, they're a Scottish rock band and their biggest single in America was "Star Sign" in 1991.  It peaked at #4.  Listening to it now on Youtube, nope, new to me.

I was familiar with Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," which this song takes its name from and samples for their hook.  I feel like the teacher would play it every day in art class for two years straight.  It's a real ear worm alright; I still remember it clearly.  He kept whinging about a "good girl" who LA guys (half the song is name-dropping LA locations) would hit on, and this would send him "free fallin'" in despair.  Real incel energy, except the music video make it look like "free fallin'" was about a skateboarding move... Not that the image of a goonish, middle-aged folk singer leering at teenage models in a California skate park is much more appealing.  And okay, look, I fucking hated that song through the peak of my adolescence, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair to it now.  But I'm never going to listen to it again to give it another shot, so don't @ me.

The point is, I did not exactly go into De La's "Fallin'" with an open mind.  But they kick it off with this ill, slowed down Soul II Soul sample while making an Ultramagnetic reference, and the Fanclub's playing, I have to say, is super smooth and reserved.  And they make a big deal of Tom Petty's role in this song in the liner notes (he gets a co-writing credit right alongside De La and Fanclub), but all they do is sample the titular line (it's also the only sample they credit).  None of the instrumentation or that catchy little "do do doo do" riff that really drives the song comes from him.

And Pos and Trugoy's writing is both more amusing and poignant than anything Petty cooked up, kicking fictitious verses about falling off in their careers that's both funny ("I knew I blew the whole fandango when the drum programmer wore a Kangol") and melancholy ("but look what you're doing now.  I know.  Well, I know").  The whole song really captures a thoughtful mood, putting it even farther ahead than Del's song, which was mostly just catchy but empty.  I mean, Pos does get a little carried away with the Six Million Dollar Man references (I remember as a teen wondering who the heck is Oscar Goldman, a famous record producer or something?), but I guess being playful is one of De La's charms you wouldn't want to scrub away.

The film producers must've known the guys were onto something with this one, too, because it's the song they play during the opening credits, and they play it again during the travel montage.  Then they bring it back a third time for an encore over final shot and closing credits.  None of the other soundtrack songs get a fraction of that much love, most of which you just hear snippets of mixed low behind action scenes.  And thankfully, Immortal Records released it as a 12" single.  If they threw on the Del song, too, I could've chucked the whole album, but oh well.  The 12" features the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella and best of all, an exclusive Remix.

As much as any of us may've managed to get over the hippy-ness of the song, it's still pretty nice to hear that De La Soul gave us a pure Hip-Hop version without Teenage Fanclub or the Petty sample.  Only the "you played yourself" portion of the original hook survives, now mixed with a little "Flash To the Beat" routine.  The same vocals as before now flow over deep bass notes and hard drums with some simple, old school scratches.  No twangy guitars, no crooning and it's the only version that doesn't censor Trugoy's bad language.  To be clear, I really like the album version, Petty and all; but I'm definitely grateful to have this alternative when I'm not in the mood for any Teenage Fanclub.

R.I.P. Plug Two.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Who the Heck Is Skitzo?

Here's a mystery I've been living with for almost 30 years now...

This is a split white label 12" by Skitzo and S.O.S..  I'll come back around to S.O.S., because they're interesting, too.  But for now I want to focus on the A-side.  For one thing, it's why I bought this record.  This record came out in '95, give or take, and I can't remember now if I spotted it at Beat St Records, or maybe Sound of Market in Philly.  But the whole reason I picked it up in the first place is because I thought it was a new release by Tony da Skitzo.  But as soon as brought it home and put it on the turntable, I heard that it was definitely not.  In fact, I have no idea who it actually is.  At least I was in a Hip-Hop-specific store, so I didn't wind up with a punk rock 12" or something.

Now, S.O.S. I know for certain is a Brooklyn group, better known as Science of Sound.  No great detective skills on my part, they make their name pretty clear in the song.  They had a four-song 12" in 1995, and A Tribe Called Quest was on one of the songs; Phife was on another.  There was an unreleased full-length album that was leaked around the internet, which HHV eventually gave a proper release in 2020.  Their song here, "No Diggety" is okay, but not their best.  It has a sappy sung R&B hook, and it's one of the four songs on their official 12", so if you're interested in them, there's no need to mess with this white label, just get the proper 4 tracker (or, now, the whole album).  I checked "No Diggety" on both releases, and this is not a rare alternate remix or anything.

So back to the two Skitzo songs.  These definitely sound east coast, and actually, it didn't make a very good impression, so I didn't play it much for many years.  But going back to it more recently, I appreciate it more, especially the first song.  And now, paying close attention to the lyrics ("meet me at the corner of Utica and Atlantic"), I can fairly confidently surmise that they're also from Brooklyn.  I use the word "they" because it sounds like two guys, although it's possible Skitzo is one guy with an uncredited guest.  As you can see above, there are no credits of any kind on the label except the main artist and song titles.

So who are these guys?  No, they're definitely not the Skitzofreniks.  I have a bunch of their records and you can easily tell the difference.  Discogs links their listing to an MC named Skitzo who did a guest verse on a 2009 Latin Gangsta Funk album by a west coast artist named JKnuckles, but I find that hard to believe.  Googling around, I stumbled on another rapper named Skitzo who had a record out in 1995, but he's from Atlanta and it's clearly not him either.

I actually talked to the Written On Your Psyche guys over Youtube (back when they had private messages, which YT has tragically gone and erased all trace of... but hey, it was worth it to get Google+, right?), and I asked if the Skitzo who appeared on a couple of their songs made this record.  They actually said yes, but I think there was some miscommunication, because comparing the Poet tracks that Skitzo is on doesn't sound like this 12" at all.  Plus, I think that guy's white, and they're throwing the N word around pretty freely on this single.  Not that I've never heard a white MC throw it around... but no.  I'd be really surprised to be assured this is the same Skitzo.  Very different styles.

The Skitzo here is definitely not on the underground, lyrical, backpacker or battle rap kind of tip.  This is street stuff.  The first and best song, "Livin' Life On da Edge" is all about dealing dope and street life.  It's got a really cool track, though, with a main sample sound I can barely describe.  It's maybe sort of like something DJ Spinna would put out in that era, but harder and more grating.  Like someone slowed down and looped a car alarm or something, but then with super deep bass notes and a real subtle, almost west coast keyboard sound behind it.  It actually sounds really cool, and some of the writing on this song is actually pretty interesting, too: "and we back to my buildin', steppin' over children 'cause these public housing bitches make babies by the billions. We walk into my crib, it's like another world: 52 inch screen on plush carpet colored pearl."

The second song has some nice production, too.  It's got great horns mixed with big drums, chunky piano notes and almost a DITC vibe going on.  But it has a shout chorus that doesn't work too great.  Worse still, though, are the lyrics.  "Need da Gees" is just what it sounds like, about wanting to get paid.  But it's not just the cliche subject matter that holds it back; there's a gimmick, where they also say they "need the cheese" and just make non-stop Kraft/ Velveeta puns through the whole song.  If you don't follow the lyrics, it's a dope song.  But when you listen closer, it's pretty corny.  "Livin' Life," on the other hand, works on both tiers, and now that I can see this as more than just the "not Tony da Skitzo" record I bought by mistake, I realize this Skitzo's alright.

But who is/ are they?  The only other clue I have is that the run-out groove says "Tommy."  Was this released as radio/ DJ service for some acts Tommy Boy was planning to release?  Or maybe S.O.S.'s DJ Beetle's real first name is Tommy and he did the beats for both groups?  Who knows?  These are just shots in the dark.  Maybe this 12" is just a total bootleg made by a random college kid named Tommy.  But the fact that both groups on this 12" are from Brooklyn makes me wonder if they have more of a connection, leading to them being on a split 12" together.  If anybody has any ideas, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Don't Sleep On Your No Limit Brother

Bumping this twelve year-old post in honor of a legend. R.I.P.

It's not easy to explain my affinity for Dangerous Dame, but I think a lot of us who were there at the time share it. He's an Oakland rapper and producer who spent a long time in the game. He started putting out records way back in '88, got signed to Atlantic Records in 1990, and kept putting out indie albums all the way to 1999. During that time, he never had a hit record, and his duration can probably be explained by his more undercover career as a ghostwriter. We'll probably know most of the songs he had a hand in, but he was writing for Too $hort in his peak, even getting writing credit for his single, "Short But Funky."

And somewhere, in the middle of all that, he signed very briefly to New Orleans' infamous label, No Limit Records. He contributed to West Coast Bad Boyz the same year, 1994; and I'm guessing that's what lead to his signing with the label. But maybe it was the other way around. Regardless, he put out one EP (which in itself is a little odd for No Limit, who tended towards very long, often double albums... can you name another No Limit EP?), and then was quickly gone from their roster. His next album, also in '94, was already on another label.

It's titled Escape From the Mental Ward, and for some reason I felt compelled to pick this up on both cassette and CD back in the day. There's vinyl, too... but that uses clean Radio Versions. :P Anyway, all three formats feature the same six songs, written and produced almost entirely by Dame himself. I guess it vaguely fits into No Limit's sound in that it's very keyboard driven (mostly by a guy named Larry D), and famous musical riffs are replayed rather than sampled. Again, the appeal might not be readily apparent - in many ways this exemplifies everything people hated about No Limit... the music is cheesy and tinny, including that overused gangsta rap slide whistle sound that everybody used after The Chronic.

But a close, appreciative listen reveals something sincere and assured about the writing of it, especially the best track, "I'm Your Brother." It features a beautifully sung hook by Simply Dre, recreating a famous Isley Brothers lyric, which goes a long way to providing additional resonance to this surprising and touching life story that deals with strife and mental illness in a way only rivaled by Bushwick Bill's "Ever So Clear." And this one's even more relatable, absent the over-the-top aspects of Bill's character.

The lyrics don't seem to be available anywhere online, unfortunately, but I'm going to rectify that right now because they're worth it:

"I was a youngster, fresh out The Castle
Fools didn't wanna battle, 'cause Dame was a natural.
Straight comin' up, got a deal with Atlantic,
But then I got dropped, and I still didn't panic.
'They can't keep a good man down!' That's what I thought;
Believe me when it was all said and done, boy, I was taught.
But at the present time, I thought I had it all in control.
I done took one fall, I can't be fallin' no mo'.
And then the money went low, and then my hoe became my foe.
And she still is. But let me tell ya how real this is:
I didn't come home at night...
'Cause we would argue and fight, 'cause the cash-flow was tight.
That's when my so-called homies became my family.
But underneath? Them niggas couldn't stand me.
And like a fool, I let 'em know my problems,
And all the dank and drank I used that could solve 'em.
Soon as my back was turned, somebody slipped me a mickey...
That's when my mind went tricky.
So I stayed up for days trying to regain my saneness.
Now why they wanna do Dangerous?"

The second verse is even more personal, and we start to understand the title of this EP:

"I'm walkin' in a coma, imagination gone to the boonies.
Never did I think that I would lose me, but man I was lost,
Lost like a kidnapped kid.
I done sipped that shit, so I guess I got no get-back, bitch.
Split personality, I got a double.
It's time to see some casualties; I'm startin' trouble.
Mean muggin' all my folks,
Talkin' hella shit on every tape like I was tryin' to get myself smoked.
But deep inside I was cryin' for help.
But them niggas wanted to watch me just clown myself.
But that's alright, though, because my mama got the scoop.
She took me to the house, now I'm no longer on the loose.
But I was flashin', puttin' on a show.
She called the po-po to drag me out the do'.
I got my ass whupped for resistin' arrest;
One step away from the Smith and the Wess.
Saw my neighbors in my midst, they didn't wanna stop it;
They just wanted to peep some game so they could gossip.
Thinkin' I was going to jail, this is Hell; so help me, Lord.
Then came the ambulance to take me to the mental ward.
All because of envy, I'm in a mental penitentiary;
I know it's not meant for me.
But I'ma stay strong and let 'em hang 'till they stink.
They put a mickey in my drink."

See, it's as honest and revealing as Bill's song - the way he even brings in his issues with his neighbors? That's just good writing - and it all keeps coming back to a possible delusion (someone slipping a drug that makes you go insane is a classic paranoiac fantasy) that's as tragically disturbing as Bill's.

"Weeks went by, even months;
The word on the street is Dangerous Dame is out to lunch... with the psycho bunch.
I'm thinkin' about my baby.
Amd 'will she ever see her daddy again's a big maybe.
I'm an Oakland rap master.
But see the doctors don't give a fuck, they wanna send me to Napa.
I couldn't see that route,
So I gots to get up on my feet so I could be up out.
Yeah, that's when my folks came to see me.
I got a visit from my grand mama, $hort, Pooh and King Tee.
Now I know I got love...
'Cause my grand mama's hug was a message from the man up above.
I took it day by day until the doctors said okay,
And sent me on my way, and now I'm on my way
Back up on the mic.
But I gots to take these pills for the rest of my life.
It coulda been worse, so I thank you, my Lord.

I'm never looking back; I'm only looking forward.
I learned to love myself before I loved somebody else,
They slipped me a mickey but now I'm back up on the shelf."

The rest of Escape doesn't come as strong as the opening track - how could it? But it's still a nice, tightly packed little EP. The opening song features the best, and also the most upbeat, production; plus guest raps by Holy Quran, from the group Off da Hook who were signed to LOUD Records before their career was cut tragically short when Holy was shot and killed in the street. "Street Stars" makes nice use of a looped vocal sample paired with a funky horn riff and has the perfunctory Master P appearance to mark this an official No Limit venture.

But even as a tight EP, it probably should've been cut a little tighter, because after those three songs, it starts to fall off a bit. The embarrassingly misspelled "Be Their" is the only song Dame didn't produce. It's still not by a No Limit regular, though, but by Oakland's Al Eaton; and he's crafted an ill-advised musical remake of The Manhattan's "Shining Star." I mean, it's listenable... after all, it's blatantly lifting it's music from an old R&B classic, but it feels sappy and as corny as all those other, low budget west coast remakes of R&B songs, like The World Class Wreckin' Cru's "I'll Be Around" or something The Fila Fresh Crew would've done after D.O.C. left.

Things pick up a little with "Def, Dumb and Blind," starting off with a rousing speech sample before kicking some more militantly minded lyrics. But the music and especially the hook sound pretty rough, and the lyrics don't quite rise to the level I think they were shooting for. It features another appearance by Holy Quran and a female MC named Spoonie T. You have to give them props for putting a serious, sociopolitical piece on the album, but it just comes off as rushed and too low quality to be anything you'll want to revisit over the years. A strong remix could have really transformed this one.

Finally, it concludes with "If You Got It You Got It," which is pretty unremarkable. It's alright, and Dame feels like he's serious with his statements ("I know you cannot take this, but you must and you will"), but it's nothing special. Again, a better instrumental track would've gone a long way here, but as it is, it's album filler. I could take or leave it.

But despite the flaws and weak points, this is something rewarding and unexpected. There's nothing actually skip-worthy, and the highlights are inarguable. "I'm Your Brother" is a masterpiece. The whole EP's a cool, overlooked moment in Dame's career and a nice little gem in No Limit's golden tank.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Rogue Player Remixed

So we're just two weeks into the new year - or more importantly, three months since my my last post about Luke Sick - and dude's already released two more brand new albums?  And a vinyl single?  We've already wasted too much time - let's get into it!

We can start out with Rival Dealer by Creep Player, a.k.a. Luke and producer AC, with DJ Raw B on the cuts for one track near the end.  This is the first album by this particular pairing, but not their first project together.  AC is also known as AC415n, or even better known as Alex 75 of San Francisco Street Music, a major underground crew that've been releasing dope tapes since the 90s.  You might remember he released a vinyl single with Luke in 2000 called, wait for it... "Street Player" (I wrote about it here).  Actually, it was the "Indian Summer Remix" (Indian Summer being the title of AC's 2017 solo instrumental album), as the original version was from Luke & Raw B's album, Born Illness (I vlogged about that one here).  I described the difference between AC's remix and Raw B's original, how it, "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."  And after the brief, higher energy intro, that's pretty much the vibe of the whole Creep Player album.

By the way, no version of "Creep Player" appears on Creep Player, this is 100% all brand new material ("chapter two in the saga of the creep player" as they declare on one of the tracks).  But it's an old vibe, that very much reaches back to sounds of G-funk, with deep piano notes, filtered handclaps, slow electro sounds and hard beats.  I mean, there's a song on here called "Pager Blowin Up."  How much you dig this album depends entirely on how interested you are in being transported to the late night left coast mid-90s.  It might've seemed a little backpacker-ish to put a lot of turntables on your gangsta tapes in those days, which is why I guess they don't utilize Raw B too much on here, but his slick handiwork of a choice vocal sample from The Click's "Out My Body" on "Strikin On the Freeway" only had me aching for more.  He definitely enhances the music without detracting from the spirit.

Next up is Rogue Titan, an album by Luke and producer Bad Shane.  I initially thought I wasn't familiar with Bad Shane except for seeing that he released another album just a couple weeks before this one with DJ Eons One called 41st and El Camino.  Eons One and another DJ named Ando do the cuts here.  But it turns out "Bad Shane" is an alias for Kegs One, the Bay area producer who's been making a ton of music with all those Highground artists like Megabusive and Spex.  He had a bunch of his own tapes, too, and he used to do those mixes with P-Minus.  I don't know if he ever actually produced a track with Luke before, like maybe on one of those FTA albums or something; but they've been in the same circles for a long time, so this pairing makes a lot of sense.

The album starts out with an intro cutting up Saafir's "Watch How Daddy Ball" over some super slow horns.  Unfortunately they don't credit which DJ is one which songs.  This album doesn't reach back to those old G-funk elements again, but it's definitely another mood piece.  Dark, slow, menacing.  "Yeah, peace to the hardrocks, death to the never-doers. A broken smoker and my folks were the bad influence. We don't have to like you. Me and my crew is mutants. Them greedy cops just jealous 'cause our spots was boomin'. We're youngsters, like to stay high and act inhuman."  Several of these tracks are instrumentals, but it's never too long before Luke comes back to the mic to lead us further down his black alleyway.  Songs like "Park With a Payphone" read like a confessional street crime novel, and even the straight flexing song "The Mic Menace From Mayfield" keeps landing on lines like, "die paying bills, fuck it."

Finally, the vinyl single is something you don't see often: a flex-disc.  It's by On Tilt, the pairing of Luke and QM that I've covered here quite often, "Beers With My Friends (Remix)."  "Beers With My Friends," if you don't recall, was on their last tape, The Fifth Album.  On my first listen, I was thinking gee, this doesn't sound all that different from the album version at all.  In fact, it's exactly the same beat by producer Banknotes.  But when I reached the end of the song, I caught on.  The original was a three-verse drinking song featuring TopR closing out the show.  On this version, he's replaced by QM's fellow Rec-League veteran Richie Cunning.  So two thirds of the song are exactly the same, but it's got a new finale.  Not that there was anything wrong with TopR's bars; they were full of the playful kind of punchlines perfectly suited for a mini-posse cut.  But Richie's verse is really smooth and syllabically dexterous, definitely a fun alternative to the original.  Plus it's the only way to own any version of this song on vinyl.

As of this writing, the Creep Player cassette and "Beers With My Friends" 7" flexi are both still available from Megakut.  "Beers" is just $3(!), so you should definitely jump on that while you still can.  The Rogue Titan cassette sold out on Megakut in a nanosecond, because they only got 15 copies in the first place.  It's primarily being sold through Throwdown Records, which up to now has just been a store (in Bellmont, CA) that sells old rap tapes and stuff.  But Kegs One actually owns it, so I guess that makes Throwdown the official label/ distributor now, too.  Maybe it's be the start of a whole, dope venture.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

New Year, Old Record

(It's 2023!  So let's celebrate, not with some crummy new music, but something wonderfully old, yet 4-Ever Fresh.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Gucci Xmas

(Wishing you all a very Gucci Xmas with this tough gangsta record by Gucci Steve. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Order To Kaos

Kaotic Style are the Brooklyn duo of Beat Scott and Grand who released a series of hot 12"s throughout the 90s, often on Beat Scott's own label, and often with notable guest spots.  A couple years ago, Dope Folks and Gentlemens Relief Records teamed up to release their sort of unreleased album, Diamond In the Ruff, on vinyl and CD.  I wrote about it here.  But more recently, Dope Folks have come back, this time in partnership with Hip Hop Enterprise, to release a second sort of unreleased Kaotic Style album on vinyl and CD, called Infinity.  It gets a little confusing, so I wanted to break it down here on my site.

The key phrase in that last paragraph is "sort of unreleased."  In the case of Diamond In the Ruff, there was an EP, which was rare but had definitely gotten a release.  But DF and GR doubled the size of it by including a bunch of previously unreleased demo tracks.  GR took the CD version a bit further by including their later 12" tracks on there, too.  And I'm going to the trouble of re-explaining what I already covered in 2018 again because that's sort of what's going on here as well.

In 1991, Kaotic Style released an EP that's generally known as Closer To Your Love, because it doesn't have an actual title printed on it and "Closer To Your Love" is the first song.  But "Infinity" is another song on that EP.  And that EP is kind of what this Infinity album is now.  The Dope Folks LP is ten tracks long, including some of the songs from that EP, including "Infinity" (obviously), "Flavor Freestyle" and "Close To Your Love."  Kaotic Style really come off on "Infinity," so you can see why they chose to make it the title track here; it's one of their greatest songs, and doesn't rely on the assistance of any more famous rappers.  So this EP's got those three songs, but it also leaves several tracks off, though fans might not mind too much, because that EP was packed with love songs, which weren't really Kaotic Style's strong suit.  So, no, we don't get "Love Letters," "Love the One You're With" or "Let's Get It On."

In their place, we get both tracks from their 1992 single "Check it Out" (which uses a striped down version of the "Inner City Blues" bassline in a funky, NY kind of way) b/w "We Got the Flavor," and "Whutcha Want" (here spelled "Whatcha Want") from their 1995 12".  So it gives this album an offbeat dichotomy, mashing together two separate eras, where the guys have two very distinct styles and sounds.  Because in addition to that one '95 track, the real jewels of this Infinity album are four previously unreleased tracks (the labels' official descriptions claim five and seven, but they're both wrong) from their '94-'96 era.  And one of those in particular really blew my mind.

"What We Came To Do" features guest verses by Big Scoob a.k.a. Scoob Lover, and The Headless Horsemen, the wickedest horrorcore group that never really got their proper shot.  What a brilliant but bonkers line-up!  As soon as I saw that in the track-listing, I knew I had to have Infinity, even though I was already a KS fan and would've wanted it anyway.  The Horsemen aren't really doing horrorcore per se here, so it basically plays as a super ill posse cut, where the mic is passed down the line twice, meaning everyone gets a satisfying second verse.  It's easily the best song after "Infinity."  "Get Down" is a grimy, dirty twist on UTFO's "SWAT" featuring The Jaz.  It works better than you'd think.  "Constantly" features a crew called the Krooks, who manage to be even more rugged and wild than Kaotic Style.  And the last song is called "The Realness."  It uses essentially the same instrumental - certainly the same sample chopped the same way - as Master Ace's "Brooklyn Battles" (and PreCISE MC's "Don't Even").

And like Gentlemens Relief before them, Hip Hop Enterprises has added a couple more 12" songs as bonus tracks for the CD version.  This time they've included "Bro for Bro" with Smoothe da Hustler and Trigga the Gambler, and "Mad Hardcore" featuring The Cella Dwellas, Heltah Skeltah and MOP.  Those are the two other songs from that 1995 12" single with "Whutcha Want," so it rounds that out.  And that works, because vinyl heads will probably already have the 12" (or can easily cop it), but it will be CD buyers' first opportunity to get these great posse cuts.

It's all been remastered and sounds great, except "The Realness," which sounds like its from a pretty dusty source.  It's still very listenable, but you'll definitely notice the noise in the track.  So Dope Folks has pressed up 300 copies of their LP, 50 on yellow (yellow) wax and 250 on classic black.  The Hip Hop Enterprise doesn't seem to be limited to a set run, but gives the album a cool picture cover by Spek the Architek.  Both are still available from their labels, so it's just up to you to decide which format suits you.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Return of Buck 65

(Like the title says, Buck 65 is back.  With three albums even.  Youtube version is here.)