Thursday, April 1, 2021

Vocal Vision On Patrol

(Another fun one for April Fool's Day: The LA Dream Team get a little help from a human walkman.  Youtube version is here.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Buyer's Guide For Nick Wiz's Cellar

After Debonair P announced the shuttering of his label Gentleman's Relief Records this month, I wanted to make a post in commemoration.  But not a sappy farewell, something practical.  Well, I covered a couple of the early Nick Wiz Cellar Sound compilations that No Sleep started putting out in 2008 (Cellar Sounds Vol 1, Cellar Sounds Vol 2 & Cellar Selections Vol 1, and Cellar Selections Vol 3).  In that last post, written a full decade ago, I worried about the series coming to an end.  Lordy, if I only knew!  No Sleep continued the collections through 2017... in conjunction with GRR as of 2013, and they wound up practically taking over completely, continuing to release new volumes all the way through 2020.

And it's frickin' complicated to keep track of.  There are multiple numbered series running across dual formats at the same time, with missing tracks, exclusive bonus tracks and more.  I mean, it's great; but I bet even serious fans couldn't say with confidence whether or not you have all the songs if you have all of the CDs but none of the vinyls, right?  Or vice versa?  Or how about even tougher questions, like, do you need the vinyl or CD version of Cellar Extras Vol. 1 if you already owned all the Cellar Selections, but not the Cellar Sounds?  In fact, a big part of the motivation behind this post is that I wasn't sure myself, so I'm working this out for my benefit as much anybody's.  Allow me to share my work.

To start with, there were five double-CD sets of Cellar Sounds, while Cellar Selections was a series of double LPs, 10 in all, that essentially picked favorites to preserve on wax.  You may recall that SOME of the Cellar Selections EP had exclusive tracks.  At least at first.  Let's break all of those down:

Pudgee's "Get Down" was originally a vinyl exclusive on Cellar Selections Vol. 1, but it wound up on the third series, known as Cellar Extras (Vol. 1, the CD), and his "Swing It Like This" was an exclusive on Selections Vol 4, but wound up on Extras Vol. 2 Shabaam Sahdeeq's "My Words," Madhouse's "For the Hardcore," Ran Reed's "No Games" (w/ UG) and Native Assassins' "Act Like U Know" were all exclusives on Selections 5, but wound up on Extras 2Selections 6 had Dizaster's "Infiltrate" and Shadows In the Dark's "The Sequel" as exclusives, but they turned up on Extras 1Selections 7 had Emskee's "Bring It," which wound up on Extras 1 and Quannie's "Uplifted," Ran Reed's "Murderous Flow (First Remix)" and Shabaam Sahdeeq's "Knockin' Heads," which were all on Extras 2.  It also has Mad House's "I Know You Want It," which remains an exclusive to this day.

Now Selections 8 had a whole ton of exclusives, at least before the Extras CDs.  There was Shabaam Sahdeeq's "Currency," APB's "No More Games," the Cella Dwellas' "Rhyme No More," Ran Reed's "The Cellar Session," Imperial's "Mine Is Mine," Mad House's "How Deep" and Zoodizoo's "Theme" until they were brought back for Extras 1.  And Dizaster's "Hard Body" Donny Dizzle's "Put 'Em Up High," Emskee's "One By One," Martyse's This Is For the...," Zoodizoo's "Partners In Crime," Pryme Tyme's "Y'all Didn't Know" and LSD's "Flip the Script" were all featured on Extras 2.  Meanwhile, only one of Selections 9's exclusives, Ran Reed's "We Got the Raw," turned up on an Extras CD (vol 1). But it has Ran Reed's "Tell Me," which is still fully exclusive now (at least to the Cellar series).

 And Selections 10 had no exclusives.

Let's summarize, because that turned into more of an overwhelming list than I'd anticipated.  In short, most but not all of the Cellar Selections 2LPs had exclusive tracks not featured on the Cellar Sounds CDs.  But the Cellar Extras scooped most of those up, leaving only one exclusive song on Vol 7 and two on Vol 9.  Meanwhile, despite ten double LPs worth of Selections released over the course of a full decade, that still leaves a whopping 62(!) songs exclusive to the CDs.  Or 61 if you don't Kid Capri's brief intro to Vol 1.

Got it?  Nope, not so fast!  It gets even more complicated, because there's a completely different Cellar Extras vinyl version, with a completely different track-listing.  The official description reads, "10 more totally unreleased 90s gems featuring artists including the Cella Dwellas, Pudgee, Darc Mind and more."  But they're only "totally unreleased" if you don't count the CDs.  The idea is that it basically scoops up all of the additional songs from the two Cellar Extras CDs and puts them on wax, leaving just 54 songs still exclusive to the CDs.  But no, of course it isn't that simple either.  Because first, that still leaves three songs still exclusive to the Cellar Extras CDs, including two Rakims.  Everything on the Cellar Extras LP is on the Extras CDs.

But, it's less simple still!  Because many of those exclusive songs are exclusive to the many Cellar series releases, but have been released elsewhere.  For example, Ran Reed's "Tell Me" from Selections Vol 9 was on his Respect the Architect compilation, which is essentially a sister project No Sleep and GRR put out during all of this.  But Selections 7's Mad House song, "I Know You Want It," is really exclusive.  A lot of the CD exclusives are universal exclusives, but not all.  For example, Rakim's "Man With a Gun" was on No Sleep's Rakim vinyl EP The Cellar (where'd they come up with that title?) from 2008.  And because Sounds Vol. 1 focused on both rare (or even not so rare) and unreleased songs, a bunch of those had been previously available on past releases throughout the 90s.  But that still leaves anywhere from 5-14 exclusives on each Sounds CD, and 2 and 1 on the Extras CDs, respectively.

And oh!  Did I mention that there's even more??  GRR also put out a fourth series: Cellar Instrumentals, compilations of "timeless productions, including instrumental versions of classic 90s material by the likes of Ran Reed, Pudgee, Rakim and Shadowz In da Dark, plus tracks that were never recorded on back then."  There are two double CD volumes and one double LP volume (also in a picture cover), all of which are limited to 250 copies each.  The CDs have 40 tracks each, and the vinyl has 24, all of which are included in that first 80.  That's nine CD and twelve vinyl collections in total.

It's important to note that the Sounds CDs were a little more widely released, but most of the Selections albums, as well as the Extras record, were limited to just 300 copies.  Vol. 1 was even more limited at 250, and for Vol. 6, they did a thing where 100 were printed on purple and orange wax, while the other 200 were on black.  All came in full picture covers, except Selections 1, which was a sticker cover.

 At the end of the day, if you just want a copy of each song and don't care about format, you need all of the CD sets, plus Selections Vol 7 & 9 and the Extras LP.  If you're strictly a vinyl head, you're going to miss out on a lot, but we should be used to that by now.  It's a shame GRR is closing for many reasons, but one is that the Selections series could've continued for a couple more very welcome volumes.  Probably three, not even thinking about all the other instrumentals... and who knows if Nick Wiz has even more left in his vaults after all this?  After all, I doubt any of us envisioned this series ongoing all the way to 2020 when it started 13 years ago.  So the lesson is, you never know what the future still could hold.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Who Is Uncle Mic Nitro, and Why Did He Go?

So I just received something interesting in the mail.  A new LP called Vincent on Horseback by Uncle Mic Nitro, who I first heard on a Whirlwind D album a couple years ago.  So it's only natural that it'd come out on B-Line Records, but this particular album is a co-release with the mostly old school label Hip Hop Be Bop, which is intriguing.  And according to their press release, Vincent is Nitro's fourth and final album.  Not sure what that's about.  I guess I'm late to this party, but a grand farewell project does sound extra promising.  I mean, just given what I've gathered so far, I wouldn't have expected... nerdcore.

To give you a quick idea, try a few of these lines on for size:
"get the party jumpin' like girls with hop scotch," "my rhymes are big bullies kickin' like the Cobra Kai," "jumpin' in like I'm Jango Fett," "I think you best get to know I kept the flow cold like Eskimos so get to know, bro, who's next to blow," or "venomous, no known antidote, Cobra Kai kickin' all the clowns in the throat."  Yeah, overall it's fairly precious (and yes, those Cobra Kai kickin' lines are from two different songs... he has a "wax on, wax off" gag, too).  Let's dig into a particularly egregious sample.  Now to be fair, before we do, please bear in mind that I've cherry-picked this bit because it stood out to me on the first listen as one of the most annoying moments, not the most typically representative.  So okay:

"Stumble drunkard,

Bump a crowd if they have the hunger;

Smuggle drugs in

Just in case they're a bunch of dumb cunts.

No offense,

But if you took it then you're just admittin'
That you're a dumb cunt,
So touché!
Just forget it or you'll regret it,
'Cause trust me, I'll fuckin' shred it.
The mic is Thor's hammer
Bringin' Armageddon on
Any starry-eyed rapper in a pair of jeggin's.
You're less fly than Mr. Popper's fuckin' penguins!
Give me a pencil and my tendons fill with tension,
Like Dr. Jekyll having a water fight with ten gremlins.
I have to mention,
That after I wrote that last line,
I realized technically it should be ten mogwai.

Nerd disclaimer!
Attention to every detail is vital
On every track you listen to by Mic Nitro."


^That is some straight up Cartoon Network rap, although I guess it's more Hot Karl than MC Frontalot.  Like, remember Wordburglar would do a song about Transformers or Doctor Who... or a whole album about GI Joe?  Here, it's not a concept so much as just scattershot references spread throughout freestyle rhymes.  After that quote, Dr. Jekyll is never brought up again; he's not part of a running theme.  It's all just punchlines.

Either way though, Vincent is reaching out to a particular demographic I don't seem to relate to.  Like, I'm a fan of Gremlins.  I'm old enough to have grown up on it; I know perfectly well why a "water fight" would be a particularly volatile reflection of Jekyll's own plight.  I even recognized Gizmo's tune when they subtly whistled it behind that mogwai line.  On paper, I'm the ideal market for this material.  Except I presume the target audience must get some kind of little thrill every time they catch one of these references, whereas to me they're groaners, evidence of too much TV finally rotting someone's brain.  I just wanna "nope" right out of that twee Mr. Popper's Penguins stuff.

But hey, a country song isn't a bad country song just because you're not a fan of country music.  Having different sensibilities doesn't dictate quality.  Rhymes like "every time I write a bar, I smash through your pi-llar like Princess Diana's car" aren't for me, but somebody out there thinks that's a real humdinger.
  ...Okay, I admit that was sarcastic.  But seriously, it's clear that I'm just not picking up whatever Nitro's putting down here.  I've been spinning it over and over and I couldn't even figure out what the heck the title "Vincent On Horseback" is supposed to mean.

Plus, now that I'm past grouching over this one (admittedly dominant) aspect that irritates me, I've got to tell you, this album has a lot of strong positives going for it.  There are reasons I was able to keep this on rotation all week without going crazy.  "Write" has a lush disco instrumental and somebody named Greg Blackman sings his heart out on it.  You'd have to be made of stone not to bob along to it.  And sure, I have no idea who Blackman is, but there's one guest-spot sure to raise eyebrows: Ced Gee.  He appears on a track called "Bod Gets Slapped Up (Krash Slaughta Remix)" (the original version is available on a separate 7") with a verse that hearkens back to his Critical Beatdown days, and the whole track is a fun homage to those classic Ultra records.  He's still got it!

And there's plenty more.  Specifik provides some hot cuts on the finale of a hyper track called "Zasa," and a producer I'm not familiar with named Ollie Knight provides some fresh, catchy production on tracks like "Where the Monster Is" - an interesting song where Nitro takes on the persona of an expectant mother trapped in an unhealthy relationship - and "Keep Drinking," where he laments his alcoholism.  "New Planet Goons" has a funky track and killer cuts by Jabbathakut, while "Hills Are Alive" switches to some more creative "A Day Like Any Other"-style verbal imagery... though its darker subject matter may be a bit tainted by flippant references to Rambo, Mad Max 3 and Patch Adams.  Finally, "Fuck You" turns a fun, classical sample into a combative attitude-driven anthem for anyone better able to sync with Nitro's wavelength.  Honestly, the only song I dislike in totality and utterly fail to see the appeal of is "Lemonade," which ironically is the lead single.

And no matter where you fall on the spectrum of nerdcore appreciation, one thing you'll definitely be impressed by is the physical release itself.  The vinyl is a shocking neon yellow (neon yellow) in a bright picture/ sticker cover with a stylish inner sleeve.  Theoretically, the sound quality of colored vinyl can be a fraction off, but this is a solid slab that sounds clear and robust.  And if you're really ready to kick it up a notch, there's a limited edition tin that includes the LP, the "Slapped Up" 7" I mentioned earlier (you can also get it separately), a t-shirt you might recognize, a lyrics sheet, face mask(!), prints, stickers and one random copy includes Nitro's personal belt buckle.  Everything about this album feels lush, carefully polished and high budget, in terms of both the production and the presentation.  It's obvious this is a passion project that real care was poured into on every level.  It kinda makes me feel guilty, like my reaction to his rapping is somehow what made the poor guy retire.

I dug his verse for Whirlwind D... Oh well.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

There Might Be a Million Outsidaz

(The Outsidaz are back in the spotlight, I guess, but I'm a little more interested in some of their forgotten history and another member who doesn't get enough notice. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

It's Still Father MC All Day, Ain't a Damn Thing Changed

Wow, looking back, I've only averaged one Father MC post a year since the Trump presidency.  Clearly, there's a direct correlation.  But now it's 2021, time to get back to what I was unquestionably put on this Earth to do: teach the world about Father MC songs.  And I've got a couple obscure ones for you today, I can promise you.  Tell me, gang, are you familiar with Mexican Swedish singer/ DJ Dede?

Dede's real name is Denise Lopez (not to be confused with the American Denise Lopez who was on the Cool As Ice soundtrack), and she's put out a couple albums more recently under that name.  But throughout the early 90s and 2000s, she was signed to Sony and put out four five albums under the name Dede.  The second of which was called I Do and it features not one, but two feature appearances by our man Father MC.

Now, I've got the Japanese CD here.  It's got a couple of bonus tracks not included on the original Swedish or other European pressings of her album.  But none of those feature Father MC or any other rappers, so for our purposes, it doesn't matter which version you get.  Because, I suppose I should point out, she has worked with others besides Father.  In 2018, she did a big music video with MC Lyte.  And if you clicked that link, you just learned that she's not just your standard pop singer who seems to be a big deal overseas but never made a splash here: she also raps.  She raps in 2018 and she raps in 1997.  She definitely sings, too; but rapping is a substantial part of her musical output.  You know, when I first got this of course I skipped right to the Father MC songs and waited to get to the rap portion.  So I was surprised to hear Dede actually rap first.

Apart from that, though, it's largely what you'd expect.  Syrupy but pop R&B songs with sporadic rap verses.  The production, mostly done by two guys named David Kreuger and Per Magnusson, actually isn't too bad, with some smooth samples and crisp drum elements.  It's also the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear Father MC on, catching him right around the time of his dalliances with Luke Records and his various Echo R&B projects.  This album being on Epic/ Sony Records was probably a big check for him.

The first song we find him on is "Make It Right."  Production-wise, this is unfortunately one of the more boring songs on the album.  It helps to have Father's voice come in and add some variety to the proceedings, but I would've much rather heard him on some of the other songs instead.  Clearly, the vibe they were going for here was sexy and smooth.  But it is a strictly Hip-Hop song, with only an anonymous male vocalist crooning very softly in the background near the end of the song.  It's mostly a back and forth between Dede and Father, kicking very whispery raps.

Now, as a die-hard Hip-Hop fan, I do prefer Dede rapping to singing just because that's more up my alley, but I'm not at all reluctant to admit that she's not a particularly good or interesting MC at all.  She's adept at sounding American, which is probably valuable to a certain market, but this is the worst kind of forgettably bland affectation over substance that 90s crossover rap had to offer.  "How you like me now?  I know what's on your mind: dirty thoughts, but I ain't the one to get done.  Fit, I pop five-six, long hair, straight, Chanel jeans on my derriere ... When you was hittin' jack, I'll be spendin' your loochie, pop, 'cause I'm on my payback.  you gets nuthin', frontin' like you hit somethin'."  This was the kind of thing Video LP would air because it was too soft for Rap City but still too rappy for Video Soul.  But it wouldn't even play long on Video LP, because the songs they played tended to be catchier.

It does come alive a little bit when Father MC gets on.  We already heard his voice on the hook and the back-up adlibs, but his verse comes with a bit more energy to it.  Still, he's too caught up in that laid back playa character of that period to impress.  But you can still see there's more creativity put into the words than just strictly dropping cliches. "Now Dede, you dissin' papi, that's a no-no.  I brought you up, I showed you love, bought you mink gloves.  My fur makes you purr, I gave you it all."  He also steers the subject matter further into the tastelessly explicit than I was expecting, "and I don't like the fact that you say I'm lyin' on mine, and if I did, I woulda pimped you with dick."  Anyway, the concept is that they keep accusing each other of lying, but ultimately they will "make it right" by making sweet love or whatever. I think they're hoping if they keep it silky and quiet enough you won't notice how corny it gets.

Anyway, the other song is livelier and more engaging, with a lot of jazzy little horn snippets.  It starts again with that male vocalist (if I could read Japanese characters, I could probably find his name in the booklet) and this time Dede is the the expected, conventional R&B crooning mode.  Well, she does have a short rap hook: "oh baby please, pa, you can call me Dedes, get up from your knees, no need to please.  I freeze as I look at your face, locked up for days; I'm stuck in your place."  But it's essentially a very 90's R&B song with brief rap interjections.  I think the concept is that Dede feels stuck in "the friend zone," but it's a little unclear.  I'm mostly just distracted by how she pluralizes her name to rhyme with "please," "knees" and "please" again.  It's so contrived it's wraps back around to charming.

Anyway, it all comes to a happy ending when Father tells Dede he's been secretly in love with her the whole time, too.  "Dede, let's politic.  Yo, I can't take it no more.  I got a thing for ya ... When ya needed advice, it hurted me to give.  Deep down inside I was your secret love fugitive.  I was ashamed, caught up in the game.  You was my best friend.  All I saw was me and you in the game.  But I got heart, got smart, took a chance to tell."  How sweet can you get?  They both love torturing grammar and rhyming the same words with themselves.  It's actually not so bad until he ramps up the corniness for his big finish: "I could be your lover friend, your homey lover, your hubby who is butter. I say word to my mother."  If you're not editing those closing lines into your wedding vows right now, what are you doing?

But cringey lines aside, "Best Friend" is a more than passable R&B tune of its time.  It sounds better than plenty of records that became legit hits back then.  And the whole album's okay if this is the kind of thing you go for.  Songs like "You're Fine" with the jazzier elements hold up the best, while other tracks like "Get To You" are definitely striving for more of a breakout pop audience.  "Come On Out" borrows from Naughty By Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" in a cute but clumsy way.  I mean, I certainly don't recommend it to anyone reading this blog - I just scored a copy when I found it cheap because I was curious about the Father MC verses because that's the crusade I'm on.  But I can certainly see why Dede has her following.  I wonder if any Swedish fans sought out Father's records after hearing him on I Do.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mixture Interview

(Another in our series of Custodian of Records interviews (I just edited it!), this time with Kasem Coleman a.k.a. Mixture, producer of a variety of artists, from Blackstreet to Mytee G Poetic. Youtube version is here.  Also, Happy New Year!)

Monday, December 28, 2020

Just a Little More Ecstasy

Well, damn.  Here's a post I wasn't planning to make.  But if you haven't heard, we've just lost Ecstasy of Whodini.  And in thinking about what exactly to post about for this, I kinda figured everybody pretty much has all of their albums, at least us older heads.  So what is there from Ecstasy outside of a complete Whodini collection?  There's actually only a couple.  There's that weird Paul Schaffer record he was a part of with The Fresh Prince.  And besides that and full Whodini tracks, there's really only these two.

First up is Midnight Star's "Don't Rock the Boat" from 1988 on Solar Records.  They were a sort of post-disco R&B/ funk group, and this was one of their last successful singles after a pretty strong run through the 80s.  I can still remember this video airing on BET all the time, and probably even MTV, with the whole band in boats and there's a shark fin in the water.  These guys didn't usually mess with rappers.  In fact, I think the only other time they dabbled was a couple years later in '90-'91 when one of the guys did their own rapping.  But they got Ecstasy to be on this one, and yeah, he was in the video with his own boat and everything.

On the album, the song was already pretty long, over six minutes.  But the 12" offers an extended mix, adding another minute.  Midnight Star's style at this time was already pretty close to Whodini's wheelhouse, so with Ecstasy's involvement, this plays almost like a proper Whodini record with an extended R&B hook.  It could play right alongside "Yours For the Night," except it's even funkier.  Ecstasy doesn't just have one of those quick, perfunctory raps on an R&B record; he has three verses (though the last one's a reprisal), and he pipes in a bit through the other parts, so he's a consistent part of the song.  Ecstasy provides nearly all the lyrical content of the song, starting with a narrative "about a girl and a guy," which he later extrapolates into a general message about how if your relationship is working as-is, don't make any changes.  There is a nice part where Belinda finally joins in, taking the vocals to another level as they pledge devotion to each other.  The extended version has extended break beats and stutters his line "don't do it," so it feels a little more Hip-Hop.  It comes in a sticker cover and throws in a shorter radio edit and a couple dubs.  I'd actually say this is a better Whodini single than the actual singles Whodini was releasing that year.

Then the other one is actually an example of the perfunctory quick rap verse on an R&B record, but fortunately, it's a pretty funky R&B record in its own right.  1990's "Paradise" is the title cut and lead single off of Ruby Turner's third album, though as the picture cover tells us, this was originally recorded for the Dancin' Thru the Dark soundtrack.  Boy, do I not remember that movie, even in the slightest.

Anyway, Turner and Whodini were label-mates on Jive, which probably explains this team-up.  Like "Don't Rock the Boat," this 12" gives us an exclusive extended mix, this time adding a whopping extra two and a half minutes.  A lot of the heavy lifting on this song is actually carried by some uncredited male vocalists who do a funky "Oh! Oh! Ooh, oh, ooo oh, ooh oh ooo" behind the bulk of the song.  Loris Holland and Jolyon Skinner are the producers, who cook up a surprisingly catchy mix of keyboard and guitar grooves.  And Turner's actually a pretty great singer.  So yeah, I was already digging this song on its own merits.  But then, about halfway through, Ecstasy jumps in and totally electrifies the song.  The beat breaks down a bit for him and his unique style of enunciation steals the show, "Paradise, can it be true? Or just a state of mind induced by you?"

Again, the extended version makes better use of the breaks, giving it more of a proper Hip-Hop vibe.  On the album, Ecstasy feels like a quick injection into a big chunk of R&B.  Here, even though he doesn't actually rap any more on the song, it comes across as more of a collaboration between him and Turner.  Although they're also both overshadowed by the "oh oh ooo oh" guys.

There's a B-side, "I'm Livin' a Life Of Love," which is okay, but a bit limp and more placid.  It's got a boppy beat, some fresh keyboard riffs and a fun little sax solo towards the end.  But it never fully comes to life like "Paradise."  Plus, of course, Ecstasy's not on it.  The 12" also has a Radio Edit and Instrumental mix of "Paradise;" and as you see, it comes in an attractive picture cover.

The good news is both of these singles are super easy to find, plentiful and cheap.  They're dollar bin records... although that's meaning less and less in this century, where there are fewer and fewer bins of any denomination.  But the point is they're there and easily accessible for anyone feeling the need right now for just a little more Ecstasy in their lives.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas F-ckin' Day

(Sharing one of my personal favorite Christmas rap albums, and even a surprise comeback. Youtube version is here.)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Reservoir Dogs Across the Pond

Hijack's a curious group: the UK crew that somehow signed up to Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate in their heyday.  Most of us in the US probably first heard their "Style Wars" track on the Hard As Hell album; and the hardcore but high energy style of their early tracks gave off some appealing Bomb Squad-type vibes.  But, like most Rhyme Syndicate artists if we're being honest, they kept dipping into other, weaker styles.  They came out with a corny anti-crime music video; and lyrically, they could be a bit stilted.  I suppose coming from the UK might've made it harder to accept them as authentic in '91, too.  I copped their album at the time, but found it mostly disappointing and wishing they'd maybe just given their beats to other RS members, who all would've stood to gain from Hijack's style of production.

Anyway, they kind of came and went pretty quick to those of us on the states.  Warner Brothers didn't make their album too easy to find over here, though that may've added a little cache to their status with those of us who liked to dig deeper.  So I remember being pretty excited in 1996 when I found what first appeared to be another "random rap" 12" by Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde on Reservoir Records actually bore the Hijack logo on its sticker and label.  Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde were two of the codenames the robbers adopted in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen's characters, respectively); and the artwork they use for the label is straight from the film's promotional materials.  That was an intriguing enough mix of suggestive promises that I copped it unheard.  It turns out Mr. Pink is really Kamanchi Sly and Mr. Blonde is DJ Undercover, both of course from Hijack.

The way it's laid out is that each member gets a side of the record for himself with a solo track... although in 1997 they'd do a follow-up where they collaborated on the song together.  But here, they're separate.  The A-side starts us off with Kamanchi, in this case the less compelling of the two.  It's kind of another slow, anti-crime message song in the vein of their big US single.  Each verse is a different little narrative about somebody who lived outside the law only to eventually wind up "Payin' the Price."  And he's still running into the same lyrical issues, kicking awkward lines like "Mr. Pink, a Reservoir Dog, so it's ironic: I return to the scene like a dog to his own vomit."  To his credit, though, he did beat Ras Kass by about a year to his "Anything Goes (Rmx)" sample, and it sounds as smooth here as it does there.

But it's Undercover's song that's really worth your time.  Both tracks have a distinct west coast, 90s gangsta rap influence (this one is very close to "Deep Cover"), but at least "Death Before Dishonor" is substantially harder, hearkening back to what we actually want from Hijack with an ill Onyx vocal sample for a hook.  And subject-wise: it delivers all the hot gos' about the tribulations the group faced after they dropped off the map.

"I close my eyes,
The world just passes me by.
You ask me no questions,
Niggas, I tell you no lies.
I hooked up with Ice-T
When already on tour;
My relationship with Warner B
Had left me feeling sore.
How could I be so blind?
I guess that it was loyalty;
Ah, I never heard no word
About my royalties.
Heard my record
On the next man's track.
For those that know, the track was
'I Had To Serve You' by Hijack.
It was about that time
Supreme got dropped from the team;
And I couldn't believe
[?? WEA, maybe?] was makin' all the cream.
My attitude was like 'fuck it,
I'll make it as a soloist.
The dopest vocalist,
Now I gots to cope with this!'
Pen to paper
When I make no mistake;
When I shape (produce a track),
I never have to wait.
People all over the world
Send me letters of support
And show me love.
I'm showing them love back; I'm Hijack."


And so the Hijack guys have continued to release indie projects over the years, together and apart.  They even released a new music video with Ice-T about this Covid lockdown.  But the real jewels in their catalog, the ones that keep me keep chasing the Hijack logo, are their earliest singles, before Warner Bros even tried to introduce them to the states.  Their "Hold No Hostage" 12" is incredible and beats the pants off of most any Rhyme Syndicate record you can find.  This Pink/ Blonde record isn't on that level, but it's still an interesting little pick-up that showed these guys had more to offer even after the mainstream music industry had seemingly finished with them.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Keep Troopin' In a Place Called Four Wing Island

This was well-timed.  I've been in the mood for something new... not just in the basic sense of a song I haven't heard before, but some really new Hip-Hop.  You know, it's an easy trap to fall into when you're a little bit older where you just listen to old school Hip-Hop in your comfort zone.  And then you just listen to the biggest, dumbest pop rap song "the kids are listening to" and immediately recoil saying, okay, nothing but TDS Mob for another four years!  So I looking for a little shake-up, and as fortune would have it, this one found me.  Four Wing Island by an independent London MC named Joejas.  I mean, just look at that cover.  If this one doesn't fit the bill, nothing will.

In a sense, this feels like UK equivalent of Odd Future, scrappy, young and entirely self-made.  "All music," we're told, has been "written, recorded and produced by JoeJas."  The artwork and everything's all done by him, too.  There are no guests except for a single other voice that pops in to back him up on a couple hooks.  But where Tyler and co. came out dark, bordering on horrorcore, Joejas comes out as light (or at least un-sinister) and defiantly childlike as his artwork suggests: "just another nigga to these cops, aight, with my limbs stretchin' out my drop-top tike.  No license, registration, parents tryna pull me out said 'it's only meant for kids to play in'!  Said fuck that then I got weighed in, woke up later and my brain moved places.  Already got a mortgage and a lame whip.  God damn, bro!"

His singles (at least the ones I checked out on Youtube) are all pretty strong, though the album as a whole drifts into some weirder, more conceptual areas.  You know, like Kwamé's second album, except that album lost control to a series skits that were meant to create an over-arching narrative about a hard day at Polka Dot School or whatever.  Four Wing Island doesn't have any skits, but it tends to get lost in over-repeated hooks and esoteric references.  Like, for an obvious example, what the heck is "Four Wing Island?"  The title track tells us repeatedly that it's a place where he feels safe, and the liner notes hint that the island is a kind of reference to how each song has a distinct (isolated) tone.  But I'm not sure we're meant to have any idea where the Four Wing name comes from or what it might mean.  Like a Greenthink record, we're just left to guess at a lot of the insular references.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you should be forewarned going in, because they're the sort of unsolvable poetic mysteries that will frustrate as many listeners as they might intrigue and delight.

But don't get the wrong idea.  It's not as hopelessly artsy-fartsy[to use a technical term] as I may be making it sound.  Don't look for any familiar samples to latch onto, but there's a lot of emphasis on creating relatable moods (one track is a essentially a piano solo over a Hip-Hop beat), talking about just drifting around on his bike, eating alone feeling heartbroken or "stay bumfy reading comics in my undies."  "4wingkilla!" is just a fun opportunity to go hard over an aggressive beat, "even in these bright ass clothes I'm still seen as a threat... make me wanna wile out Mortal Kombat 'finish him,' uppercut rip a shin, adrenaline kickin' in."  That's a pretty tight flow there, and the lyrics are consistently well written throughout, no matter the subject.

So this is the first I've heard, but it's actually Joejas's third album.  It's out on CD in an attractive digipack with a full-color booklet of lyrics from his website.  And, as of this writing, his previous two CDs (Planet and Gappy) are still available, too.  Of course it's all streaming everywhere, too, like all music is nowadays, which is probably good, because I'm sure you'll want to try before you buy.  But I'm very glad to see there's a solid physical release for those who decide to get on board.  This reminds me of the Atak days, with a catalog full of mystifying scrappy young idealists releasing tape after tape, pushing the envelope and being just a little too "out there" for the undaring.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

LA's Finest Dopest Rhymers

Oh man, you have no idea how excited I was when I came across this one!  A split 7" of rare and unreleased LA Rap on a small subscription service label called Ximeno Record Club run by Danny Halloway.  Meaning, you can only get one of these records by subscribing to the whole run, or as in my case, finding someone willing to sell their copy second hand.  But I think your odds for that may be better in this case as it's the only Hip-Hop record in the line-up, which is otherwise comprised of all funk/ soul and reggae stuff from the 60s and 70s.  So I imagine there were several collectors who were happy to dump "the rap one."  Or maybe the label itself is just selling overrun spares.  Either way, there are copies online as of this writing, so you better jump on it or you'll be kicking yourself.

Side A gives us "On the One" by legendary Project Blowedian Medusa.  This is her first vinyl release since the "Fiend and the Fix" 12" with Nobody in 2000.  Produced by Evan V with some fresh cuts by DJ Drez, originally appeared on her rare 2012 CD-only Whrs the DJ Booth? album on Jthesarge's label, One Wise Studios.  You can tell Halloway was choosing a favorite on the first listen, because song stands out with its upbeat blaxploitation-style funk guitars and catchy horns.  Medusa is in full force with her clever, deep-voiced lyrics, "first of all, I don't speak in no whiny tone. What I wanna do that for?  Bitch, I'm grown.  Diamonds?  Nah, leave well enough alone.  Stylish and classy, ain't nobody like me.  Men find me sexy, women exciting.  They stand on by me, just in the Walmart tampon shopping."  Then, as she's wont to do, Medusa goes full R&B to sing the hook with Drez mixing up some "Mona Lisa" and "Public Enemy Number One" behind her.  It's one of those songs you want to replay as soon as it hits its last note.

But I was even more amped for the B-side, the never before released or heard anywhere "In My Niggahood" by Vooodu.  The label tells us this one was recorded in 1993 during his ferocious True Sound stint, which of course was Halloway's label.  This is something a little more serious than the fast-paced battle rhymes he was spitting back then.  He slows down Chic's "Good Times" just enough to give it a creepy, ominous vibe with a patchwork of other samples slipping in and out, all to match his own sinister voice as he kicks some street stories about his youth in South Central.  Vooodu was a master, and it's a crime so little of his work has made it out of the vaults, making this record essential.

According to their website, Ximeno is gearing up for another year ("Series 2") of releases starting this month.  Let's hope they take the opportunity to crack open the True Sound vaults of classic unreleased LA rap once again, and we Hip-Hop heads can get our hands on a few copies.