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.)

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Time Culture Freedom Escaped To Philly

Today's record is a tight little Philly EP, notable for featuring the lone solo outing for Poor Righteous Teachers' Culture Freedom.  Obviously, Wise Intelligent is the famous front man of the crew who's gone on to release a whole line of solo projects.  But here on Nailah Records' Hand To Hand Combat Volume 1 we see that in 2003, Culture Freedom took a stab, too.  It's just this one song, but who knows, if this label had taken off (and the "Volume 1" of the title certainly suggests future intentions) perhaps it would have lead to a whole album and solo career.  If what we hear on this EP is any indication, it would've been pretty tight.  The only other release from that label was a 12" by NAME, their final one.  It's pretty dope, too, in no small part thanks to some impressive guests including Schoolly D, The Mountain Brothers and - oh, look at that - PRT.  So that explains this NJ/ PA connection.

If the name NAME[sorry; couldn't help myself] doesn't ring a bell, that's Grand Agent's old group before he went solo.  He has a song on this EP as well.  Another artist on this EP, Ozzie Jones, was in NAME, too, then known as Old Man.  NAME's Mr. Cisum also produced two of the tracks here.  So this EP and Nailah Records as a whole seems to be their thing.  But they let CF get on and do his own thing with "Get Ya Mind Right."

Although, strictly speaking, Culture Freedom isn't 100% solo on here.  He does the bulk of the rapping, the hook and his own production, but he has a guy named Devaughn Williams playing the Jay-Z to his Jaz.  He's pretty nice on the mic, too.  The instrumental is a smooth and slightly layered head-nodder, with a funky little sitar sound, but not a big attention getter.  It's perfect to support fun back-and-forth freestyle rhymes, but it's not hit record material.  Fortunately, CF and Devaughn are perfectly suited to the task this track lays down, and as you'd expect from a Poor Righteous Teacher, it's got a strong vibe of spirituality and positive self upliftment.  Though Devaughn mixes the Christian spiritual aspect with game spitting in a pretty unique way, "I done made the devil mad because he can't get me, but I'ma move this here weight like Freeway Ricky."  Ha ha  Okay.  Maybe he meant "weight" metaphorically?  Like the knowledge he's imparting is his kind of weight, but he doesn't actually say that.  Anyway, Culture Freedom is a little more consistent in his messaging:

"'Ey yo, peep this,
While we do this, I'm gonna freak this;
Blow the devil apart in one million pieces.
Where you lack, in fact, that's where the beast is.
Givin' food for thought, so all y'all can eat this."

One detail to point out: the track-listing on the label is a little incorrect.  Grand Agent's is actually the last song on side A, not B, and Mel Ink's second track is in its place.  More disappointing is that this EP is made up of Radio Edits, with all the curse words censored.  It doesn't matter on the Culture Freedom song where he doesn't curse anyway, but that Grand Agent track is full of 'em.  And no, these songs weren't released on any other albums or singles; so it's censored or nothing.

All the songs on here are solid.  Ozzie Jones' is catchy.  But the real surprise is actually Mel Ink and DJ Razor Ramon.  Their two songs here are both killers!  And googling around, it looks like Mel Ink has recorded a few guest spots here and there (including one for Ozzie Jones' EP and a 2016 Grand Agent mp3-only album).  But god damn, this material should have lead directly to a major label record deal.  Mel is killing it, the production is brilliant, and Razor goes wild on the turntables.  Somebody needs to find and release their unreleased demos immediately.

All told, this EP has five songs, all of which are worth your time.  Grand Agent's is probably the weakest, but maybe I'd be able to get into it more if it wasn't hacked to pieces.  Ozzie and CF's songs are both nice, and again, those Ink and Razor songs need to be rediscovered.  We also get three of the instrumentals, including "Get Ya Mind Right" and one of the Mel Inks.  But it's a little frustrating, because it leaves you pining for projects that might've been but never were.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

People Dedicated To Original Hip-Hop

P*D2 stands for People Dedicated To Original Hip-Hop is helpfully repeated throughout this album's intro.  I learned about these guys when interviewing The Brothers Of the Same Mind for the release of their long-lost album on Dust & Dope Records.  I didn't have a hand in this one; I didn't even know it was coming until it had already been out for several months.  But these guys were another Seattle group who not only came up around the same time and occasionally worked with the Brothers, and were on the same label in 1990, Conspiracy Records.

The group consists of two men: MC 3-D and DJ 2Smooth.  They released a single or two of their own before recording a full album, but as their booklet explains, they "began negotiating with major labels. Then, in July of 1990, MC 3-D had to take care of some personal business that removed him from the rap game for a while. The talks with labels immediately broke up, and the album was never released."  But thanks to Ever Rap Records (the small Hip-Hop division of the Seattle rock label Ever Rat Records), that original lost album is now available on vinyl and CD.  Here it's titled DopeMuzik4TheHead, though it was originally announced back in the day as (Situation) Out Of Hand.

And it lives up to its title.  It may not be a "holy grail," but it's genuinely dope music.  MC 3-D has consistently clever rhymes and a delivery in the style of Ecstasy from Whodini, where he suddenly pops the words he's stressing very high (think of "Freaks," where he's like, "I started to jet, man, I don't have to take this").  The production is consistently tough but funky, with a lot of nice samples.  The one drawback is that you've heard most of those samples on other Hip-Hop classics already.  It turns out it's actually very difficult to listen to the instrumental to Rodney O & Joe Cooley's "Get Ready To Roll" without your inner mind screaming for the hook, "Yeaaahhhhhhhhh... get ready to roll!"  But you'll have that experience with "Crack In the Box" (though to be fair, this would've come out first in 1990). "Surprize" uses the same Grover Washington loop Grand Daddy IU used for "The U Is Smooth" and King Tee rocked on "Jay Fay Dray."  The single "Movement" is rocking over "Play That Funky Music White Boy."

But other tracks feature less recognizable loops, and are all the more exciting for it.  And it's all immeasurably enhanced by the fact that they've got a talented DJ (2Smooth who also did all the production) cutting up on nearly every song.  The subtle way they bring in the Disco Four's "We're At the Party" on "This Groove Is Movin" is a slick touch on an already really tight dance track, and his work at the end of "Movement" raises the level of the whole song by several notches.  Those two tracks were the singles and pure dance songs, but this album is varied.  "Trash Environment" has a serious message and a hard rock, electric guitar-lead track.  "Batteries Not Included" has a wacky set-up where they're toys in a mall, but when you pull their strings they're super rappers.  "Crack In the Box" is an anti-drug song, with various characters ordering drugs from a Jack In the Box drive-through for a hook.

One slight element of disappointment I feel is that the singles off of this album included a couple B-sides, which are not on here, specifically "On a Roll" and "No Bass."  Now, I can assume and appreciate those songs were always intended to be exclusive B-sides and never meant for the album, so they're not missing here, per se.  This is the album as it would have been released back in the day.  But given that the album is fairly short at only nine tracks, including the brief intro, I feel like they should've slipped 'em on as bonus tracks, at least on the CD (squeezing too much music on an LP starts to eat into the sound quality).  Those songs are already available on the original singles, so it's no great tragedy, but it would've been nice.

This album's been remastered and sounds like 100% full quality major studio recordings.  The LP comes in a full picture cover, and the CD comes on a pressed disc in a proper jewel case.  The CD booklet and vinyl insert includes a nicely written history of the crew.  Both are apparently limited to 500 copies each.  I love that lost music like this can still come out, and not just digitally, in 2022.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Last Word On Lastrawze?

Lastrawze is an underground, 3-man group consisting of Mr. Vibe, Grand Phunk and D-Rhythm.  The name is short hand for Last Real Authors With the Element.  They released a rare, and now highly sought-after cassette only-album called Instrawmental in 1995.  There was a 12" single, too.  They didn't get on my radar, though, until Dope Folks released their album as a 2-part series of 12" EPs in 2012.  Later, in 2014, Dope Folks released their unreleased demos (under their previous group name School Dayze) and some of Mr. Vibe (now known as Sim-E)'s newer material on two of their Killed By Def EPs.  I reviewed one of 'em here.  And most recently, they released another Sim-E EP in 2018.  So I basically just know them as a group Dope Folks really got behind.  Heavy Jewelz also got in on the action, though, giving the Lastrawze album a CD release in 2018, with two exclusive songs tracks, upping the count to 15 tracks.  But that was limited to 200 copies, and is pretty much OOP now.

So it's back on CD as a new edition from P-Quest Records.  But this time it's a Special Edition CD with 22 tracks.  Plus, there's actually a version that comes in a wooden box, which is limited to just 10 copies.  As they describe it, "Laser Engraved Wood & Oil Treated Wood contains the Limited Special Edition Vinyl-CD (NO-CD-R), Sticker and a mini press photo of the Lastrawze crew."  It was pretty pricey and it's already sold out, so good luck getting your hands on that if you're an uber-collector who needs it.  But for most of us, I imagine the regular special edition will do just fine.

So let's start by clearing up a few basic points:  1) This album is called Instrawmental, but it's not an instrumental album.  All the songs have full vocals just like any other crew's album.  It's just a clever title.  2) These guys are from Miami, but this isn't bass music or anything along those lines.  It's very much pure, underground 90s Hip-Hop like what would've been signed to Rawkus or Nervous back in the day.  3) The Heavy Jewelz bonus tracks are not among the new P-Quest tracks.  So this CD adds nine tracks (none of which are on the HJ), but you'll still need to find the Heavy Jewelz CD for the full 24.  But as we'll see, some tracks are more essential than others.

It's easy to see why this album's still in demand in 2022; it's super dope.  The guys have smooth flows, clever rhymes, cool voices and the production is tight and catchy.  "Big Respect" was their single; and yes, all three songs from the 12" are on every version of the album.  It uses the same sample as Eminem's "No One's Iller" from his amazing Slim Shady EP, but this actually came out first and dare I say... might actually be better?  I guess Em still has the tightest verse on this beat, but Lawtrawze out-rap Bizarre, Swift and Fuzz; and they make nice use of an Erick Sermon line for their hook.  And the whole album is up to this par.  "When the Smoke Clears" is just as tight but with more of a Pete Rock & CL Smooth vibe.  Trust me, if you're just dismissing Lawtrawze because you've never heard of 'em, check Instrawmental out.  It's pretty great.

But which version?  Obviously, if you can find an OG copy, jump on it, if only for the resale value.  But let's break down the different editions.  Dope Folks is still the only way to go if you want this album on vinyl.  The original album was 13 tracks: 12 full songs plus an intro.  DF's two EPs have six songs each, giving you the full album minus said intro.

If you've ever seen the OG cassette, though, it promised "Two Extra Tracks On CD."  Lastrawze themselves put out a CDR of the album in 2010, but there was still no sign of the two extra tracks.  Those are the two Heavy Jewelz found and included on their CD, "Down (4 Eva)" and "Sic Vs Fleet."  "Down" has some nice scratching, one element that you don't get a lot of on Instrawmental otherwise, but the sung chorus and production doesn't sound quite as polished as the rest of the album.  It's good, but you can see why it was demarcated as a bonus track for the CD.  "Sic Vs Fleet" is, as it says, just the guys trading verses with the Unknown Fleet (including the guy who was in School Dayze with them) over a dark track.  The production has a very grimy NY feel with freestyle flows, like something that could've come out on Fortress Records in their earliest days, which yes, is a big compliment.

Meanwhile, the 2022 P-Quest adds nine new tracks, but before you get too excited, several of these are radio freestyles.  One is basically just a radio soundbite that's more like a 30-second snippet.  But the freestyles are dope, and they choose compelling instrumentals, so fans will definitely enjoy them.  The Unknown Fleet guys come back on several of these, too.  It reminds me of the old Wake Up Show LPs, which, yes, is also a big compliment.

And to be clear, it's not all radio stuff.  There's also previously unreleased instrumental versions of "What U Deal With" and "When the Smoke Clears."  And most notably, they have another vintage, unreleased Lastrawze song called "Straze."  This one's produced by DJ Craze (every other Lastrawze song is produced by their own Mr. Vibe), hence the portmanteau.  Craze's production lives up to Vibe's, though the sound quality on this one's a little rougher.  Everything here's been remastered (and has been, going back to the Dope Folks records), but I'm guessing the source for this one was a little more rugged.  Same with the instrumentals, actually.

Oh, and this new booklet includes an 8-page reproduction of a vintage interview with the crew, too, which is a really nice touch.

At the end of the day, the original LP tracks are the greatest and most must-have tracks.  So any version you cop will be worth it.  But the bonus stuff is really good, too, especially if you're a serious Lastrawze fan.  If so, honestly, you'll probably need everything: the vinyl and both CDs.  But for many heads, especially those still introducing themselves to the crew, just getting the album back in print here will serve as satisfying and affordable way to get a physical copy, with some exclusives to boot.  ...Did I mention Instrawmental is a really dope album yet?  I'm sort of kicking myself for sleeping on it as long as I did, but mostly I'm just digging it now.  You all should, too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

UGSMag & Me

If you're a reader here, I hope you're also familiar with UGSMag.  They've been a great contributor to this online Hip-Hop game for ages, and one of the few remaining links on my Favorite Hip-Hop Sites widget after I just made another depressing cull of dead links.  They're supposedly based out of Austin, TX but always seem to be rooted in Canada, and started out posting great, original interviews beginning with SixToo back in 2000.  Then they switched to a steadier blog share format, but for underground Hip-Hop, sort of like if 2 Dope Boyz knew who Awol One was.  They also do podcast and radio stuff, but the blog has recently been put on "an indefinite hiatus, with our new focus being the UGSMAG print issues."

Yes, UGS is now a proper Magazine, coming out quarterly.  And I have a big feature in issue #2 that just came out.  It's a whopping nine pages!  And I got to interview Helixx C. Armageddon of The Anomolies, an interview I tried to make happen years ago for my blog, but couldn't get.  If you haven't heard, she's making a big comeback, and her - if you can believe it after all these years - debut solo album just came out last week.  So, as you can imagine, I had tons to ask about, and I think the piece turned out really well, if I don't say so myself.  Other pieces include interviews with Homebody Sandman, Fat Tony & LXVNDR, book reviews for Myka 9, Classified and DJ Screw, a piece on the 50th anniversary of the Technics SL-1200, and even a Canadian Hip-Hop crossword puzzle - it's not easy!  So check-a check-a check it out.  You can still cop issue #1 if you missed it, too.
Also, I know it's been a while since I've mentioned it, but that top secret, killer project with Dust & Dope Records is still coming.  There were issues with the test pressings and covers, and if you know anything about the quagmire currently going on with a very limited number of plants trying to press vinyl as the format makes a surprise comeback, you can imagine the nightmare delays.  This is why they didn't announce any street dates or take pre-orders.  But I understand we're close, and it's still definitely 100% on.  You're all gonna flip, and I don't say that lightly!  💪