Friday, September 3, 2021

Nick Broomfield's Repeated Attempts To Crack the Biggie & Tupac Murders

You know, there are like a million feature film posthumous documentaries about Biggie Smalls and 2Pac:

  • 2001's Tupac Shakur: Before I Wake
  • 2002's Tupac: Thug Angel
  • 2003's Tupac Resurrection
  • 2003's Tupac 4Ever
  • 2004's Tupac Vs.
  • 2006's Remembering Makaveli
  • 2006's So Many Years, So Many Tears
  • 2007's Notorious B.I.G.: Bigger Than Life
  • 2008's Notorious B.I.G.: Business Instead of Game
  • 2009's Tupac: Reckoning
  • 2009's Biggie Smalls: Rap Phenomenon
  • 2011's Tupac: Thug Angel 2
  • 2015's Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders
  • 2017's Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G.
  • 2021's Biggie: I Got a Story To Tell

And that doesn't even include their segments in Beef or other documentaries where they're just part of a larger story (Can't Stop Won't Stop, Inside Death Row, etc etc), or episodes of series like Autopsy or Unsolved that've covered the crimes that took their lives.  A&E ran a whole miniseries called Who Killed Tupac? in 2017.  Raise your hand if you've seen them all.  Hmm... nope, I don't believe you.

Anyway, there's two in particular I want to write about today, both made by the same man nearly two decades apart: Nick Broomfield's Biggie and Tupac from 2002 and his latest, 2021's sequel: Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac.

Nick Broomfield is an interesting character.  He started out in UK during the 70s making quite good, earnest films like Juvenile Liason and Behind the Rent Strike.  But he started slipping into trashier territory (Chicken Ranch), and his late 80's doc, an authorized behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway show that fell apart before it ever got performed, turned him into a different type of filmmaker.  The only way to salvage his film about a show that wound up never existing was to make himself and the disaster around trying to make a movie without a subject the actual subject.  So there's lots of himself on camera, recording his phone calls about the budget and arguing with the show's producers.  Contemporaneously, he and Michael Moore popularized that kind of semi-autobiographical journey-to-get-the-story documentary, where there's more footage of them being kicked out by security guards than actual interviews.  But, with his bent towards trashier subject matter, he wound up going the more tabloid route, making films about Heidi Fleiss or Sarah Palin where he's really the star.

But his films are still often quite compelling.  It's hard to say what his two documentaries about serial killer Aileen Wournos are about, exactly, but they're fascinating.  And you can see how slightly more credible and establishment-friendly filmmakers like Louis Theroux were kind of born out of his legacy.  So there might be a billion Tupac and Biggie documentaries fighting over the same scraps of legacy footage, but Nick's are unique.

Tupac and Biggie starts out with Nick being refused an interview with former police detective Russell Poole, who he explains retired over not being allowed to investigate fellow LAPD officers possibly involved in the murders.  Broomfield travels back and forth between NY and LA, looking like a bit of a sad sack carrying around his boom mic and sound recorder trying and failing to insert himself into the story.  Lots of footage of their neighborhoods is shot in passing through his car windows, and we get scenes where he walks into a barber shop asking if they knew Biggie and they tell him they don't want to be filmed.  He goes to a supermarket where Biggie worked as a kid and clumsily asks, "was he a good, uh, bag packer?"  He tries to buy unreleased 2Pac songs off a guy on the street, but the cassette breaks so we never hear what was probably a scam in the first place.  And he consistently mispronounces 2pac's name ("two pack") through the entire film.

Still, Broomfield eventually gets some credible interviews.  He asks his mom if his reference to growing up on a one-room shack in "Juicy" was true, and she tells us, "oh, well, to me, that's a part of an alter-ego, that's the rags-to-riches person that he wants to sing about."  Lil Cease turns up later, and they do end with a prison yard interview with Suge Knight, but only with the understanding that he wouldn't comment on Biggie or Tupac, and merely deliver his message for the kids (which boils down to, essentially, "people make mistakes").  Broomfield doesn't wind up with much evidence at all, or put what commentary he is given under much scrutiny; but he eventually lands on a theory based from the small handful of ex-cops who would talk to him: that Suge had some off-duty police officers perform both hits.  And sure, maybe, but it's pretty much all speculation and conjecture.  There's a lot of talk about highly valuable, damning documents that never quite turn up.  Frankly, it's not one of Broomfield's better films.  It's kind of boring, because it feels like Nick is never making much headway towards his goal, or even facing interesting opposition.  He just spins his wheels a bit then calls it a day.  So I was honestly quite surprised to hear he'd returned to the subject for a sequel, which is still playing in theaters now.

In the opening of Last Man Standing, Nick explains that since Suge has been put away, "people were now opening up to things I couldn't get answered before."  And... I guess?  We've got a lot of low level gang bangers eager to talk about how criminal Death Row Records operations were, but not so much about Biggie or Tupac.  It's all anecdotes from former bodyguards and ex-girlfriends about how Suge had one girl beat up another girl in his office, or bodyguards pretending some guy in a club had a gun just so they could rough him up and take his chain.  He doesn't really talk to any major players.  Suge's message was his biggest get in 2002 (and he replays that whole segment in this film), and this time I guess it's Danny Boy.  He doesn't have much to share besides background on Death Row, but at least Nick got him to come in to the studio.

Yeah, interestingly, this documentary takes a different form.  Rather than lots of footage following Broomfield down streets and into offices, this is mostly talking heads-style sit down interviews.  And there's lots of recycled footage from the previous film.  It isn't until about an hour in that we get to the night Tupac was shot.  Broomfield's theory has changed to a rival gang member having killed him, though he still thinks Suge had ex-cops kill Biggie.  In fact, he basically just replays Poole (who has since died after the first film) making the same allegations.  In terms of new revelations into the crime, I'd say Broomfield hasn't uncovered any big, new evidence or noteworthy information.  The point of this film seems to just be to make a correction to his first film, bringing it up to date with the current data and theories.  That's fine, but I don't think any of Broomfield's output is a particularly crucial source of information in these crimes, so I'm still left feeling a little puzzled as to why he felt compelled to revisit the topic.  If you trim away all the repeated footage, old clips and tangential filler, there's barely one documentary's worth of movie between the two.  But at least it feels like Nick's edged closer to the truth over the years.  Combined, the pair of films at least leave you with a decent overview of the facts as we know them.

It might be worth mentioning, too, that the Biggie and Tupac DVD features an audio commentary and interview by Broomfield, plus almost 45 minutes of deleted scenes.  But considering the large amount of padding left in the film, I can just imagine how inconsequential what they cut out is.  Actually, some of it's probably in Last Man Standing.  I'm sorry to say, even if you have a keen interest in the murder of Tupac and Biggie, and/ or consider yourself a Nick Broomfield fan, you probably shouldn't waste your time with either of these efforts.  There are plenty of other films to choose from.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Biz Week, Day 5: ...And He Rocks

Let's conclude with a really great single by Biz Markie that isn't featured on any of his albums, "...And I Rock," produced by none other than DJ Premier.  It came out in 2001, on Next Level Recordings.  That's a Japanese label, and they reason they have it is that it was originally recorded for an original compilation they put together called Next Level Vol. 1 (to date, there is no Vol. 2) that features both American and Japanese Hip-Hop artists.  There were some other good songs on there, including the original debut of Lord Finesse's "Down For the Underground," so you might want to track down the whole thing.  But even with stiff competition like that, Biz's song is a highlight.

And that's an important distinction to make, because not every Biz appearance is the joyful masterpiece you might expect.  I was originally planning to make a post about the Biz Markie guest spot disappointments, discussing things like the the feeling I got opening up the latest Beastie Boys album, seeing the Biz's name in the liner notes, only to finally hear the song and discover his contribution is just a vocal snippet of a live performance or some background ad-libs.  You know, depending which Beasties albums with a false-promising Biz appearance we're talking about, because there were several over the years.  You know, it's one thing when it's obviously going to be a skit, like when Biz is just one of many voices who appear on the series of brief "Phone Check"s on MC Lyte's Lytro album which were obviously not going to be actual songs, but it's an entirely different experience when you buy a DJ Riz 12" because the B-side is a track called "Riz Meets Biz," only to find out that it's just another telephone skit.  I decided against it because Biz Week is meant to celebrate, not bum us out further; but suffice it to say there are enough let downs, like Def Squad's "Just Rhyming With Biz" where, no, Biz does not in fact rhyme with the Squad, to bear in mind they're not all good, so we should appreciate them when they are.

And this one's a treasure that belongs in everybody's crates.  There's a decent B-side, too: "Interview" by Sadat X.  And no, it's not a phone conversation masquerading as a song, but a tight production by Da Beatminerz, also from Next Level Vol. 1.  It had actually been previously released on his famous Wild Cowboys album years before, so I don't know why the heck Next Level put it on their thing.  Even the instrumental had been released on 12" before.  So "Interview" is a cool song, but the Biz is why we're here. 

This is really the period where fans and artists alike were sitting by the phone, waiting for Premier to call with a new track.  Each one was a killer, he was pairing up with the hottest artists, and it was before he started spreading himself too thin and started letting some sub-par beats into MCs' hands.  And this is a perfect example of everything we wanted: instantly catchy, funky loops with slick but not too complicated scratch hooks.  Don't let the title fool you, this isn't some electric guitar-laden experiment with Ted Nugent or anything.  Just tight drums, a funky little pager sample and big, big horns.

And Biz is just kicking light, freestyle rhymes, including a story about battling Superman that feels like a throwback to the days of "Rapper's Delight" and "Jam On It."

"Me and Superman, we had a fight;
I punched him in the face with all my might.
Punched him so hard he fell to the floor,
Picked him up and ragged him some more.
Turned around and who did I see?
It was Lois Lane, she was lookin' at me.
She said, 'yo, Biz Markie, you are the best,
'Cause you knocked the S off Superman's chest.'
She took my hand and led me to the room;
We smoked three joints and cracked a quart of brew.
I looked at her and thought she was fine;
I knew the deal: what was on her mind.
We took off our clothes and clicked off the light,
And rocked the bed 'till the sky was bright.
When it came to the break of day,
She said, 'yo, Biz Markie, why don't you stay?'
I cooked her some breakfast and orange juice;
That's one thing I couldn't refuse.
After I ate, I kissed her goodbye.
She said, 'woo, Biz Markie, you're one Hell of a guy!"


But this isn't just a collab between Biz and Preemo; verse two features another MC, someone called Black Indian.  Who's that?  He's a rapper from Washington, probably best known as a member of the jazzy rap crew Opus Akoben. He had a brief solo outing on MCA Records at the time.  And this was when Biz was connected to MCA through his membership of The Flip Squad All Star DJs; so that's probably how they came work together.  Anyway, Black Indian and the Opus guys were pretty dope, but on here, he just feels a little boring and out of place.  I'm sure everybody would've preferred constant Biz from beginning to the end of the song with no one getting in between him and Premier, but oh well.  He doesn't ruin it or anything.

But before we sign off on Biz Week for good, well, you know here at Werner's we like to dip into the more obscure end of the pool.  And this song made a pretty big splash when it was released.  So let's dig a little deeper.  Did you know Black Indian's MCA solo LP, Get 'Em Psyched!! The Album, also featured Biz Markie?  It actually came out first in 1999, so the story probably goes: MCA got Biz to appear on BI's album, and then Biz turned around and put him on "...And I Rock."

However it came about, this Black Indian song is pretty great, too.  It wasn't released on 12", but the album was released on CD and vinyl, so you can you can get it on any format so long as you're willing to spring for a whole album to add just one song to your collection.  I mean, the rest of the album's alright, too, so it's not like you're buying trash, but it's kinda forgettable overall.  Songs like "Hoe Card" and "3 Strikes" are kinda limp gangsta material, but the lead single/ title track and "Fight Song" perk up when they get a little more energetic.

But the crown jewel is easily "Makin' Cash Money," where Biz is also the co-producer, alongside somebody named Monty.  It loops that unforgettable, bassy Herbie Hankcock riff that Digital Underground used for "Underwater Rhymes," Busy Bee used for "Kiss My Ass," etc.  So you know, it's just a tried and true, classic old school groove, which is exactly the kind of track you'd want for a Biz guest appearance.  You know, some of his other stuff is a little more street, but this is definitely Biz's kind of song ("together we be rockin' most definitely"), and yes he gets a proper verse, not just some background stuff or a silly hook: "I get cheers like Norm but don't drink no beer; soon to be elected MC of the year.  I'm not Billy Dee, or R. Kelly, or Markie Dee, or B.I.G.  I'm a little somethin' like Heavy D, 'cause the girls, the girls, they love me!"

So if you were already hip to "...And I Rock," there's another fresh Biz Markie joint you can track down.  And if you haven't already got it, stop sleeping immediately.  My copy is clearly a promo, but there's also a more widely distributed retail version with a sticker cover and the same track-listing: vocal and instrumental versions of both songs.  It really should be on one of his Greatest Hits albums, but for some reason it's not, so...

R.I.P.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Biz Week, Day 4: Biz Markie & DJ Polo

Imagine if things had gone a bit differently, and instead of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, the pairing was with another Juice Crew All Star, Biz Markie.  We've been given a quick glimpse into what that reality might've looked like thanks to a 1998 song called "Calander[.sic] Girl."  Of course, this isn't the first time the two collaborated, with Biz famously appearing on Wanted: Dead Or Alive's "Erase Racism."  But here we finally get the two alone, to see what sort of music they might've created if left to their own devices.  Or maybe not, but it's still an interesting curiosity to add to your Biz collection.

The only worse solo breakout than Eric B from Rakim has to be Polo's from the Kool Genius.  At least Eric stuck to trusty soul grooves and Freddie Foxxx as a ghost writer.  DJ Polo decided to hitch his wagon to porn star (and now alleged sex offender) Ron Jeremy?  But actually, listening all the way through his 1998 album, Polo's Playhouse, it's not all bad.  He has a nice scratch intro and does use a few familiar grooves, like Eric B, though this time recycling some of his own hits by reusing the classic beats to "Road To the Riches" and "Talk Like Sex."  And he has some good guests, including Roxanne Shante, Melle Mel, Scorpio and yes, Biz Markie.

Actually, I want to talk some more about this project overall, because it's weird.  First of all, just like Eric B, when he went solo, Polo also became the lead MC on his project.  If you look at the list of guests, you could be forgiven for thinking he's just the producer/ DJ/ host of his album, but no, he's the lyrical front-man now, too.  One of his most prominent seeming guests is Ice-T, right?  But actually Ice just ad-libs a few words between Polo's verses.  And my god, what is up with that MSPaint album cover?

It also has to be pointed out that there are two versions of this album.  Polo's Playhouse only came out on CD overseas, via the German label Black Jam Records (the same label that put out the alternate version of Big Daddy Kane's Veteranz Day).  In the US, we got a couple singles, with the lead Ron Jeremy track "Freak Of the Week" getting the broadest distribution, plus the music video and everything.  But we didn't get the full album until the early 2000s, via Bunny Ranch Records, when it was reworked, losing a few songs and gaining a few.  These CDs are pretty rare, as you pretty much had to order them via snail mail through the Bunny Ranch website, though CDBaby handled the digital distribution and may have sold physical copies through their website at some point, too?  I'm not 100% sure on that.

Anyway, this one's been retitled Bunny Ranch Volume 1 (there has yet to be a Volume 2), and all this Bunny Ranch stuff is about a Nevada brothel that was featured for a time on an HBO series called Cathouse.  So this album drops a few of the more street-sounding songs from Polo's Playhouse and replaces them with more goofy party sex songs featuring Ron Jeremy, plus some radio guys named Budman and Boomer.  See that woman on the left?  That's Madame Suzette, apparently a prominent feature on the HBO show, and she actually has a solo song on this version of the album.  She's as awful at rapping as you'd expect, but I don't imagine we're meant to take this whole project too terribly seriously.  I mean, I hope so, because Ron Jeremy fucking sucks as an MC.  The only credible addition to the cast is Greg Nice, who appears on "Goin' Down On the Bunny Ranch" along with Polo and Jeremy.  It doesn't appear to be online anymore, but there was actually a music video for that one, too, which I downloaded back in the day.  Anyway, it's the worse version of the album, but it's the rarer, so you might want to snatch it up if you come across a copy in the wild.  And anyway, "Calander Girl" is on both.

You probably noticed from Biz Week, Day 3 that a lot of peoples' big idea to make use of Biz Markie is to have him sing old songs.  I guess comically.  We'll see more of the in Day 5, too.  And yes, "Calander Girl" is a modern day Hip-Hop remake of the old 60's Neil Sedaka song.  But in a happy surprise, Polo doesn't have Biz sing that song for the hook.  Instead he samples it and mixes it into a funkier Hip-Hop track, reminiscent of the kind of song Mr. Mixx would produce in his prime, and actually lets Biz rap.  But not first.  Polo takes the first verse, doing a seemingly deliberate (since he even names drops him) Fresh Prince impression.  He actually does a decent job capturing that playful kid-friendly style, and then comes back at the end of the song for a more natural, smoother verse.

But Biz steals the show with the central verse, which is by far the best.  The song's got a really cool bassline and catchy samples that anyone could sound good over, but Biz's personality and humor shines doubly through:

"What's your name?
It's Biz, I film my TV shows in Cali;
Still meetin' girls like When Harry Met Sally;
But I never met a freak this fly
As a calendar, calendar girl, who represented in July.
I met her at this club and she couldn't dance,
But her implants made my bulge jump in my pants.
I wanted to take her home and kick it solo,
But she had a friend so I called my man Polo.
Ooh! You shoulda seen how we did it;
Those two freaks of the weeks, they be wit' it.
The lovin' and bonin' and hittin' the skins.
Well, these are a few of my favorite things.
Yo, we took 'em home, you better believe that it was cool;
We did the wild thing, drinkin' Snapple by the pool.
The calendar girls got busy for a while,
As me and Polo did it (How'd ya do it?) New York style."


Even thought his song was recorded for and included on the 1998 version of the album, you can see that Bunny Ranch material was already ingrained in that original version, and Biz was happy to play along.  It's certainly a novel glimpse into the far more playful alternative universe where Biz and Polo had made their albums together.  Their sensibilities seem much more aligned than the mafioso direction G Rap wanted to go in, though maybe Biz would've wanted to keep things a little cleaner than dirty-minded Polo here.  The song even has girls (presumably some of the "bunnies" from the ranch, but who knows?) providing sexy voiced ad-libs throughout the whole thing.  Unfortunately, this song wasn't included on any of the singles, because its own of the few highlights really worth owning.  They should've made a little "street" vinyl EP with the Melle Mel, Shante, scratch intro tracks and this song.  But oh well.  You can usually find the Black Jam CD pretty cheap, and it's still worth it for the highlights, especially this song.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Biz Week, Day 3: The Soundtracks

...Or, more specifically, The Soundtrack Exclusives.  Because plenty of Biz Markie songs have been featured on film soundtracks.  "Nobody Beats the Biz" was on New Jersey Drive, "Make the Music With Your Mouth" was on The Wood, "Just a Friend" was on The Wackness... but these are old, licensed catalog songs that had already been available for years on his albums.  Although the version of "Just a Friend" on The Book of Life soundtrack features an original beat box introduction by Cheech Marin, which makes sense if you've seen the film.  But by and large, these appearances were of no interest to us Biz fans who already owned all these songs for years.  A few songs have been exclusive to the soundtracks,though, and those were... well, mixed.

Space Jam 2 is the big movie of the summer right now, I guess, so let's start with the original film's soundtrack.  1996's Space Jam features a remake of the KC & the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)" by The Spin Doctors feat. Biz Markie.  Another reason I'm starting with this one is it's the most forgettable, so let's get it over with.  The Spin Doctors were a 90's indie rock band who had one big hit on MTV called "Go Ahead Now" or something, and they turned a fun disco song into more of a rock anthem.  It's not terrible, because the original is strong enough to survive any interpretation, and this version has some nice, strong horns on it.  It's produced by Rashad Smith, and the Biz?  He basically just sings the original song.  Yeah, he never raps or comes up with new lyrics.  He does some quick human beat boxing at the start, which leads you to believe he might be providing some cool percussive elements to this remix, but he's immediately replaced with traditional studio drums as soon as the music starts.  It's listenable enough, but only the most die-hard Biz Markie completist would ever put this one on instead of the original.

Speaking of weird collaborative remakes, 1996 also gave us The Great White Hype soundtrack, which brought with it a cover of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" by Lou Rawls and Biz Markie.  It's produced by Marcus Miller, who turns Cole's 30's tune into a super smooth, slow groove with a lot of catchy live instrumentation.  Lou Rawls gives Porter's words a much deeper, more soulful feeling, almost making it classier than it has any right to be.  But lest things turn too jazz club lounge roomy, Biz Markie gets on the track and yes, this time he gets to rap, which kind of relegates the original Porter lyrics to just a hook, but that's okay.  When Biz gets to declare, "well, bring in the band, baby," and all the musicians kick in, it's beautiful.  Then Biz starts singing back-up for Lou and Lou even raps!  Finally, Biz slips in a cool, laidback beatbox at the end.  I could've maybe done without the Roger Troutman-style slide whistle (ugh! the 90's!) and the line "she got me open like Fallopian tubes," but overall it's a kick.

1996 was a big year for Biz Markie soundtracks, because here's one more: "I'm Hungry" from the movie Phat Beach.  And what's exciting about this one is that it's not a cover of any old timey non-Hip-Hop song and it's not a collaboration with any non-Hip-Hop artist or anyone.  This one's an original, solo Biz Markie song.  He even produced it himself.  Boom bap beats and a little sample.  The subject matter is exactly what you think it is as he wails, "I'm hunnngry!  Please feed me!  Need something in my belly, 'cause I'm hunnngrryyyyyyyyy!"  Biz's raps are fun and he really sells the anguish in his delivery as he begs for somebody, anybody, to feed him.  It's not a Greatest Hit, but it's just a good, solid Biz song that would've fit in perfectly on any of his 90s albums.

Our next noteworthy soundtrack appearance was in 1999, another collab, this time with Canibus; and another remake of a classic non-Hip-Hop song, this time the 1970's country anthem "Take This Job and Shove It" by Johnny Paycheck.  This version's titled "Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee" and it's on the Office Space soundtrack, produced by Salaam Remi.  You can predict the formula for this one: Canibus raps original lyrics and Biz hams up the original country lyrics for the hook.  But the production is kinda funky and catchy (including a creepy vocal sample from the film itself) with no instrumental hints of its country western origins.  And here's the thing about Canibus; I know he's considered to have fallen off and all, but he can do certain kind of records really well: fast-flowing, hard hitting, high-concept, syllable-packed battle raps.  Listen to "Beasts From the East" - his shit still holds up!  He just got into trouble when he tried to branch out into... just about anything else, from "Stan Lives" soliloquies directed at Eminem to all that Fugees folk music stuff.  But this song surprisingly works!  The rhythm works with his staccato flow and his verses are actually a rather smart and relatable take-down of life under capitalism, "about an hour from now, you should be at your place of employment, which is annoyin' because it's so borin'.  Your co-workers keep talkin' too loud for you to ignore them; it effects your occupational performance.  You wonder why your workload is so enormous?  Because your boss just laid off three fourths of your whole office."  I only wish Biz had a verse and wasn't just relegated to hook man.

And that's been about it, until recently.  In 2019, the popular cartoon series Adventure Time released a crazy soundtrack boxed set, with like 3 LPs, a 10", a CD and a cassette.  And somewhere on one of those LPs is a Biz Markie original, entitled "Gooey Gangsta."  Unfortunately, this has no vocals.  Or at least no verbal vocals.  It's Biz Markie beat-boxing over some very synthy, spacey freestyle instrumentation.  Biz puts in an impressive, varied performance, but I can't say it's worth throwing down the $75 they were charging for a massive box of childrens' music just to get one neat but brief Bizstrumental, let along the several hundreds of dollars people are charging for it now that it's out of print.

And if you're looking to shore up your collection efficiently, it's worth noting that there's a fairly common bootleg EP that features two of the best ones: the Phat Beach and Great White Hype songs, plus the previously covered "Odd Couple" and a couple other good Biz songs on one cheap 12" white label.  Just a tip.  ;)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Biz Week, Day 2: Biz North Of the Border

Here's one I bet very few of you guys checked for: Len's third album features not one but two appearances by Biz Markie.  Who?  Len is a Canadian alternative rock band, essentially a brother and sister duo whose first video was this.  That's the sum of the research I'm willing to put into these guys, because I don't care a lick for that type of music.  I first heard of them when everybody else first heard of them, as they're largely known as a one-hit wonder for the song "Steal My Sunshine" that blew up from the soundtrack of 1999's Go.  I don't care about that crap either (though it is kinda catchy thanks to a big disco sample at its core), but it got them signed to Columbia, where they took their newfound celebrity and major label budget to delve into Hip-Hop.

DJ Moves, who's been the DJ for Josh Martinez, Tachichi, Knowself and like a dozen other noteworthy Canadian Hip-Hop artists, joined the group and they released their third album, You Can't Stop the Bum Rush.  Now Len is working with all sorts of credible Hip-Hop guys like Mr. Dibbs, Moka Only and Kurtis flippin' BlowThe lead singer changed his moniker to D-Rock and started rapping (sometimes)Edit: slight correction here, thanks to GitMunny on Twitter.  The lead singer took on the alias Burger Pimp, and D-Rock is an MC from Hip Club Groove, another crew Moves was a part of.  Buck 65 was their tour DJ and was asked to officially join the group.  He declined, but he's still depicted on this album cover (that's him lurking behind the lamp post) and does some cuts on the album, which is what drew me to the project.  I wasn't expecting all this other rap stuff to be on it, including not one, but two songs with The Diabolical himself.

The first is a fun, semi-instrumental tribute to classic Electro-Hop, and alternates between Biz doing the human beat box and Mr. Dibbs.  For vocals, it mostly just has very old school vocoder raps about Biz's history with The Juice Crew.  The girl sings a little on the hook, too; but it all sounds fresh with no hints of Len's early 90s alt rock origins.  Usually a problem with a song where an artist you like collaborates with one you don't is that you wind up with a song meshing good and bad qualities together, which still spoils the whole thing.  You know, you might try to appreciate a dope verse, but how often are you realistically going to revisit a song where you hate a good portion of it?  This song doesn't have that problem, it's genuinely good stuff through and through.

Then the next track is "Beautiful Day," a more 90's style Hip-Hop track with some really funky production.  I want to give all the credit to Moves, but from reading the notes and all, I don't know.  The actual Len guys might have some genuine talent for this stuff, too.  Either way, it's surprisingly funky.  D-Rock takes the first verse and it's nothing amazing, but he comes off well enough.  Then Biz sings the hook in his distinct "Just a Friend" way.  But the song really picks up in the second half, which is 100% classic Biz:

"Party people in the place, I'd like to tell you a tale
About a high powered girl, her name is Gail.
She's a funky fresh girly; she ain't stale.
Every time I see her she makes me hard as a nail.
I was chillin' at my house drinkin' ginger ale
Watchin' Monty Python and the Holy Grail
When I got a phone call, it never fails.
It came all the way from a college called Yale.
I said, 'hello, pretty mamma. What's up, female?
Let's go on a cruise, or go on a sail;
But at first let me call my man named Dale.'
I called him, but he was in jail.
We both went down and paid his bail.
It came back three weeks in the mail.
But one thing, I forgot this last detail:
That the Biz Markie will always prevail!"

Len's follow-up single was a throwback posse cut called "Cryptik Souls Crew" that's also better than it has any right to be, but that was the end of their time on Columbia.  Dreamworks almost picked them up for one album, 2002's We Be Who We Be, which was never actually released.  But promo copies exist, and the Biz appears on that album, too!  It eventually got placed on a later album called Diary Of the Madmen.  The song's called "Let It Slide," and it's a singing duet with the sister half of the duo.  It's also awful, so don't worry about tracking this one down unless you're a completist.  But there are enough good parts to You Can't Stop the Bum Rush that it is worth picking up cheap.  In fact the whole first half of the album is full of surprisingly slick, head nodding production.  Then the second half turns to rock junk.  But at least they put all the cool, Hip-Hop songs together so you can easily listen to all the guests and turntablism in one sitting without having to constantly ride the dial.

Now, if you need this on vinyl, you'll have to track down a rare, limited picture disc, which is the only option... but I'd advise against that unless, again, you're a hardcore Biz completist.  The good parts of the album still aren't that amazing.  But the market's flooded with CDs, so you can get it pretty cheap.  And it's surprisingly worth it.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Biz Week, Day 1: The Diabolical Vs. Humpty Hump

Every post in this series is dedicated to the great Biz Markie, who we just lost this weekend.  And instead of just repeating the typical biographical details every news site is busy copy & pasting from wikipedia, I've decided to take a look at some of the many overlooked Biz Markie B-sides and guest appearances that even some of you dedicated fans may've slept on.

This is a tragedy compounded by the recent loss of another Hip-Hop giant, Shock G, who also just passed this April.  So when I was putting together my list of the tracks I wanted to tackle this week, this one jumped out at me right away: "The Odd Couple" from Digital Underground's 1998 album, "Who Got the Gravy?"

I feel like most audiences kind of wrote Digital Underground off when they got dropped by Tommy Boy (sales numbers seem to demonstrate that pretty definitively, anyway).  But Shock's skills never waned, as proved by the number of highlights that pervaded on the later, indie albums.  Albums which, frankly, might outshine the last Tommy Boy LP, despite the absence of some of their secret weapons like DJ Fuze or Saafir2Pac, obviously.  In fact, the first thrill of opening any DU album was racing through the credits to see who the collaborators were this time.

So the elevator pitch for "The Odd Couple" is that it's a battle between Biz Markie and Humpty Hump.  Obviously, this is a written together, all in good fun kind of "battle," more along the lines of "The Sugarhill Gang Meets the Furious Five" or "Kid Vs. Play" than anything you'd see in 8 Mile.  But that's exactly what you want in this scenario, a play fight between two of the purist spirits in our genre's history.  They're going back and forth dissing each other, but it's all in fun: "2Pac is the only one that was livin' large, and Humpty, your nose is like a two-car garage.  I know you got soooouull!  I heard you don't eat pussy, you be eatin' bootie hole."

Yeah, it's silly and guileless, but it's not scrubbed clean for the whole family.  There's an Explicit Lyrics sticker on that cover for a reason, and it's sometimes surprising where the two of them take it, "no, my nose be in her bootie; my tongue be in her vertical smile.  I heard your sister had sex with Gomer Pyle."  And the first time you hear a Rodney King line, it comes off as a little edgy, and maybe of questionably dated taste.  But as they keep bringing him back up throughout the song (the chorus even), you start to realize they're slipping in something a little subversive under the radar.  And there's more going on than just a play-fight to keep the kiddies amused, "yeah, that's cool; y'all doin' your thing.  But look what they did to that man Rodney King.  They beat 'im and stomped 'im like a bunch of grapes.  When I seen him he looked like The Planet Of the Apes. / Yeah, you're right, police don't act tight, but in the riots, yo, California niggas wasn't scared to go at po-po."  Like, whoa, they got serious on us all of a sudden!

And the production couldn't be better suited.  It's got that slow, chunky kind of groove that plays right into Biz's delivery like "We Write the Songs," but with sparse horns and a slightly funkier, flusher tone that's, of course, classic D-Flow.  Seriously, I think a lot of heads would be surprised to hear a track this killer on a post-Tommy Boy album, but here it is; Shock and the gang never lost it.  This is some of their best work from both of these guys, and it's on an album people hardly check for.  Well, if there's ever been a time for rediscovery, this is it.  Get the whole album, because while it was released on 12" (as a B-side for "The Mission" with Big Pun), that single's only got the clean versions.  And these two don't keep it clean on this one.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Snagglepuss Legacy Continues


(Fourteen years later, and we're back with more Snagglepuss! Lost, unreleased stuff and a brand new album. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

TDS Mob, music videos and live performances

In conjunction with DWG, who released all four of these videos on their Treacherous, Devastating, Supreme DVD, I've uploaded the TDS Mob's 1989 music videos and live performance videos to Youtube.  Some classic Boston Hip-Hop history and killer material that more than holds up to this day - enjoy!

"TDS Scratch Reaction" official music video
Live at Lee School
Live on Exposure Video Magazine
"What's the World Coming To?" official music video

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Apparently Lost West Coast All Star Posse Cut

Here's a fun 12" that's curiously still not on discogs: DJ Dirty Harry's "West Coast All Star Re-Mix" from 1999.  If this is your first time hearing of this record (and apparently for many people it will be... this is just something I picked up when it was new and had no idea it would become so obscure), your first question is likely, "Re-Mix of what?"

Well, to back up just a little bit, Dirty Harry is one of those ubiquitous mixtape DJs whose stuff you'd see on every bootleg mixtape rack on the east coast alongside DJ Juice, Craig G, Clue, Kay Slay, etc.  By the time they filtered down to me in central Jersey, they were usually just sold in plain, colored construction paper sleeves with the title on the spine and track-listing on the front so you could hunt for the particular exclusive songs you'd heard on the radio and were desperate to own.  If you were lucky, the DJ produced an original intro with some scratching and interspersed a few exclusive freestyles by the latest It MCs, but mostly this was just music piracy on the cheap.  Get all the latest songs, barely touched by the supposed turntablist, crammed onto one 90 minute tape.  That was the game, and like a lot of the major players in the scene, Harry parlayed that into getting into the music industry and producing some major label stuff, and I think he might've been on the radio for a hot minute.  But we probably still remember him best for those tapes.

So yeah, that's who DJ Dirty Harry was.  And as the mixtapes really started exploding across the country, you started to see vinyl pressings of freestyles and remix highlights from those tapes that warranted more careful preservation.  Think of those Tony Touch's 50 MCs or the Wake Up Show Anthems.  That's what this is.

So to go back to our opening question, "Re-Mix of what?"  The answer is his "East Coast All Star Mix," a posse cut more akin to the WUS Anthems in the sense that it's a fully produced song with all these guys on it than just quick freestyles spit a popular instrumental.  That one is on discogs, and it's got a pretty compelling line-up consisting of: N.O.R.E., Big Pun, Lord Tariq, Cam'Ron, Ike Dirty, DMX, Peter Gun, Fat Joe and Method Man.  If one of those names doesn't sound so recognizable as all the rest, don't worry, we'll get to him.

But for whatever reason, this one's at risk of being lost to the sands of times, so I'm covering it.  It's got an almost equally compelling line-up of artists, consisting of: Ice Cube, Ike Dirty, E-40, Ras Kass and DMX.  Okay, the line-up's a little shorter, and DMX is probably just here again because Harry had fewer west coast connections than east coasters.  But it's still pretty exciting, and surprising it's become so neglected.  Like I said, it's a fully produced posse cut featuring a hard, if slightly generic, track with these major names sharing a mic over it.  In fact, it's a very tough, thumping east coast-style beat; it catches you off guard to hear someone like E-40 flowing over it.  But everyone makes it work.  Or maybe Harry makes it work for them.

Like a lot of these mix-tape and radio show exclusives, a lot of these verses wound up on the artists' albums.  E-40's, for example, comes from "Hope I Don't Go Back" off The Element of Surprise album.  That came out in 1998, meaning Harry got it second.  It was also released on 12", with an Acapella version on the B-side.  Ice Cube's verse is from "Pushin' Weight," which was a 1998 12" with an acapella on the promo version.  Ras Kass's is from "H20 Proof," DMX's is from Ice Cube's "We Be Clubbin'" 12"... You get it; the jig is up.

So okay, this song is a mash-up of acapellas over a presumably original Dirty Harry beat.  But it's still pretty cool and worthy of its white label pressing.  I'm still enjoying it today in 2021.  I'd recommend it if you could find it inexpensively, though I guess that would actually be a challenge.

Oh, and who's that Ike Dirty dude who managed to be both an East and West Coast All Star?  Well, I'm sure it's no coincidence that the B-side to both the East and West Coast 12"s is a song called "One Mo' Time" by Ike Dirty.  Yes, both 12"s have the same B-side.  Ike Dirty is actually Isaac Hayes' son, who was doing the rap thing for a while in the late 90s and early 2000s [or maybe not - see the comments!].  Ike had an album on Select Records in 2002, and a number of 12" singles.  This song isn't on it, though, it's an exclusive, so that's nice if you care about Ike Dirty as an artist at all.

And, honestly, there's no reason why you shouldn't.  It's a pretty tight track, and Ike kinda kills it.  Okay, he may not be anyone's Top Five, but he has a solid, aggressive flow and a nice rhyme scheme.  It's an unexpectedly nice instrumental, too, co-produced by Lord Finesse.  Seriously, the big names on the A-side are selling this record, but after repeated listens, the B-side's even better.  It might smell like nepotism, but Ike Dirty was no joke.  He put out some other dope singles and later teamed up with the equally underrated Jinx da Juvy.  He's not to be slept on, and this is one of his better joints.

Yeah, this little record's full of surprises, and I'm really glad I've decided to pull it out of my crates and revisit it.  Maybe after this, some sellers will look in the back room and realize, "oh yeah, I've got a few copies of this," and it'll start spreading around again.  Because it's good stuff.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Attack Of the Weirdo: Fatboi Sharif

Look what I just got my hands on: the second album by Fatboi Sharif, this time with producer/ partner Roper Williams (who also had a track on Ape Twin).  Well, "second album" in terms of what's made it to actual, physical releases.  If you dig into his bandcamp, he's got several additional digital releases.  But as any regular readers of this blog can tell you: mp3s don't exist.  So by my count this is album #2.

Anyway, this one's titled Gandhi Loves Children, presumably a reference to the unfortunate revelations about the less public-facing side of the beloved icon's life.  It's a line from the album's opening track, "Tragic," which poignantly spells out the many sad ironies of our generations' lives, "Nazi amusement, Columbine shooting, race stunted, depressed, raped woman, T.W.A. Flight 800... Malcolm X' achievements uneven, Nancy Benoit let's have a family meeting, slave plantation for nine days, waiting for Kanye, Paul Walker on the highway!"

Yes, as you can see, the inscrutable listicle song-writing of his last EP is back, which can feel a little frustrating, like thoughts aren't allowed to fully develop and flow into each other as whole ideas.  It's a distinct and not ineffective style, but the parade of non-sequiturs and pop culture references ("cartel crime, Dark Man kind, Attack Of the Jack-O'-Lanterns, RL Stine") can run a little long.  Depending on your state of mind, it can be a pro or a con that sure footing his hardly found in this collection of free-floating, seemingly stream of conscious topics.  Songs seem like they're just loosely connected by themes.  "Nasty Man" is nothing more than a fun excuse to spit some dirty bars ("sex with an obese female makes my mind sick, swallow blood, spit out a quick John Wick, Sounds of Blackness, bible chapters, what the hell, came back as grape Sour Patch Kids, deep in a Volvo, horny, bitch named Bulimia throws up on me"), while "I'm Buggin'" seems to just be an exercise in saying the wildest shit possible ("pedophile brain surgeon, untamed moment, Malcolm X and Jeffery Dahmer's the same person").  "Fly Pelican" makes a terrific-sounding hook out of a classic Cuban Link/ Beatnuts guest spot, but I'm not sure if it has any significance besides sounding cool.  "Murder Them" stands out as a particularly powerful track about violent retribution against police brutality, but nothing else is as focused.

I don't want to make a habit of complimenting one artist by throwing shade at another, but Fatboi is sort of the artist I hoped Bizarre was going to be when he first came out with Attack Of the Weirdos.  He's in that intellectually lyrical Young Zee-mode of assembling complex word schemes you'd never have thought could sound so good together.  He's definitely got the fantastic imagery influence of the Cella Dwellas, too; but he mixes it with a personal earnestness.  In a lot of ways, from the superficial look he's got on the album cover, shirtless with the crazy female wig, to the substantive, with his open wound delivery, he really is in Bizarre's ideal lane: a (more than) slightly demented poet with a dark, twisted sensibility teetering on multiple edges at once.  But where Biz would slip into simple bars, easy punchlines and predictable subject matter that more often than not let down the expectations he'd set up (every topic devolving into random blowjob descriptions and still making Eminem/ Mariah Carey references in the 2020s), Sharif never takes the easy roads.  Instead of feeling like he banged out an entire album in 24 hours, it feels like Sharif spent months slaving over this project and honing each moment.

[In fairness to Bizarre, I have to say that while writing this, I spent the last couple days diving through Bizarre's music videos, as I hadn't really followed his solo work in a long time.  And the stuff he's been doing for the last year or two seems considerably better than what he'd been coasting on for the past 7-10 years.  Some of his new stuff's intriguing and I might wind up back on board as a Biz fan.]


Anyway, like on Ape Twin, Sharif just has a couple of guests: two relatively unknown MCs, YL and Pootie, and somewhat surprisingly, NY underground's L.I.F.E. Long. All three do an equally good job of adding some variety to the project while still fitting in smoothly enough that they never disturb the tone of the album.  Pootie comes the closest, but none of them manage to outshine their host.  Stylistically, I'd say Sharif's mastered the game as far as it can go (though never say never, let's see what he comes up with in the future!), but content-wise, I'd like to see him dig a little deeper into some cohesive subject matter, at least sometimes.  I'd hate to lose the madcap freestyle rhymes!  And he's already making songs to rival the top guys in the industry, so there's really nothing to complain about.

That includes Roper Williams' production, which is perfect.  I mean, first it's just objectively really good.  But it's also an ideal match for Sharif's flow, a rich soundscape that sweeps through a wide range of tones.  There's a killer instrumental short called "Xavenstein" where I'm only sorry that we didn't get to hear an MC ride it.  That's one of two tracks that aren't full songs, though none of them are very long.  The average length is two minutes, which might almost be annoying (ending before you'd like them to) if each song didn't transition so naturally into the next.  And it's not because they're radio blended or otherwise forced into each other mixtape-style.  They've clearly put a lot of care into the sequencing, turning this into a real album and not just a collection of songs that happened to be recorded in the same period.

Gandhi Loves Children is of course downloadable as a digital release via all the usual channels, but it's also available on CD, which comes in a stylish digipack that you can order here, or on cassette, which I believe is only available directly through the artistApe Twin was an exciting debut of a clearly talented young artist, but this is a more fully realized project that belongs in anybody's collection.

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.)