Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Great Hip Hop Hoax?

Boy, it's been ages since I've done a Hip-Hop movie review, huh?  I miss 'em, and I recently stumbled on one that riled up my interest: a 2013 documentary called The Great Hip Hop Hoax.  Right off the bat, I think your first question is, what would constitute the great Hip-Hop hoax?  Eric B taking credit for Large Professor productions?  MF Doom sending out imposters to perform his shows in the mask?  The Made Men's Source coverage?  Joaquin Phoenix again The Top Shelf 88 albumToo $hort's 1996 retirement?  Iggy Azalea's accent?  Willie D's iphones?  Tim Dog's boxed set?  All these seem too small-time to constitute the great Hip-Hip hoax.  So, what could it possibly be?

Well, the disappointing aspect is that it's actually smaller time than any of those.  It's about how rap duo Silibil N' Brains lied their way into becoming a major success story.  But I've certainly never heard of these dudes, and I think any of you visiting my blog would at least attest that I tend to know of even many of the more obscure groups, right?  It can't be too impressive of an industry success story if you the documentary has to tell you how huge they supposedly were.

That said, this film isn't entirely pulling its premise out of its ass.  Apparently these cheap Eminem knock-offs did lie their way into a record contract with Sony Music, wasting a lot of money before their album was scrapped (hence their obscurity).  This feels a lot like Hot Karl's Interscope story (and musically, they sound a lot like Hot Karl, too), but with an extra twist. The gist is that these are two young rappers from Scotland, and after flopping an audition for Warner Bros, they went to London and claimed to be from California.  And once people believed they were American rappers, everybody gave them a break they couldn't get as Scots.

It's kind of interesting.  The filmmaker gets substantial interviews with the two guys, their girlfriends, and even the executives who signed them.  Hot Karl's signing wasn't based on a lie he had to keep up at all times, so that definitely gives these guys' story a more novel twist.  They always spoke in fake accents.  At one point they claimed to be friends with D12 (why they didn't pick a California-based group is beyond me), so their label had them open for them when they came to the UK.  And they had to keep making excuses to stay in England because Sony wanted to bring them "back" to the US to record their album, but they couldn't reveal that they didn't have America passports.  So it's kinda fun.

But it's ultimately spread a little thin.  The biggest thing these guys seemed to do was a single interview on MTV's Euro channel.  If these guys had hit records out and fooled millions and billions of adoring fans for years, this would be a great hoax.  As it is, it feels like a 30-40 minute story stretched out to a feature film-length running time.  And it doesn't help that this film seems hellbent on positing that these guys were talented enough to be huge stars, but bias against Scottish rap was holding them back.  So, by pretending to be American, they were exposing the industry in a big way.  But we hear their music throughout the doc and they suck.  Their flows and production are passable, in a shameless knock-off kind of way, but their constant punchlines are painfully contrived and lame:

"If she didn't drop to her knees, your mom would have a huge bust.  And when she wears a yellow coat, kids think she's a school bus.  She ain't fat, though, she's just humongous boned.  From space she looks like a country on her own." 

Eminem would never write that, and he should be insulted by the comparison.  And that quote is one of the ones this film highlights to show just how talented and clever they were.  "Rappers having no fun are no one; they're probably coming out more overdone than Posh Spice and David Beckham's son."  Somebody shoot me.

This film also struggles because it was made long after the pair's story had ended.  So they weren't able to film any of the events as they happened, instead relying on lots of cheap Flash animation to tell large portions of the story.  And this doc doesn't exactly dig deep.  Like, if they want to show that the music industry is prejudiced against Scottish musicians, they could've talked to other acts from Scotland who could've talked about the struggle to break out of the local scene, or how they even wish they could've faked being American to gain access, too.  Or interviewed the D12 guys and asked if they remembered their meeting with Silibil N' Brains.  Or just... anything.  It feels like the whole doc is centered around two guys at a bar telling us what a big deal they were and we have to take their word for it all.  Worth a quick watch, I suppose, but surely we have greater hoaxes than these two.

Monday, September 9, 2019

DJ Premier's Mystery Medley

You guys can thank Will for this post.  😎  The answer to his question is: not quite.  But I do have the M.O.P. "World Famous" cassingle, which has the exact same track-listing, including the mystery song in question.  I totally didn't remember this, so I was excited to run and check if it was on my tape.  It's interesting; this came out in 1997 and is kind of the last major single of their second album, Firing Squad, but it feels a lot like a lead single. 

Here's where I am with M.O.P.  They're great, but once you have one or two records, you kind of have them all.  Like, they don't have a great range, and they put together some nice bars (that sometimes go under-appreciated by audiences who just get into their hooks and shouting), but it sort of feels like they're either remaking the same song with slight variances, or they're experimenting in a bad way... remember when they were going to front a rock band in the early 2000s?  But, that basically means, you don't need to keep adding new M.O.P. records into your collection, unless they happen to have a really great beat.  And "World Famous" has got it.

It's produced by Jaz (yes, the "Hawaiian Sophie" guy), and it's just a really great loop.  It's surprisingly kind of mellow for the Mash Out Posse.  I mean, yeah the drums snap kinda hard, but it feels like an old 70s soulful track.  But thankfully, the guys play against that and come really high energy and hard, which works perfectly.  Lyrically, it's pretty much just them selling themselves to us ("Hardcore was raw but we got more to hurt 'em. Firing Squad all up in your district.  Last album was phat, but yet some missed it.  But they gone get with this shit.  Who's in the house?  It's the last generation, real ill niggas from the 'ville you be facin'.  '96 flava for your neighbor; how ya like us now?"), which is one part of what makes this feel like a lead single.  It feels very "wait'll you hear our upcoming album," though it had already come out in '96.

Anyway, that's on here as the Album Version, Instrumental, Acapella... and something unique called "World Famous/Downtown Swinga" (Video Version)."  That's because they did one of those music videos for two tracks at once, where they play half of each song to get both out there for the cost of one.  Plus, DJ Premier produced "Downtown Swinga," so even though "World Famous" had the more addictive beat, I think they wanted Premier's name, because he was really becoming recognized as a selling point in the mid 90s.  But listening to halves of a song is nowhere near as satisfying as listening to whole ones, so I can't say this is too exciting.  In fact, I don't care for that whole practice at all.  Let's move on.

Because we're here for the fifth and final track on this single, anyway: "DJ Premier Medley," which is not on the album or anywhere else.  It's nothing super essential, so don't get too excited, but it's interesting.  It's a mix by DJ Uneek of Crooklyn's Finest (not that Uneek), and like Will guessed, it is a medley of Premier MOP songs, but far from all of them, or even a greatest hits.  Only tracks from Firing Squad, so in a way, it plays like "snippets," which is another reason why this all feels like a lead single.  But it's better than snippets, it's a genuine mix and Uneek really does something on the turntables, including lots of cuts and some juggling.  It's more than just radio blends.  It starts out with "Brownsville," then you get a little of the "Stick To Ya Gunz" instrumental before diving into "New Jack City."  It's definitely not a reason to run out and track down the 12" like some lost Premier gem; I can see why I forgot all about it.  By the time the single came out, I already had the album with those songs, so the value was mostly just in Uneek's cuts.  But it's kinda neat, and at least makes the single a little more interesting.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Two Essential King Sun B-Sides

In King Sun's catalog, there are two essential B-sides.  To be clear, that means the song in question must be exclusive to a single off one of his five albums to qualify.  "Universal Flag" is a dope song on the B-side to "Be Black," but it's also on the Righteous But Ruthless album.  And "In Pursuit Uptown" is a dope song on the B-side to "Sippin' Brandy," but that's not connected to an album, so the whole 12" is already essential in its own right.  I'm talking about the 12"s you still need to get, even if you've already got the album, because of these hot B-sides.

Up first is 1987's "Mythological Rapper."  This is on Zakia Records, and in fact is his very first single.  The A-side with D-Moet, "Hey Love," eventually found its way onto his debut LP on Profile, XL, but for whatever reason, they left this one off.  Based on its title, you might expect something like Kool Moe Dee's verse Olympian from "Get the Picture:" "Aphrodite would freak as her knees get weak, and Venus would peak off every word I speak. And Zeus would get loose, fully induced, and I'd make Apollo's rhymes sound like Mother Goose. And by night's end, Mercury is so hyped he'd spread the word that there's a god on the mic."  But nah, it's just King Sun going hard over a tough beat by D-Moet and Cut Master DC.  The premise is just that fake MCs, or mythological rappers, need to suffer the brunt of his battle raps.

I've heard speculation over the years about who he's dissing on this record, but I'm convinced this is just general "sucker MC"-type targeting.  Lines like, "see, I'm waitin' for one of you to slip up and make a mistake; just to mention my name, that is all it would take," suggest these shots are open to anyone who dares step in front of them.  And who he's talking over the course of his many bars (this is a seven minute song with six or seven verses) keeps changing.  At one point the "you" is a woman he's talking sex smack to: "I get the booty hole warm like the quiet storm; I go to work and go berserk and work you out your skirt.  You really dig me 'cause I'm thick, but then you think it would hurt.  But see, you told me you're a woman, I guess you can hang; don't blame it on me if I hurt your thang."  I mean, I could be wrong, but I hope that's not directed at Big Daddy Kane or Rakim!

Admittedly, that brief diversion is more the exception than the rule.  It is mostly battle rhymes.  But again, things he says keep suggesting he could be talking about anyone who crosses him: "rappers are cryin', cussin' and swearin', calling me names, but I can't hear 'em.  They always get nervous every time I go near 'em.  Soft like tissue, fear is the issue.  Just when you least expect that I'll diss you, I'll take away your title, I'll make you bow.  I'm the King and I have spoken, and I mean now; so drop to your knees and lower your head; don't think about repellin' one word I've said!"  Of course I'm familiar with subliminal disses, but I think sometimes we just want the drama too much and force ourselves to find it.  But don't let your blood lust for a good diss record cause you to miss this strong little record.  The beat's pretty raw, with smacking drums and bells, with a simple, stuttering "mythological, mytholog-mytho-myth-mythological" vocal sample for a hook.  But they don't really cut it up 'till the end of the song.  All in all, it's better than a lot of the stuff that made it onto XL; I'm surprised they left it off.

Then there's no other B-sides to worry about until Sun's second album.  Now, this one's interesting.  "Be Black" was the big, lead single off Righteous But Ruthless, but "Big Shots" was his less acknowledged second one.  "Undercover Lover" is actually the B-side on this record, which is far more well known.  That's actually the song they made the video for, and yes, it's on the album, too.  The B-side I'm singling out here is actually a 12" exclusive remix of "Big Shots," and you'll never guess who it's by.  Funkmaster Flex!

The original "Big Shots" is a really tight narrative crime rap, that's equal parts "Road To the Riches," "A Children's Story" and the final verse of "The Message."  Right from the jump, "Once upon a time there was a big diesel kid who just got sprung from a ten-year bid.  Ten years is a long time; he left as a pup, but came out as an adult, about to act up."  There's just some great writing in here like, "you dissed him and you just got smoked, then he'd take your spot and leave your family broke.  Even 5-O was petro and wouldn't even act up; to give him a ticket, they'd have to call in for back-up."  And it's the details that really put it over similar crime stories: "never again would homeboy go thirsty 'cause he bought a mansion in Paterson, New Jersey: the house that was owned by Lou Costello.  At the age of 25, life was so mellow; a father of four, each had different mothers.  That's to my knowledge, might've had others."  It's a predictable but effective rise and fall tale all set to a classically atmospheric "Nautilus" loop produced by King Shameek, who cuts up a tried and true "Gangster Boogie" vocal sample for the understated hook.

Yeah, the one weak spot of the song is that, lyrically and sample-wise, we've heard it all many times before.  It's so pure, though, you wouldn't want to replace it with a remix.  But revitalize it with a whole new energy that turns it into a hyper companion piece?  Yeah, that could work, and a pre-Hot 97 Funkmaster Flex did just that.  I can't even pull out all the samples that're thrown into this pot (though I do recognize a little Trouble Man).  King Sun adds some new adlibs ("yo Flex, we're livin' extra large"), but the story's all the same.  However, this is a much higher energy and denser track, and of course Flex is cutting up on the hook; it feels like an entirely different story.  If you want the best telling of these lyrics, the original version does still suit it better.  But this mix is hot enough that you'll need it in your crates, too.

And other than that, the albums and the two isolated 12"s ("Sippin' Brandy" and "New York Love") are all you need.  There is some later-era 12" with exclusive remixes of his "Pimp" song with Ice-T, but I definitely wouldn't file that under "essential."  Of course, you still might want his other 12"s for their instrumentals or just as collector's items for hot songs.  But these are the two, and surprisingly, they don't seem to get much shine.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

You're the Journal, He's the Journalist

(I’ve had a new record sitting here for a month, unplayed, because if I wound up not liking it, it was gonna really bum me out. I finally broke it open. Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Box Cutter Buzzz Is Back

In 2017, I wrote a post about The Box Cutter Brothers making the move to release their latest (at the time; I think they've since done a vol. 5) album on vinyl.  Well this summer, one half of the Cutter duo, Drasar Monumental, is back with his solo debut; and I'm happy to report it's also on vinyl.  And this one's interesting, because Ayatollah is certainly the better known of the pair, with an unquestionable track record, having spent decades producing hot tracks for artists like Bee Why, Screwball, Inspectah Deck, Cormega, Tragedy, The Dwellas, Mos Def, Master Ace and the list goes on and on forever.  So it was a pretty safe bet the Box Cutter albums would be at least fairly solid.  But Drasar doesn't share much of that history; and outside of the Brothers' collaborative albums, he's really only done those (admittedly pretty sick) MF Grimm records before.  I mean, even I could make a good record with that man as a partner (the secret? Delegate, delegate, delegate).  So the big question is, without Ayatollah, how's Drasar going to stand on his own?

I won't keep you in suspense - I was really impressed.  Production-wise, he opens with his most impressive cut, "Bells."  At this stage, the label "90s throwback" may be as much of a repellent ward as it ever was an alluring siren's call - I love me some old school Hip-Hop, but I don't want the genre stuck in the past.  However, when something sounds this good, labels like that don't even matter.  This song obviously brings Lord Finesse to mind, as it uses a substantial, two-line vocal sample from his "You Know What I'm About" for the hook.  But it would bring Finesse to mind anyway, because this fits in perfectly with his early 90's production aesthetic; the track, which literally loops up some smooth bells, could easily have been the B-side to "Hip 2 da Game," if Finesse hadn't opted to go the hardcore posse cut route.  But then this song kind of winds up going that route, too, as two-thirds through the instrumental entirely flips and becomes a rough sonic attack with aggressive battle raps. And while I'd say Drasar's strongest suit is his production rather than his MCing, he's still capable on the mic.  You know, think of rapper producers like Diamond D, Showbiz, and Extra P.

But once that opening track switches from smooth to gritty, it pretty much stays in that lane... which I suppose is more in line with what you'd expect to hear looking at the album cover.  But the lyrics start to get more interesting on these harder core tracks, anyway.  "Fine Art of Survival Part 2" (the first part was an entirely instrumental song on Box Cutter Brothers III) gets into some serious sociopolitical subject matter that adds some welcome weight to the project:

"No bank deposits.  Now my girl's actin' awkward,
'Cause with no money in America, they treat you like you're damn near retarded;
So I went to college, with no money.
I was hungry; became difficult for me to study.

Now the situation's lookin' ugly; my own family don't fuck wit me."

The content resonates perfectly with the beat.  Again, sometimes his lyric writing can be a little awkward - he opens the above verse with the old line, "I was so poor I couldn't afford to pay attention."  But the fact that his bars aren't super polished actually in a way works in his favor.  Like this is just real talk from a regular man, not some clever rhyming jester who's packed every line with three bits of wordplay and a pop culture punchline.  "The Murder Game" is a rather cutting take down of your small time neighborhood criminal, a theme he follows up on and broadens out for "Snake Mode," which makes clever use of a Whodini vocal sample.  Then "Perpetrator Overkill" and "Unpredictable" kick us into pure battle rhyme territory, with two killer beats reminiscent of those classic early Rebel Alliance records, right down to the scratch hook (which Drasar also does himself).

Yeah, it's just those six tracks.  Hardcore Overdose Sessions is basically an EP with no absolutely no filler, but then all the instrumentals are included on the flip filling it up to a full LP length.  As you can see, it comes in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-themed picture cover, pressed on burgundy wax.  There's also a CD version with the exact same track-listing, including the instrumentals.  The label is pretty cool, making the CD look like a 45, with little three-dimensional ridges so you can feel the grooves.  You can cop both from vendettavinylvietnam.com.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Doin' It Well

It's been seven or eight months since we've heard from Whirlwind D, but he's back in 2019 with a new record, and like he tells us in his very first line, he's "still doin' it."  This is a single, released on 7" by his regular label, B-Line Recordings, and I think you could say it's a bit of a personal anthem.  The title is "Doin' It," but "Still Doin' It" might've been more fitting since it seems to specifically be about keeping thee enthusiasm and passion for the music over the years and challenges, "my knees getting battered, hairs out my nose and my hearing's all shattered, six pack's gone and complexion's all tattered, but the funk's still fresh and you have to admit Specifik, Djar One and D, we're still doin' it!"

If you're at all familiar with D, or my coverage of him, Specifik should be a very familiar name to you by now.  He's been a regular producer and DJ on D's projects who consistently does good work.  In fact, he runs B-Line Recordings.  But on this track, he's just doing the (essential) cuts.  The producer is that other guy, Djar One.  But you should recognize him, too.  He produced the lead track off of D's last EP, "Labels" (which Specifik also did the cuts on).   This is a much higher energy, hyper track, but it's just as much of a killer beat, and the cuts are a big part of its drive.  It's also got a sweet little breakdown; the perfect kind of instrumental for an anthem; you can definitely see why this song was picked to be a single.  Though you can see from just the few lyrics I cited, it runs a little deeper and more personal than just your average "I love Hip-Hop" theme.

And of course there's a B-side.  This one's also by Djar One and Specifik, but this time they switch roles, so Specifik's the producer and Djar One does the cuts.  And as you'd probably guess, this one's a bit slower.  It's called "Sometimes" and tackles online issues.  Now I have to say, usually I'm fairly put off by internet-themed rap songs, because it typically feels like a cheap novelty.  Like "hey, I made the first song about reddit!  The rhymes you wrote get a downvote while your mama gives me Karma."  Or worse, it'll be some kind of corny nerdcore flow over a Halo sample.  But this is a serious discussion:

"Centralized views peddlin' fake news
Shuttin' down all arguments by shoutin' abuse.
Confused by the profuse researchers who reduce
the internet searches to hunches and views.

The age of information, later greater integration,
Proliferation nation right back to segregation.
When will it stop?  When will we see the truth?
Am I just as bad, falling victim to abuse?

...
So what's the conclusion in all this confusion?
Intrusion of illusion leaves seclusion and delusion.
Excusin' the fact that I'm hit with so many views,
Where should I go for my daily fix of news?
I just want the truth, a healthy dose of debate.

Analysis paralysis some people who equate;
Freedom is a right to speak when not bullied.
Acceptin' the fact that I might never not fully
Understand other thoughts, whether bought or sold,

Despite middle-aged a fixed mindset folds.
Scold myself hard for not reading all the cards
As they fall to the table leaving other suits barred."


I like the way he eases in and out of dense, almost "New Rap Language" wordplay and more earnest, direct communication with the listener.  It syncs up perfectly with the funkier, but still rather bouncy track.  It's serious subject matter, but lightened up by the hook, which is an ever-changing collection of rubbed in vocal samples of classic rap lines containing the word "sometimes."  You could just as easily ignore the message and just play the game of trying to pick them all out.  Depending on your mood, you can engage with the song in completely different ways.

Anyway, as you can see above, this comes in a full color picture (and sticker) cover.  Again it's a 7".  I'm not sure if this single is leading up to another album per se (nothing's written on the back cover like "from the forthcoming..."), but knowing Whirlwind D, even if it is, at least one of the tracks here will remain an exclusive to this particular record.  So don't let this one pass you by.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ladies HaveAComplicatedRelationshipWith Cool James

(Six female MCs issued four answer records to LL Cool J in 1987, and they each had a distinct point to make.  Youtube version is here.)

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dig On That

Look out!  Werner's just been spotted writing out in the wild again!

Have you guys ever heard of Dig Mag?  I don't mean the corny lifestyle website that first pops up when you google "Dig Mag," I'm talking about a dope little magazine about crate digging and hard to find music, i.e. just the kind of stuff anybody looking at our humble site here would be into.  It's relatively new - they've got five issues out so far - and they get a lot of cool DJs and music writers to contribute tales of finding rare vinyl.  And, well, I'm in it.

They publish out of the UK but they get writers from all over, and they cover all genres of music.  You can imagine I don't have a lot of stories to share about obscure Salsa 45s, but they've just come out with their first "Dig Deeper" special issue, focusing exclusively on Hip-Hop, and appropriately enough, that's the issue they reached out to me for.  You can see all the contributors in the picture, including some familiar names to regular readers here... I mean, there's Oxygen, an artist I was just writing about a couple posts back!

Now, when I called this magazine "little," I mean that literally.  It's the exact size and shape of a CD. It's 32 full color pages (I think the average issue is 24, but the special's 32) and the layout is really slick.  See how it's like a record in a crate?  The crate is a plastic cover, and the issue slips out of it.  You'll see.  Anyway, I have a 2-page spread in this issue.

And obviously I'm not a big mp3 guy, but the other thing about Dig is that each issue also includes an online mix of all the music talked about in the issue.  Not all of it's super rare or anything, but for example, DJ Format included an unreleased MC Shy-D I was excited to hear for the first time.  And for my part, I won't spoil the exact record I cover, but I'll just say I had to figure out a way to rip a full quality, white label-only DITC-related track.  And no, it's not Ground Floor, but if you put together that guess, I'm proud of ya.  😎

Anyway, I think it's pretty cool, and not just because I'm in it.  They're also putting out their first 7" record, too... although I'm pretty sure the guy behind Dig has released records before under a different label name.  Anyway, I'd recommend starting with the Hip-Hop special, and then check out the rest if it's up your alley.  It's definitely more of a thing, I'd say, for serious enthusiasts than just casual music fans.  It's just coming out this week, plus you can get back issues and reprints of the first couple issues that've already sold out at digmag.co.uk.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Newark Denominated Clik

A long time ago, I did a video about an important underground Jersey single by the Newark Anonymous Clik.  They're best known for Outsidaz affiliation, with AzIzz and the legendary Slang Ton as featured members.  Some of the other guys in their crew made names for themselves on the solo tip, i.e. Omega and Supreme C.  But here's a lesser known single by a lesser known NAC member, U'Seff Majjid, which definitely deserves a little more attention.  Released in 1999, this came out on Landlord Entertainment, the only other record they put out besides the Clik's.

For whatever reason, before I heard this record, I'd gotten the impression it was some sort of pop jazz infusion thing or something.  And that "featuring Incogneto" was some kind of sax player.  But nah, I don't even remember where I got that notion from, but it's way of base.  This actually a fairly rough and very dirty record.  Yeah, of course with "dance floor" in the title, it's on the club tip.  But Majjid is still coming with a skills-forward flow.  It's basically a shamelessly explicit sex record, produced by the one and only King Shameek.  Like, think of something The Terror Squad would put out; it fits in that sort of thin vein between the streets and radio.  And Incogneto is actually a female MC, there to throw every sex reference back in Majjid's face, only to double down on it.

"Down at the chateau, shakin' my ass like a rattle.
I love it in public spots; it gets me hot.

(You lickin' my cock?)  Only if you lickin' my twat!
And my clique robbin' while the crowd's heads bobbin'.
Gettin' ya nob slobbed? My nigga is out robbin',
Mad as fuck 'cause he couldn't get in the club,
Thinkin' of partyin' while I'm on the dance floor fuckin' the thugs."

But don't get me wrong; it probably sounds like I'm really impressed with this track, but not really.  Like I said, it feels like generic Terror Squad to me, not one of Big Pun's lyrical masterpieces, but just one of those records a couple of the junior members would do together.  It's passable, but the reason I felt this record is worth looking at today is definitely the B-side.

"Gunz and Ammo" is the 90's hardcore kinda joint fans of the NAC would be looking for.  The A-side was just an attempt at a little crossover buzz, and the B-side is the real.  Still produced by Shameek, this one just has Majjid going off.  He's definitely no Slang Ton in terms of clever wordplay, but he has his moments here, "somebody should speak to y'all before you be speakin' to God."  The beat's a little flat, and the hook is stiff, so this isn't like a hit-worthy underground track, but we're on the right track.

Because there's one more song to go.  The labeling makes it look like it's a remix of "Gunz and Ammo," but it's actually an entirely different song called "Newark Killa'z," which is definitely the best of the three.  It's spelled out as the "Raw Anthem Mix w/ Love," but it's not like there are other mixes that've been released anywhere else.  Love I guess is just the guy speaking on the intro, because the song is just Majjid going hard solo, and this time the track is (produced by Heavilee Armed, a low-key street alias of The Hollywood Impact).  Who knew he could make a rugged, ominous beat like this - it thumps - and Maj really impresses here, finally proving how worthy he is of standing alongside his better known Clik members.  This would've drawn attention on mixtapes back in the day, but I don't think many DJs ever heard it.  It's for sure the song to cop this 12" for, and it can usually be found super cheap.  NJ aficionados shouldn't sleep.  It comes in a sticker cover, and we get dirty, clean, instrumental and acapella versions of both "Sex" and "Guns," though just the one version of "Killa'z."  Googling around, there seems to be a CD version, too, with an identical track-listing; but why wouldn't you choose the vinyl?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Divine Beings are Winner!

On Three Times Dope's somewhat maligned second album, they flipped a killer sample from a Curtis Mayfield/ Impressions classic called "We're a Winner."  It's just one of those loops, with a perfectly subtle bassline playing underneath a completely catchy guitar, horn and... xylophone(??) riff.  You know, just one of those loops that blows your mind and makes you want to hear it over and over again.  But lyrically, though EST is of course a great MC, it's kind of a flat narrative rap about relationships.  Not exactly the kind of hyped up, skill flexing flow you want to accompany such a fresh, high energy break.  So I was excited two years later when Ali Dee, the white kid from The Next School who became one of The Bomb Squad, wound up using it for his lead solo single, "Who's da Flava."  He's on a higher energy tongue-flipping freestyle flow like you'd hope for, and it's got a pretty funky scratch breakdown.

Let's face it, though, Dee's a bit corny.  So I was excited to buy the cassingle, but once I really dug into it, it fell a little short.  I still played it a bunch (it helped that he had G Rap drop a guest verse on the B-side), but it could never really hit the spot.  Someone still needed to come around and really rock the track right.  And that's when the Divine Beings came out.

The Divine Beings are the two people you see on that picture cover up there: The Wizard (the dude on the right) a.k.a. Air Smooth and Da Gr81 (the girl on the left).  They were a duo out of Philly who dropped their first indie 12" in 1992.  I never discovered that record until many years later, though, thanks to the internet.  I, like most of us, first encountered them when they were briefly signed to a major and came out with this "Funky Ultimatum" single on Warner Bros' Reprise Records in 1993.

There's actually a step in between their first single and their Reprise single, but again, I didn't know about it at the time.  They first released this 12" on 4x4 Records.  Then Reprise picked it up to give it broader, nationwide distribution.  The 4x4 had an exclusive B-side called "Sounds of Hip-Hop," but this one had a cool picture cover and more mixes of the title track.  And the title track was the one I was amped for anyway, because that's the one over "We're a Winner," with the best MCing to date.

The Wizard, who co-produced this with Kwame, does the majority of the rhyming, and I believe, the cuts.  He's on a fun, tongue-twisting freestyle tip very much in the same vein as Ali Dee.  But apart from a few limp, dated punchlines ("we make more noise than Bugle Boys"), he's just a little nicer on the mic, and definitely less corny.  Then, to really sell this song, Gr81 comes in and kills it with a smooth if not downright sultry, jazzy vibe.  Think of Jean Grae on those Herbalizer records, when she was still known as What? What?.  Just a short verse but it's niiiice.

At least on the Extended Version.  The Single and Radio Edits, also on this 12", and even the one they had the video for, actually cuts out Gr8's verse.  It's just like when they cut Ice Cube out of "Express Yourself" - The song still works without it, but seriously why??  Anyway you cut it, though, this is one must-have single, and thankfully their easiest to find cheap, because of Reprise.

Unfortunately, though, it wasn't the break-out success it should've been, and Reprise dropped the Beings.  Gr81 wound up appearing on Kwame's last album.  In fact, I asked about her in my interview with him, and this is what he said: "Oh, the GR81. She was an artist outta Philly that I was trying to develop. She was dope. I was working with this AIDS awareness repertoire group that I did some appearances with and music for. And she was one of the kids in the group. Well, she wasn’t a kid, but she was one of the people in the group. I thought she was kinda hot, so I said come on this album and let’s do a duet. That’s how that one happened." And that's about all we got from the Divine Beings... until Dope Folks released a bunch of tracks from their shelved album on vinyl a couple years ago.  Kwame's on the intro and one of the tracks features an early appearance by Black Thought.  All the Divine Beings stuff was dope, and it's a real shame they're still barely recognized to this day.  They're certainly the best to ever rock this "Winner" loop.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Nice Little Rarity from Oxygen and Edan

Jamille Records is back, and if you haven't seen it yet, check out their amazing documentary on old school Milwaukee Hip-Hop.  This time, though, they've broadened their coverage to reissue some rare music from Staten Long Island artists Sputnik Brown.  Although, actually, their last record - MC Just Divine "Get Right," back in 2015 - was from them, too.  It's a little confusing if you're not a devoted fan, so I'll quickly clarify: the lead MC of the group Sputnik Brown is Oxygen a.k.a. MC Just Divine a.k.a. Jon Shaft.  So nowadays, you see those names getting tossed around interchangeably because they're all the same guy, except for the fact that Sputnik Brown is the group, so it also includes members E the 5th, plus Tres Best and Musa from the House of Reps.  You've probably seen their projects being brought to you by labels like Diggers With Gratitude and Slice of Spice.  I've covered 'em a couple times in the past.

Now, this right here is their latest, but if you're familiar with Jamille, you know they primarily specialize in reissuing rare and lost music, and this is no exception.  The title track "U Havin' Fun Yet?" is the opener from Sputnik's 2007 12" single on High Water Music.  The 12" was a group project, but this particular song was an Oxygen solo cut.  Anyway, it's not suuuuper rare, so I'm a little surprised to see it repressed on 7" already; but it's a super funky head nodder, with a powerfully addictive bassline and upbeat flow, so I'll allow it.  It's a short song (just over two minutes), so even on the 7" they include the instrumental on the same side.

But this certainly doesn't render that original 12" obsolete, as it leaves off the group's two B-sides, "Unadulterated" and "The Brownout" (plus their instrumentals).  So if you're a real fan, you'll still have to track that one down and cop it.  And they're all good songs.  But of the three, I'd say "U Havin' Fun Yet?" is easily the best.  So if you're just looking for a nice little 7" with a hot song, this'll do ya.

The draw for more serious collectors, though, is surely the B-side: "Idealism" featuring Edan on the turntables.  "Idealism" is a song Oxygen released as Jon Shaft on 12" in 1992, but that only featured alternate mixes.  This particular version is the only one with Edan, and was never pressed on wax until now.  It's actually a live recording, performed in-store at Academy Records.  Up 'till now, it's only been available on super rare cassette tapes that Oxygen self-released of the entire night's performance.  Here, the song's been isolated and mastered as a single.  It is a live recording though, so sound quality isn't crystal studio quality.  For the most part, it's pleasingly clean, but you'll definitely hear the sibilance crackle when the volume peaks.  But it's the absolute best we're ever going to get until the invention of time machines.

And hey, if that still isn't enough for you, this record also includes a tight radio freestyle Oxygen kicked in 2006.  So it's a pretty packed little 7".

Like basically everything nowadays, this is a limited release, but not too limited.  There are 500 copies available on traditional black vinyl, and an additional 100 pressed on colored goldish brown wax.  It comes in a nice sticker cover, replicating the original 12" artwork.  And it's not one of those $100-type limited releases; this is priced to move and getting a surprisingly wide release for Jamille Records, i.e. Fat Beats has it.  So hopefully this record introduces the crew to some new fans.  For a tiny 45, it's got something for everybody: newcomers just discovering these guys for the first time, and die-hards who already have all the old stuff.  Good deal.  👍