Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Chevy Chase On the Mic Gettin' Physical

It's April Fool's Day, gang, and once again, I'd like to present to not waste your time with a fake gag post but present you a very real, incredibly silly Hip-Hop record.  How about, oh, I don't know... Chevy Chase's stab at rapping from 1980?  Yes, that Chevy Chase, from Vacation, Fletch and Caddyshack.  1980, of course, is quite early in the days of rap records, and his song is called "Rappers' Plight," which, of course, is a riff on The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."  Now Sugarhill's record had been such a phenomenon that Chase was hardly in original territory to take a stab at "Rapper's Delight."  Female rappers Xanadu and Sweet Lady had already released a female version in 1979 on Joe Gibbs Music and there was a Canadian parody 7" released in 1980 called "Rapper's De Feet," where yes, they rap about feet.  There's also a curious cover version from Panama by a group called the Yimiyon Gang, but I'm not sure quite when that was released.

Anyway, it's not that surprising to see Chevy Chase take a stab at releasing an album.  This was after his time at SNL, and The Blues Brothers had already blown up.  Plus, he already had a history in the music industry before he became the Chase we know today.  He started out in a band called Chameleon Church, who released a major label album in 1968, and he was even the drummer for Steely Dan before they became famous.  So it was almost inevitable when he released his own self-titled album on Arista Records, which was even produced by one of the major musicians behind the Blues Brothers, Tom Scott.  And unlike some other SNL alumni who went on to release records, Chase was at least smart enough to stick to joke songs.

Such as it is.  I mean, "Let It Be" is just a straight cover of The Beatles' original, except his voice is pitched up, a la The Chipmunks.  And it doesn't get much funnier throughout.  A lot of the humor just comes from inserting drug references, and I think it's fair to assume this was all recorded under a variety of influences.  So his version of "I Shot the Sheriff" goes, "after toking all the PCP."  He has a parody record of "Short People," which was already a joke record, but he just inverts it.  So instead of "short people got no reason to live," he lists reasons why they're actually better off.  He does a version of "Wild Thing," where the whole joke is that he's crying as he sings the lyrics, and in the chorus he blows his nose.  I think one of the problems is that like when other comedians release albums, they want to prove that they’ve got genuine musical ability, too.  So the clever lyrics we're hoping for often take a back seat to indulging these guys' jam sessions.

But we're here for "Rappers' Plight."  And the good news is that you don't have to cop the whole Chevy Chase LP to get this on vinyl if the perverse sensation ever takes you.  The only single released for the album was "Short People" b/w "I Shot the Sheriff," and that was only on 7".  But there's a promo-only 12" called Three Cut Rebate From the New Fall Chevy, which as you can see comes in a sticker cover.  The first two songs are just "Short People" and "I Shot the Sheriff" again, but the third song is "Rappers' Plight."

And it's interesting.  Because he's got Scott and the whole band, it's got a well-played disco groove that definitely emulates the famous Chic bassline, but is otherwise distinctly original.  It starts off with Chase making fun of Wonder Mike's famous scatting, "a hip hip diggity dog and a bibbity bobbity boo, zippity do dah, coo coo ca choo."  Then we get into the first verse, where again, the joke is Drug References.  "The party don't stop if you wanna bop, I got uppers, downers, LSD.  Don't be low, have a blow, a little get-up-and-go, Joe.  Have yourself a little freeze."  And through the rest of the song, he does characters: a smokey drug dealer, and most memorably, a milquetoast square who's somehow wandered into the wrong party, "excuse me fellas, I hate to be a bother. I was wondering if any of you happened to have seen a little alligator purse; it belongs to my wife. She left it on the corner of the sofa over there."  This plays almost exactly like Bobby Jimmy's stock broker bit in his parody of Ice-T's "Colors" nearly a decade later.

Eventually the characters are talking over each other as the song devolves into chaos and it all wraps up in a weird sort of skit where Chase has walked out with everybody's stolen property.  I don't know if I'd say it's really actually funny, but it's amusing and easily the best thing about Chevy Chase.  I don't recommend the album, but if you're the kind of person who likes to mix a few quirky options into your crates, the 12" isn't terribly rare or hard to find, so it could make a fun, cheap score for the holiday.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Anybody Remember Illa-Dapted?

Illa-Dapted was a cutting edge Bay Area group from the 90s and early 2000s.  It consisted of MCs Elyoptics (who also released a couple solo projects), Tendai, Pic Riley a.k.a. Pic-Vicious, DJ BullShit and producer Froilan Ramos.  A bio on their long-dead website contains a particularly apt description, "While their urban contemporaries comment on the harsh realities  of inner-city life and provide escape through “ghetto fabulous” fantasies, Illa-dapted comments on the emotional vacancy and shallowness of mid-American life and capitalism." And what I've got for us today is a 2-song promo tape of theirs from around late '99, early 2000.

The first cut is "Unfortunately," as in: "unfortunately, the world's full of people like me - frightening!  We live with no apologies!"  And while most of their music was produced "in house" by Froilan, this particular one was produced by Anticon's Matth.  The instrumental is dominated by a metal guitar riff; but the loop is so short, it no longer resembles a rock song and plays more like a gritty bassline.  The drums are being smashed as hard as they can, and it's all off-set by a subtle, repeating ringtone-like sound.  And the lyrics are pretty slick.  "Who could get us in?  I'm with the right crowd right now; I could get us in and no shame, we're perfectly sane.  I could get us some ill shit to smoke for the ride down, and I could get us out the small frame we're stuck in.  Fuck it, I could get us through the flames without burning our brains.  I could get us all paid without workin' all day.  I could get us to get and stop gettin' words in the way; and I could get us livin' when it's all gray.  But I think we're paranoid..."  Finally BullShit gets on at the end for some swift flare scratches.

The B-side is called "Mainy," and it's definitely calmer with Ramos back behind the boards and a decidedly more west coast feel.  Even the accents sound more pronounced.  "It's lookin' lovely; it's lookin' ugly.  Got my mind on somethin' mainy, somethin' mainy on my mind."  It's a bit of a nostalgic trip just to hear the term "mainy" being used on a record again.  This one's got a smoothed out playalistic vibe to it, though lyrically, of course, they're up to something deeper.  "It's good to suffer every now and then, 'cause taken in moderation, pain is a medicine.  And since I know the pain, and Hip-Hop's my Novocaine, see rainbows every day as I walk in that acid rain.  I rap for fame with the mentality of a dick, I'm here to fuck the world since life is just a bitch.  I must admit my clinical depression's in my cynical expression with subliminal suggestions."  I think they were looking to take some mainstream heads by surprise with this one.

Illa-dapted were pretty prolific for a while there, but it's been a good fifteen years since we've heard anything from them.  I think they were pretty well respected in their scene but never really broke out to audiences outside their niche.  Anyway, this is a pretty rare tape, but if you feel you must have this, don't stress.  Both songs wound up being included on their 2002 album, Youthful Indiscretion, with a bunch of other great songs, including one produced by Vrse Murphy.  "Mainy," was even pressed as a vinyl single.  And both of those are much easier to come by, so if you missed out on these guys the first time around, it's not too late.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

ATL To the 2nd Power

I'm in a nostalgic mood tonight, so I went digging through my tape collection to find something I haven't listened to in ages.  Preferably something that never gets written about online either, so I'd also have something good to blog about.  And I landed on 2nd Power's sole album, Da Soul Man from 1991 on WRAP/ Ichiban Records.  Their whole history's been pretty much slept on... perfect!  This'll be fun and educational.

Like I said, this album came out in 1991, but you know WRAP/ Ichiban.  They liked to scoop up indie artists that are already making noise and give them broader distribution.  They weren't great about marketing and pushing their artists into the big leagues, but they'd buy some half-page Source ads and get your tape stocked across the malls of America.

So yeah, then as you can guess, 2nd Power first came out with an indie single.  It was called "Don't Rush My Beat" on a little label in Georgia called So Low Records in 1989.  That's the one with the orange label.  So Low repressed it with a yellow label in 1990.  Either way, it's a fun, hype bass track with an MC named Boxx getting busy with his DJ Reggie Reg.  It had fast, but stripped down 808 beats, energetic MCing and some nice cuts.

I think (though I'm just guessing) they were called 2nd Power because there was two of them, but by the time they came out with their Soul Man album, you can see their roster expanded.  One of them is a second rapper named Hype-One... and I believe the other two are the dancers T-Rock and B-Rock.  We'll circle back to them later, because on this album, I don't think they do much besides contribute to some shouty background vocals.  In fact, I'd say the group is still mainly the original pair, since Boxx gets sole writing credit on every single song and is clearly doing the bulk of the rapping on this album.  But Hype-One does pop up to kick some verses and he manages to keep up on some high bpm tracks, so let's not sell him too short.

Their production's pretty tight, too.  I suppose credit is to be shared between 2nd Power themselves and a trio called Ain't It Bunky Productions, made up of Rock, G-Man and La Paco.  Their liner notes are a little unclear about exactly who did what, but Bunky and Power were working together before WRAP/ Ichiban and continued on with each other after, so I like to imagine it was a fairly loose, family affair.

Now, I don't know if it was the group's idea to try and prove their versatility, or (more likely IMHO) the label pushing them to expand in more commercial directions, but Da Soul Man weakens itself by trying to offer a little bit of everything.  They delve into street tales on "Livin' Like a Gangsta" and "People B Trippin," and sexy/ sappy love balladry on "Private Freak."  And every time they try that, they come up short.  Like the beat to "Livin' Like a Gangsta" is still okay, but these guys don't exactly stack up alongside the masters like CMW.  Songs like "Make It Fonkay" and the title cut have some fresh break-downs but the lyrics just feel like they were written to fill the space.

But fortunately, there's more material that sticks to their core strengths.  "Get Busy" has the two MCs exchanging verses on a hype track with Reggie Reg stealing the show with some slick turntablism, and "Funkay Drunk Ghetto Bass" relies a little too heavily on Luke-style shout & call responses for my tastes, but it lives up to its title.  They only came out with one more single through WRAP/ Ichiban, "People," which doesn't quite click, mixing P-Funk with smoother new jack swing vibes and unengaging rhymes.

And that was it for 2nd Power... technically.  But in 1993, an Atlanta group called Zone 4 dropped a single called "Drop That Pussy" on Pot Belly Records.  Who were Zone 4?  Why just Boxx, T-Rock and B-Rock with DJ Reggie Reg and co-production from Ain't It Bunky's Rock.  Plus a new guy called Money Mose.  It's presumably inspired by "Pop That Pussy," but this one's a little harder.  Then, in 1995, Boxx changed his handle to T-Mac (not to be confused with the T-Mac that's down with Indo G), and dropped another album with Ichiban called T-Mac and the P-Squad.  This time it's more blandly generic booty music; they that single "Jig-A-Loosie:" "come on, come one, come on, jig-a-loosie!  Come on, come one, come on, jig-a-loosie!  Come on, come one, come on, jig-a-loosie!  Git git git jig-a-loosie!"  And it's noteworthy that the squad seemed to consist primarily of a new partner named Krazy T and, you guessed it, DJ Reggie Reg.

So, yeah.  Even though there was just the one 2nd Power album, their legacy continued.  Reggie Reg also produced a couple other ATL artists, like Creep Dog and the G Boyz.  Anyway, Da Soul Man's pretty decent.  It's something you're probably going to want to skip around rather than play all the way through, but there's some really fun stuff on here.  I enjoyed my evening diving back in.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

File Under NJ Deep Cuts: Scott Lark Meets PRT

Okay, I was feeling lazy today.  I wanted to go back and listen to a Poor Righteous Teachers song without actually getting up and fetching the record.  So I searched it up online, and it doesn't appear to be anywhere on the 'net.  I mean, there's a listing for it on discogs, the 12" is for sale on a few online shops, and of course it's listed on my PRT page.  But not only does the music not seem to be available anywhere, but there's virtually no information out there about it, including the fact that it's a rare Scott Lark guest spot.  Well, I guess this is the exact kind of situation I started the site for, so hey world, let me tell you about this record.

"Save Me" b/w "Dangerous" is PRT's last record together (Wise Intelligent is, of course, still very active solo), having come out in 2001 on Fully Blown.  Or maybe that should be "Dangerous" b/w "Save Me," since if you look closely at the label scanned above, the "Save Me" side is marked both Side A (on the left) and Side B (at the top).  That's not the only error on the label either (the also list the Street version as Clean and vice versa).  Anyway, "Save Me" / "Dangerous" is the Teachers' only record for them, but Fully Blown was a nice, albeit short lived little label, having put out collectible singles by artists like Chubb Rock, Paula Perry, Prince Po and was responsible for pretty much Scoob Lover's entire post-Big Daddy Kane career.  Throw in the fact that I like this substantially more than PRT's previous indie single on Exit 7A, and yeah, Fully Blown was good stuff.

One thing that might be helping this rise above their 7A stuff is that it's entirely written and produced by PRT, whereas their previous indie material was often credited to unknowns like Mr. Mims and Masada.  Admittedly, you might've spotted The Almighty Scratch Devastator Lyvio G.'s name on the label, but he's just listed as an Executive Producer, which I think just relates his connection to the label overall rather than any musical involvement in the song itself.  Besides the main "Produced and Written by Poor Righteous Teachers" credit, those proper names under the song title are the three members of PRT.  Of course, one would assume that Scott Lark wrote his own verse, so who knows.  I doubt anybody's getting screwed out of bajillions in royalties here no matter how it breaks down.

So yeah, "Save Me."  This definitely sounds like it's from 2001 alright, with this kind of smooth studio pop sound and Culture Freedom's verse especially sounding rather Bad Boy inspired.  And I know, that probably sounds like the last thing you want to hear about a PRT record.  On paper, it's a left-handed compliment, but as a one-off, they make it work for them surprisingly well.  They way each verse rides the rhythm is super catchy, and everybody's wordplay is clever without being saddled with dated punchlines.  Plus, the hook is this brilliant vocal sample loop of Olive Oyl from the Popeye cartoons crying out for help that adds a real, classic/ quirky 45 King element to the song. No, it's not as great as their classic Profile singles, but it's honestly pretty dope.

And Scott Lark has the freshest verse of all, which is saying something, because Wise Intelligent very rarely gets shown up by anybody on a record.  It's all silly lyric bending, with the focus on sounding good rather than saying anything particularly witty or insightful: "bananas, I kick ill stanzas in my pajamas."  That's just the playful nature of the song, and it's hard to be mad at hearing the Teachers cut loose and having a little fun for once.  There's also an uncredited female MC on here (I mean, both guests are uncredited, but I know Scott Lark when I hear him), who probably comes weakest of the bunch, but she still holds up her portion of the song well enough.  If anybody has any idea who that is, please comment; I'd love to know.

Anyway, flip this over and we get another nice one: "Dangerous," which lets them bring back their reggae side.  It's got a more natural sounding instrumental, a sung chorus, and Wise Intelligent deftly bouncing billions of syllables.  If "Save Me" was an amusing excursion, this feels more comfortably at home in the Teachers' wheelhouse.  Who else could reference Amadou Diallo while spitting game to a girl?  It all makes you wish they'd managed to get that Declaration of Independence album they'd been working on out there (were these two songs meant to have been on it, or were they recorded exclusively for Fully Blown? I have no idea), if only to prove they could still do it even without Profile's backing.  And maybe Scott would've received some more shine if his name was actually printed on the jacket credits of an album that made its way into peoples' homes.  Oh well.  That's indie record collecting for ya.  At least this neat little 12" is out there and inexpensive.

Monday, February 10, 2020

It's Already February and I Haven't Written About Father MC Yet?!

Sure, I've already made a post for every single Father MC 12" single there is - all seventeen(!) of 'em.  But that doesn't mean there aren't more 12" singles out there that dedicated Father MC fans ("fathns?" We're still work-shopping it) need in our collections.  In fact, here's one from 1993, which would place it right in Father's final stage as an MCA/ Uptown artist, when he was in his "player" mode, though this particular record's on Ruffhouse/ Columbia and he's actually rhyming more from the perspective of his previous albums, as an earnest lover.  The song is called "Innocent Girl" by Four Sure, the lead single off of their sole album, We Can Swing It.

Yeah, the main motivator for me to buy their tape back in the day was Father MC's appearance, but there's a good chance I would've come around to it anyway, because in 1993, I was eating all that new jack swing R&B stuff up.  And Four Sure were pretty good.  It's funny, if you look 'em up on discogs (they're not even on wikipedia), they only list three members, but obviously they're a four-man group.  Look at their covers, look at their name, come on.  So the complete line-up is actually Joey Elias, Carlos "Budd" Ford, Livio "Anthony" Harris and Rudy Rude, and what's interesting about these guys is that they actually wrote and produced most of their own stuff.

So, real quick about the rest of their album.  Not bad.  They definitely excelled more at the upbeat new jack swing material than the sappier, pure R&B ballad stuff, which just played a little dull.  Like "Try and Find a Way," their only other single, just lacks the passion to get off the ground.  But their ragga intro track "Rough and Wicked" and their title track, which features the only other guest rapper, Def Jef, are pretty fresh.  These guys were at their best singing over hard breakbeats not smoothed out synths.

And "Innocent Girl?"  Well, it's kinda both.  Nice beats and Casio keyboards.  The riff on the chorus is both catchy and cheesy at the same time.  The breakdown's dope, but it was probably too middle-of-the-road to be their introduction to the world.  I mean, I was interested in it as another Father MC vehicle, but it makes the group feel pretty forgettable.  Budd takes the lead vocals, which are nice but unexciting, and the group comes together for the chorus, but they never get the chance to really belt it out or show off any particularly impressive vocal talents.

The song's just about compelling a girl who's "innocent" to take a chance on love.  The music video had a hot model in a bathing suit on a beach wearing glasses and reading a book.  For some reason, the hook said "she wants to rock my world," despite the whole point of the rest of the song seemingly being the exact opposite.  She won't rock Budd's world but he really wants her to.  I'm guessing I've already thought more about this than they ever did.  But then the beat breaks down and Father comes in over tougher part of the track with a contrarian view:

"Well, I'm the love daddy, Father MC,
Here to speak about this L-A-D-I-E.
You wanna know: do I kiss on the thigh?
I said yes I do, but you, hmm, I pass by.
You try to play innocent but I know ya flavor,
I know your whole style and your gimmick as a player.
You wanna seem to be Ms. Nice, but ya fallin',
Your day is here, so prepare to start crawlin'.

What you to do others ain't funny.
I know you ain't pleasin', to me you're teasin', my money.

My sista, can I get a witness?
Strictly for the business, playin' innocent is a sickness."

Now, okay, I know the line "your day is here, so prepare to start crawlin'" is a little too hostile to fall under "romantic."  But that aside, seeing Father come from the PoV as a victim of a woman who's dishonest with his feelings, rather than the uber-pimp fantasy of the ultimate player of women, definitely feels like a return to the more interesting 1991 Father MC.  Of course, the ideal would be a return to the 1988 Stupid Fresh Father MC, but 1991 Father is my second choice.  Not that I'm holding this up as some great verse, don't get me wrong.  It's full of flavor-of-the-month pop slang that sounded dated even when they were current, a cowardly attempt to reference oral sex without actually saying it, and that embarrassing spelling error could rival Warren G's infamous "What's next, what's N-X-E-T?"  But it's still the best part of the song, where it finally wakes up from aits saccharine slumber.

But fortunately, this isn't the whole story.  The 12" has remixes, including one that yes, is superior to the main one in the video and on the album.  Specifically, there are five mixes.  The A-side is your basic stuff: Album, Radio and Instrumental.  The B-side is where it gets interesting.  There's the "Somethin' 4 the People (Innocent Girl Club Mix)" and the "Hip-Hop Mellow Mix."  Well, it says "Mellow Mix" on the sleeve, and "Yellow Mix" on the label, but I assume "Mellow Mix" is correct.  Anyway, the "Mellow/ Yellow" mix is just a shorter edit of the Club Mix that removes Father MC's verse, so we can forget all about that one.

Somethin' For the People were an R&B/ New Jack Swing group that actually have had a much longer career than Four Sure did, and they produced a couple of songs on We Can Swing It (though Four Sure produced the original version of "Innocent Girl" themselves).  And this mix is much funkier, using the classic JB's bassline from "Soul Clap," "Fudge Pudge" and plenty of other bangers ...though for some reason, the example that always pops first into my mind is The Redhead Kingpin's "Dave and Kwamé."  It's more of a genuinely Hip-Hop track than the very 90's R&B original, with the R&B verses spaced further out over the longer, sparser track.  And yes, Father sounds better over it.  There's even a cool piano solo at the end.  I only wish Four Sure had changed up their vocals to go with the track - maybe even tried their hand at rapping - since their parts clash.  But if you just play the second half of the song, it sounds like a proper Father MC record; and in the end, isn't that what we really want?

Friday, January 31, 2020

Bad Rap?

Today I watched Bad Rap, a 2016 crowd-funded "feature documentary about the obstacles and successes of Asian-American rappers."  It starts out with a little history... Yes, they briefly summarize Jin and The Mountain Brothers, but they never even mention Fresh Kid Ice, Lyrics Born, Dragons of Edin, Key Kool or any of those Up Above cats, let alone Hip-Hop artists in Asia who've broken out here like DJ Honda or DJ Krush.  And it would be perfectly fine that their backstory was just so short that they breezed over most of the important figures, but their point was that the two or three artists they did name were all there was, as if they'd just thoroughly covered all there was to know.  So it got my back up that they were skipping over so much.  I mean, say what you want about Fresh Kid Ice, but 2 Live Crew were larger than all the guys they discussed put together.  A history of Asian-American rappers that doesn't seem to have even heard of the world's most famous Asian-American rapper?  Weak.  But you already knew I was gonna get hung up on this part, right?  Really, it's a small matter, because that part of the film turns out to be there only to serve as an introduction.

Because the film quickly devolves into a reality TV-style show where we follow four up and coming unknowns where we're asked to pick who to root for.  They only missed one trick by having them training for an "ultimate rap battle" that squares them off as the climax of the movie.  They get close, though, as we follow one of them through a tedious battle rap tournament that grinds the film to a halt for almost half an hour.  There are a couple interesting, genuine seeming moments, like one rapper struggling to convince models to sexualize themselves in his music video, or another who seems to find more success making cooking videos from his apartment.  There's a section where they show their four rappers to some prominent industry people, like Ebro and Riggs Morales, and they mostly seemed to be sincere and give legit criticism.
What'll make this doc of interest to most people today, though, is that one of those unknowns did break out and become a big celebrity - Awkwafina.  Even though this is only four years old (though I'm guessing most of this was shot at least a couple years earlier), it's already a historical artifact: pre-Crazy Rich Asians, Oceans 8, Comedy Central and all that, where we find her performing in local clubs and just starting to get noticed with Youtube videos.  On Netflix, they've changed their thumbnail to a giant close-up of her, even though her role's actually probably a little bit smaller than several of the other unknowns.  She's really a secondary character, even in terms of screen time; so if you're just coming to this as an Awkwafina fan, you're going to be disappointed.

Overall, the doc's pretty short and seems to end kind of arbitrarily.  I definitely would've been more interested if they just expanded the opening history into a full, rich discussion of the legacy and challenges facing Asian MCs, instead of trying to turn it into another sports-style "pick your favorite" doc.  But even if you dig that kind of thing, it gets meandering and sluggish with low stakes and zero tension.  Had the filmmakers kept rolling until after Awkwafina turned into a pop star and could've included that, they would've had more to work with.  Instead, this is the rise and fall of four aspiring rappers who never really rise or fall.

They also never explain why the film is called "Bad Rap."  It's tempting to make the crack that they're just telling on themselves; but to be fair, I wouldn't say any of these rappers are bad (leaving the jury out on how you feel about Awkwafina's skills, since she's clearly aiming for easy-to-follow joke songs).  I guess they mean it in the sense of Asian rappers consistently getting a bad reputation.  But that doesn't actually seem like the picture they've painted?  The movie presents them as being overlooked and ignored, but not exactly treated like hoods or whatever. 

So yeah, Bad Rap is streaming on Netflix.  It's on some other services, too, like Amazon Prime and Youtube, but for a fee.  If you really like the film, it's worth looking into the physical release, since that includes exclusive extras like deleted scenes and extended interview clips.  There are DVD and blu-ray options, though they're both Made On Demand burnt discs, which have shorter shelf lives and have trouble working with certain players.  Still, the blu is definitely the ideal option.  But that's only if you feel like this film is worth it, which I can't say it was for me.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Natural Elements' 1999, Give Or Take a Few

Hey, remember when Natural Elements were finally releasing their long-shelved Tommy Boy album on vinyl for its tenth anniversary through Traffic Entertainment?  And then Traffic dropped out, and they wound up releasing a CD-only version that included about two thirds of the album and filled the rest with a bizarre, patchwork mix of older material?  Well, now it's their twentieth anniversary and they're here to do it  It's still kinda screwy.  But they've made genuine improvements.  It's definitely good news overall.

So let's start on the positive side.  1999: 20 Year Anniversary is on vinyl!  Yes, you can now finally, after all these years, get these songs on wax.  A double LP even.  And it comes in a cool gatefold cover, and if you really want to splurge, you can order the more limited colored vinyl options.  Specifically, there are 100 copies pressed on three striped color vinyl, 100 pressed on blue, white (white) and orange splatter vinyl (the stripes are the same three colors), and another 300 on your basic black.  Oh and there's also a CD version.

Now let's step into the disappointing... it's still mostly the same weird track-listing they made for the tenth anniversary CD, where they leave off several of the still unreleased Tommy Boy songs and fill that space with their most common, greatest hits material most NE fans already have (the credit in the liner notes saying, "all tracks recorded in NYC in 1999" is just wrong).  And the ones that don't could get them if they chose, unlike the still unreleased songs, which none of us can get.

But I said "mostly," because they did make an interesting change or two.  First of all, they've re-arranged the track-listing to put the intro back at the beginning, a nice little correction of the tenth anniversary, which curiously stuck it at the end.  But more critically, they've taken off the song "MTV (More Than Vocals)" and replaced it with the never officially released "Life Ain't Fair."  To be clear, this is the original version with the hook sung by Bridge that I first wrote about in my article for Hip Hop Connection and that wound up on that hard to find bootleg with the Truck Turner songs.  This is not the version Chopped Herring gave a proper release to on the first of their amazing Demo EPs.

This is a strange decision, which on the scales I suppose leans more to the pro than the con, but could've easily been a lot more pro.  This is the first official release of that "Life Ain't Fair," and it's on vinyl, so that's pretty sweet.  And taking "MTV" off makes sense, since it was never intended to be on that Tommy Boy album (it was recorded years later).  But "MTV" has never been released on vinyl, and it would've been nice to get it on wax now, even if it's not really a proper 1999 track.  After all, about a third of what's on here, including "Life Ain't Fair," isn't a proper 1999 track.  And again, there are plenty of songs on here that have been readily available on vinyl already for decades that they could've swapped off instead.  "Bust Mine" or "Paper Chase," for example, are super easy to find on 12", nice and inexpensive, and they weren't from 1999 either.  With that said, though, since "MTV" was at least on the CD, and "Life Ain't Fair" has never seen a proper release, I do prefer getting "Life" to "MTV."  It's a change for the better.  It's just a Sophie's Choice we shouldn't have had to make.

But don't let my criticisms land too hard.  A new double-LP of incredible Natural Elements music, most of which has never been released on vinyl before?  That's awesome news and everyone reading this should cop it.  I just wish they had the courage not to buoy these up with their greatest hits.  They definitely don't need to, and it means those last six songs from their 1999 Tommy Boy album are still abandoned in the vault.  Of course... just one more, little wafer-thin 12" EP could fix all that for all time, and we fans would gobble it up.  Just sayin'.  😉

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Fat Boys' Hardest Gangsta Raps

(I hate when critics of Hip-Hop lay "Cop Killer" on our doorstep.  That's a heavy metal song on a heavy metal album by a heavy metal band.  I don't listen to that noise!  But, to be fair, it's not like we haven't got a few violent gangster tales of our own... like these, told by The Fat Boys.  Youtube version is here.)

Friday, January 10, 2020

U521 - The Comeback Of the Decade, and More!

You might say that "the comeback of the decade" is a pretty left-handed compliment to throw at somebody on January 10th, 2020.  Well, allow me to be "that guy" for just long enough to point out that there was no year 0 in our calendar, so the decade doesn't roll over until next January.  So me declaring somebody just made the comeback of the decade, I'm talking about on the last ten years, not ten days.  Or, to put it in a less irritatingly nerdy way, hell yeah, I'm excited about this!  Just who's back?  Unique!

Just a couple months ago, I wrote about how DWG had unearthed and released a little bit more from Unique's vault of lost recordings.  It had been a long time since they first brought him back into the scene.  And I guess now in retrospect, the timing was because Unique was planning this all along.  Maybe/ maybe not, but it's all good news for Hip-Hop fans regardless.  First we get more vintage 80's material, and now we get all new music from him!

"Lyrical Assault" is a 2-song 7" from Hip Hop Be Bop Records, the same label that brought us the equally dramatic returns of Silver Fox and Sugar Bear.  And thankfully, producer Clandest does as good a job of capturing the spirit of the original artist as he did on those previous efforts.  It doesn't quite have the polished, 80s vibe of his earlier material, the main loop of "Lyrical Assault" feels has more of an indie 90s vibe, but it still suits Unique to a tee.  And the man himself?  He definitely has a raspier voice, but otherwise, hasn't skipped a beat, in his lyrical styling or delivery, since '88.  He certainly sounds older, but when he hits the line, "hold your ear, I'ma press the detonator, creepin' like a sniper, sorta like a terminator," this is unquestionably our Unique, just like he never left us.

"I'm a Always Shine" is a bit slower, but has the best scratches (as always, by DJ Credit One).  Except for his smoker's voice, "Lyrical Assault" sounds like a song he would've recorded for his classic, essentially unreleased '89 album.  And this sounds like the slightly more relaxed and mature kind of song he would've recorded for a second album in 1990.  Like, to put it in Kool G Rap terms, the A-side is from his "Men At Work" phase and the B-side comes out of his "Bad To the Bone" era.

This is a 45 7" (as I recall, the Sugar Bear was 33 1/3) and as you can see, comes in a picture cover designed, like the interior label, to match the classic New Day color scheme of his original 12"s. I'm not sure what the exact numbers are, but according to the HHBB's site, "limited press photos included while stocks last, some signed by Unique."  So if you're interested in bonus swag, you might want to jump on this sooner than later.  And while you're at it, Hip Hop Be Bop has another new record for you at the same time.

05:21's "Without Warning" represents HHBB's first release by a contemporary artist.  In fact, even by contemporary standards, they're kinda brand new.  05:21 is a UK duo comprised of MCs Koba Kane and T1 Vega.  This is their first physical release, and their "debut single" online seems to've just been released three months ago.  So yeah, they may as well have just popped out of nowhere, though they are managed by Blade (because T1's his son).  Blade's an MC with a deep history, dropping his first single back in 1988 and making albums ever since.  But I'm definitely not as up on my UK Hip-Hop as I should be... I think the only records I actually have of his are a Herbaliser appearance or two.  Maybe that'll be my homework after this post, to track down at least one of his early records.  But anyway, management isn't generally up there with writer or producer in terms of being a strong creative influence, so I'm not sure it's even particularly relevant here.  Like, Professor X used to manage Positive K, but "Quarter Gram Pam" sounds nothing like an X-Clan record.  So let's just take these guys on their own.

This one's just the one song, not produced by Clandest but by somebody named Sinikal (who also does his own scratching).  The 05:21 guys have pretty strong, aggressive flows and deliver well constructed rhymes at a steady pace.  Despite being new, you can hear a lot of the sensibilities of their old school label-mates in how they attack the mic.  I don't know if they're deliberately taking an influence from them or if HHBB picked 'em because they fit in with the rest of their roster despite the different generation.  Either way, it means if you've liked their previous singles, you should be happy with this one; they just don't come with the established reputations of the other artists' legacies.  Not that I'd quite put them on the level of a Silver Fox; these guys get a bit silly with their nonstop "like a" similes, but for 05:21, the emphasis seems to be more on their impressive deliveries than whatever freestyle lyrics they happen to be spitting.  Instrumentally, my only criticism is that the main twangy loop is mixed a little too loud over the break and vocals.  I would've liked it a little more subtle, but it still works, and the cuts have a slick DJ Premier feel when they come in for the hook.

Like the Unique single, "Without Warning" is a 45 7" in a picture cover, with the instrumental on the B-side of this one.  You can just cop the Unique or 05:21 singles by themselves, but they take a few extra £s off if you order them together.  I have to admit, 05:21 is not one I would've selected for myself (having never heard of 'em and all) - unlike Unique who I'm thrilled over - but now that I've got 'em, I'm glad to have both, and I can't wait to see what Hip Hop Be Bop comes up with next!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Run DMC's Other Christmas Song

Everybody knows Run DMC's "Christmas In Hollis," even curmudgeonly old Scrooge boomers who can't stand rap.  It used to get heavy, mainstream MTV rotation (i.e. not just on Yo! or their more urban-themed dance shows), and radio play all over the world each holiday season, even those "absolutely no rap" 100-type stations, largely because it was treated like a novelty record.  This wasn't anything too edgy or threatening for the wee ones to hear; this was "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" pt 2.

That's not a knock on the song itself; I still dig it.  It's not the first Hip-Hop Christmas record, but it's the first one most of middle America ever heard, and it's still well produced (that's a killer Clarence Carter sample) and holds up well today.  It's been released and re-released countless times over the years.  It was featured on Profile's classic Christmas Rap album - still the single greatest Hip-Hop Christmas album to this day - and I was once gifted a cute little 45 on clear red vinyl.  The #1 movie of 1988 - Die Hard - opens with it, The Simpsons have played it, it's been used for car commercials and Adidas even made a "Christmas In Hollis" shoe!

But "Christmas In Hollis" wasn't originally recorded for that Profile album or as the major Run DMC single it became.  It was made for, and first released on, a 1987 A&M charity record made to benefit The Special Olympics called A Very Special Christmas.  It was a big deal at the time, and Run DMC were the only Hip-Hop artists on it, which is a big part of why "Christmas In Hollis" spread to the mainstream.  The album featured Christmas songs and covers by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Bon Jovi, so everybody's parents who bought the album for those guys wound up with a perfectly charming, head-nodding Hip-Hop song as an unexpected little bonus.  Like Run DMC's single, it's been pressed and re-pressed over the years.  It featured artist by the incredibly popular Keith Haring, and really, you younger cats probably don't appreciate just how widespread this album was.  Not only did the music stores bring out the displays every Holiday season, but it had full page ads in non-music magazines, and even places that didn't otherwise sell music, like supermarkets and drug stores, had these at the register.

So of course A&M followed that up with a second album.  And of course they asked Run DMC back.

But Hip-Hop audiences are fickle.  1987 was right at Run DMC's peek, right between Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather.  "Walk This Way" had already come out and they were already being hailed as not just rap but rock superstars.  By the time of A Very Special Christmas 2, it was 1992, long after Back From Hell, and just before Pete Rock briefly resurrected their careers with "Down With the King" and they traded in their hats and Adidas for hoodies and Timbs, trying to find a new image and blend in with Naughty By Nature era.  So I guess that's why nobody seems to remember their second Christmas rap anthem, "Christmas Is."

The album itself did just fine.  They had another stacked line-up with some new folks and some returning, like Luther Vandross, Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Boyz II Men and Tom Petty.  Again, Run DMC were the sole token rapper guys.  But they tried; they even shot a video for it, which got a little time.  But stations mostly decided to keep airing "Christmas In Hollis."  It's a solid effort, though.  It's still produced by Larry Smith and JMJ.  It doesn't have the undeniable instant smash hit power of that Carter sample, but it has a respectable, more timely 90's sound with sparse jazz samples and big, but more natural drums.  Their flows are a little more nimble.  They still open with a little Christmas carol jingle and rock the sleigh bells, but it definitely has less of a holiday feel to it, which is part of the problem.  By the time it gets to their "give up the dough!" shout chorus, they've definitely forgone any crossover appeal the first one had.

Listening to it now, it actually sounds more dated than "Hollis," but I still like it.  In fact, it's a plus in my book that it's less kitschy and angrier about socioeconomic inequality.  If only Run DMC had managed to keep up with the times without giving up their identity to chase all the trends, I think this one would at least have lasted longer in the Hip-Hop community (there's no way this was going to be another crossover sensation).  I mean, it is flawed.  Instrumentally, they're leaning heavily into DITC's lane, which sounds good but derivative.  But lyrically, they try so hard to flex faster, more tongue-twisting lyrical skills, they wind up fumbling: "Christmas, this must be that time of year/ Leggo of your Eggo, rather ego, me go there/ And here, my dear, so give a kid a beer/ Cause every time you give it's coming back, let's get it clear."  It's both everything great and everything embarrassing about 90's rap at the same time.

...But is that the end of Run DMC's Very Special Christmases?  No!  The A&M albums kept on truckin', and it would've been a bad look to forgo Run DMC (and with them, all of Hip-Hop).  So even though Run DMC had sort of split up by then (they came together for Crown Royal, but it was rocky), so 1997's A Very Special Christmas 3 featured a Rev Run solo song.  Solo... but with a bunch of guests.  Remember "Santa Baby," with Mase, Snoop Dogg, Pepa, two fifths of Onyx and Keith Murray?  You probably remember that song popping up on the internet back then but maybe didn't realize it was the third chapter in the Very Special Christmas saga.  It's kind of a mess.  The line-up feels pretty arbitrarily slapped together with half the groups appearing incomplete, the singing on the hook is weak and instrumentally, they're just biting a beat from a Fugees record.  But it's still an amusing little treat to have seemingly randomly popped up on the scene.

The fourth Very Special Christmas took a different track in 1999.  It's a live album, featuring a lot of classic covers and renditions of songs from the previous albums.  So you've got a lot of Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, plus artists like Mary J Blige and Sheryl Crow.  Yes, they got Run DMC back and of course they covered "Christmas In Hollis," not "Christmas Is."  The last song is a cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" featuring all the acts that had performed that night, and yes that includes Run DMC.  But it's literally just Run shouting "yeah, who's got the Christmas spirit? Somebody say 'hoooo'!!" at the beginning and "yo, you better be good for goodness sake" at one point mid-song.  Afterwards, they get to shout out Hollis and the Special Olympics, but it's really a number devoted to the singers and they're just on it as a technicality.

2001's A Very Special Christmas 5 is the one where they finally give up on Run DMC entirely.  They bring in another token Hip-Hop artist, and I bet you can guess who.  Yes, Wyclef Jean, who mostly just sings, but he does bust a corny freestyle on a Stevie Wonder song.  It's another live album with regulars like Bon Jovi and Tom Petty returning.  Then by 6 & 7, they finally seem to feel comfortable not having any Hip-Hoppers on there at all, and it's just two more live albums with artists like Reba McEntire, Miley Cyrus and Willie Nelson.  It's nice what they've continued to do for the Special Olympics, but I think most of the world had checked out of this crap by that point.

But yeah, "Christmas Is!"  Awfully dated is what it is; but it's still pretty cool... better than most of their late career stuff, and doesn't deserve to be completely forgotten.  I recommend giving it at least one spin this Holiday Season.

Friday, December 20, 2019

So I Watched Everybody's Everything...

This is my relationship with Lil Peep: he's the guy everybody asks me around the holidays, "hey, you're into rap.  Do you know Lil Peep?"  And I say, yeah a little.  I heard of him when he became too famous not to have heard of 'im, and I checked out two or three Youtube videos, and as you guys could probably predict, his stuff wasn't really my thing.  Then I didn't give him another thought, really, until he passed.

It's a weird (and obviously tragic) thing when a young, popular artist goes right at the peak of their success.  Would they have continued to flourish and cement a superstar legacy, or had we already seen their entire flash in the pan run its course?  Like, when you look at how The Wu-Tang Clan's Beautiful Tomorrow album completely fizzled out even after a huge onslaught of hype.  Biggie and Tupac went out at the very top, but if they hadn't, would they just be two more dull old school MCs unable to capture the attention of the millennial generation in 2019?  And before anybody runs up and smacks me for implying Lil Peep could be on the same level as The Wu, B.I.G. and 2Pac, my point is that he seemed to be for a sizeable number of fans, or at least just one or two more break-out tracks shy, and this got me curious.

Because sure, that sing-songy The Weeknd style has never appealed to me.  Shit, I remember even back when Domino dropped "Getto Jam" and I was like, "I don't like where this is going..."  But at the same time, I try not to be closed minded to a whole style or sub genre.  I remember when DWG was putting out Unique's Die Hard EP, and they said they were just leaving off the synth-y songs.  Sure, dusty old jazz loops are great, but synthesizers weren't born evil.  Hell, the Beverly Hills Cop theme is pure synth, and the only people who don't love that are dead inside.  And honestly with elite, I actually prefer something like "Homonym Holocaust" to "Don't Even Try It."  Sure, "Don't Even" has that classic K-Solo/ Penthouse Playas/ King Tee/ Poison Clan loop you can never go wrong with.  But I'll take Joey Robinson's "cheesy synths" over the After School, anti-drug message rap stuff.

So anyway, my point with all that is: even if it isn't my preferred style, I'm interested if this kid's got some thoughtful lyrics and something interesting to say.  I remember one of tiny handful of Peep songs I checked out ("Life Is Beautiful") being pretty compelling.  And now here comes this documentary, that sounds like a more engaging way to dive in and see for myself if I thought this was an artist who really had something going for him or if he was just the next in an infinite line of Kreayhawns, Mykko Montanas, and every other rapper the kids forgot about as quickly as they blew them up.

But, uh... this movie didn't really help.  It doesn't really explore his art at all, except to say that he started from very humble, low-fi beginnings and people seemed to like it.  But otherwise the doc doesn't seemed interested in his music, that just happens to be what propelled him into the rags-to-riches story they want to tell.  He could've just as well gotten famous manufacturing widgets for all this film seems to care.  There's a bit where one of his Gothboi Clique members said that when he heard Peep for the very first time, his opening bars were so on point, he knew he had to work with Peep.  And then... they don't play those bars!  I mean, come on, that would've been a perfect opportunity for a very quick soundbite to go a long way towards demonstrating what Peep could do.  I wanna hear those bars, but nope.

So, okay, moving on from what the movie isn't, what does the movie actually deliver?  Well, like I said, it's basically another typical rags-to-riches story that ultimately, of course, ends in tragedy.  I mean, if you swap out Peep for another musician we've lost, then you've already seen this movie a dozen times before.  It can get pretty hammy, as they dramatically read these sappy emails his grandfather wrote Peep like narration over half the film, and a lot of the interviews are pretty superficial.  Most people seemed like they just latched onto the fact that he was popular for some - any - reason and wanted to cash in.  There's a scene where one of his managers (or promoters or whoever) said they asked if he wanted to continue making videos or played stadiums, and when he replied that he wanted to play stadiums, that's when she realized that's when he was a real star.  What?  Ask any third grade class if they want to be rockstars and play stadiums, and two thirds of their hands will go up.  Wanting to play stadiums doesn't mean he could or couldn't do so successfully.  Apparently, Peep's next big move was going to be to start a clothing line?  You wouldn't know from this film if he was a beloved songwriter or just another Instagram Influencer.

But there are interesting moments.  His girlfriend has a refreshingly candid little insight into his relationship with his face tattoos and his family seems nice.  The filmmakers have some of his childhood home movies, and he sure was a cute kid.  You definitely feel bad for his mother and grandfather that they lost him so early.  At its best, Everybody's Everything is touching in a Dear Zachary-lite kind of way.  But that's about a third or a quarter of this film, and the rest just feels like a by-the-numbers E! True Hollywood Story that doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know about the guy... even if, as in my case, you didn't know all that much.  And I came in wanting to learn; I don't think you could've asked for a better audience than that.  I think even Peep's fan club will be looking down at their phones during most of the movie.  Terrence Malick produced this?  I expected more.