Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Apparently Lost West Coast All Star Posse Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 21, 2021

Attack Of the Weirdo: Fatboi Sharif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Vocal Vision On Patrol

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Buyer's Guide For Nick Wiz's Cellar

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

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

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

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

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

 And Selections 10 had no exclusives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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

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

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

"Stumble drunkard,

Bump a crowd if they have the hunger;

Smuggle drugs in

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

No offense,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 13, 2021

There Might Be a Million Outsidaz

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

Saturday, January 23, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mixture Interview

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

Just a Little More Ecstasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas F-ckin' Day

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

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Reservoir Dogs Across the Pond

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

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

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

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

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

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