Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Something By U.T.F.O.

So, I was going through my tapes and thought I might talk about UTFO's Hits album. It's a bit of an oddity, probably stemming from the fact that UTFO was a talented group with a long running career (well, by hip-hop standards), a number of albums and a substantial fanbase... but not really many hits. Y'know, besides that one. They even wound up making a song about it on their last album, "Something By U.T.F.O.," venting their frustration, "Lethal was an album we had... It went to number two, 'cause number one was Michael Jackson with Bad... but I don't think y'all played it once!" During the chorus, fans call into a radio station to request UTFO and get various rejections like, "You mean UB40, don't you?" or "Uh, you mean something besides 'Roxanne, Roxanne'?" It's a fun song*, but I think they missed the point. Listen to Lethal. It's a nice album, but find the potential hit single there. ...Exactly. And the same applies to all their follow-up albums, too.

So, what do they end up doing? They make some pretty odd choices... After a brief intro (a sample of Don Cornelius introducing them on Soul Train), the album opens with... their token love song from their third album? Now, it's actually a pretty decent song, and it was released as a single and video in its day. But if that's your opener, you know you're in some kind of trouble.

They do manage to include some of the obvious choices... "Leader Of the Pack," their Krush Groove record "Pick Up the Pace," and "Split Personality." But "Masterbaby?" "The Ride?" Those're some weird album filler tracks only us hardcore UTFO fans probably even remember, and yet songs like "We Work Hard," "Hangin' Out," "Rough & Rugged," and others that were actually released as singles are skipped over. Not even their debut (and still one of my favorites), "Beats and Rhymes," makes its way on here.

The album also makes the strange choice of excluding any reference to UTFO's last album, Bag It and Bone It. Now granted, it's nobody's favorite (even down to the title choice), and they had lost core member Doctor Ice by that point (though that didn't stop them from including songs from Skeezer Pleezer, where they were missing EMD); but they don't even include it on the inside artwork showing all of their albums available on Select Records. It's like they're just sweeping it under the rug. ...And this Hits album came out in '96, a full five years after Bag It, so it's nothing to do with that.

One of the bonuses you get with this album are these "Hip Hop Props" numbers. They're seven recordings of different hip-hop celebs praising UTFO that sound like they were done over the phone, then laid on top of the "Leader Of the Pack" beat and spread throughout the album. I say "bonuses," but really, like any skit on an album, they're more like irritating detriments once you've listened to it a couple of times. To nail the "only one hit" awkwardness of the album home, pretty much every single one of the artists giving props (Vinnie of Naughty By Nature, DJ Red Alert, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, and Prince Paul, who calls himself, "of the Gravediggaz," which gives you a sense of the period we're in) all just talk about "Roxanne, Roxanne." Only Tuffy of Video Music Box (man, I used to watch Video Music Box all the time... I don't remember any "Tuffy") and Run talk about anything else... and even Run starts out by name-dropping it. Run talks about how "Peter Piper" was actually inspired by "Fairytale Lover" (yeah, they even included that R&B song off their first album on this compilation), which was interesting... although neither was the first hip-hop song to fill their lyrics with fairy-tale references.

The album ends with a new song, "Lollipop," exclusive to this collection. It features a verse from The Real Roxanne with R&B singer Syncere on the hook, and the instrumental is based on Mtume's "Juicy Fruit." It's an ok song, mostly using moderately-at-best clever candy-themed sexual innuendos... Roxanne asks us to "taste her birth canal" in a way that ellicits a real "no thanks!" reaction she probably wasn't going for. But it's a fun song. Definitely not single worthy, but fitting as the token new track on a greatest hits album. Unfortunately, they're still missing Doctor Ice, which is a definite disappointment; but at least it features an EMD who, since Bag It, had really started to find a distinctive voice for himself**.

A couple of the "Hip Hop Props" (specifically Tuffy and Prince Paul), reference UTFO coming with new material... so it seems like a UTFO comeback was originally planned to follow this album. Sadly, that never happened, which adds another slight air of disappointment to an already offbeat compilation. Now, I already linked Doc Ice's myspace page in a previous post, but Kangol, EMD and Mixmaster Ice all have myspaces, too; and Mixmaster Ice has - or had, it seems to be down at the moment - his own site at: mixmasterice.com. There's also a myspace for the whole crew; so maybe that reunion album is still a possibility?

*It's not on Hits, though, so don't get too excited.

**The cassette version of Bag It and Bone It is the one to own, by the way... it features like four or five "bonus cuts" that aren't featured on the LP, most of which are better than the main ones. In fact, my favorite song on that album, "Beef Pattie" (that's not the crass sexual innuendo you might guess it is from looking at the album cover), is a cassette only bonus cut.

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