Saturday, August 18, 2007

An Assassinator If the People Ain't Steppin'

In 1995, East/West Records had a really impressive line-up of many of the great, up and coming hip-hop acts. They had Omniscence, Lin Que (aka Isis, who'd just dropped a really hot solo single called "Let It Fall"), SuperNatural, The Juggaknots (yes, they had Clear Blue Skies back in '95), Deda Baby Pa (yaknow, of Pete Rock/ INI fame)... then they dropped the whole lot of them, shelved all their albums, and only put out releases by their big name artists, like ODB and Das EFX. And while, ok, maybe Coz and Daddy D weren't such great loses; all told, it was really one of the worst examples of a label dropping the ball in hip-hop history. One of those dropped balls was 8-Off the Assassin.

Before that happened, though, East/West featured their impressive line-up on the live compilation album, Illstyle Live.

That's 8-Off pictured right there in front, holding the 8 ball. He's briefly introduced, where they mention a fact East/West mentioned that he got his start with Onyx. With his voice and rugged screamy style, it's easy to think he's an original member of Onyx or something (besides, in those days, all people knew as that Onyx consisted of Stickay Fingaz and... some other cats), but they're really just over-hyping the fact that he produced a handful of tracks off their underwhelming second album. Anyway, he performs his first single...

"Ghetto Girl." "Ghetto Girl" is his surprisingly successful self-produced venture to crossover to mainstream radio/video play and still be respectably non-commercial/wack-crap by letting him flex his rough, all-over-the-place flow on an "Around the Way Girl" type record. He gets away with it the same way Busta Rhymes got away with it on his very best singles. The b-side, "Neighborhood Hoe" (also self-produced, by the way... 8-Off's a pretty solid producer), is like his underground safety net. If you still found his ode to ghetto girls ("all over the world; all over the world!") too annoyingly blatant a crossover ploy, he had this to show he was still an macho, underground un-PC MC with woman issues. ;)

Anyway, 8-Off managed to squeeze one more single out of East/West Records before they let him go: "Alize for Dolo," again self-produced. The single also has a full instrumental and lyrical remix, featuring Mr. Cheeks of the Lost Boy, who phones in a verse so full of his own cliche lines ("puttin' Queens on the map," "LB fam got my back" etc etc) it borders on self-parody. But the beat, a very moody, slow and deep-bassed track produced by Mr. Sexx & Buttnaked Tim Dawg, is dope and 8-Off still comes tight, so it's still definitely worth having. There's another track on the B-side, "Kick Down the Fuckin' Door," a crazy hardcore number which is also the first track (after the intro) on his unreleased album, Wrap Your Lips Around This (Eastwest 61762).

...Which is really what everything up to now was just meant to be an introduction to. While, like all the others, Eastwest never released this album, they did finish it and give out this here prerelease promotional copy (The Source gave it 3.5 mics). All told, it's 17 tracks deep... all the songs from the singles are here ("Ghetto Girl," "Neighborhood Hoe," "Kick Down the Fuckin' Door" and "Alize for Dolo" - but the "Alize for Dolo" remix is exclusive to the single); plus there's a skit called "Skit #1" (yes, there's a "Skit #1" and no "Skit #2"... I don't know what's up with that), an intro and then 11 full 8-Off songs that've never seen the light of day. And that "Intro," is actually a pretty ill freestyle showcasing 8-Off's style over a crazy track. Just listen to this and then his labelmate's classic "Mind Tricks," and you can tell exactly where SuperNat (well known to be a very talented mimic, as well as off-the-head freestyler) picked up that style from. So, it's really 12 exclusive tracks (the skit really is just a skit... where 8-Off is at a club and some guy comes up and tells him his wife is cheating on him).

Unfortunately, there are no production credits on my copy of the album, but we can presume most of it is self-produced... and we know from ads and reviews that at Sugar Bear and Diamond D also produced at least one track a piece. Whoever produced what, it's all tight. The only guest vocalists are R&B singer Horace Brown on one of the only slow songs, "Used To Have It All," and Panama P.I., an up and coming MC who never quite came up (though he had a pretty good song on the Sprung soundtrack), on "Propa Swerve."

The songs are pretty varied ("Science Fiction" is a lot of fun and "Ghetto Airline" is downright weird), going from freestyles to narratives to songs about girls... Here's a taste of his style (from "Catch a Body"):

"Palms wet,
Plus my forehead starts to sweat,
Hoping I don't have to get down like Bernard Getz.
Lips chapped;
Got a tec in my lap in case po-po wanna react.
Siege hat,
With the flap right over my eyelids.
All of a sudden,
I hear the voice of the conductor,
'This is the last stop on the A train, motherfuckers!'
Got off,
Lookin' for a kid who walkin' around from outta town;
I saw him on one of the platforms,
Sportin' a ill frown.
Where's he at? Punch him in the crown.
Two niggas is with him,
'Well, blow me down!'
Fuck around and I'll paint the town red.
Niggas don't give me my C.R.E.A.M.
I'll have all y'all clown niggas dead!"

Of course, without hearing it in his hectic, voice-changing style (like I said, think SuperNat's "Mind Tricks" only faster), you're only getting a fraction of the picture. The production on the whole LP is hot, and 8-Off's flows are dope and creative... the lyrics are often clever. Really it's a shame this never came out. But, over the years, some of the other albums East/West slept on managed to sneak their way out to the open market, so maybe there's still hope for this to be rescued by one of those entrepreneurial indie labels. In the meantime, at least there are dubs floating around out there.

Today, 8-Off is still producing and releasing his own music... he changed his name to Agallah (a name he even drops a few times on Wrap Your Lips Around This, so it's nothing new), put out some 12"s and mixtapes, then formed the group Purple City. He put out his second (or his first depending how you keep score), You Already Know, last year; and yes he has a myspace page.

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  1. Since I got a promo copy of this at ebay some years ago I can say that on the backcover it is also written that the album features special appearances from the "Almighty Fotch Family", the track is not named.

  2. i don't think supernat copied the style
    from 8-off.i think it was exactly the other way.
    wiki says supernats debut was recorded 94'
    and i read somewhere it was released in
    93 but i'm not sure about that.
    anyway both debuts are extremly hot and
    should be released on vinyl.

  3. Onyx's underwhelming second album? That was their best, from lyrics to production. In fact, 8 Off produced one of their best beats that never came out.

  4. There's a lot of revisionist history going on with Onyx's second album. 13 years after its release Vibe magazine called it "the best produced album of 1995", which (if you know your hip-hop even a little bit) is complete horse shit.

  5. Yeah, I'm not saying their second album was trash... I bought it at the time, and a couple 12"s. It was decent, but honestly, I don't even remember half the songs on it now. Onyx had a real uphill battle, because when "Throw Ya Guns" came out, it was really original and blew everybody's mind, and how can you follow that up? They needed to come back with something great, and what we got was a nice try. Now they have a loyal fanbase that's holding them up, and that's cool; they earned it. Not like a lot of acts where you're like "why are they famous?" But it was generally received as a disappointment and that's how it struck me, too. Going in a bunch of different directions like "Bionyx" and then a bunch of half-hearted solo efforts didn't help. But I'll concede that there's good material there; I should probably do a post on something overlooked of theirs one of these days.

  6. @Unknown march 6th, a revisioning of history?!? It's just an opinion by a journalist from a magazine. That's about as pretentious as you can get. "'Tis not unlike the Youtubers likening an unreleased Sir Biggie Smalls verse to missing pages of the Bible." @Werner "Mos Def", "Last Dayz", "Evil Streetz", "2 Wrongz", "Shout" + "Shout Remix" are all pretty stellar. But to each his own. I might even revision history and say they are beyond stellar.

  7. It’s revisionist in the sense that I doubt the journalist would’ve made that comment back in 1995. Here’s what happened:

    Albums like The Infamous, Only Built for Cuban Linx…, and Liquid Swordz were so lauded with praise (justifiably) that a lot of hip-hop fans got sick of hearing about them, so they started saying “Well, I don’t think those album are that great. In fact, I prefer the production on (insert inferior album here).” So albums like All We Got Iz Uz have become the go-to for jaded hip-hop snobs to point to and say “Well I’m so sophisticated that I prefer this album to the true classics.” It’s bullshit.

    And of course it’s true that the journalist is entitled to his opinion, and so are you. But what you fail to realize is that there is a point where opinions can cross the line into inaccuracy. For example, when a person says that All We Got Iz Uz is a better produced album than Only Built for Cuban Linx…, then that person is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

  8. There's no such thing as an opinion becoming inaccurate. It's a preference that expresses a sensibility and a feeling, not a historical event. I don't think anyone is saying this is better than Cuban Linx and even if they did then they can, it's their opinion. What would be wrong is to say it influenced Cuban Linx, or outsold it. Then you have to back up that claim. There's no way an opinion can create a historical claim or be based on evidence so it can't create innacuracy. It begins with the words, I think or I feel. Why are we comparing apples and oranges? I was referencing Werner's comment on it being underwhelming in comparison to their first. I do respect your opinion Werner, I was just surprised you weren't feeling it. I definitely felt the stick-up kids matured into black activists. "2 Wrongz" "What we need to do is point the guns in the right direction.

  9. "There's no way an opinion can create a historical claim or be based on evidence so it can't create innacuracy."