Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Werner's Gonna Need a New Home

I started Werner von Wallenrod's Humble, Little Hip-Hop Site way back in 1997 as an AOL members' page, because that's how I - like almost everybody in '97 - was accessing the net. Over the years, a lot of people moved on to other services, and Werner's grew from a humble, little site to a humble, huge site, full of ancient coding, some low quality graphics, etc. It's a huge monster of pages connected to pages, with all different screennames hosting different sections.

I started this blog in January of 2007 - I decided to make it an AOL Journals blog to commemorate the fact that my site was still an ancient AOL members page after all these years. There've been a few frustrating drawbacks (like people needing to register with AOL to comment), but I've stuck by it.

But I just got an e-mail telling me that on October 31st, AOL will be shutting down their Journals for good. What's more, I went to an article they linked in the e-mail, poked around a "Peoples' Connection" blog they have up; and found a previous announcement saying they're shutting down all of their webhosting (thanks for the no e-mail on that one, guys... I could've just woken up one day and seen it all deleted)! Everything I've created since 1997 has gotta find a new home - it's gonna be a massive, ugly monster to move (for example: "members.aol.com" is in pretty much every image tag on every page of the site!).

That also means the homepage address I've had since '97 (crappy as it was) and this blog address is gonna be gone (oh, and my Todd Solondz website, too)... bookmarks, links to my site: kaput.

On the plus side, it'll finally allow me to make some changes/improvements I could never do on AOL, and force me to finally swap out some of that terrible coding and bad graphics I made way back in the 90's when nobody knew any better. And I won't have to rely on their ...lacking customer service anymore (calling their paid tech support guys to talk to people who didn't know aol even had a journals section LOL). But I'm sure not looking forward to the chore of redoing all that.

I just got this notice tonight; so I don't know where I'm gonna move to yet or anything. So stay tuned and I'll announce whatever new URLs and stuff you guys'll need to know to find this blog and the site as I get it sorted. They say, "We're working on a way to easily move your Journal to another blogging service," so hopefully that turns out to be true, rather than me having to remake every post manually.

In the meantime, I will continue to update this blog here.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Biscuits 'n' Porn

So, following up my recent write up of BHR002, I bring you BHR001: "Me & Him," the debut 12" by Mr. Jason and Nabo Rawk, collectively known as the Porn Theatre Ushers. This came out on Biscuithead Records in 1999.

Biscuithead described PTU and their record, "The Porn Theatre Ushers are Mr. Jason & Nabo Rawk. Their influences are Dj Premier, Ultramagnetics, Large Professor, & De La Soul just to name a few. Nabo & Jason say that they love hip hop with a passion, but felt it wasn't fun anymore. They felt it was time to bring back the fun in hip hop again. Expect to hear alot[sic.] of funny lyrics and dope beats from these guys. Me and Him is the first release from these guys on the Biscuithead Recordings label."

So, yeah, this 12" is BHR001, the label's first release... or at least the first of their rap line. They had two separate lines: house music (BH001-BH005) and rap (BH001-BH004). Biscuithead Records was originally a Boston record store run by house DJ Bruno. Here's an ad they ran on the back cover of Red Eye Magazine in 2000. --->

As soon as you put this on your tables, it's clear that they're serious about bringing the fun back to hip-hop. "Me & Him" starts with some Nabo cutting some vocal samples over a crazy instrumental, which fades out after about 20 seconds to be replaced with the real beat for the song... and man, it bumps! With just that combined with the slick Ladybug/Digable Planets vocal sample ("play me in the winter; play me in the summer... play in the autumn; any order") they use for the hook, it's easy to see why this was a surprise underground hit. And Mr. Jason's no Kool G Rap, but his flow's alright and he manages not to be totally outshined by the track, which is more than most MCs could do.

There's just one downside. The "funny lyrics" just aren't funny, and that makes them stick out awkwardly like sore thumbs: "How come I'm the number one rhyme getter? How come you're twenty-one and still a bed wetter? I got no time for you fake fraud generics; plus I'm late for my date with Bo Derek." It's punchlines like that Bo Derek thing that made the heads they failed to reach say, "no thanks; I'll stick to my Freddie Foxxx tape." I mean, it never gets as bad as "Sing It Shitface" (which was completely song-ruining); but it would've been better if he just concentrated on sounding fresh instead of trying to prove how terribly witty and much smarter than the typical rappers he is.

The first b-side, "Cat Nip," is essentially the same story as "Me & Him:" crazy samples for an intro, a really catchy, head-nodding beat, a great vocal sample for a hook, and Mr. Jason is adequate. On both the label and back cover, the trac-listing is off, though. They say that "Cat Nip" is the last song, but on the actual vinyl, it actually comes before the second b-side track: "My Imagination."

"My Imagination" is another cool tune, featuring some nice scratching and Mr. Jason's best vocal performance. The beat may not be as immediately catchy as the other two, but after repeated listenings, I think it bears out as the best song on the record.

The 12" comes with instrumentals for "Cat Nip" and "Me & Him," and a clean version of "Me & Him." It's worth noting that the three tracks on this record were later included on the CD version of their debut album, Sloppy Seconds, but not the LP, which instead offered us all the other seven tracks, plus instrumentals on a second record. So, essentially, if you have the 12" and the LP, you have everything.

After Biscuithead Records shut down, PTU came out with one more single and album on Detonator Records (2003 & 2004, respectively); but then they quit. There was a brief video interview on UGHH in early 2007 where Nabo Rawk says he'd been talking to Jason and that there was, "probably a ninety percent chance right now that we'll do another PTU record. That's something I wanna do before I fucking die. It's definitely something that we've been talkin' about; and if we do drop the record, the record's gonna have a certain sound to it throughout the whole thing. And it's something we're really feelin' nobody's tapped into yet." That was almost two years ago, but Nabo still does the occasional guest verse. So I guess we'll see.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

=New Toy

Hey, guys. You might notice a new little feature over to the right: The Best Blog Posts I Didn't Write. I just started it, so there's not much there yet... but basically I'll be highlighting the best/most interesting hip-hop blog posts I come across whenever I come across them. New, hip-hop related posts only - you won't see Obama or Palin's names pop up in anything I link to until they cut a record together. Yeah, it's a Google Reader thing... so there'll be the latest six (I may change that number) featured on the right, and they'll all be archived on my GR page (which you can always get to by clicking the Best Blog Posts heading).

For the bloggers and webmasters who may be concerned/curious, clicking the blog titles will take you to the original posts on their own pages, not my Reader.

I think that's about all there is say about that. Hope you guys enjoy it - it should be updated at least once a day (albeit at odd hours haha), assuming there's enough good stuff for me to find. 8)

More dope content is dope.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tone Loves the Jiggable Pie, Too

^Video blog!!
(All original, request-fulfilling content! The volume's a bit low, so crank it!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Listen Up, Shitface

This is the debut 12" of Boston's Edan on Biscuithead Records, a label that had just made its name with the Porn Theatre Ushers' debut. The buzz of that 12" got a lot of us to give Edan a listen, and he definitely used that opportunity to grab our attention with "Sing It Shitface."

Biscuithead described Edan and his record, "EDAN has to be the strangest mother fucker I have ever met, which is why I respect his brilliance. This Berklee student is a living embodiment of hip hop. If you listen to Migrain[sic.] you will see that he is all about the old skool. As for Sing It Shitface, well that speaks for itself. Edan is a very unique individual, his production, lyrics, and attitude prove that on this record."

It's got a fun, unique beat and a deliriously catchy hook: a freaked sample of a small child singing in Japanese while Edan eggs him on with hostility, "yeah! Sing it, Shitface!" It created almosta s much of a buzz in the underground as his fellow Bostonians 7L and Esoteric did, using that Transformers sample on "Be Alert" the year before.

That's the plus side. The downside is this: I've seen a lot of Edan dretractors call him "gimmicky;" and it's clear to me, especially here, exactly what they're talking about.

...Well, actually, they could be talking about two things. They could be referring to his constant homages to the old school ("Schoolly D Knew the Time," "Ultra '88," etc) as an insincere facade to appeal to a jaded rap audience and a cheap bid for "street bid." Well, I don't know the guy personally to say just how sincere he is about all that offstage - but his efforts in that regard are good enough that I don't care. It works for me.

But there's another gimmick on display here that doesn't wash so well with me: his attempt at comic rhymes on songs like this one. Sometimes he can be pretty nice on the mic, but here (and other songs... but "Sing It Shitface" has to be the epitome) he's way too hackneyed: "I fart at family functions, landing punches in the face of life... I made 'em feel uncomfortable by talking about my hemorrhoids and how my parakeet's unemployed." That shit just sounds like a really lame attempt to make gradeschool kids snigger on the playground. I don't know if he's ever denied it or not, but it's clear to me that he was trying to immitate Eminem's "Hi, My Name Is" success. And he's actually done multiple songs with lines about farting in them - what is he five? That kinda lyric just makes me wince and hope nobody else can hear the music I'm listening to. And it's a real shame here, because like I said, the beat and hook are a blast. And he's shown on plenty of other songs that he has the skill to elevate way above this material.

His voice also sounds a bit "put on" here... like Chubb Rock on his debut album, before he relaxed into his natural cadence. While still not ideal, this is easier to ignore on some of his other early work; but coupled with his forced delivery, contrived rhymes and juvenille subject matter; it just lands square in the middle of "bad."

This song comes in three versions on this 12": Dirty, Clean and instrumental. The instrumental is a blessing (put any other acapella to this... even if it's totally off beat, it will be an improvement); but the notion of a clean "Shitface" is absurd and should never be listened to.

Now, the exclusive b-sides ("Sing It Shitface" eventually found its way onto his 2002 album, Primitive Plus, but not the other tracks on this 12"), while lacking the stand-out catchy elements of "Shitface"'s strong points, are much better. The first song is "The E's Have It," featuring Skillz Ferguson. This is the first of three collaberations Edan has done with Ferguson, and while it's not quite as impressive as "Clinical Rhymes" in '02 - neither MC's seem quite as fully developed yet - they're definitely on their way. They just flex fun, back and forth wordplay over a gruff beat with some cool piano samples, with some great scratching (cutting up vocal samples by Rakim and Erick Sermon) for the hook. Yeah, it's not his best; but this is the kind of timeless hip-hop song that holds up perfectly today as it would've in any era: hip-hop in its purest form.

The other b-side is even further in the right direction. "Migraine" features Edan back on the solo tip, just ripping it fast and furious over a quick, slick rhythm. Again, he's not really saying anything (a plus in his case, as we've seen), just freestyle rhymes for the sake of rhyming. His voice even sounds normal here. And while the scratching was nice on "The E's Have It;" the DJ (also Edan) really goes off on this one, murdering a Percee-P sample and downright stealing the show from himself. This cut would be top drawer random rap, you know, except for the fact that Edan went on to release a whole bunch more records and make an established name for himself in the indieand college circuits.

So, even though he really, frustratingly dropped the ball on his debut song (I'd really like to hear him take another stab at this cut, with the same beat and hook but all new lyrics), this is a great, must-have 12". Oh yeah, and this record also features an instrumental for "The E's Have It."

Edan hasn't done much in the last couple of years except for a couple of guest verses for Cut Chemist... hopefully that means he's cooking up his illest shit yet; and not that he's quit the rap game or been by a bus or something. :/ He has a website at: humblemagnificent.com, and of course a myspace; but there's nothing by of news at either one except for an out-of-date tour listing.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Literally Literary Literature

Let me start by saying that, yes, this is an actual, real comic book. Landspeed Records put this out in '99 to promote Freddie Foxxx's upcoming (at the time) album, Industry Shakedown. You'll notice the cover image is virtually the same as his "A Part Of My Life" 12", but with a different background. He's depicted in the same style on his other 12" singles off of this album, and with this comic, you can learn the story behind it all.

It's written by Foxxx himself (illustrations by Dino Cerillo), and starts out in a nightclub called The Turntable. Foxxx is am "outcast... an outsider, an enemy to the major league, Cristal-poppin' playa' party goin' Benz rentin' keep up with the Joneses type suckas that make up and listen to the sound we know as rap music today." He robs some guy and makes him dance with his friend "like he was your broad" at gunpoint... a weird scene by anyone's standards, I'm sure.

Foxxx tries to break out but, just then, as we learn it's midnight on New Year's Eve 1999: "A numb screeching noise breaks the sound barrier. Bottles of booze shatter, confetti mizes with plaster as the ceiling slowly caves in; the dj's turntables explode; human flesh begins to melt. Thirty seconds into the New Millenium and the world reknowned 'city that never sleeps'... ...Manhattan - is destroyed." Damn, this is some heavy shit!

A mad scientist named Dr. Personality comes and takes Foxxx's body to The Lab, where he's been storing the dead body of every black gangster of the 50's and 60's (you never know what you're going to need if the city blows up, I guess). He uses all those parts to resurrect Freddie and transform him into his alter-ego, Bumpy Knuckles. There's also Knocko, a victim of an old African witch doctor who transformed him into "an ugly small man with a huge head and even huger heart," unable to speak.

I don't think there's too many of these around as it was just given out promotionally. You should be able to sleep at nights without it; but it's a fun addition to the collection of a Foxxx fan. My copy came with a Bumpy Knuckles sticker, postcard and bumper sticker as well.

Good times. :)

Update 7/30/09:
I just recently picked up the Industry Shakedown CD (late pass lol), and found out it comes with a miniaturized version of this comic. Pretty cool! Just to clarify, though, the comic book I'm talking about above is full-sized (meaning: the size of a standard comic book).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Death Of the Album!!! well, lah dee dah

It's been a while since I've done a "mini-post," huh? Well - apologies to all you bloggers with writers block, struggling to come up with content and all - but I just have too much to blog about. Post ideas come and at least half get away. But I just read another blog post[sorry, lost the link - it wasn't that good anyway], reminding me of a post I meant to write the last time I read a blog on the subject. It was talking about how the mp3 age, along with all the other crappy things it's doing, is going kill the album.

No, I'm not talking about vinyl[for once!], but how, with the way the music industry is headed, we'll soon see most musicians giving up on releasing ten to twenty songs all in one go and calling it an album. And instead every artist will record, market and release an individual song at a time. It's been debated back and forth, but let's assume for the sake of assuming things that they're right.

Now, I know most of the heads active on the internet are in their early- to mid-twenties and think hip-hop started with A Tribe Called Quest. But really, hip-hop started with the single. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Busy Bee, Treacherous Three, Spyder-D, etc etc all released just one single after another. Each song had to be hit-worthy to make any noise. Only years later did most of the artists start compiling these singles into little albums; an it really wasn't until the major labels got involved in the 80's that hip-hop joined the other musical genres in recording bunches of songs at a time, filled with half-assed... album filler.

Being the first rapper signed to a major label (Mercury), Kurtis Blow pretty much got a head start on everybody else. And look at his debut album: "Throughout Your Years," "All I Want Is This Girl," "Taking Care of Business?" The only songs worth a damn are the ones that were released as singles. How about the Sugarhill Gang? Can you tell me you'd really miss them if "Bad News" and "Passion Play" were never packaged and released with "Rapper's Delight?" And the trend hasn't changed from then to now, except today we also throw in a crap-ton of skits and bad rap intros (ask Max if he'd be sorry to see the back of those) into the mix.

Ok, sure; I can name the same classic albums you can, with nothing but really good songs from back to front (or, at least, only one or two weaker links in the bunch). Do you think that accounts for even 1% of hip-hop albums, though? And even those artists who did record those 1% have all since gone on to record albums filled with junk later in their careers, pressured by industry expectations to just keep putting out pounds and pounds of material, most of which we'll never listen to more than once.
Do we want quantity or quality? Promising underground artists (like, oh say... Living Legends, Ras Kass, Atmosphere, Hieroglyphics, everybody on Def Jux, etc) have all spread themselves way too thin, releasing tons of material. All those guys have proven they're capable of releasing great songs... but instead we get album after album full of songs where it's like, "ok, this song has a nice beat but the writing is clearly half-assed... this one has a few good lines, but a lot of corny verses in between... this one has good lyrics, but the beat sucks." Kool Keith bragged in an interview about writing an entire album in 24 hours (I think it was either Matthew or Sex Style)... And people ask why he hasn't managed another Critical Beatdown.

So, should we really be sad to usher in an era where there's no longer a safe market for bad songs? Where artists won't release a song unless it can stand on its own? Where the rhymes are worth saying and the beats actually catch your attention? Where we can sit down and listen to music without or fingers on the Fast Forward button?

once rapped on "We In There," "my people died so I could rhyme! Do you think I'm gonna get on the mic and waste my nation's time?" To me, returning to an era where an MC will only pick up a mic when he has something to say is no tragedy. And let that >1% of artists who really feel artistically compelled to complete a full album at a time do it... just when they feel up to it.
I still say support vinyl... but only when it's worth supporting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yah Yah'll Stomp Out Ya Endocrine System

Sometimes some dope shit just falls through the cracks. Yah Yah, Young Zee's little brother, was probably the most under-appreciated MCs in the Outsidaz crew. Everyone knew Zee going in from his Perspective stuff, Pace Won was really given the chance to showcase himself, and of course Rah Digga and Eminem were blowing up on their own. Slang Ton was starting to get some shine, winning the Blaze battle, etc. and Yah was never really recognized as more than just another of the guys in the large crew. But go back even as far as "Rain Or Shine," and he's that MC who you didn't know that had us trippin' on the Outz MCs.

After the Outsidaz fumbled on their major label release, The Bricks and tragically split up, Yah Yah moved to Florida where he hooked up with a small production outfit called 5th Lmnt Productions. They don't seem to be around anymore; but their site used to tell the story, "Through a series of events, THE 5TH met up with Yahyah, formerly of the Outsidaz and recorded two albums... Sage [one of their in-house producers] and Yah got together on a collaboration effort and after crankin out some of the hottest tracks you'll ever hear, started bumping heads in the production process. This creative control issue is what eventually lead to Yah's departure."

Those two albums: Yah Yah's Lord of the Underground and Yah Yah and Sage Lee's The Collaboration, don't seem to have ever come out[found one? Let me know!]. But what did come out was this 2005 promo-only CD single from that Collaboration album: "All I Need Is Some Love" b/w "Time 2 Party." Now, I know what you're thinking. Years after The Outz split, a lesser known member solo with some unknown, indie producer... and look at those titles! That's gotta be pure garbage. But, no; don't let the evidence fool you.

First of all, "All I Need Is Some Love" is not the sappy, desperate attempt at radio-friendly love song crossover it looks like. Yeah, it's about relationships; but this is from the crew that once rhymed, "Ya bitch said aliens raped her and her four friends; but it was all the Outz... we dressed up as Martians" on a Redman album. Yah Yah doesn't go quite that far this time around, but he kills it on the mic, flipping one crazy multi-syllable rhyme after another. The production is quality, but would definitely be considered corny if any other MC was on it, without Yah's off-kilter, grimy flow. it's a weird marriage of underground spitting and mainstream beats that just really works.

And the exact same formula works a second time on "Time 2 Party:" poppy production, a classic Outsidaz flow and crazy lyrics:

"Who gets the party rockin'? Thugs with shotties droppin',
Ladies hoppin', body rockin', lollipop Baccardi shots and
You oughta know it's Lova; all the flows is gutta;
Word to mutha, all the brutha knows is butta;
And I'm gonna spread it for ya; that's why I'm hittin' chords,
Spittin' raw, rippin' tours and practicin' my magic like The Gryphondors
It's the lord - he done blessed the kid
To make heads spin around without the exorcist.
I don't need necklaces and sex with fifths;
I'm rich like the soil in Texas is.
The party ain't the place for all ya plans with handguns;
I buy out the bar and get everybody dancin'.
Cops come checkin' to arrest the camp,
But we're VIP sippin' on breast implants.
Test them plants, I roll up some weed and pull it;
Let you play Superman and stop a speedin' bullet."

He's even paired up with some Will Downing/ Alexander O'Neal/ whoever-style R&B singer doing back-ups and the chrous (on both songs). But I tell you it works. Hearing him echo phrases like "breast implants" is bugged; and Yah Yah brings enough attitude ("if they shut down this club, then I'll shut down your block!") to keep it street like Puff or Timba just dream they could do. It ends with Yah leading a drunken chorus, "somebody say: light that weed (light that weed!), say spike that drink (spike that drink!); fight outside; y'all niggas better fight outside!"

So Yah Yah hs split with 5th Lmnt (and I believe moved back from Florida), but he's still doing music. He has a myspace here where you can hear some tracks he's working on now. Someone really needs to give this guy an Eminem-size budget and just let him do whatever the hell he wants with all the best producers for a heavily marketed album. It would be ill.

Update 9/20/08: There's some kind of error which makes the first song, "All I Need Is Some Love," break up near the end. By "break up," I mean cutting out to silence and back in again, very quickly, for about the last 20 seconds or so. This is true of every copy released (I know; I now have more than one). It's not horrendous (it's after all the MCing is done with, anyway), but it sure is annoying and probably killed any chance this promo single had of actually getting any promo plays. But, yeah... there is no version without this defect out there, so us fans've just gotta live with it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Drippin' Dope

This is the only single by a three-man crew from the boogie down Bronx on Mob Records, a small off-shoot of B-Boy Records.. Collectively, they were known as Reel Deal, and the single is called "Drippin' Dope."

There's only one the song, in four misleadingly labeled versions. "Drippin' Dope," "Drippin' Dope Saxapella," "Drippin' Dope Saxbreak" and "Drippin' Dope Dub." But they all seem to be full vocal versions with the same basic instrumental, just edited slightly different? Oh well, there's no call for a remix to this one, anyway; since the original instrumental is clearly the selling point here.

An air raid siren blares and then - years before Jeru got a huge buzz for doing the same thing on his debut, "Come Clean" (though, admittedly not before Eric B's "Chinese Arithmetic") - the loud, looped sound of dripping water kicks off the main beat. There's phat drums, too (very true to the B-Boy Records sound), and a DJ scratching in some James Brown vocal and horn samples. It winds up at the end with just a touch of fresh, live sax playing over the banging beat.... certainly not as much as you'd expect from titles like "Saxbreak" and "Saxapella," but it's cool. Any more would have been overdone.

But it's not just the great track that makes this song so good - the MCs rip it, too. While they're not especially great lyrics, their delivery is hard and in pace with the rapid-fire beat, with fun lines like: "I'll slice you just like a potato; when I'm through, you'll be lookin' like Play-Doh." For the third verse, they combine, going line for line, finishing off each other's sentences, like a crazy BDP/ Kid 'N' Play hybrid. This is just one of those random rap releases you buy on a whim that turns out to be as satisfyingly.... well, dope as you'd hoped. If you come across this one reasonably priced and you're like, "hmmm..." trust me; pick it up.

Finally, this last part of is mainly in reply to a post in the DWG forums:

The vinyl has no date on the label, but according to the tape artwork and the cassette itself, this was released in 1989.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Buck 65 Vinyl Week, Day 5 - Dirk Thornton

After "Wicked and Weird," Buck 65 put out two more really strong singles off Talkin' Honky Blues, but unfortunately, in both cases, he made the CD singles far superior to the vinyls (including quality, exclusive tracks not featured on the 10"s). What? So, unfortunately, we can't count them amongst his great vinyl releases for this series. :(

So instead we jump right ahead to 2007 and his Dirk Thornton singles. Dirk Thornton is either another alias for Buck, a la Stinkin' Rich or DJ Critical, which he uses when he records with his collaborators DJ Flip and Freezemaster Slick, OR it's the collective name of the trio. It's not really clear which. Regardless, if you hear a Dirk Thornton song, it's Buck 65 with those two guys.

So, yeah. There's two limited (I've talked to some pretty serious Buck 65 fans online who were surprised to hear me tell them that these singles actually did come out) 7" singles on All City Records. This is the first:

"Chokehold" b/w "Catwalk." The first thing you'll notice on listening to this is that, after some... let's say uneven at best collaberations Buck has been doing in these last couple years, Flip and Slick really understand how to produce for Buck. It's not crazy, experimental French rock/new wave he's been doing a lot of, and it's not the ineffective attempt at hip-hop throwback of Situation. If I didn't know who did the music, I would've assumed it was Buck back by himself.

"Chokehold" is a slow, moody banger with Buck offering up some slick wordplay - seriously, some of his delivery seems to be taken out of a Project Blowed playbook; and it really works for him here. The hook is a little dull (couldn't you've added a few scratches or somethin'?), but it's a small mark against a really dope cut. And "Catwalk" is almost as good, with a strong, jazzy loop coming dangerously close to drowning out his vocals. The hook is more effective here, too, with a new piano riff played over his whispered voice. Quality lyrics, delivery (especially on "Chokehold,"), music... highly recommended on all fronts.

Part Two
is another 2 song 10", featuring "Yesterday's News" and "Run." Everything is just as good on "Yesterday's News" as it was on the last single. Once again, I just have to say how well these guys' music compliments Buck's rhymes. "Yesterday's News" is a simpler song, evoking more of an atmosphere through images than telling a story or making a point.

"Avenue of the Americas, Hollywood Boulevard.
Blood on the sidewalk, and the night sky is full of stars.
Pain in the left knee at four in the morning;
Cold to the bone, and the old man is snoring.
Hand written letters: 'please lend me a hand;
The fish ain't bitin'. Could you send me a grand?'
Reading the phonebook, wondering who to call.
Girl with my rings sticks pins in a voodoo doll.
I pray to the wind to send you fine weather,
A hundred percent cotton and genuine leather.
Fire on the coastlline following plain;
A whale on a beach, a dog on a chain.
Sellin' my stories to the violent and perverted;
All eyes are on me and I don't deserve it.
Nothin' to do except I guess to play blues;
I sleep in the car... I'm yesterday's news."

"Run" is up to par with the rest, but this time the vocals are really mixed to low. It's a shorter song, with just a brief bit of musical flair separating the two verses. It's another dope song in a series of nothing but dope songs, though I do hope that this might someday see another release with Buck's rhymes and the scratching at the end up turned up to match the instrumental a little more evenly.

Now, these two singles were originally meant to be followed up by a Dirk Thornton EP, which would include a couple more songs, plus instrumentals. It's been a long time and there's no sign of it yet... I think it may not be coming. The fact that Buck later included the only other DT song from their myspace, "Temporarily In Love," on his limited Heck CD probably isn't a good sign. But we can hope. Dirk Thornton has his/its own myspace page, so keep a faithful eye on that from time to time for hopefully future word.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Buck 65 Vinyl Week, Day 4.2 - Wicked and Weird

First of all, if you haven't already, go read this blog post about Buck 65's Anticon 12", "The Centaur;" because if I hadn't already written about it last year, it would be by all rights the Day 4 entry in Buck 65 Vinyl Week, and this post would be Day 5. But I think it'd be a bit of a cop out just to repost it and call that an entry. So, yeah. Just go read that for Day 4 and now here's Day 4.2:

"Wicked and Weird" was the lead single off of Buck's probably best-to-date album (certainly the most consistent), Talkin' Honky Blues, both of which came out in 2003 on Warner Brothers Records. That's a bit of a devisive opinion, because previously Buck had always changed styles (and even voices) from song-to-song on his albums, and on this one he picked one and stuck with it. So many people missed the variety, or perhaps were just stuck on a particular delivery he didn't choose to utilize this go 'round; so he caught a lot of flack. The fact that he made this change on a record that was his first on a major label (WB rereleasing and sometimes altering his back catalog doesn't count), really upped the scrutiny. But while pretty much all of his albums have reached moments just as good before, this is where his song-writing really held up for the entire album.

And this was the light but clever, really catchy lead in to that album. It's fast paced, has a really great hook (you don't get that often from rappers who started in the 90's, after all), using his clever rhyme style to set up the atmosphere of the album, and still hold up as an absorbing, self-contained song, as opposed to a freestyle with some stand-out lines. His gravely voice, a twangy guitar loop and a thumping bassline mesh perfectly to make an anthem about his boldy eccentricity and passion for nostalgic Americana (yeah, I know he's from Canada) on the road:

"Hole in the muffler, ghost on the shoulder,
Cough drops, loose change in the beverage holder.
To roll down the window you gotta use a wrench.
...I'm thinking about brushing up on my French.
Right there in the glove box, if you should look,
You'll find forty parking tickets,
And a copy of the Good Book.
Don't bother looking... you'll never find me;
I'm starting from scratch and leaving trouble behind me."

There's a hot breakdown where it sounds like it's he's going to let the guitar player go solo, but it quickly becomes a showcase for his turntable skills, cutting up carious samples as the background music fades and transforms.

This is followed up by the "Jacknife Lee" remix of the same song. It's not as good as the original; but it's good, and different enough to make for a decent alterantive. I have no idea who this Jacknife Lee is, but according to wikipedia, "Garret 'Jacknife' Lee is a Grammy Award winning music producer and remixer. He has worked with a variety of artists, including U2, R.E.M., Snow Patrol, Bloc Party, The Hives, Weezer, Vega4 and Editors." So I guess he's a big deal in some circles; but that also kinda lets you know what to expect... this isn't no DITC remix. The basic pace and rhythm of the original is kept, but most of the samples are stripped away and replaced by some hard, grungy electric guitars. I'm no rocker, but I'd be pretty impressed with this if I wasn't already familiar with the original. But as it is, it's just a decent remix.

The b-side, a non-album track called "What's Wrong With That," also utilizes some heavy guitars; but we're out of Jacknife Lee grunge rock metal (or whatever) territory and back into Buck 65's production style. The guitars mostly stick to a simple loop supporting a fast, upbeat track... it actually reminds me of some Def Jam-era Beastie Boys, but more polished (it's got some 80's style percussion in there, too; which helps the comparison). The lyrics, too - though technically still following the 12"'s theme of defiantly bold individuality - are a little more freestyle and all-over-the-place like the Beasties would be:

"I hate to hear that whistle blow,
Gettin' dirty, make a racket.
Got some sun, torpedo neck,
Backpack and my snakeskin jacket.
My woman's good; she keeps me straight,
Gives me Hell and loves the Lord.
I got my wheels, a place to rest...
I got everything and I still want more.
What's wrong with that?"

It's kind of a perfect b-side. It doesn't quite mesh with the album, so it doesn't belong there. It echoes the themes of the A-side. And t's not so well written that it steals the show from the main track (B-side doesn't win again this time); but it's good enough that you'll want to buy the single to get it even if you have the album.

So, all in all this is a definite for the crates. You might also want to track down the split 2004 12" from Ninja Tune (split because there's a song by some group named Airborn Audio on the other side), which doesn't include the remix or "What's Wrong With That," but does have the "Wicked and Weird" instrumental, which Warner left off of this 12", probably for space. See, even though this is a 12", it plays at 45rpm; possibly just to stick with the eccentric theme of the single... but that doesn't leave you much room for instrumentals and the like. So you might want that one if you're a completist; but you'll defintiely be wanting this one: another of Buck's great 12"s.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Buck 65 Vinyl Week, Day 3 - Wild Life

And we're back to Buck 65 Vinyl Week with Day 3's entry, the 1998* "Wild Life" 12" on Hand Solo Records. Here he credits himself as Buck 65 featuring Stinkin' Rich. If Buck was Kool Keith on "yesterday's" Sebutones' 12", he's a full-blown, blue flower growing Dr. Octagon on today's.

"Wild Life" is actually a trilogy of songs detailing his dreams about riding in the Tour de France. That's dreams in the "while sleeping" sense, not "aspirations" sense. This distinction becomes readily apparent early into the first listen, as the narrative is as fluidly bizarre as a trip through anyone's subconscious can be: "Everywhere, all around me, people they be just be talkin' all about the camp as if their bike is gonna rust if they don't begin to pedal; 'cause if the rain hits the metal, the parts that are wet'll corrode if the drops settle," it begins.

An atmospheric beat driven by a strong bass sample rolls on, with Buck smoothly narrating what he sees in what's practically one, giant (rhyming) run-on sentence: "I can't see the big and yellow dashes in the middle of the road because it's covered in ashes two inches deep, making for treacherous conditions, poor visibility and rising suspicions. I know I'm not in hell; I don't hear the sounds of P-funk[LOL]; but I'm trying to get my bicycle past a fallen tree trunk that's blocking the road off, barricade fashion. My legs are getting tired and some other guys are crashin' because of the ashes and there's a long way to go, still: I can't believe how dark it is. There's a whole lot of hills and sharp corners to navigate, and vampires in the distance - I can see the campfires."

He soon crosses the finish line, but that's only the end of part 1. A short keyboard loop, wailing horns and the same drum beat kicks off part 2. This is my favorite of the series... at least instrumentally. Lyrically, it's hard to really divide the three. It's worth noting that, while all three songs are off his album Weirdo Magnet (also Hand Solo Records, 1997) the more widely available rerelease from Warner Bros completely remixes the song. In fact, the whole album's pretty different... but really "Wildlife part 2" suffers the most. It's just not nearly as catchy - you really owe it to yourself to track down the original version if you're a fan of this trilogy.

Anyway, whichever version you're listening the lyrics are the same. As Buck crosses the finishline his bike disappears and, "something wasn't normal there; all the other campers were dressed up in formal wear; and everybody's angry, so I decide to form a story, keep a low profile, and try to find the dormitory. Thinking I was too late, I asked my roommate about the jackets and dress pants, and he said the best chance to stay out of trouble ain't a heavy task at all, 'be at the gym at nine for the first game of basketball. Otherwise, you could be collecting dead animals around the campsite by kerosene lamplight, just like those guys in tuxedos - it's a rip off. So whatever you do, just be in time for the tip off.' ...God in heaven, dead animals?"

The third instrumental is sort of a cross between the first and second, slow horns, a whining keyboard sample... the drums are different this time. The instrumentals for all three are featured on the flip.

And besides those, there's a short, untitled bonus track, which is exclusive to this 12". It's a similar instrumental to the other three, a slow bass loop, snare-y drums, and one or two other samples that fade in and out. This song is mostly a showcase of his DJing skills, which are considerable. It's fresh, and he does drop a nice, short freestyle rhyme at the end. He's back down to Earth.

All in all, this is a really great 12". What's more, I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is the best song (or series of songs) about a dream in hip-hop ever - it's certainly the most authentically dream-like. Don't sleep.

*His discography on buck65.com says 1997, but I daresay that's a mistake. It certainly says 1998 on my copy; and I'm pretty sure that's correct.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Drifting Away from the Atlantic

We interrupt today's edition of Buck 65 Vinyl Week to bring you this hot, brand new limited release.

One Leg Up, the label that brought us Herb McGruff's Godfather Don-produced demo, and the awesome Cenobites EP, Demented Thoughts, just released its third release: The High Plains Drifter EP by Lord Digga.

This is an 8-song EP (hey, 8 songs = more like an album in my book) of long lost tracks. See, Lord Digga, of Masta Ace Inc. fame, was briefly signed to Atlantic Records in the mid 90's. You may remember the one song they put out promotionally on a split 12" with The Artifacts, "Man Digga Comin' Through." That was all they put out though; and Digga's album never wound up surfacing... He eventually came back on the indie tip with that infamous song using The Price Is Right theme. Well, 1LU has gotten with Digga to release all the tracks Digga recorded for Atlantic that've never before seen the light of day.

It's all self-produced (which is fine, since Digga was always a dope producer... having worked on tracks from "Land Of the Lost" to his terrific "Brooklyn Zoo" remix), with the occassional bit of co-production from Ace. A lot of his stuf here kinda sounds like some Biggie Smalls material (which follows, since he was also producing for Biggie around that time), and to my mind the production mostly outshines the laid-back lyrics. But he tells some cool Flatbush stories over some smooth beats; it's a good cool out EP.

He only really flexes freestyle/battle-type rhymes on one song, "Word Play," which is cool; but not as good as, say, his verse on "Saturday Night Live." What would be the worst song on the EP, "Party Jam" (it's like it sounds, including the predictable R&B hook by Leschea) is saved to a large degree by an appearance by Masta Ace. Digga is joined on two other tracks by an understudy MC by the name of Logic, who's pretty good... his voice provides a good contrast to Digga's bass-heavy delivery.

But the EP is really carried by the last song, which elevates it from a worthwhile but unexceptional piece of recovered history to a must-have banger: "Good Vibrations" (don't let the Beach Boys title fool you) Unlike the other 7 tracks, this wasn't recorded for his Atlantic album... this is an earlier demo track he recorded in '92. The label says it's featuring Masta Ace, but this is really a Masta Ace song featuring Lord Digga, who just comes on briefly to do about 5-10% of the MCing - but he wrecks shop when he does. Master Ace rips it over a fast beat with a familiar sample, but with some phat, new horn loops and fresh scratching on the hook. This is seriously some 'Greatest Hits' material for both artists involved. It's definitely cool that 1LU unearthed Digga's lost Atlantic material, but thank fucking god this song has finally come out as well.

Last I heard, 1LU just had a handful of these left (and UGHH still seems to have a couple preorder copies available), so like Luke would say, "don't stop; get it, get it!" You can grab it from their (or, as I say, UGHH): oneleguprecords.blogspot.com... there's a great interview with Digga up there as well.

...Oh, p.s. - yes, Lord Digga has a myspace page: it's here. And tomorrow we'll be back for Buck 65 Day 3. Cheers. 8)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Buck 65 Vinyl Week, Day 2 - Sebutonedef

It's Day 2 of Buck 65 Vinyl Week, and today I'm drinking chocolate milk and listening to The Sebutones' only vinyl release, the "Sebutonedef" 12". It dropped on Four Ways To Rock Records in 1997. This is the single off of SixToo and Buck's first collaborative album, Psiorasis, and it has some nice vinyl exclusives.

The first track, of course, is "Sebutonedef (Original Mix)." The first thing you'll hear is the looped stand-up bass, in the style of Digable Planets' "Cool Like Dat," playing acappella. Soon some phat drums, scratching, and a horn sample that sounds like it's coming out of an old David Lynch soundtrack kick in. Buck 65 describes the song in his own words in his Psioriasis review on his own site, buck65.com, "'Sebutone Def' has a huge, frantic sound. It's death-jazz hip hop. The drums are outrageous. The bass line is on crack. There's even a catchy hook! The turntable work is also interesting. I remember recording it without listening to the track and then flying it in randomly. It's crazy, but it works. This is the best song the Sebutones ever made. It's not saying much on the surface, but it was something very fresh in hip hop and it was a good song." He may be right about it being the best thing the Sebutones have done (collectively, at least)... it's realtively simple, but it just works.

That's followed up by "Industrial Arts Remix" of the same song. There's some new horn samples and abrasive sound effects, and the bass from the original mix is flipped backwards. It's kinda cool, but not as effective as other remixes (like Pumpkinhead's "Dynamic") were using the same gimmick. This remix is good, mind you; but the original just sounds better; and that's the one you'll keep going back to unless you're really deadset on an alternative.

That's followed up by a rare treat for any DJ or remixer: "Sebutonedef (Accapella)." Like Buck said, the song's not really saying a whole lot, but Six manages to not only hold his own, but compliment Buck's unique delivery. It's really like some classic Ced Gee and Kool Keith shit, back when they were both kicking some nice verses.

The first track on the B-side (pictured above... check that out, huh?) is "Flux Capacity (Vocal Version)," another album track. Buck and Six both kick some hip-hop history over a moody head-nodder. Both are nice, but the beat outshines the vocals on this one... so it's perfect that the following track is "Flux Capacity (Instrumental)." They kind of remind me of a dark Raw Produce here... one can't complain about that.

The 12" rounds off with another non-album exclusive, "To Mock a Killing Bird" (two punny titles on one 12" is dangerously close to overload, but I think they just manage to get away with it). After about 40 seconds of sound effects (no doubt intended to stir up even more atmosphere, but you'll probably want to just needle drop a few rings in once you've heard it a couple times), a really catchy-but-ominous piano loop comes in that sounds like it could be lifted from the score of an old episode of Nigel Kneal's Beasts or something wakes you up. The drums kick in and suddenly you've got a really good song playing. Lyrically, Buck 65 just bugs out with his content and his rhyme scheme:

"In a position
Where I'm wishin'
The conditions weren't so miserable
The movers and shakers
With the visceral maneuvers
The designated minimal
Effect upon the educated
Criminal mind
And I never need religions
When I can always feed the pigeons
Rather than going to catechism
Born Catholic with the crack addict's jizzm
I'm telepathic
You paid to see the blue suede shoes
Stamp on my soul
And swallow a used tampon
Vandalize churches
My alarm signals me to scandalize disciples
And then to purchase firearms
And as we layer the ammo
And sing battle hymns
Along with the player piano
We dress up in cattle skins
Stockpile supplies
One eye on the clock dial
And, uh, one on the executioner
For the mock trial
Cut with precision
We make a final decision
Maybe we should pull the plug
On a television baby
But it's debatable
'Cause it's the ego andthe onus
Truth is still inflatable
He's scared to die
All we need to do is cut the air supply
Tamper with the remedies
The veins feed the poison
From the heart to the extremities
Beyond potential
We command a force
The non-essential ones
That ponder the causes
And also honor the losses
And prophets
What's that?
Beg your pardon, historian?
Spill your blood upon the dust
To make a garden for scorpions"

SixToo has a tough job to follow that verse up, but he does alright... his flow stands up better than his actual lyrics (we're back to the Keith and Ced vibe here). He's bouyed greatly by a hot X-Clan vocal being cut up for the hook - you really can't miss sampling the Grand Verbalizer. And they don't miss at all on this 12" - an underground classic of its time that still holds up today. Absolutely one for the crates.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Buck 65 Vinyl Week, Day 1 - Stolen Bass

It's time for another "week" of posts (I put that in quotes, because I don't really stick to a proper calendar week when I do these), this time looking at of some the most interesting Buck 65 vinyl pieces out there. And where better to begin than at the beginning?

"Stolen Bass" (the title of this 7", but interestingly, not the name of either song on the single) was his first vinyl release, on Murderecords in 1994. It came in a picture cover (as you can see in the image to the upper left) with an insert detailing the production credits, etc. and in two versions: black or red vinyl. The combined photo shoot (front and back cover and both sides of the insert) form some kind of visual narrative where Buck (or Stinkin' Rich as he was known at the time) goes to a hotel with a bunch of music executives (I'm guessing) and shoots them all - possibly an homage to his label? You'll notice my copy is signed, as it came from Buck 65 himself... he also threw in an autographed picture and some stickers. :) Here's his own description of the record:

"[T]his is my first vinyl-only musical release. It's from 1994 and it's called Stolen Bass. It was released by a label called Murderecords which was/is run by a band called Sloan. It's rare as hell. There never were many of these made in the first place and there never was a second pressing. I had recorded and sold a few little things before this sucker, but for all intents-and-purposes, this is my first proper record. The music on this record is rather silly. Let's just say I've come a long way. But it's scrappy. It's got oomph. Lo-fi oomph. It's dusty. It's 14 years old. I was around 20 when I recorded these songs (on a 4-track). I was living in a log cabin at the time and hadn't yet developed my fine taste in films. So having no girlfriend, I was watching lots of shlocky movies over and over again. This sort of life has a way of rotting one's brains. But all criticisms aside, this is an important piece of my 'story.' Now I've written close to 1,000,000 songs, but this is where it all began."

I usually find myself disagreeing with artists' takes on their own work, but in this case I think he's right on the money. Like most (but certainly not all) of his music, these two songs are all him: the vocals, production, writing and the scratching (they're credited in the notes to DJ Critical, another of his aliases). The A-side is "Who You Frontin' For," which uses simple but catchy battle rhymes over a very 90's-style track that still has the power to instantly draw you in:

"Stinkin' Rich is X-rated,
Complex, ill-fated;
But I still made it.
I concentrated
On phat rhymes;
It's not a past-time.
Now at last I'm
Gettin' two thumbs up.
If a challenge comes up,
It's goin' down.
Now this is how flowin' sounds,
'Cause I'm the only pro in town.
I'm lookin' for a chump for me to rob;
But I don't need a job;
I'm deadly like Marquis de Sade.
So don't bite or jock,
Don't even try to talk.
If I decide to rock,
You'll end up on the sidewalk
With a lot of chalk
Traced around your carcass.
You'll be slipping into darkness
When I reach way back
And smash
You in your teeth with more weight, then
You'll be picking up the pieces
Like The Average White Band.
I got a flight plan
For any sucker who be wantin' more;
You ain't got a chance in Hell...
So who you frontin' for?"

The b-side is "Chin Music." The beat is a little less effective, but when he starts cutting in the horn sample (plus a nice little "7th Chamber" vocal courtesy of Inspectah Deck), it's all redeemed. His delivery is a lot more playful, changing his style line-by-line, like a laid-back Fu-Schnicken. It's interesting, and the rhymes are fun; but I'm glad it's an experiment he concluded by the end of this song.

Only the most extreme purists would call this 7" his best work, but it's definitely a stellar example of the indie hip-hop movement of the mid-90's. Pick it up if you can find it.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

King Amper Rock's Lost album

You may remember King Amper Rock (or King Amperock... it's always fun when even the artist can't decide how we should spell his name) for his opening joint on Red Alert's 4th tape (or 5th if you count the reggae one), Kool DJ Red Alert Presents, "Check Me Out Baby." One of the stand-out elements of those tapes were the exclusive tracks. Well, on the earlier ones it was for the great rare records, but then as the track-listings got closer and closer to volumes of MTV Dance Party, it was the exclusives that kept us coming back.

Not a lot is known about Amper Rock. A single listen of "Check Me Out Baby" will forever imprint upon your brain the fact that he's from Uptown, and I know his real name is William Brown; but that's about it. Like pretty much all of the Red Alert exclusives, it was a hot joint; but disappointingly Amper Rock never seemed to follow it up with any of his own records.

A 5th Ave party announcement in 2003 (do a google search for "King Amperock"), promised that he'd drop his new single, "Bobble Head," but it never happened [if anyone can prove me wrong and unearth a copy, I'd love to hear about it!]. He seemingly just disappeared forever.

Except I've found a copy of this demo tape album of his from 1998! It's called Mob Wars on 145 Hun Forty Fif Recordings. It's eleven tracks deep (plus some skits), and it's damn nice. The production, all handeled by a cat named Brown Eyes, may sound a little low-budget; but if you're in the market for gritty, NY street rap, this is it in spades.

It opens up with some straight east coast criminology rap, with a delivery as smooth as Nas or AZ in their heyday:

"Tuesday, around two thirty,
There was a beef about bandits movin' on our territory.
I locked the spot up, jumped into the Expedition,
Venturin' towards my man on a kill 'em all mission.
These niggas threatened my life, my moms and my wife.
I gotta do this cat personally: an eye to the knife.
A term used by crews when you're slayin' dudes who fronted:
Look 'em in the eye, stab 'em in the stomach.
This I wanted while gettin' blunted - their days are numbered,
Without authorization or properly bein' funded.
So I'm doin' 85 on the Harlem River Drive,
Headin' down the Concourse then change my course.
Parkin' between One Eighty Third and One Eighty Fourth,
Right at the top of the hill where Cubans down with Rastas,
The crack vial kings, Seventh Ave mobstas,
The hitmen representin' the cash flow,
Intendin' to blow, dealin' the snow; and a-yo,
The connect is on tomorrow, at one oh oh."

On other tracks like "9ins in Rhymes," he just represents with verses of freestyle lyrics between a hardcore hook, "I got nines in rhymes that blast off as chrome shines/ Smack bitch-ass niggas on gates for shortin' weight/ Move keys in states from New York to Delaware/ Prepare to shoot with this gansgta shit here." The subject doesn't vary much from those two subjects (though he gets into some gritty sexual conquest tales on "Bag Dyme Pieces"), but he flexes over some different type tracks as the album goes on... "Laid Back Smooth Shit" is exactly what it says it sis, and his voice blends as perfectly with the slower drums and sparse piano as it did over the tougher, hardcore tracks earlier. By the time you get to "Take It Uptown Ampe!" which features a hype track with a DJ constantly rubbing in the drums and blaring horn-like sounds, the production grows from low-fi-but-rugged to straight hip-hop perfection. Sometimes the quality dips a bit, but if he could've just afforded one or two Premiere and Large Pro beats to fill in the potholes, you'd practically have Illmatic 2 on your hands.

So now, if Amp disappeared forever, I guess I wouldn't have a myspace link or anything for him, right? No wai! I found him [that's why this post took so long.]- he's changed his name to Frank Villain (or F. vLN) and started a clothing line ("Frank Villain is an original stylish clothing line, specializing in apparel for men, women and children. Frank Villain is the name of tomorrow and the face of what's new in fashion. We strive to be the best there is in clothing design."). So, yeah, he actually has two myspaces: this one is fuller, with two tracks (good stuff, too), but hasn't been logged into since May, 2006; and this one which is newer but has less content.