Saturday, October 4, 2008

Put Down the Guns

In 1993, a a first-time Chicago rapper called J.G. came out with a single featuring a grip of independent Chicago artists making a call for peace entitled, "Put Down the Guns." Remember that? The video got mad airplay back in the day, though despite its success his label, Gasoline Alley, never put anything else out by him. Guess they just considered it a one-off.

Production-wise it came out at just the right time, using that shamelessly Dre-inspired Ron Isley slide whistle sound before it got hopelessly played out. But even putting that aside, it had a hard, thumping bassline, good drums and just a simple loop to hold it all together. A simple beat to let the variety of MCs carry the weight.

And every MC did carry their weight... and the fact that they were pretty much all unknown made it that much more exciting when the single came out of nowhere, like "H.E.A.L." with the celebrity fluff ripped off. And the label sure didn't help the MCs become less unknown. Not the actual 12" label, or the cassingle insert, which had a full page of credits and thanks, actually tell you who any of the MCs are (though one or two are named in the specual thanks... but not all!). Without actually hearing the song, you'd assume it was a J.G. solo cut.

Thankfully, the video gave little subtitles everytime another MC got on the mic. So we know the line-up.

It starts out with J.G. (naturally), kicking a laid-back flow, "funny feelin' when you're starin' at the ceilin', locked in the pen and pretend you don't grin. And when it's time for parole, you're a pro. You know just where to go to make yourself some dough... say what's up, ain't seen him since we were shorties. Used to be homies and now ya don't even know me because you're rough adn you're tough; I say man, you've grown up. ...He said, 'what happened to that brother I shot?' I said, 'Joe? he's still alive,' thinking: damn, he forgot?"

Next up is Ten-Tray, with a gruff and angry flow. Or more specifically, Crunch, the lead MC of the group Ten-Tray, which also included Blood, Sweat, Tears and DJ X-Ray. They had come out with an album (Realm of Darkness) and single ("I Convey") in 1992 on Smash Records. Smash was a division of Polygram, apparently making them the first Chiacgo rap group with a major label deal. Confusingly, he starts his verse by saying he's "from the Bricks, so you know I'm down;" when he's definitely from Chicago like everybody else on this record. The crew split up after this. X-Ray (who has a myspace here) once made wrote an online post saying, "hey whats up i was the dj in the group ten tray i dont no what happiend all i now i got fucked in the hole deal." Crunch later changed his name to Jitu tha Jugganot (check out his site, or his myspace), and came out with an indie album in 2007 called Necessary Ingredients (which X-Ray also worked on).

Next up is Stevo. I really have no idea who he is. He holds his own, though, with a slower and simple flow, stressing individual words. Sort of like a toned-down, non-growling Tim Dog.

Fourth, "it's time for the Poets." The Rhyme Poets, that is. Their specialty here is the back and forth wordplay, which helps liven things up. The Rhyme Poets were a three-man crew consisting of Deva-D, Triple-S and Pancho, who had an album in 1989 called Nation Within a Nation. The group later split up, and Pancho hooked up with a new group called The Illiniez in the mid-90's, who are apparently still together. Leastways, they still have a myspace page.

Fifth is either Madd Skillz (as it's spelled in the video) or Mad Skillz (as it's spelled in the cassingle's special thanks). In either case, he's definitely not that Mad Skillz. Actually, both his voice and flow sound a lot like some early Fat Joe. As far as I can tell, this song is his only appearance on wax.

Sixth, J.G. comes back for a second verse. That's only fair, I reckon, since it's his record; and after all, Gasoline never showed him the love and let him release an album.

Seventh is Prince Akeem, best known for being the godbrother of the great Chuck D: "Put down my gat? I say never! 'Cause another brother's got a gat without a lever. So I say 'never leave home without one' around my way; I shoot a punk in his goddamn face... Got a glock in ya sock, and a nine in the spine of ya back; and ya target is always black." Akeem has always sounded and flowed like Professor Griff, and this song is definitely no exception; but that's ok, because Griff was always a little underrated as an MC. Akeem started making a name for himself with a couple singles and a hard to find album on Chicago Tip Records in '91. But even with guest appearances by Chuck and Flavor, he never seemed to really take off; and this was pretty much the last song he'd ever do.

Finally, Crunch of Ten-Tray comes back for a final hardcore verse, definitely taking the preachiness edge off of this record, "don't you see we have a universal enemy? Yet and still, you point your goddamn gat at me! How much heart does it take to smoke your own? Raise your fist, black, 'cause the war is on!"

So, the video version was cool... but there's a far superior remix on the single. They ditch that "let's appeal to all coasts, guys" vibe on the "Street Mix," which brings a grimier beat, rolling bassline and a DITC-style horn sample. It's straight up ninties New York, b-side wins again style.

There's also the "Stepper's Mix," which goes in the opposite direction, taking the west coast elements and replacing the vocals with a bunch of extra, live instrumentation (piano, funk guitar, keys and a few more samples), like an old "Quik's Groove." It works pretty well as a reprise, though you wouldn't spin it without listening to the original version, too.

This is a quintessential time capsule of 90's hip-hop if ever there was one. If that's what you're into, pick it up; you're sure to get a kick out of this.

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