Sunday, February 1, 2009

Poison Clan Appreciation Week, Day 4: The Good Luke Songs

There's a reason most Luke albums are the stuff of dollar bins and rarely even find their way online. They're bloated and about 50% skit. And Luke doesn't even pretend to be a rapper and adopt a rudimentary flow - ever - he just talks on half his songs and does hooks only on the rest. I mean, he's had some short-term successful singles with his shout and call songs, with good reason: he had some great in-house producers (even his biggest detractors can't really front on the instrumental to "Breakdown"). But I could still sleep peacefully at night if all of those songs were wiped from existence tomorrow.

But, there's one reason to own them all: The Poison Clan!

All of his albums before Luke Records self destructed (post label destruction his albums changed and aren't really relevant to the discussion) were worth picking up because, naturally, Luke used his albums to promote his artists (and help deflect the fact that he was putting out rap album after rap album without being able to rap). Each of his albums have some great songs; all featuring The Poison Clan. The rest of the albums you could throw away. So, let's look at all of those now:

From I Got Shit On My Mind:
1) "Fakin' Like Gangstas" - This is essentially a JT solo joint, although Luke adlibs ("I still don't know the fuck nigga that I was shootin' at!") on the hook. It's a solid cut, with JT using a simple flow over a nice beat, speaking out against everyone he thinks is faking being a gangsta. It's the song that made Snoop and Dre turn around and diss Luke on "Dre Day," and would be a solid entry any Poison Clan album.

2) "Pussy Ass Kid and Hoe Ass Play (Payback Is a Mutha Fucker)" - This is great. A raw, hardcore beat with JT and the underrated Bustdown just trading verses dissing the hell out of Kid & Play. The beat switches around and there's some nice scratching on the hook; but Bustdown really steals the show. JT is as dope as ever, too. Luke riffs a bit at the end, but he doesn't really add anything.

3) "Head, Head and More Head" - At first this sounds like just another of Luke's shout and call songs, with him shouting out various dirty phrases to an audience that enthusiastically shouts back over a hype track with an ill guitar lick. But then JT Money and Jiggie Gee get on the track, spitting sexual diss verses at each other. It's a fun battle-of-the-sexes joint, though Luke's parts feel a little protracted.

From In the Nude:
1) "Bad Land Boogie" - I forgot about this when it was new, so it was a really nice surprise when I went back to my old Luke tapes in the 2000's (even more surprising, Luke included this on his greatest hits CD years later). This is a Home Team joint (just in case anybody's joining us late, both Home Team members were down with Poison Clan; Deb Rock was a founding member), and in classic HT tradition takes a well-loved old school beat and adds some deep bass and samples, and the duo take turns kicking ill, bugged verses. This is really the only proper Home Team song besides what's on their album, so fans should definitely snag this - you won't be disappointed!

2) "Cowards In Compton" - I just did a video blog about this yesterday, so refer to that. Suffice to say: it's dope, and the only noteworthy Luke track that he released as a single.

3) "Head, Head and More Head part 2" - This is pretty self-explanatory; Luke clearly wanted to recapture the success of the first one by barely varying from the first one at all. JT and Jiggie are back over the same beat and Luke is doing the same thing over the hook. The only change is that JT and Jiggie have some new verses... but, really, what more do you want? These are definitely the least of the songs I'm highlighting, but they're still fun.

4) "Freestyle Joint" - Now this is what it's all about. JT, Deboinaire, Clayvoisie and Fresh Kid Ice of the 2 Live Crew make a posse cut over a really nice track. Everything about this song is just right, the beat is fresh, the samples are cool and everybody sounds good with their verse... like when Deb gets on the track, his voice sounds perfect. Even Fresh Kid Ice's hardcore boasts ("fuck with Chinaman and ya die!") work when they shouldn't. I don't think you can even be a hip-hop fan and not enjoy a song like this. The two concepts just can't occupy a human brain at the same time.

From Freak for Life 6996:
1) "That's How I Feel" - This is a cool, Mike McCray produced solo joint for JT, with a fresh MC Lyte sample cut up for the hook. Luke adlibs a bit on the breakdown but again, his input is irrelevant; it's just about JT, the beat and the DJ. Good shit.

2) "Represent" - This is sort of like "Freestyle Joint" part 2. The beat is different but still tight... it's rawer (there's even a Big Daddy Kane sample saying "get raw" on the hook) with whining horns, and the MCs on this posse cut get a little more lyrical. There's even a human beatbox on the track! This one features JT, Verb (of The New 2 Live Crew who tried to bring an east coast lyrical vibe to the group), Fresh Kid Ice and Drugz.

3) "Movin' Along" - We end with a nice track but an unkept promise - a Poison Clan reunion track! It's just credited as being PC, but it's JT and Deb as a pair again. It's a slow, smooth cool-out rhythm and features Luke's in-house reggae artist Likkle Wikked (who sounds dope) on the hook, along with a soulful, vintage vocal sample. It's all about hearing each of them ride the groove, with a collection of old school funky guitar samples, including one which is clearly a deliberate call back to the Poison Clan's first album. It's painful to imagine all the nice material we'd've had if Luke Records didn't have financial problems... damn.

So, anyway, that's it. After that, Luke lost all his good acts and his subsequent guest stars were all lame or outside his camp (a la his stuff with Doug E Fresh and Biggie). It's probably hard to justify picking up crap albums for an average of three good songs; but considering how cheap you can get them now, it's like buying three sweet singles of just the tight songs (and, like I said, at least the rest has some good production). So to me it's worth it: classic Poison Clan material.

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