Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tony D In The Original

Update 9/27/11: The HHC site seems to be down, so I've posted the article below... Click 'em to enlarge 'em to a readable size.

The first issue of Hip Hop Connection's old school and golden era mini-mag, The Original just went up today. It includes my four-page tribute to Tony D... it was a little tough to write (you'll probably see why when you read it), but I think it came out right in the end. Let me know what you think.

This issue has some other really dope features as well, including:
A short piece on Kool Herc by T La Rock
An interview with Tony Buttons by James T McNally
A dope Kool Kim interview by Robbie Ettelson of Unkut
And a really in-depth article on the movie Breakin' by Richard Watson

So, yeah, check it out. It's all new, original content. It's up now on the HHC site, but the link's a bit tucked away there, so here's a direct link to the issue.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

InstaRapFlix 18: DJ Demp: Dirty for Life

I have to admit, I selected today's flick: DJ Demp: Dirty for Life (Netflix rating: 1.3 stars) for one reason... because it's by the same company as my last InstaRapFlix post (it was even in their trailer reel), and it's the essentially same running time. So was this going to be another example of a notorious trailer reel and a tiny short masquerading as a full-length film?

Actually, no. Thank goodness. All 53 minutes of this film's running time are actually the film itself.

And what is the film itself? It's footage of DJ Demp's birthday celebration! Who's DJ Demp, you ask? Yeah... I wasn't sure either. He's not even on discogs (I just checked). But from watching the movie, I now know he's a DJ in Miami, who has "scratched for Trick Dad," and also been on the road with Luke and Lil Flip. For the first several minutes, we follow Demp to a high school basketball game, where he meets some friends and they pose for a photo in "Demp Week" shirts.

Then we get a few soundbites by artists like Fat Joe, David Banner, Clipse and Ja Rule who give quick shout-outs like, "It's Crack, shouting out to my man Demp. It's going down in a major way;" and then they're out. I keep seeing these throughout my InstaRapFlix series, and I still don't understand why these guys making the DVD think we want to see 'em. If they don't have anything at all to say, what's the point?

Well, unless you thrill at them, then this movie isn't for you. Because apart from some low quality concert footage from a Trick Daddy show, which plays in such short snippets you never hear even a quarter of a song at a time - it's more like 2-3 sentences worth... Apart from that, you just get more and more of these shout-outs, many by people you'll never have heard of before.

We do get to see a little bit of footage of Demp at work behind the tables, and he's actually talented. He does a nice old school routine, juggling and cutting "Apache." But that lasts for maybe a minute and a half, all told. The rest is just random, digicam footage of shout-outs and shows, where the quality is at the level where you can't even make out what they're saying on stage. And they keep throwing ultra-cheesy "DJ Demp" logos in giant blue letters all over the screen. Finally. Oh, Demp does remember to take a minute to tell us to go buy his mix CD, coming soon, though. Yay for commercials. it ends with Demp telling us it's "time for the afterparty," but we can't see that. He's saving that for a whole seperate "part 2" DVD. Ugh; shoot me now.

So, to sum up, DJ Demp has skills. And a DVD of him doing some routines would be cool. But I think even if Demp had an obsessed stalker, she'd be bored with this. There's just no content; just a bunch of quick cuts oc low quality footage of basically nothin'. They never even say what age he was turning on his birthday. :P

Finally, on a technical note, let me just say that the video quality is terrible! To the point where you can't read the titles on the screen; they're lost in a pixalated haze. Now, I noticed they had me install an updated (2.0) player, so I thought "hmm maybe it's Netflix." So I tried another random flick (You Don't Mess With the Zohan, because it was at the top of the top 50 list), and that had the same affliction... so it is Netflix! So I guess Netflix's instant viewing has gone to crap??

Monday, April 27, 2009

What We're Gonna Do Right Here Is Go Back... Way Back

E.S.P. are a pretty cool - not exceptional, but consistently good - crew signed that were signed to Select Records for several years and worked regularly with producer Howie Tee. The name stands for each of the members' names: Elliot Ness, Mr. Speed and Professor Paul[I'm not sure if the P was technically for "Professor" or "Paul"]. This 12", "Back Rappin'," is their earliest release, dropped back in 1987, and as such has a more rudimentary, old-school sound... like early Whistle. By the time they released their album four years later, this didn't fit in at all with what they were doing, so the songs on here remain a nice little 12" exclusive.

The song is all about this new style they've invented, "Back Rappin'." They spend way more time talking about it than actually using it, but when they finally get to it, it sounds a lot like MC Marvelous's double word style (for the record, this one came first), where they basically say something and then rephrase it using almost all the same words backwards, like "Every time I rock, things get merry. Merry get things, rock the time every." So, yeah... it's a fun but not at all important record. Did I say the beat sounds like classic Whistle? Because it really does. Imagine something like "Buggin' Out" without the infamous "bug" sample. I believe this is also the first record Chubb Rock - who co-produced this along with Howie - ever worked on.

The same pair also co-produced the B-side, "Ready To Rock 'N' Roll." It's a fun ode to 50's rock ("yo, I'm Elliot Ness, not Wolfman Jack! We know it's not the fifties but we're bringin' it back"). The beat is really pure hip-hop, but they randomly drop some signature rock samples over the hook and a few other spots. This isn't about them trying to get on the Run DMC bandwagon, so much as them rhyming about jukeboxes and poodle skirts over a funky beat with the occasional guitar riff popping up.

ESP is probably better known for dropping a couple, fresh "random rap" joints. But this is different. It's a cool score, though, if you're in the mood for something a little more rudimentary and throw-back. There's also an acapella for the lead track (also an instrumental, which is cool because acapellas were pretty rare inclusions back in those days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

4 From the Nubians

This is a compelling, yet confusing, little release on a label that specializes in both compelling and confusing releases: a 4-track 12" by Brand Nubians featuring Grand Puba on Echo International in '99. Now, calling them the Brand Nubians may've been an error, or it may've been a creative attempt to circumvent legal hassles with BN's record label(s)... but in either case, there is historical precedent for use of the name. Their 1989 debut single for Elektra was actually "Brand Nubian" by Brand Nubians ...although that, too, may've been an error on the label's part. But I don't call this record confusing because of a niggling "s," but because of how random the track-listing is.

Two of these songs had previously been released, so let's get those out of the way first. The first song on side A is "Play It Cool." Ok, well "Play It Cool" originally appeared on Grand Puba's second album, 2000 (which, despite its name, was released in 1995). It was noteworthy at the time, because it was the first collaboration between Puba and Brand Nubian after he and Alamo left the group in 1991 - it's a duet with Sadat X, and it's over one of the nicest beats on the album, provided by Minnesota.

Ok, now let's flip this over to the second song on side B: "Kick Styles." This one's a little tricky, because they've changed the name on us, but this song was also previously released. "Kick Styles" is actually "I Flip Styles," a nice, 12" only-cut that was featured as the exclusive B-side to DITC's "All Love" 12". It features Puba, Sadat X and Diamond D over a track that Diamond also produced. Ha - you try to trick me, Echo International, but the Werner is too smart for you! :-D

Alright, but now let's get to the reason to actually buy this 12" - the exclusive stuff. First up is "Time To Put It On," a Grand Puba solo joint. It's got a funky, slow beat with deep horns and a hook that goes, "Grand Puba time to bag the dough. Stud Doogie and Alamo; time to put it on." A large chunk of the lyrics are lifted from his single "Amazing" (although it's clearly a different recording, since a few words are different... for instance what was "trippin' MCs up like astroturf" there is "trippin' niggas up like astroturf" here). So it's a new hook and beat with those old rhymes, but then when he reaches what would've been the end of the verse in "Amazing," he keeps rhyming new lyrics we haven't heard before:

"My lingo's like a Thursday night on the church bingo.
My props to Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo.
If I was in South Africa, I'd be a mandingo,
Creepin' through the bush lookin' for a joint single.
So come on, give a nigga his. I'ma earn mine,
But I'll catch ya all on the next time."

And finally is another Grand Puba joint, this time entitled "Don't Change." Interestingly, he date-checks 1994 in the lyrics to this one, so I guess Echo is digging deep in the vaults here. It's a duet with a female R&B singer - essentially another follow-up to "What's the 411?" If you asked me to take a guess, I'd hypothesize that this was meant for 2000, but then they ultimately decided they didn't want another song of this nature for that album and left it off. The lyrics to this one are pretty much all new this time, although he lifts one of his own punchlines from the song "Amazing"... Yes, that line was used in "Time To Put It On," too! "It's the New York shocker representin' like a Knickerbocker; watch me get it cookin' like Betty Crocker," becomes "representin' New York like a Knickerbocker, shuttin' down MCs like a pair of Blue Blockers." It's a nice track with a smooth soul sample. He refers to his partner as "Mariah," and it certainly sounds like Mariah Carey... but it's hard to imagine his label opting to not release a duet with an mega-celebrity like Mariah! But it sure sounds like her to me, and he calls her "Mariah" more than once. So you make the call.

So this is another one of Echo's nice, may-or-may-not-be-a-bootleg releases. It's definitely worth any Puba fan's time to pick this one up for the unreleased joints. And even the two previously released ones are at least good selections. And it goes for cheap, which is nice. But it raises some good questions for anyone ever interviewing Grand Puba...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Big T'ings

Hey, guys! Sunday is a big day for Werner-related announcements and things, so here goes...

Firstly, I submitted a review to one of my favorite hip-hop blogs (you may've noticed it in my links column there), Hip Hop Isn't Dead, where Max is beginning Round 3 of his Reader Review series. I decided to give 'im a little Miami flavor. It was fun reviewing in his format for a change, though I almost feel like I cheated, reviewing an album with no skits! hehe Well anyway, it just went up today, so go check out my Reader Review! (I think you'll enjoy it.) =)Secondly, I have officially joined the ranks of Diggers With Gratitude's contributors (along with Drew Huge and Dudley J; we're like a crack commando unit of vinyl reviews)! As you know, I've gushed about pretty much all of their releases so far (and if you've dropped by their forums, you've surely seen me there), so I was honored when they asked me. My first DWG review has just gone up today, too, so check it out here!

Finally, if you haven't heard, Hip Hop Connection, the longest running magazine in hip-hop (yes, longer than The Source - I was surprised, too!) has gone digital. You surely caught the link in my "Best Blog Posts I Didn't Write" column to their first issue; but if missed it, this is it here (apparently whoever wrote that review of Bike for Three has never heard of MC Shan, but nevermind. hehe It's got a great Doom interview and more cool stuff). They're gonna be coming out with regular, all-new content in the style of a proper magazine (as opposed to a blog or what-not)... and it's relevant to this discussion because they've asked me to be a regular contributor to future issues. As in, like, a regular column. So definitely be on the look out for that.

I'll be dropping direct links to any/every thing I write right here, though. So just keep an eye on this blog, and you won't miss a trick.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dougie Understands Ghostbusting!

The Daily Diggers just posted a blog about Doug E. Fresh's dope 12", "Spirit" (an underrated, little record I made a video about last summer). [That's a lot of crosslinks in one sentence, but at least hit up the one linking to the Diggers' article!] In it, they praise the single but allege that the song "only loosely referenc[es] any kind of ghostbusting activity." Man, you guys may know a lot about records, but when it comes to films' mediocre sequels, you're out of your depth!

Flat out, you guys need to watch Ghostbusters 2 again. After a careful comparison of the events in the film and the song's lyrics, I believe you'll see that all three of his verses are quite specifically and consistently talking about the plot of the film:

Verse 1) The very opening lines set up the premise of the film: "There's a force that's dwellin' beneath the city, tellin' you what you need and need not do. And it's motion stirs up commotion, feedin' off the people's inner emotions." Remember the movie? Paranormal activity is at an all-time high. Why? Well, we find out it's because there's an evil slime running through the city's sewers that feeds off of the citizens' negative emotions. So of course, with "a problem like that, you call the Ghostbusters." Because the "people who just might look so happy but feel so uptight... can't handle the problem that they created. It's from the depths of their spirit!"

Verse 2) Now in this city where "an evil presence makes it unpleasant for every resident," we find Sigourney Weaver's character: "and Dana's the lady." If you don't remember what happens to her in the flick, that's ok, it's all in the song: this evil "takes the mother's newborn baby" to Vigo, the film's villain - or as Doug E describes him, "an evil magician on a mission." He's currently in a weakened state, trapped inside a painting, but "no condition, will stop him on the transition of makin' it in time, with the help of the slime." He plans to be reborn in the baby's body ("the transition") so he can take over the world; but Sigourney Weaver knows who to reach out to! "Who stand for all? Who you gon' call for the brawl? GHOSTBUSTERS!"

Verse 3) Ok, this one is more tenuous/ abstract, but stay with me here. Remember how the movie ended? Things were getting really hopeless throughout the city as the slime thrived off of the peoples' increasingly negative emotions. In fact, you could say as Dougie does, that there were "a lot of dimensions, and misconceptions, certain things done for the wrong intentions." The evil was too strong for the Ghostbusters to even get near, so they needed to raise the New Yorkers' collective spirit with positivity. Remember, they animated The Statue of Liberty and played "Higher and Higher" by Jackie Wilson?

Now granted, the lyrics to this verse don't really detail the plot of the this part of film... instead, I posit that Doug understands the core, underlying theme of the finale and is expressing that in his own style. In the third act of the film, Dan Ackroyd's character says, "I just can't believe things have gotten so bad in this city that there's no way back. I mean, sure, it's messy, it's crowded, it's polluted, and there are people who would just as soon step on your face as look at you. But come on! There's gotta be a few sparks of sweet humanity left in this burned-out bird. We just gotta find a way to mobilize it!" And Doug's pleas to "plant a foundation of newborn leaders, law book readers, career coordinators and poverty beaters," is a plan to do just that!

So Doug's positive message = the positivity generated in the people of the city. And this theory holds because, in the movie, that positivity proves too strong for the evil slime, which melts away, allowing the Ghostbusters to enter the museum and save the baby. Or, as Doug explains, the evil spirits "hear it and fear it. Know it's the truth so they scared to come near it." And as the film ends with the people of New York cheering the Ghostbusters, Dougie ends with, "and you cheer it as I share it, 'cause it's my spirit."

So, yeah. I daresay the song is all about the ghostbusting activity. In fact, the only way the lyrics don't come across as nothing but an insane jumble of incoherent nonsense is if you've seen the movie and recognize what he's describing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Got Shit Sewn Like Billy Bathgate, Beware

It's a little hard to believe, but Select Records never released any kind of single from Godfather Don's underrated debut album, Hazardous. No promo 12"s, nuthin'. Well, Diggers With Gratitude have corrected this with their latest release, the "Billy Bathgate" 12". But this isn't just three tracks from that album thrown onto a 12"; these are three bangers from that era that weren't included on the album, but are at least as good as any tracks on there. So you get three never-before-released Don jewels from an earlier period than his other limited releases have been, and once again these are limited to just 300 numbered copies. And there were only 20 copies(!) of the green vinyl you see the picture above pressed (mine is #018).

I also gotta say good lookin' to DWG for the price, too. It's still pricier than a standard 12" single (are there standard 12"s anymore? Just barely, I think!), but at £22.00 (that's with international shipping included), it's a substantial mark down from previous limited vinyls.

Now Billy Bathgate, the movie, came out in 1991, so the sudden spike of rappers name-dropping the titular character from E.L. Doctrow's novel, a small-time gangster from the 1930's, was to be expected. But besides the name, Don's "Billy Bathgate" (which was previewed earlier on DWG's Lungbutters mixtape) has little to do with the character, though, except that they're both gangsters. But once you get past the "hey, I don't remember it happening like that in the movie..." confusion; who cares? It's a killer, fast-paced, slick syllable gangster rap narrative with a rugged, bassline-driven track that sounds like some long lost Kool G. Rap classic, if he hadn't decided to go the Sir Jinx route for album #3.

"Fromdamental," like its title suggests, is back to classic, head-nodding "hella rip-trip styles" over a hardcore drumtrack, a funky organ(?) sample and some quick turntable slices on the hook. It's a real precursor to his mid to late 90's material, and would almost have fit in better as a b-side to "Styles By the Gram" than tucked away somewhere on Hazardous.

"On and On" is the only track that actually appeared on the album; and this "Alternative Mix" is actually a complete vocal and instrumental remix. So essentially, it's an entirely new song, that only has a reference to going "on and on" in common with the original. The main sample is the same one Anttex used for his underground hit, "Understand Me Vanessa;" but Don adds sharp horn and guitar stabs, turning this into a fast-paced freestyle frenzy, featuring Jazz. But it's still got a darker, more serious vibe than the Hazardous version, which was a very playful track originally.

As of this writing, DWG has already sold out of both the extra-limited green pressings (of course) and the regular black ones. But you can still get a copy, if you're quick, from, who has a limited consignment of these, and will be shipping them on 4/28. Don't miss out!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Not-So-Free Houdini

You want new music you say? And not only does it have to be new, but it can't be that over-hyped crap like all this Eminem/Asher Roth*/Charles Hamilton/Rick Ross B.S. that seems to be all anybody can blog about? Hmm... tall order. And there's nothing left to be said about Blaq Poet's album that hasn't been covered in triplicate (but if you weren't sure: get it, dummy!). But not to worry - I got you.

This is Themselves' prelude to their upcoming album, CrownsDown: a mix-tape of all new material called The Free Houdini (mixed by Odd Nosdam and mastered by Daddy Kev). Now, if you haven't been following along with the news closely, you might be a bit confused. See, there's two versions of The Free Houdini. The first one, the downloadable mixtape, has been out for a minute. This one, the "very limited, deluxe edition," just landed today. I'm not sure how limited this "very limited" pressing is, but as you can see in the scan, mine is #1139, so maybe "semi-limited" would have been a little more accurate. Anyway, the distinction between this "deluxe" version and the one you may've downloaded is an additional 16 minutes worth of material (4 songs) that wasn't available in the free download. It's also broken up into separate tracks, whereas the download was just one, large mp3. It was originally announced that this deluxe edition would "have a digital booklet with lyrics," as well (something that's especially valuable with an MC like Dose, where it can be very difficult to make out what the hell he's saying). But this has turned out not to be the case. :(

But that disappointment aside, this is one sweet-ass CD. The guest-list reads like they read their biggest fan's message board wish list and made it happen: AesopRock, Buck 65, Sole, BusDriver, Pedestrian, Serengetti (ok, I have no idea who the fuck that is), Slug, Why? (yes, rapping not singing), DJ Baku, Passage of Restiform Bodies, DJ Andrew, Alias... even Lionesque, who we haven't heard from since the 90's returns to make another duet with Dose! But for all these guests, they still manage to keep the spotlight centrally on the talents of Dose and Jel.

The classic hip-hop throwback vibe they're shooting for on this mix (Dose is kicking mostly battle raps, for cripes' sake) works much better than Buck 65's half-assed 2007 attempt, Situation, hitting us with everything from a human beatbox track to ill LL Cool J and Saafir vocal samples being cut up to a remake of The Krown Rulers' "Kick the Ball." But the most exciting aspect of this mix isn't the plethora of clever old school rap references (because, let's face it, Nas definitively won that contest two years ago with his "Where Are They Now" remix 12" anyway), and frankly I could've done with a little less of the "name dropping for credibility" schtick... No, it's the general out-pouring of engaging beats, rhymes and successful collaborations that Anticon hadn't been able to make happen in a long time. So don't stop; get it, get it.

For the record, all of the music here is brand new, but three of the 20 songs are taken from the upcoming album. Themselves don't seem to have a collective myspace, but here's Dose's and here's Jel's. And of course their label site is: I'm not sure if they've announced a date for CrownsDown yet, but I don't care. 'Cause I'll be rockin' this one for a while.

Update 4/14/09: Cheers to Odd Nosdam for setting me straight on a couple points. One: Themselves do have a collective myspace page, and it's here. And two: Serengeti is a new Anticon signee, an MC from Chicago... his myspace his here.

*People keep calling him the next Eminem, and sure the voice and tone are clearly derivative; but substance/ content-wise, I'd say he's really the next Jesse Jaymes, with just a touch of that Danny Hoch "I'm some kind of performance artist" pretentiousness.

Learn Along With Werner

I bought this CD because I was curious about it and there's not much info online. Not because I thought I'd enjoy it musically at all, really. I just wanted to know. It's a full-length album by Teez feat Father MC entitled Gamin', which came out in 1999 on a label that specializes in confusing releases, Echo International. So now I have it, and I'll share what I've learned with y'all.

Ok. There's basically no information online (until now - woohoo!) about this album except the track-listing, a few production credits and the album cover, which depicts a very silly image of a woman in a sexually suggestive pose with a bear rug. The back cover (which isn't online anywhere) shows five women walking away from the camera, who appear to be runway models wearing a mix of miniskirts and bathing suits. So it's interesting, then, to learn that Teez is actually a quartet. So, are the women on either the front or the back cover actually any of the members of Teez? Who knows? I suspect not. I've included both sides in the photo, so you can judge for yourselves.

Teez actually wrote a little bio/explanation in their liner notes, which is in fact very illuminating; so I'll share the whole thing with you now (by the way, let me just say "[sic.]" in advance of all the grammatical errors):

"Samantha Dennis, Alexandria Pernier, Michelle Leonard and Joanne Defay together make up the soulful quartet TEEZ.
These four vocalists hail from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. They originally were four solo vocalists but when Father MC chose Ft. Lauderdale as the place to record his last album[note: I think they're talking about his Men With Millions album, which was never released, but you can read about it here] he needed female vocalists for backgrounds. A nation wide search was started to both find those backgrounds vocalists as well as assemble a new act for him to sign to his label.
What Father MC discovered was not an ordinary group.
The TEEZ style is best described as deeply gospel with a soulful R & B twist. Their name, TEEZ describes their visual appearance as well as their musical sound which leaves audiences everywhere wanting more.
From the man who brought you MARY J. BLIGE, JODECI and Intro his track record speaks for itself and TEEZ will prove to be yet another hit R & B group."

So, let's get to the main question I had about this album that isn't answered in the above. Just how involved is Father MC in this album. I can't think of any examples, off-hand, where an entire album was credited as featuring another artist. A single, sure. But the whole album? I guess that implies he's on every song?

Well, he's not. He effectively raps on three songs ("Fall In Love," "I Will Do" and "Boy (Teez Please Don't Tease)"); but he does also provide some generic background adlibs (of the "ah yeah," "come on," "this is how we do" and "woo!" variety) on a couple other songs. The writing credits say, "written by Teez and T. Brown" (Timothy Brown = Father MC), but they don't get song specific, so I don't know if he had a hand in writing the songs he didn't appear on.

There's also an odd little number closing out the album called "Control (Street Version)" (the non-Street Version is also on the album, and it's just another straight R&B track), with Father MC just slowly talking over the instrumental. Even if you put aside the inanity of what he's saying ("you know, four females bring out the horniness in horny people straight from Florida"), I can't imagine what the thinking was behind a "street version" where he just randomly yaks in a stream-of-consciousness for five minutes. He also keeps giving a fake laugh after everything he says and doing some "erotic breathing," Egyptian Lover-style. It's almost funny.

So, yeah. This album mostly consists of some cheap-sounding R&B tracks (produced by Timothy Moses & Pablo) with Father MC occasionally popping in to deliver your typical "rapper on a R&B song" guest verse. Teez themselves sound alright, but really lack the energy of say somebody like En Vogue that could make you care about what they're singing. They don't even sound like they care. After listening to this CD, you probably won't remember the rhythms, sounds, or words to any of the songs you just heard.

The one exception is "Boy (Teez Please Don't Tease)," which is the stupidest title, but the best song. The instrumental is jacked entirely from Schoolly D's "P.S.K." and hasn't been modified to sound any less raw than it did there. And they even cut up some Schoolly D phrases in the background as the ladies sing ("one by one, I'll knock you out"); it sounds kinda ill. In addition to having Father kick his guest verses (he actually does two on this one), one of the ladies raps on the intro as well. Now, Father MC's rhymes help to bring a little life to the rest of Gamin', but on this song they actually hurt more than they help. What sounds so good is just the ladies singing over Code Money's drums. I'm telling you, this could've gotten radio play if it was released as a single (instead they chose "I Will Do" b/w "Gamin'").

Besides that one track, this is pretty much the R&B yawner you'd expect (although looking at the crazy cover photo, you couldn't be blamed for expecting a female stand-up comedian's album either). I'd say it's for die-hard Father MC completists only, but that one song is worth giving a listen to. I can't say I have any idea what's become of Teez since this album... there was a girl-group called Teez that put out some kind of house record in 1995; but since the liner notes claim Father MC formed the group himself, I'd have to assume they're two different groups. You could probably buy that 12", listen to it and see if it sounds like the same women, but my interest really begins and ends with the Father MC connection, so we'll leave off here. :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sailing the Ocean Orange, part 2

In 2002, Ocean took one more stab at a solo career, this time with the Dutch. "Naturally" came out on Makin' Records/ Amo-Lab (in fact, the catalog number is AL001). When it's not a one-off record label, Amo-Lab is a 2-man crew from the Netherlands consisting of Shy (best known for his membership in the Postmen), who also raps on this, and Precise, who co-produced the track along with someone named Kurt Lawrence.

Well, once again, this is a dope, under-appreciated little gem. The track is cool with bouncy horns and a rumbly bassline. Both Ocean and Shy (whose accent seems as American as anyone's) sound good, kicking concept-free freestyle rhymes. Like the last 12", it's less about clever punchlines (though there's clearly a wit behind Ocean's rhymes), profound poetry or complex, bazillion-syllable rhymes, then just solid flows that blending with the beat.

There's Dirty, Clean and Instrumental versions on the A-side, then a "Long-Dirty" version on the B-side (along with a "Long-Instrumental"). The bulk of the difference just seems to be carrying out a protracted hook at the end, so it's hard to say if one version is really preferable to the other. But if you're feeling the rhythm, it's nice to have a version that lasts a little longer.

I don't know if this is 100% as impressive as the earlier 12", but it's a very worthy follow-up. Shy isn't quite the MC that Ocean is; but he holds up is end more than sufficiently. And if you'd rather hear freestyle/battle-type rhymes compared to the higher concept stuff of the last song, then that'll be another plus for ya. And once again, it's easily obtained for cheap.

Sadly, this was the final release not only from Ocean, but for the label, Makin' Records. As for where Ocean is today, it's hard to say. He doesn't seem to've stayed in the music hustle, but a 2005 interview with Jean Grae at tells us, "I see Ocean often, Aggie[the third member of Natural Resource] once in a while. Everyone is doing well."

Sailing the Ocean Orange, part 1

When Brooklyn's Natural Resource exploded on the scene in '96 with their kick-ass song "Baseball," the underground scene fell promptly in love with What What. She, in turn, immediately recognized and jumped onto that momentum, turning it into a successful solo career with a new name: Jean Grae. Natural Resource, sadly, only managed to put out one more 12" before seemingly being forgotten about completely. But Natural Resource was a hit-making unit thanks to more than just one member. Ocean also made a two-prong assault on the solo scene, which was sadly overlooked.

Ocean's first 12" came out on Natural Resource's home label, Makin' Records in 2000. Technically, you might point out, that's actually before Jean put out any of her own music, but remember, she was doing all those 12"s with Herbaliser way back in '97. Now... ok. I'll make one more point about Ms. Grae, and then I'll shut up about her, because this post is meant to be about Ocean. You may see this 12" listed online as "featuring Jean Grae," but if you look on the label, she's not credited (you guys know you can click to enlarge all my scans, right?). That's because she is on here, but only doing backing adlibs behind one of the verses. It's a good addition to the song, the element works; but if the only reason you pick this is up is to complete your Jean Grae collection, you're gonna be disappointed.

But there's plenty of other good reasons to pick this up. Chiefly that Ocean was a clever, underrated MC who comes with a slick flow over a nice, head-nodding beat here. There's just one song: "The Usual," but it comes in two distinct versions, "Sober Nights" and "Intoxicated Nights;" and you get Clean, Dirty and Instrumental mixes for both. Lyrically, they're both the same: fun (but surprisingly angry) day-in-the-life type rhymes, where our narrator has clearly opted to go the intoxicated, rather than sober route. But the instrumentals are completely different - though they do evoke a similar atmosphere - one produced by Run Run Shaw (another alias of Jean Grae, so much for not mentioning her again!), and the other by a guy named god's CHILD, who I've never heard of; but I gotta say his version edges out the other one. It's really hot, and I'm surprised you didn't hear more DJs using this for freestyles and radio junk back when this came out. Some of the rhymes are funny, but both versions are really all about just how fresh Ocean sounds riding over the dope beat(s).

I don't know what else to say besides that this sounds really nice. It's a completely worthy entry in the Natural Resource oeuvre, with a Fugees-in-their-prime vibe. So if you've slept on this, do yourself a favor and go find a copy. It's an undeserved neglect, but the upside is that Ocean's releases are not hard to track down at all, and for cheap. 8)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Thy Kingdom Conspicuously Absent

So, most of you probably remember the hype when Compton's largest veteran King Tee (who shortened his name to "King T" for the move) signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, originally appearing on Dre's '96 Aftermath compilation. That song - "Str-8 Gone," produced by Bud'da - was even released as a less publicized single. And you surely remember the anticipation of his fifth album, Thy Kingdom Come, which was meant to be produced chiefly by Dr. Dre and released in 1997... and then 1998 (hey, we all know Dre likes to work slow). And you probably remember that album eventually getting shelved and King T(ee) never again recording another album.

And some of the more serious fans among you probably remember the album eventually being released independently by a label called Greedy Green in the early 2000s with a ridiculous cover of a turkey wearing bling(??), which doesn't at all match the art direction Aftermath had been using. It first turned up on Sandbox, and then a few other places. Critical reception was not-so-hot... it had so many guest features (even Shaq was on there!), it felt more like a King Tee-sponsored compilation than a fifth King Tee album. And while there's no doubt that many, if not all, of those tracks were recorded for Tee's Aftermath album, I wonder if the "Turkey CD" is really the Kingdom Aftermath was planning to deliver. I suspect that all the tracks with guest MCs were chosen to get as much "celebrity cameo value" as possible by the label that was clearly just throwing this out there for the careless quick buck (it's not like they marketed the thing at all), and a more sophisiticated album, with a different track-listing, remains in Aftermath's legendarily deep vaults. Two Kingdom promotional 12" prereleases on Aftermath Records support my theory.

Exhibit A is the album's lead single, "Got It Locked." Flat out, the lead single from the album is not on the album. That lays out a pretty decent, circumstantial case just by itself... And just to hammer home the point, click the label scan to enlarge the print at the bottom which reads, "From the forthcoming Aftermath/Interscope release Thy Kingdom Come," or the sticker which reads, in decidedly bigger letters, "the first single from the forthcoming album Thy Kingdom Come." And if you still need convincing that this was meant to be on the album, and not just work as some kind of prelude, it's mentioned by name and quoted lyrically in The Source's September '98 review of Thy Kingdom Come. Again, the fact that this song has no guest MCs follows my theory. Interestingly, the 12" only features the Extended Mix (well, besides the Instrumental and Acapella)... a promo CDS on discogs, though, shows us that the album version was meant to be 4:02, so we know the Extended version has added 32 seconds of basically just letting the beat ride at the end. Nothing to write home about there. There's no production credits here, but again we can refer to discogs' CD single to see that it's produced by Dr. Dre himself. For a Dre beat, it's pretty underwhelming... Tee gives some basic "this is who I am; this is what I do"-type lyrics clearly meant to lay the groundworks for what was to come. It's nothing amazing - remember, nothing we've heard from any version of Thy Kingdom Come suggests it wouldn't've have been anything but his weakest effort - but it still seems crazy to leave off the album (a Dre beat in '98 was like a bucket of guaranteed money)... it is better than a lot of the stuff we did get.

So the fact that we're hearing the album without the lead single tells me we've been given a compromised product. But we still have Exhibit B: a four-track promotional EP of, as the sticker clearly states, "Selections from the forthcoming album Thy Kingdom Come" (and, yes, it's printed on the label again as well). Well, three of these selections did make it onto the "Turkey disc," but there's still a glaring ommission entitled "That's Drama." Opening (and closing) with a vocal sample from Fear of a Black Hat about Rappers Against Violence being pushed into violence, Tee comes with an angry diss track... although it's never quite clear just who he's talking about. From the lyrics, though, we know it's someone who lies about what he's done and the set he claims and stayed home doing something sexual while Tee was out squashing beef. Once again, it's a Tee solo track, but his hostility makes it one of his most compelling. And if there was ever any doubt that T was true to his roots (though, of course, there's never been), this track was produced by Chris "The Glove" Taylor.

So, like I said... there's really no way around this being Tee's weakest release; but it wasn't bad and quite possibly could've been better than the Greedy Green version we've heard. Only an excavation of Dre's vaults would tell us for sure. If nothing else, there's a couple 12"'s for completists to track down and get a little closer to the truth.

It also bears pointing out that another underground album from Tee surfaced in 2004 called The Ruthless Chronicles, which features a lot of songs (more than half) from Thy Kingdom Come. Could the "new" tracks actually just be the other unreleased tracks from Aftermath? It's definitely possible, but "Got It Locked" and "That's Drama" aren't included there either. So who knows?

And finally, yes, King Tee does have a myspace. And interestingly, his player is still filled with Thy Kingdom Come tracks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Whither Verb?

^Trying a new thing this time... uploading the video direct to the blog. I'm also putting the vid up on the Youtube channel, though; so the people who watch my stuff there won't miss out.
If you prefer it or hate it, let me know.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Black Hummingbird and The Queen of Hip Hop Soul

I think we can all agree that Father MC's best MCing was in his Stupid Fresh Records day. But he was still doing quality work on his first two albums, before he went from writing sincere relationship songs to playing an ill-suited pimp/player role on his later material (if you'll remember, even his hit "One Nite Stand" from his second album, was about how he didn't want a one night stand, but rather a committed relationship). He seemed to figure this out later in his career, and at least devoted his albums to being equal parts love songs and player songs; but by that time he didn't have the producers.

"I'll Do 4 U" is Father MC's second single (of four) off of his first album, Father's Day; and with this release he was 2 for 2 in discovering huge R&B phenomenons with his back-up singers. He blew up Jodeci with "Treat Them How They Want To Be Treated" and now he was debuting Mary J. Blige.

Now, Cheryl Lynn's "Got To Be Real" is one of those rare songs that just sounds perfect as a rap track no matter how many times you use it. Sure, you can wag your finger at an artist using it for their lack of originality, but in the end you'll be digging it regardless. And Prince Markie Dee and his Soul Convention do a nice job updating it to a New Jack Swing rap/R&B hybrid.

The extended version featured on this 12" is a solid two minutes longer than what was included on the album. It has some extended instrumentation, but the primary focus is on additional singing by Blige, allowing her to break out of the strict confinements of the hook and flex her stylings. It's not a vast improvement over the album version... in that it's largely the same; but for my money it's the definitive version, and there's no reason to go back to spinning the shorter mix after you've got this one.

Lyrically, it starts out a bit slow, with some pretty weak, generic lines about how he'll treat you right and "get your bubble bath ready," but it gets a little more compelling when he talks about how he guards his feelings in the early stages of a relationship and refers to himself, in a rather clever metaphor as "the black hummingbird." It's not mind blowing poetic brilliance rained down from the Heavens, but clearly more thought was put into it than your typical pop radio tune.

This is one crossover hit that earned the success it found, and it's hard not to like it even if it's not typically to your tastes. The 12" also features the shorter Radio Version and the Acappella, not to mention the swanky picture cover. While hardcore collectors are paying upwards of $1500 for rare "random rap" 12"s, it's nice to remember that there's still heaps of nice little 12"'s like this that you can stick in your crates for pennies.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Slip N Slide Society, part 2

Ok, so in part 1 I talked about how Society was signed to Slip-N-Slide, who ultimately sat on his album and never put out any of his music. But he wasn't left with absolutely nothing to show for his years spent at the label... almost nothing, certainly; but not absolutely nothing. He did manage to land three guest spots on Trick Daddy records, two of which were released on 12".

Add ImageThe first Trick Daddy/ Society collaboration to be released was on the B-side to his hit single "Nann" - or "Nann Nigga" as the original, radio unfriendly version was called - his colorful duet with Trina. First a few notes about this 12" - like you see in my labelscan, everyone of these 12""s has that word after "Trina" covered up with black marker. That's because it's crosing out the word "dirty" (after scanning it, I took a little solvent to the label and can now make it out) and the first track is in fact the clean version. So they're all that way; that's the way they shipped from the label. Also, you want to be sure to get the original "Nann" 12", not the "Nann (Remix)" 12", which doesn't include the Society track.

Ok, so that out of the way, let's get to that B-side. It's called "Living In a World," and like the A-side, was also included on Trick's 1998 album, It's produced by Rush and you can tell it's his obligatory "message" song, because it features a sappy hook by a children's choir, credited only as The Children's Choir, that goes, "Living in a world where hearts are cold, yeah yay, ya'll/ Livin' in a city where thugs don't live that long, so/ Sleepin' in a home where only gangstas roam, all nite long; and I'm/ Thuggin' there for days wit my G's and we pray... 'help us, Lawd!'" The instrumental is well done, though, with some varying elements that even switches up for Society's verse. Speaking of Society's verse, he obviously outshines Trick on his own track, but Trick Daddy's verse is respectable and sincere. But Society manages to bring those elements as well as a much tighter flow and more compelling, rapid-fire wordplay for a killer verse that defines the phrase "next level:"

"Never confuse love and lust;
Retailate bust for bust.
You can trust in us; we spit that venomous.
It's either them or us, ash to ash, sell the dust;
We go to war for the peace, ignore the police.
I still believe that it's the East that invented...
See, the West complemented; they always represent it.
And all my peoples down South keeps it weed-scented!
Better focus when I put this hocus pocus on the CD;
I drop mine in braile so them blind cats can read me.
I'm the cat that curiosity killed. Prophecy filled.
I'm still waters that run deeper than hoe pussy.
Get pushy in the clutch, roll up like dutch mastas;
I cuts and slashes, plus I flows like Casius.
It's warless clashes; you need credit in the last days.
So when them gats spray, do crime pay, when you get shot?
That's why I stay calm[/com] like w w w dot. CD
For who seeks the actual... article;
You heard it live; it's certified, mechanic on the mother ship,
The alien. I changed the course of them with the wings;
I would love to be considered sin in the physical form,
Like I'm born to be crucified, and mother was born to cry.
Taught: bitches born to live long and bastards are born to die,
And God and the devil just don't see eye to eye.
'Cause ya'll thugs don't understand that this devil gone always lie."

That's the kind of verse that just screams, "put my album out!" And he sounds damn nice over the track. Unfortunately, you only get Clean and Dirty versions of this song, as the bulk of the 12" is full of "Nann" versions.

Three years later, Society was still chillin' on the Slip-N-Slide roster when Trick Daddy released his next album, Thugs Are Us. This time, Trick released his message song (yes, with another chorus by The Children's Choir, although this time they go uncredited) as the advance single, complete with a big budget video and the whole nine. Titled "Amerika" on the album, but retitled to the more politically correct "America" for the single, this song's instrumental, produced by the daringly named Righteous Funk Boogie (who produced a lot for Trick Daddy, including the aforementioned hit "Nann"), is very reminiscent of "Living In a World." Nobody says so, but this is clearly meant to be some kind of remake or sequel to "Living In a World." Trick Daddy ups his game alittle here, with a tighter rhyme scheme and a direct message to the president. But while Society still delivers a solid verse, he definitely doesn't come off as impressively as the first. He brings a more direct, and angry, message... but (in a way, possibly, to his credit) doesn't show off his skills here. And the fact that Trick wraps things up with another verse of his own at the end, this time. I suspect there was a concious effort by all parties involved not to let Trick Daddy be outshined again here, on his "important" single.

On the plus side, you do get the Acapella and Instrumental, along with the Clean and Dirty versions on this 12". And you also get those four versions of Trick's posse cut "Get On Up," featuring The Lost Tribe, Money Mark of Tre +6 and JV on the B-side.

Unfortunately, the last collabo - "The Hotness" - never made it onto a 12"; it's just another Thugs are Us album track. This is a nice, freestyle track where both just flex their freestyles and bragging skills over a dope, east coast sounding beat produced by Black Mob Group. Trick even seems to have dropped his Southern drawl for this one - at first I thought he gave Society a solo joint on his album as a little showcase. Well, on closer listening, there's clearly two MCs; but I'm really not convinced that other MC on the track is actualy Trick Daddy, and not some unnamed other contributer. The hook features someone doing a screaming DJ shouting everyone out, which is a little annoying but sets the tone perfectly for what they're going for. The drums are even repeatedly scratched in. Both MC's take turns passing the mic back and forth... lyrically, it's nothing monsterous, but just fun, Boot Camp Clik-sounding freestyle rhymes like, "we're worldwide without the web/ Grateful without the dead/ Juicy without the fruit... or the loops/ For the troops/ I kick the ill titantic flow/ Society, the black DiCaprio/With one more year to go/ The hot shit 'bout to blow!"

Anyway, all three tracks are definitely worth checking for, even if you're the type to ordinarily hate Trick Daddy with a passion (IMO, he's really not that bad; but that's a whole other series of blog posts - haha). Society displays talents and skills possibly even in advance of his earlier work, so it's a shame that "the right people" didn't take notice of him here and give him his shine. Oh well. At least Trick Daddy vinyl is cheap and plentiful, so you can pick these up on a whim and at least enjoy a little more quality Society.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Slip N Slide Society, part 1

Most of you reading this are probably already familiar with Marcus Effinger, a.k.a. Society, but just in case... he was a conscious MC with some very east coast influences who started out with Professor Griff, then wound up releasing his own, very dope EP (and 12") on Luke Records before they went bankrupt. That's all the catching up I have patience for; but if you haven't already, check out his EP - you'll like it.

He seemed to drop off the scene after that, but he actually signed to Slip-N-Slide Records. He was due to drop an album called Godflesh: Solids Liquids Gases in May '97 (see the ad, above), but it never came out. Notice it says it's featuring Lord Mecca and Mighty Buda... those are the other MCs from Griff and Society's Field Nigguhz Klick, as featured on Society and Griff's albums. I remember calling the label back when I was at The Source, and they acted like I was crazy asking about Society. They literally told me all they cared about was Trick Daddy, who was blowing up at the time; and they wouldn't say anymore about him. Nice, huh?

Well, Society's unfruitful stint on Slip-N-Slide (read the fine print of that ad... apparently the graphics are also by "Society Productions") was pretty much the last the world heard of Society, except in 2005 he dropped a guest verse on Public Enemy's New Whirl Odor album. But is Slip-N-Slide sitting on a completed Godflesh? How much of it was recorded? Considering they already had the guest appearances worked out for the ad, I'm guessing that it was recorded. So the question becomes: what are the chances somebody could liberate it from their vaults?

The Black Whirlwind

Tonight, we're starting with the B-side, gang.

I'd never heard of this guy before stumbling upon his 12", but apparently Etcetera is a Brooklyn MC and producer who's put out a few records over the years, and is still doing it. There's no date on the label, but according to an old, online press-kit of his, this dropped in 2000. And if you look closely at the label scan, you can see why I picked it up: "Tonight" is a posse cut featuring fellow Brooklynites UG and Gauge.

And when I got it home and plopped it down on the tables, this song turned out to be even better than I was expecting. The beat is hard and energetic, perfect for being torn up by some Brooklyn hardrocks, with cracking drums and wailing industrial-like samples reminiscent of Public Enemy records if they made beats for Stretch and Bobbito freestyle sessions; and both UG and Gauge bring their A-game, spitting two verses apiece. UG dances the line between his classic mystic style and uncompromising ruggedness:

"Who wanna battle?
I travel like bullets through gun barrels!
Get grappled and tackled to the gravel;
Clap you with chrome,
Crackle the bones
Under your vest.
David Koresh
Burnin' your flesh, fricassee.
No one is sicker than me;
Spittin' degrees
Hotter than the sun.
The black whirlwind.
Ya world ends!
Your friends and your girl,
It's over.
I separate your head from your shoulder;
Flying guillotine.
Rhymes kill a team,
Murder verbally.
Who ain't heard of me,
I'll send 'em straight to surgery
Leakin' burgundy.
You vs. me, UG,
An ill specimen
That assembles weapons in milliseconds
To kill your section
And then vanish...
Into thin air!"

Etcetera isn't quite as ill as these two, but he keeps up with a more playful punchline-y flow. The hook is a clever play on a lyric from "The Show."

So, how about the A-side? It's called "Beez Like That," and without the guest verses, it certainly lacks the excitement of "Tonight," but it shows that Etcetera can do alright on his own, and the beat's still pretty tight. It's good, and he has some amusing lines, but you probably won't flip this record over too often to find out.

So, like I said, Etcetera is still doing it. He has a myspace here... some of his new tracks seem pretty bland and mainstream to me, but I guess if you like the kinda stuff 50 Cent is doing nowadays, you might like it. He does have another track with Gauge that's at least worth listening to ("Oh No - Version II"), but nothing suggests he's coming with anything as ill as this joint.