Thursday, September 17, 2009

Willus World

Ok, so Sabado Gigante's bid for the presidency based on campaign promises of nipples and fire wasn't weird enough for ya? You jaded thrill seekers want to descend even deeper into insanity and goofiness? Well, then I guess it's time to break out the catalog of Willus Drummond. His name is a(n intentional?) corruption of the adoptive father character from the hit sitcom Dif'rent Strokes, he reportedly sent out urine samples to magazines with his first promotional single, and as you can see in the picture covers above, he regularly wrapped his head in tinfoil. I think the man qualifies.

Willus made his debut with the 1999 single "Evacuate tha Planet" on a label called Enta Prizez; and as odd as his schtick is, he was almost a natural outcome of the times, arriving on the heels of the surprise crossover appeal of Dr. Octagon, the peak of the 90's independent vinyl boom and the beginning of the internet's ability to legitimatize a wider variety of hip-hop voices. You'll recognize the name of Chops on the label, from The Mountain Brothers; but he only recorded and mixed this. Actual production credit goes to Mike Baxter, which I'm thinking my be Willus's real name, since he's produced all of Drummond's records, and no one else's that I could find.

The beat is acceptable but unexceptional. No one's gonna request the DJ spin this so they can have another taste of the music, but the upbeat track and deep, clomping bassline surely provides the tone Willus was after. Some crazy vocal samples and nice scratching by DJ Duddly on the hook certainly go a long way towards endearing this record to the heads. Vocally, Willus has a very simple, clearly enunciated delivery to make sure you hear every line. And lyrically, well, it's all nonsense just on the borderline of cleverness, and his subject matter not only shares the outer-space aspects, but also the penchant for pee-pee and doo-doo references with his obvious inspiration, Kool Keith (with a pinch of Sir Menelik's syllable-packed guest verses, as well):

"No resource of all action can halt me;
I need plutonium, uranium,
Titanium, various elements and fragments
Of debris. You see
Catastrophic winds of the holocaust,
Diabolical dismemberment.
You shall remember it.
It's desolate on your planet
Now that I found it like Chris Columbus
With a broken compass.
Ponce de León didn't find the constellations;
He's just an amalgam in your ear drum,
Messing everything down like upchuck.
Now I'm gonna blow your whole planet up."

The B-side, "Special Purpose," is similar, but plays down the spaciness and up the general goofiness. It features a lot more vocal samples from movies (Rain Man on the intro, then SlingBlade and The Jerk exclaiming the titular line on the hook), and a similar instrumental, except the thumping bassline is replaced with a deep, pitch-shifting UFO sound. And Duddly is back with the appealing scratches on the hook. The rhymes are mostly typical, generic hip-hop non-sequiturs ("sweeter dreams than the Eurythmics"), again leaning towards the strange ("the sphere is near the sun, no one drowns, lost and found, perplexed by my lyrics, and I don't wanna hear it, or care if you feel it") and striving for cleverness ("the time between now and my birth is my age"). Instrumentals for both are provided.

Now, if you have the cassette promo single (right), then you see there's a couple bonus tracks: "Willus World," "Robot Death March" and "Bogus Beats." But don't get too excited, they're just short instrumentals, and not particularly compelling ones at that. "Willus World" is a simple keyboard riff looped over a generic drum kit beat. "Robot Death March" is a little more compelling since it uses a sample of what sounds like a film soundtrack, of a livelier, drum rolling beat. And "Bogus Beats" is what sounds like another movie sample, but over a slower, more plodding drum track. Seek it out if you're a completist; but otherwise don't worry - you're not missing much.

The vinyl actually has a short bonus track of its own: "DJ Duddly Cut Class." Unfortunately, it's not a showcase of Duddly's skills, it's more of a DJ tool set of vocal samples, mostly of lines from Biggie Smalls to Ras Kass where they say the name "Willus" in a song, plus one or two other random ones, like a line from Rappin' Duke. Ok, so once again: a cute little bonus; but if you've only got the cassette of this, it's not worth going out of your way to grab the vinyl unless you're a real die-hard.

Well, believe it or not, this record was a success. It later wound up being re-issued and spawned follow-up in 2000: a split 12" entitled "LA Vacation" on Downs Elementary (which I suspect was Drummond's own label). This time around, Drummond comes with a distorted mic sound, a la The Fat Boys' "Liez" or The Beasties' "So Whutcha Want." The beat sounds a little more professionally assembled this time around, with a nice snap to it. The absence of DJ Duddly this time around, however, is strongly felt. Drummond sticks to the formula of crazy rhymes and movie vocal samples for the hook. The content is as silly as ever, with Drummond explaining that he's "from the galaxy of creamed corn" and dropping battle rhymes like, "if you wanna take me out, do it in one fell swoop, like a flock of birds, drop poop on my car, not too far from where you are." This song comes replete with instrumental and acapella versions.

But it's a split 12" you say? That's right, "LA Vacation" was just side A, and the B-side is a track by J-Zone (featuring Huggy Bear) entitled "No Consequences." It starts out with an acapella intro explaining the song's concept: for one day there are no laws. so J-Zone and Huggy can do whatever they want. Then the pair kick a bunch of funny-ish wish-fulfillment rhymes of what they'd do in a world with no consequences (smack Lucy Liu, steal handicap spots, make an NVC anchorwoman suck dick, etc) over a cartoon-sampled beat. It's kinda short, and the main thing I took away from this song is that Huggy Bear has anger issues. This version comes in Clean, Instrumental, Acapella and Filthy versions... the last of which later found its way on J-Zone's EP, A Bottle of Whup Ass.

This was an optimistic time for Drummond, who promises an upcoming untitled EP and an upcoming untitled LP "in stores soon" on the back cover. Oh, and they also promise a Willus and J-Zone collaborative EP entitled, Arnold Vs. Willus. None of those happened.

But Drummond did come back one more time, with another split 12", this time on Downs Elementary/ Mends Recordings. In 2001, he dropped "Makin' Music (With Your Mom)" and "It's a Stick Up." Now, up 'till this point, it was a little unclear whether Drummond was trying to be a joke, novelty act or a legit MC who just happened to have a playful sense of humor. But now he seems to've finally laid aside any pretensions and hits us with two flat-out parody songs.

"Makin' Music (With Your Mom)" is a short play on Biz Markie's "Make the Music With Your Mouth," using the same instrumental, with a screechily sung hook mimicking TJ Swan and Willus kicking a bunch of goofy battle rhymes:

"I'll break your jaw, or steal your jaw,
Take a pee on your lawn,
Beat you up, take your lunch, and then I'm gone.
Mad rappers short, while I am tall,
Crush you midget rappers with a kick to the balls.
Heard you screamin', runnin' all down the hall
Like you saw the Trenchcoat Mafia in the mall."

You can't deny the appeal of Marley's classic beat, but the constant litany of hopelessly immature one-lines can be a real endurance test. And you can pretty much say the same for the next song, "It's a Stick Up." This time it's a medley of parodies, where he rhymes over a series of hit tunes by Nice & Smooth and Gangstarr, (bridging the gap, naturally, with "DWYCK"), alternating between imitating the original artists or just being himself. "Sometimes I rhyme slow; sometimes I rhyme quick" becomes "sometimes I pee in cups; sometimes I drink piss." Since these are more openly joke songs, the appeal depends entirely on how long your amusement is sustained by raps about fat girls breaking scales and sticking your girl.

Like I said, though, this is another split 12", and this time he pairs up with Esau, who bills himself as "The Anti-MC," because he's self-deprecating instead of boastful. He's another "funny" rapper, though clearly directing more of his efforts towards making good music with a sense of humor than gag songs. I don't know how much he succeeded, but it's clear that's where his intentions lied. His song "Boo" is basically a diss song against himself, about how he gets booed at shows
, with a lot of name-dropping punchlines ("I'm wacker than Rawkus' website"). And "Underground" is one of those hipsterish, self-aware songs about his "underground" status, done in a tiresome list form, rattling off an endless stream of why "I'm underground 'cause" and "you ain't underground 'cause"s. I mean, they're both okay... Esau's flow is nice and the beats are respectable. But the real highlight (the recent I bought this 12" in the first place) is the loaded posse cut "2 Many Emcees," which features Danja Mowf, Apathy, The Nobodies, Supastition (spelled "Supastion" on the cover) and Yaggfu Front. It's got the best beat, a mellow head-nodder, and the mic just gets passed down the line.

The 12" also features instrumentals for most of the songs (all but "Boo"), and a clean version of "Makin' Music." Finally, both artists end their side of the record with some long, acapella shout-outs.

Willus makes several announcements throughout this 12" touting his upcoming album, to be titled Choose Your Own Adventure, but like the promised releases on his last 12", it never surfaced. The only other thing he did as far as I know was a guest verse on a record by The 1 Shanti, also in 2001.
The song was called "Trilingual," and also featured cuts by J-Zone. That record turned out to be the third and final record released on the Downs Elementary label.

Where is Willus Drummond now? Has he retired from the music scene altogether? Is he performing under a new identity, unrecognizable without a head wrapped in tinfoil? Or is he stealthily mounting up a comeback, with some secret myspace page yet to be discovered? Maybe we're better off not knowing... but it's kinda fun to dig these records out of your crates and revisit them once every few years.

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