Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Chrono-Archeologist: BC (Red Tide) Interview

I was thinking recently about doing a blog post on Florida group Red Tide. They were a tight, I guess you'd say back-packer group that came out in the 90's and released a bunch of quality, overlooked material. So I figured I'd write about their debut EP or 12" or something... when I serendipitously got an e-mail from Lazy, Red Tide's DJ, telling me that one of their MCs - BC - was coming out with an all new solo EP, and was wondering if I'd be interested. Hell yeah, I was. So we wound up connecting and doing a full-length interview. And here it is:

To start out, how did Red Tide come together?

I met the other members of Red Tide when I was in college. I was going to school in Sarasota, Ringling School of Art. I was doing some MCing with some friends of mine… just more recreationally; and there was an open mic night at New College, where the other members of Red Tide went. It was kind of like this weird… things coming full circle. I had met Lazy before at this club. So I went to this open mic with another friend of mine, and I got on the mic with Skoolz, and we got to rhymin'. We kinda it hit off, and he was like, oh, let me introduce you to some of my friends. And so he re-introduces me to Lazy, and also 2%.

And, for a short time, we had another MC, Demo, who went off and did his own thing shortly after we all formed up. They already had Red Tide started as a concept shortly before they met me.

So, your first release was Rogue MC's

You know, what's funny about that, I think we were, as a group, starting to get to know one another when we did Rogue MC's. It was kind of just a collage of stuff we started doing when we got together, started listening to beats and writing; and we just put out what we got. Also, too, our time was limited, because by that point, 2% had left New College and was living in Tampa. So we would drive back and forth between Sarasota and Tampa, which was an hour drive. It was a really long commute. So, really, that was just us pushing to get something out. It was very experimental, not just musically, but as far as our artistic process, to see if we could get something out.

So, how would you compare that, then, to the "Fabric Addicts" single? Do you think that was a lot stronger…?

Yeah, I definitely do. I really do feel like we were gaining our stride more. Actually, that song was not really working… and then 2per came up with the track… because we had experimented with some beats, and we left it thinking it wasn't really working. And then when we came back to the studio in Tampa, 2per had this amazing track in there. And the rest is history.

Also, when we did Rogue MC's, I didn't have as much material; I wasn't as prolific at the time. "Fabric Addicts" was something where I actually began the writing process for that song, which isn't the case with a lot of the other songs. I wrote a verse, and that was about it.

It does sound like Rogue MC's has more almost freestyle-type material.

Yeah, it's very conceptually loose. The songs weren't as pointed in their direction. We did have a couple, but… Actually, there's a couple songs that just Skoolz was on, and I feel those were conceptually more pointed; but the stuff we did together was definitely much more of a collage process, and just feeling each other out.

It's so funny, for me listening to that material. Like, every so often I'll pull out the CD. It's just a world away from what we developed into later. And obviously it's a world away from what we've gone on to do, our own separate ways. Like Skoolz has his group Grafitti Death Threat, and I've just released my solo stuff. It just feels like a really long time ago.

Well, I guess it was - like over ten years.

Yeah, it's been a minute.

But it seems like, maybe not regularly, but sometimes Red Tide still performs together?

Yeah, we performed together up until like probably a better part of a year ago. We kept performing, and we had a lot of songs we didn't get out, which I'm still interested in still mixing down and putting online or whatever. So hopefully you'll see some stuff on the website popping up.

Well, I know you had a live album that had some songs that weren't on the other releases.

Yeah, we did one EP we called the Beta EP that was a really limited run we sold on Warped Tour. We also had one called Fear and Loathing In Florida

Those weren't live, though?

No, those weren't live, but they had new material. You know, I know we did something with some live music, and I can't even remember what happened to it. We made very small runs of everything, and I don't think I even have a copy of it, to be honest.

Well, back then, I think I was mostly following you guys through what came out on Atak. How did that hook-up come about, because I think P was mostly putting out music by California artists, because that's where he's from.

You know, I think that hook-up happened through Skoolz, because he was originally from Cali. That was really none of my doing. I'm probably the least technologically and networking savy person in the group. I'm like a caveman. I sit back and write and up until now - when I've been forced to be a little bit more up on the networking and communicating - back then, I was very kind of reclusive in that sense. So I think that connection was through Skoolz.

Would he've been the connection for DJ CheapShot[of Styles of Beyond], too? Because he seemed to be the only artist outside of your kind of clique that you seemed to collaborate with.

Yes. Actually, what happened was, Skoolz left and did the Hyphen Tirade EP before they changed their name to Grafitti Death Threat. And on the GDP stuff he got Cheapshot - and I think he might've gotten him on some of the Hyphen Tirade stuff, too - and he also got T-Rock, who's a pretty known DJ as well. But yeah, all that stuff was pretty much through Skoolz.

I did a single with Hyphen Tirade, and also the Grafitti Death Threat stuff… but that was basically me flying out, contributing my verses and being like ok, peace. It was like an experience where I was like, oh cool, so that's what that sounds like, after it got done.

So, coming out of Florida, especially in the beginning in the 90's, you were sort of a part of and apart from the 4-track tape movement that was happening on the West coast. Do you feel that it hurt you, being on the outside of it, just geographically; or did it helped because you got kind of a local scene to yourselves?

I think both. I think definitely a lot of people recognized us… we did stick out. But also, while we stuck out, I don't think everyone viewed that as positive. We played tons of shows in Florida and people looked at us like we were from Mars. 'Cause our influences were like what was coming out of The Good Life, or New York like Def Jux… This was back before even file sharing. So, I remember Lazy just giving guys money if they went to do shows, like, just give me anything Company Flow or get me whatever you find at the record stores… And we'd get the vinyl back and be listening to that stuff.

So that's who our influences were, like Freestyle Fellowship or whoever. So presenting material that was like that, especially in some of our really early shows, mostly based in Sarasota. There were a lot of people that were just like… ok. And what's funny is we found mostly just eclectic audiences who liked it, more than those who considered themselves hip-hop heads, but people who just like electronica or the whole spectrum. And they'd even roll up on us like yo, that's not even like hip-hop; it's like some crazy, intelligent music. I'd be like… hip-hop can be intelligent. (Laughs) Hip-hop can be all these things, you know. But it's just what they were exposed to.

It also seems like, had you come up someplace like in California, you'd've been doing guest appearances on everybody's tapes like Deeskee and all them, and sharing audiences. But it's like you guys were coming out of a vacuum almost.

Yeah. We definitely had our influences because we were listening to stuff, but as far as being around that, nah. I also think another reason for our being different was us being open from our backgrounds. Like, I was an art school student and they were in The New School for mostly like gifted students and stuff. So like, before Demo left… he was almost like a spoken word cat. And like I said, Skoolz had come from Cali… so he already had a bit of that flavor. Even when I first did that open mic night with him, I knew that his style was not born of anything that was happening around us. And me? I don't know. I just always kinda wanted to be different. Like, I didn't care what people thought was dope; I just wanted to do what I could come up with, throw it against the wall and see what sticks. I was just lucky enough to find like-minded people who supported that and made me feel comfortable.

Ok, so now there's a bit of a gap between the last Red Tide project and your current release… so what've you been up to in between?

Well, like I said, there is Red Tide material that hasn't yet seen the light of day. And a lot of material in Time Pieces was written in that gap. And if it wasn't written, it was conceived. And I was doing a lot of live performances, but you know… it was just life getting in the way, quite honestly. Just got out of college, jobs happen, girls happen… stuff like that. I just finally looked at myself and quite frankly, was like, well I'm not getting any younger. I need to quit bullshittin' and really do it. Especially since I'm nearing the end of the age for an MC - hip-hop is a young man's game. So I was like, I really need to get this stuff out that's been in my head for a long time. So I just took a leap; quit the day job. Plus, it was just like getting fed up. I think, if you're an artist… you can only let that pent-up frustration fester for so long until you make a move. So, a little over a year ago, I quit my job.

Also, in the interim of the last Red Tide stuff, I developed a relationship with my homeboy who's now my roommate and also works at the same club that I do. This guy Mudd, who used to be in a crew called The Void; and those cats were one of the few who really approached us and were on the same tip as we were; so we just hit it off right away. And Mudd is an excellent producer. So when it became time to get this thing out, he just really helped me out a lot. He produced the majority of the cuts on Time Pieces. Some of the tracks, like I said, I had ideas and was working on Time Pieces for years… one of the producers was an industrial musician, and I was just like, I like those sounds. So "Pop World" and Fusion?" Those were my friend Vinnie's, and I had those beats on a hard drive literally for years. And all the while, the whole narrative was developing. So it was just time.

So me and Mudd got in the studio, we resurrected the old stuff, mixed it, mastered it. I got my lyrics ready, recorded 'em. And we had his beats, too; and I wrote over that. We just went all out and got the EP done.

So, now obviously times have completely changed since the early Red Tide days as far as putting out music, with file-sharing etc. Do you think this is a really bad time, or do you think it's opening doors…?

Umm Wow. Well, I will say that I am thankful for this electronic age that we're in as far as dissemination of the music. Maybe file-sharing and all this stuff diminishes what you actually sell, but I think for an artist like myself… I want as many people to hear the music as possible. So the short answer to your question is: I think it's a good thing. I'm totally down with the internet and the way music is distributed now. I think it's great. Because a poor person like myself who's not signed wouldn't be able to disseminate his music with the ease of today.

And also, I think it just means that artists need to up their live game. They just need to go places and rip live shows - that's the way you get paid. I definitely have made more money from doing shows live than selling CDs. But yeah, I want people to hear and know the music; that's the most important thing for me. I think first and foremost like an artist. It's definitely something I want to become more financially viable as I start to move on, but at this point, my goal for this EP is really just to get my name out there as a solo artist.

Now you have a lot of remixes on your website by some notable people, like Bomarr or Thavius Beck… How did that happen? Were they Red Tide fans, or did you just reach out o them out of the blue?

We kinda just reached out to most of these cats out of the blue. We were just like hey, we got this thing that we're doing, here's some acapellas, here's the breakdown to all the tracks… It was kinda more just based on: are you feeling it? Ok, cool. We definitely broke some of 'em off some money. (Laughs) Everybody gotta get paid. But some of 'em were just like, I like it; I'ma go ahead and do this.

And I guess on a similar note, I should ask you about Saul Williams. He's a pretty major guest for an independent production. How did that come about?

Actually, that track is the oldest track on the EP. And I felt like that it just kind of, in a very serendipitous way, fit with the narrative of the EP. I met Saul at artist residency at a place called Atlantic Center for the Arts. He was one of the master artists at the residency, and it was just three weeks of intense discussion and making work. And I had this fragment of that song in my rhyme book, and I got there and it was a real interesting time. It was right after 9/11 and we were all thinking they might cancel the residency, but everyone showed up and I just got real inspirited to finish my song. And I finished my verse Then I met this guy, Levi, and he was feeling what I was doing lyrically and we made the track. And then we were just like, maybe we can get Saul on it.

And Saul being the cool, super down to Earth guy that he is was like, cool, let me listen to it; let me listen to what you got. Give me a copy of your verse, and he just kind of…

So he's doing your material on there?

No, no, no. He got a copy of my verse so he could respond to it. His verse on the song is his material.

It's interesting, because he's got a flow on there… He doesn't sound "spoken word" on there like I was expecting when I saw his name come up.

Yeah! What's funny is I felt like my flow was more like gravitating more towards his kinda flow, while he gravitated towards more of a traditional hip-hop type flow. Which was really cool. Because, you know, Saul has a background of writing raps as well. At the residency, he recited some of his old rhymes, which was a lot less mature subject matter than what he does now. But he was heavily influenced by hip-hop.

What's funny, too, is that song became like really relevant to me again, given the times, the whole recession and all that. So I was like, this has to go on there. Because I'd been threatening to release it for a long time. And I've seen him a couple times… every time he comes through here I go to the shows, we talk, he's real cool. He's like put it out, put it out. I'm always like, this isn't gonna step on any labels toes? And he's just like put it out. I was always worried about it, but I was like, this needs to go on this EP.

Well, you've mentioned it a couple times, so maybe explain the concept of Time Pieces.

It is a story told through the eyes of this guy who's a chrono-archeologist. And this chrono-archeologist comes from this world that's in our future called Pop World, but Pop World isn't a good place. You can hear in the opening track, titled "Pop World," which is a very vivid description of this world that has suffered through pollution and all of the things that we're currently doing. So the chrono-archeologist decides he's going to go back in time and figure out what got them to this point. But at this point in the story, he's stuck back in our time. So the only thing he can do is chronicle what's happening and try to warn people to avert a future crisis. So that's where we are in this one story.

I kind of started when I wrote "Future Pop," which to me was like what would cats rhyme about in the future? And then I started questioning the world, like what kind of world does this come out of? Then I wrote "Pop World." But there's always been this concept playing in my head of what's happening in the present affecting the future. And this one I titled Time Capsule because it's just that, it's all these things that actually in a way made me feel like I was traveling through time. Because there were fragments here and there, and this was like the skeleton of this world I'm gonna flesh out.

So, hopefully I'll get the second one out soon. I'm looking at probably March, April next year.

Oh, cool. So you've done a lot of it already?

Yeah, I've already got a lot done on it. It'll probably be about the same length. This was definitely designed to be a three-part concept album. Originally, I had this grandiose plan to make this really long-ass concept album. But I was like, wow, this is really daunting. So I said, let's break this thing up. And it also gives me time to explore and keep it relevant, because while it is a sci-fi album, it's really politics wrapped in a sci-fi metaphor. I like to keep current with the news and stuff, so when the next one comes out, I want to be able to discuss things that are happening in the present and what I think their consequences will be. This album will still see the character sliding, at least mentally, back into the future, into the present and back into the future.

It's interesting, because though I think you've improved or developed, and your production has - and even though now it's not all by the same guys - there's still a real feel of natural progression from the Red Tide material. Like it's not you've gone left field. Usually when somebody comes out, it sounds pretty different, and often not in a good way. But this EP still feels like more music from the Red Tide MC we knew from ten years ago.

Oh yeah. I still feel like there's a lot of fertile ground in the area that I'm in. And in some ways I feel that Red Tide never reached its full potential. Not because of the talents of the individual members, but life happens. They have girlfriends, they have jobs, they have personal agendas. Myself included. A group is tough to work with, because the more moving parts, the more than can go wrong.

Yeah, especially when you're not being subsidized by a label.

Exactly. And I feel the other members of Red Tide are very like-minded people as me. So even though this is an EP completely seen through my eyes and I had complete control, it's my world. But I don't think that the world that comes out of my head is all that much different from their world. It might be a slightly alternate universe, but it's not so far out there.

Also, too, Lazy did produce one of the tracks. He produced "Future Pop." And you'll see more Lazy production on the next one, probably two tracks of his. I still like working with those cats. Red Tide doesn't exist, but I still have relationships. Lazy not only still produces but has become in many ways like a mentor and has been real helpful in me managing my solo efforts. I owe a lot of the success this EP has had, as far as getting out there, to him and his being on the grind for me.

And let me wrap this up with an obvious question… We've already sort of touched on it, but what's up with the other Red Tide members today, and is there hope for a Red Tide reunion? I know you're still collaborating like you've said, so do you think about a new group album?

You know, I don't know. As far as what they're up to, Skoolz is out in Cali; he's married. I don't even know how active Graffiti Death Threat is. He's the one that I have the least amount of contact with anymore. Also, 2per works with us. It's funny, most of the people involved in the production of this EP, we all work in the same place. We all work in a small music venue called The Orpheum here in Tampa. And Lazy's got a wife and kids, so he's doing that. And you know, a kid is a job. His kid is gonna be 2 in January, so he's got his hands full there. And 2per manages the club, so he's got his hands full with that.

And I think he's got some side rock and roll projects going on. He's a bass guitarist. That's actually kinda been under wraps. I know some of the cats he's working with, but I haven't even gotten to hear any of their material yet.

As far as a Red Tide reunion? I don't know. I would definitely do it; I think it would be fun. But honestly, it's not something that I'm pushing for at this point. I feel like our relationships have evolved, and I'm really comfortable with where I'm at, work-wise. There's a lot more immediacy to what I do, because I'm not running everything two or three other people. This is my vision, this is what's gonna happen. So, artistically, if a record comes out, it's all on me, which I'm actually really enjoying. I love all my homies in Red Tide and I love all the people I've worked with… I don't ever work with people that I feel iffy about. But at the same time, I enjoy having this creative control and really rolling on my own time schedule. I definitely feel at this time in my life, there's a definite sense of urgency, as far as producing work.

I will say this, though: I do want to involve those guys more on the upcoming EPs as well. So hopefully you'll be seeing some more production and guest appearances from Skoolz and the other members of Red Tide.

BC(which stands for Black Child, by the way)'s EP (Time Pieces part 1, Time Capsule) is out now... you can order it digitally through itunes and the usual spots. And I'm pleased to report hard-copies are available, too. It's just $5 from his site,, and the booklet folds out into a mini-poster, which is definitely cool. And he's also got a myspace here, so check it out. It's good stuff.

Update! DJ Lazy e-mailed me a few comments on this interview (which he said was ok for me to go ahead and share on here):
"you know to follow up a couple things
we actually hit deeskee up about doin a remix but he couldn't fit it in.
And the hook up to atak came about through my talking to celph titled who used to run p-minus' website for him.
Later on when skoolz went back to cali they became friends but initially it was us knowin celph and both bein from florida that caused him to get p to include us on atak.
bc was outta the loop with a lotta that stuff just based on the fact that like he says "he's a cavemen with regards to technology" hahaha
cheapshot was a younger cat that went to the same high school as skoolz back in cali who thought skoolz was fresh back in high school. he later went on to form styles of beyond and then they re-connected when cheapshot started up his short lived label."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where'd Schoolly Get That Funk From?

"Where'd You Get That Funk From" is the lead single off of Schoolly D's 1991, How a Black Man Feels. It's possibly his most commercial single ever... which for Schoolly D, means it's really not very commercial at all (only Schoolly would throw the words "junkie," "cocaine," "crackhead" and "8-Ballin" in his bid for MTV airtime... which he got). This was during Schoolly's brief stint at Capital Records, where he also released the singles "Original Gangster" (chosen surely because it was guest produced by Krs-One) and his famous movie tie-in, "King of New York."

It's commercial in the sense that the lyrics are relatively non-confrontational, his flow isn't as free-form as it sometimes is, the scratching's kept pretty soft in the mix (though Code Money is name-checked twice) and the instrumental is entirely indebted to P-funk: a tidal wave that was rising but had yet to turn into the g-funk tsunami that nearly drowned hip-hop a few years later. This is more in the mode of the classic, harder-sounding uses of P-funk (a la X-Clan)... Y'know, the good kind. 8)

Really, the instrumental (produced by Schoolly himself) is essentially a mash-up of two classic P-Funk records, with some tweaking (including an ultra-deep, rolling thunder-style bassline). You've got your basic "Atomic Dog" percussion... a foundation which has been used a thousand times, but you've gotta admit it hits hard. Then you've got the sample that this song really owes the bulk of it's success to, "Funkentelechy." That's where the sung hook comes from, as well as all the funky horn sounds and such. Just isolating that sample and laying it on top of some hip-hop drums practically guaranteed you a fresh song no matter what else you did or didn't do.

Now, this 12" features a bunch of versions, but none of them fuck with the winning formula of "Funkentelechy" + "Atomic Dog." But there are a bunch of differences... Some versions include additional samples (for example, most of the remixes put some "Theme from SWAT" bassline behind the second verse throw and in a little guitar from "I Know You Got Soul" here and there)... Some have extra cuts (the "Funky Funky Dub Mix" adds a nice stutter scratch to the hook, "where-er'd you-g-get that f-funk fr-uh-uh-uh-uhm?")... Some start with Schoolly's opening lines being repeated instead of the traditional P-funk samples, and include extended breakdowns where the beat rides and Schoolly's lines are played back. There's definitely an overload here, hitting us with more versions with more minor distinctions than anybody could really want, but some of the changes do make the remixes worth your time and improve on the original. Spend some time with it, pick a favorite.

The last thing to note about this song is the second verse, since it's not by Schoolly but an uncredited guest MC. Neither the 12" credits or the album liner notes name him, but it's definitely not Schoolly. Lyrically, his verse isn't as compelling (basically he's just saying "this song will make you dance"), but his deeper voice is a nice counter-point to School's. He appeared in the music video, too (along with former Ruthless Records recording artist Tairrie B, vamping around a record store), but I can't call it.

Update! I got in contact with Schoolly himself, and the featured MC is Brew from Mass 187. Thanks for clearing that up - definitely a dope song!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The REAL Mista Tung Twista

Way back in the early 90's, I was rapping along to Tung Twista's debut single "Mista Tung Twista,"* following the lyrics printed in the cassette's sleeve (rap nerdistry for the win!). Well, I quickly noticed that those lyrics were wrong. And not just wrong like the occasional conjunction or syllable was off (which is interestingly the case in a lot of printed rap lyrics), but I mean... they were pretty majorly off. So... I got on my old school word processor I had back then and transcribed these, completely accurate lyrics (did I mention the phrase "rap nerd?"), using the album's transcripts to guide the formatting (some of those line breaks seem a little arbitrary) and clear up some difficult to decipher phrases like "the sucka descendant of Canaan." Remember, this was back in the days before you could just google terms like that and learn that Canaan is "an ancient term for a region encompassing modern-day Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, plus adjoining coastal lands and parts of Jordan, Syria and northeastern Egypt."

Well, today I stumbled upon that sheet of paper while going through a couple old boxes. So I decided to scan and post it so you can finally read, for the first time ever, the real "Mista Tung Twista" lyrics:
[I know the text looks a bit small, but you can click to enlarge each verse.]

*It's actually not so impossible if you've got the lyrics memorized.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Return Of the Return of K-Solo

Over the summer, we looked at K-Solo's indie comeback record from 1998, City of Shaft. Well, in 2004, K-Solo came back to make another go of it with this 12", "Wolf Tickets." He came out on Waste Management Records, which was his own label. They had a website all the way up 'till '07-'08 and he still reps Waste Management on his myspace, but so far this has been their only release.

I held off on picking this one up at first, because I heard a couple lackluster reviews; but actually it's pretty dope. The A-side, "Wolf Tickets," definitely wins this round. The beat is subtle but strong, with a killer rolling bassline. It kinda reminds me of a slower version of "Excalibur," but the lyrics remind me more of "System." That's probably because he recycles a whole verse from that song (the first verse of "Wolf Tickets" = the last verse of "System"). Yeah, it's kinda lame; but at least he chose the best verse, and the other two verses on this track are new.

There's no production credits on here, so I can't say who did what, but somebody did good. The hook is real simple, just a K-Solo repeating a couple lines between verses. The instrumental doesn't change up either; it's just all about Solo spitting over a hard track - like it should be.

The B-side isn't quite as strong, but it's ok. It's got a solid drum track, but otherwise relies on kind of a generic "gangsta rap studio sound" looped sample, and features a chanted hook, like a throwback to the early 90's. It seems to be a posse cut, but it's hard to tell, 'cause no one says their names, and they all sorta sound like Solo. But, no... it's definitely only him on verse four, so the other tracks must be some other dudes. And he outshines 'em all. I guess they're his Waste Management weed carriers crew? So, as a whole it's a little underwhelming; but you can't really complain about a rugged posse cut where each MC is just coming as hard as they can over a simple beat. Nothing exceptional, but it gets a respectable pass.

Both tracks come in Main, Edit and Inst. versions. For years, K-Solo said in interviews that he was coming with a full-length called There'll Be Hell To Pay, but it never materialized. Of course, since he's still repping Waste Management, maybe it's still coming. He also signed a couple other artists, including Canibus (which is why Solo appears on two of Canibus's later albums), but Can kept coming out on other labels during that time. So I guess maybe Waste Management Records has been acting more as a management company since this record? Anyway, both of his indie comebacks have been hot... so here's hoping there'll be a third.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's Naked Time!

Remember in my Sole interview when I asked him who Time was? He's like I have no idea, and I'm like, "well, your on his new album." He remembered and said, "ahhh thats my homey time. he's from denver. he's become a good friend of mine. sometimes when i think someone shows a lot of promise i do music with them." Well, Time was good enough to send me his album (plus a bio), so we can delve into the matter a bit further.

Time's a solo MC (yes, from Denver), though he's also part of a 2-man crew called Calm, with producer AwareNess, who also did more than half of his latest album (which makes the distinction between a Calm album and a Time album pretty thin). It's called Naked Dinner, and it's his third, not counting the Calm album and an EP he mentions in his bio. It's on Dirty Laboratory Records.

Now, I've never read any William Burroughs, but just seeing Cronenberg's movie was enough for me to get that this album is full of Burroughs references, and the album has more than just a punny title in common with Naked Lunch, from a hook about botching a William Tell-style shooting to the bugs and typewriter in the artwork. I'm not really sure why it's full of Burroughs, though... I guess it just serves as atmosphere?

Anyway, it's a pretty solid album. Time sounds like a cross between early Eyedea and Braille when they're in full concept song mode. Their website (I'll drop the link at the end) says AwareNess's beats sound like early RZA, Pete Rock & Large Pro, "but he manages to transcend all of them." I give him credit for having the nerve to write that and make it public, but it's not true... he doesn't sound like any of them at all. His production is good, though, don't get me wrong; but it's of the 'mood above funkiness' variety. It's like haunting synths and strained samples - not the kind of you're gonna want to bump in your jeep like those other producers' work, but fitting for songs called "Cockroach Goddess."

Content-wise, the album's actually got a lot of variety. He goes from rapper biography to a song about vampires to one about never growing up. Guests include Sole (as previously established), C-Rayz Walz, who sounds surprisingly like Bizarre on this record, and some guy named Damon JeVon who's on five or six tracks. Time breaks out the autotune on two or three tracks, which is interesting to hear on a decidedly underground-sounding album. The quality of the lyrics is as varied as the subject matter. He certainly gets points for scope and he comes up with some genuinely effective lines and moments... Other lines just come off as kinda silly and confusing, with cloying attempts to be clever like:

"Charlton Heston told me that
Soylent Green is people,
With pink stars, yellow moons,
And babies and steeples.
The clouds rain panic,
And I rain on command
With teardrops, snow flakes,
Mobs and man.
She wears a bullet-proof heart;
He wears a Dick Dastardly smile,
With carnations in his teeth
And a spastic style.
She can't believe it's love;
He can't believe it's not butter.
She shows her breasts like car wrecks
Making his privates flutter."

I mean, I think that verse is supposed to be a sillier moment on the album (I hope), so maybe it was an unfair verse to pick out of context... and his songs with a stricter focus are do tend to flow more smoothly. But you see what I mean: he sounds a bit young (I mean his writing, not his actual voice). Once he gets past that, he could really be an MC to watch out for; but even as it stands now, Naked Dinner is a decent quality album if you fall into his niche style audience. You'll know if you perked up or groaned when I mentioned "early Eyedea" and "concept song" in the same sentence.

Time has a myspace here, and also a pretty nice official site for him and his label at And Naked Dinner is available at ughh, itunes, and probably where ever else you frequent online.

P.s. - I apologize for the title of this post... couldn't help myself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

T-U-R-T-L-E Secrets

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 new issue of HHC Digitial just dropped tonight, and with it comes my latest Fear Of the Rap! column (page 9). I talked with the creators of "Turtle Power" themselves, the Partners In Kryme, to get the inside scoop on one of hip-hop's all-time biggest hits, and a damn enjoyable record still to this day. In fact, before you click over there, see if you can guess what classic cartoon show the medley to this song came from (hint: it's not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon). ...And, no, this is not recycled content from my interviews with GV and Keymaster Snow; this is all new interview content and info. 8)

You'll also want to check the issue out for a major Rakim interview. The reviews I'm hearing for his album may be disappointing, but a lengthy talk going back to his Paid In Full days? That's a must read any day. Oh, and there's a cool little Esoteric interview, too.

Whoops! Don't let me forget to actually drop the link after all that... It's right here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Natural Elements, Just In Time for the Holidays!

Natural Elements are now set to drop on December 1st. Remember that project on Traffic I was talking about a few months ago? Well, there's now a date, album cover and an official track-listing. It looks like we're a go!

So, this is gonna be rewarding. The track-listing is 20 tracks deep; which is 6 songs longer than the leaked Tommy Boy album. So we already know we're in for something extra. In fact, it's only sort of Tommy Boy's shelved album... Actually, it seems to be a random assortment of NE tracks, including a large chunk of the Tommy Boy stuff. Once again it gets confusing and brings up almost as many questions as answers, so let's break it down song by song and see what we can work out:

1) "NE Season" - This was track #12 on the leaked version, so already we're out of sequence with the Tommy Boy LP, but that's the least of the differences we're going to see moving forward.

2) "2 Tons" - The big Tommy Boy single, of course, and one of their best ever.

3) "Bust Mine" - The old Dolo single? Yup. It seems like we're going into a bit of a 'Natural Elements' Greatest Hits' run here.

4) "Tri-Boro" - 'Greatest Hits...'

5) "Paper Chase" - More 'Greatest Hits.' I wish they would've left these off to make room for more unreleased material; but there's plenty of that still to come, so can't complain too much.

"Supreme Domination" - Whoa. An unreleased Fortress-era track (that I wrote about in HHC, here)? NOW we're talkin'!

7) "Livin It Up" - Second single from Tommy Boy, though surprisingly it wasn't on the album as leaked. But Traffic threw it on here.

8) "Shine" - Back to 'Greatest Hits' steez. ::shrug::

9) "Off Beat Bop" - Whoa! Never heard this before... A "new" song that wasn't on the Tommy Boy leak - sweet!!

10) "By Nature" - This was on the album, and has been floating around the 'net, often titled "Take a Trip Into the Mind."

11) "Intricate Plot" - This was on the album. Remember, though; this is the first time these "album" tracks are getting a legit release, so even though I say "this was on the album," it's still completely, previously unreleased.

12) "Survive" - Traffic's taking it back again. This is an old song from the early NE days that'd only seen release on the bootleg EP from Word of Mouth (which I detail here).

13) "Second Hand Smoke" - This was on the album.

14) "Tell Me Something Good" - This was on the album.

15) "NE Thing" - This was on the album.

16) "Paper Chase Pt. 2" - This was on the album, and also the Word of Mouth boot, where it was titled "Paper Chase 2005."

17) "Livin It Up Pt. 2" - Again, this was released on single from Tommy Boy, but wasn't featured on their version of the album. But it's on this one. Nothing new, but the more the merrier, right?

18) "NE Definitely" - This was on the album and the Word of Mouth EP.

19) "More Than Vocals (MTV)" - A track that NE recorded after being dropped from Tommy Boy that's been floating around the 'net, and another one I covered in my HHC piece.

20) "First Of All" - Odd that the album's intro is stuck on as the last track, but what the hey? This seems to be slightly shorter than the version included on the leak AND the EP (I refer you to my EP review, again, for the differences between the two). Is this possibly a third edit? Or maybe it's just mixed a little faster.

So, Traffic (who seemed to be partnered up with a label called Kings Link Recordz for this release) has definitely gone gonzo in including plenty of extras along with the proper album track-listing... but unfortunately to extreme of excluding a bunch of songs from the LP! Yeah, you read that right. Five or six album cuts were left off of this release, which is all the more frustrating when you look at those damn "Greatest Hits" songs they've got on there, taking up room. What Natural Elements fan doesn't already have "Shine" and "Bust Mine?" "I Don't Care Anymore" and their ill phone sex song would've been much more welcome than some generic reissue songs thrown in the mix.

I guess maybe some of those songs are considered unfinished? L-Swift said the album was never properly mixed down and that the leaked version we heard were "skeleton songs" (see this post for more on that, including Swift's full quote). He even said "I Don't Care Anymore" was supposed to feature SuperCat, and I guess if they didn't record his part back in 1999, it's unlikely they would've called him into the studio in 2009. So I guess they made some "executive decisions" (though the tracks they left off don't sound particularly unfinished for the most part to me). I guess I can sorta accept that. They promise us that these are "the original masters secured and remastered," and the soundclips they've put out there (like here) do sound nice and clean.

It would kick ass if this came out on double LP, but it'll probably just be CD. But despite my qualms and the ways this could've been better (less stuff everybody's got and more previously unreleased material, this is still one hell of an awesome release. Heck, if this sells enough, maybe they could be talked into releasing a Volume 2 with all the rest of the songs.

Update 12/11/09 - Now that this disc is shipping and I've gotten my copy, I compared "First of All" to see if this is the version on the Word of Mouth EP or the Tommy Boy leak. Interestingly, it's the Tommy Boy leak, but they fade it out about a minute before the song's actually over. So if you've got the EP, at least you'll be getting the different version when you purchase this album... but yeah, it's missing the final third. Weird.

Rap Fan Clubs

So, I found this inside my 2 Kings In a Cipher cassette single of "Definition of a King." It was kind of a big, fuckin' rip-off, because the back cover, and the tape itself, lists all the remixes (like on the 12") as being featured on there... but when you actually play it, all there is is the album version on side 1, and a couple album snippets on side 2. Surely, there's nothing more universally hated in the music industry than fucking snippets.

Notice it says, "this would also qualify you to be a charter member of the Two Kings In a Cipher Fan Club." Now, I've never seen a slip like this in a cassette single - at least not the regular kind in the cardboard slips - but practically every rap artist or group in the history of hip-hop as advertised a fan club in their album's liner notes.

It's a pretty big disappointment of mine that I never signed up for any of these - at least the free ones - as a kid. Most of you guys probably didn't either. But this is the internet! Surely one or two of y'all out there must've signed up for a few of these. So, what did you get? Any funny newsletters? Autographed photos of Doug E. Fresh? A laminated S1W membership card? Promo singles of unreleased music?? Imagine all the fun, neat stuff rappers (or their managers, labels, etc) must've sent out to some lucky fans over the years.

So come on, people; if you've ever gotten anything, cheesy or awesome, share with the group! :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 7 - Demos and Rarities

So, Ed O. G kept busy in the 2000's, releasing several indie albums (The Truth Hurts, Wishful Thinking, My Own Worst Enemy and the collaborative album Stereotypez with his crew Special Teamz) and singles. Finally in 2008, Direct Records released one of the best and most under-rated albums: a double LP by Ed O. G & da Bulldogs (we even hear them rap on this!) entitled Life Of a Kid In the Ghetto: Demos and Rarities. Despite the use of the term "rarities," this is all 100% previously unreleased material. It's a high quality, loud pressing in a nice picture cover and all the tracks have been "taken off the demo tapes, reels and master DATS from Joe Mansfield's original demo recording sessions." So, while the sound quality does vary a bit from track to track (especially the last couple songs on here), I think it's safe to assume that this is the best they'll ever sound.

Side A of Record 1 consists entirely of "original demo versions" of tracks that originally appeared on Ed's first album: "I Got To Have It," "I'm Different," "Feel Like a Nut," "She Said It Was Great" and an Interlude version of "Be a Father To Your Child" (basically an alternate instrumental). These are cool to have for serious fans, and there are some interesting differences ("I Got To Have It" uses the same basic samples, but places a lot more emphasis on some banging drums, and ends with some shout-outs where Ed O tells us he's down with "Stop the Violence"). They're a treat for serious fans, but not really different enough from the released versions to appeal to casual fans.

Sides B-D got those peoples' backs. Nothing but all "new" songs by Ed O. G over Joe Mansfield (Vinyl Reanimators) production. Fuckin' A. Most of these could easily have been featured on the album... in fact, I'd've preferred some of these songs. Like "Brand New Style," where he flexes freestyle rhymes over a track that's constantly switching between incredible beat changes? That's pretty much second only to "I Got To Have It." A few of the songs do feel a bit more like freestyle raps over familiar samples that were probably never really intended for commercial release, but they're still dope. There's even a track featuring Krs-One. Why on Earth they would've left a Krs-One feature off of their album if they had one back in '93 is beyond me. But we finally get to hear it now.

And as if that wasn't enough, Direct also released two 12" singles off of this album (which include instrumentals), and Acting that same year. Acting is the Dedicated EP I covered on Day 3, but with a crap load of remixes, skits, acapellas and bonus tracks. In fact, let's break down the totals:
6 songs taken off the EP (that's 100%)
3 remixes
2 acapellas
4 skits (which are basically 1 short bonus beat apiece)
3 bonus tracks, including 1 featuring Big Shug and Scientifik
The only down side? Acting is CD only (boo! hiss! You could've at least put the three new tracks and three remixes on a 12" single).

So, that's a lot of killer old (but new to us) material. But fans will be happy to know that Ed O.'s still doing it, too. His latest full-length, a collaboration with Master Ace entitled Arts & Entertainment, just dropped a couple weeks ago (10/23). Dude stays recording.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 6 - Rich Get Rich

(Youtube version is here.)

Errata: As pointed out in the comments (thanks!), that is actually not Scientifik featured on that Pyro track... while it IS him on the No More Prisons album like I said, it's actually the group Self Scientific (or more specifically MC Chace Infinite) featured on the song "California Mind State."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 5 - Da Bulldogs

Ed O. G's compelling solo comeback did beg one question: what happened to da Bulldogs? And for that matter, who were da Bulldogs? Well, both answers are pretty interesting. According to his liner notes and album cover photos, Ed O. G & da Bulldogs were a 4-man team when they were signed to Mercury/Polygram/ Chemistry Records: Ed O. G (duh), T-Nyne, Gee Man and DJ Cruz. Though in the dedication notes of his first album, he gets a bit more inclusive, saying, "Special thanks to the Bulldogs, who are: T-Nyne, Smooth Ice Gee, DJ Cruz, Black, Bulletproof Brett, Slim Dog, Shawn Booker, Lorenzo, Bruzer, Mo, Tyrone, Money 1, Muff K. Diamond, Dream Nefra, etc." "Etc?" Isn't that enough? Well, I suppose this possibly draws a distinction between two "versions" of da Bulldogs: the smaller group being the guys he went on tour with, that got checks from the label and actually somehow contributed musically (though they don't seem to have done much), and the other being just an inclusive list of everyone down with his clique of friends. Or something. What's more, apparently, da Bulldogs are pretty much just a later iteration of Ed O.'s old Dorchester group, The FTI Crew (DJ Cruz was one, and I believe T-Nyne is the artist formerly known as Spoony T).

And as for question #2, what happened to them? Well, they started putting out their own records! They put out a couple 12"s on different labels in 1999, and finally settled on Needlepoint Entertainment (their own label, I believe... they certainly never put out anybody else), where they put out a full-length entitled Almost Famous. So let's look at one of their records and see what's going on there.

This is "Bounce" b/w "Livin It Up," which dropped on Needlepoint in 2001... neither song on this 12" is on their 2003 album. The credits on the label aren't terribly telling, just informing us that both songs are produced by a guy named Flipside. But a quick listen tells us that there's two MCs and one DJ at work here, so I'm guessing this is the basic line-up of T-Nyne, Gee Man and DJ Cruz. One of the MCs does refer to himself as Terry... I suppose that's what the T in T-Nyne is short for?

The production is simple - essentially just one endless loop per song - but dope, with a cool, slow drum track and some calm, head-nodding samples. They really feel like the sort of beats you'd expect Ed O. to rhyme over (minus any change-ups), so the territory's nice and familiar. Lyrically, "Bounce It" is pretty empty (as if you couldn't tell from the title) and can be summed up in the line, "my favorite thing's fat booties with the thong between." But they impress more on "Livin It Up," where they take turns rapping to a hypothetical girlfriend who's only interested in expensive things. Each song features a little bit of scratching which is nothing show-stopping, but adds to the atmosphere. So "Bounce It" is ok, you won't be mad at it; but B-side definitely wins, and deserves a home on anybody's mixtape.

The 12" comes in a plain sleeve, but it's bright red, so that's gotta count for something, right? "Bounce It" includes Radio, Street, Inst. and Accap. versions; and "Livin It Up" has the same, minus the accapella.

So, what it boils down to, I guess, is that if Ed O. G is Gangstarr, then Da Bulldogs are Group Home. You could do worse. And if nothing else, after all these years, it's nice to finally hear these guys rap for themselves.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 4 - Laster

Ok. So Ed O. G made a dope comeback EP in '96 (and a cameo on a Big Shug single), but was that it? Was it a last hurrah? Would Ed O. be interested in staying in the game with no major label support, or like so many artists, would he give up when his indie record didn't make him a superstar?

Well, for almost two years, it looked like the latter was true. Ed O. came back, made a flash in the pan, and was out. But finally, at the tail end of '97, a new artist appeared. An artist named Laster, who nobody knew crap about... but his debut, indie 12" on his own starter label, Dark Records, featured a prominent guest appearance by none other than Ed O. G, so everybody checked it out.

And oh shit, it was a KILLER! "Off Balance" featured one of those ominous, atmospheric, banging indie tracks that really served to define the decade. Produced by Madsol-Desar; it features a familiar boom-bap drum track, but is dominated by this sort of science-fictiony industrial sounding sample that serves serves as both a bassline and a string section as it shifts pitch. There's also a fresh horn sample that sounds like it was taken from some Marvel superhero cartoon show when the DJ starts cutting up the phrase "knock-knock-knock you off balance" on the hook. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like the early God Complex stuff that was getting a lot of buzz at the time, which Madsol also just so happened to produce.

What-the-fuck ever, it certainly worked. It helped that Ed O. and Laster both brought their A-game, spitting a pair of nice verses (Laster coming in a little mellower, and as a consequence, less dynamic; but both come off admirably). And soon this record was everywhere in the indie-rap scene. It was even included on DJ Premiere's classic New York Reality Check major label mixtape, which pretty much solidified every song on there as a 90's staple.

There's two more cuts from Laster on the B-side, which are also not to be slept on. Laster does alright on the solo tip with a serious song about hard times on "Misery," but he's eclipsed by another killer instrumental (this time produced by Dialek). Finally, he enlisted another MC named Deplus to spit with him on "Da Outro," where they take turns freestyling over another Madsol beat, with a gripping piano sample.

So, Laster had a genuinely great 12" on his hands, but were audiences truly interested in Laster, or just the return of Ed O. G? Would his next record take off like his first with the partnership of one of Boston's biggest names? Well, Laster answered that question by playing it smart, and heeded all the demand for a remix of his hit. In 1998, Laster was back with two brand new tracks and his ace in the hole: "Off Balance (RMX)." And, to play it extra safe, the original "Off Balance" is included on the cassette version of this single (pictured - unlike the 12", it comes in a PC so you can actually see what he looks like).

To Laster's credit, it may've been a smart commercial move; but from a head's perspective, he didn't need to play it so cautious. His new tracks are dope. Laster sounds a little more confident on the mic this time around, and thankfully producers Dialek and Madsol each return for a track. And the "RMX" is pretty good - it's by Madsol again - with a similar (the same) drum pattern, but a new sample that sounds like it's taken off a classic Hollywood soundtrack. Most notably, though, is that it's a vocal remix. Laster kicks several all-new (and more dynamic) verses, this time on the solo tip. That's right, Ed O. G's not featured on this single... except the cassingle, which as I said, includes the original "Off Balance."

Well, I'm not sure how much credit goes to the break out success of this single (some at least, I'm sure) and how much was already in the works behind the scenes. But, while Laster never came back with another single (boo! Why?), "Off Balance" turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg for Ed O. G, who began a string of guest appearances and compilation tracks after '98. His return wasn't just a cheap one-off, he was back.

We Interrupt Ed O. G Week To Bring You This Breaking DWG Review

My latest review over at Diggers With Gratitude just went live today; so check that out and enjoy. A recent test-press-only discovery... gotta love the internet!

We now return you to Ed O. G week... next update coming shortly.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 3 - Dedicated

So, Ed O. G & da Bulldogs followed up their debut album with another, Roxbury 02119, on the same label(s) in 1993. The main difference between this and the last one is that it featured a lot of Diamond D production (certainly nothing to complain about) and it's decidedly less commercial (no kid friendly song, no love song, etc). That fact, and the poor choice of a lead single ("Skinny Dip (Got It Goin' On)?" Really?), seemed to seal another short but dope hip-hop artist's career.

But then came the 90's independent boom, a gratifying time to be a hip-hop fan; and everybody was pressing up their debut 12" or making a comeback. Rumors circulated that Ed O. G was to be no exception and sure enough, he returned in 1996 on his own, one-off label called Solid Recordings. He dropped a six-song EP with a nice, understated soulful feel, thanks to his continued collaboration with The Vinyl Reanimators, who produced the whole thing (goodbye, Awesome 2!).

By the way, this is the first (I'm pretty sure) pressing, with the more dramatic red labels. There's another pressing, which is exactly the same, except with white labels. Solid Recordings also issued a 12" single featuring two of the songs on here ("Dedication" and "Acting"), which is worthwhile if you're interested in the instrumentals. Apart from these, Solid Recordings has put out no other releases.

As "Streets Of the Ghetto" (off Roxbury 02119) played like a sequel to "Life Of a Kid In the Ghetto," "Dedicated" could be the third installment. Ed O. tells us anecdotes of the Boston ghettos dedicated "to all the killers and the hundred dollar billers," we're told by the Mobb Deep sample cut up on the hook. "What U Got," "Showing Skills" and "Actin'" are just about kicking some freestyle rhymes, and "304's" takes the typical shots against the women he perceives to be after his money. It ends gracefully with "Nights Like This," a mellow mood piece.

The production is simple but perfect... basically every song features a slow, fat drum track, a couple head-nodding samples, and a vocal sample nicely cut up as the hook (except "Nights Like This," which has an uncredited female vocalist; but she plays it smooth and relaxed, too). That, combined with Ed O. G's calmer delivery, makes for a smoother, more "adult-sounding" record. I want to say "mature," but I just can't with a song called "304's" on here. Ed has also absorbed some of the 90's obsession with "punchline" similes, giving us lines like:

"I get open like doormen,"
"So dark where George couldn't see Scott" (get it? Actor George C. Scott? 'Oy vey),
"Don't get yourself scarred like Seal,"
"Fuckin' around with more dangerous minds than Michelle Pfeifer,"
"My shit be bangin' more than Little Rock" (Bangin' In Little Rock was a popular documentary on HBO at the time),
"I got Faith in myself like Evans,"
"They get no wins like the caliber of teams that's expansion"
"Ed O get ya jumpin' like Tourettes."

...To pull out a few at random. And yes, he even has one about Christopher Reeves' being paralyzed (smh). But he plays them down and they never really stand out as being too out of place.

Basically, Ed's never been exceptional on the mic, but he shows on this EP that he's still able to get nice with his. And he has a good voice that meshes perfectly with Reanimators' flavorful production. He came with exactly the right tone and vibes that heads were hoping he would at the time (strictly underground), and even to this day, I just get a warm feeling of gratitude that this EP dropped and we hadn't heard the last of him in '93. Yeah, there's valid criticisms to be made (mainly lyrically), but Ed O and the Reanimators (notice? no Bulldogs) managed to create a nice, inconspicuous little gem for our crates.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 2 - Bug-A-Boo

"This is the meaning of a bug-a-boo: it's a person that's constantly buggin' you."

Now that you've got a handle on the concept, we're ready to begin our discussion of "Bug-A-Boo," Ed O. G & da Bulldog's third single (following "Be a Father To Your Child" - wanna talk cringe-worthy lines? How about that "ladies, can I hear it?" "Thank you!") off their debut album.

As the new guy on the scene, you could see Ed O. was trying to cover all his bases. He had his freestyle song, his ghetto stories song, his serious message song, and now his kid-friendly song; and as such, this could just as well be performed by Kid 'N' Play or Young MC. So, it's easy to see why many of his fans would just as soon have it that this song never existed. But for what it is, it's rather excellently crafted. It's got a simple, and instantly relate-able premise that's always bemusing without straining to be funny; and the hook just invites you to rap along.

More than that, though, it's just got "one of those" beats. One of those beats that's instantly addictive on the first listen and that you could still hear playing in your head even if you haven't heard the record in twenty years. It's produced by the same trio again, of Special K, Teddy Ted and Joe Mansfield of the Vinyl Reanimators. The beat is hot, with slick drums and really effective use of handclaps (how often can you say that?), but if you've ever heard the song, you know what crucial element I'm leaving out, the funky, "bump, bump-a, ba-bump-a, bump-a, bump!" bass. It's also got a nice, underplayed "Mr. Welfare" scratch on the hook. But you, me and our future grand kids will basically just remember the bass.

Well, this 12" has just the one song, but it's still pretty loaded. First we've got the basic, O.G. version you remember from the album. Next we've got the Shout-Out Version. This is exactly the same as the original until we get to the end. Now, I'm not one to get all excited about some shout-outs tagged onto the end of a song, but in this case, they really enhance the tune, because they feature a lot of extra scratching. Basically, the DJ constantly stuttering the phrase "bug-a-boo" as Ed O. G shouts out people one by one, "DJ Doc is not a" and the DJ finishes "b-b-b-bug-a-boo!" Granted, hearing it for the first time isn't an "oh my god" revelation, but it's a genuine improvement. It's just fresh (in the old school sense of the word), and once you get this mix, you won't wanna go back to the album version.

Then the A-side rounds itself out with the Instrumental.

Now flip it over, and we start out with The Awesome Remix, which is presumably named after The Awesome 2 ...who maybe did more of the production rather than Joe this time around? Mind you, I'm just guessing here. Anyway, it's a pretty solid beat, but I think they'd've been better off saving it to remix a different song. It removes the signature sound of the original version (i.e. that bass, though they do bring it in for a few moments towards the end of the song); and while it's a solid track in its own right, it's just never going to be the version you want to hear when you decide you want to listen to "Bug-A-Boo."

Also, this is clearly not the beat Ed O. was rapping over; it just feels like they sloppily threw a beat under an acapella and said, "done!" Not that it's off-beat or anything, but all of the fun interplay between Ed and the beat, where he changes his delivery to match when it cuts out or switches up... all of that is lost here. But again, it is pretty good if you're looking for an alternate version (maybe, especially back in 1991, you'd heard the OG version so often it'd played itself out for you and you were getting sick of it). And to its credit, this remix does at least use the shout-outs version with the extra cuts. Also included is the Awesome Instrumental.

Finally, there's Bass Dub Vocal 1 and Bass Dub Vocal 2. These might sound like some short, throw-away dubs with the hook left on them or something, but they're really full-out remixes, which use elements of both versions of the song, and also add in some new samples (less so, #2 is more stripped-down). They're pretty cool, and certainly make you feel like you're getting some extra value for your 12", but they of course run into exactly the same problem the Awesome Remix does: the original instrumental is already inherently definitive.

"Bump, bump-a, ba-bump-a, bump-a, bump!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ed O. G & da Bulldogs Week, Day 1 - I Got To Have It

This is where it all began. Actually, it isn't. Ed O. G, or Edo Rock as he was known at the time, actually made his debut on wax back in 1986 with the song "Suzi Q" on the Boston Goes Def compilation. He was part of a group called the FTI (that's Fresh To Impress) Crew. Heck, I even owned the 1988 follow-up, Def Row, which also included two of their songs, back in the days. But let's face it, if you weren't living in Boston (and possibly not even then), the name Ed O. G didn't really mean anything to you until 1991.

That's when Ed O. G & da Bulldogs released their stunning debut single on PWL/ Polydor/ Mercury Records, "I Got To Have It." When that video turned up on the regular shows, it was a given: a new crew was on the scene and everybody was going to pay attention. How could you not, with that fantastic, ahead of its time, pure crate digger's beat (and that incredible sax breakdown!)? The track was co-produced by the well-known pair of Special K and Teddy Ted, The Awesome 2; so pretty much all credit was given to them at the time. But looking back on it with 2000's eyes, the other co-producer's name stands out, Joe Mansfield. Don't know who that is? Well, if I told you he was now better known as Rhythm Nigga Joe of The Vinyl Reanimators, making his major label debut (he did produce an indie 12" or two prior to this), I think you'd suddenly see where most of the credit for finding and blending these incredible samples probably belongs.

Of course, Ed O. was noticeable on the mic, too. He had a somewhat deep, smooth voice, easy enunciation and a fun, freestyle-type of flow that effortlessly dipped in and out of non-sequitors and serious topics. He goes from making anti-violence statements to battle rhyme disses in the same sentence and it sounds like one coherent thought. Still, he did contrive a few awkward rhymes and clumsy phrasings ("When you're in like food in your stomach they wanna stick with you").

Now, this version comes in the standard Hard Version (read: album version) and Clean Version. What's interesting is that, while the Clean Version does use a bleep and sax sound to censor the words "ass" and "rectum," he also re-raps some other lines. "I stay hard like an erection" becomes "Ay yo, brown is my complexion." And "jerkin' ya jimmy but you still can't come off," becomes "step back, relax, 'cause Ed O.G's about to come off." Why, if he's replacing the vocals to get rid of "erection," does he still leave the word "ass" in there, requiring a bleep? It's oddly inconsistent, but oh well. There's also some funky bonus beats and a proper instrumental version on here.

There's a hot B-side, too (produced by all the same guys); the title track to their debut album, Life Of a Kid In the Ghetto. The hook is a nicely scratched line from EPMD's "Big Payback" ("A young kid from the ghetto, kiddie from the city") that leaves in the devastating horn jabs of the original instrumental. And the rest of the instrumental is as expertly assembled: snapping drums, the rugged bassline most famously used in K-Solo's "Fugitive" (in a context that's so different here, it's almost unrecognizable) to a super smooth piano line and whistle. Other elements - a funk guitar loop that sounds like it's straight off an NWA record or a dusty horn sample - fade in and out of the track, too.

Lyrically, it's not quite as catchy, because it's a narrative of his youth in the ghetto rather than freestyles. But on the other hand, that helps him iron out some of the awkward bumps. There's still a few questionable lines ("in the ghetto, there wasn't no horses, no lake and no meadow"), but it's easier to let it all slip under the radar in the service of a consistent story. And, for every line that's slightly cringe-worthy (in either song), there's a fresh line where his delivery and the choice of words makes it sound really dope.

This is a serious contender for 1991's single of the year, and still holds up as one of the all-time greats to this day. As soon as I saw that video for the first time, I knew: this new jack was gonna be one to watch out for and explore whatever catalog he had. Fortunately, over the years, he's had a pretty extensive one. So join us again for Ed O. G Week, Day 2. 8)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pro-Black Radical Raps Upliftin'

Though he's been relatively consistent over the past 20(!) years he's been recording, Paris's later material is often met with skepticism and disinterest in the hip-hop community... probably due to his going a bit overboard with the P-funk. But you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who'd front on his debut album, The Devil Made Me Do It.

And 1989's "Break the Grip of Shame," the second single on Tommy Boy/Scarface Records (the latter being Paris's own label), is as strong as anything on the album. Hard beats, deep, ominous bass notes, a little rhythm guitar, a fast-paced, angry delivery from Paris with something serious to say, and some tight scratches by Mad Mike? It's hard to improve on that formula.

Not that he's saying anything too complicated or profound. Basically, all three verses boil down to a declaration that he'll say whatever he wants and take no shit:

"With a raised fist I resist;
I don't burn, so don't you dare riff
Or step to me; I'm strong and black and proud,
And for the bullshit I ain't down."

And it's not necessarily expressed positively:

"Life in the city's already rough enough
ithout some young sucka runnin' up.
You don't know me, so don't step;
I roll to the right and then bust your lip."

It's just that straight up, hardcore flexing you want from a rough hip-hop record:

"I stomp sixteen solo,
Straight for the jugular. Hope that I don't
warm and bust a cap by night, so
ou just keep your place, 'cause I won't stop."

So, you can see from my photo that this comes in an ill picture cover (which may've misled you into believing this was going to be a song about police brutality). It features two mixes: the Radio Mix, which we don't care about, and The Final Call, which we certainly do.

The Final Call clocks in at 8:10, which makes it more than double the length of the original version, which is about three and a half minutes. This is an extended mix, alright; way extended.

You'll notice the first difference right at the first second. You know how the album version features a clip from a Malcolm X speech between Paris's second and third verses? Well, this version opens with another speech clip. I miss the days when hip-hop did this semi-regularly. It sounds dope.

Anyway, from there you've got some typical "let the beat ride" moments that you'd expect in an extended mix. But after Paris's last verse is when the bulk of the new material kicks in. The beat keeps on as Mad Mike takes over the rest of the song for the next four minutes. Sometimes he busts some serious, fresh scratches and other times he just drops in various vocal and instrumental samples over the track (including a P-funk breakdown to herald things to come in Paris's career).

The only downside is that The Final Call uses the censored, Radio edit of the song. Now, Paris doesn't curse as much as a lot of his contemporaries, so it's not like it renders the song as unlistenable as many radio edits do. But it's a definite flaw; and it's a frustrating shame we can't get a "proper" version of this. Still, there's no alternative; and this record's definitely worth your time regardless.