Thursday, February 25, 2010

A New Day In the Life - Kwamé Interview

I had the chance to do a deep, in-depth interview with the one and only Kwamé a few months ago for HHC. Unfortunately, it looks like the issue of The Original this was written for isn't happening now (although the next issue of HHC Digital is still coming, so look out for that!), so I'm posting it here. We cover everything from his early days to his revival as producer K1 Mil, a breakdown of the full New Beginning line-up, Tat Money's move from The Hilltop Hustlers, EST, an unreleased Kwamé album from 1996... hell, just read it!

Actually, my first question might wind up being almost an entire interview in itself, but I wanted to get into all the members of New Beginning… just who everybody is, what they did.

Ok. Well, New Beginning… I was trying to put together a group bigger than just your average hip-hop group where everybody had a simple place. So, the original members first… you had A-Sharp, who at the time was a singer. He was supposed to be the male singer in the group, and he also was a song writer. And he was also like a fashion guy. Him and I would be the ones running around trying to get a look for the group.

B-Flat was our original DJ. B-Flat was a cat I went to school with who I’ve known since fifth grade, so he just, through osmosis, wound up in the group. He was pretty much the only DJ I knew.

So, are there any songs where it’s him doing the scratching, as opposed to Tat Money?

The whole first album. Any cuts that’s on the first album, that was B-Flat. One song that comes to mind is “Pushthepanicbutton!!!”

Then we had C-Major. Everybody had the musical names. He was pretty much the only one that didn’t have too much to do in the group; he was just one of our boys from high school. We were just all good friends, so he came along and we gave him a title. But his role was very short-lived when it just wasn’t working out like that. It was like, “ok, I’m paying all these guys;” and I had to trim the fat.

And then B-Flat left the group. And he formed another group with his brother than had one record in the 90’s called “Party Line.” And the name of the group was Fifth Platoon.

The funny thing is, before my first album came out, outside of the crew that I was with – like Salt-N-Pepa, Kid ‘N’ Play, and Dana Dane and them – the first rapper I met was Steady B. So I got cool with Steady. And I got cool with Tat Money. I got real cool with Tat Money, and so him and Steady were having problems at the time. And me and B-Flat were having problems at the time. So I just thought it would be a good power move to get a DJ that hip-hoppers knew and put him in a crew that hip-hoppers knew. So that’s how Tat Money came about.

And were there ever any problems with The Hilltop over that?

It was never beef with The Hilltop. And it was weird because I’m surprised that it wasn’t. Because, at the time my best friend was EST, and he had problems with Hilltop, and Tat Money had problems with Hilltop, but I didn’t. I think I was just like the middle man. I said, look, this isn’t “Kwamé and a New Beginning’s beef.” The problems that you guys have are personal problems from when you guys were kids. And there were situations where we all sat down and were like, look, this doesn’t have anything to do with shows, this has nothing to do with records. We don’t talk about cha’ll on the record. You don’t talk about us on the record, so there should be no beef. If there’s a personal issue, handle it personally. And that was pretty much the difference between hip-hop then and now, when it comes to things like that.

Then, the last member was Tasha. Tasha joined us on the second album, but she originally was an artist in a female rap group, or rap/slash singing group that I was producing at the time. And that didn’t work out. So I was just like, “hey, why don’t you join my group?” And that’s how we came to be.

I remember with Tasha Lambert, there was a ton of buzz that she was gonna go solo for a while there…

Tasha had a deal with Elektra. The album was recorded and ready to go. And right before mastering, she called the record label and told them that she had found Jesus and could not sing that kind of music anymore.

Oh, wow!

And that was the beginning and the end of Tasha Lambert’s career.

Yeah, I remember her and the girl who sang for Candyman both had a lot of publicity going about solo careers coming that never happened.

Yup. And I did some great records on that album. But that never saw the light of day.

So I guess that’s just in Elektra’s vaults somewhere?

Yup. I was so jaded by that situation, I don’t even have copies of it!

So then, I guess that unreleased album would be a natural segue to my next question… apparently, you have a 1996 unreleased album?

Oh yeah; how’d you find out about that? That was a pretty good album, too. Very good album. I was sort of in between whether I wanted to just go forward as a producer or try to continue my work as an artist. And during that time, I recorded an album.

Was that for a label, or something you were doing on your own to shop, or…?

Well, at the time I was on this label called Ichiban, and I released an album called Incognito on that label. And the deal was to do just one album. And we were in talks to possibly do a second. But I think, where I was at the time, I didn’t want to deal with the whole ins and outs of being an artist for whatever reason, and I never continued with Ichiban. Ichiban folded anyway. I had a fully recorded album, but I just felt that my calling was more producing records than going on the circuit and falling into the powers of the record label. You know, you have good records, but you have but so much control as an artist.

And how much did either label - Ichiban or Atlantic - interfere with what you were doing? Because I imagine you were a bit of a unique case for them...

Oh, very much so! I can honestly say that things rappers are doing today, I was fighting to do in 1989, 1990. Things as simple as singing over… like, you know how Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreaks sounds? I was making records like that, and it was a fight. Labels were saying: you’re a rapper; you have to stay a rapper. You can’t do things like that.

Or something as simple as “Ownlee Eue.” The “Ownlee Eue” record was a big fight. That record was originally written and produced for Vanessa Williams at the time. And I didn’t make the album’s deadline, so I put another verse on it and I said, look. At that time, rap records could not get played before 6pm. It’s like radio stations were doing this thing called a “no rap workday;” and radio stations were literally boycotting rap records. Because, at the time, NWA was coming out, and the rap records were getting a little bit too out of hand. So what I thought up was, “let me make a record that’s 50% rap and 50% R&B, push it as an R&B record with me pretty much as the feature, so we can get these records play at 6 in the morning as opposed to 6pm.” Oh my god, that was the biggest fight! That was the biggest fight... And even in the end, they just halfway pushed that one.

You know, another thing I had a fight with the label was I said, “for this album – the second album – let me make, instead a bunch of broken up videos, a full video-tape and sell the tape.” Make a movie, with four or five little videos within this movie. Sort of like Streets is Watching, and sell it like that. Because I’m known for my visuals, so let’s sell a separate video tape. “No, that’ll never work! You can never do that.” And that kinda just hardened me as an artist because everywhere that I turned, everything that I tried to do and every ground that I tried to break, was always a constant battle.

And I think the last straw was when groups like Naughty By Nature… You know, in the 90’s, when groups got grimier, and the label pitched it: “why don’t you start wearing Timberlands and Lumberjacks and braid your hair and come out looking like Treach.” I was like, this is the last straw; I’m not dealing with this.

So, was the posse cut on Nastee like a response to that?

That posse cut was a joke! Really. That was saying, “oh, you want a posse cut? Here we go.” We were all just joking around, acting like dumbasses in the studio.

So, those are fake names in the credits, right? Because some of those names are pretty goofy… [the liner notes read: “featuring the Boys from the Group Home: KBornGodAllahNegativeXtheHoe, Gasoline Alley, CJaneRunLikeAMutha, Grand Master Flex.”]

Oh yeah, definitely!

So who was really on that song?

If it wasn’t all just me, it was one of the guys in the group. You know, I’ve stayed with the fake names in the credits. And I think that was just from my idolization of what Prince used to do. Like Prince would always put it under a fake name, so it was just one of those things.

Well, let me get into this, then… these were either some other people who you worked with, or maybe they were just fake names. Let me ask you about these names from your credits. Like MAD Scratches?

That’s me.

Oh ok. (Laughs) Well, on the last album, you had an MC named GR81?

Oh, the GR81. She was an artist outta Philly that I was trying to develop. She was dope. I was working with this AIDS awareness repertoire group that I did some appearances with and music for. And she was one of the kids in the group. Well, she wasn’t a kid, but she was one of the people in the group. I thought she was kinda hot, so I said come on this album and let’s do a duet. That’s how that one happened.

Ok, how about DJ Blah Love?

That’s me! (Laughs)

Peek-A-Boo… I think was a dancer?

He was one of our dancers, yup.

[I was going to ask about somebody billed on the 4th album as Dave “The Leader” Locust, but I found out during the course of arranging this interview that he’s Kwamé’s manager.] And who was Nina Love? She gets a lot of credit on the third album and I think that’s even her on the cover?

Nina Love was a dancer that was in the group, but she also did a lot of background vocals, and just different party scenes and things like that.

And how about Domini the Freak?

Domini was a singer signed to John B, who was in a group called Jack Hererra. So he did a lot of the male singing vocals on the third album.

Ok, and who were The Brothers Grimm? I know you were one of them, but…

That was just our little writing crew. That was me, A-Sharp, Hurby Luvbug’s little brother Stevie-O and the other kid who was with us, C-Major. That was just our little clique that we had.

Ok, and I’ve heard – and as a matter of fact, I’ve even seen your video for D-Nice where you talk about producing most of the first album… but Hurby Luvbug and the Invincibles get full production credit on that.


How much did they do versus how much did you do?

That was a straight jack move. 100% jack move. That was a situation where I was 16 years old, my parents had divorce lawyers look over the contract, and it was just absolutely crazy. And so the record deal came with a production deal and a management contract. So Hurby was my manager, my producer and my publishing was signed under his production company, which is why he got the producing credit.

So, did they do any work on that album at all?

Not at all! Hurby was pretty much busy working on a Salt-N-Pepa album and my first album was pretty much done before I got the deal. So the most that Hurby would do would be like to come in the studio and say, “why don’t you rap that a little bit softer” or “I like that song! No, I don’t like that song.” And that was the gist of it.

Looking back, I understand what Hurby was doing. He was definitely letting me do my talent. And he would give some advice like on my cadence on the records. But music-wise, like actually making the music and production-wise, he didn’t have anything to do with that record.

And what about later on? Did he get more involved?

No. It was always me as far as the production goes. The only record that Hurby did was the only record I was involved with that I didn’t like! My second video, “U Gotz 2 Get Down!” He did the go-go remix that was in the video. And that was a push from the record label, ‘cause they were like, “we have your name all over these records and you have yet to do a record.” So they made him do that.

But that song, the go-go version, was never for sale or anything ['though it was included on the B-side to "The Rhythm" single]. And I hated that record. I never performed it, nothing. Because I was partial to the original. I was a very lyrical guy, pre-getting a deal. I was just very into lyrics, either telling crazy stories or just ill rhymes. And with Hurby being in that whole Kid ‘N Play, Salt-N-Pepa camp, there were things that were done to soften up the imagery that in ways ended up working, but in other ways, as a 16-17 year-old kid that was into people like Kool G Rap… sometimes it was a little bit of friction.

Yeah, I remember a friend at college (what up, Kareem!) had a tape of you freestyling on the radio, and it was a surprise in the 90’s to hear you be that lyrical after being so familiar with your image for so long.

Well, I kinda appreciated that situation. Because I never believed in showing everything that you’re about all at once. So I like to keep those little elements as like a surprise. Especially when I would do radio shows and I would ask to freestyle and spit some real stuff, and they’d be like “damn, we didn’t even know!”

Yeah, and I know you worked with Original Flavor a bit in the 90’s, who were of course on that tip.

Yeah, Original Flavor did a remix for me called “Can You Feel It?” And I requested that Ski do that remix because I just thought he was so dope, and I loved the stuff he was doing with Original Flavor. I was like, man, I’m not used to rhyming over other peoples’ records, but I would love to hear how Ski approaches it, remix-wise. And also, I felt like I always know where I’m gonna go. When I make records, I have lyrics first and then I make tracks around the lyrics. So I just wanted to get on top of another type of beat and just go in. And then, actually, Tat Money produced the title track “Incognito” on that album, so that was a good look also. ‘Cause Tat was getting heavy into production and then one day he played that beat and I was like, “oh, I need that! That’s dope.”

Oh, and speaking of Tat Money, I noticed on your second album he’s credited as DJ T.A.T., like Tat’s an acronym. Do you know what was that for?

Yeah. Terrence Allen Thomas. (Laughs) He’s gonna kill me for giving that one up. That’s ok, though. I call him Terrence on stage, so it don’t matter.

Oh, speaking of on stage, tell us about Rapmania.

Aw, Rapmania was the best! It was the best, but looking back on it, there’s certain things I wish I would’ve done different. Like, to me Rapmania was the best having all those rappers in one place at one time, but looking back at it, it felt like a circus. I went on stage with like every dancer I knew, and it was a big spectacle just to do a record like “The Rhythm.”

And the beat was different for “The Rhythm” you performed that night, right?

Yeah, and that was another thing. I wish I had performed just the regular version; but I was like, “nah, I’m gonna flip it up and do a live version” with live instruments and stuff like that.

And do you have stuff like that? That remix or the 1996 album? Is that something you could release yourself, like independently now?

Yeah! Because it wasn’t signed to any label. One thing about me, I always stayed recording. I always kept my studio with me. Like, for instance, if I’m on the road, I’m setting my hotel up like a studio. And during that time, I was just constantly recording and recording and recording. So I think when the time is right, or if the time is right, I will definitely release that untitled album, probably adjacent to something else.

Yeah, I think this is a good time, with the internet reconnecting audiences and all…

I was surprised you knew about that, because I rarely, if at all, talk about it.

What’s that album like, say compared to your others?

The album, I don’t know… it’s very lyrical. And I think it’s a very raw album. Raw as the artist Kwamé could get while still being believable. The stories are very modern. And there’s a lot of bass, and it’s engineered with the technologies that were just going around at the time. It’s the album that should’ve definitely come out. Like, if things were in place, it would’ve been a very good album.

And tell me about 4x4 Records who you did some stuff for…

No. What’s that?

Like the Justus League and Divine Beings.

Oh! Ok, you threw me off for a second. A good friend of mine named Rick Young had a group called The Justus League in Philly in the 90’s. It was a remix for a record they already had called “We Could Be Lovers.” And we may’ve did one more, but man, that was a while ago.

And Divine Beings… back to The GR81. The kid in that group, his name is Air Smooth, and he’s on a couple of Roots records. He’s actually Black Thought’s best friend. And so when I worked with the GR81, I produced a record for them, around ’93 or ’94. I was doing a lot of odds and ends production during those years – I call them the dark years.

Well, let’s get into the production stuff then. I know for a while you changed your name to K1 Mil…


I know it’s been speculated that it was at least partially in response to the Biggie Smalls quote, and maybe lines from Ultramagnetics, etc…

No, no, no. It was never in response to anybody’s quotes. What it was… one thing about me is I’ve always been experimental type of person when it comes to music. And I’m always doing these things to prove myself. One of the things was that… people had a preconceived notion of me, walking into a building after 1995-1996. And the first thing they thought, 9 times out of 10, is “oh, he’s coming here to try to get a record deal,” or “he’s here to play beats, but he’s gonna try to rap or do whatever.” It was always something. So at that point, I was like, you know what? It’s all about labeling, it’s all about packaging. So I’m gonna change my name, and let’s see what happens?

And at that time, it wasn’t me walking in. I had a friend named Rob Lawrence who was a producer and he was one of the Hitmen for Badboy. He did “Money, Power, Respect” and several other records. It was somebody that I grew up with and he understood what I was going through as an artist and as a producer at that time. So what he did was put me in his production company and start soliciting beats under the name K1 Millionaire. And as soon as he started selling this kid named K1 Million’s tracks, the tracks caught on. Immediately. As soon as he started taking meetings, he started selling beats. So one of the first things that I got was a Mary J Blige record called “L O V E” and a LL Cool J record called “Ten Million Stars.”

So, during the Mary session, I went in, laid the beat, and I didn’t do the session with Mary, because actually I had a show as the artist Kwamé, literally down the block. So I laid the track, went and did the show, came back, and Mary’s vocals were done already. So she didn’t see me.

So did she have any idea it was you?

No, she didn’t have no clue.

So the next day, I go to the LL session. And LL comes in and sees me and says, “yo, Kwam, what are you doing here?”

“I’m doing your record.”

So he got shocked, the A&R got shocked, and everybody was like, “oh shit!” And, actually, it wasn’t just “Ten Million Stars,” it was three records they bought off of me. So, I was three records in on his album – which was the Ten album - so they couldn’t do anything about it.

So, then it really started catching on: this new kid who’s doing tracks on your album? That’s really Kwamé. And so after a while, it was just like I proved this point, but what the Hell is the point? You can’t not be who you are. And it makes no sense. Because me not saying Kwamé produced this, Kwamé did this record, is almost like saying I’m ashamed of the legacy I built as an artist. And even just based on your question, the assumption, “oh because Biggie had a line.” That’d be pretty much like saying, oh, he won. And it shouldn’t even be that, so I Just went back to Kwamé. Even though the nickname K or K1 was a name people called me even before I was an artist – I don’t even know where the name came from – it was just like: let it ride.

It’s so crazy, because even to this day… of course the industry insiders know what I do, but to a person on the street. It’s funny; I’ll go somewhere and somebody will be like, “ah, man, you were my favorite artist! Why did you quit? You coulda made some money!” And I just look at ‘em like, “yeah, thanks. It’s cool. I sell comic books now. That’s my real passion.”

Going back to what you were saying about Hurby Lovebug taking credit… was that the same deal with the Joeski Love record?

You know, I never saw the credits for the “Joe Cool” record. I think I got my credits for that.

Well, on the 12”, it reads, “Produced By Hurby Azor (Hurby Luv Bug), Kwamé and the Invincibles.”

Well, Hurby didn’t do that at all. Matter of fact, I wasn’t supposed to produce that record. But Joe asked me to produce it and I did that record in between tour dates. I came home for a day, I did the record, and then I broke out. And then I came back for a day to shoot the video and broke out. I never really lent enough personal support to that record, and I think Joe could’ve used it. And I really think I should have lent more, but that was in the middle of me running around like crazy.

Ok, and this wouldn’t’ve occurred to me before, but I guess you were the connection between him working with the Fifth Platoon, right?

No! No, I never knew that he did, but in the event that he did work with them, it’s solely something different. When I did the “Joe Cool” record, B-Flat wasn’t even in A New Beginning anymore. We weren’t even speaking at the time. So that must’ve just happened. But that’s dope. I’m glad they got to do that.

And around that time, you also did that Larry Larr record.

Yeah. We did “My Ace, My Pal, My Partner,” if I’m not mistaken. That was pretty much just my Philly crew: me, EST and Larry Larr. We used to just all hang out. I was supposed to produce on that album, but I didn’t end up being able to produce, so I did a feature.

And the same thing with Redhead Kingpin. I did a feature on his album called “Dave and Kwamé.” When I was in the 11th grade, I moved to New Jersey, and Redhead and I became very close. And we both actually got our deals around the same time. So it was always a promise that we would do at least one record together.

How long did you live in New Jersey?

A year. If that. Because once I moved out to Jersey, that’s when I ended up getting my record contract, I moved back to Queens and started my senior year at a high school there. But the album ended up coming out and I ended up using a tutor. So I never really went to high school for my senior year.

And do you still keep up with the Philly crew?

Well, I speak to EST often, because he’s a big writer. I know he wrote “Baby Boy” for Beyonce. He wrote a lot for Scott Storch, basically. A lot of records. So we’re actually working on records for artists together, and I speak to him all the time.

And do you guys think often about coming back as artists yourselves?

I know he thinks about it! I record… I can’t help but record. My problem is that there’s so much of a stigma on old school, or what people consider “old school” hip-hop artists coming back out. I’ve always been forward. I’ve always been futuristically thinking in my work, and I just can’t put myself in that spot. I just can’t consider myself an old school rapper, because my whole aura isn’t about that. I don’t wanna come back out and automatically have to deal with that crap. It would have to be a situation where I could bypass that whole look and just come out with a new record.

Because rock guys do it all the time. Why can’t rap guys do it? And I think it’s 50% the fault of the rapper, because 9 times out of 10 when he comes back out, all he does is beef about who he was and how people don’t recognize that fact. And that turns people off. And I think the other 50% is just labels not wanting to deal with it.

I think a lot of it, too, is a lot of rappers making comebacks aren’t coming back with all the same people that made their first efforts a success. Like, you take someone who used to work with Large Professor and Paul C, then have him comeback with some kid he found on myspace doing the beats…

Exactly! Yup. I will not name names, but I heard a rapper that had great records in the 90s, and I listened to one of his records on myspace, and this rapper is stuck on autotune. I’m like, “you’re killing me.” And if you’re gonna sing on autotune, sound good. Something hot with it or something! And then have the nerve to say “we’re bringing rap back.”

Well, there is kind of a sense that the auto tune is like the vocoder equivalent from the old school.

Yeah. I’m not mad at it. But if you’re gonna use a tool, use it for the purpose of the tool. Don’t use it just to say you have the tool.

But that would be the thing if you came back… it wouldn’t be like you the MC working with some newjack producers.

Yeah, yeah. And if I did work with some other producers, it’d be like-minded individuals like Kanye, Pharrell or Will I Am. You know, those guys came from pretty much the school that I came from. So I could deal with that. I wouldn’t be rapping over a Gucci Man beat!

Well, let’s turn that around a bit and look at some of the artists you’re producing and managing… or if not managing, at least developing.

Right now the artist I’m really working with is a rapper from Far Rockaway Queens. His name is Beyond Belief. And you know, he’s doing his thing on the internet slash underground circuit, just trying to build a name before we do anything mainstream. And that’s the artist I’ve really been focusing on for the last couple years. Him and developing a boutique label called Make Noise. And what I want to achieve with Make Noise is the actual development of artists, not just signing an artist with a good single on myspace and throwing him out there, then expecting him to achieve big numbers. I think a lot of record labels lost sight of what it took to be a label. And with technology nowadays, the cheapest thing you can do is put out a label and put out some good music.

And also I think you have an R&B singer? I heard a song you had of hers on your myspace, where she’s singing over a classic dancehall beat?

Oh! Now that artist is a singer named Jade Ewen. She was signed to Sony UK, but she ended up getting dropped while I was working with her and we just kept working. But since then, there’s like an American Idol-type show out there called For the Love Of Your Country on Eurovision. And they get artists representing every country that’s participating in Europe and they do an American Idol-type competition. And she won for the United Kingdom. And by winning for the United Kingdom, she secured a record deal with Geffen.

So now she has a single that’s produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren that’s like more of a Broadway-type sounding song. But she now is in Moscow and they’re doing the big-type competition. And the way they’re making it seem is that she’s slated to win the whole thing. And with that, her album comes out and a lot of the songs we worked on in between her record deals will come out on that.

And I saw on your myspace that you did a remake of “Dana Dane With Fame” with Dana Dane?

Yeah, man. Dana was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his album and was doing some records over. I used to look up to Dana when I was a kid. I’d follow him and Rick around. So for me it was an honor to re-do one of my favorite Dana Dane records.

And do you know what became of that?

He never did anything – or the powers that be that he was working with – they never did anything with it. And we also were working on a remake of “Delancy Street,” and we never finished that. So I’ve gotta get Dana in the studio to finish that one up, because the beat is just sitting there. And then we were gonna try to work on something where him, Slick Rick and I were gonna do a song where each one did a verse of a story, but that didn’t end up happening either.

Was that project tied to a record label?

No, not at all. It was just something that we were just working. Because, you know, with the internet, man, you don’t need a record label. Just put out a good song and let it float. Like the “Dana Dane With Fame,” we put that on myspace and got a lot of good reactions off of that.

And with Beyond Belief, do you have any dates set for his stuff?

Well, he has a single that’s out there on the internet, but that’s like a year old. So we’re working on a full album, but he actually this weekend is graduating from University of Miami. So things got put on pause so he could take care of that situation. But when he comes out in the real world, we’ll start dropping these records.

And, in terms of Make Noise, how do you see distribution these days? Like, would you do CDs, all digital, or…?

I would do CDs and vinyl in limited runs. But basically everything would just be digital. I think everything should just be downloaded, or if it’s passed out like hand to hand, it should be transferred on jump drives. And you could have 3-4 gig jump drives with videos, screen art, liner notes, and the record. And behind the scenes videos. I think that’s how albums should be packaged, and that’s how I’ll be packaging my albums on Make Noise.

And do you plan to handle distribution yourself, or are you looking for a distributor?

Well, for now I’ll keep it independent, but never turning down a good deal. It has to be a situation where everything can work cohesively: the marketing, the packaging, the distribution. That is very, very important. That is more important than spending fifty thousand dollars on a name producer to make a record.

And you mentioned limited vinyl… I guess you’ve been seeing the stories about vinyl making a comeback and all?

I don’t know how or why, but I just love vinyl. Vinyl is like a piece of art. It sounds different, it’s good to look at the album cover and inside jacket and it’s just a whole different experience when you deal with vinyl. I heard on the rock side of things vinyl is making a comeback, and that’s funny because vinyl is more of a hip-hop staple. I wonder, what is that connection, between rock records and vinyl?

I think maybe that rock is more diverse in who it’s marketed to? Like there’s more rock being targeted towards adults, maybe; and rap is all being geared to young teens.

Yeah, I get you.

What do you think about putting out some limited edition, classic Kwamé stuff?

Definitely. In fact, because it was just the 20th anniversary of the first album, I’m thinking of rereleasing that album, plus adding songs that never made the album. There’s a lot of things in the works in regards to the anniversary, and we’re trying to play it up alongside Hip Hop Honors.

Like what?

Well, without getting into the actual brand names, but there’s going to be cross-marketing between certain brands where there’s gonna be a “Back To the Old School” collection. There’s gonna be a fitted cap, varsity jacket, a sneaker that is based on the design of the first album and the old school Kwamé logo. And it’ll be packaged in a book bag. And also, I’m gonna be doing a gallery exhibit with old school footage and pictures of behind-the-scenes situations that took place in 1989, working on that first album, and also other artists and photographers showcasing their work based around that time. And there’s also gonna be performances in the gallery of me performing songs from the first album. We’re gonna do that in NY, LA, Atlanta, Miami, maybe London and Canada. They’re putting me back on the road again.

And right now, as we speak, I’m currently working on Jah Legend and Estelle – their new album. That’s the next thing to look out for.

To keep up with what he's doing today, check out his myspace, where you can also download the latest MakeNoise mixtape by Beyond Belief, which features a new song with Kwamé on the mic!


To an Esham/horrorcore aficionado, I'd say the cream of his career crop starts with the Judgment Night albums (Boomin' Words had some good tracks, for sure; but it's not as consistent, and Esham comes off as a bit young & sloppy) and lasts 'till Kkkill the Fetus, dwindling down through Maggot Brain Theory, and anything after that is for the die-hards only. And the short (four song) HellterSkkkelter EP comes along right at the peak there. That would be 1992 on, as always, the Reel Life Productions label, with the familiar notice, "all songs written, performed, composed, programmed, produced and engineered by Esham A. Smith/ The Unholy."

We start out with the title track, "Hellterskkkellter" ...though I guess, technically, it has one too many "l"s to be the title track. Regardless, this song later wound up on his 1993 full-length, Kkkill the Fetus, too... this time perplexingly spelled "Hellter Skkklter." Almost as perplexingly, however, is the fact that he opted for a censored version of the track on there (especially when you consider how obscenity-filled the rest of the album is). So a line like:

"A public enemy, public figure;
Not your regular nigga."


"A public enemy, public figure;

Keepin' my hands on the trigger."


"You better murder me man, before some nigga get hurt.

Let a nun suck my dick in the back of a church."


"You better murder me man, before somebody get hurt.

Sister Mary do me work in the back of a church."

This makes our 1992 EP the only way to hear the original version.
And it's worth hearing, 'cause this is one of his better tracks. The original version opens with a spoken monologue, with Esham telling us, "just like Ice-T, you motherfuckers should've killed me last year." Actually, the one interesting thing about the edited version is that it replaces the original opening with a repeated line sampled from the Hellraiser movies, "what's your pleasure, mister?" That's actually more effectively atmospheric. But then, whichever version you're listening to, the beat kicks in to full effect with a droning heavy metal guitar riff, looped and mixed beneath some hard drums and deep bass notes that effectively suck the heavy metal right out of it, leaving you with a grimy feeling hip-hop track. A tortured horn wail on the hook seals the deal.

Next up is the sex song, "Rocks Off!," which was also included on the soundtrack album of the movie The Fear. This was later remixed on his greatest hits album, Detroit Dogshit, but this EP (and the soundtrack) include the original version. It's a little faster and the bass has a lighter tone, which sounds better to my ear. That may make it sound like the distinctions between the two versions are pretty minimal, but they actually sound noticeably different. In any case, it's not really one of his better songs (his sex songs aren't generally as fun as his crazier shit), but it does a good job of feeling really sleazy, which I assume he'd take as a compliment.

"Be-4" has a more old school feel, with some boom bap beats, a choppy flow to the rhymes and some literal old school vocal samples from The Beastie Boys and NWA. Lyrically, he's still on some wicked shit, though: "still dreamin' 'bout death, and every day is like dead. Got a screw loose and a hole in my head." This is a short song, really just a single verse with no hook, about his suicidal thoughts. Esham haters probably won't find much to like about this besides the bassline, but this is right up a fan's alley for sure.

Finally, it ends with my favorite song of the album, "Devil's Night." Like the opening song, this one takes another distorted guitar riff and merges it with ominous bass notes for a dark tone, though this one uses more classic breakbeat style drums. There's even a little scratching. The music drops out completely for the hook, leaving only the sound of sirens and an assortment of vocal samples. Lyrically, Esham takes on the subject of the real "devil's nights" in Detroit, when each year on October 30th ("mischief night" to us softies out here in New Jersey hehe), acts of arson would occur in the inner cities. Of course, Esham takes the perspective of a gleeful arsonist, "strike 'em, struck 'em; burn 'em up, fuck 'em. Firemen come? Buck, buck, buck 'em! 'Cause I'm a fireman, but I've got a gas can." It's just one of those songs where all of the elements come together perfectly to form an ideal Esham moment.

And really, that's what you could say about this EP as a whole. The styles, subject matter, production... all just come together to form a nice little highlight moment of Esham music. It makes a good intro points for new fans, and it's a solid collector's item for old ones (like all of his vintage tapes, this usually goes for $60-90 these days).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lord Mustafa and DJ KIng Born, United

Movement Ex really kinda reminds me of an East coast Low Profile, where you've got a solid, lyrically conscious MC paired up with an incredible DJ - King Born - who fills their entire album with a ton of hype scratching. The MC, Lord Mustafa, is the weaker link of the pair, though. He's pretty adept and clearly focused on intellectual and socially relevant content, but he just doesn't have the voice or style that'd threaten to knock another politically radical MC like Brother J or Wise Intelligent out of position... which is probably why they (again like Low Profile*) never made it to a second album. And that's a shame, 'cause this is some quality hip-hop right here.

So they only had the one self-titled album in 1990, but fortunately their catalog doesn't quite stop there. They released two tight 12" singles, including this one, "United Snakes of America." Just look at that picture cover. You've got a good shot of them, and their logo, in front of the pentagon, with a giant blue snake wrapped around it! And look at that little blurb promising an exclusive Marley Marl remix... that's the kind of cover that when you see it in a shop, you buy it even if you don't know who the artists are.

So "United Snakes of America" is in many ways what you'd expect, but you'd probably find it surprisingly up-tempo, which really works in its favor. It gives a lot of energy to Mustafa's rhymes, and sets King Born up perfectly to cut the shit out of the hook. The beat, produced by Sir Randall Scott, who made all of Movement Ex's beats (and as far as I know, nobody else's), has some nice change-ups and layers. By the third verse, new sample elements are still being introduced. But it doesn't sound cluttered at all. The instrumental's also included, so you can take the time to appreciate it.

Then, on the B-side of course, we come to that Marley Marl remix. The drums and hardcore horn-stab definitely sound more Marley Marlish, but it doesn't feel like a signature MM track. It's damn good, though, and has a sick horn sample on the hook. The scratching's a little muted on this version, which is the only disappointment. This isn't so much as an ideal replacement of the original so much as a nice companion piece. And considering the severe shortage of Movement Ex songs, it's a very welcome addition to your collection.

Finally, it wraps up with another album cut, "Zig Zag Zig." The beat is the great, funky soul break from Rose Royce's "Zig Zag" (you probably remember it making a stand-out cut called "Buggin' On the Line" on Tony D's debut album). Again it's full of rapier-like cuts by DJ King Born. And again Mustafa is kicking some slick, fast-paced knowledge on the track. Granted, it gets a bit immaturely mired in confrontational white vs. black stuff, and some of the lines don't seem too well thought out ("no caves in Africa, so who you callin' a caveman" is a nice, anti-stereotype sentiment... but, you know, there are plenty of caves in Africa - like a lot - so you kinda feel a little embarrassed for him there). But they were young and sincere, and they brought a lot of dope music to the table; so you've gotta work with 'em here and cut them a little slack.

It's sad that Movement Ex never returned, but I say it's a credit to Columbia Records that they put these guys out at all. Let's just enjoy what we've got, 'eh?

*WC and the Maad Circle don't count. :P

Sunday, February 21, 2010

InstaRapFlix #26: Trick Daddy: Thug Holiday Uncut

Yayy! It's the first InstaRapFlix of 2010! Today's movie is Trick Daddy: Thug Holiday Uncut, which has a Netflix rating of 3 stars. Yeah, that's out of 5, but for a hip-hop doc on Netflix, 3 stars is the equivalent of an Oscar statuette. And as you can see on the cover, there, this is apparently in the "Platinum Series." So I'm excited.

It begins with our hosts, CO and Money Mark of Tre+6, telling us that this is "the DVD for Thug Holiday which is in stores as we motherfuckin' speak." So, I guess this DVD is just a glorified advertisement for the album, even though it's sold separately? Well, okay, whatever. Let's just see what you've got, DVD.

Well, for starters, it doesn't have a lot quantity-wise. It's just 46 minutes long (less if you subtract the opening and closing credits!). So I hope you didn't pay retail for this DVD. But this is free viewing on Netflix for me, so I'm not mad.

We start out with a little footage of Trick and his engineer recording the album in his studio, which is kinda cool if you're a fan. It's much too short and edited to pieces to give you any real insight into their recording process, though, instead just focussing on his silly ad-libs to the camera.

And that's pretty much the whole DVD in a nutshell. Teensy tiny sound-bites that are too short to have any value. Here's an example of how it works. Here's a Trick Daddy interview segment:

off screen interviewer: What's your favorite song on the album?

TD: I got fifteen. "Thug Dollars," "Thug Holiday." They're all my favorites.

End of interview segment. And it's another one of those DVDs that lists a whole bunch of featured artists on the box, but what you get from them is just teensy tiny clips of them having the camera thrown in their face at a show. For example, did you buy this DVD 'cause you're a Kase One fan? Well, here's a complete transcript of his involvement:

"Y'all know how we do in the motherfucker. Can I cuss on this shit?"

That's it. That's his whole "interview." Do you prefer Wild Child? Here's his complete transcript:

"My dog T double D! He's about to get loose tonight, you know what I'm sayin'? It's all good."

Wow; I just typed up two whole transcripts from this movie - I must've stayed up all night, huh? I can't believe how many DVDs I've found in this InstaRapFlix series that do this. What a racket!

The film's padded out with music video clips and a long segment of some guys riding motorcycles in a parking lot. What they have to do with Trick Daddy, I have no idea. But it sure was drawn-out and boring. I guess the trick was to make 46 minutes feel like 4 and a half hours.

There is some poorly recorded concert footage a segment behind-the-scenes of some of his music videos that... if you edited it all down, might make a short YouTube video that'd be worth your time. If you're a huge, non-discriminating Trick Daddy fan desperate for any footage relating to him, that is. This isn't a movie, it's a marketing scam.

InstaRapFlix, it's good to be home. :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Juice Crew Defies the Law!

When is an LP Version not an LP Version? When it's the LP Version of MC Shan's "Juice Crew Law," in which case it's a super dookey hype remix cleverly disguised as an LP Version!

Yeah, this is a 12" that tends to sit on shelves, passed up by collectors in favor of other 12" singles with exclusive B-sides and remixes. That's because the label promises only a "Vocal Version" and a "Dub" for both songs on the 12", so there's not a lot to tempt anyone who already owns Shan's Born To Be Wild album. Heh. If only they knew...

This is really a must-have 12". While this version of "Juice Crew Law" uses essentially the same beat (and Shan's verses are the same), it's mixed differently, with deeper bass and harder drums. More importantly, there's tons of high energy scratching provided by the great Marley Marl (who also produced). He even talks on the mic, reprising his "I ain't gonna give y'all no microphones no more, 'cause y'all tear it up when you're out there" character from "The Symphony," telling Shan, "I ain't gonna give you no microphone neither!" It may not be radically different - "Juice Crew Law" was already a tight track on the album - but it's a distinct and marked improvement. This is the definitive way "Juice Crew Law" should be heard.

Then the B-side, "They Used To Do It Out In the Park," is different too. The beat is way more broken down, often with just Shan rhyming over the simple drum loop and snare kicks. But like the other version there's a whole bunch of new scratching. It's mostly on the hook, but also comes in at certain points to illustrate the old school stories he's telling about shows he heard in the park. The signature scratchy horn loop from the album version is still played on the hook, but now there's new horn sounds, as well as vocal samples, constantly being cut into the mix. Like the "Juice Crew Law" mix, this adds a whole lot more energy to the song, because there's clearly a live DJ working behind Shan throughout the whole song.

So here's a 12" that features two of Shan's best cuts, both given exclusive, killer remixes (plus Dub versions), that make the album versions feel like under-produced demo mixes. And it's so slept on, it always goes for cheap. I felt like I was getting away with something shady when I found this out and picked up my copy. ;)

Friday, February 19, 2010

A L'il Tweak

I've decided to make a change on the blog, which isn't uncommon. I tweak it every so often. But since it's gonna look like I'm removing a nice section, I figured I better post and let you guys know what I'm up to.

See, first of all, I only post on Twitter every couple days or so. And then I've never really been happy with the Best Blog Posts I Didn't Write section's layout: the only feed I found that would post my comments along with the link article looks like dog poop, pretty much. The text of my comment would run right into the first line of the post I was linking to with no distinction. And it would always redundantly say "by Werner," even though I'm the only guy posting here.

So I've decided to kill two song birds with one nailgun. I'm taking down that fugly Best Blogs section, and from now on, I'll highlight all the best hip-hop blog posts (that I didn't write) on my Twitter account ...which will still display on my blog's main page via the Twitter feed. Sounds good and makes sense, right? Kill an ugly layout, breathe more life into a slow section, and waste a little less real estate on the right-hand column.

Oh, and I'll continue to post whatever news bites or retweets that I'd ordinarily post on Twitter there, too. So there'll be no less content, it's just gonna be more stream-lined.

Finally, if for any reason you've grown attached to it and want the link to my watched items feed, it's here. Cheers, guys! Another, proper, hip-hop related update's comin' later tonight.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Do You Want Quality Indie Hip-Hop On Vinyl Or Not?

Do you want quality indie hip-hop on vinyl or not? Well, a new record label that's apparently sitting on half a vault's worth of classic, 90's indie material, isn't sure if you do.

The label's called Six 2 Six Records, and actually they're sort of a revival of Launchpad Records, who put out a handful of "raers" circa 1997. Now they're back with most of the old roster plus more ill "random rap" stars like Constant Deviants, Steve Colossal and Sparrow the Movement. I can't tell you how many EBay auctions I've lost for Sparrow material! lol So yeah, they're working on new material... but even more exciting is the fact that they're sitting on tons of vintage, unreleased material by all these guys.

But according to Verge at the T.R.O.Y. blog, they're waiting to hear from us fans on whether to actually press all this up on vinyl (and CD), or just dump them on the market via "digital release." It looks like their initial plans are to release one 12" from Sparrow ("Flows Of Death" b/w "Armageddon") and one from Constant Deviants ("Feel That" b/w "Problem Child"), and then just kinda see how it goes. Other projects that may or may not see a proper release include a Global Platoon LP, and two full-length unreleased albums by Constant Deviants and Sparrow (apiece).

So it's up to us to to let them know there's a market waiting for them and that they shouldn't just box up all their DATs for another 15 years. You can do that by following their blog, which they've been posting a lot of spec artwork on, and joining their Facebook group. And if you need further convincing before you jump aboard, they've also got a Youtube channel, which is full of the hot songs they've got in their arsenal.

So that's it, guys. Ball's in your court now.

Doug E. Fresh 2000, part 2: Yawn

So, in the summer of 2008, I blogged about how Doug E. Fresh made an under-publicized comeback in 2000, releasing two rare white label 12"s I discovered from that year. Well, it turns out I'd underestimated that comeback - I've found two more! There's no dates on these, so I can't say with any certainty that they came out precisely in the year 2000. But they seem to've come out at roughly the same time - heck one is a remix 12" of one of the records I reviewed last time, so they must've come out pretty close to each other.

That remix 12" is "He's Comin (Mayham Party Mix (Special Edition)." Like "He's Coming (Party Rocker Vocal)," this is a live recording... of the same performance... over all the same beats. So the difference is... he's performing it in front of a different crowd? Except, it's not even that. I bust out my first 12" of "He's Coming" and it's exactly the same recording, with the same crowd responses. So there is absolutely, 0% difference between the Mayham Party Mix and the Party Rocker Mix. That's a bit of a rip, huh?

Then, like you'd expect, the instrumental for both is exactly the same, too. Well, at least this "Special Edition" 12" comes with a "Beat Box Bonus," right? No, that's on printed on the label, but it doesn't actually appear here! I think it was intended to be, but the pressing was screwed up, because actually, there's a short, unlabeled track on this 12" with a few beeps and tones and a guy saying, "this is the instrumental mix, mix two." Clearly that was meant to be left off the final recording, but instead they left that on and chopped off the Beat Box Bonus. Jeez!

Still, at least this 12" has a B-side, so let's check that out. There's two more songs here called "The Show" and... "La Di Da Di." Waitasec; these aren't new at all. These aren't even live performances or anything - they're exactly the same tracks as pressed on Reality Records in 1985. They've even included "The Show (Instrumental)" from that 12". Well, ok. So this is really just a combo of two pre-existing Doug E Fresh 12"s merged together. I guess that's handy if you didn't already own "He's Coming" and "The Show;" you could buy this 12" and save a little money. I guess that's what they meant by "Special Edition." Ok.

That's a little disappointing, but I'm not phased. I've still got this fourth white label 12", "Who Run This." And it features old school legends Busy Bee and Luv Bug Starski - yeah, now we're talkin'! This is an all-new studio recorded track (as opposed to a live performance). It's a lot like "He's Coming" though, in the sense that they're basically just doing various shout and call responses ("Do the ladies run this?" etc). But it's all over just one, original beat... a boring, lifeless beat. And Starski and Busy Bee just sound kinda tired, randomly ad-libbing for a minute or two. Curiously, Busy Bee does all of his shout-outs and stuff from the end of his 1992 song, "Busy Bee's Block Party" ...right down to thanking us for giving him his block party. Huh? That's weird.

So yeah, nobody raps. The beat is weak. The shout and calls sound somnambulistic. Sorry, guys, but this joint sucks. ...Not that it seems like anybody on this record cared if it would be any good or not in the first place, so I'm not sure why I'm apologizing for that remark. It makes you appreciate why he records these shout and call tracks live, though. I mean, this song would've sucked either way, but at least a live audience infuses the proceedings with a little more energy.

Well, now my enthusiasm's thoroughly sapped... I don't even feel like flipping this over to check out the B-side to this one. But I will. It's "Where's the Party At?" If that title sounds familiar, that's because he had a song called "Where's da Party At?" on his 1995 album, Play. There was a video for it and everything. And this is it. Yeah, just like he threw "The Show" on the back of "He's Comin'," he's thrown "Where's da Party At?" on the back of "Who Run This." Again, there's no difference... this isn't a live recording or anything. It's just the same songs repressed. He includes the instrumental here as well, which was also included on the 1995 Gee Street single. Meh.

So all in all, this was pretty disappointing. There was actually only one new song across these 12"s (not even an alternate mix), and that song was half-assed and lifeless. If you're a hardcore completist collector, then I'm glad to let you guys know these records are out there. But otherwise, guys, do like Dionne and walk on by. No wonder these 12"s were so obscure.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


When K-Rob is outlawed, only The Outlaws will have K-Rob production. Y'all know who K-Rob is, right? He's best know for his classic old school duet with Ramellzee, "Beat Bop," a record known for adding off-beat funk (featuring unusual instruments and echo effects over a slow bassline) to hip-hop when everybody else was still doing the pure disco sound, and for having a famous picture cover painted by Basquiat. Then in the mid-80's, he did a couple records for Profile, and finally resurfaced in the 90's as a producer... mostly underground, though he worked with Jay-Z several times.

And I don't suppose you get much more underground than this. I'd never heard of it until The Old School Rap King hipped me to it, and there's not a single mention of it online anywhere. In this day and age where the most obscure random rap singles have countless message boards and blogs on fire, how many albums can you say bring up zero hits on Google?

So yeah, this album is called Super Heroes Of the Ghetto by The Outlaws, for whom K-Rob seems to be the sole producer and lead MC. There is another rapper who appears less often, and a reggae guy... think The Crusaders Of Hip-Hop, where K-Rob is Tony D and you get the picture. This came out on Bad Azz Records in 1993, a label which I'm guessing is K-Rob's own (the only other record I know of on this label was also produced by K-Rob: "Who You Be?" by Bro-N X).

So how is it? It's pretty raw. K-Rob's got a pretty tough but sample-heavy sound... Most of said samples are pretty original, though "Give the People What They Want" is essentially the exact same instrumental as Grand Daddy IU's "I Kick Ass," but filtered so heavily the horns are all but inaudible, sunk deep beneath a roaring sea of heavy, heavy bass. Like, "WHOMP!! Whomp, whomp, whooomp!" And a few other songs use some very traditional hip-hop samples, but in every case they're flipped uniquely or paired up with something fresh and unheard. K-Rob is definitely a producer who can stand next to the greats.

Lyrically, it's even rawer. There's some really angry content here... with songs dedicated to their hatred of white rappers ("No Frosted Flake") and rape victims "She Cried Rape (Dedicated To Mike Tyson)." They lighten the mood a bit to talk about their hatred of the media "(Kill the Media"), killing cops (an untitled skit about Rodney King), how much it sucks to ride the subway ("Hopping Trains"), and their resentment of Yo! MTV Raps ("Fuck MTV (Doctor Dre and Ed Lover Dis...)"). They even squeeze the line "fuck the Pope," into "How a Black Man Feels." This album is so much like the New York equivalent of Disco Rick's first album, they even have a similar manifesto in their liner notes:


Yeah, this album isn't for the squeamish. But then neither is this site; we love the hardcore here! And this album is pure good times. This album gets a full, all-around recommendation from me... if you can find it any place!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Marley In the Mirror

"Check the Mirror" is pretty much the track used to illustrate how far In Control vol. 2 fell from vol. 1. After all, vol. 2 had a lot of dope tracks: Tragedy's "America Eats Its Young," Ak B and Kev E Kev's "Out for the Count"... Hell, even Marley Marl's own rap track, "No Bullshit," was alright. But Marley went for a wider scope on that outing, with a little more new jack swingy moments and giving his R&B group The Flex a solo track... and the flagship of What Went Wrong was Portia's "Check the Mirror." So of course he chose it for the single!

Actually, I remember thinking back in the day that this track wasn't so bad, and today it gives me a nice feeling of reminiscence for all the time I spent watching BET after school. I mean, I kinda like new jack swing, and the track is well produced if you go for that sort of thing. Portia was an dancer turned R&B singer "who also rapped." Her singing's okay... I doubt anybody came out of this eager for her solo album; but the track, with a funky piano line, bouncy beat, boards and synthesized back-up vocals made for an upbeat good time.

Now, this is the CD single (the 12" only came in a plain sleeve as far as I know), but it has essentially the same track-listing but with two extra mixes, totaling SIX different versions of "Check the Mirror." So strap yourself in for some serious neo-pop soul swing!

Actually, it's a lot to listen to, but it's not too complicated to break down. You've essentially got two key mixes, the Mirramix and the Reflection Mix, and both of those come in regular, extended and instrumental versions (the 12" only has the extended and instrumental mixes). And neither of these versions are the same as the album version, which isn't included here.

The album version was a little more hip-hop, and the remixes are a little more dance. The drums, stuttered hook ("ch-ch-ch-ch-check the mirror, y'all") and all the vocals are retained, but the remixes go for more of an almost house music feel. The album version had harder drums and old school samples (horn stabs and such), not to mention some scratching, that are all dropped for the single.

The Mirramix adds some vocoder and some additional keyboards. It starts out with a nice little acapella lick (sample?), that recurs once or twice throughout the song. There are more little touches and changes, especially on the extended mix, but the main distinction is that it downplays the deep bassline of the original, playing up instead a new, lighter keyboard line that plays throughout the song. The main piano loop is the same as the album version, though, so this mix doesn't feel too far removed. This is the version they used for the video (yeah, there was a video for this).

The Reflection Mix, then, is even more club-oriented with more new keyboards and spacey disco sound effects. The extra acapella lick is back on this version, too. The signature of this mix is that the keyboard player is really allowed to shine here, getting a couple solo numbers and everything; and the piano riff of the album version is completely dropped.

But even if you don't give a fig for Portia and her dance music, this single's worth picking up for the B-side: "At the Drop Of a Dime" by MC Cash. This is a pure hip-hop track, with Cash kicking freestyle rhymes over a fast but very hard hitting track. It's pretty much all rugged, layered percussion, a lone horn squeal and a bassline until the hook, when the "UFO" riff screeches in the background and Marley gets on the 'tables and cuts up his signature like from "The Symphony." It's a fast, unrelenting experience with a seamless blend from verse to scratching to verse.

"At the Drop Of the Dime" was also on the album, but this single features an exclusive extended mix. It's not a remix - the instrumental's completely unchanged except where the album version would end, this one keeps going into a whole new third verse! The beat's allowed to ride out more at the end, too... but a whole new verse? That clearly bumps this up into Definitive Version status. It's more furious freestyling just like the other two verses ("now watch ya step, no beef, no Rambos; the Cash just keeps 'em souped like Campbells"). Oh, and the instrumental is also included for a final treat.

So yeah, another worthwhile single that can be had pretty cheap. Buy it for the MC Cash, but the Portia stuff's at least a fun bit of nostalgia. Kinda wish they'd included the album track, too, but oh well. They already included a lot, so can't really complain. Oh, and if want some more Portia nostalgia, she's got her own channel on Youtube, with her music video, an interview, and footage of her dancing for LL Cool J and EPMD. Check it out and relive the early 90's. :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Triggerman 2000

Last time I did a post about The Showboys, I talked about their lesser known debut single that dropped the year before their big hit, "Drag Rap." Well, I'm gonna keep dancing around their classic centerpiece, and this time talk about their under-the-radar follow-up, "Triggerman 2000"/ YIIG'$.

The Showboys are from Queens, but in 1986, "Drag Rap" became a huge hit in the South, and is one of the most important records in the history of bounce music. "Drag Rap" was often mistakenly referred to as "Trigger Man," since Trigger Man's name is used so often in the song. In fact, when Profile repressed it in the 90's, they retitled it "Drag Rap (Trigger Man)." So know that, it's obvious that "Triggerman 2000" is their sequel to "Drag Rap," Orville “Bugs Can Can” Hall and Phil “Triggaman” Price's colorful gangster narrative about being pursued by the infamous real-life crime-fighter Elliot Ness. But "Trigger Man 2000" is actually just one song on their debut full-length album, YIIG'$ which they dropped on album, CD and tape on their own label Papergame Records.

There's no reference to their debut single (or their Christmas rap song from 1987), but this song is all about "Drag Rap." Seriously, the entire album is one giant ode to that song. It opens with one in a series of well-produced skits telling us how Bugs and Trigger are still on the run from Ness. Then they play the original "Drag Rap" (exactly as it was released in 1986) and after another skit where a judge sentences them to prison, they hit us with "Triggerman 2000."

Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking this song and album would be one huge piece of crap, but actually it's pretty dope! "Triggerman 2000" plays it very close to the original, using the same instrumental, including the crazy whistling and human beatbox breakdowns, but provide a very updated hook and all new lyrics. These detail the further exploits of Bugs and Trigger as they organize a jailbreak. They sound older (and Trigger sounds grimier), but otherwise this could easily have been a lost 1986 B-side:

Yeah, I'm in jail.
My boys ain't raisin' no bail;
Them niggas raisin' HELL!"

Oh yeah, they do curse a bit more than they were back in the 80's. But this whole song, in fact the whole album, is all about being a fun throwback... both to their 80's sound and to the old school style of 1920's era gangsters.

The rest of the album doesn't sound quite as old school as "Trigger Man"/ "Trigger Man 2000," but the samples of that record return in different forms and styles through-out the album. One song will have the same drums, another the same bassline. And the whole album continues the narrative of Bugs' and Trigger's escapades with elaborate skits and songs that continue the theme. For example, there's a skit called "Da Hideout" where some old girlfriends let them hide out at their place and lay low, which is immediately followed by the song "Ladies Luv Gangstas." The title says it all, I think.

Sure, it's a bit corny - The Showboys incorporating modern Southern elements to their old school styles - but it's surprisingly well produced, and the whole album feels much more like a "rap opera" than The Fugees' half-assed attempt at it (or The Fat Boys, who did it first). The only disappointment is that it peters out on side 2. Instead of building to a climax, the skits just kinda stop, and there's a remix and a song or two that don't quite fit in with the whole theme as well. So that's a bit of a let-down.

But seriously, when you hear that some old school rappers are coming out of retirement after fifteen years to do a sequel to their biggest hit, you hope for one thing and expect another. And I'm happy to report that more often than not, this is a lot more of what you hope for than what you'd expect.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cuttin Gets the Paper, Heltah Skeltah Still Gets the Props

This is one of Heltah Skeltah's nicest and most slept on singles. It came out in 2000 on Blahzay Music, a small label owned by PF Cuttin, the former DJ/producer of Blahzay Blahzay (hence the label name). This is BLAH002. BLAH001 was an indie comeback track by Blahzay Blahzay and BLAH003 was another pairing with Sean Price. I'm pretty sure that's the label's full run.

So, yeah, this is Heltah Skeltah's first comeback 12" after their run on Priority... It took them 'till 2008 to come out with their comeback full-length. And by that time, I guess they figured the material'd been out for too long, 'cause these songs didn't wind up being on it. So they're only on this 12", meaning most people missed out on 'em, which is a shame.

The A-side, "The Crab Inn" is just some fun raps about girls over the Kool G Rap's "Truly Yours" instrumental, being stuttered and mixed up a bit by Cuttin, who produced both songs on here. It's light hearted material, kinda amusing... you can't go wrong with classic Juice Crew beats... but the real highlight is the interplay between the two MCs. They're not just each kicking one verse with a hook in between them, but constantly passing the mic back and forth, like a dirty Kid 'N' Play with street cred.

But the real stand out here is the B-side, "Caca Gosa Vixen (Fuck All Y'all Niggas)." The beat is hardcore, but funky as hell. The drums are rugged and there's a cool violin sample, but it's all about the ultra-head nodding bassline. And Ruck and Rock just go back and forth (I think there's like nine or ten verses total) kicking crazy, semi-battle freestyle rhymes, along with their frequent collaborator, an uncredited Illa Noyz.

"Break North! ...When the Ruck rippin' the stage;
My nickel gauge rip your face off like Nicholas Cage.
Fuck the front page, nigga; I need the main article,
On how me and my crew blew niggas' brains into particles.
So don't start if you can't ...finish,
'Cause I will be sure to end it - whatever you created.
I hate it when the MC blow up like a helium balloon,
But soon to be deflated, 'cause my niggas ain't feeling your tunes."

There's no hook, and a lot of adlibbing by the MC's who aren't rapping at the moment. It has that unique blend of playfulness and ruggedness that really brings to mind "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka" ...which frankly, is what I think we're all always hoping for but only occasionally find in any BCC-related record.

Both tracks come in Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions and comes in a nice sticker cover. This is a real gem, and fortunately isn't rare at all. I picked up my copy for 99¢, which just goes to show that cost and value aren't nearly the same thing. Happy days.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

He's Little Run

Here's another fun one from the annals of Virginia rap history, again courtesy of The Old School Rap King (see my Fayze review). It's Little Run "I'm Little Run" on So-Def Records from 1990. I've never heard of the label before - don't get it confused with Jermaine Dupri's So-So-Def Records - and judging from the catalog number (001SDR), this is their first and quite possibly only release.

Like his name suggests, Little Run is a kid rapper (and presumably meant to call to mind Run of Run DMC, though there's no direct connection), which is interesting since it pre-dates the pig kiddie rapper phase that came about with acts like Kriss Kross and Da Youngsta's who debuted in 1992. Not that he's the first - for example, T. Omar dropped "I'm Only Nine Years Old" back in 1985 - but he's at least ahead of the curve.

But anyway, more interesting than the fact that he's a kid rapper is the fact that he's a pretty good kid rapper. He's got a pretty hardcore flow, but without getting into ridiculous Quo territory. If Basically, if you appreciate a good LeJuan Love record, you should like this. The lyrics are simple freestyle, over-the-top boasting; but they're fun and engaging enough:

"How can you rhyme and persist to diss,
And then be talkin' a lot of junk and be rhymin' like this?
'Comin' straight out the projects but I'm harder than him;
My name may begin with 'Little,' but I still get trim.
This rhyme'll get mad - furious!
The young Einstein of rhyme, you can call me Yahoo Serious.
No bad influence, girls be thinkin' I'm sweet;
Others think I'm a hoodlum 'cause I come from the street.
A new jack, I got something you lack, Mack.
Get in my face and get smu-smu-SMACKED!
I got back, yes my brothers is black;
Black folks ain't no jokes 'cause we got it like that.
When I went in 7-11, I created a fuss,
'Cause all the cashiers was lookin' at us.
Lookin' at the brother thinkin' I'ma steal a Slurpee,
Or a Big Gulp.
So tell me, what's up?

...'Cause I'm Little Run."

And, you know, I say he's a good kid rapper... but like any kid rapper, it's probably all really comes down to his production and handlers. In this case, he seems to brainchild of M.C. Tony T (not that Tony T... this one's real name is Tony Austin), who produced the track. It's a rugged, bass-heavy beat that uses a good chunk of "Atomic Dog," but also has enough unique, funky elements that it doesn't sound tired and played out like "Atomic Dog" based beats often do. The instrumental's also provided.

Then M.C. Tony T turns the spotlight on himself for the B-side, "Tony's Groove." No instrumental's included this time, but that's ok, because more than half the song is just instrumental. It's cool, kinda funky, kinda cheesy and pretty new jack swingish. He refers to the corniest synth riff as "horns," I literally laughed out loud when I first heard it. There's some Miami-style percussion and some girls singing, "let me see, let me see ya groove," and various vocal samples and ad-libbing by Tony. Finally, about midway through, he does grab the mic and rap for a single verse. He's ok, and has clearly at lest put in the effort to come with something impressive; but again it's kinda corny. "Tony's Groove" is an amusing old school tune if you're open-minded and in the mood for a throwback, but nothing more.

The A-side is worth going out of your way for, though; at least if you see it cheap. Anyway, I enjoyed it. 8)