Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Some Overlooked CD Bonus Cuts

Today I thought we'd talk about... oh you read the title already? Ok, then let's just get on with the specifics. This is probably one of the last albums you'd expect to find out has CD bonus cuts on it (Hell, it's almost surprising there's a CD edition of this album at all), but sure enough, here they are. Whistle's second album, Transformation, was released in 1988 on Select Records. It's called Transformation because this is the album that really bridges the gap from rappers to singers. Sure they sang some on their first album, too; but they were known for their rapping. And this follow-up is the herald of their departure - after this, they'd be an all-singing group from then on - and it's split right down the middle. It features all R&B on side A, and all hip-hop on side B.

And like the blurb on the CD cover[pictured, above] says, it "INCLUDES TWO BONUS CUTS." Fortunately for us, the bonus cuts both appear on the hip-hop side. Both tracks are kinda short. And like most of the tracks on the album, they're produced by Kangol and Howie Tee and co-produced by Whistle.

The first is called "And This Is True," a reference to the hook of their biggest hit ("Nothing' Serious (Just Buggin')," that goes, "we're called Whistle/ And this is true/ We love to do the things that we're not supposed to do/ We don't be lyin'/ Stealin' or muggin'/ In fact don't take it seriously - we're only buggin'!" It's basically a Kool Doobie solo song, though the group croons in the background, over a super hard drum track (with the occasional heavy metal guitar riff). It's a single verse with a hook, but it's interesting for being possibly the most hardcore sounding track Whistle has ever done. The way he ends by declaring "suckers!" and all... I actually think this song may've been inspired by BDP's Criminal Minded.

The next is probably a little more in tune with what you'd expect from a Whistle song. It's called "Hello Skeezer," and has Jazz kicking some fun story raps about "a type of girl/ That's known throughout the country/ And half the world/ We call them skeezers/ For those who don't Know/ A skeezer's a pleaser/ Or hip-hop ho/ They go from show to show/ And place to place/ You might recognize the body/ As well as the face." It's definitely lighter, and features a classic old school sample set (it's buggin' me that I can't remember the hip-hop classic that used it first, but you'll recognize it instantly... especially the whistling on the hook) blended together with Howie's unique drum sounds. This is a fun song for any Whistle song, though it feels a little to short... it's basically two verses with a minimal hook and some shout-outs at the end. A third verse would've made it feel more full, I think, but fuck it. There's too few rap songs by Whistle in this world as it is, and I'm happy to find two more that've long been overlooked. So I'm just enjoying. :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

How To Rap

Ok, we're gonna make a little shift and get literary here at Werner's tonight. I do own a bookstore, after all; so I really ought to have more than one book review on this site. And there's a new book out now making the rounds - you might've seen a spot or two of promotion for it online - called How To Rap by Paul Edwards from Chicago Review Press.

Here's the selling point, and certainly what caught my interest. As the title cover says, it features "advice and guidance from exclusive interviews with more than 100 artists." And it's a pretty terrific selection of artists. First there's a lot of good ones: MCs you'd be interested to hear from. And second, it's very well-rounded, including old school, new, indie, underground and commercial artists, from your classic NY MCs like Big Daddy Kane and MC Shan, to your favorite "art fag" artists like Cage and Murs (no Anticon, though). And I'm happy to report that this book doesn't just drop in one sentence from each so they can write their names on the cover. No, the artists actually get more ink in this book than the Edwards, who almost serves more as editor than author... just like you'd hope for. The cover also boldly touts a forward by Kool G Rap, but it's super short and says next to nothing. Fortunately, though, G Rap also appears throughout the rest of the book.

So, there's really two ways to approach this book, depending I suppose on whether you're really looking to learn how to rap, or if you're just a fan/curiosity seeker, like myself. If you're just a fan of some or a lot of the artists, you'll probably just want to pick it up and read the quotes from the artists you like. This is made very easy, with a complete index that lists every artist and where their content appears. The artists' quotes - which can be as short as a single sentence or as long as a couple paragraphs - are clearly separated from the rest of the page with the artist's name centered and bolded above (although the author sometimes sneaks even more quotes into the body of his text... you'll really have to pour through the book to hunt all those down). And in addition to the index, there's a glossary of bios for all the interviewed artists. So if you're reading this book, and keep seeing a name recur and wonder, "who the Hell is Vursatyl?" you can look him up and see he's one of The Lifesavas, a positive rap trio signed to Quannam.

If you're really looking to learn and take this book seriously, however, you'd probably be inclined to read it straight through from page 1. How does it hold up in that respect? Well...

It starts out with the basics, which are like... really basic. Not only is the sentence, "the content of a hip-hop song (sometimes called the subject matter) includes every subject you talk about in your lyrics" an actual sentence taken from the book, but that simple point is repeated again and again. This is partially due to the way the book is structured: Edwards will make a general statement, then clarify it, and then use 2-3 quotes from artists to make the same statement in their own words. And it's partly just because this book spends a good deal of time covering such basic fundamentals of language - the sentence, "content forms are the basic ways of structuring the content of a song" is no better than saying, "parking spaces are the basic spots for parking a car" - that anyone who needed this so deliberately spelled out for them would probably also need to have the book read aloud to them.

But fortunately, it does get more detailed as you soldier through. By chapter 5 or so, they're up to explaining the differences between similes and metaphors, or perfect rhymes versus assonance. It's like English class all over again, except with comments from Yukmouth and Papoose. We progress through like students towards graduation, except this book starts us all the way back in kindergarten. So the budding MC might want to skim through the opening chapters until he starts finding info that's genuinely new to him.

The book does get into things a lot of aspiring MCs (and even successful, working MCs on major labels) could really find educational, like how to count bars or tips on how to improve your enunciation. So sections of this book seem genuinely useful. ...A lot more of it, though, seems purely anecdotal. There's a big section on Places To Write, sub-divided into sections suggesting places like Home, In the Studio, Your Car, or just A Quiet Place. Sections like that seem like they only exist to house quotes of MCs talking about these things, rather than offering you explosive ideas as an aspiring song-writer ("'Home'?! That's brilliant! All these years, I've been shelling out millions of dollars to NASA for them to fly me up to the moon to write, when all this time I could've been doing it right here in the comfort of my own home. Thank you, How To Rap!"). Take the section for Times To Write. The book explicitly spells out over two pages that you could write at night... or you could write in the morning... or just "whenever the inspiration hits." Now surely, no human being could type all that out and think they're imparting useful knowledge to potential readers. But it does allow for fun quotes like this one from Vinnie Paz, "I usually drink a lot, and it's always late at night - they're the only two things that are like a constant."

I don't imagine knowing Vinnie's dedication to the bottle is going to help anyone become a better rapper. Ultimately, How To Rap boils down to a giant collection of anecdotes. But that's fun. And whether you're looking for novel insights into your favorite rappers' style as a fan, or helpful tips to hone your craft as an MC, you're sure to find some of what you're looking for in here. Think of it this way: it's a hundred plus interviews with interesting rappers. Sure they're chopped up and edited in a different way, but basically it's a just whole lot of interviews with an emphasis on craft. You'd read that, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hearts and Minds and Ladybugs

Before you had Lauryn Hill disappointing all her fans by dropping out of the game, randomly popping up throughout the past decade or two to suggest a fake-out comeback, taunting them with what might've been, you had Ladybug Mecca doing the same thing. Also like Lauryn, Ladybug was the brightest star of an otherwise male trio. And, similarly, she also wound up wasting what sparse solo outings she did record with bland R&B cuts. I know... controversial opinion: everybody loves Lauryn's "The Sweetest Thing" and her Roberta Flack covers. Fine; but while Ladybug might share Lauryn's lack of range when it comes to her singing voice, she doesn't share the inexplicable popularity. So there. :P

Lauryn also didn't descend into house music and weird club crossovers. The point is: I can remember since way back in the 90's seeing random, sporadic releases from or featuring Ladybug, and being optimistic nearly every time. But the ones that weren't god awful were just alright. Of course, even in the Digable Planets' heyday, the releases were fraught with let-downs. So, I guess there's no real hope of finding the Ladybug Mecca music that exists in our hearts.

But I've at least stumbled onto an acceptable little release.

This is an exclusive 2007 7" vinyl from HHV - an online hip-hop vinyl store based in Germany that, like HipHopSite, has also released a series of neat, self-pressed limited edition exclusives. I got it free for ordering some other stuff from them, and I was pleasantly surprised.

This is a split single, and the A-side actually has nothing to do with Ladybug Mecca at all. It's a song called "Here Comes the Judge" by Zeph & Azeem. It's alright. It's got a nice bassline. Nothing too exciting, and the song was on their album anyway. I believe it was CD-only, though; so at least that makes it an exclusive to wax.

But the B-side is a complete exclusive to this single, "Dogg Starr (Ancient Astronauts Remix)." Now "Dogg Starr" was on her album, it was released as a single, and it was released again as an EP called Dogg Starr: The House Remixes. Clearly, they saw this as their heavy hitter tune, and at least she's not singing... but the album version never really jumps off; the beat's just boring, and part of the chorus (where Ladybug kinda coos) just doesn't match up. The Kenny Dope remix, which was on the original 12", might've been a little more noteworthy if L'il Mama hadn't already scored a hit with the exact same instrumental on "My Lip Gloss Is Poppin'." And I'm not even gonna listen to the house mixes to compare those.

So this, to me, is the definitive version of "Dogg Starr." The track is much smoother, with some nice head-nodding instrumental vibes that don't collapse into that discordant garage-band feel a lot of her backing music tends to, and the chorus actually fits. It's a shame this wound up being tucked away onto an obscure freebie, rather than being promoted like the other versions were, because I think this one had the potential to make some genuine noise with the fans. Lyrically? Well, rhyme writing's never really been a Digable strong-point, but if you've always wanted to own a Ladybug Mecca record, but didn't want to deal with the inevitably depressing disappointment, I recommend this 7". I've heard her album, her guest spots, even the obscure stuff like that Queendom compilation, and for my money, this is really the best of the lot. And - I just clicked over there and checked - HHV's still giving away copies for free!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chubb Rock's Popeye Tune

If you're anything like me (and I've slowly come to grips with the realization that not many of you out there are), you've always been curious about the Chubb Rock line, "a rhyme kicked to this Popeye tune" in his super club banger, "Ya Bad Chubbs." Well, I finally picked up the 12" single of this classic and got to the bottom of it.

"Ya Bad Chubbs" is the big 1989 single from Chubb & Howie Tee's second album, And the Winner Is... It opens with the Radio mix, which is the same version that's on his album and was in the video. It's the "Ya Bad Chubbs" we've all grown to love, with the catchy drums, hand-claps, rolling piano riff and of course the perfect LL Cool J vocal sample from the beginning of his "I'm Bad" record, "AwwwwwWWWW!!" This 12" also includes the instrumental version, and that alone (well, coupled with the killer picture cover - Chubb is raging on that mic!) would make this worthy of a place in your crates.

Y'all know the words:

"This is an introduction,
With music that just be pumpin'.
While hips just be dippin',
The intention is for humpin' the floor;
Shinin' the wood with your jeans.
If it's denim, don't worry,
It's hip hop; don't hem 'em.
Money earnin' concernin',
I'll be teachin' and learnin';
Gettin' high from my rhymes and my looks,
Not from bourbon.
No solution, no remedy,
No cure. Like a deodorant,
Yo, you have to be Sure
That if you talk up or walk up into my face,
That you wouldn't become a big public disgrace,
'Cause I'll ban you, burn you up, and tan you,
Treat you like the elephant
And man you will be hocked and locked in a jar with a lid,
Hangin' on a wall in Michael Jackson's crib.
'Cause I'm bad. In fact, I'm a thriller.
I drink milk, that's why I'm a top biller.
Like a funeral home, I'll make a killing.
I'm not Giz even though I'm still chillin'.
Guys say I'm scary. Girls say I'm cuddly,
Rough like bark, but dark and lovely.
This ain't no game and I'm no toy,
And like Anita Baker, I'll bring you joy
With my word when I open my mouth;
Scare Oliver North to go and break South.
A homo is a no-no, but you know I'll smack a faggot.
Boy, you got to see me, I'm rich like Jimmy Swaggart!
I'm a loon; and ya know comin' soon:
A rhyme kicked to this Popeye tune.
This is hip-hop with a little be-bop,
And I won't flop 'cause I can't stop.
I will mop up the slop and then go to the top,
'Cause I'm not Robocop, I'm Chubb Rock."

But what the Heck is he talking about, "Popeye tune?" Well, the second track on side 1 answers that easily enough, the Chubb Club Mix, which is co-produced by Howie Tee and one Randy "Scotti-D" Scott. At first you'll just notice it's set to a different drum break. It's cool... the original's probably a little bit better, but both are good. The piano riff is the same, oh and the LL sample isn't used here. But once he gets to the Popeye line, the Popeye theme music kicks in on a keyboard that sounds like it's on a xylophone setting. And it's not just there for that line bar, like a back-drop punchline to his lyric; they keep the Popeye tune going, and it comes and goes through-out the song! And they also add a funky, new bassline that compliments it. It may sound a bit crazy, but then you have to remember this is the 80's, and people like Fresh Gordon and The Kartoon Krew were throwing little cartoon and sitcom ditties into rap songs all the time. I can't count how many times I've heard "Mary Had a Little Lamb" used in an otherwise very hard, street old school rap joint. It's kind of a time-honored hip-hop tradition - albeit a damn silly one - and it works if you can get past how corny it is that they're using Popeye music.

There's also a Crib Mix on side B, which is more of a house version, with a much more dance-oriented beats, stuttered vocal samples, synths and longer periods of extended instrumentation. It's also got some new Chubb lyrics, though, so be sure to check that out. He re-performs most of his lyrics as brief couplets or single lines. But he mixes in a bunch of new stuff, too. It's way more Club-y though. In fact......... I wonder if it isn't possible that the 12" here is a bit mislabed, and the funky mix with the Popeye tune is actually the Crib Mix, and this dance version is the Chubb Club Mix co-produced by Scotti-D (this one also sounds removed from Howie's style, unlike the other one, which makes me think it's Scotti's work). That's certainly my suspicion.

This 12" wraps things up with two "bonus beats." I put that in quotes, because despite the titles, they're full vocal versions. Howie's Beat is basically the Radio version with slightly tweaked percussion. And Bonus "PE" Beat is a more stripped down mix of the version with the Popeye theme (that's the "PE," in case you're feeling a little tired) but with even more of it (and it also only lasts the duration of the first verse).

Anyway, I suspect the "Chubb Club Mix" is actually the original version of this song (and, like I said, I also suspect it's really the Crib Mix). It's the only version that makes sense with the lyric, and I can understand why they would feel that if they were going to push this as a major single that they should beef up the hardcore sounds and nix the cartoon music. I'm sure the album and video version will always be the primary "Ya Bad Chubbs" in our hearts... I used to sit in class as a kid with that break and piano on loop in my head; and of course the "AwwwwwWWWW!" But this is like the lost, true version. And, just like it was meant to be when they recorded it, it's a lot of damn fun.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Capital Letters and Dots - G.L.O.B.E. interview (Soulsonic part 2)

Is it possible there's actually more Soulsonic history to learn after my in-depth interview with Pow Wow? Certainly; and it's all here in this brand new interview with the one and only G.L.O.B.E.

Do you know we, Soulsonic Force, have a proclamation from the city of New York? We were presented this about four years ago, and there's not another artist that can get that. You know, recent artists can't get that:

"Whereas the council of the city of New York is pleased and proud to join family, friends and legions of adoring fans in honoring the pioneers of an art-form known as hip-hop on this occasion of this first annual Hip-Hop Appreciation Night. Whereas hip-hop has become one of the purest forms of artistic self-expression from its early beginnings, as a vehicle through which concerns and issues of young African Americans were articulated to its current status as a driving force in the music industry. Hip-hop has influenced and informed society on many levels and it has opened an artistic legacy of a marginalized community to greater and greater expressions of cultural significance. Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force are one of the most influential groups in hip-hop history, featuring Afriaka Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, Mr. Biggs, G.L.O.B.E., Whiz Kid and Pow Wow. Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force transformed hip-hop music with their classic hits, 'Planet Rock' and 'Looking for the Perfect Beat,' fusing funk and hip-hop. Afrika Bambaataa is considered one of the godfathers of hip-hop for his formation of the Almighty Zulu Nation and the fusing of all elements of hip-hop: rappers, DJs, breakers and graffiti artists into cultural force. And Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force have inspired a generation of MCs and DJs through their innovative and ground-breaking contributions to hip-hop. Now, therefore, be it known that the council of the city of New York honors MC G.L.O.B.E. of the Soulsonic Force for his remarkable contributions. Signed this 25th day in June, in the year 2003."

Wow. How did that come about?

Well… recognition. Recognition from people like yourself that get the real story.

Especially when you consider that the city didn't exactly start out embracing hip-hop.

True. Well, honestly, we were so into making noise, there was no time for negativity. We just wanted to teach everybody. They say I'm a genius. I invented that MC poppin' thing; I'm the first who ever did that on "Renegades of Funk." And even on "Planet Rock," "all girls don't want to be…" UTFO bit that, but what we said was, "do what you want to, but you know you got to be…" So that genius thing? I'd rather implant my daughter… and my dog, and the rest of the world with that shit, man. I love humans; I have nothing against anyone or anything that's poppin' off right now at all. There's no hate in my heart, no regret. I'm glad that Pow Wow and I had the strength to do what we did.

Man, shit! We took what we had across the bridge to Bambaataa! On our side of town, there was Flash and Theodore and Breakout and names you never heard of but are always huge in my heart.

So what compelled you to link up with Bambaataa as opposed to someone more in your circles.

Pow Wow. I wanted to be down with the Funky Four Plus One because we all grew up together. It was really me, KK, and Keith Caesar… Rodney and Jeff came a little later on, but they were down. KK and I were in the boy scouts together. The first time he told me he could flip, I was like, "what are you talkin' about? You can't jump!" That nigga went outside with his combat boots off! We were having our boy scout meeting held in St. John's Lutheran church, and he went outside and proved that shit to me. From that point on, me and KK were the best of friends. He broke my fingers sparring in karate class - I was taking Judo; he was taking karate - we would teach each other what we knew, B-boying, all that shit.

So by the time he got to New Jersey, for Sugar Hill, they didn't know who the fuck they were fuckin' with! We were like dreams, man, like little entities that were programmed to do incredible things.

So, what happened that you weren't on the Funky Four's records and all?

Well, what happened was The Funky Four was complete. Those were KK's words exactly. Now, remember, I'm talking about someone who used to spend the night at my house, I spent the night at his house, we'd go to the gym together, he'd flip around… he was the star. G.L.O.B.E. has always been chubby, ok. But you gotta see me now. (Laughs)

So, ok, KK and I were real close. And it got to the point where my skills were retarded. So, I said, ok, I wanna be down with the Funky and he said, The Funky is complete. I was heartbroken. So Pow Wow and I were boys. And I knew Pow Wow was down with Bam and Soulsonic. I met Pow Wow through his sister, who was this woman everybody wanted to holler at her. I was like, nah, I don't even know this little girl. I was always an entity that was positive. Because if you're negative, they'll eventually get rid of you, but if you're positive, you'll be around forever. So she would see me, say hi, and I would think, this little girl is trying to holler at my ass. So one day we sat down and talked. She said, "My brother's name is Pow Wow." I said Pow Wow? I heard of him. Take me upstairs and introduce me to him.

From there, Pow Wow taught me how to dance. He showed me mad B-boy moves. Pow Wow was the best B-boy I ever seen in my life. Ask anybody: ask Crazy Legs… Wiggles is my family, he taught me, Fable taught me. I could dance my ass off, too; I just don't. So Pow Wow said, why don't you come across and be down with Soulsonic Force? That's across the bridge. That's like going to Jersey, you know? So I said, ah fuck it, I'll go.

So I went and it was Bambaataa and Biggs in the cafeteria of Bronx River Center. And at the time, he didn't mean nothing to me, you know what I'm saying? I heard about you Bam; I heard you the master of records and all of that, blah blah blah. So they asked me to spit and I spit. Ok, there were 8 MCs in Soulsonic Force at that time. When I finished spittin', there was only 3, me Pow Wow and Biggs.

And what about your name? Is it really an acronym, or is it from how you spelled it out in your verses, or…?

It depends on the moment. So it is an acronym, it has many different meanings.

Did it start out that way, though?

My initial reason for spelling it out that way was for the articles. Whatever article that came out, Billboard or whatever was poppin', I would buy it. And I wanted my name to be bigger than everybody else's on the paper, so I asked them to use capital letters and dots in between. Then the questions came: what does it mean? Shit. But it can mean: God Loves Our Black Entertainers. It could mean: Good Lookin' Out… (laughs) It depends on the time. But I like the fact how everybody started spelling their shit out, too, man. It's crazy how they bit my shit like that. That's sick, ain't it?

So, when we went down to Sugar Hill, the song we were supposed to record for Sylvia was called, "The Gift of Life." And they had me go in there, let's hear what it sound like. And I didn't know I was under a microscope; I was like 18, 17 years old. I spit this rhyme about a king and a queen. And the next thing I knew "It's Good To Be the King" came out! Ok, so we all knew, my family, Bam and all them. You went in there for a test, spit some shit, and they made records off of that. And Nate Robinson produced that one. Now, no bad talk against them. After "Pillow Talk," I have no problems with that lady.

So we went out there, our record never came out. We didn't record it, so of course that never happened. I don't know why they… I guess they didn't fuck with us because of Zulu Nation. 'Cause everybody else they fuckin' robbed! Flash, Spoonie, Funky, Sequence, Sugar Hill Gang, everybody got robbed.

Well, Pow Wow was saying you recorded a track or two that didn't come out? "Rhythm of Life…"

With Fats Comet?

Well, I think… They're usually credited as The Sugar Hill Band.

Yeah, that's Fats Comet. Make sure you put that in there: Keith, Doug, Skip… that's Fats Comet. Well, "Who You Think You're Funkin' With" was the name of one song. "What Time Is It?" That was with Keith. We did a couple of them. I knew Duke Bootee. He loved G.L.O.B.E., 'cause he knew if we ever collaborated, shit would happen. And it was like the same thing with Def Jam. I was approached my Russell and D at the Roxy, and he was like, "yo, why don't you get down? And these niggas is so and so." That's my family; I ain't goin' nowhere! So Tommy Boy gave me "Play That Beat" with Whiz, God rest his soul.

Yeah, I definitely wanted to get into your solo records… not just "Play That Beat," but like "Get Ridiculous," and "The Millions…"

That was with my dude Steve… You know about that record? That's deep. Holy cow! Oh my god, I went in on that! And there was the Two Sisters, the New Edition album, Jenny Burton on Atlantic, Nairobi…

How did that Two Sisters one come about?

Phone call from Sugarscoop to Tommy Boy. We need that bad boy on one of our joints. Yeah, have him come to the studio, cut him a check and that's it.

So you didn't know the Two Sisters at all?

Nah, but they were cute as Hell. Yo, man, we did it in an orchestrated studio! On 13th St; it was an orchestra studio. It was huge. And these two ladies were standin' there behind one microphone. What was my dude's name? He was real cool with me. Anyway, he said, yo G.L.O.B.E., scribe up some shit. I said erll I already got that, just let me get in there and spit some shit. So they let me in there… by myself, this big room, behind the mic and I spit some shit. Whew! Cuties, though…

And one I wanted to ask about specifically was "Get Ridiculous." You worked with Ralph Rolle on that…

Ralph Rolle lived in Bronx River. And I went to an outreach program, 'cause I was a little delinquent. Still graduated high school, but I wanted to do something, so I went to outreach, and he was one of the teachers. And once he found out who I was, from tearin' the fuckin' block up so many times. He lived right there, and the center was right next to his building, and our voices would bounce of those buildings like nobody's business. Ralph was cool; he was a percussionist. I don't know where he is now, but we were very close. He discovered the genius and shit; he always used to tell me how to do my thing.

But we did "Get Ridiculous," we did a song called "Crunch…" we did like three songs. But only one of them really was presented; that was on Body Rock. As far as unreleased songs… there's a slew of other things with Easy LG, the cut man. Shit that never came out, and we still got it. I own that.

Before we end this, I want to ask about what you're doing these days, or what you're planning.

Everybody has a talk: what they gonna do, what they wanna do… But when you build up an arson that is so heavy you outdo everybody else, that's what it is. That's why the United States is the greatest country in the world - 'cause we got mad arson. God forbid if we run out of ammo! (Laughs). So the music brings the money to the country.

What do you think about Rage Against the Machine?

I've never really been a fan…
Add Image
Ok, well, what do you think of a band taking a hip-hop lyric and doing it over like that?

In cases like that, I'd usually rather just listen to the originals.

[Rage covered "Renegades of Funk" and made it the title cut of their 2000 album.]
Damn. Why you wanna bite me?

Well, it is a classic, though.

Yeah. Like the Black Eyed Peas, straight raping Soulsonic Force, man. They might as well just blindfold us, take us away and fucked us, as much as they been stealing our shit. That "boom, boom, boom" that's 2007 and that's "Perfect Beat"'s break. I know the whole story; I know what's going on. I'm not stupid. I'm gonna use the words someone used today. She said, you're still above ground, you're still on the ground. Period. So guys like you, doing your damn thing, put it out there. Tell the truth. Just make sure your name is on there. And if they need confirmation… huh! We don't lie. Fuck that, no lies.

Well, it has been a very incredible evening for you sir. You have spoken to somebody... wow, everybody wants to be like. Everybody. That's crazy, but it's true. (Laughs) And I want big ass capital letters and dots in between, please, sir. I mean it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Be What You Be - Pow Wow Interview (Soulsonic part 1)

So Cheryl the Pearl, who of course I just recently spoke to, put me in touch with Pow Wow of The Mighty Zulu Nation and The Soulsonic Force. An old school legend like that really doesn't need an introduction... It's Pow Wow! Just read. There's some serious history below.

Well, I started at an early age, man, with a brother named Darryl D, bless his soul, and another brother named Eldorado Mike. Bless his soul also; they both passed on. And they took me to my very first hip-hop party; it was Kool Herc. And it just so happened that we all were from the same neighborhood in the South Bronx. I grew up on 168th St and Fulton Ave. And I don't know if you're familiar with Kool Herc's B-boys, Clark Kent and the Nigger Twins, Keith and Kevin. We were all raised up together, I mean before any hip-hop music and all that. I got into it, watching them dancing and all.

What year would that have been?

Whoa. I'm talking, like, '74, man, or '73. Eleven or twelve years old; I was a baby. And I had family that lived in Bronx Water Projects. And at that time, a lot of street gangs stayed in the Bronx. And I came from a street gang called The Black Pearls and The Saigons over on Watson Avenue. And the Black Spades had beat them up. And the guys that beat them up were from Bronx River Projects where I had family; I wound up going over there. And linking up with them guys, they were very unified. I liked the way they were operating. And then Bambaataa started DJing, and we started a B-boy group called The Zulu Kings. And basically, from there it just went from B-boying to MCing to music.

Was there a clear point where you switched from B-boying to MCing?

Oh yeah, well you know what? A lot of cats don't know this, man, but they weren't calling it B-boying. They were called Boi-oing kids. And Boi-oing kids went to B-boying, and B-boys went to break dancers; and MCing went from MCing to rapping. And we were boi-oing kids, man; that's what we were.

When it started, there were about seven of us. The Zulu Kings. And that became then the Zulu Nation, and then the mighty Zulu Nation and then the Universal Zulu Nation! But when it started, it was the gang the Black Spades. We started a group called The Organization and that became the Zulu Nation. It's a blessing. Because back in the days, like 37 years, all those crews… they don't even exist no more. But we have a worldwide following; and that's amazing to me.

So, when you hooked up with Bambaataa, did Biggs and G.L.O.B.E. come around the same time, or were they already down?

Well, Biggs was always there. Biggs was raised in Bronx River. Bigg was day 1 and I came on day 2. How G.L.O.B.E. came about was, I could teach G.L.O.B.E. how to dance; 'cause at the time, me and my friend Marcus were the baddest break dancers out in the Bronx. We were the best. And I used to teach people how to dance, like KK Rockwell from the Funky Four, even DJ Breakout. And I met G.L.O.B.E. from my younger sister. And once G.L.O.B.E. found out who he was, I took him under my wing. And one morning, we was going to school, he came to my house and said he wanted to be an MC. And he came with this rhyme, man, called "People, People" that just blew me away. So we started workin', writing stuff, by that summer. He was ready and me and G.L.O.B.E. just took it to the next level in rap, man, you know? Started doing a thing called MC poppin', that was triplets and fourfipolets and stuff like that wasn't even thinking about double-up and triple-up raps. So we started that, and we called it MC poppin'.

And then as time went on, we did a record with Paul Winley called "Zulu Nation Throwdown part 1," and it was so crazy because the drummer on the record was really a bass player. The music we had was like, to me, circus music. It wasn't it. And then the good Lord decided to bless us with "Planet Rock." That's the most sampled record in history. Every year, another two or three hits come out and I hear that beat. Kraftwerk don't know what they did!

Well, when did you guys decide that, from the Zulu Kings and all, that you three and Bambaataa were going to be The Soulsonic Force, more as a music group?

Oh well, there was a whole bunch of us. I think there was about eight of us at one time. But cats didn't want to come to practice, and only comin' to parties when they wanna come and stuff like that. Like originally Mr. Biggs was an MC, but he wasn't really into it like me and G.L.O.B.E. And my first partner, Love Kid Hutch, used to be down us. He used to be down with Busy Bee Starski. Used to be Starski and Hutch, but they broke up. But Hutch wound up going with Disco King Mario, bless his soul, and The Chuck City Crew; and after that, we came our way. The rest is history. And he left and went the way he wanted to go, instead of coming to practice like I said, like me, Biggs and G.L.O.B.E. was doing.

They cut they own selves off. I'm a team player, that's how I get down. If the team wins, then I'm gonna win. But if I think I can leave and then come back three or four days later and the format's done changed up on your ass, and you're wondering wow, what happened? Why nobody told me? Because you were not there. You gotta go to work every day, and that was our work. Me and G.L.O.B.E. sat down and ate it, breathed it, and got to the point where we ran out of fucking words to rhyme, man!

So it wound up just being us three that stuck it out. 'Cause me and G.L.O.B.E. were more in the hip-hop area than the Bronx River was. See, where we came from, we were hip-hop, with The L Brothers, DJ Smokey and the Smokeatron, he was from Grand Avenue. And a lot of guys, they don't take about him. I'll get back to what we were saying, but DJ Smokey, and his brother Roscoe and the Smokeatron, they were the baddest motherfuckers out at the time, man. I mean, Flash couldn't touch them, Kool Herc couldn't touch them. Nobody was touchin' Smokey. And a lot of cats will not speak on him, which they should, because he is also a pioneer of hip-hop music.

And what happened to him?

I heard he moved out of state. I heard he moved before hip-hop music turned big. I guess he cut it loose and went about his life, but DJ Smokey and his brother Roscoe, let me tell you, they threw the baddest parties. You wanted to see some guys that could dance? Man, it was a show! There's a movie theatre we had over on 174th St in the Bronx River called The Dover movie theatre that had a place you could give parties - it's a church now - but he made that spot very popular. He used to throw block parties mostly on Grand Avenue. And this guy here, I wanna let the world know about him; he definitely deserves his props, man, because he was there in the beginning. And a lot of guys don't that brother his recognition, which is sad; and I'ma give it to him every time all the time.

But as far as Bronx River, Bambaataa, he was the man. Because back then I went to every DJ you could view; I was at every party. Even Grandmaster Caz, who was a DJ called Casanova Fly… his first hop-hop was a place called The Eightball Room over on University Avenue. That's how much I'm into hip-hop; I am hip-hop. If there was a party, I was there, trust me.

A lot of DJs, like Hollywood or even Flash... you'd know what they were playing. Like ok, now it's "Got To Be Real," next it'll be "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." And those are great, but everything I've heard from Bambaataa, it seemed like he was always playing different stuff, and you never knew what he'd pull out next.

A lot of guys, when they called themselves DJs, were trying to be mostly like Frankie Crocker, that disco shit. And Kool Herc, he played beats, he was the man that took it to the streets. But to me, a sure enough hip-hop DJ was Bambaataa. When he showed up, it was magic. And when you were a B-boy you'd hear all these break beats coming at you like, "oh shit; what is this? What is that?" I consider him to be the real first, stone cold hip-hop DJ. He played a little bit of disco, but the man kept it funky. Man, anybody at any age… I mean, parties we threw, sometimes peoples' mothers would come. And your uncles would come, your aunts. He would please everybody and everybody had a good time. And a lot of DJs cannot do that, no way. I've seen them" it's either this, or it's that. Bambaataa has it all. He is the master of records. Like Bambaataa was the first to play The Flaming Emeralds, things like that these cats were not up on. But believe me, Bambaataa has a stash that is so awesome, these guys heads' would spin!

As a matter of fact, last summer, Soulsonic Force… every year, every Wednesday and Thursday they give shows in the park here. And we finally got our chance to go up in there. Soulsonic went one day, then Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay and Red Alert went the next week. Man, listen. Bambaataa rocked that park so hard with not one MC! He didn't need none. The music did all that man's talking. The trees fell; he brought the park down. That man is music. If you take music away from Bambaataa, that's like taking somebody's eyes out their skull and asking them to cross a busy highway. Soulsonic has never done a show where we didn't bring the house down; that's just automatic.

Speaking of your shows, one thing I wanted to ask about was your costumes. One thing you were also known for was having those wild costumes; when did you start bringing them into your shows?

Well, Afrika Bambaataa was always into Parliament Funkadelic. We liked the way they did their shit, because everybody put their own image. We didn't want to be like Flash, the Funky Four and everybody else. That's why you notice there's a Furious Five, the Crash Crew, the Saigon Crew… everybody was this Crew or this Number. We decided to be different, like we always are. 'Cause in Bronx River, we got our own shit goin' on. And we came up with the name Soulsonic Force, and we became Mr. Biggs, Pow Wow and G.L.OB.E.; and we wanted to identify our own selves. That's why everybody had their costumes - G.L.O.B.E. represented the map; he had a costume with all these colors. I was Pow Wow the Indian, and Mr. Biggs was a warrior and Bambaataa wanted to be a barbarian. Everybody had their own thing, and we didn't want to dress like everybody else in leather suits or dressed like The Temptations. We weren't doing songs like that, with little commercial jingles. We was just flowin'.

Put it like this: there's a trend setter and a master of the trend. And we would rather be the trend setters. We used to be wild. We used to paint up, awesome shit, just having fun, being ourselves.

Well, yeah, I think that's the problem a lot of old school MCs run into when they make comebacks… They started out trendsetters, coming up with new things and being unique. But then when they comeback, suddenly they're dressing like the kids, getting whatever guest producers they think are hot today and wind up chasing the trends.

There you go. That's the key to it right there, brother. That's the fuckin' key; you opened Pandora's Box, man. That's the key to it, John: come out and be your fuckin' self. Be like when you was hungry in your fuckin' house, sittin' at your kitchen table, in your bedroom, or while you're on the toilet takin' a shit, thinkin' about what the fuck I'ma say at this party Friday that's not gonna sound like Melle Mel or Kidd Creole or Rahiem or KK Rockwell or nobody. I gotta sound like Pow Wow; I gotta do Pow Wow. And that's what I liked about us: we weren't trying to follow no image or be like nobody.

So it seems like, maybe because of that, it took Soulsonic a little longer to find a regular label home than a lot of other groups who settled into one right away. Like you went from Winley and eventually to Tommy Boy… I think you guys went to Sugar Hill, though you didn't actually wind up signing with them?

Well, the cut we did with Sugar Hill Records, I believe to this day would kick ass, man. It was called "The Rhythm of Life." It never jumped off; it never happened. We gave a party at Audubon Ball Room for us and Grandmaster Flash; but they didn't come. But Tommy Boy was there, and me and G.L.O.B.E. and Jazzy Jay did our thing. And they wanted to holler at us, man… and history was made.

Was that song you did for Sugar Hill with the Sugar Hill Band as well?

Exactly. Oh, they was bad, man, they was funky. We did a cut called "Who Do You Think You're Funkin' With" with Melle Mel that they did the music for, and another one called "What Time Is It?" We had Busy Bee Starski, Little Rodney C, Melle Mel, Soulsonic and my nephew Lamont. It was like a freestyle kinda thing; and Skip, Doug and Keith were bad, man. They're some bad motherfuckers!

Do you have that unreleased recording, "The Rhythm of Life?" Like could you still release that?

Oh, you know what? I doubt it because Sylvia Robinson I guess would own the music rights to it, and we would have to go and get permission and the whole scenario. But that was a bad motherfucker, man; that was a bad record. I was blessed to meet Ms Robinson through Cheryl the Pearl, and she sure looked like a cool lady to me. I mean socially… business-wise, I don't know! She pulled some numbers on some; and we didn't go with her, thank god! But as a human being, she's a sweet lady to me.

Was Tommy Boy better about that? Were they more on the level?

Hell no! They were all fucking crooks. Tommy Boy, Arthur Baker, John Robie, they were all fucking crooks! We're getting at them right now for that back money. They were all crooks. But at the end of the day, God gets the last word. So don't deal with me, deal with the man.

But you still did a record for them with G.L.O.B.E. called "Celebrate! (Everybody)."

Yeah, we did two. We did one called "You Made a Mistake; You Didn't Let Us In," and "Celebrate." And I was kinda pissed off with "Celebrate" because the first track we had for that was so hard! And they switched it. I was like, oh man, y'all done fucked the music up. Just leave well enough alone! I did not like the music for "Celebrate." "You Made a Mistake?" Eh, that was alright. That was just something we were in there fucking around with and they wound up keeping it.

And G.L.O.B.E. did a couple other records… G.L.O.B.E. is the man; I'll put him up against anybody. You get who you wanna get! Put them both up on that stage side by side, and he won't just beat them, he will annihilate them! He's a bad man with that mic, trust me. I'm not sayin' that 'cause he's my brother. Even if I didn't know him, I'd be saying the same thing. The boy is awesome; he IS the mic. G.L.O.B.E. is the mic.

I'd love to hear that original version of "Celebrate" some day.

Well, hopefully. Because I have a collection, man. I collect everything. I got some fly ass tapes and CDs that guys would kill for. But I'm gonna wait 'till I'm more on top of my shit, and then I'm gonna release some serious shit on cats, man. I got shit from before there was even records, but when you hear this shit you'll be like, oh man, these guys were having a ball! That type of thing… everybody was putting it down, man. I thank God I got my hands on it.

Then later on, there was The Lost Generation album…

Oh here you go! I'm ready for that 'cause everybody comes at me with that one. At that time, I had got released from prison in 1989. And I was doing my homework. I happened to come across a music book one day, and saw how I didn't get paid for the music. So instead of me going back and sitting back down and not doing nothing about it. I said, I'm gonna back off of everything, take my ass to the library and start reading some books! So when I was doing that, Biggs and G.L.O.B.E. wanted to do Lost Generation and I said me, I'm not doing that. I'm not fucking with Tommy Boy no more; they owe us money. There's a bigger picture; and at the end of the day you'll see what I'm talking about. That's why I was never on that album, because I refused to sign a contract with these fucking crooks and get dicked again. And that's what happened; they got fucked! So I avoided all that. I'm glad I didn't go that route. I'm glad I did what I did and learned what I learned; not just for me, but for the group also. And they're very appreciative of it, too.

And one album I wanted to ask you about, you probably don't get a lot of questions about: the Christmas Rappin' album by The Grand Rapmasters.

That was a project we did with Mike and Amad Henderson. That was a project they had put together. But I had done an original track on there called "Christmas To a Go-Go." Amad's brother John Henderson was dealing with public broadcasting. And they had a couple projects they wanted us to do. One was to remake the Christmas songs. And me and G.L.O.B.E. went on further and did a sex education rap about venereal diseases and stuff like that. It was for PBS; I done forgot the name of that one. I gotta do my homework on that one, because nobody ever asked me about that one. You're the first. We did the disease record because at that time the AIDS was really killin' us, you know? And then that's how the Christmas album came about.

Cheryl the Pearl told me that she was working with you now. How did that connection come about?

Little Rodney C, of the Funky Four, used to be down with this guy named DJ Steve, was the Awesome Two. That's who he used to MC with. And when he went to Sugar Hill, he introduced me to Cheryl the Pearl. See, I love to write. That's my first love; I'm a writer. I was telling him I could write songs at the time, and he told me, Pow Wow, I got the great combination for you. And that's been a relationship that's gonna last for a lifetime.

When was that?

What is this, 2010? Let's say 25 years ago. My youngest son was a baby; he's 25 now.

So this would've been after "Planet Rock" and all that, right?

Oh exactly. This was after "Planet Rock." And me and Cheryl started linking up, and we've been doing our thing since. We've got the connection now that we're ready to jump off try to put the realness back into the game. We've got some really, really hot stuff man. Cheryl, she's unique. She's got that down-home soul feel about her, and if you ever get to meet her, you will see an aura that's just like Heaven sent, man. She's an angel.

So tell us about some of the music you're planning to put out together now.

Man, listen! One of my favorite ones in called "Phuck It Up." The ceilings gonna fall when they hear this one. It's so much. I got something really serious; it's called "Feel Me." That's really deep. I could tell you titles 'till titles come home! As a matter of fact, Cheryl just hit me with twenty new titles. And one of the new titles, if we pull this off, I think is gonna be as big as "Planet Rock." It'll never go nowhere. It will never die. Like they say, "Rock & Roll Is Here To Say?" It'll never die. Cheryl is just brilliant, she's just fucking brilliant.

And how are you guys doing with distribution now? Because obviously the music industry's changing…

You know what? I love it! I love it because we cut out the middle man, we cut out the distribution people, cut out the record labels. We cut all these cats out our pocket. You just come and download and send that money to our account. You know how much you're saving? You don't have to promote shit; the music promotes itself. You don't have to pay that shit no more, the middle man is done. Record companies are done. You can start your own goddamn label. The matrix is something else, and I love it! I'm happy for the change.

It's bigger than what you think, man. We're taking it home. These are some songs you can relate to. If you got a heart, some soul and some fucking morals, you can relate. And everybody I know has at least one of the three, so we're good. Taking it back to basics, that's it. Not talking about, "I fucked your girl, I got the glock and it's like that," blah blah blah. Get the fuck out of here! Them niggers don't have the slightest idea what it's like when a bullet comes so close, you feel the heat of the motherfucker. They don't know about that. And if they did know about it, they wouldn't recommend it. We have some hardcore artists, too; don't get me wrong. But for me speaking personally, I'm not going that route. You know what Kool & the Gang said? "Music is the message I sing with universal love for one and all." That sums it up right there for me; that's what it's about. So here we come again, rollin' down the mountainside like a ball of fuckin' thunder, man.

So listen, I wanna put a shout out when you put this out there[I did my best with these names! Apologies in advance for what I'm sure are many errors and possibly a couple omissions about to follow:]. I wanna shout out the man Bambaataa, G.L.O.B.E., Mr. Bigg, Jazzy Jay, Cutman LG, Amad Henderson, my brother Sundance, and most of all to my brother Marcus, who was the A1 B-boy on the planet; nobody could touch my man, he was the best. My man KO, Ace 1 Gutta, My brother Freddy, Shaqueena, Keenan, Cody, Killer, Kay, the rest of my grandkids, the original D-Nice from The Hill Crew, matter of fact the whole Hill Crew, Westwood Projects, Washington Projects, Bronx River Projects, Capital Hill Projects, to my man Star out there in Brooklyn, Coney Island, Zulu Crew, Michelle - I love you forever, my daughter, my sister Luanda, Joanne, my nephew Anthony, Michael Glover, Danny Glover, my girl Yvette, Kabuki - may she get better, Roscoe… I'm trying to put this all up in there, because I don't hardly do these interviews like this. Cheryl the Pearl, Niecy, Leesy, Mo, Brandon, Harvey, Momma Pearl, Shirley, Carlos - bless your soul, Panther, my boy Crazy Mike, Comanche, Wanda, Simone, Cheyenne, Campy, Cool C, Crazy Phil, Outlaw, Nicky Benson, Smitty.

April 26th is the release date for Cheryl the Pearl's first two joints. She and Pow Wow were working on putting together the release party when we talked, so if you're in the NY area, look out for that announcement. Oh, and if you noticed the "Soulsonic part 1" in the title; that's right. There's a part 2 very soon to follow! ;)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Time for MC Shan To Defend Himself

"Time for Us To Defend Ourselves" is one of many singles on MC Shan's generally critically panned third album, Play It Again, Shan. Without the guiding hand of Marley Marl (or any of the other regular Cold Chillin' producers), Shan was lost, self-producing house songs, love songs, duets with his wife, songs he's not even featured on himself. It had his moments of decent-ness, but as a whole; it's really hard to defend that album.

Fortunately, "Time for Us To Defend Ourselves" was one of the better moments. Shan is hardcore mode with a serious message about police brutality:

"There's a big loophole in justice.

Law enforcement's to serve and protect,
But in my neighborhood, they break your neck.
Police are ruthless-minded, wicked and villainous;
But not just I see you're killin us'.
What about the parents of the kid y'all killin'?"

The beat, however, is not what you'd hope for considering Shan's other work records (and even since). But that's what happens when you stop working with the greats and try to do everything yourself. Actually, that's not strictly accurate. He was co-producing with a guy named John Ficarrotta. He's more known as an engineer than a producer, but he did a lot with Shan around that time (including working on Snow's album). But it amounts to the same thing, and Shan has since said (from the book How To Rap by Paul Edwards), "I don't like to produce the songs I [rap] on, because that's too much of me influencing me and no other negative voices, a devil's advocate to say, 'Nah, don't do it that way - do it this way.'" Yeah, that's a nice way to put it.

But, still; his production wasn't all bad. Some of the tracks on Play It Again worked, and this one is... in between. It's got a great hook, mixing together a collection of compelling vocal samples, and it's got a ringing "UFO"-style loop behind it. Then there's a metal-ish guitar riff, which is kinda atmospheric, but also kinda corny. It's certainly not the kinda thing Large Professor would've ever messed with.

But that's where this 12" is saved. Because the remix that's also included on this 12" is the one point during the Play It Again madness where Shan reached out to one of Cold Chillin's in-house power producers, DJ Mister Cee. Mr. Cee reached out to two new guys, Outload and PF Cuttin, to collaborate on the remix with, who of course went on to become Blahzay Blahzay.

So to say this remix is an improvement is a serious understatement. It keeps what works about the original - the vocal samples on the hook - and replaces everything else. There's an infinitely funkier new beat, a variety of samples and fresh scratches. It might seem a little upbeat for the subject matter... that's one thing the LP version had going for it: the darker tone. But if that was their reasoning for using the LP version in the video, they were nuts, because this version's just flat-out better music.

But you don't just get the album version, the overhaul that features the best production Shan had at that time, and the nifty picture cover. This 12" has the unique B-side track, "Even If I Tore It," Shan's Craig G diss, recorded in response to Craig's "Going for the Throat" (a CD-only bonus track on his second album). You could be forgiven for not realizing that's what it was, though, because the rhymes are so general, he could just as well be spitting generic battle rhymes against theoretical sucker MCs than Craig if you didn't know the full story going in.

"Fuck a Miller, I'ma rip me a Bud,
While you're lying face-dwon in a puddle of blood.
No bargain, no pleadin', no case to acquit;
Stupid motherfucker, this is how you rip shit!
Goin' to sleep, put your teeth in storage;
Goin' through life sippin' soup and porridge.
Forget gold, ya think you done me;
Worry about yourself and stop tryin' to son me.
You couldn't write better if you switched up pens.
I don't know about records, but you make dope bookends.
See on the down-low, somebody snitched;
I hope you didn't think I'd run like a bitch.
I'm outta ya sight, but never put me outta your mind.
You can't get yours, so figured you would take mine?
With a hammer and chisel, you couldn't chip it.
(Even if I tore it, you still couldn't rip it!)"

...Those are the most specific rhymes in the whole song, the rest are completely unspecific (which isn't to say that they're wack or anything... they just don't have anything Craig G specific about them). The beat is self-produced again, too. It's decent, and all in all adds up to a nice little diss track; but it's not the underground classic it could've been if he'd stuck with his winning producer combo of the A-side. But if you don't get hung up on what might've been, and just accept what is, you get a gem of an addition to your crates, and definitely the best material Shan was putting out in this period.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hip House Frees James Brown

Yaknow, house music isn't always awful. I mean, sure, we all know what it's like to skip past the obligatory, irritatingly terrible house song on an otherwise classic hip-hop album (along with the ultra-cheesy, whispered love rap). And we all know what it's like to go on a digging trip and recoil in horror at a DJ's collection of all cheesy club and house 12"s, priced at a dollar a pound. But still, every once in a while, house is awesome.

Now this is a record I'd after for a long time. I could picture the video from Yo! and Rap City, I could still sing the hook, and I had a reasonable idea of what the title of the song had to be. But there's actually several "Free James Brown"s from that era. Chili Most, Mass Appeal, some guy names Robert Lusson... all had records out called "Free James Brown." Plus, there were songs that weren't precisely titled "Free James Brown," but were close enough to throw ya off the track... "Free Our Brother" (which was indeed referring to James Brown) by Boogie Down, or even Luhuru's humorous take on the subject, "In Jail."

But the fine folks at the OldSchoolHipHop forums helped set me straight on the song I was after: "Free James Brown" by the Hip House Syndicate. Hell, I didn't even remember that it was a house song (which is probably why I kept passing over it on my search); I just remembered the Juice Crew-style posse cut (the girl even sounds like Shanté) of MC's taking turns kicking verses on the injustice that the great JB was in jail. Granted he led the police on a drug-induced, pistol-wielding high-speed chase after being accused of raping and torturing a woman at shotgun-point; but come on, this is the man that recorded "Give It Up Or Turnit a Loose" for gosh sake! Are you gonna wag your finger and nitpick every little indiscretion?

So, anyway, this is it. Produced by the one and only Farley Jackmaster Funk, the Chicago DJ/producer who damn near invented house music. Like a lot of house and club records, this actually came out overseas first. It was released as "Free At Last" in 1989 with a colorful picture cover first. But, like the sticker up top illustrates, the video broke over here, which compelled Select Records to put it out here in 1990. I got the US 12" 'cause I'm in the US, I found it for 99 cents, and it has more mixes.

The main mix, the one from the video etc, is on both 12"s - it's the L&R Mix. It's got the signature piano line with the fundamental house beat and groovy bassline. And really, that's the only one you really need. Still, the added remixes aren't bad. The Deep Mix features an unusual but catchy sample, and The House Mix features the same sample James Brown sample as Kool Moe Dee's "Death Blow" and others ("Get On the Good Foot"), and after all it's kinda fitting to have more James Brown music in an anthem dedicated to him. They're all essentially over the same core house track, though; so if you're hoping for more of a "pure hip-hop" version, you're gonna be disappointed.

You can't separate the house from this song, but that's ok. This is still classic hip-hop: "To free this brother is my duty/ No need for the nine or the uzi/ We can do this with justice/ All the jealous suckers know this!" Unfortunately, though, I don't think anything came of the Hip House Synidcate MCs, which is a shame. With the right production behind them, they could've had a fresh 80's album. ...Oh, and as for James? He did a little time for assaulting a police officer and some other stuff related to that chase; but he never had to face that original rape charge, and the evidence against him - DNA, polygraph, etc. - never got heard in court (if you're thinking, "I thought he was convicted for that," you're probably thinking of one of the many domestic violence charges against him; but those all came later). So chalk up 1 win for house music.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Don't You Sit Back Down - Cheryl the Pearl interview

I doubt I have to tell many people reading my blog who Cheryl the Pearl is, but if you're not sure; she's one third of the classic rap group, The Sequence. The first rap act from the South, one of the very few rap groups to release a hip-hop record before 1980 (Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Lady B, The Sequence and King Tim III are pretty much it), and just one of the premiere female hip-hop groups of all time. Cheryl was also a solo artist and a song writer for other groups, but you can learn all about that below. ;)

When you guys formed The Sequence in South Carolina, had hip-hop really reached there yet at that time?

Our first sing that came out was "Funk You Up" in '79, almost the winter. It was October when we met Ms. Robinson. Before the Sugar Hill Gang, the only two people that we had heard were King Tim III and Lady B out of Philadelphia. The Sugar Hill Gang was doing a concert here in Columbia, South Carolina. And we got backstage passes. Well, a guy let us in, because we were supposed to have passes. They weren't there, but we got in anyway.

We got backstage and a guy named Nate Edmond told us to send him a cassette. And we were like, nah, we can't send no tape; we gotta do this in front of you now. He was like, well, we're getting ready to go on stage now, so you're gonna have to send me a tape. We were settin' to tell him, we're not sendin' no tape; and Ms. Robinson was sitting in a chair in the corner and she said, "I'll listen to you." We said, you would? She said, "yeah. What do you girls do?" We told her we write songs, we sing and we rap. She said, "ok, do what you do."

So we started singing and the songs at first kinda hit her, but didn't really hit her. And we were getting ready to walk out and watch the Gang on stage, and I don't know whether it was Angie or Gwen who said, "but we didn't do 'Funk You Up'." And she said, "well, come back in here and do it." So we came in and started singing, "we're gonna funk you, right on up, gonna funk you right on up. Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, sit back down!" She said, stop, don't sing no more."

She stopped the band from getting up on stage. She stopped everything. She got Doug, Skip and Keith LeBlanc to come into the dressing room. She said, "y'all gotta here this. Ok, y'all do it again for us, alright?" So we started singing and jamming right in the room there. They started playing and it became like a jam session really. So she said, "ok, which one of y'all want to rap first?" So Gwen came in with her rap, and then she said, "Ok, Cheryl, you go," and I came in. And then Angie came in and everybody came in. There wasn't really anybody on stage doin' it, because everybody came to the dressing room.

So the guys went out on stage and she said, "you go out there, too." So we were out there, standing on stage with the Gang while they performed "Rapper's Delight!" And so she saw that we weren't afraid, I think. And she said, "I'm gonna make you girls stars." Those were her exact words: I'm gonna make you stars.

So you guys were already performing the raps for "Funk You Up" and all back then, or had you been more just a singing group?

Well. We were just a singing group until the day before we knew we were going to a Sugar Hill concert!


Me and Angie were on the cheer-leading squad, so to write something quick was no thing. And Gwen was on the pep team, so she wasn't afraid to be in front of people as well. So we basically put the raps together earlier that day, just in case they asked us to rap. We didn't really know what rap really was, but to us it sounded like cheering, "dun, you can do it, dun da da da do it, oh, you got ta do it!" It was like how we cheered. So we were like, let's just write an eight-bar rap just in case somebody asks us to rap, 'cause it was a rap concert. And Ms. Robinson was the one that suggested we put the rap in the song.

And when Gwen came on, "my name is Gwen, but they call me Blondie," she just flipped like oh my god, I can't believe this is happening! She said, "you go Cheryl," and I started, "my name is Cheryl, and I'll tell you why, 'cause I got such sexy bedroom eyes." She said stop, and then Angie came in, "Angie B is what they say; I got chocolate hips and the milky way." She just smiled ear to ear as if to say, "I got my next group. I got three guys, and now I got three girls."

So on their way evening, she said, "I'm gonna call you around the middle of next week, Wednesday or Thursday, and your tickets will be at the airport Friday. And I need for y'all to get on the plane, come to Jersey, and do this particular song." We said ok! But then we had to go back home and convince our parents.

I was eighteen, Angie had just turned twenty, and Angie was seventeen. So we had to beg her mom to let her come out with us; we would look out for her, and if it didn't work out, we would all come back together. So they took a chance because Angie was still in school, but they didn't want her to miss her break if this was a break for us. So they agreed to let Angie come along, and our parents took us to the airport, put us on the plane, and the rest was history!

So, did you guys stay up in New Jersey, or were you flying back and forth for every record?

Well, in the beginning, we stayed there for a couple of weeks, just to really feel out everything. Ms. Robinson made living arrangements for us with one of her nieces, for as long as we wanted to stay up. 'Cause we brought clothes like we were never coming back anyway! But we got homesick. They ate out at restaurants every day and we were like, we want some cooked food - we need to go back home! She saw we were getting that look and said, "y'all wanna go back home?" We said yeah, can we go back home, and when you're ready for us, call us? And so she let us come back home.

Ok, we got discovered on Gwen's birthday. The day we heard "Funk You Up" on the radio was my birthday, November 19. And Angie's birthday, which was December 18, was when we were on the road with The Sugar Hill Gang. So everything went in like a sequence that particular year on '79. Gwen turned 20 on October 20, I turned 19 on November 19 and Angie turned 18 on December 18. So we really did have a combination there that was probably supposed to happen.

Did "Funk You Up" reach back to South Carolina? Did people know what you were doing, like, oh you guys are The Sequence now when you got back home?

No… we were home when we first heard it. Vanessa Pendergrass on WOIC broke the record for us here. But we still had problems with radio stations playing that particular record here, because we were saying "Funk you up," but I guess parents were hearing their kids saying something different, so they started attacking the radio stations. So after "Funk You Up," we had to be real careful with the lyrics, because it was important to get your record played. So "Funk You Up" broke in the clubs; it wasn't from the radio. And it was still a time when rap was really unacceptable. Nobody but the kids were catching on to it.

Well, and you guys on the cusp of some controversial lyrics at that time, too, in a topical way. Especially considering it was pre-"Message."

Yeah. Well, I would always try to write something that hopefully would help somebody if they were going through something. But Ms Robinson also wanted to keep it fun, so we often had to make it "let's just have fun." Like which one are you talking about?

Like on "Simon Says," you had that verse about the girl who gets pregnant and then her boyfriend leaves her.

Oh, ok! Yeah. "Get pumped, we'll take the pill. The guys wanna make love every day, but when you get pumped, they run away. Knowing it's something that you did, but he says, boo, it's not my kid." Yeah. I think, before the tables turned, we were getting ready to do some new music that was closer to what Mel was doing, putting out something to make people think. All of us being writers, we had our feel for it, and then things kinda changed when a lot of people started coming into it. Started making it hard to get in the studio and be creative like we wanted to. And then a whole bunch of other things were going on at the company that just stifled peoples' growth, and not allowing them to just do what they do.

Like when Sugar Hill started signing new artists?

Yeah, when they brought new artists in, some of the artists that had been there earlier would be kicked to the backbone. If you weren't coming to them with something that was hitting, it wasn't going anyway. It had to be hitting like when they came with "Rapper's Delight," then "Funk You Up," then "8th Wonder," then "Tear the Roof Off," then Flash and them's stuff, "Freedom." So it was just constant hits coming back to back. Sot hen it became a competition, because all of the groups would try to come to the table with the hottest stuff. And then The West Street Mob, that was Sylvia's son's group; and they were doing the singing and chants-type stuff. And Angie and myself were a part of that, too. We did "Let's Dance" for Joey.

Yeah, that's actually something I wanted to ask about. Because you're in the credits for a bunch of their songs, actually.

Yeah. I did a lot of writing back then. Not just for the Sequence, but the Sugar Hill Gang and the West Street Mob.

And so is that you pretty much whenever we heard female voices on one of their records, like "Mosquito" and all?

Probably me and Angie. We did most of the vocals for everything that was going on back then.

And who besides JR was the West Street Mob, exactly? There was Warren?

That was Warren, his best friend.

Was Kory O a member back then?

Kory came into the West Street Mob a little later down the line.

Back when they were still doing records, or later later?

Later. Maybe '85, '86.

And then I think there was DJ Scott or Scotty?

I just know Leland Roberts used to do a lot of the DJing around that time for Joey, and that was his brother. Oh, and Scotty! I remember. That was a friend also; that was one of Joey's friends.

Now, in 1985, you guys had a record called "Control." It says on the label it's for a compilation called Sugar Hill Stars Taking Over?

I don't know why they had that on that record. At that time was when the company was really going through something . That was supposed to be my first single as a solo artist. And they put it out for about three or four weeks before the company actually closed. And my "Control" came out before Janet Jackson's "Control." A lot of the people at Sugar Hill started working at… I think it was A&M Records, or whichever company Janet was under, and they took my music over there. And what I think is that they heard my song and they rewrote her song from what they heard I had done. And so her song, "Control! Den den de-de-ne-den, Den den, Control!" My song went, "Den den den, control! Taking control! Taking taking control, con troll." See, they took their thing and made it just a little bit different, but it was almost on the same thing. They changed the lyrics a little bit, and what they fitted with Janet was perfect. But Joe at that particular time said, "Cheryl, I think you have another hit," because they were sending out orders of 3, 4, 5 thousand copies to all the places. Orders were coming in for the record. But those records got lost because the company closed. And it was always in the air.

I held that song for five years before I recorded it. And I wish that I had held it longer, because I didn't know that it was gonna get caught in the mix of that when the company went down. And then when I heard her song, it just crushed my heart. I think her name was Iris or Irish Perkins, she was doing promotion work at Sugar Hill Records. And then when she went over to their company, she had gotten a bigger position over there, and she had all of our music with her. And that really scared me to think that they would take my music and get somebody else to recut my music. And then the Robinsons were in a position to fight for my rights. And I think if you look at that record, they had given me either 50 or 100% of the song.

The writing credits, right? Because the song itself is billed to the whole Sequence.

Yeah. I was the only one doing work on that song. At that time, too, Angie had gotten married to Rodney and they weren't really allowing them to make money in the company. But Gwen and I had to find a way to put music out there and continue on and hopefully they would let Angie come in and do what she needed to for us to still be a group. But it was a terrible time for a lot of people down there. People weren't putting their all into it because the company wasn't paying. In the beginning, the company was paying, and then all of a sudden, you would just have to like beg them for your money. And Rodney and all of them were from that city, so they knew maybe a little more than we knew coming into the game; but things just took a turn and they started getting really tight with the money. And they caused all of the groups to say, nope, I'm not doing this. So either way they were gonna crash, because the groups weren't willing to do their best work.

Did you have much recorded that didn't get released? I know there was the infamous fire at Sugar Hill, where a lot of stuff was lost.

There wasn't much that didn't come out, but yeah, that was a very old building when we were in it, really messed up real bad, shouldn't've been open. It was a fire waiting to happen, with so many wires and things that were loose, and certain rooms that they never even worked out of because they needed so much work. In the beginning they were fixing the building up, but then, I can't tell you exactly the business end, whether they were paying taxes or not paying taxes, but things just went crazy. So they stopped spending money and they stopped fixing it up. And one thing lead to another.

Sugar Hill certainly had a lot of well-known issues with paying some of the artists, and the Gang had a lot of public legal battles with them.

Well, right now I have a lawsuit going on with them as well. In fact, I'm waiting for my lawyer to call me back with a court date. Because there's a lot of music back then that a lot of people have sampled since then and they don't like to pay. Sugar Hill don't like to pay; they think our money is their money.

So, like, when a Sequence song appears on a compilation, or like that big Sequence CD set on Sequel Records comes out, do they pay you guys at all?

Nothing. People out there are still buying our music, and we get not one coin from it. That's what makes our history so messed up. So what my lawyer's trying to do is get my publishing rights back and my royalties that I'm not getting right now and have not gotten since we left the company. They never sent us a statement since '85, and then they sold to Castle Records, and they wasn't paying us. I'd see you know, a big ol' Story of Sugar Hill selling for 89-100 dollars, and they still said we were in the hole and came up with every excuse not to pay us. Then it went from Castle Records to Sanctuary, they wouldn't pay us. So everywhere out catalog has gone, nobody has said we need to pay these people.

Dr. Dre redid "Funk You Up," which was in the Friday movie. I think they sampled something from "8th Wonder" in one of Eddie Murphy's movies. And Jennifer Lopez sampled from "8th Wonder," too. Busta Rhymes… These are all big name artists that sold anywhere from 5 to 10 million copies of their album. When Dre did "Keep Their Heads Ringing," they cut our percentage down to 6% each, me and Gwen and Angie: 6, 6, 6; and everybody else took the majority of our song. And I thought they couldn't take anything from us without permission. How can you take 25% of our song and I never gave you permission to take it? Even the Robinsons shouldn't've had permission to give them that of our song.

So the court date is coming in the next couple of months. My lawyer said, :I think they're gonna wanna settle with you, Cheryl; I don't think they'll want to go to court.," Because the music I was doing back then with them, and the things that I have credit for, are the songs that people sample over and over again. And the sales on those things are really, really high. But right now, it's up in the air. When the day comes and it's over with, I'll just be glad. I always say, I never want something that belongs to anybody else, all I want is what I worked for. Whatever percentages that I worked for and we agreed upon is what I want - what is rightfully mine. And because they held on to our money, my times didn't have to be as hard as they were if they had paid us what we earned. I don't enjoy taking anybody to court, but I gotta live just like they're living. That's my work.

That ain't my best work, because I have new stuff coming, don't get me wrong. But that's a part of my history, the work I did then. I am 100 times better than the stuff I did then, so they are really in trouble!

So when Sugar Hill closed down, I know you did that record on Posse… Were you originally trying to stick together as a group, as Sequence, or…?

No, we had already broken up as a group then. Angie had gotten married and had her little girl, Diamond, at that time, and she had her family. And Gwen was out in Texas about to get married, too, and didn't have any interest in it at that time. So I ran into Donald D. Me and Donald had met from his coming to Sugar Hill. So when I ran into Donald in Harlem, he said, "Cheryl, what you doing?" And I said nothing right now. So he took me to Spring Records, and they agreed to do a single on me.

But what I asked was, before you put out anything on me, I need to hear the mix; I need to know what it sounds like before it goes out there. And what they did - he and his brother, B Fats, was just go in there and do everything the way they wanted and just let me hear the record. And I told them in the beginning, if you try to play me like Silly Willy, you're gonna just have a record. I'm gonna be gone. And that's what happened with that record. I never traveled with that record, I never received a coin from it. It was what it was and I left it at that.

So they never paid you for that either?

Never. All my classic work, never got paid! (Laughs) It's crazy, but it's life.

And then after that, I started doing some work up in Harlem with some kids that were really, really good. I was praying that even if they weren't still with me that they would still get their break, because they were really good artists. I would take them in the studios and teach them… I had friends that were producers that would work with them on their art. And trying to teach the kids to better protect themselves if they were coming into that field. They did some good work at that time! This one particular kid was from Far Rockaway, really took me to another place. I still don't hear anything out there to this day that was close to what this kid was doing then.

Was there ever a record out?

No, he didn't trust the industry! I don't know where he is, but he had an unbelievable talent. He would've been the next hot - if given the chance - to really do some great work. Maybe someday I'll find him. He was really unbelievable.

My new project, I'm working with some really talented rappers. Not just people talking about guns and killing, but people that's talking about something and make sense. So that's what I would like to get into: finding people that're saying and doing something a little bit better than what they're doing now.

When did you start recording and getting back into it again?

Well, when I came back to South Carolina, it was because my grandparents took sick. First my grandmother had throat cancer, and she passed. And then my grandfather had prostate cancer. And I came back taking care of them, and my two sisters at that time were heavily on the drugs, and there were five kids that had to be raised. At that time, my nieces were three or four - they're fifteen and sixteen now - and I just couldn't walk away from the kids. My mother at that time was sick herself, and I couldn't walk away from my family situation chasing after a dream.

So I took the time, sitting and raising them, to do my homework about an industry that had done me some damage. I don't want that to ever happen to me again. And my new music, I don't want that to be locked down under anybody. That type of stuff is never gonna happen to me again.

I write songs like people drink water. That's another thing that people don't know about me - I'm loaded!


And I don't just do one type of music. I don't just do rap or hip-hop, I write, sing, rap and produce, I do it all. And I'm an artist, so I'm very creative with whatever I decide to do. And the two singles that I'm gonna release in April or May - those are R&B songs.

I read an interview online with Blondie, where you two were doing something together?

Yeah. We were, and then something happened and we got separated. I haven't heard from her in a while. Her sister passed; I think that was the last time. She lives in North Carolina, and we were gonna do some new work. We couldn't wind up being in the same place at the same time, and that kinda messed things up; so I just decided that I'm gonna do my thing. Everybody doing their thing, I'm gonna do my thing, like James Brown says. And I work with Pow Wow, you know Zulu Nation? We've got some stuff that's unbelievable. The world's gonna get shook up; this man's got some 2030 stuff, and I don't think the world is even ready for him.

You can check out those new R&B songs she's talking about on Cheryl's myspace page. She's also got an official website for her label in the works,, so keep your eye on that as well.