Friday, April 9, 2010

Malcolm McLaren In 1990

I just found out that Malcolm McLaren passed away earlier today... He's not necessarily "a hip-hop guy," in that he's surely better known for his work with rock, punk and pop bands. But thanks to his involvement with The World Famous Supreme Team, he does share credit for some cornerstone hits in the genre, including "Buffalo Gals" and "D'ya Like Scratchin'." But instead of the obvious, I thought I'd take a look at one of his more overlooked hip-hop projects.

Now, it's not news to say that a Malcolm McLaren project is kinda weird, but this one is really weird. It's an album he recorded on Virgin Records in 1990 called Round the Outside! Round the Outside! It's credited to Malcolm McLaren Presents the World Famous Supreme Team Show he title is of course a reference to the chorus of their 1982 hit "Buffalo Gals:" "all buffalo gals go 'round the outside, 'round the outside, 'round the outside!" The title is a throwback and the reference to the WFST is a throwback; but the throwback content of this album is relegated to just two tracks that come towards the end of the album, "Buffalo Gals II (Remix)" and "World Famous Supreme Team Radio Show (Remix)." Both are a lot of fun... they're never gonna replace the originals, but they're good mixes with some new scratches and breaks that make for fun alternatives. The most marked difference in "Buffalo Gals II" is the addition of an R&B singer (Seduction, apparently, from the credits) who enthusiastically belts out a epic rendition of the "it's a pity that you're so dirty" portion. It's a lot of fun.

Those two remixes, however, mark the only appearances by The Supreme Team as we know them: See Devine and Just a Lot of Superstar [as their names are spelled here]. The rest of the album is a collaboration of a new hodge podge of artists, both known and unknown - would you expect anything less from Malcolm?

The first song was also the first single, "Operaa[sic.] House!" As you might not expect even though they're pretty upfront about it in the title, it's a house track with opera-style vocals provided by Mona Lisa Young, best known for her songs with The World Class Wreckin' Crew. Some of her vocals are original and kind of your typical club diva style, but further into the song, she gets into covering some actual, classical opera arias. But if that isn't out there enough, just wait! There's also a rap duet on this song, performed by none other than the great Grandmaster Caz and Sparky D. Yes, the original Caz and Sparky.

That's Sparky's only appearance, but Caz and Mona Lisa Young are actually all over this album, contributing to several songs apiece. The other most prominent recurring artist on this album is Low Profile's DJ Aladdin. He even has a solo song at the end of this album, "Aladdin's Scratch," and unlike Aladdin's own albums, this album really showcases why he's a world champion DJ, adding killer cuts throughout the album (for some reason, on his own albums, he never once touched the turntable!).

So that's your main line-up. Some other singers, a spoken word poet, and a rapper named MC Hamlet also appear. I suspect Hamlet may be an alias... he only appears on a song called "II Be Or Not II Be," and outside of this album, I've never heard of any MC Hamlet. Actually, there are short bios in the liner notes. Will that shed any light on this mystery? Well, his reads, "Dancin Black Indian Poet. II Be Or Not II Be!! From Alaska to Venice Cali that is the question: 'is it more noble of mind this decision to die and lie still for lifes ills and torture.'"[again, sic.] Yeah... sounds like a made-up bio for a made-up rapper to me; but who knows? It doesn't help that whoever wrote the bios doesn't seem to be terribly well-informed... did you know that Grandmaster Caz was "part of the TREACHEROUS THREE?" Me either.

So what else is on this crazy album? Well, there's the aforementioned "II Be Or Not II Be," where MC Hamlet turns a section of Shakespeare's Hamlet into a rap. There's "Romeo and Juliet" (which was the second single) a Grandmaster Caz solo song (essentially... there are some uncredited R&B vocals on the hook), which is basically a play on his classic "Yvette," but changing the name Yvette for Juliet. I mean, literally, he kicks the exact same lyrics including the infamous "somebody's comin'" line from "Yvette."

There's a song called "World Tribe" which has basically the same instrumental as Special Ed's "The Mission," but with female R&B singers and some extra instrumentation instead of any raps. And there's "Un Coche De Agua Negra," which is a combination of singing, spoken word poetry, Aladdin scratching a lot of records and none of it's in English (though I could male out another reference to "Romeo and Juliet" in the lyrics). Crazy.

The rest of this album is padding. In fact, if you count the classic Supreme Team records being remixed as padding (which really they are), more than half of this album is padding. "Diva Loves Operaa House!" is just another version of "Operaa House!" minus the raps, and "Wherefor Art Thou?" is another version of "Romeo and Juliet." Even "Aladdin's Scratch" is him getting busy over the "World Tribe" instrumental (Aladdin's version is awesome, though). So, really, basically, there's just five original songs on here.

So it's really not hard to see why this didn't catch on... a crazy mix of house, rap, and r&b with VERY pretentious, heavy-handed attempts to get the kids into opera and Shakespeare. Then add in the fact that most of this album is unnecessary remixes and filler, and you've got yourself a pretty tough sell. Oh, plus MC Hamlet is corny as hell.

But the good moments: Aladdin getting busy, fun (if recycled) raps by the one and only former Cold Crush Brother (you hear me, liner notes guy??) Grandmaster Caz, and Malcolm McLaren's insane musical flourishes makes for a pretty enjoyable listening experience. I mean, you know what? Mona Lisa sounds pretty damn good singing opera over a funky house track. This album should be a huge disaster, but it's not. Quality production and genuine talent from the artists involved turned even this colossally bad idea into a damn enjoyable listening experience. And that was the magic of Malcolm McLaren.

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