Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back When the Earth Cried

I've been meaning to do a Gravediggaz post for a while now - especially after someone asked me to on Twitter and I said I would... but for whatever reason, I kept putting it off. I guess part of it is that first you have to decide essentially what "era" Gravediggaz you want to tackle. You've got your classic, semi-parodic horrorcore era, led by producer Prince Paul, where they did their most wild material, like "1-800-Suicide" and "Freak the Sorceress." Then you've got your post-Paul era, where he lost interest in the venture, but the other members kept it alive and basically turned themselves into another generic Wu-Tang Clan offshoot group. And finally you've got their rocky independent era, where more than half their releases may've been bootlegs, and it wasn't even clear who was joining or leaving the group. Well, I've settled on era #2.

"The Night the Earth Cried" is the second and biggest single off their second album, The Pick, The Sickle And The Shovel. Interestingly, like most of the album, this isn't produced by Prince Paul (who was basically already out of the picture by this point) or The RZA, but by Wu affiliate The 4th Disciple. It's a pretty mellow, even smooth track, dominated by a long piano loop, occasionally interspersed with harp or string samples. Again, the humor and crazy horrorcore aspects from album #1 are completely gone here... instead each MC just kicks a pretty simple verse about overcoming strife between a mellow hook:

"I want a queen on every continent,
So I can escape the government;
lee my residence, settle in.
I'm a militant-minded, brilliant rhyme whiz;
The time is now for me to shine. Kids are innocent,
Blinded; society got to be reminded."

You wouldn't expect it going into a Gravediggaz record, especially with subject matter delving into topics like slavery, but this song is actually pretty relaxing. The only real flaw here is that, despite having a well-written verse, Rza sounds a bit clunky on this one (he came off much better on their last single, for example); but Poetic is reliable as ever and Frukwan sounds especially good over this beat.

So you can see both why this single (or anything else off album #2) wasn't a break-out success; but you can also see why fans hold it in high regard. There's no B-side or anything to this single, but it comes fully-loaded with the Album Mix, Radio Edit, Instrumental and Acappella; and it comes in a cool sticker cover [shown above].

But if you're really not satisfied with a B-side, if you feel like they've left you hanging, then they made up for it a few months later with this promo-only follow-up 12". This one features two exclusive remixes of "The Night the Earth Cried" and their instrumentals, plus the album version and Acappella again for good measure.

First up is the Diamond J remix. Diamond J is a UK DJ from a group called The Cavemen (who, if you're interested in UK hip-hop, I recommend checking out), and he later went on to become The Gravediggaz official DJ in their later years. This mix is more atmospheric, relying more on the big beat drums. The samples sound like they could've come from an old, 60's horror film or something. it's a cool variation, but not as addictive as the original version. "Atmospheric" doesn't typically translate to "catchy."

Then we've the remix I prefer, the DJ I-Cue Remix. I-Cue is, I believe, a Swedish DJ, who was part of a couple groups and labels (like Digital Konfusion) I'm not at all familiar with. But I-Cue does a great job of capturing the Wu vibe (better than a lot of genuine Wu-Tang members have managed over the years - heh). It's fairly atmospheric, too, with eerie vocal samples, deep bass and ascending notes that again sound like they could be taken from a horror flick (maybe more 80's though, this time). But this one's definitely more of a straight head-nodder, too. It's hard to top the original (4th Disciple is a seriously underrated producer), but I'd put this mix right along side it.

So I can't blame anybody who heard the Gravediggaz' second album and were immediately disappointed - this was not the group they fell in love with. And of course Prince Paul fans were really short-changed. But if you appreciate some good, second-tier Wu affiliate music (a la Sunz of Man, Royal Fam, etc); this is some of the best.

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