Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summertime with Ill, Al and the Boys

The sun just melted the rear-view mirror off of my windshield the other day, so I reckon it's time for this year's summer jam. I've chosen "Summertime" by Ill Al Skratch on Mercury/Polygram Records. This is a promo only single, so there's no date on the label. But it definitely came after their big single debut ("Where My Homies") and it pre-dates their second album, so I'd guess 1995 or 1996 at the latest.

It can't be too much later than that, after all, 'cause "Summertime" is an album track off their Creep Wit Me LP. There it had the more expansive title, "Summertime (It's All Good) (Al's Solo)." There are no production credits on this 12", but the album credits everything to The LG Experience and Lo Rider, so one of them must've done the "Summertime," and quite possibly the B-side as well (more on that when we get there).

Anyway, a summer jam is right up these guys' alley... they were always more on the laid back, not particularly lyrical or hardcore tip, so this follows in the footsteps of their strongest material. Like the expanded title suggests, Al takes this one solo, except for an R&B hook by an uncredited singer... Well, the album credits the singers, but it doesn't say who's singing on which songs. So, discounting the females and assuming it's not Brian McKnight again, that leaves either Kenneth Staten or Jerry Elcock. Take your pick. Anyway, the hook is pretty simple and calm... the bulk of the song is about Al kicking your typical, relaxing narratives (seeing some girls, getting a lift from his partner and of course having a barbecue).

So it's definitely one of their better songs, and this 12" gives us Clean, Dirty, Instrumental and Acapella versions. But much more compelling, frankly, is the B-side. Exclusive to this 12" is "Dr Feelgood," a posse cut featuring Nine, Greg Nice and M.O.P. DJs Red Alert and Kid Capri are also on hand to say a few words for the intro and outro. Now, to be honest, Ill and Al Skratch have always been just okay to me. I can't say I've felt very compelled to go back and revisit their album since I got it in 1994. But thanks to the B-side, this 12" is the one to own; it's easily the best thing they've ever done, IMHO.

...Of course, that's largely because they're overshadowed by their guests. The beat is sort of in the low-key, mellow territory of their other work, but much harder, driven by a rugged bassline. M.O.P. and Greg Nice of course quadruple the energy level, and Nine's voice is always a welcome guest. The hook is provided by an uncredited DJ cutting up Big Daddy Kane's "Smooth Operator" line, "I make it real good, like Dr. Feelgood." This is the kind of joint I imagine Ill and Al would've made all the time if they weren't taken over by a major, commercial record label. And this mix also comes with instrumental and acapella versions, for those of you itching to take it apart.

So yeah, if you only pick up one Ill Al Skratch joint (and frankly, one's enough), your first impulse might be "Where My Homies," but nah, I would say this one. It's got a cool, easy-going summer jam on the A-side that reflects the best of what they were normally about, and then their best, atypical work on the flip. It's a nice, breezy pick-up for a stultifyingly hot summer day.

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