Monday, August 30, 2010

InstaRapFlix #29: Outkast: Dare To Be Different

"The thing that makes Outkast different from everybody else is they wear what the Hell they wanna wear!" That's the opening line. Outkast fans, did you take their music seriously? Sorry, but you'll soon learn their success is entirely due to the vintage clothes they wear. Maybe I just don't appreciate fashion (actually, I know I don't), but that seems a little potentially insulting to me. But then again, you probably won't notice, considering how much more insulting the rest of this film is.

Netflix lists Outkast: Dare To Be Different as 60 minutes, but when you start to play it, you'll see it's really only 41. That should be your first indication that this movie (Netflix rating: a very generous 2 out of 5 stars) is not what you might hope.

It starts us out with an anonymous narrator who confuses the definition of "irony" with "coincidental." She gives us Outkast's basic back-story over a series of press photos. The narration's sometimes pretty funny - I love the way she matter-of-factly states, "Dre often got high while waiting to rob people." Or "Dre's style of dress had people wondering if he had lost his mind, was on hard drugs, or they even thought he was a homosexual." She doesn't even have her facts right (stating Aquemini dropped in 1996, etc).

We get some sloppily-edited EPK footage of Andre talking about his latest album: "it's inspired by the hats - I love the hats! - and the boots the polo players wear." And we get some really horrible green-screen footage of random people - I guess they're just fans - talking about Outkast:

...It actually looks a lot better in that still than it does when he's moving - click to enlarge it. That diagonal line in the bottom left is the wall behind him that they didn't key out, and his arm (his left, our right) doesn't even reach the bottom of the screen.

Anyway, after that we come back to the narrator. That's really the bulk of this film: one woman reading Outkast's bio over some album covers and press photos. We do occasionally go back to the video footage for a few seconds here and there, but it ain't much... In fact, they go back and play the same interview clips multiple times - I can only assume this was a mistake and nobody involved with the production even bothered to watch the movie all the way through!

I did learn a little bit though, I have to admit. I have a bunch of Outkast albums and singles, but I didn't realize "what they became famous for: wearing large caps and dressing in white linen." Once again, I guess it's my fashion cluelessness coming through. White linen was it.

Seriously, I really can't express how much of a non-movie this even is. When the narrator says Big Boi started his own pitbull kennels, the photo isn't even of his kennels - just generic pitbull photos I guess they Googled. I was expecting some unexceptional little collection of interviews edited into a simple little life story, but what I discovered was something exceptionally bad. This is just what they mean when they use the phrase "hot mess." I am actually stunned by what a hunk of junk this is. Only the most desperate, content-starved Outkast fan will want to seek this one out. But at least the user reviews trashing this on the site were kinda amusing.

Sampling for Beginners

Copyright Criminals is a recent documentary, now available on DVD, about sampling and copyright. It's a bit of a short movie, clocking in at just over an hour, but it was getting some positive attention at the beginning of the year. Now that it's officially available on DVD, I figured it was time I give it a proper review.

On the positive end, it presents good points from both sides, letting those both for and against sampling make their case intelligently. It interviews some interesting people from different walks who are affected by sampling and copyright law, from industry employees to DJs to artists who sample to artists who've been sampled. A segment on Clyde Stubblefield, former drummer for James Brown who's been sampled a bajillion times since he performed the percussion solo heard on 1970's "Funky Drummer," one of the most used breakbeats ever. And it leaves you with a pretty solid understanding of the sampling situation.

On the negative end, well, first of all, like I said, it's short. It's short and spends so much time explaining the fundamentals (in case you've been living under a rock since the 80s), that odds are, you won't come away having learned much of anything. This is really a brief, beginners' course on a complex and compelling issue - I was feeling there should be a sequel to get into the more advanced issues and much richer, more detailed stories of real cases made for those of us who already pretty well understand how sampling works. And I'm not even saying this is basic stuff just for us advanced hardcore heads who collect obscure records to read the run-out grooves... even your grandmother who couldn't name a single rapper to save her life will be bored with this rehashed old turf.

The other negative is the constant mash-ups played throughout the movie, performed by some group called Eclectic Method. For about the first fifteen seconds, it's an interesting illustration of how sampling works (in case that you the rock you lived under was so thick you needed to be shown as well as told). They sample old musical clips and chop them into new beats, the way a hip-hop producer would... a corny hip-hop producer, but still you get the point. And for the visual aspect, they show the performance footage of the music they sample. So, again, it's pandering to a pretty ignorant audience, but it's pretty nicely done.

But it doesn't last for just fifteen seconds. It goes on and recurs. And it just keeps coming back, over and over. Soon, a really large percent of this already short film has been given over to this annoying, stuttering video and examples of sampling that really aren't all that impressive on a musical level, either. It's like they knew they had a super short doc, and in order to pad it out into something resembling feature length (which they didn't reach anyway), they let the editor shamelessly indulge himself by looping this footage over and over. When we were discussing this over on the DWG forums back in January, Bob Disaster put it aptly, "those mash up fannies Eclectic Method made me want to stab my eyes out." ...That really says it all.

So, bottom line? It's worth a watch if you can see it for free. It's short, and there are a few bits in there that are worth your time. But it's all been discussed before, and there are much better discussions on the topic to be found, so I really can't recommend paying to see it or purchasing the DVD. There's just not enough to depth to 95% of the interviews that you'll feel compelled to go back to them; and even if you do feel compelled to have a second look, the memory of those awful mash-ups will drive you away.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mixmasta "D" - Hit Me!

If you don't know who Mixmasta "D" is, that's because you probably think of The Bizzie Boyz as being "Ski and... some other dudes." Well, one of those other dudes is Mixmasta "D." The rest, just for the record, were Fanatic, C.J. Smooth (lol he was the baby on the album cover), Move and Groove. ...Plus, Supreme DJ Nyborn was like an affiliate, down-with-the-crew guy.

So, anyway, after the group went their separate ways, Mixmasta "D" dropped the really tight, underrated Turntable Scientist EP in 1993 with an MC named Flipsyde. Well, now that EP is back in 2010, repressed on Dope Folks Records with three never-before-released extra songs from that same era!

The title of this EP comes from "Turntable Scientist," the CD-only bonus track on The Bizzie Boyz' album, Droppin' It, which was a killer DJ scratch track, showcasing Mixmasta's skills, bringing in a ton of fresh cuts and samples. Bizzie Boyz had a penchant for releasing house tracks, cheesy lonve songs, etc. but when they were on point, they were an example of some of the best hip-hop had to offer. And "Turntable Scientist" was certainly an example of the Boyz' top shelf material.

What's interesting about this is how... like Ski evolved into the Original Flavor crew, who had a pretty unique sound in '93... This EP has almost the same sound. Flipsyde would fit right in on Original Flavor's second album with his swift, tongue-rolling styles here. But where Beyond Flavor started to drag a bit after you got past the terrific single, this EP holds up all the way through... I think it's just a question of more consistent, and perhaps less commercial, production. Had the instrumental for "Lyve," for example, been used on OF's album - with it's funky, buzzing bassline, high-pitched screeching loop and great Onyx vocal sample for a hook - they would've definitely released it as a single. And "Strate Phrum da Krates part II" (what I want to know is: where was part 1 released??) is a massive collection of ever-changing samples and loops combined into one, constantly changing song.

So yeah, this has all four songs from the original, rare '93 EP (and they've remastered them), plus the "Shoutouts," which is set to a def, jazzy beat, so it's worth preserving. The only think they left off is the instrumentals (gotta track down the OG for those. But the price we pay for those instrumentals is, as I said above, three previously unreleased tracks. Can't argue with that!

"Da Weekend" sounds a little older, almost more of a classic Bizzie Boyz'-style song, as opposed to Original Flavor-style. "Scooby Dooby Wah Wah Wah" features a smooth but fun, old school jazz kind of groove with lots of vibes and stuff. Very 90's. And finally there's "Do Whatcha Do Best," which basically takes "Turntable Scientist" from Droppin' It, and turns it into a hype vocal track. This is probably the sickest track on the EP!

So, yes, this is limited. Dope Folks only pressed up 300 copies, but it's fairly reasonably priced at $20 and still available from the label. If you're interested, you can get at them via their blog, I have a feeling a lot of heads are sleeping on this one, but they're gonna regret it!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Laugh Tracks On Rap Songs

I was just listening to 7L & Esoteric's latest mp3 "leak" that flips "Drag Rap" (I forget what it's called already, sorry), and I was immediately annoyed by a stupid gimmick. Now, it's a contemporary trend in hip-hop, so it would really be wrong of me to single out 7L & Esoteric for doing what bajillions of battle rappers have been doing to their singles for years. I guess it just annoyed me a bit more because I was hearing an artist I like and respect doing it, as opposed to just hearing it on some generic Copywrite song. Anyway, the gimmick I'm talking about is adding a laugh track to your rap song.

Just like in awful sitcoms from the 70s and 80s, rappers are adding cheesy, canned laughter to their songs, presumably by their producer, DJ, hype man or weed carrier who's ostensibly, for some reason or other, standing in the vocal booth alongside the MC. Every time the MC drops a lazy, generic pop culture reference super-sick, killer punchline, the other guy emits a loud, "Ha ha!" "Wooo!" or "Damn!" I mean, really... if you need to tell the listener that your last lyric was supposed to be witty, your punchlines ain't killin' 'em, dun.

I have a theory about this. I think the trend came out of the late 90's proliferation of radio freestyles. With the release of the many volumes of Wake Up Show Freestyle LPs, combined with taped radio freestyles being dispersed and collected in mp3-form over the internet, these freestyles sometimes became more enjoyed and respected than the artists' actual songs ("Nas's verse on that record is alright, but he kicked it better in rare this Stretch & Bob session over the 'Tried By 12' beat, check it!"). And on almost all those recordings, you'd hear the shows' hosts laughing along and amiably applauding and encouraging the MC, clapping, cackling, and falling out of their chairs if the artist said something critical about a hacky celebrity.

But whatever natural, off-the-cuff charm those recordings had is completely lost when you're clearly deliberately editing it into your song in a sad, self-serving attempt to sell us on how funny you are. I mean, it's bad enough when mixtape DJs edit in their own corny voices over the songs they play, we don't need you doing it for them in advance.

Even the actual sitcoms have learned to stop prodding their audiences when to laugh: look at The Office, 3rd Rock, Sports Night, The Simpsons, etc. They've hung it up and respect their audiences at least to be competent to recognize what's funny. Songwriters, seriously, don't allow yourselves to be outclassed by My Name Is Earl. Leave the canned laughter on the dusty shelf where it belongs.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grandgood Caz

Before Grandgood was one of tour leading hip-hop newsfeeds it's become today, they were putting out music on vinyl. And this is their debut release*: a 7" record, recorded in 2003 and released in 2004, by DJ Signify and Grandmaster Caz. That's a heck of a combination right there, so let's repeat it: that's DJ Signify of one of the greatest underground contemporary turntablist crews, the 12oo Hobos, and Grandmaster Caz, the old school master MC from the legendary Cold Crush Brothers.

And if Signify and Caz aren't enough star power for ya, just get a load of the credits: It features a spoken interlude by Waterbed Kev of The Fantastic Five, it's co-mixed and arranged (with Signify, of course) by Stenski and was mastered by SixToo of The Sebutones! That's a pretty damn auspicious (and ambitious) line-up for a debut single from an indie company.

There's no title, but it's just the one song (with the instrumental on the flip), with some almost dark, ominous samples over a funky old school-style congo drum break beat. The hook sings the praises of the four elements of hip-hop: "B-boys make some noise, and all the graf heads, let's tag it up. DJs get busy on the 1s and 2s, and MCs just do your stuff!" And Caz kicks two verses sharing his history:

"I was one of the first DJs to put in work,
After seeing Clark Kent, Coke la Rock and Herc.
I kept the name Casanova, before it was Caz,
And tried to battle Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash.
Me and Disco Wiz, my partner in crime;
He used to cut up the breaks, I used to mix and rhyme;
I used to practice 'till my cuts were right on time.
Then Theodore started scratchin'; that's when I said I'm
Gonna take it to another level. And I did, B:
First cat to cut and rhyme simultaneously!"

Then, just when you think the song's nearing its end, Kev gets on the mic and demands we give them some of that "old to the new school shit." The beat changes, kicking in some banging hard drums and DJ Signify provides a sick scratch interlude (you knew we had to get one of those at some point, right?). Then Caz comes back, kicking a high energy, hardcore verse (pretty much every line ends with "nigga" for one thing). And it ends with one more scratch session. Neither half of the song has that light, bounce, rock style to grab the casual, bouncy fans, and the last verse certainly wasn't opening any doors to radio play; this is strictly for the heads.

And it was marketed strictly for the heads, too - limited to 1000 copies (which was considered a little more "limited" back then), vinyl only. It came in a cool picture cover (above), and is relatively easy and inexpensive to find used today if you dig around a bit. Or, if you're not a vinyl head (what're you doing here, sir?), you can cop it digitally from Grandgood for just $2 ($1 if you don't care about the instrumental) here.

*More or less... apparently there was a DJ Signify mix-CD called Teach the Children released before this, if you count that. But this is catalog number GG 001. ;)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Come On, Motherfucker!

After The Notorious B.I.G.'s shocking death, a lot of projects were released, including everything from incomplete songs, shelved material, hordes of remixes and rejiggings of his old acapellas and even freestyles. One of the biggest of those releases was the Born Again album, released by Bad Boy Records in 1999. That it's a sub-par album goes without saying, but considering we were never going to get any new Biggie material, fans were happy to get what they could. It was consisted of scraps and bits of Biggie material mixed with new producers and guest MCs, meant to give us the sense that Biggie was... wait for it... born again.

One of the songs on that album was "Come On," featuring Sadat X. The rhymes were tight and not material we'd heard before. In fact, the boldly delivered line, "release the brainstorm to make your motherfuckin' brain warm," has even managed to enter the lexicon of unforgettable Biggie quotes, It's just too bad the production, by the certainly not untalented DJ Clark Kent, kinda sucked. I mean... it's okay; but it's definitely a case of the beat not living up to the MCs rhyming over it.

Now flash forward years later. In interviews like this one with UrbanSmarts, Lord Finesse lets the world know, "I did another joint for him that never came out, with him and Sadat X. It's called 'Come On Motherfuckers.' That was dope too, that was real dope."When asked if that would ever come out he simply replied, "I don't know. I got a copy."

Well, come to find out, "Come On Motherfuckers" was the same song as "Come On" off Born Again, but (like everything else on that album), remixed. In an article for The Fader, Sadat X tells us all about it: "Clark Kent did the remix to [the Notorious BIG collaboration] “Come On”, but the original was done by Lord Finesse. I had met Biggie prior to that. One day Bad Boy called me to come on in. Puff was there and it was me and Big—we had a box of Phillies, we just brainstormed and we did it. I found out it wasn’t going to be on the album when [Ready To Die] came out. It was probably out of Biggie’s control, so I wasn’t mad. It did make it to a couple mixtapes, it did get around the underground. They called and told me they were going to put it out [Clark Kent’s version] on [the posthumous] Born Again. I like the original beat, but I was in no position to contest. That was the one song on the album that was actually done with Biggie, most of them were recorded by other people later." So "Come On" was always intended for Ready To Die, and featured a beat that everybody seemed to prefer way more than the subsequent remix? This needed to drop!

Well, a Japanese label called Soundtable, named after the record store it was born out of, came to the rescue in 2008. They actually released it twice: they included it on the first volume of their limited (300 copies) Lord Finesse's Rare Selections series of vinyl EPs [update: according to DJ Mike Nice in the comments, this version is actually different; a first take]; and even better, they released it as its own 12" single, which included the instrumental and acapella! That's the release with the sticker cover shown above, and if it wasn't already obvious, that's the ideal way to have this track.

And the best news is that Finesse and Sadat were right: this track is better. Way better. Like, blow-the-Born-Again-version-completely-out-of-the-water, and-some-of-the-best-work-all-parties-have-ever-done better! This is classic DITC production at its finest; on the one hand jazzy and vintage-sounding, and on the other, ominous and hardcore. The bulk of the instrumental was recycled for Big L's "Da Graveyard," but I daresay it sounds even better here. The fact that this version was shelved is indicative of everything that was wack about Bad Boy. This easily would've been one of the best tracks even on Ready To Die.

Like the Finesse EP, this was also limited to 300 copies. So, expect to pay a bit for this one... There is also a European bootleg of this, which is super easy to tell apart from the legit 12" - it's just printed on a generic white label, in a plain sleeve, and the A-side apparently plays at 45rpm. I haven't heard it, so I can't vouch for the sound quality being the same; and, nowadays, the bootleg is rare enough that you'd probably wouldn't save any money getting that version anyway. So I'd hold out for the OG unless I found a really good deal on the boot. In either case, though, it's definitely worth the trouble of finding for your crates.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Original Beat Diggin' Doc

I'm trying to get a little deeper with my hip-hop documentary coverage on here lately, if you haven't noticed. And you really can't keep covering these - especially on a site like this one with so much emphasis on underground and vinyl - without talking about the original Beat Diggin' documentary, pretty much the first ever documentary film on the art of diggin' in the crates, at least from a hip-hop perspective. There've been several since, but this is the first.

Directed by Jesper Jensen, this first hit the internet about 10 years ago. And unfortunately, to this day, this remains unavailable on DVD. Part of the reason for that is surely that it's a short film, only thirty minutes long. Finding distribution for a short film is next to impossible. But, fortunately for us, it is literally all over the internet. Just do a search for "beat diggin" and you'll find it on Youtube, Google Video, Vimeo, and a billion video hosting sites you've never even heard of. So I'm gonna go out on a limb and say don't feel guilty for streaming or downloading this one; there is no purchasable option.

The documentary is pretty straight-forward... it interviews a bunch of New York's most respected crate-digging producers, including Diamond D, Showbiz, Da Beatminerz and Godfather Don. We see them in the studio and out at record stores, talking us through their purchases. We talk to record store owners and even see some live performance footage by Common and Mos Def (which sorta doesn't quite fit in, but what the heck). For only being thirty minutes, it gets pretty in-depth... Diamond talks about how producers no longer loop drums, "everything's more programmable now," and that breaks are now all about grooves. Godfather Don talks about how to create new drum beats by using pieces of different familiar break beats, and also why perhaps you shouldn't do that. I'm not gonna spoil everything, though; just go watch it.

Since 2001, Jensen's has gone on to produce some other indie hip-hop docs for his production company, Busybody Films, including Tape Masters, Who's Next?, and his latest, Beats, Rhymes and Videotape. You can read up on all those on Jensen's myspace, here, and check out clips and trailers on his Youtube channel, here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Bronx & Queens Unite On Freestyle Records

Da Gritty & da Grimey EP by Branesparker and Nut-Rageous is limited, but it's been released in a much larger run than the Freestyle Professors 7" I just reviewed yesterday - 750 copies, as opposed to 200. 750's probably a lot for an independent artist these days (which is a sad commentary on the state of things), so the pressure to act quickly on this EP isn't as strong. But it's no less dope for that fact.

This EP's entirely produced by Branesparker, and he and Nutso share lead vocal responsibilities, though Professors' extended family member Giff and Stanley Grimes each put in an appearance here. Grimes has also done an appearance or two with Lord Finesse, which follows since thhe FPs are essentially DITC associated artists...

In fact, here's the thing that's so good about the FPs in general and this EP in particular. While the artists of DITC have struggled to maintain the quality the quality they first brought to the table in spades (seriously, I'm nto sayi8ng they're all crap now or anything, but like OC or Diamond D's Huge Heffner Chronicles anyone? And let's not even think about Fat Joe), it's like the FPs were kept locked in a time capsule since their original EP in 1994. So their new music is following right where they left off fifteen years ago, uninfluenced by all the trends and crappy newer artists who've influenced the rest of the crew for the worse. ...Not that every song here is 100% on par with Runaway Slave or the very best DITC ever did; it's just this particular affiliate group has apparently been preserved and spared from the otherwise seemingly inevitable decline all their other satellite groups faced. I love it. =)

This EP has some nice, surprisingly upbeat moments. For example, "Haze" sounds like it uses the same break and bassline from Sir Menelik's underrated "Physical Jewels," but marries it with a cheery, old school vocal sample. Several of these songs, in fact the overall feel of this EP, come off as more light and feel-good than you'd think, considering the title of this EP. But that's okay, because it's good; and "good" trumps any expectation of style or theme.

Overall, you get six songs, plus two instrumentals in a sticker cover (shown). And despite being limited, it's only beiong sold for $18, which is pretty much the price of a standard new release. I mean, maybe it's a dollar or two more expensive, considering it's an EP rather than an LP; but we'd really splitting hairs at that point. Between the two, I have to say I slightly prefer the Freestyle Professors 7" over this one, but this one gets props for breaking formula a little (successfully); and I can't really say a bad word about either of them.

You can check out the video they shot for one of the EP tracks, "It's a Shame," here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The New, Raw Gospel

The Freestyle Professors are back! Not that they ever went anyplace. Well... I mean, of course they did. After 1994. All the way up until their comeback in 2006 they were away. That's a long time. But... since then, they haven't gone anyplace. They've stayed busy, putting in work releasing a grip of great vintage and new material on Freestyle Records. And this is their latest single, which just arrived this weekend.

This latest single, "Ghetto Gospel," was originally intended to be a B-side bonus to a Gryme Tyme single, but it never wound up happening. So they've rescued it from oblivion and released it as its own single on 7". And I'm glad they did, 'cause it's one of their better tracks, even by the Professors' high standards.

The production's pretty simple... a sick percussion sample and some gritty bass that reminds me of vintage Hobo Junction. It's raw. And lyrically, The Professors come just as raw.

"Who the fuck am I?
The voice to fill the void.
Since Griff and Chuck split,
The movement's been destroyed.
Now niggas sell they soul
To the devil for a dollar.
A million kids follow
These faggots with the power,
Who have an impact
On the youth of tomorrow."

It's a "kicking knowledge"-type of song, but definitely on the edgier hardcore tip. Besides the rhymes, the vocal samples played on the hook will make sure this song will never get radio airplay in a million years. Good shit.

Then the B-side is "Stanley Grimes" by... Stanley Grimes. Who's Stanley Grimes? He's a.k.a. Page the Hand Grenade, kind of one of the Freestyle Professors' extended family, and has been on a couple of their projects over the years. This song, like the A-side, is produced by Freestyle Professors member Branesparker. The beat's another banger, and Grimes has more of a light-hearted, witty delivery than the grimier style the Professors kick on the A-side - in fact, he reminds me a lot of Mr. Voodoo - and he comes nice over this track. This song has been included as an introduction to his debut EP, which Freestyle Records is set to drop in 2011.

This 7" is limited to 200 copies, so if you're interested, you might wanna act quickly. It's selling for $20, but those of us who pre-ordered got it for just $5 in a package deal with Branesparker's new EP with Nut-Rageous that's just been released at the same time. What's that? A Branesparker/Nut-Rageous collaborative EP? Yup! It's too much to get into now, though, so look out for tomorrow's update; I'll have a complete write-up. =)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Once Again Back Is the Invincible

Invincible stays putting in work, and putting out vinyl in 2010. Her latest single, "Detroit Summer" with producer Waajeed, just arrived at my door today. It's a 7" single that's available through her own label/site

"Detroit Summer" is a sequel to "Detroit Winter" from Waajeed's production duo The Platinum Pied Pipers' album Triple P, which she featured on - as the chorus goes, "summer in the city, wonder how he made it through the winter." Both songs are time capsules, describing the experience of life in Detroit, scenically and introspectively.

A taste from "Detroit Winter:"

"Ruins of a metropolis not a populous shrinkin',
Inkin' deals to build as if the town's vacant.
Every empty lot remainin' a profound statement;
Every empty bottle claimin' all the drowned pain and sorrow."

But while "Summer" is still set in the bleakest of landscapes, it has more of an eye towards a productive future:

"Politicians make a fortune by thievin';
The air quality since the Model T could shorten ya breathin'.
Follow me to a city where empty lots turn to garden plots,
Got alternatives in place so we can disregard the cops."

Like its predecessor, the music of "Detroit Summer" does an effective job of evoking the season. Where "Winter" had darker beats and a somber tone, this one is livelier, brighter and features more change-ups throughout. On a more superficial level, "Summer" - with its sampled (I assume) children singing in the background and strident piano in the fore - is also just plain catchier, and something you'd probably be more inclined to turn to when you're just in the mood for some casual listening.

The B-side is "Emergence," a straight-up anthem for its label. With huge, old school drums and rockin' electric guitar riffs, sonically it comes off as an underground "Eye Of the Tiger" and vocally, it's a manifesto. "The type of feeling you can't codify, won't turn into a franchise, gotta customize and localize, deepenin' relationships, buildin' from the bottom -up."

So, it's a little disappointing this is just a 7", as opposed to a nice big ol' 12" full of bonus beats and remixes and stuff. But for a 7", you're probably not gonna find one presented better than this. It comes in a nice color-stamped picture sleeve (above), with a fun little manila envelope full of stickers, and best of all: a download card! I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is the way all vinyl releases should be packaged today, but unfortunately only a handful of labels have gotten around to picking up on this. Even cooler, in addition to the two songs, you're also able to download both instrumentals that didn't fit on the 7".

It's limited to 1000 copies, but let's face it - that's a full run in 2010. And it's not over-priced like those collectors' item limiteds; just a cool $5. There's not too many labels that consistently handle every single aspect of their releases right, but Emergence is one of them. And musically, Invincible and Waajeed are some of the best doing it today. So support; it's a great deal.

P.s. - you can check out the video, which blends the A- and B-side songs together, here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who Needs Premier Anyway?

It's easy, and not entirely unwarranted, to put this 12" down for what it's not. One thing it's not, for instance, is produced at all by DJ Premier. Of course, a lot of 12"s aren't produced by DJ Premiere. But the difference is, when this particular 12" was first announced, they said it would be.

See, this is one of the earlier examples of the recent "limited" game... a 12" of "Wut's Poppin'" by Nut-Rageous on Poor Pocket Music that dropped in 2008. The song is taken off of one of Nut's CDs (Raw Nuts), but the big selling point of this limited (to 200 copies) 12" was the new DJ Premier remix, with an additional verse by Blaq Poet of Screwball, signed by Nutso and pressed on red vinyl. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Well, unfortunately, it was later announced that, "Also as for the Wat's Poppin 12" Dj Premier & Blaq Poet love the original so much!! that they wanna leave it the same except for the added Blaq Poet verse and Premier on the intro introducing the record." So, no more DJ Premier track; now he's just going to introduce an alternate version of the original track with the Blaq Poet verse. That's disappointing. - BUT!! - But, to make up for that, The Mighty V.I.C. of The Beatnuts will instead be providing a new remix. So... a let down for Premier enthusiasts, but still a pretty compelling 12". And hey, even though there's no Premo remix, "Primo will be recording blaq Poet vocals and doing an intro talking in the begining of the record as well." So that's pretty sweet. So orders were taken at $30, which at least compared to the other early limiteds by DWG and Freestyle Records, was pretty reasonable.

Except, uh... well, to cut right to the chase: the 12" doesn't have a version with an additional Blaq Poet verse. It doesn't have Premier introducing the track. It doesn't have a Mighty V.I.C. remix. It's not pressed on red vinyl. And a lot of the copies weren't signed. Oh, and also more than 200 copies wound up being pressed, so it wasn't as limited as they claimed. So yeah. Some people were understandably disappointed.

Okay, we just bagged on this 12" because it had it coming, and I think we can all sympathize with people who pre-ordered a 12" with a whole set of unmet expectations. - BUT!! - But, now that we've finished doing that, let's talk about what a dope 12" it is and why it should be in everybody's collection!

"Wut's Poppin'" is a pretty nice, mellow track (produced by Ron Mills) featuring KL (RIP) of Screwball. It's a cool, steady head-nodder with a surprisingly broad appeal. This definitely has that radio summer jam vibe, but the MCs (especially KL) keep a nice street edge to it that you won't find on most other summer joints. KL and Nut have a nice chemistry together, and KL's slightly scratchy voice sounds especially cool over the track. It comes in Main, Clean, Instrumental and Acapella versions.

Then, you've got an exclusive B-side, "Nuts & Screws" on the B-side. As the title suggests, this is another Nut-Rageous and Screwball collaboration, this time featuring Blaq Poet and KL. Where the last track was smooth, this one's a banger, with old school blaxploitation style samples, Premier-style scratching for the hook and harder drums. This could easily fit in on a Screwball 'Greatest Hits' collection... which, if you're familiar with their full catalog, is really saying something. It's produced by 12 Finger Dan, but if you told me it was by Alchemist, I'd not only believe it, I'd say it was one of his strongest tracks. This track also comes with Instrumental (yay!) and Acapella versions.

Then, finally, we do get a "Wut's Poppin'" remix. It's not by Premier, V.I.C. or anybody else I've ever heard of, though. It's by DJ Brans France. Or maybe his name is DJ Brans and he's from France; the credits on the back cover are a little confusing. But, anyway, it's pretty nice. It switches up the atmosphere to a faster, harder track driven by pounding piano notes; the kind of beat you'd expect Kool G Rap to spit on. It's surprisingly effective in giving the song a whole new feel without falling to pieces like most remixes that get that ambitious tend to do.

So, if you can get over the fact that this isn't the killer 12" you were expecting (and maybe you were taken for a bit of a ride by the label); I think you'll find it's still pretty damn nice and definitely worth a spot in your crates. And since this was later sold at a standard 12" price - that is to say, about $6, as opposed to the original $30 people who got in early paid (ouch again!) - you should still find this one nice and affordable. Plus, as you see, it comes in a cool picture cover, and apparently some of the proceeds went to help KL's family, which takes a little bit of the sting out of the whole debacle.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Battle Rhymes Unearthed

If hip-hop had a preservation society (and it should), this is the kind of release they could bring us: LIB003 1/2. This is the third and apparently final release from Solid 'N' Mind, who you may remember I covered last year with their limited "Centre Stage" 12". That one was a limited release of two of their unreleased tracks from 1991. We thought that was going to be their last release at the time, since that 12" included both of their only unreleased recordings. But a recent find has given us one last entry into their saga.

Whirlwind D, the MC of the duo, recently discovered an old tape of an instrumental their DJ/producer, Johnny F, created for another song they often performed but never recorded, along with a scrap of paper containing all the lyrics. So, all these years later, they finally constructed the song from its long-lost elements and just dropped their "Battle Tipped Rhyme" 12", of course once again on their Liberty Grooves label.

"Battle Tipped Rhyme" has the same quality I raved about on their last release: a mix of originality and the tried and true, by brilliantly combining several known break-beats and samples but turning them into something new, fresh and exciting. As the title suggests, this is a fast-paced battle rap (just like we like 'em), taking the killer drums and rolling bassline from Joeski Love's "Rock Wit Joeski." Well, that's where I recognize it from, anyway. What, you didn't know Joeski had some nice material in his catalog? Quick stabs of the horns used in Phase & Rhythm's "Hyperactive" and then another familiar horn sample (I think the ones Kool Moe Dee used on "Death Blow?") but sped up to almost double time. Anyway, all that plus some furious scratching on the hook makes for a hype, kinetic 90's battle record:

"Chained to the wall as you ponder your fate;
Step to the mic, you're lost in the quake.
Buildings crash and ground swallows whole;
Thought you were ready but D's on a roll.
Johnny F cuts with blaze of fury;
Your fate is sealed by the glare of the jewelery.
Uzis, AKs, what shall I choose?
Maybe just a rhyme that's guaranteed to bruise."

So of course, this 12" contains just the one song. But it comes fully loaded with the Vocal, Instrumental and Acapella versions. As an added bonus, they even include the OG, un-remastered instrumental from that original tape. This 12" is limited to 250 hand-numbered copies, and as you can see in the photo above, comes in a cool picture cover, along with a glossy 12" insert on the history of the Liberty Grooves label, and a press sheet. Pre-orders of this sold out just a couple of days after they were announced, but apparently a few copies will be available at vinylism and one or two other places. So you may need to do a little hunting, but if you're a fan of UK hip-hop at all, it's well worth it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

'Cause We Comin' From Queens and Gets Down

Today's entry isn't an InstaRapFlix entry, 'cause this movie isn't available on Netflix, for stream or otherwise. In fact, the DVD never saw a proper release in the US. But where does all the good US hip-hop go when you it doesn't even come out in the US? You guess it - Japan! Tragedy: The Story of Queensbridge has a proper DVD release out there and can be easily secured by any fan able to negotiate 8)

This is a great, raw documentary of Tragedy and the whole QB scene. There's long and deep interviews with Tragedy, much of which were filmed while he's in prison. There are also interviews with practically everybody relevant in the QB scene: Havoc, Capone, Marley Marl, Blaq Poet, Killa Sha (RIP), NORE, plus a lot of the lesser known heads as well. Trag's step-parents are given a lot of time, too; and this was clearly shot over a lot of time and locations, giving us a tour of all QB and some great, candid moments that unfold in front of the camera. At 74 minutes, it's a little short (a little more time spent on The Super Kids records, his time at A&M and some other periods would have been nice), but it does keep things moving at a brisk, content-packed pace. The scene is really laid bare with one open, honest and often gun-toting moment after another.

There are a few flaws... the narration is melodramatic and corny. But thankfully, that's relegated to the slightly embarrassing precredits sequence and the conclusion; so the bulk of the film is narration-free. And the other issue is the cheesy reenactments. Having Trag's voice laid over some real childhood photos would have been a lot more effective than some questionable actors playing his heroin-shooting mother and childhood friends. But fortunately, those are kept to very short clips (the filmmakers must've seen how dubious these were in the editing stage)... but again, a few, real photos would have gone a long way.

But really, these complaints are small compared to everything that's good about this film. This is a must-see for fans of Trag and the Queensbridge scene, and a worthwhile watch even for those who aren't. The DVD has some nice but brief extras, including an excellent segment on Trag's best friend and inspiration, Killa Black (RIP), a great interview Trag on the making of "T.O.N.Y.," an amusing segment on the origin of the term "dunn," plus music videos for "LA, LA" and "T.O.N.Y." So if you want something a little more legit (and better, what with the extras) than a stream or torrent to watch, know that there is a proper DVD option. And, yes, the Japanese subtitles are optional (removable). :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

InstaRapFlix #28: Pick Up the Mic: The Evolution of Homohop

It's been a while since I've done an InstaRapFlix (since April, in fact); and since I have a lofty goal of building a database that refers, like, every obscure "random" hip-hop doc ever, I'd really better get on the ball. So here I am; and this one seems interesting: Pick Up the Mic: The Evolution of Homohop (Netflix rating: 3 stars). I mean, I'm disappointed that "Homohop" is even a word, let alone one somebody took seriously enough to use for the title of their DVD, but still... the premise seems interesting. And like the Nerdcore documentary I did before (which really turned out to be a glorified tour DVD for one guy), it's fun to learn about hip-hop scenes I really know next to nothing about.

So it's a full-length doc (regular readers will know a lot of these turn out to be ridiculously short) and opens up with a live performance of a song called "No Fags Allowed." Then we cut to rapper Deadlee, who wrote and performed that stage, explaining that he wrote that song - to I guess show that they're not offended by comments like "no fags allowed" because they'll proudly say it themselves. Or something. His logic didn't really seem that clear. But anyway, if you're thinking, "I've never heard of Deadlee," then you've already found the film's weak point. It's full of rappers who you've never heard of (and most of whom, frankly, you wouldn't be adding their records to your crates even if they had one). There ARE known homosexual rappers out there, like Afrika from the Jungle Brothers, Invincible, Madee... not to mention all of the rappers who are rumored to be or presumed to be gay, like Queen Latifah or Erick Sermon*. It would've been great, but you won't hear from any of them in this doc.

The other flaw is that, because it's so PC, half the things they say wind up being so obvious, you know what you're going to hear long before it comes out of their mouths. "Hip-hop wasn't made to exclude anyone," "we're here to challenge stereotypes," "sexual preference doesn't have anything to do with skills," etc. Surely you knew you'd be hearing all these sentiments as soon as you saw the title of the film... so spending the next forty minutes hearing them paraded out before you one by one just feels redundant and boring. And, perhaps more to the point, it's a big circle jerk. It's a group of 10 or 15 rappers you've never heard of - this doc happily plops down and spends all its focus on just a small scene based in San Francisco - all saying how great each other are.

But getting past the negatives, there are good aspects, too. One thing, because this is full-length and not padded with music video clips and other junk like so many hip-hop docs are; you get actually spend enough time with the subjects to delve into subjects and who they are. I'd certainly never heard of Tim'M before, but he gets a lot of time to talk, and the crew travels around with him, to the point where you actually feel like they're building. And if you ARE a fan of the artists presented here, you get to hear a lot from them so you won't feel ripped off (as opposed to Slip 'N' Slide docs I was covering, where artists dropped one sentence sound-bites saying nothing and were never heard from again). Several of the segments even include interviews with the artists' parents.

Towards the end, it finally breaks out of that San Francisco scene, and gets into an interesting look at gay hip-hop websites and all. So it basically starts out as a pretty bland, tiresome puff piece, but slowly builds into an interesting documentary. At the last 5 or so minutes, it gets into a pretty interesting talk on "homohop" penetrating the mainstream; just too bad it took so long to get there. So, it's not a great film; Errol Morris isn't gonna have to find a new line of work... but it's worth watching once, especially since it can be streamed for free on Netflix.

* Ok, that Erick Sermon rumor is old... but it would've been fun to just see an exasperated Erick grabbing the camera and exclaiming, "for the last time: I am NOT gay," right? lol