Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

...And One

...One and One returned in 1997 with their second single, "My Soul" on Next Plateau.  It's another quality cut with an essence that's pure, vintage 90's.  It's a little slower, more of a smooth song than the rugged, energetic "Phenomenon," which for me makes it less compelling.  But I suppose your mileage will vary there, depending on your personal tastes - if you're the type that's always seeking out those Midnight Marauders/ The Roots-type cuts, this may be more up your alley.  But, whichever side of that fence you fall on, it's still a quality, respectable song.  They flip another great sample ("Tell Me This Is a Dream" by The Delfonics), which has been jacked by a couple other artists since, but it sounds great here.

And unlike their previous single, this one makes with the remixes.  First up is the Soul Mix, which isn't bad either.  It's got some heavy bass notes and a cool, mellow vibe.  The downside is that it all sounds a little too studio-crafted... which is to say that the music all sounds like it was programmed and created with studio equipment, as opposed to rich samples (or live instrumentation, of course).  So, it's okay... sort of like the 12" single version of album filler, but for the most part, you're going to want to stick with the original.

That's followed up by The Boogie Mix, which embellishes the R&B... all the versions have a little uncredited singing on the hook; but on this mix, she croons constantly in the background, it's more pronounced on the hook.  The music is more traditionally "R&B"ish, too, with sparse piano notes and another soft keyboard loop.  The whole venture just has more of an early Video Soul groove.

Flip it over and you've got Instrumentals for the Album and Soul Mixes; and, better still, you get a B-side song called ""Didn't I."  This is a pretty cool and harder track.  It's built around another Delfonics tune, this time (obviously) "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)."  They even have a girl singing a variation of their chorus for the hook.  It's not quite as good as there other two songs, but still nice.  Unfortunately, even though the label says "Album Version," this is clearly a censored Radio Edit with reversed curses.  And this song features a lot of cursing, so it really sucks that this is the only way to hear it.

Unfortunately, this was the last One and One record; they never released a full-length, which is a big disappointment.  Interestingly, though, they did reunite in 2002 to contribute a couple of tracks to the rather odd-ball Legends of Hip-Hop compilation, released by Absolut vodka, which I reviewed this time last year.

I wonder if there's an unreleased One and One album in somebody's vaults, somewhere.  The fact that Next Plateau had them for over a year (one single in '96, another in '97) and the fact that they released a Clean Version without a Dirty Version both suggest that one probably was recorded, or was at least underway.  Something seriously needs to be done about all this great hip-hop music being locked away in vaults; it's downright criminal how much the people are missing out on!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Doctor Ice has had a couple of cool careers in hip-hop: dancer for Whodini, member of UTFO, and successful solo artist signed to Jive (and later Ichiban).  But I don't think many people realize that he invented himself another time in the 90's and had another successful little hip-hop career during the "lyrical," underground, grimy  backpacker-type era.  Well, okay, maybe not successful as in huge record industry bucks.  But successful as in quality records that real heads ought to appreciate.

"Yo, kid.  let me tell you something about this business.  It's a fucked up business, you know what I'm saying?  I gotta teach you a whole lotta shit before you see what this shit is like.  It ain't nothing but some dirt, kid.  'Cause if your shit ain't phenomenal, you ain't in there.  So your shit must be phat."

That's the intro to "Phenomenon," the 1996 single by One and One on Next Plateau Records.  And One and One is Doctor Ice and his cousin, recording under the aliases Sunny Bumz and Harry Balz.  lol  I know, but try to get past the names.  See, you'd never know Doc Ice or anybody old school was remotely affiliated with this project if you didn't know going in - this is a pure 90's release, along the lines of like Black Maddness or Ill Bizkits.  It's all about rugged but clever wordplay spit over a slow boom-bap beat with seriously hard drums and under-stated samples.  Seriously, the beat's really tight.  In fact, DJ Premier later lifted it for his single "Equality" with Afu Ra; but One and One, who co-produced the track themselves with some guy(s) called Swing of Things, had it first, by about four years.   In fact, I'll go one step further and say it sounds better here.

So, Harry takes the first two verses: 

"Study long, study wrong,
You know lessons get learned in minutes.
Keep my diction - full of non-fiction,
I hate gimmicks,
executives' views on the rules
Of the game,
I'm using sense to make dollars
Real scholars bring change."

...And at first it seems like Doc's just gonna spit the hook in support of his younger cousin's street flow, but then he comes in with a sick final verse.  He comes so hard, again, you'd never thing it was an old school UTFO cat unless you recognized the voice. At the end, he even breaks into a little Brooklyn-style ragamuffin (which is actually something he's done on a few past projects).  Don't even think of it as a Doc Ice-related project, just another cool, completely overlooked "random rap" release.  Then, the fact that there's an old school legend on here is just like a little bonus.

This single just features the one mix of the one song, but it comes in the four requisite versions: Album, Radio, Instrumental and Acapella.  The one drawback is that the Acapella is actually of the Radio version, not the album version, so the curses are censored.  What's the point of that?

This is a really nice release, and like I said, it's pretty slept-on, so something you should be able to score pretty cheap.  Pretty cool, right?  But maybe now you're wondering if this is their only release, or if there's more.  Well...

Friday, September 24, 2010

MC Shan Vs. Duke Ellington

"It Don't Mean a Thing" was the lead single off of MC Shan's oft - and understandably - maligned 1990 album, Play It Again, Shan.  That album, after all, featured the split from Marley and The Juice Crew, house songs, Shan singing(!) with some very cheesy computer manipulation to his voice, love songs, a duet with his wife and kid, and even a song by a girl group that Shan wasn't even featured on!  So, it's a bit of a mess*.  It was also his most heavily promoted and probably budgeted album - probably (though admittedly, now I'm just speculating) because he took every awful executive suggestion from the label and let them have their way at every turn.  But for all its myriad faults, it's an upbeat, enjoyable mess that at least has its moments.  And for me, "It Don't Mean a Thing" is one of them.

"It Don't Mean a Thing" is a pretty undisguised rap version of the old jazz standard "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" by Duke Ellington.  "IDMaTIFAGTS" (how's that for an abbreviation?) wouldn't be such a long-lasting standard if it wasn't a pretty catchy tune, so it's a reliable musical back-drop for Shan, who self-produced this song, and the rest of the album, along with co-producer John Ficarrotta.  So it's got a nice groove with some funky go-go percussion - a curious, but successful, combination.  And Carole Davis, who had her own album out on Warner Bros. at that time, sings a nice hook.  The horns do admittedly sound like they were played on a synthesizer keyboard, and Shan's lyrics are just your typical, unexceptional dance song lyrics ("As you can see, my rhymes are swingin' it, and when the punchline comes start singin' it").  Maybe I'm just too forgiving of the old school, but I get a lot of enjoyment from this song; and the lavish, jazz-era music video released at the time sure didn't hurt.

The 12" comes with two versions, LP Version and Fade.  The only difference between the two is that the Fade mix fades out twenty seconds earlier than the LP Version.  The longer version has a few more repeats of the hook, and Shan shouts, "pump it up!" at one point, but that's about it.  As you can see, it comes in a cool picture cover depicting Shan with four hands, and it's also b/w one of the better album tracks, "I Ran the Game."  The narrative-style lyrics are a bit corny but amusing, and the music's dope and the hook is a simple but fresh vocal sample.

So it's a cool, if pop and kid-friendly single, but the contents of the 12" are a bit underwhelming.  The only thing not on the album is a version that cuts off the last twenty seconds - who the Hell wanted those Fade versions Cold Chillin' used to do, anyway?  A DJ who wanted to fade the song out 20 seconds earlier could do that on his own easily enough, or he had no business DJing.  Oh well, regardless, it feels a bit like you're being short-changed on this one.  They couldn't throw in a remix, an exclusive B-side or at least an instrumental?

That's where this promo 12" comes in.  The "It Don't Mean a Thing (Remix)."  It's the same production team of Shan and Ficarrotta, but the music is completely different.  Shan's vocals and Carole's hook are the same, but all the music is completely different.  The drums are less go-go-ish, and all the chintzy horns and stuff are gone.  Instead you've got some subtle scratching, deep bass notes, some nice jazzy samples, a tuba loop, horn stabs, and an occasional piano riff.  If that sounds like a lot of elements, it is... the song as a whole sounds a bit too busy at times, and they would have been better off ditching the sung hook and just letting the scratching speak for itself at those points.  But it's definitely more straight-up hip-hop, and certainly a better sound than most of Shan's other stuff from this era.

Casual listeners will either just want to stick with the album version or pass on this song completely, but more serious aficionados who can listen to this with a more analytical ear will probably find it at least worthwhile.  It just doesn't quite work because the music doesn't really fit these vocals.  Or maybe more to the point, it's that the vocals just don't really make sense if they're not paired with a version of Ellington's music.  In other words... wait for it...  it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.  :P

*The LP was a bit less of a mess than the CD and cassette versions, however, as it left off five of the songs: "Ain't It Good To You," "Rock Stuff," "Clap Your Hands," "Mic Line," and "How I Feel About You."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Finally, A Real Nerdcore Movie

Okay, now you might remember a time last year when I reviewed what I thought was going to be a look at hip-hop's odd-ball sub-genre, nerdcore, only to be pretty disappointed that it turned out to be essentially a tour film for one particular artist. Well after that, I became somewhat determined to see an actual, at least semi-comprehensive nerdcore documentary... and this is it. It's called Nerdcore for Life - a 2008 flick, but just released on DVD a few weeks back. And I am finally, after almost a year, satisfied.

TL;DR? It's a good movie.

I don't know how much actual nerdcore music I could vouch for, but the film? It's an enjoyable, informative and breezy experience. I say "breezy," because we don't get too close to anyone in this film. We don't follow any of the artists to their home lives, meet the people who knew them growing up or walk in on any powerful personal moments. Instead it takes a more comprehensive approach, covering pretty much all the major artists, events and issues that make up the genre. In that sense, it's a lot like the music: packed full of fun, obscure references, rather than delving into potentially affecting poetry.

This film covers how the genre formed, who the key players are, how and where it developed... it looks at key events, websites, articles, performances and even message board beefs. This is a film that knows what it's talking about and has a lot to share. Of course, how much you'll want to see this film - unless you're feeling particularly adventuresome like me - will depend on how interested you are in this nerdcore stuff.

A lot of the MCs are clearly getting by based on the novelty value of their subject matter rather than any actual MCing skills or quality of music. And it can get a little frustrating listening to these (sometimes self-proclaimed) hip-hop outsiders patting themselves on the back for starting something that hip-hop artists have already been doing since day 1. They seem pretty impressed, for example, by an early nerdcore artist who they say blew their minds by doing a rap song about Star Wars... but hey, what about the multiple tracks by guys like Phoenix Orion, Walkmen or Shamroc the Abstract Jedi who easily predate nerdcore? Of course, "Star Wars rap" is just one piece of it; but the point is, new ground isn't really being blazed anywhere here... I don't think any of these people have topped the nerdiness of Newcleus; and they're definitely not as funky. But you'd never know that if you only took these guys' word for it.

To be fair, the film does briefly address that: they mention early novelty rap songs and point out how "DJ Jazzy Jeff rapped[sic] about a lot of nerdy stuff." But that's what I mean: the movie gets it right even when the artists themselves don't. So, if you can get past the cheesy beats and sometimes pretty awful MCing (I mean, it's not all completely terrible... let's just say that the levels of talent and quality vary a lot, and none of it reaches "great"), there's a lot to take out of this movie. It was neat to actually see the real man behind MC Hawking, and surprising to come across Jesse Dangerously, an artist who I remember from the 90's but had no idea he was now explicitly a part of the nerdcore scene. There's a great bit where several of the MCs explain some of their more obscure references, and a shocking bit of back-story to YTCracker, who apparently did time in a federal prison for hacking into multiple government and military websites.

The DVD has some extras, too. You get extended footage of several performances and convention coverage that appear only as quick snippets in the documentary. You get a short but interesting look at a screening (of this film) and a performance in Amsterdam, followed by some uncomfortable after-partying. And finally you get music videos for "Buggin' Out" by MC Router and "Lolcats" by Doctor Popular.

So yeah, if you're even remotely interested in anything to do with nerdcore music, I recommend checking this movie out. It's a fun time, though you might want to just rent it or catch it when you can, since it doesn't have the emotional substance to draw you back in again and again like, say, Near Death or something. And if you're a hardcore fan of this stuff, definitely go ahead and purchase the DVD (which you can do direct from their site, nerdcoreforlife.com); you'll be pleased. Ah, who am I kidding? I'm sure those guys had this on preorder since 2009. ;)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Geto Boys' Lost Gangster of Love

(Youtube version is... coming along slowly. You can check my YT channel in the meantime, and I'll update this post tonight with the direct link. here!)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Super Bowl Meets Killer Underground Philly Rap

You've heard me sing the praises of 100X's Poison Ladd & Beats In General a couple times now.  But there's more dopeness to the crew than just those two.  Now, pretty much every release from the posse is pretty sought after, but I think this one would be a lot more sought after if heads really knew about it.

"Thug Bowl."  There's no date on the label, but we know this dropped in the late 90's on Urban Life Entertainment Music.  To describe it simply, it's a hardcore posse cut that flips The NFL's classic Super Bowl theme.  You know those "badabah, badabah, badabababahh" horns that start it off (and play on every commercial break)?  Well, they're looped over some Run DMC-style drums and bells, and  (by crew producer L.E. Square).  Rugged bass notes are repeatedly rubbed into the track and and another Super Bowl horn sample kicks in for the hook.

You've got Rob, Mal Blak, Lex Ruger and Stafa on the mic, and lyrically, they take the Super Bowl theme to the streets, too:

"The field is a block long;
And them corners is the end zone;
And the seats is the road home.

It's a six-man front,
And the only way you play
Is to give these niggas what they want!
And the ball is a brick of coke,
So don't choke;

If you fumble in the middle,
Then your body's gettin' riddled.
In this grid iron,
You're allowed to spit iron,
It's fourth and one,

Lose the ball and use a gun!"

The song has a nice free-form feel to it, with the MCs passing the mic whether or not the hook comes around.  Each MC has a distinctive voice and flow, but they all come hard and street edged enough that even though this 12" does include Clean Versions, radio DJs would cringe at the thought of playing this.

Flip it over and you've got another violent, hardcore posse cut, this time featuring Stafa, Lex and John Conner/ Stealth Music (who I've never heard of before, but hey, it's a big posse... anyway, he also produces).  This time the MCs are kicking a pretty slick stop-and-start fast rap style, like Twista or someone would spit, over a more modern sounding stutter-drum beat.  I'll be honest, I don't feel these drums nearly as much (though there's a nice congo in the mix), but the track is saved by another creative use of a TV theme song sample, this time the deep notes from the Peoples' Court theme!  In fact.... come to think of it, that congo I mentioned is lifted from the Peoples' Court, too.  I guess that was a nice little piece of music.  Well, surprisingly, it all works.

Interestingly, the label claims that the Main version of "Real Money" is a good two minutes longer than the Clean Version.  But this isn't true; both are about three and a half minutes long.

Anyway, the TV music may sound gimmicky (and it kinda was... following the fad of releases by Hi-Tek, Lord Digga, etc), but in the expert hands of 100X it all works.  These guys were some of the sickest underground Philly had to offer - recognize.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Still In EFEK (2AWK) Interview

Not too long ago, I posted an article called The Definitive 2AWK, on an underrated crew on Luke Records known as The 2AWK. But if you know me, you know that wasn't gonna be definitive enough for me... I was left with questions unanswered, dammit! Not to mention the siren call of compelling, unreleased hip-hop music is notoriously too much for me to resist. So fortunately, I was able to track down 2AWK MC EFEK, who was nice enough to grant me the following interview.

To start with, where are you from?

Well, I’m from St. Louis, the Illinois side. Actually, I grew up in a town called Lebanon, which is about thirty miles east of St. Louis.

And, growing up, was there a hip-hop scene back then?

In St. Louis, there was always a hip-hop scene… it’s kinda changed over the years. I grew up in a very integrated town… we have a large niche of culture because we have military and also there was a large black population. So hip-hop was always in the undercurrent. And that time, when I was coming into my own in St. Louis, they weren’t quite into the bass music yet. They were still more inspired by the New York hip-hop. Then later on you could see it really went more into the Southern style, that bass music type of thing, and that became the predominant type of hip-hop music. But I always aligned myself more with the east coast kind of hip-hop.

Yeah, I mean, despite being on Luke Records, you guys weren’t bass music at all as 2-AWK.

It’s pronounced like "talk." I can actually give you the whole science of how we were given that name.

Okay. You say you were "given" it; does that mean Luke Records came up with "2AWK" [which stood for 2 Average White Kids]?

Yeah, actually they did, and that was on them. Luke wanted us to be, in the record stores, next to 2 Live Crew. His whole thing was marketing, and he figured, if you’re in the record store looking for 2 Live, you’ll see, oh here’s another group on Luke Records, maybe I’ll pick ‘em up. But you were right on with your commentary; we always hated our damn name! It’s weird, because there was six of us, and one of us wasn’t even white (because Baby G is like Mexican and Korean).

[Interestingly, Luke also had a group called Two True on his Hitmen for the 90’s EP… I suppose the reasoning was the same there. He was building an army of 2’s!]

Originally, it was supposed to stand for Too Advanced With Knowledge; it wasn’t too exploitive. That’s what it was supposed to be. But the record comes out, it says, "2 Average White Kids" on there.

And was that one of you guys on the "Psychotic" cover, or just like a model…?

Yeah, I don’t know who that is; he’s not one of us. It was a complete surprise to us when the cover came out like that. Luke really wanted to push the whole white thing. In fact, if you want to point to a reason why we didn’t get support from the label after our record dropped, mainly, we didn’t sound white enough for him. Or his idea of white. We know we were what Professor Griff had in mind. "Cause you know, anytime you see that name Kavon Shah, that’s really Griff.

Oh really? I knew they were both Soul Society, but didn’t realize they were actually the same person.

Yeah, that was an alias used for certain things like publishing, writing credits and also production credits and things like that; but it‘s the same person. In fact, he was the person who came up to us about being on the label. Because after he left Public Enemy. He not only was an artist with the Last Asiatic Disciples, he was an A&R guy.

See, I’ll tell you how we came together. There was three separate entities in the group. There was the two dancers: Boardwalk and Park Place; those guys were from Louisville, Kentucky. Myself and Hype were from St. Louis, Missouri. In fact, he grew up in South City, St. Louis and I grew up on the east side. And we were put together by a guy we met at a studio; he thought we’d be a good blend. We became really good friends and performed together for a couple years before we got into The 2AWK.

And what were you guys known as?

Hype N Effect. EFEK as I became known as was basically from Effect. And that’s how we were billing ourselves, doing little shows. We’d both done things before that… I’m 43, so I got into hip-hop back in the late 70’s. My first… when I used to rap, I’d take Kurtis Blow and The Treacherous Three records - those 33 twelve-inches - and turn ‘em over to the instrumentals… Kurtis always called them the "Do It Yourself Versions." That’s how I learned to rap. ‘Cause I used to DJ and then started rapping parties. I won this contest at a skating rink, and wound up recording with this one guy. We did some real cheesy stuff with this other group of friends I had at the time. And in ‘87, I opened up for LL Cool J - that was my prize for winning this contest. And after that, this guy named came up and asked us to open for The Fat Boys, Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D & The Boyz. That was The Disorderlies tour, if you remember…?

I remember the movie and all, yeah.

Right, so I opened up two dates for them. I opened up St. Louis, and also Atlanta. The St. Louis one was at the old Keil Opera House here - that was the first really big show that I did. Everything else was just nightclubs and things like that.

And Hype was doing his own thing during that. Hype was probably the most talented of the group, because he was a really good DJ and producer. Mostly he would do the music and I would rap, but Hype’s a good vocalist. The best vocalist of us was Cold Chris, but the one that I would say was the most talented over-all was Hype.

So, what happened where we met Boardwalk and Park Place was, we were at a contest for this soul and hip-hop station here in St. Louis, in the late 80‘s/early 90‘s. And we saw these two guys who were in the contest who drove all the way from Louisville, Kentucky. And I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures, but they would take their hair and they looked like Kid ‘N’ Play. But they could dance, they really could. We were surprised. So they asked us for a demo and we said sure. Then, a few weeks after, we get a call from them saying, hey, you’re probably gonna get a call from Luke Records ‘cause we gave your demo tape to Professor Griff when he was doing a show out here.

And sure enough, next thing you know we’re being flown down to Miami. We met up with them and they gave us two other guys for the group: Chris and also our DJ Baby G. And he was the 1990 DMC champion and 3 in the world. The next year, he defended his title against Q-Bert who won the year after that. He was the US champion, so he was no joke. So we had a good bit of talent there.

Yeah, all of your songs always seemed to feature some nice scratching on them.

Yeah, you really should’ve seen us when we did the New Music Showcase up there; that was really a time when you could see more of G’s skills. He was good and just a real nice guy. He always had some good input and he and Chris were a group, they’d performed together before The 2AWK in Dallas. In fact, I’m not sure if he still does it, but I know for a while he was doing a late night hip-hop radio show in Dallas. He’s an encyclopedia of it, just like most of us are.

So that’s how we all came together. And we all stayed and recorded down there in Liberty City. They were building a new studio at the time in Miami, but we recorded at the old Liberty City place. And that’s the hood of the hood, down there. We stayed at the Howard Johnson’s in Northern Miami Beach, and every day we’d take the van - they’d give us a van - and take the van down to Liberty City. It’s the same studio 2 Live Crew were always at, Poison Clan. In fact, Poison Clan and us were always down there at the same time, and we did shows with them, ‘cause we joined Luke Records at the same time. And then there was also Jiggie Gee. And also, we used to hang out in the studio - I don’t think she ever put out anything with them, but she was down there a lot - Queen Nefertiti, Elijah Muhammad‘s granddaughter. She was down with Professor Griff, so I don’t know if she ever did anything to really be recorded, but she was in the studio a lot, learning her craft.

Did you ever record with any of the other Luke artists? Was anyone meant to be on your album, or you guys on theirs?

Well, we were meant to do a song with the Poison Clan. In fact, a couple times in the studio, we did some stuff messing around with them. There was some talk of Mr. Mixx wanting to put us together. We had this one song, that originally just Hype and I had done ourselves called "Doin’ the Nasty." You remember that old Hollywood Shuffle movie with Robert Townsend, "I like doin’ the nasty?" We did like that and it was a funky beat that Mixx laid down with it. We had dome it ourselves, but he was gonna have us record it with Poison Clan later on, but it never materialized because of everything that went down. Of all the artists, the guys we hung out with the most were Poison Clan.

Was that Poison Clan with Debonaire, or post?

No, no. That was with Debonaire. That was back when they were basically really just starting out, before they blew up. They were on the New Music circuit with us. They were alright guys.

So we got to work with Professor Griff, Hype produced a lot of our stuff, and Mr. Mixx had some cuts. He had some stuff we recorded for our album that was really good. In fact, Mr. Mixx… he was the coolest, as far as I’m concerned anyway. He had the most business sense and he just had a lot more diversity of talent to him. I think we were a good respite for Mr. Mixx, because he liked the opportunity to do something different, You know, he used to have us every Sunday We would go over and his wife Felicia would hook us up with the soul food. He was a nice guy, always treated us well and took us under his wing. Both he and Griff did, but I would say he was the one who cared more and got involved, you know?

But Luke didn’t think too much of our stuff. When it came out and he heard it, he felt it should be more of a…

Like a dance, Vanilla Ice kinda thing?

Yeah, Vanilla Ice was definitely what he wanted, ‘cause Vanilla Ice was blowing up around that time and he really wanted us to sound like that. Luke wanted pop. There was a couple things. First of all, we didn’t have the Vanilla Ice type of thing. And then also, even if we had done a little bass music, we would’ve had half a shot with him, but uh… Professor Griff, he said you guys are good and you underestimate that people will want to hear you guys rap. He was looking for something to be really huge and blow up. That’s what he was looking for, and we weren’t nasty enough or white enough for him I think at the time.

I think Griff got behind us initially because, you know Griff got kicked out of Public Enemy… and you remember Young Black Teenagers, that white group? I think we were gonna be like his competition for them. I really think that he wanted to have us like that because I guess he saw that they were pretty much legit. And thought he’d get some guys. I can tell you who he used to relate to the most of the group was Chris, Cold Chris, because he used to have him writing stuff for the Last Asiatic Disciples.

Oh, really?

Yeah. But anyway, like you say, I guess we could’ve been contenders. I noticed that thing you wrote about "Down To the Nitty," but that was supposed to be corny like that. I’ll tell you why they put out "Psychotic." "Psychotic" was one of the cuts, along with a cut called "Leviathan" and a few others that Hype and I brought down ourselves. We used to do it, and they just added a verse for Chris.

So you guys already had the beat for that? Because it’s credited to Soul Society…

Yeah, actually "Psychotic" was produced by Hype. He is responsible for "Psychotic." That’s his.

Did Griff do any of the beats?

He really more organized things. The truth is, the only one who offered beats in addition to Hype was Mr. Mixx. In hip-hop, production is kind of a messy thing, but I don’t think there’s anything that Griff ever really laid down. He might’ve been there to help and say you might wanna do this or this, but the people really responsible for what the sound was Mr. Mixx and Hype.

So, when you see his production credits on any of your stuff, the music was really by Hype?

Yeah. "Psychotic," "Vacate the Premises" and "Static" was Hype. I mean, it was a combination of all of us, and by then Baby G was more involved; but it was really Hype who put together the beats and everything. He was gifted.

We were actually together until ‘94, but we didn’t really do much after ‘92. Luke gave us our manager… they didn’t even let us have our own manager. It was really wack; there was no way they were gonna let us make any money off the whole thing,. So we didn’t really do anything after ‘92, but we were still under contract with Luke until ‘94.

Yeah, I know in ‘92, Luke put out that Hitmen for the 90’s EP. At that point, do you think he was still intending to put out your album, or…?

He seemed like he was. I think there’s a lot of things that came together. First of all, he had a lot of acts at that time. And also he had just gotten a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. That was huge for him, because he didn’t have nationwide distribution really. In fact, that’s how we got on the Hangin’ With the Homeboys soundtrack. One of the agreements was they were gonna be involved with that project, so he submitted a bunch of music and they liked ours. So he just had so much going on with all that, plus I think he just didn’t know what to do with us.

When you’re signed to Luke Records like you were, would you see Luke much? Like was he around every day, or more or less behind closed doors?

He was around. Not daily, like Griff or Mixx, but once a week or every couple weeks, plus meetings. There was a time, too, where we got in trouble at the hotel. There was an incident with a bunch of water balloons, and some old ladies got hit. We didn’t instigate it, but we were kinda caught in the middle of this party that got out of control. It almost got us kicked out of the hotel, so he dragged us all in front of them, and we blamed Luke.


But he really wasn’t that hands-on with the music. Like he hadn’t heard what we recording right away. But he was a nice guy and we talked to him, but he didn’t really understand where we were coming from.

We weren’t the best, but we weren’t the worst either. And our best stuff was never heard. There was some stuff, too, that never made the album. But it was probably better than what was on the album. And the messed up part is I wish I had more access to it, at least digitally.

Well, let me ask you: what’s the status with your album and other stuff in the vaults?

Yeah, that I don’t know. I know it was intended to be pressed, because it used to always show up in catalogs. I just don’t know why it never came out; it’s really weird. Because there really were some good cuts on there.

Was it also around the time of MC Shy-D’s lawsuit? Was that part of the problem?

That might have, because I can tell you, too, right after that, Mixx had some huge issues with Luke. And Brother Marquis, too, had issues with getting paid and things like that. I know he had burned a lot of bridges and there was a lot of problems. In fact, the fact that a lot of our stuff was produced by Mr. Mixx, and they were starting to have some issues… that might’ve had something to do with it. But I still think it was the fact that we never fell into a mold that he felt he could work with. His thing was just that he felt like there was a certain way to do things; and if there was controversy, or if it was like an all-out party song, that was his ticket. Because I remember we were up there in the hotel with him at the New Music Seminar… we had performed and gotten really good reviews, you know? He said yeah, but you guys need to get some dance music and talk about some obscene stuff. Then he started us what we had in mind, and it just wasn’t on the same page.

Also, I don’t know if you know Mad Flava…If you know Funkdoobiest, Cypress Hill, House of Pain, that whole crew was all connected. And Hype, Chris and Baby G actually were Mad Flava. There stuff was really good. I don’t know why the Mad Flava stuff never kicked off, because if you ever catch a video or anything, it was pretty tight. And if you know Sylk Smoov, Hype did all of his production for a long time.

I stepped out of it because I kind of saw the scene for what it was, and it kinda lost its appeal to me on that level. I also got to a different spiritual level and cooled my heels for a little while. I don’t know who would have copies of the DATs now. Somebody probably has tapes somewhere, but I just gave up caring a long time ago. It would be nice, but I am 43 now. It’s in the past, but it was a good time in my life. I met a lot of good artists. And just hanging out every day with Professor Griff was like really cool. In fact, I used to cut his hair for him. ‘Cause he likes scissor cuts and I used to do scissor cuts all the time. It was just a cool experience to hang out with him and see how different he is from what his persona is.

I know you’re working in a different field now, but have you ever thought about getting back into it, musically?

Yeah, for a while I actually spent some time doing some nightclub stuff with this guy, we call ourselves Face the Buddha ’cause they call me Paleface now. Anyway, he does Jamaican toasting, it’s pretty fly. And I also do some stuff with this one guy, we call ourselves Phatal Burth, just to do local some local stuff. We had some nice little cuts we could’ve done some stuff with if we wanted to. But I’ve had a family for a while now, and you know I’m a software developer. But I still play around… just the other night, actually, I was at a party where I was on the microphone with a band, freestyling. ‘Cause I still like that, and align myself with that. I still think that whole time period in the 90’s was the pinnacle of hip-hop. I still love the old school, don’t get me wrong, but I just think the late 90’s especially is when hip-hop was at its apex. I just think culturally and musically it’s just reached its summit, and I don’t know if it can ever really go back to that. I’m hoping that there’s a revolution like Chuck D always says and people get back to the roots of it.

Unfortunately, there's not much else out there on the internet about 2AWK; but one of them, Erick Cheatham (a.k.a. Boardwalk) has a Youtube channel called "erickrassle" which includes some great rare footage of the crew rehearsing and performing. So be sure and check that out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

O.C. Demos Restored and Released

"Fudge Pudge" was large in 1991. It was a crazy song with an incredible bassline, crazy freestyle rhymes and some fresh piano playing for the hook. Though not technically their first release, it was definitely most peoples' introduction to the bugged and beloved crew, Organized Konfusion. So after the single, we all rushed to the album, only to discover, "oh, that guy who kicked the illest, final verse isn't actually part of the group? Well who was he?" Of course he was O.C., and in 1994, our expectations were met and then some with his stellar debut single, "Time's Up," on Wild Pitch.

But that's a long gap between 1991 and 1994. Surely something had to've been going on behind the scenes during all that time... Surely he was must've been meeting potential producers and managers, shopping demos, and recording some pretty dope music, right? Well, of course he was! In fact, he was signed to Serch's production company along with Nas. And now, thanks to No Sleep Records, they've finally been released on wax! O-Zone Originals is a 6-song EP featuring all previously unreleased songs recorded in 1993, plus a bonus radio promo he recorded for Stretch and Bobbito, also in 1993.

So, let me start off by saying that, despite these being demo tracks, the sound quality is excellent (with one possible exception, which we'll come to). This isn't some dodgy Maxwell cassette ripped onto vinyl; these must've been mastered from the original DATs or something, because they're loud and crisp. It's limited to 200 copies, and as you can see above, comes in a nice sticker cover. Okay, now let's talk about the music!

We start out with two hot tracks produced by Buckwild: "Outsiders" and "Would You Believe?" "Would You Believe" brings a succession of hard, deep jazzy samples (and those early 90's sleighbells are in full effect!), but to be "Outsiders" is the winner. This is a pure, hardcore cut with that classic street jazz DITC are the masters of when they're at their best:

"There's a lot of real fake brothers, quick to ride us.
All they wanna do is divide us.
I'm hip to it, fella. Well, you better decide
How you're livin', or you're gonna get taken for a ride.
Yeah, it's a threat, with no guns involved.
Fellas inside of my crew will do a nice, clean job.
I can't stand snakes and connivers;
My crew consists of strivers and survivors.
As far as I'm concerned, you can terminate
Your whole damn effort. I'm on to it,
But I'm acting like I never knew it.
Like a parasite, they wanna get inside us.
Sorry, There's no room for outsiders!"

Next up is "Kick a Rhyme for the Record," produced by two guys named Mark Pearson and John Mcgann. I'm not gonna front: I have no idea who those dudes are, and that just adds to the unusual feeling here. Yeah, this one's a little unorthodox... it's got OC kicking a really dope rhyme over a cool bassline and hand-clappy beats; but it features these weird... I don't know, a keyboard set to some kind of horn setting, I guess. It's definitely unusual and I could see it ruining the song for a lot of traditionalists, but I dig it. It's fun, a little quirky, but the bass and percussion keep the proceedings from straying too far from "real."

And side A plays out with that Stretch and Bob promo, with back-up vocals by MC Serch. It's a quality rhyme, albeit purely promotional for the hosts, over a surprisingly smooth beat by DJ Eclipse. And it sounds professionally produced, not like one of those Wake Up Show on-air freestyles. But it's short and ends abruptly. Still, it's definitely a cool inclusion, and the production fits in surprisingly well with the rest of the EP.

Flipping it over to the B-side now, we get one more track by each of the previous producers: Buckwild, Eclipse and those Mark and John dudes. Actually, only Mark is credited on the label, but the promo e-mail No Sleep sent out lists both of them. Anyway, their second track is tight and more conventional than "Kick a Rhyme:" a rough bassline and a nice horn sample on the hook. These guys aren't name producers, but it's definitely up to par with everything the known producers' contributed, and better than a lot of the tracks on Word...Life.

Eclipse's second track, "That Bad Motherfucker," has a funkier vibe. It's more upbeat, but still has a nice, plodding, head-nodding tempo with lots DITC-style samples and some fresh scratching by DJ Riz. The lyrics have more of a clever, playful wordplay to them, too; more like something you'd expect from Big L than O.C.... It's kinda more what you would've expected after hearing "Fudge Pudge" than the more serious O.C. we've gotten used to.

Finally, we end with Buckwild's third effort, "Sugar," a narrative rap about a girl named Sugar. I prefer the freestyle or braggadocio rhymes to the story stuff (though this one's amusing), but the star is Buckwild's beat. It's a pretty unique track, that shifts between different sample sets, that's both peppy and grimy at the same time. Unfortunately, this is the one "possible exception" in sound quality I mentioned before. The bass is ultra-deep, and is maybe a little distorted... you do notice it when you raise the volume up. I don't know if this is a fault in the mastering here, though; or just in the original recording. I saw it mentioned on the DWG forums, and it wasn't hard for me to "find" the issue they're referring to; but I have to say, it really doesn't bother me. It all sounds pretty clean to me, even turned up loud. Maybe I've just listened to too many Hobo Junction songs where the engineers intentionally "broke" the bass, but I personally have no complaints - it doesn't break here, it just overwhelms the rest of the song more than it was probably meant to. And overall, this whole EP definitely sounds a lot nicer than your average demo pressed onto wax.

So, yeah. I can't really do this EP enough justice. It's a great release, and as a whole, maybe even better than Word... Life (though "Time's Up" is still his #1 song, of course); it's really that good. Unfortunately, at just 200 copies, it sold out in only six days of being announced (hey, don't get mad at me; I tweeted the news on day 1!). So if you didn't pre-order it, be prepared to either wait a long time for a good opportunity or pay through the nose. But don't worry, I won't end on a downer; here's something that should cheer you back up. In No Sleep's initial announcement, they ended by saying, "This release is part one of two unreleased O.C. EP." So keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

InstaRapFlix #30: P-Star Rising

P-Star Rising (Netflix rating: 3 stars) is a surprisingly good documentary. I was originally just curious to see it because the description mentioned that the documentary's focus, P-Star, was the daughter of an 80's-era "rising star in hip-hop" who had to drop out of the music industry; and I was curious who the unnamed star was. Even when I read his real name in the film's press reviews (Jesse Diaz), that didn't really help. But I did some online research and found it's Jessie Jes, who worked on the Roxanne answer record, "No More Roxanne" by Zelee, and who worked on records by artists like Debbie Deb. Anyway, my curiosity now sated, I noticed that this film had a bunch of really strongly positive reviews... so I decided to check it out.

P-Star is a 9 year-old rap star (the film calls her, in text, "the youngest female rapper ever" - but actually Raven Symoné has her well beat, releasing her first album at age 5). I mean: I've never heard of her, but this documentary presents her as being pretty hugely successful. And I don't really follow childrens' entertainment, so I'll take their word for it.

It's interesting, if unsurprising, to see how much a child star (probably most adult strs, too, for that matter)is packaged: everything from the themes of her lyrics, her look (she's on a pretty rigorous physical training regime). One of her songs is a cover of Special Ed's "I Got It Made," another is Rob Base's "It Takes Two." I'm using the word "cover" politely, 'cause I don't want to accuse a nine-year old of biting, but... the point is, they're clearly being marketed towards kids who won't recognize them as anything other than completely original lyrics.

But what makes this film so compelling isn't so much that it reveals what we pretty much already knew about pop music. It's the surprisingly personal access the family gives to the filmmakers to document their complete lives. We see more about the mother's drug use and older sister's learning disability (the latter a tragic consequence of the prior), than we see backstage or in the studio (though there's a funny see where she bitches about Remy Ma being unprofessional). It's not a glamorous biopic of another pop icon, but a thoughtful look at a family surviving off the incredibly fortunate success of their very young daughter.

It's not a perfect documentary; it's a little staged... and the rap nerd in me is incredibly disappointed they didn't use the opportunity to ask Jesse anything about his past hip-hop career - I want to hear about the making of "No More Roxanne," dammit!. But compare this to my last InstaRapFlix outing, or pretty much 99% of the other hip-hop bio docs out there, and this is a real revelation. This is actually a quality film that's worth watching, even if (like me) you don't know or care about the artist before-hand.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Disecting The Ultra Laboratory

Okay, well, if you haven't been too plugged in lately, you may not've realized that The Ultramagnetic MCs (or, more specifically, TR Love & DJ Moe Love) have released a new compilation of Ultramagnetic songs. Entitled Ultra Laboratory Stores, and credited to the Ultramagnetic Foundation, it's on CD and double LP (nice!) from a label called Black Pegasus Records, and seems to be a confusing jumble of old and new material. And that means it's time for me to throw on my lab coat and get to work.

Making our incision along the right edge of the shrink-wrap so we can access the vinyl without exposing the cover, we see that the CD and LP have the same track-listing, consisting of 22 songs. But some of those are skits. We will now inspect and analyze the inner guts (that's a technical term) track by track:

1. Intro (The Drama) - Just a useless skit.

2. Is It Them (Keith & Ced) - This is some recent-sounding Ultra material. Probably an unused track from their last album on DMAFT. It's better than a lot of the tracks that were released - it's got more of a real, sample-based production style than whatever it is they were doing on the album; but it's nothing special... a kinda cool, spacey duet between Ced & Keith.

3. Ride Wit US - Another like the last one. The beat is like an alternate chop of Gangstarr's "You Know My Steez." This definitely tops anything off of The Best Kept Secret, but the hook's kinda lame and it's of course no Critical Beatdown-level material. I like it, though. Oh, and Tim Dog's on here, too. Update 9/10/10 - it was pointed out to me that this track is also from Tim Dog's BX Warrior album, under the title "Love 4 Us." I just double-checked that, and it is indeed.

4. Cold Crush (Interlude) - A short audio clip of either Ultra performing in the Cold Crush Brothers' style, or just a short clip of the Cold Crush themselves. It doesn't last long enough for us to be able to tell.

5. Pain & Changes feat. Fred Beanz, Street Ruckus MCs - These new guys (who you'll be coming across a lot on here) aren't bad and the track's nice and street... certainly better than recent Ultramagnetic and Kool Keith releases, but that's said with the understanding that most of that material is complete junk. This isn't junk, you'll nod your head, but I have a feeling this was never recorded for an Ultra album... it's more of a debut by these guys who TR & Moe Love are working with, and they just got Ced to spit a guest verse.

6. Mind Games feat. Fred Beanz, Diabolique - Almost everything I said about track 5 applies here, but one key difference - this song was already released (on Tim Dog's BX Warrior album). Don't really know why it's here, but we'll run into more of that as we go on.

7. Make It Rain - See? I told ya. This is the song they released on Oxygen Music Works back in 2001. It isn't an alternate version or anything; it's the same song. Pfft.

8. Bronx Bombers (Interlude) - A brief instrumental skit.

9. Throw Your Hands Up feat. Fred Beanz - This Fred Beanz guy kicks the hook and the first verse, repping like he's a fully inducted member of The Ultramagnetic MCs. (shrug) Maybe he is. It's another respectable new-ish Ultra song, that sure beats anything Ultra put on their last album.

10. Mix It Down - This was the B-side to "Make It Rain," that 2001 single. Again, there's nothing new about this. But - and I just can't say this enough - it still trumps anything from Best Kept Secret.

11. Sub - The first verse by Tim Dog is kinda promising, but the hook is one of the worst I've ever heard in the genre. I assume this is another Best Kept Secret discard.

12. Plucking Cards (Unreleased Version) - The crown jewel of this album. A very cool, smooth (yet pure East coast, sample heavy)-style alternate mix of "Pluckin' Cards" off of Ultra's Funk Your Head Up album.

13. TR's Verse (Interlude) - A skit, but TR kicks a fast-rap freestyle verse, so it's far cooler than the other skits.

14. The Cipher feat. Fred Beanz, Street Ruckus MCs - This is pretty okay, too. Again, Ced and TR feel more like guests on somebody else's song than vice versa, and most of us probably wouldn't even be paying attention to this stuff if it wasn't sneakily snuck onto an Ultramagnetic album. But if you come in with the expectation of "this is just a compilation of songs by some guys TR & Moe Love are working with," you won't be mad.

15. Baby I'm Mad - This is terrible. So terrible, in fact, that I'm surprised this wasn't actually included on Best Kept Secret. Kool Keith's solo song should have been left in whatever plastic bag they found it in.

16. The Anger, The Extasy (Interlude) - Another short instrumental break.

17. Mechanizim Nice (Unreleased Version) - "Mechanism Nice (Born Twice)" was the lead single (okay, the only single) off of Ultra's last album. This version is sure better than the one they chose to release in 2007. It's still not great, but a huge improvement.

18. TR's Feelin It - This is the bonus verse TR kicked at the end of the "Feelin' It" instrumental on the "Watch Me Now" 12" on Next Plateau. Like with the "Make It Rain" single, there's nothing different or unreleased about this track except that it cuts off the first 2+ minutes of instrumental that originally lead up to TR's part.

19. My Life feat. Fred Beanz - Jeez, now they don't even bother to maintain the pretense. This song doesn't feature anybody from Ultra (not even Tim Dog); it's just a Fred Beanz solo song. It's a lot better than Keith's solo song, though. lol I'm also starting to notice the sound quality is pretty blah, like they just ripped this off his demo cassette, which is probably what they did.

20. Live & Learn feat. Fred Beanz - Another Fred Beanz solo demo song. It's pretty good, though, I have to admit. Die hard Ultra fans are probably feeling pretty ripped off at this point, though.

21. Hard To Understand - This is a cool DJ cut by DJ Moe Love. The sound quality is poor, but this instrumental mix is dope - this is exactly the kinda thing we bought this album for! Why wasn't more of the album like this?

22. Funk Radio - This is taken right off of Ultra's second album. There's no difference between this and what was on Funk Your Head Up. Always a good look to end your album on a note of definitive pointlessness.

So, what's the verdict on this one? Well, Ultra purists will be interested in this album for two songs and two songs only... kinda rough to lay down almost $20 for two songs and a lot of filler. Especially when the sound quality is uneven, and at some points downright poor. More open-minded casual fans will find more to enjoy: some good production, and a bunch of new MCs who dance dangerously close to the line of "mediocre" but consistently outshine their hosts.

What makes this release so extremely frustrating, though, is that we know for a fact that there are some great, killer Ultramagnetic classics still in their vaults (radio rips are already floating around the internet of sick, killer alternate versions of "MC Champion" and "Message From the Boss"). Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?! It's not even like they left them off to make room for shitty Best Kept Secret outtakes - they left them off for songs like "Funk Radio" that are exactly the same as the versions on the album! AARRRGGGHHHHH!!!

In an interview with Unkut (a must read if you're interested in this album), TR says they have a part two on deck (followed by a Street Ruckus MCs album), so I guess he's saving the other good tracks for that. But with so much padding on this release, I'm worried they won't see enough sales to bother with the second volume (which I'm sure has much more padding in store for us!). So I want to recommend you guys support this just for that reason, but... all I can say is those are the facts, make up your own minds. :\

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Definitive 2AWK

I think I should talk about The 2AWK (pronounced like "talk")... not because I'm a huge fan of these guys, but they were pretty good, and I don't think anybody else on the 'net's gonna tell about 'em if I don't. It's a big responsibility I carry here at this blog. lol Anyway, as you can see from the logo above, 2AWK stands for 2 Average White Kids, which is odd because there's six of 'em, including three MCs, one DJ and two dancers: Phillip "EFEK" Mueller, Christopher "Cold Chris" Parker, Erick "Hype" Krause, George "Baby-G" Garza, John "Park Place" Meeks and Erick "Boardwalk" Cheatham. They were signed to Luke Records in 1990, and while Luke didn't seem to do the careers of most of their signees any favors, I can't help but think their stupid name has to carry at least half the blame. But they received some positive attention in recent years because apparently Chuck D regards these guys pretty highly (there's a connection we'll get to later) and included one of their songs on his semi-recent Hip Hop Hall of Fame DVD.

Anyway, they recorded an album titled Konflic Uv Interest, but like a lot of albums recorded for Luke around that time (Malignant Graffiti, Malignant Graffiti, Malignant Graffiti), it was never released and remains unheard to this day. The track-listing exists, though, since this album was very close to release before being pulled:

Konflic Uv Interest:
1. 6 A. M.
2. U. S. A. (Static)
3. 2alk About Scheming
4. Hit and Run
5. 2Awk Is Cheap
6. 2Awk on the Town
7. Vacant the Premises
8. High Noon
9. Konflic UV Interest
10. Monopolistic Maneuvers
11. Lyrically Speaking
12. Face the Music
13. Down to the Nitty
14. Whitemares
15. Psychotic
(Luke Records - 1991)

So, the album didn't drop, but several songs did make it out of Luke Records alive. first we have their lead single and sole release, "Psychotic." Probably the most compelling element of 2AWK's music (at least what we've been allowed to hear of it) is their production. "Psychotic" was produced by Kavon Shah and Anthony Mills, of Professor Griff's (there's that connection I promised!) very underrated production team, The Soul Society.

Actually, before the song, we get a skit called "Whitemares," where John's parents awake from a nightmare that he'd joined a rap band only to discover that it's true. It's as corny and unnecessary as all skits, but then the song kicks in. It's a mix of several familiar breaks and horn samples, flipped in a fresh new way. They've got a DJ adding some nice scratches, and they even manage to use "Atomic Dog" on the hook without it being irritating. Lyrically, it gets pretty trite and corny (this was a group that thought it was a good idea to call themselves 2 Average White Kids, after all; and it was 1991), with lines like "dancin' like Charles Manson," but their flows are good enough to ride the hot beats. Overall, it's an okay song... and a downright dope, worth owning song if you don't scrutinize the lyrics too much.

There are no instrumentals (unfortunately!) or anything, but flip this over and you've got a B-side song entitled, "Down To the Nitty." This one's produced by Mr. Mixx, but it's nothing like your typical 2 Live Crew track. Well, lyrically it actually kinda is, 'cause it's a jokey sex rap song ("see more butts than a toilet stool; jack more ass than Francis the Talking Mule"). Unfortunately, unlike the last song, it's really hard to ignore the slow, ultra-cheesy punchline raps on this song ("women, I caught 'em swimmin' in bikinis, and they had no weenies. I don't mean to indulge but they had no bulge in the front"), which means it's not one you'll want to revisit often. And that's a shame, because the instrumental is great! It's got a slow, deep bassline, a protracted flute sample for a hook... it would've fit in perfectly on Kurious's first album (in fact, I'm sure they were trying to duplicate that casual, lyrical vibe). If you can keep from cringing at the freestyle rhymes, I recommend it.

Anyway, that's 2AWK's only proper release, but not their only appearance on wax. They had a song called "Vacate the Premises," which was included on Luke Record's Hangin' With the Home Boys soundtrack. As you can see from the track-listing above, it was also intended for their album, and it was also included as the B-side to the single from that soundtrack, 2 Live Crew & Triple XXX's "Hangin' With the Homeboys and Dr. Feelgood." I've got the cassingle, but even the 12" only features the one version of the song (that's right, another instrumental opportunity missed). Again, the production is handled by The Soul Society's Kavon Shah and Anthony Mills, and it's another winner. This one has more of an obvious Bomb Squad influence, with wailing sirens, and blaring horn stabs over the big beats. It's just got that hardcore, noisy feel, and the MCs hold up much better on this track.

Then they popped up one more time in 1992, on the compilation EP, Luke's Hitmen for the 90's (as you might guess, 2AWK aren't the only disappointingly shelved artists to appear on this one). Their song here is called "U.S.A. (United Static Association)," an ode to digging and sampling. This is the one Chuck featured on his DVD, and as you can see, it was intended for the Konflic album as well. Again it's produced by Kavon and Anthony, and again, the track easily outshines the MCs. Like "Psychotic," it utilizes a lot of breaks, samples and sounds you've heard before (they even use the signature loop from JVC Force's "Strong Island" during a break-down), but combines them into a really refreshing blend. But unlike "Vacate the Premises," this one doesn't sound "noixy," each funky horn and guitar sample gets to stand on its own over the head-nodding drums.

So that's the full story of 2AWK. I don't know if they were shelved because Luke Records didn't have faith in the MCs or if it was just because they were struggling financially and shelving great material right and left. Probably a bit of both. But it's a shame Konflic Uv Interest remains on the shelf, because if the production on the rest of the LP is anything like the songs we've heard, it's got some interesting songs and incredible beats going to waste. Who owns Luke's catalog now? Joey Boy - are they still around? Whoever it is, I hope somebody decides to open up those vaults, 'cause there's a lot of quality, under-appreciated hip-hop rotting away in there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

7L Of the Living Dead

When those dudes made a diss rap directed at Byron Crawford, they got clowned on pretty hard. And I kinda felt bad for them because, despite everything else, they were rhyming over a loop from Lucio Fulci's The Beyond soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi. And if you're a serious horror movie fan, you know sampling a classic Fulci soundtrack is the second coolest sample source possible (the first, of course, is peak-period Goblin).

So, lately I've been picking up some 7L & Esoteric stuff I passed over at the time... just whatever I can get cheap (turns out I was right to leave that gimmicky "Herb" 12" alone - whoops!). And it cheered me up when I dropped the needle on this 12" of theirs from 2004 on Babygrande Records, 'cause 7L sampled Fulci's classic theme to City Of the Living Dead (again, all credit going to Fabio Frizzi)! The song is called "This Is War" and features The Army Of the Pharaohs.

Now, The Army Of the Pharaohs is pretty much like The Flavor Unit. At one point ehy were really compelling. And then one of the weakest front-men of the group (in this case, Vinnie Paz would be our Queen Latifah) swapped out almost all of the original members with mediocre replacement acts, ruining their whole shit and spoiling the legacy. I guess that would make Esoteric Apache, the one real hold over from the past period, and Virtuoso could be Lakim Shabazz or Latee... he was allowed to make a few appearances, but basically the crew dropped the ball on his career.

I guess that was a long way to go about saying that this is a posse cut with some underwhelming guest MCs. I don't even really know who's all on here... King Syze, somebody from that group called Outerspace? Anyway, it doesn't matter. They all get that "posse cut" pass, just like those old school songs where rappers would put their dancers, DJs and managers and the record. No one really impresses, but the spirit of a posse cut just makes it all work, and actually whoever it was kicking the first verse came kinda nice. It's all good; just a simple, enjoyable, down-the-line posse cut, just like we like 'em. And it's even got a little bonus scratchin' at the end.

Flip this over, then, and you've got "Rise Of the Rebel," which actually has a similar (but not Frizzi-created as far as I can tell) piano loop driving the music. Esoteric's solo on the mic this time, and the vibe's a little more mellow, as Eso kicks a nice, autobiographical rap about his come-up and his childhood. Nothing incredible, but it's pleasant and listenable.

There's nothing too exclusive to this 12" - both songs appeared on their Babygrande album, Bars Of Death, that dropped the same year. You do get Clean, Dirty and Instrumental mixes for each, though, in just a plain label sleeve. And, come on - how many other hip-hop 12"s are you gonna find with a Gates of Hell loop on it?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Do You Make the Hip-Hop's Greatest Legends Boring?

I decided to take a random chance on a hip-hop DVD today. It didn't look like much, but unlike most of the cheap hip-hop DVDs out there, Hip Hop Legends represents the old school. That's pretty cool. So how bad can it be, right?

Well, this one opens up with a very high-energy song called "Hip-Hop America," which plays over some credits and random driving footage of New York. I had to skip ahead to the closing credits to see that it was by someone named Deadwate featuring Mag. They played the same song again over the closing credits.

My fascination with the song over, I can now commence to watching the movie properly. In an opening crawl, we're told, "For one night only the pioneers of Hip Hop will get together to share the real story of the movement." Considering the name I saw go by in the opening credits (Grandmaster Caz, Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Busy Bee), I'm kinda amped.

Unfortunately, after that, we run into one of the Achilles's Heels of these hip-hop docs: lame, cheesy narration. Some random guy prattles on about the crime rate in The Bronx and how hip-hop came out of it "and channeled it into something positive." Blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, this guy will keep coming back and back, to drone out about everything we already know. I think more than half of the film might literally be comprised of this guy's voice speaking over title cards.

The rest of this movie, the part we're actually here for, are the interviews. Besides the artists I named above, we've got DMC, DJ Skribble, EK Mike C and others. Unfortunately, they spend most of their time re-saying what the narrator already told us - for example, we're told like four times that grafitti and breakdancing are a part of hip-hop culture, too; it's not just the music. I doubt anyone who picked this DVD up would need to be told that once, really, but okay... maybe some younger viewers decided they wanted to listen to sit-down interviews of middle-aged musicians talk about old music, and this would actually be informative to them ...the first time.

Ok, let's call it like it is. Clearly, this movie is based around the fact that the filmmakers had backstage access to one big hip-hop concert with a lot of old school artists. Some gave them sit-down interviews, and some just gave them a minute or two real quick between numbers. The filmmakers decided, "we can stretch this into a film!" And they set to work adding redundant narration, long credits and some stock photos. But they still didn't even succeed in stretching it to feature length - yup, this is another one of those 60 minute DVDs I keep stumbling upon!

To be fair, if you stick with it, there are a few moments here and there that aren't bad. Busy Bee adds a little humor, and there's a short segment where they actually leave the concert and go film Pow Wow in the Bronx. Someone could edit the highlights out of here and make an okay Youtube video. It still probably wouldn't be that revealing, but it would be cool just to here these guys speaking a bit.

To be honest, I kinda knew this was gonna be another cash-grab DVD... but I figured with all those great old school artists, it would still have to be somewhat worthwhile, right? Nope! Not really... Perhaps if the interviewer talking to these guys could come up with any deeper questions beyond, "tell us how hip-hop started," but there is just nothing compelling in any of this footage. The best thing about this doc is that title song. And it's not that good.

The DVD does have an extra worth noting, titled "The Future Of Hip Hop." It's basically another segment of the film, complete with more narration over another title card and more interview footage with the same guys. I really don't understand why they didn't just leave this in as part of the movie. It would have at least brought them substantially closer to being feature length, and it isn't any less (or more) compelling than the rest of the interview footage. Eh. Oh well, who cares?

So yeah. Don't don't be like me and waste your time just because some great artists are involved. Apparently it takes more than that to make something worth watching. Lessons learned all around, I reckon.