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. :\


  1. According to Amazon, this other volume came out back in May: http://www.amazon.com/Missing-Linx/dp/B003HZIU20/ref=dm_ap_alb1

  2. Hmm. That looks like part 1 with a different cover... the track-listing is the same, except - interestingly - it has two extra tracks.
    18. Ain't It Good To You (Remix)
    20. Simple Metaphores (The Introduction Of Tr.) Kiss-Fm Promo
    Too bad it's mp3 only.

  3. many many thanks for the detailed review Werner

    ...and what an accurate review sir; stricly garbage with 2 tracks of any interest [to the folk like ourselves, that are fully aware of the back-catalogue wool being pulled over the eyes of the latest school of young listeners]

    the Moe Luv cut kicks off with the start of B-Boy Bonus Break from this - http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=80834

    ...but the Pluckin Cards is the doozy, the rest are worryingly depressing - and that promo video clip is horrific, even Moe is creeping out of shot, almost in disgust and embarassment

    Ostensibly, were still fiending for that FYHU gold-dust - so thankyou

    all the best


  4. www.blackpegasusmusic.blogspot.com UltraMagnetic MC'S "Ain't It Good To You" (Unreleased Paul C. Mix/Edit)