Monday, November 29, 2010

(New) 2 Live Freestyle

The 2 Live Crew went through some turbulent times in the 90's... breaking up, reforming, members quitting and rejoining. And at one point during all of that, Luke realized he had lost too high a percentage of its members to act like nothing had happened. So he added a new member, made himself an official member and with remaining original member Fresh Kid Ice, released an album by a crew he dubbed The New 2 Live Crew. It was to be a short-lived experiment, as Back At Your Ass For the Nine 4 was this iteration's only album.

But it was an interesting experiment. The new guy, Verb, had a real east coast sensibility and was focused on lyrical skills in pretty much the exact opposite way the 2 Live Crew had been up 'till then. And Fresh Kid Ice was doing some interesting things (see my review on Hip Hop Isn't Dead to learn about that) at the time with his production company ICP (not that ICP), working with the very underrated duo Balli and Fat Daddy, who were recently featured on the Diggers With Gratitude mixtape.

But unfortunately it was also a failed experiment, It featured way too much Luke, doing his "I can't rap so I just filibuster on records" shout and call songs, some lame crap where they rip off the hook to Barney the Dinosaur's theme, and a bunch of skits, which unfortunately wound up being the most memorable part of the album, as they featured Dolemite.

There were a few decent moments, but only one really good song.

Thankfully, the released it as a single.

"2 Live Freestyle" came out on Luke Records in 1994. Promisingly, the album credits say this features Fat Daddy (though they spell his name "Phat Daddy" here), and the 12" mentions him, too. But disappointingly, he's not on here. I guess maybe his voice can be heard if you stick your ear to the speaker during the hook? But he doesn't get a verse (it goes Verb, Ice, and Verb again), which is a seriously missed opportunity.

But, putting aside what we don't get, we do get a hot beat, which they credit to The New 2 Live Crew themselves. Personally, I suspect that might really mean the ICP, which would also explain why Fat Daddy's voice would be on the track if they didn't bother to give him a verse. I also don't imagine Luke, Vern or Fresh Kid Ice are doing those scratches. But, whatever; it's dope and certainly not typical 2 Live Crew. It's more Bomb Squad or something with it's squealing horns and hard bass. Lyrically, Verb is just okay, but his delivery and this beat are great. And Ice at least treads water and manages not to ruin the song.

The 12", as you can see, comes in a dope picture cover done by Society (yes, that Society). More importantly, it also features a pretty dope remix by DJ Spin. It's not quite as good as the original... it's a little lower in energy, going for a darker, subtler vibe (sort of like a Buckwild does, but yaknow... I'm not saying it's exactly on par with a Buckwild remix). There are also radio edits for both mixes, if anybody cares.

There was one more single off Back At Your Ass with a similar picture cover and a couple exclusive remixes. But this is the only one worth your time. The New 2 Live Crew went on to do a couple more worthwhile songs on Luke's last solo album and the delightful holiday-themed compilation album, Christmas At Luke's Sex Shop; and then it was a wrap. Fresh Kid Ice followed Marquis and Mr. Mixx out the door, and the The Live Crew re-formed with no connection to Luke on Joey Boy Records. Verb was apparently meant to go on to a solo career, but that never quite materialized (see my video here for his "lost" songs).

Sunday, November 28, 2010


There's nothing rarer in hip-hop than the comeback album that actually lives up to the artists' past material. Usually we're happy if there's just a slim reminder of what once was to be found in what now is. But this is that elusive, mystical beast., just dropped at the end of 2010: Son of Bazerk featuring No Self Control's second album, Well Thawed Out.

It opens with their lead "single" (in quotes, because that's as close as I'll ever come to calling an mp3 or Youtube video a single) "I Swear On a Stack Of Old Hits." This captures everything that's great about Son Of Bazerk. Their energy, their signature voices, classic samples and ever-changing music and styles, the frantic craziness. It's nineteen years later, but this could just as well have been released in 1992.

And the rest of the album definitely holds up. The production is great, sometimes coming with old school samples which sound fresh and new when put through the Son of Bazerk wringer, alternated with all new samples and loops you've never heard before. And the whole gang is still intact... this isn't one or two guys trying to carry on the legacy of a bigger group. As they say on "Let Me Tell You Who I Am," it's still "three guys, four girls and a one man band." Johnny Juice is still cutting ("my DJ spins to keep the roaches from comin' in") Half Pint is still screaming. You never know what's going to come around the next bend: something slow and soulful, something rough and rugged, is the song suddenly going to stop in the middle for a silly gag? Will they rap or sing? Will they do a number where they hiccup through the whole song?* You never know what's around to expect, but whatever they hit you with, it always flows perfectly.

In fact, fuck it. I'm going to come straight out and call it: I think Well Thawed Out is actually better than Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk. It's more consistent and the highs are at least as tall as they were in their MCA days. Take "Stomp." I really don't see how anybody could not like this song, whether they're an old school head or hipster tween, underground purist or commercial fair-weather head, die hard New Yorker or someone who swears my west coast gangsta rap from the 90's. It just plays.

Now, this was mostly just released via mp3 (sigh), but there is a physical release, available from amazon. It's one of their made-on-demand CD-R releases made with CreateSpace. But really... is there any actual difference between the sound of this and a regular CD? I can't hear any. And it comes in a proper jewel case with artwork and label. The front even folds out booklet style (though there's not really anything in there besides the track listing which is already printed on the outside), so the only practically difference between this and an official CD release is that it's... cheaper. Well, that works for me. I couldn't be happier with a CD release or a comeback album than I am with this one.

*Yes, they will. That's on here.. ;)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ruthless Rod & MC Dollar

Not a lot of heads are familiar with MC Ruthless Rod & MC Dollar, a Chicago duo (or trio if you count their DJ, Fellow-Rock) who put out a killer 4-song EP in 1989 called Loud As a Banshee. It's a pretty rare record, and most surviving copies suffer from water damage. So as you can imagine, this is one of those records that goes for beaucoup bucks, and just screams for a repress, which is where Dope Folks Records comes in.

Yes, Dope Folks, the label that brought us the recent Mixmasta "D" EP, have repressed Loud As a Banshee, including reproducing the great picture cover. But they've also brought something better to the table than a mere repress...

Loud as a Banshee featured three amazing hip-hop songs. It's not so much that the MCs are mind-blowing, though they've got strong voices and deliveries. It's just one of those instances where the flows, the beats, the sample selection, and some fantastic scratching all come together and gel in that way that even the very best hip-hop artists usually don't quite manage to pull off.

It starts off with "In the Groove," with some banging percussion. It really sounds like it's all being created by a DJ constantly running back two copies of the record, too. And then on top of that they bring in a ton of records to sample and scratch, ever-changing as the song progresses. Just when you're like, "oh man, this song is great," another record gets thrown into the mix and the sound is even hyper! At one point, they bring in the break from they used on Eazy E's "We Want Eazy"... it's just great. Nothing else I can say about this song.

Then you've got "Blowout Time," which is totally different and a pretty unique cut in hip-hop in general. Where "In the Groove" used all the classic, raw elements of hip-hop, this one features a new school (for 1989) sound. The drums are just as rugged and hard, but it uses these slow, deep bass notes and high keys that sound like they're taken from some epic sci-fi film. It's the kind of thing that runs the risk of being horrendously corny, but it all works. The fact that the MC is kicking unrelenting earnest rhymes over seriously hardcore beats certainly gets a lot of the credit for that... and when the drums break down in the middle? It's sick!

Finally "As I Get Funky" is an even stronger showcase for Fellow-Rock. It features some classic horn samples and amped beats, and the rhymes are non-stop, too... But it's really all about the scratches, which are front and center on this one, from the hook to ill, extended breakdowns.

...And then there was also a fourth song, "Just 4 U." That was their slow jam, their love song. As far as rap love songs go, it's pretty good... the production has a deep, rich sound to it with these harp/bell notes which sound like they might be playing live. But, you know... it's one of "those" rap love songs, with the slow, half-spoken delivery and, you know. It's corny and definitely not highly regarded like the rest of the EP.

So here's what Dope Folks did. They took off "Just 4 U" (so collectors, hang on to your originals!), and replaced it with a vintage, never before heard cut from that era. It's called "As I Break 'Em Down" and it fits in much better with the rest of the EP. If you didn't know which song was the new addition, you'd never be able to tell from listening to it. It features some classic old school samples, a lot of hand claps and more great drums and rhymes. There isn't so much scratching on this one and the energy isn't quite as high as the other songs, but again, you can tell the main sample for the hook is just being scratched into the track live throughout the song. If the other songs are perfect 5 out of 5 star songs, this is a 4.5. It absolutely trumps the weak link track from the original EP.

So like Dope Folks' other releases, this is another limited release. There's only 300 copies, and they sell for $20 (which, for a limited, is definitely on the nice and reasonable end of the spectrum - especially considering the nice picture cover). You can order them directly from their site,; and for an extra $5 you can order an extra picture cover. I'm not sure if there's much of a market for that, but the option's there if you want it I guess. Anyway, at least get the EP, 'cause I can't recommend this enough. Just listen to the samples they've got up and you'll see, it's an instant must-have.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dept. of Homeland Security Vs. Hip-Hop File-Sharing

How was your Thanksgiving? If you ran sites like or, it probably wasn't so fun. Those guys went to their sites today to find their main pages replaced with:
According to articles like this one on TorrentFreak (I know "TorrentFreaks" doesn't sound like the most reputable name for a source; but they were the first to break the news), the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) have both seized control of their domain names. And according to an article on, "DHS and ICE agents raided a Dallas datacenter Tuesday and seized the sites servers." So if that's correct, they're not just taking over domain names, but seizing servers.

As many of you have probably noticed, I'm not a big mp3 kinda guy... This is the first I've heard of these sites, but apparently RapGodFathers alone had 146,500 members. They've publicly defended themselves by telling TorrentFreaks, “We only link to mixtapes, albums in the hiphop/rap genre... Lots of those mixtapes help new artists become much bigger for example Drake, Chamillionaire, Wiz Khalifa. It also gives the users to listen to an album before buying it to judge the quality. Almost 99% of the time if people on RGF liked the album and posted positive comments, that given artist had a big success.”

Now, I'm not even going to get started on the case against mixtapes as a genuine benefit to artists and labels (that's a post for another day). Instead, I'm just going to give you a quick screenshot I took myself browsing their site and say, "stop lyin', RapGodFathers!" You're gonna have to click to enlarge that, but believe me, it's worth it. I only spent like 2 minutes looking at their forums, and there was page after page of this stuff. They came back online later last night at the URL, so they're back up and running, and they've still got this stuff up. I didn't even look at their hip-hop and music sections.

But my point isn't really to call these sites out (I just couldn't let RGF get away with that line of "only link to mixtapes" BS), but just to point out what's going on. According to this video from ICE, this is just the very beginning of a long-term campaign. So if you have a site along the lines of these guys, I'd be worried. Not that it's just hip-hop sites going down. Other stuff, like and also got taken offline (really, were a lot of people going to a site called Come on, guys!). But so far, in the music department, they seem to be solely focused on hip-hop sites.

In that video I mentioned before, he talks about one site that moved to a new domain after they took it down, and said they were going to stay on top of it and go after that one, too. So may not be much longer for this world. And Splash, the guy who runs, has said on Twitter, "I dont even no if imma come back." So yeah, this could be big and long-term. It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be the beginning of a changing landscape online, where mp3 piracy no longer dominates the music industry. Or if this is going to be just another futile drop in the bucket of effort, along with the RIAA lawsuits and the battle against Napster.

Errata 11/26/10: I just updated this blog to remove an erroneous paragraph where I pointed out that dajaz1 posted full rap album downloads. Again, I wasn't familiar with dajaz1 before this incident, so I can't say for certain either way... but everything I found when going through their google caches and links from other sites suggests dajaz1 only posted single mp3s that were being promotionally sent out by the labels specifically to be posted on blogs like his. If he only posted mp3s like that, there is no legit reason why his site should have been seized, and I apologize for saying he offered links to "major rap albums."

Also, an update... another one has bitten the dust., who describe themselves as "the biggest community for black music in world!" [sic.] have just been taken down, too.

Update 12/09/11: is back! According to a new article on CNET, "the government abruptly abandon[ed] the lawsuit." It took them over a year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Original Anthology of Rap

Prelude: Slate just posted their third article, now, on The Anthology of Rap - more shadiness uncovered. Some people in the comments of these discussions point out how nerdy the discussion is, but I think that's because they're missing the point. It's not about how many errors nitpicky bloggers can find in The Anthology's transcriptions. Of course it has errors... God knows how many embarrassing errors I would make if I attempted to transcribe nearly 300 rap songs. No, it's about the fact that these particular errors showed us that The Anthology stole all of its work from online writers without giving them credit. The book was printed by Yale University press, and its by two profs who are using that prestige to sell the book, essentially saying, "Yeah, all these lyrics are already available online, but you need this book to legitimize them as an anthology, because this book is from Yale and inherently superior." But if Yale students presented this book as a school project*, with 95% of its content lifted from an uncredited source, they'd be up in front of the academic review board, explaining how their parents would freak if they were expelled.

So I'm done with this Anthology of Rap debate. I mean, if Slate can uncover even more shadiness (what could possibly be left? A complex murder plot, where the editors tried to have Flash killed so nobody would ever find out they used his content? It seems like they've already committed every other possible ethical transgression), I'll happily tweet it. But I'm moving on. Because you know what? Despite the fact that they claim, "this groundbreaking collection is the first anthology of lyrics to chart rap's recorded history" (quoting from the first page of their press release), that's just another thing they say that isn't true. There's another anthology of rap out there that came first.

Rap the Lyrics was published in 1992. 1992, so there's no worry that this book could've plagiarized all its material from the internet. It's edited by former Tommy Boy business director Lawrence A. Stanley, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in clearing samples and fighting censorship, the latter of which is apparently the motive behind this book. While this book features lyrics from the widest variety of artists - like The Fearless Four, Geto Boys, Young MC, Schoolly D, a pre-Wu Tang Genius. Subsonic 2 - and a broad spectrum of their material - from pop to street, commercial to conscious - it makes a point to include some of the most controversial lyrics around: NWA's "Fuck the Police," Too $hort's "Freaky Tales," Slick Rick's "Treat Her Like a Prostitute," etc. Guess which Boogie Down Productions songs they chose. "My Philosophy?" "You Must Learn?" "The Bridge Is Over?" Nope! They chose "House Nigga," "Illegal Business" and "Jimmy." So yeah, you get the point: this book covers everything, but when in doubt, veers towards the edgy.

What's more, all of the royalties from this book were donated to The National Coalition on Censorship and other anti-censorship organizations.

Oh, I have an amusingly ironic anecdote about that, by the way. My personal copy of this book is a former library edition (hey, Maple Heights Public Library in Ohio, look where your book ended up). And the funny thing is, they ripped out the pages that contain the lyrics to The 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny!" Apparently, the author's anti-censorship message was lost on the people of Maple Heights, Ohio.

So, anyway. There isn't a whole lot else to this book; it's just page after page of full transcripts of rap songs. There is a pretty long and ambitious introduction by Jefferson Marley called "Rap Music as American History," and a thorough table of contents that lists every song. They use a super cheesy "urban" font for the names of the artists throughout the book, but fortunately the actual lyrics are presented in a normal, legible font.

As for errors? Okay, for a while I was thinking/hoping this was going to be error-free. I was reading through song after song, focusing especially on the ones I thought would have the lots of proper names, or just the songs I was most familiar with as a fan, and not finding any. But I stuck with it, and I think I found one. For Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "Nightmare On My Street," they have Freddy Krueger telling the Fresh Prince, "You got my favorite letter but now you must die!" I always thought he was saying, "you turned off David Letterman; now you must die!" My version also makes more sense, since the preceding lines talk about how he turned off the TV, which prompted Krueger's rage. But just for fun, and what is fast becoming tradition, I checked it out on The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive; and they've got, "You cut off 'Heavy Metal' and now you must die!" To be fair to all transcribers, it is hard to decipher his monster voice during that line, and like I was saying earlier... transcription errors are inevitable, and I'm not really hung up on the "nerdy debate" of who made which mistakes. I'll just say, in general, it seems to have very few.

But overall, it looks like this book is pretty much better in every regard, huh? It's got better song choices (they've got "Mind Of a Lunatic" for god's sake!), it appears to have been made without breaking any huge ethical standards, and all the profits even went to a good cause. It's like The Anthology is this book's evil twin brother who just turned up on our doorstep from out of town.

Rap the Lyrics is still in print, and its list price is $9 cheaper than its competitor, too. You can get it from Amazon here. It still has the same fundamental problem that The Anthology has... it only features a couple hundred rap songs, making the internet an infinitely more thorough, and thus more valuable, resource. It's also free. So the market for either book seems pretty slim (though when Rap the Lyrics was printed, of course, there was no internet, so it made a lot more sense at the time). But if you are going to buy an anthology of rap lyrics, this is hands down the one I recommend.

*Oh wait, they did. It's also come out that the actual transcriptions were apparently done by two undergrads who were only thanked for their help in the back of the book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Diggin' Deep

A few months back, we looked at the first beat digging documentary, titled simply Beat Diggin'. It was raw, but it was dope. Probably due to its length and lower budget, to this day, it remains unreleased on DVD. However in 2004, Beat Diggin' was followed up, and in many ways eclipsed, by another beat digging documentary, called Deep Crates. It's full-length (well, borderline... it's about 70 minutes; but compare that to Beat Diggin's 30) features more name producers and unlike Beat Diggin', Deep Crates is available on DVD. So it's easy to see why the one has overshadowed the other for many people.

Beat Diggin'
is great and still worth seeing, with some hot, exclusive interviews. But I can't front on Deep Crates. It may not've done it first, but it did it hard... it's a succession of tightly edited interviews with a ton of interesting producers including big names like Buckwild, Beatminerz, Madlib and Diamond D to less obvious but just as compelling heads like Maseo, DJ Format, Peanut Butter Wolf and Mike Heron. And there's no padding with unrelated performance footage here, it's just no-frills interviews of non-stop talking on what you wanna here. Later in the doc, though, we do also take trips to various important record shops, etc., and go diggin' with some of the artists.

Deep Crates was successful enough that it spawned a sequel in 2007. And Deep Crates 2 is at least as compelling as Deep Crates 1. It features a ton of great artists that weren't in the first one, like Pete Rock, Marley Marl, The 45 King, Grand Wizard Theodore, K-Def, Tony D, Lord Digga... You really get the feeling that by the end of this one, between Deep Crates and Beat Diggin', they'd really reached just about everybody that should be in one of these docs. The big difference with this one is that it focuses more on production, and sampling after the digging's already been done. This time they also go all the way out to Japan to interview some heads over there.

Unlike the first one, the DVD for Deep Crate 2 features extras as well. There's about 30 minutes of extended interview footage, featuring clips of the artists from the film speaking on more that didn't quite fit the tone and theme of the film. It's also a shorter film, though (about 60 minutes, with a very long closing credits sequence accounting for about 5 of those), so it all evens out to about the same as the first one. ...But a movie isn't judged like lumber, in terms of length. It's about quality, substance. And any five minutes of Deep Crates 2 is worth may more than a full DVD's worth of South Beach Raw or some of these other DVDs I've reviewed.

These movies are several years old now, and most places seem to've long since sold out of them. But they're still both available on DVD direct from the production company's website, They've also got a pair of myspace pages here and here. So if you weren't already up on 'em, check these flicks out; because alongside Beat Diggin', these are the quintessential diggin' documentaries.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

No Sleeping On Buckwild

You wanna know a good new album? Check out Celph Titled and Buckwild's collaborative CD, Nineteen Ninety Now on No Sleep Records. where Celph breaks open Buckwild's vaults to rhyme over some of his best, unused beats from the 90's. But you wanna know what's even better than that? Buckwild's brand new, limited edition LP* Buckwild Presents on the same label.

This release is really split into two, distinct parts.

Part 1, or side A, is essentially a killer 12" single from Nineteen Ninety Now. It starts off with what's probably the most exciting track off the album, his massive posse cut called "There Will Be Blood" featuring Sadat X, Grand Puba, AG, OC and Diamond D. Considering Nineteen s a CD-only release (sigh), it's great to have the killer posse cut presented here. And it is killer. If you were worried that anybody here was too far past their prime to come off, I can assure you you'll be pleasantly surprised. Puba and Sadat especially add a lot of great energy to the track. And the music? It's live; I love it! Like pretty much everything on Nineteen and Presents, it's baffling that material this great went unused for so long.

But, hey. We fans have got high expectations here (especially with No Sleep's track record). Maybe just presenting a CD-only song on vinyl isn't enough. Well, next up we have an exclusive remix of "There Will Be Blood" (also by Buckwild, naturally). It's completely different but just as compelling. It really flips it, giving a smooth, jazzy vibe. It kind of reminds me of The 45 King's remix of "Flavor Unit Assassination Squad," in that it totally changes the feeling of the track, but makes it work just as well. You can't really pick a favorite - they both work for completely different reasons.

Next up, we've got two additional tracks by Celph over unused Buckwild vaulted beats that didn't appear on the album - they're exclusive to this track. "Nothin' To Say" features Rise, another MC from Celph's old Demigodz crew. The beat is really cool and the concept is fun - rhyming with nothing to say. Rise comes off really nice on this one, and the scratching, provided by Mista Sinista is subtle but slick and impressive in that way only Sinista can bring.

And then this side rides out with "The Celph Titled Show." The track's another low-key banger, and the hook is fun in a retro way. Everything here sounds like the 90's, 'cause of course the music IS all from the 90's, but this one feels especially dated... in a fun way. Left to rhyme on his own, Celph is left a little exposed as being secondary to all the other, better MCs on Presents; but on this song he actually kicks some of his best verses, so he kinda saves the day.

Still, though. It's time for some non-Celph Titled tracks, and that's where side B comes in. Side B is a collection of remixes Buckwild recorded for various artists throughout the 90's that their labels never wound up including on their projects, for one reason or another. ...But I think really all of those reasons could be boiled down to bad taste, because you'd have to be a fool to be sent these mixes and think "nah, we'll pass."

First up is perhaps the best of them, a remix of Kool G Rap & Nas's "Fast Life." Now, there have been a couple of "Fast Life" remixes already released... There's the killer "Norfside Remix" by Salaam Remi (sometimes wrongly credited to Buckwild), which was on Epic's promo 12". And there's also The Vinyl Reanimators' remix from their remix sampler 12". Both of those trumped the LP version, but this one tops them all. This one's smoother and grittier than any of the other mixes... this one feels like it should be the original, the definitive version of the song.

Then you've got four more exclusive remixes of tracks by different 90's artists. You've got a remix for The Bush Babees' "We Run This," which actually uses a beat later recycled for another song by somebody else[I can't remember who at the moment, though - anybody whose memory is functioning better than mine, please remind me in the comments! Verge got it in the comments. I was thinking of Shabazz the Disciple's "Consciousness of Sin,"], but hearing The Babees over it actually gives me a new-found appreciation for them as MCs. You've got a remix for Tha Alkaholiks' "The Next Level" (also featuring Diamond D), which, again, it's just baffling how the label didn't use this at the time. There's a remix of Rampage The Last Boyscout's "Beware Of the Rampsack" which is probably better than Rampage deserves. And finally you've got a remix of Grand Daddy IU's "Represent," which I'll reserve commentary for until my next blog post. ;)

So yeah, I recommend Nineteen Ninety Now; but I recommend Presents like ten times more. But the bad news is that, by the time you're reading this, it's already sold out. It's limited to 200 copies and was only available direct from No Sleep. So if you're after this now, you're gonna have to look out for a copy second-hand. But if you did pre-order it (and I did announce it on my twitter page at the time), and you're just waiting for your copy to arrive, then I think you'll find your expectations will be more than met. This is another first-class release from No Sleep, who promise us more goodness (including a follow-up to their recent OC EP) in 2011.

*They label this as an EP; but at 9 full-length songs, I'm upgrading them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two From Twist

Today we're going to look at two singles from San Jose's own MC Twist. Most people know him, if they do at all, for his period on Luke Records in the late 80's with The Def Squad. But today we've got two of his later period singles from when he came out on the indie label Lethal Beat Records, who also put out Ground Zero, a group I was a fan of for a short while in my youth (we'll get to them another day).

These records are harder, more street and less dance oriented than Luke's Twist. Now, MC Twist was never really a great MC, by today's standards or back then; he wasn't bowling anybody over with his skills. But he came hard, angry and conscious on these joints, which is always an appealing combination to a true hip-hop fan.

First we'll look at "A Step Beyond" - that's the picture cover at the top of this piece. Klu Klux Klan, burning crosses, nooses, newspaper headlines of violent crimes... and MC Twist standing shirtless but in an African medallion on the bottom right corner. If ever a picture cover said "aww shit... it's on," this one does.

Now, I'm not sure if the song quite lives up to the cover - what could? But Twist, who also produces all his own material, certainly tries. The beat is big and hard, but with a funky bassline. The hook consists of a nice pairing of vocal samples by Too $hort and Rakim, and other parts of the song feature sampled, stuttering speeches. Unfortunately, Twist's voice and simple delivery don't manage to keep the promise of the instrumental. This is the kind of song that calls for young and angry Ice Cube, and Twist isn't that. He does grow on you with repeated listens, though, as you get used to his sound. And he at least comes off as determined and sincere in what he's saying - he's got a strong "fuck racists and stay up despite life's hardships" message that he clearly believes in.

The song comes in Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions. But more interesting perhaps than even the song itself is the strange bonus track, "1-900-KKK." "1-900-KKK" features the same music as "One Step Beyond," but instead of rapping we here Twist briefly explain that racism is as prevalent as ever, and he wants us to listen to this crazy KKK phone message he found. We then hear a completely crazy racist tirade some KKK nutjob apparently left on his answering machine... a real, on-going rant against white women who date black men (though he uses some different terms, as you can imagine), George Bush and "gooks." Finally, Twist comes back on and actually gives us the number so we can call it ourselves. I'd print it here, but this many years later, I can't imagine they're still in service.

Next up we have "S-M-O-K-I-N-G C-O-K-E," obviously an anti-drug song. The beat is basically a stripped down version of Gangstarr's "Knowledge," with some well chosen samples from songs like Too $hort's "Girl" and NWA's "Dope Man." This is one of those from the days when anti-drug songs were as hard and street as any pro-dealing gangsta record. Yeah, he has a message again, but Twist doesn't like coke addicts and doesn't feel compelled to tell you in polite terms. There's nothing on here but Radio and Club versions of this song, but who cares? They just don't make music like this anymore.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do the Fila and the PeeWee Dance

This is a great, early single from Steady B... back before he was Steady B, and instead had one of the most unfortunate rapper names this side of Shorty Shitstain, MC Boob. It's not his first single... he'd already released a couple 12"s as MC Boob. So he might've went with the name MC Boob here because this is sort of a tongue-in-cheek record. But Boob is a nickname he kept indefinitely (he even refers to himself as Boob on some CEB tracks), so I can't really say why he used that alias specifically for this. Maybe it was a Pop Art contract thing, since he released this on a separate label.

Anyway, the record is called "Do the Fila and the PeeWee Dance" and it dates all the way back to 1986 on Three Way Records, the label's only release. He later shortened the title to just "Do the Fila" (probably for legal reasons, but maybe also to make it more his own), but this is the O.G. 12" with the original full-length title. And if you hadn't already guessed, this was Steady's answer record to the surprise it, "Pee-Wee's Dance" by Joeski Love. That song was an ode to the goofy dance Pee Wee Herman used to do on his kids' show... but apparently, this dance is slightly different. In this song, Steady actually shares an account of how he met Joeski Love (not that I believe it's actually a true story) and they compared dances:

"He moved his hands
In the air like this,
Then I tried to do it
'Cause I couldn't resist.
I said, 'it ain't like that.'
And he said 'why?'
'Cause I'm doing this dance
Called the Fila!"

And by the various descriptions of the dance in the song ("then I bent my legs like I was 90 years old"), I think Steady is saying that "The Fila" is exactly the same dance as "The Pee Wee," except you call it "The Fila" if you're wearing Filas when you do it. At any rate, he wants us to know that he's the master of both, so you shouldn't fret about the distinction.

The music is credited to the mysterious J&S Productions. I assume that's just an alias for Lawrence Goodman, for reasons I'll get to later; but hey, who knows? On the surface, you might say it doesn't matter much anyway, because they're just jacking Joeski Love's beat. But this isn't strictly true. It does use that same, signature "ba bop bah-bah bah-bah bah buh, ba bop bah-bah bah-bah bah bop!" sample, plus that bugged out instrumentation on the breakdown, but the rest of the music is markedly different. The drums are much rawer and harder... The down beats are much deeper and have some really nice echo. honestly, I'm a big fan of the original, but to play them back-to-back makes Joeski's sound like something made with a toy tin drum set.

So with a much bigger bang to the instrumental, and a thematic shift from a kids' show to fly sneakers, this is definitely the version for the streets. There's nothing else on this 12" except the instrumental on the flip. What's interesting is that when Steady put out his first full-length, the self-titled Steady B, later the same year on Pop Art, this wasn't on there. But when the Jive Records later picked it up and gave it international distribution under the new title, Bring The Beat Back, they added this song. And on that album, all production credit goes to Lawrence Goodman (except the one Marley Marl track)... so that tells me J&S Productions was almost certainly an LG alias; and if it wasn't, then he wound up with the credit anyway. ;)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Great Big Book of Rap Lyrics

Hitting bookstores today is The Anthology of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois from Yale University Press. I hope I won't be accused of over-simplifying when I state that this is a great big ol' book of rap lyrics. Like dictionary big. And it's pretty much nothing but transcribed songs, plain and simple. I mean, there is an introduction, a forward and two "afterwords." Plus the book is divided into chapters, designating eras in hip-hop. Those have little introductory paragraphs. And artists have brief bios for the uninitiated. But you're basically just looking at 700+ of typed-out rap songs. So, is that a good or a bad thing? Well, let's see.

My first thought when I got this is probably what you're all thinking: aren't all of these song lyrics, and bajillions more, already easily available on the internet? Yes, of course. Ten years ago, this project probably would've had much greater commercial prospects, but I'm guessing many of you guys will be thinking it's just plain crazy to plop down $35 (the book's cover price) for a small sampling of what's already available online for free. And... you'd have an excellent point.

But before we dismiss it entirely, let's move on to the second thought that hit me when I received this book: most online lyric transcriptions are riddled with down-right embarrassing errors. Having transcribed a few songs for The OHHLA myself, there's often that one line you can't quite make out, maybe due to a reference you don't get or phrases you're not familiar with, and you're left just trying to sound it out... So, I wondered, did this book just google these songs and lazily cut and paste those transcriptions, ridiculous goofs and all?

I'm happy to report the answer to that seems to to be no. I've flipped through this volume again and again, looking to stumble upon something laughably stupid, and the only errors I could find are debatable and nitpicky. As an example, according to The Anthology, Slick Rick's "I Shouldn't Have Done It" starts out with the lyric:

"Well, I'ma tell you a story and I come out bluntly,
Want a ugly child? Hey, nobody would want me."

But I'm pretty sure he's actually saying:

"Well, I'ma tell you a story and I come out bluntly,
Born an ugly child. Hey, nobody would want me."

But compare that to OHHLA's:

"Well I'ma tell you a story and I come out bluntly
Wanna ugly shot, hey nobody will want me"

Now, that's just clearly wrong. So The Anthology has stepped the game up considerably from the usual transcriptions found online, which goes a good way towards making this a more valuable resource. Even this example song has more errors on OHHLA, which are not carried over to The Anthology (the book and I agree that "I love the wedlock, what up, not going to front/ See the problem that arouses, why on earth did she want me?" should instead read, "I loved her a lot, word up, not going to front, see?/ The problem that arose* is why on earth did she want me?"). And both The Anthology and I concur that the OHHLA is the best of the online sources,** so The Anthology has the best transcriptions you're going to find anywhere.

But of course, where The Anthology is lacking is the natural limitation of the book format. Despite the size of the thing, this book still only includes three Slick Rick songs, whereas OHHLA has about 80. They do an admirable job trying to capture nearly every period of hip-hop (disco era, gangsta, east coast, west coast, underground, pop, the complex and the embarrassingly simple, etc), but in the end, some omissions and choices are a bit suspect. At a guess, for instance, I assume they only included Blackalicious's "Alphabet Aerobics" because they were unaware it was just a simple retread of KMC Kru's "Alphabet Rhyme;" and if they'd been familiar with both, would have included the latter instead.

But my point isn't in playing the "they should've picked this song instead of that song" game. It's just that - because their selection is forced to be so limited (not their fault; it's the nature of the medium) - this book will only serve as a handy reference in those rare instances where the authors just so happened to have coincidentally chosen to include the one song you're interested in looking up. The odds are overwhelming that whatever song you're curious about at any given time won't be in here.

However, if you read the introduction, the authors seem to expect you to not so much use this as a tool to pick through and reference lyrics, but as something to read from cover to cover, more like a book of poetry/ educational tool. As a book of poetry... I think people will (and should) just prefer to listen to the actual songs. And as an educational tool... well, a collection of lyrics with no analysis or commentary is a bit dry, to say the least. Especially 700+ pages worth.

So, bottom line, this seems more like an interesting, and probably exhaustive, exercise on the editors' part than anything most heads will care to concern themselves with. I guess they intend to foist this over mostly on students who will be required to pick this up for a course (it is, after all, from a University press). But it IS neat to have a decidedly more accurate take on these songs than are available elsewhere.

So whether to recommend it to you guys? I'm actually a bit torn. I'm happily hanging onto mine now that I've got it; but I can't say it's worth the hefty cover price. If you're living a "money is no object" lifestyle, then certainly pick this up. It's a fun addition to your collection. Otherwise, though, I'd say hold off unless you come across it super cheap in a discount bin someday. And students, if a professor assigns you this book, just drop by The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive and save yourself the expense. The education system is milking you for enough cash as it is.

*Actually, The Anthology says "arise," which I think is wrong, too... I suspect they stumbled on Rick's accent there. But the point is: they're a lot closer than the other available sources, and give you a truer representation of the substance of the song.

**No shots intended at Flash at all in pointing out these errors. It's a great and invaluable site I'm proud to have contributed to, at least a tiny bit.

Update 11/5/10: Uh-oh... Have a look in the comments. It looks like actually the answer was yes, they did just lazily cut & paste OHHLA's transcriptions. There's a rather damning article posted about this book on Slate that not only spots some more errors (to be expected)... but the problem is that those errors are all duplicates of OHHLA errors. For example, both OHHLA and The Anthology write this line from Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 5000:" "voice be metal like Von Harper." The actual line is "voice be mellow like Vaughan Harper."

Now, the problem isn't that The Anthology made a transcription mistake... or that the editors didn't research Vaughan Harper's name. The problem is that The Anthology reproduced the same, bizarre alternate word and spelling choices printed on OHHLA's website. And it's not just this Ghostface quote, their other errors also seem to be carry-overs from OHHLA.

What does that mean? Apparently, instead of doing their own research or transcriptions, they just copied OHHLA's work and made some alterations. That's sorta like, yaknow... plagiarism.

Every transcriber is credited on OHHLA for the work they submitted on the actual page of the transcription. But I don't see those credits carried over anywhere in the book. ...I'm glad I don't work in Yale's legal department right now.

Now, on the positive side: they clearly did do some error-correcting. So like I said in my initial write-up, the book's transcripts are more accurate than OHHLA's. But, yeah. Disappointing revelation there.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is Hip-Hop Not Crazy Enough for You?

If you ever find yourself lamenting how hip-hop just isn't crazy enough for you, you'll probably be wanting this. This 12" is "Live From Death Row" by Memory Man, the first release on his own label, Angry Bee Records, from 2006. It features BusDriver and MC Paul Barman, and that line-up alone is probably giving you several ideas of what to possibly expect. And they're probably all correct.

Probably the best aspect of this is that it isn't the hopelessly juvenile joke track we've all come to expect from Barman. I mean, yeah, it's jokey and downright silly at times; but instead of the "I'm really bad at sex, ha ha ha" content that made him relatively famous, this song tackles serious subject matter. I don't know if there's really much direct connection to Mumia Abu-Jamal besides the fact that they've used it him as a title source, but this song is about capital punishment and all that entails.

In fact, actually, BusDriver's verse sounds jokier than Barman's. He raps in a confessional style of a victim of rape and incest turned murderer facing his last moments on death row... which I realize doesn't sound funny, but it's packed with lines like, "my last meal consists of chopped liver, pop singers and a chocolate chip cookie." Barman's verse is reminiscent actually of Lateef's verse on "The Wreckoning," where he graphically describes the process of decomposition of the human body. Here, Barman spends much of his time graphically detailing the experience of dying via lethal injection, though he carries it farther, following the prisoner all the way to Hell.

All I can say is that both verses are of the sort that reward repeated listenings, which seem to be fewer and fewer these days. This is enhanced because both MCs rap really fast, over a hyper-kinetic, ever-changing musical bed. The loops are constantly changing and in constant cheery defiance of the subject matter, playing circus horns one second and happy bells the next. You could easily listen to this song a dozen times and have no idea what it was about unless you were paying rapt attention.

The B-side, "Live From Death Row Pt. 2," disappointingly does not feature the MCs from part one. Instead, it's a new beat by Memory Man, covered in vocal samples of various news reports and soundbites about the death penalty. It's interesting, and the music, while decidedly different from the A-side, keeps the notion of pairing energetic, constantly changing up-beat vibes with somber stories of sanctioned death. In fact, Mumia himself is actually sampled at one point, reporting the case of a man convicted in an unjust drug bust. And unlike the first one, this one has a nice breakdown where Memory Man is given a chance to show off his turntable skills. But in the end, it still doesn't have half the appeal of the compelling A-side. Instrumentals for both parts are also included.

There's actually two versions of this 12". It was picked up and rereleased in Europe by Chopped Herring Records, and that 12" includes everything from the original Angry Bee release plus a bonus track. It's an instrumental called "No Smoking In the Gas Chamber," a slower, darker instrumental that still has a catchy upright bass tune and looped vocals telling us "there'll be no smoking in the gas chamber." It's a cool little bonus, but if you've already got the domestic release, this isn't worth going out of your way for. The real gem of this 12" is just the main track - the rest is just extra.

So I wouldn't be too fussed about which version you pick up, but you should definitely pick up some version. Even if you're someone who finds yourself exclaiming, "oh, I HATE Paul Barman" whenever he's brought up, trust me and give this one a chance. It's just a flat-out great, timeless rap song that deserves a lot more recognition than it gets.