Monday, June 27, 2011

Kool G Rap & Nas "Holla Back" - The Protoype?

I've done a pair of pretty thorough posts on the many, variant tracks left off the commercial release of Kool G Rap's Giancana Story on Koch Records, here and here. But, you know, there's always another little piece of the puzzle to be found. And today's bone fragment that I've linked to the giant, Tyrannosaurus skeleton (really, Giancana Story's a great album if you gather up all the pieces besides what you just get on the 2003 CD) is a neat white label 12" featuring an alternate version of "Holla Back" featuring Nas.

Now, before you cut me off and tell me you already know about the "Holla Back" version with Nas, allow me to point out that this is another version featuring just Nas. Now, I've already talked about the more well-known, unreleased version of "Holla Back" and how it differed from the one on the final Koch album. Here's the break-down of those two versions:
11) "Holla Back" with Nas, Nawz & AZ - Yeah, this was featured on the album. But the leaked version had Nas kicking the first verse instead of Tito of, believe it or not, The Fearless Four. Nas seriously came off with one of his tightest, illest verses, too ("Throw niggas off yachts, hold niggas with shots, my bitches ran 'cause I'm stupid - I put the shit on digital cam. Light up an ounce, let my bitches watch it on television, hella relentless. Fifty a pop, sell it like Menace. When I sleep, all I see is a white skeleton image. It's telling me something... I opened up Shakespeare's tomb, stole his remains, grinded his bones and got in the game"); so it's a real loss. This version was only featured on the leak. The Koch version also remixed the beat adding a few extra samples and bits. None of it makes up for the loss of Nas.
But there's also this white label 12", which features its own, unique version of "Holla Back." The main difference? No AZ or Nawz, and no Tito either. This is strictly a duet, making it a more fitting follow-up to "Fast Life," going right from Nas's killer verse to G Rap's. Now I'm not mad at the other guest verses (especially AZ's) so it's not a "yay! they're gone" situation; but it does turn a sort of awkward posse cut that takes too long to get to G Rap's part into a concise heater with just the two greatest verses from any version of the song.

But that's not the only difference. Where the original version and the Koch version feature someone (I think Nawz?) doing a spoken intro starting out, "yo, it's 2G" etc, this one has its a different intro. This version starts with Nas explaining how Kool G Rap inspired him. Then G Rap gets on to tell us to check out these tracks, and then we're right into Nas's verse. I actually think maybe this intro was recorded specifically for the 12" (which also furthers my suspicion that this white label was a promo release from Rawkus and not a bootleg), but it is blended into the song.

And this 12" has some nice bonuses as well. It features three freestyles which decidedly don't sound like radio or mixtape rips. The sound is clean and professional and I'm guessing they were recorded for this 12". Two feature Ma Barker (natch) and one features him going over the "It's a Demo" instrumental. All three are pretty nice - G Rap kills it on all of them. My favorite is the one titled simply "Unreleased."

Then, the B-side features the Jagged Edge song "Ride On," which features Kool G Rap. Produced by The Trackmasterz, it features them singing over pretty much the same instrumental The Arsonists used for "Venom," so it's pretty hot. Like the more official 12" Rawkus put out of this song, it features Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions. But only the other, separate "Ride On" 12" has the acapella.

All in all, this is a pretty sweet 12" with a lot of value, considering it has "Ride On" and the three exclusive freestyles. And for me, this is probably the ideal version of "Holla Back" with just the absolute tightest verses on it. But even if you decide you'd rather have the version with the extra AZ and Nawz verses on it (I can't imagine anyone deciding they'd rather have the Koch version which excises one of Nas's illest appearances), this is still an interesting historical artifact. If you see it, pick it up.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Think Of This as a Master Ace and Asher Roth Album Produced Entirely By DJ Premier

So, if you've read some of my recent write-ups on albums by One Block Radius and Pissed Off Wild, you're probably thinking you can anticipate my thoughts on 13 & God's brand new album, Own Your Ghost.  Werner just hates rappers joining forces with bands!  And honestly, that's not a bad rule of thumb.

After all, let's face it: you're a rap producer, digging for samples or playing around in pro-tools, and it occurs to you, "hey, my little brother plays drums!  That fan I met at my show said he plays guitar!  Why am I sitting here making beats this way when I can have my own, live musical ensemble?"  But here's the thing - is your fan really going to come up with a loop tighter "Nautilus?"  Is your little brother gonna bash out out something tighter than "Funky Drummer?"  Probably not.  Instead, you're probably going to wind up rhyming with a half-assed garage band that wouldn't even be getting gigs at your local bar without your hip-hop co-sign.  There's a bajillion mediocre to terrible rappers out there, so when we find one with some real talent and stand-out quality, it's exciting... and disappointing when they keep passing the microphone back to some inferior collaborator for half their songs.  I'd probably love a dope MC rhyming with The J.B.'s, but most rappers seem to be going for the bands in shortest reach, not auditioning for the best in the world.

And I said all that just to say, I actually don't feel that way about 13 & God.  This is one of those instances where the band and the MC are both talented and interesting enough to deserve our attention, and the music of The Notwist (the part of 13 & God that isn't Themselves) are a really good fit for Dose.  This doesn't feel like Dose compromised or "find the good Dose contributions amid a sea of substandard music."  This is original and compelling work from the whole crew (the fact that Jel is still involves has to be a large part of how it all manages to work, I'm sure).

But, unfortunately, there is one large caveat.  Marcus Archer, the lead singer of Fog and the other vocalist of 13 & God.  I admit, when they've all got the lyrics, the music and the groove working 100% just right, like on the chorus to "Men Of Station," he can sound fine.  But otherwise, I'm not trying to make the guy feel bad or anything, but I just don't think he should be singing.  He works in that one instance where literally anybody - your grandmother, even - would sound good singing that segment, and that's it.  He's not even a good hook man, let alone somebody who should be singing whole verses and taking songs on solo.

As such, and as will always be the case I suppose with 13 & God releases, you're going to find yourself skipping the Marcus parts.  And, unfortunately, the Marcus-to-Dose ratio is pretty heavy on the Marcus this time around.  So if you're not in a situation where you can easily skip around songs and parts of songs while listening to your music, you'll just wind up having to listen to something else.  Which is a shame, because when they're cooking, like on "Sure As Debt" or "Death Major," they kick ass.

The vinyl presentation is pretty kick ass, too.  It's a single LP, but that's alright since it's kind of a short album anyway, and comes in a cool picture cover.  It comes with a fold-out insert with all the lyrics and some additional artwork (printed lyrics are always welcome, but especially on any project that Dose One raps on!), and also a download card for a free mp3 version of this album.  Anticon continues to get that right.  =)

So, think of this as a Master Ace and Asher Roth album produced entirely by DJ Premier.  The one MC is great, and the musical backing is safely on point.  Does the other vocalist keep you away?  Your answer to that question will determine whether or not this album is for you.  If it helps you decide, there are one or two songs which are essentially Dose solo songs.  For my part, I'm quite happy with the purchase.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Dopplegangaz

I just caught on to The Dopplegangaz, thanks to a well-placed Youtube link... though in retrospect, I realized Robbie included them on his Unkut mixtape; so I should've started following them last year.  Oh well; better late than never.  Coming out of New York, it's a two man team of Matter ov Fact (MC) and EP (MC and producer), and I timed my discovery pretty well, because I was able to pre-order their latest album, Lone Sharks just a few days before it dropped, and here they are already in today's mail.

The Dopplegangaz remind me of The Beatnuts, in the best possible sense.  At first, they might seem a bit silly and gimmicky - they wear hooded robes and the titles to some of their songs sound like straight-up horrorcore tracks.  But just like The Beatnuts, no matter how tempted you might be to just write them off, you can't because, while they're not the best lyricists in the game, their rhymes are pretty smart and their beats are beyond reproach.  The juvenile subject matter and robust sounds of "Like What Like Me," for example, is a seriously bugged combination.  They might not crack the mainstream market, but heads who appreciate the real talent will have to give it up.

Heck, let me just throw up that Youtube vid real quick.  They actually have a bunch of good videos, so go ahead and dig around their channel after this; but this is the one that led me to them earlier in the week:

And while I was scoring Lone Sharks, I also picked up their first album*, Beats for Brothels vol. 1.  Like its title suggests, it's essentially an instrumental album, with the only words being a handful of well-chosen vocal samples over the beats.  It actually takes me back to my old days listening to Dynamix II tapes (Holy cow! Was this my first Dynamix II reference on this blog?  Yee-ha!  And it only took me four years!  hehe).  Some of the tracks are pretty dope, and others are great!  "Chants" is a killer, at times reminding me of Mr. Green's "Children Sing" but without getting too similar that it feels derivative.

And it's not strictly an instrumental endeavor, which is great if you're like me and are quickly bored with hip-hop instrumental releases.  The album rounds out with two fully-fleshed out songs with vocals and all, "Digging" and "Dopplegang Affiliation."  This album's a great collection of instrumental production that aficionados with an ear for hot beats and samples will definitely want to check for.  But honestly, I pretty much just bought it for these two songs... and I was not disappointed.  By the way, the instrumental versions of both of these songs are included here, too.

My only complaint is probably one most of their fans will share, considering who their target audience must surely consist largely of diggers and purists - no vinyl.  Both their albums are CD only, though you have to expect that from up and coming artists who're just breaking and putting out their music themselves.  But, maybe if they're reading this, I could tempt them on the idea of a limited run EP of their best six or so tracks?  Because, as you've probably noticed, I love all kinds of hip-hop... but this is really the kind of gritty, sample-driven stuff you want to have on vinyl.  I love my Madball & Uzi albums; but honestly, the CDs are enough for me.  But this stuff would sound heavy on wax.

In the meantime, though, I urge you all to check them out online and support their new CD release.

*I say "first," but they do have a pair of previous, mp3-only releases that you can download for free from their website, (that's where you can order their albums from, too), and another mp3-only instrumental compilation called Rhyme Over Beats, which you can still download if you google around a bit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pissed Off Mild

In 2004, Josh Martinez debuted the title track to his upcoming, self-titled album with his new live band, Pissed Off Wild.  And just seven years later, as off like a week ago, the album's finally come out.

The initial "Pissed Off Wild" appearance was on a label compilation album called New Recruits, and the band consisted of Josh on vocals, Peter Schmitt on bass and Kenten Loewen on drums.  In a 2009 interview with AWMusic, Josh concisely explained the impetus and concept behind this new group, "A live band that wasn’t like a cheesy Roots knock-off, that had it’s own sound and really widened my ability to tour and gain more festivals or bigger venues and play with rock bands. I just wanted to be able to have more looks and I listen to a lot more music than underground hip hop and that’s what was inspiring me. Having a live band was important to me to show I was really musically inclined and not just a rapper, it was a personal thing to not be pigeon holed because I could see that the window was narrowing."

Well, so like I said, that original "Pissed Off Wild" song does appear as the title track to this, their 2011 self-titled album, though some things have changed since then.

Firstly, the band is now a 4-man ensemble, with guitarist Jesse Waldman added to the mix.  And second, the band is actually no longer an ensemble at all anymore.  As the liner notes inform us, "By the time the Pissed Off Wild record was done, so was the band. Jimmy quit. Joey got married."  Yup, Pissed Off Wild is finished, and this album is their legacy.

Oh, and one more thing has changed since New Recruits - the song itself.  Lyrically, it's the same, but musically it's been quite revamped.  The original had that live band feel, sure, but it was smooth and laid back.  Here it's rocking, and all the good and bad things that term entails, with grinding guitars and Martinez shouting into a distorted microphone.

The song "Outlaws" that they recorded for the 2006 compilation album, Hue and Laugh and Cry is also on here.  But, curiously, the song from Camobear's 2007 label sampler, "The Pirhana" is absent.

Anyway, I don't know much I even like this album... it's another in an increasingly long list of cases where a talented, noteworthy MC reaches out to other indie artists who aren't nearly so outstanding to band together and for an uneven, mediocre project with more crossover appeal.  It's like Buck 65's last album, or those Z-Man albums I just reviewed a couple weeks ago...  Hell, Josh has even done this before with his other group, The Chicarones.  Yeah, Josh and Sleep have made some decent songs together; but you know who makes better ones?  Josh without Sleep.

So yeah, this is all kinds of garage band rockish.  It mostly sounds noisy and kind of annoying, and while Josh can still be a compelling writer/vocalist, you really have to strain to appreciate the good in a lot of these songs.  He also uses this album to experiment a lot, which sometimes results in some interesting twists on his vocal styles, and sometimes it just sounds like somebody who can't sing taking over the karaoke mic at your local bar.  Some songs are better than others, but at the end of the day, I just wanna hear Josh over some dope beats by Moves and Jel and those guys.

This album isn't terrible.  And if you're a serious Josh Martinez fan and you go in with tempered expectations that this won't be the next Buck Up Princess or World Famous Sex Buffet, you won't be disappointed.  But it was really more comforting than sad to read that this album is the closing of a chapter and not the beginning of one.  I know Josh said he wanted to branch out in ways like this to have more looks, but this... just isn't a good look.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Recognize & Realize

In 1995, Bay area legend JT the Bigga Figga was starting to take off nationwide. He'd been putting out albums for a couple years, but by 1995 his album featured by stars like E-40 and Master P when they were at the pinnacles of their careers. Dwellin' In the Labb was the first JT album I picked up, and that was 1995, too. And '95 was the year he put out his first Get Low Playaz album, where he spotlighted whoever he was working with at the time on his label, Get Low Recordz. Really, the distinction between a JT album and a GLP album was pretty thin, since they were both largely compilation albums featuring different MCs over his production interspersed with multiple JT solo tracks.

Anyway, it was the final song on this GLP album (Straight Out the Labb) that featured the debut of one Black Nate, with his song "Recognize Me." That appearance was quickly followed up by Nate putting out his first EP, Recognize Me, on his own label, 4 tha Geez Records. I say EP, but it's sort of borderline... It's 9 songs, but one is a 20-second skit, and most of the songs are on the short side. So, maybe it's more of an LP, but it's a very concise listen either way.

My version's the cassette, but there are also vinyl and CD copies floating around out there.

The original "Recognize Me" isn't on here - that's exclusive to Straight Out the Labb. This E/LP features a new remix, not produced by JT this time around, but by Les G, who's done a lot of work with Bay-area artists over the years. Here, he speeds up the vocals just a smidgen and makes the whole thing a lot more high-energy.

Les handles pretty all of the production duty, and has gone on to work with Nate on future projects, too. Reggie Smith, another CA producer who stays working, and JT also get in a track each, however. The production is pretty much that Dre-inspired, studio-created, sample free sound you'd expect from a project like this. I mean, there are samples: "So Much Drama" samples a signature line from Marvin Gaye, for example; and "What Would You Do If You Had Mail"[featuring D-Moe tha Youngsta, fresh off his tough debut, Do You Feel Me?] uses a classic, filtered bassline that sounds great in the intro, but then is quickly drowned out by synths. "Black Nate Don't Playa Hate" also takes a classic soul sample and then drowns it out in other gangsta rap sounds... that's really the worst song on here; a failed fusion, like an experiment gone wrong; but it's also an anomaly, so I won't harp on it. Ultimately, though, you don't notice many samples and it all sounds like keyboards, slide-whistles and programmed sounds. So if you looked at this cover and immediately thought, "I hate that type of music," you're right - it's exactly that kind of rap music and you probably won't like it.

But if you enjoy the genre, it's a pretty dope example. Imagine a No Limit album, but without all the cheesy "Dear Mama"-sappy songs, crossover attempts, awkward collaborations, and embarrassing appearances by Master P exclaiming "UUGGHH!!" that ruined so many of their projects. Imagine instead what those albums should've been. Black Nate isn't the most attention-grabbing lyricist. He doesn't have a lot of stand-out punch lines or rap terribly fast or anything. Even JT has a much slicker flow. But he manages to do entire albums without saying anything corny and ridiculous, which is a lot more than most rappers seem to be able to say, including the biggest names of today. He just comes real with it, often autobiographical and earnest, no BS. There's a reason he stood out on the GLP album, even without any gimmicks. He's simple and straight-forward, but compelling.

And the production is solid, too. Yeah, it's all in that style I talked about above... but you can do that style poorly or you can do it well, and these guys know how to do it right. Plus the drums are nice and hard. I don't think very many heads could front on "Sticky Green & Vodka," with it's dark, cool vibes, and no hook. Even the staunchest New York purist might say the style doesn't suit them and would pass on buying the album, but they couldn't diss it.

So now you might be surprised to hear that Black Nate is still around. He's been putting out albums completely independently over the years: Debiase, The Natrix, Fully Resurrected, Time To Eat... He's done a few appearances and compilations, and he's pretty active now online: here's his twitter and facebook. He's still putting in work & releasing music, so, like, you know... recognize him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

I've certainly been interested to see Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest since I first heard of it, but I can't say I've been as anxious as a lot of heads seem to be. For one, I've always liked A Tribe Called Quest, but they've never been a personal favorite. Like, if you told me there was a collection of never before heard, vintage Tribe Called Quest tracks behind Door #1, and never before heard vintage Juice Crew tracks behind Door #2... you would have to remind me next week what the heck was behind Door #1 again. That's just where I'm coming from as a fan.

And the other thing is that: we've been hearing about this movie for ages, but every blog or article everywhere has been on the drama between the members. Either they're calling each other out in the press, or they're holding the film back or boycotting the screenings, or half of them are calling the other half out for holding the film back and boycotting the screenings. I love hip-hop music. Celebrity gossip, on the other hand, I'm not into. And it's not so much that I couldn't separate the hype from the actual film, so much as I was worried that the actual film would just be more of the hype: two hours of each member sniping at the others. Turns out that fear was somewhat justified.

It's not a good sign that the film starts out, even before the opening credits, with dramatic pull quotes of the members arguing about each other and the break-up, and then cutting to a frustrated Q-Tip talking about how they'd never perform together again. But then, once the credits roll, that was all but forgotten. For the next 45 minutes or so, we had nothing but a fresh retrospective of the career of Tribe, with in-depth interviews with members, managers and other artists. All their highlights are covered, their early lives, behind-the-scenes introspection so even the biggest Tribe fans will find themselves learning new insights into the group. We get into Phife's health problems and Jarobe's life outside the group when he "boated" after the first album. This is easily one of the best hip-hop documentaries I've seen, and I highly recommend it.

But then, yeah, the film gets too side-tracked by the drama. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the film shouldn't have covered the break-up or the animosity the members (mainly Tip and Phife) felt for each other at different times... If all of that was skipped over, I would've accused this film of white-washing and being just a shallow press piece. But the film just lingers on it, and we watch so much footage of them just arguing over absolutely nothing and calling each other out over and over. It just feels like the filmmakers thought, "this is where the money is" and included every ounce of footage they could squeeze out of the drama, whether it was worthy of inclusion or not.

And that's all the more frustrating because of what was left out. Only one of Tribe's managers is given one single sentence to bring up how J Dilla was brought into the production team for the final album, and fans were curious what Consequence was doing there. No one answers that question or addresses these topics, or how that changed the dynamics of the group. There's a super-short, maybe 30 second, clip referencing Tip's solo career (he mentions he was surprised to be getting 5 mics), and from watching this documentary you would never even know that Phife put out solo records. Tip's solo album that was unreleased for so long and was such a controversial mystery in hip-hop? Unmentioned. Ali's album on Penalty Records? Unmentioned ...though there is a single sentence where he mentions his group Lucy Pearl. But a single name-dropping sentence is hardly deep documentary filmmaking. And all the great hip-hop nerd stuff we'd love to see answered, like the many versions of "Scenario," with different MCs on them? Unmentioned.

It seems like the second half of this documentary was discarded in favor of celebrity gossip. And maybe commercially that was the right decision. It's certainly giving the film tons and tons of press and message board action. But artistically, it's a let down. Of course the break-up had to be in there. The war of personalities was, in some ways, the heart of the story. But when we get into a drawn-out segment of them arguing over how Phife nudged Tip while walking on-stage but it might've been too much like a push... I feel like the great documentary has been switched off, and somebody's changed the channel to a trashy reality TV show made for the E! channel instead.

At the end of the day, though, this is still the most substantive documentary on Tribe we'll ever get, and one of the best hip-hop documentaries the film world has produced so far. And I'm betting/hoping, when the DVD finally comes out, there'll be plenty of bonus footage that covers most of the subjects they trimmed away in order to make room for the drama; and then we'll really have a definitively rewarding Tribe documentary on our hands.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Royce da 5th Wheel

In 2004, Royce da 5'9" released a 12" - on Koch no less - produced by DJ Premier. It was the lead single off his Death Is Certain album, released that same year. The 12" was pretty loaded - it had the instrumental, tv mix, clean and dirty versions, and even clean and dirty versions of the acapella. But it was just that one track, no b-sides or remixes.

But in 2005, another 12" appeared... on a label called Major Threats with an exclusive remix. It was one a posse cut remix, a la "Flava In Ya Ear" or "I Got Five On It," with some high profile guests. I mean, really high profile guests. Would you believe Big Pun, Notorious B.I.G., Big L and 2Pac? And of course, if you're any kind of hip-hop fan, you've probably already noticed one other thing all those artists have in common.

You might think it's awfully presumptuous for Royce to retroactively put himself alongside hip-hop's most revered and honored legends, and I wouldn't disagree. But mostly I just find the endeavor kind of morbid. Of course, none of the guests' contributions are anything new to their fans... Even by 2005, pretty much everything they'd recorded while they were alive had already been released and sold to the public. So we get a bunch of recycled acapellas kind of sloppily slapped onto a new piano-heavy beat, this time produced by Statik Selektah (though Premier's scratching is still used at the finale).

Pun's verse comes from "Leather Face," L's verse comes from "Flamboyant," Biggie's verse comes from "Party & Bullshit" and 2Pac's verse comes from "Homeboyz." Royce's verses (one opening verse, and a mini-one in the middle) are at least all-new (which shows, by the way, he was 100% involved with this conceptual remix); and to be fair, Selektah's beat is pretty nice... But honestly, this song just makes me think how I'd rather be listening to "Leather Face," "Flamboyant" or "Party & Bullshit." There, the verses fit in better with the music, and having Royce on the record to introduce MCs like Biggie really isn't an improvement for me.

Now, I think Major Threats may've been Statik Selektah's label, because in addition to producing this and the B-side (we'll come back to that in a minute), the only other release I know of from this label was another 12" with more of his exclusive remixes. But what's interesting is it also featured another contemporary (for its time) song remixed to include recycled verses from Biggie and 'Pac. This was apparently Major Threats' "thing."

But anyway, getting back to this release, we flip it over to find another Statik Selektah remix, this time of Method Man's "What's Happening" featuring Busta Rhymes. It basically just lays that acapella down over the instrumental for "Know the Ledge." It feels a bit like a cheap mash-up, but I have to admit the combination of Meth's flow over that epic running bassline is pretty hot. The original version of "What's Happenin'" (as it was spelled there) was on Tical 0: The Prequel; and yes, Busta was on that version as well.

This record features Clean, Dirty and Instrumental versions for both tracks. This Royce remix was also featured on one of his mixCDs, The King Is Back, mixed by Statik Selektah. Now that CD just barely features any mixing really (yeah, it was another one of those), so you're not actually getting much extra with the complete version on this 12". But, still, if you think "Hip Hop (Inspiration Remix)" is worth owning on vinyl, this 12" is the ideal presentation. But, now that time's passed and we evaluate what does and doesn't warrant a place in our collections, I think whatever merit this record has basically just rests in its value as a curiosity piece.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Father MC Presents: Learn Along With Werner, part 4

While searching for another record (which you can expect a post on in the very near future), I stumbled across an odd listing on gemm... besides your usual plethora of listings for Father MC and Father, there was one or two for "Father M.c. Presents Bishop." Whoza whatza? Well, once I learned that there was a record billed as "Father M.c. Presents Bishop," I poked around and discovered there's a whole album by "Father M.c. Presents Bishop," hereafter just Bishop; and so of course I had to have it!

The album is called The Missing Link, and it came out in 1998 on Bi-Law Entertainment/ (unsurprisingly) Echo International. Echo was apparently the home for a lot of Father's projects around that time. And for you Father MC completists, you'll be happy to know that it can be had for basically just the price of shipping from Amazon and anyplace else.

Inside, the album gives us a helpful little bio of Bishaop a.k.a. Carlos Lewis "the 25 year old R&B sensation." He's from Florida, which makes sense, since this is also about the time Father was down there working with Luke Records and Teez. Most of the bio's pretty generic ("he had dreams of becoming a superstar, but knew he had a long way to go, blah blah blah") but it ends with a short paragraph on the Father MC connection: "Bishop knew if he wanted to get discovered he had to get his sound out, so he started sending out demos and doing talent shows in different cities. His demo tape ended up in the hands of Father MC, thus the beginning of his professional career."

So this is a full-length album, but there is also a 12" single that's on Echo as well - in fact, that's the listing I first stumbled upon. It's three songs, "Call Me," "Lovely" and "So Hot," all of which are featured on this album. There are no instrumentals, alternate mixes or anything like that; but some copies do at least come in a picture cover.

Ultimately, however, this all boils down to one great, big fat disappointment: Father MC is nowhere on this album! There are no guest verses or writing credits like the other albums he did with R&B groups - Gamin' by Teez (for the story there, see: Learn Along With Werner, part 1) and I Love You Like You Are by Ray Parker Jr. (see: Learn Along With Werner, part 2). Those albums were chock full of Father MC's contributions; but here, Father is only the executive producer. Bishop's not a bad singer, but this entire CD is pretty generic and un-engrossing by R&B standards, much less by the standards of a Father MC fan looking for raps.

So I will be putting this album away, probably to never listen to again. But, hey, it cost practically nothing and we all got to learn about another interesting side-note in Father MC's career (one might even dub it... The Missing Link! ha ha ha). So it was worth it for me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Siah and Yeshua DapoED

Siah and Yeshua DapoED were a rare combination of West coast MCing styles, along the lines of The Good Life guys, and East coast production styles, with a sample-heavy, jazzy aesthetic. In 1996, they dropped a serious bomb on the underground scene with their underground debut EP on Fondle 'Em that took us all by surprise.

The cool-out vibes of "The Visualz" stand up right alongside the most beloved Digable Planets cuts, but the MCs maintain a more lyrical, street credibility. And the hook for "No Soles Dopest Opus," which samples a killer Pharaoh Monch line, "I leave no footprints in the sands of time so these wack MCs can't follow me," over Akinyele's "In the World" beat, actually taken from an obscure radio freestyle on The Stretch & Bobbito Show, still sticks in the memory as one of the great hip-hop hooks. It conflicts completely with the soft jazzy feel of the rest of the track, but that just makes it sound even more awesome every time the song stops to interject it. But the really famous song is the epic eleven+ minute narrative, "A Day Like Any Other," where the beat changes completely each time the MCs change locations in the tale. It was absolutely the mind blower of the year.

Unfortunately, however, they were a pairing doomed to split just as heads were catching on to them. By 1998, Siah had already released his first solo 12" (also on Fondle 'Em) and Yeshua had moved over to Raw Shack. While they were compelled to do a guest appearance or two together, Siah and Yeshua DaEP never released another record as a group; and the magic of their combined efforts was never fully captured again. Not that their solo efforts haven't had merit over the years, but that pinnacle of time they recorded together was a one-off in hip-hop history.

But in 2008, we got the next best thing. No, not a disappointing reunion... Instead Head Bop Music and Traffic put out The Visualz Anthology. Now, first of all, it's just a nice compilation... it includes the entire original EP, plus one of the songs from Siah's 12" on Fondle 'Em and both songs from Yeshua's first 12" on Raw Shack. And it includes some of those aforementioned guests spots they recorded together: "The Cure for Stagnation" and "Transatlantic." So that's a nice little package for those who slept the first time around.

That's just half the album, though. And this is where the Anthology really takes off. Next up is a song called "Victim of My Own Imagination." Now, Yeshua had a song called "Victim" on his 2002 album, IntoFreshThings, that used the phrase "victim of my own imagination" on the hook, but this is a completely different song, musically and lyrically.

You've got three radio freestyles, which shows off a bit more of their gritty, NYC lyricist sides. And then you've got a three random, I-don't-know-what-the-heck-they-are tracks: "Hairy Bird Intro," "Hairy Bird Reprise" and "Untitled," which, despite their titles, seem to be pretty much full and distinct songs, that are fresh and lush enough to hold up against anything else on this album (there's some awesome flute work on "Untitled"). And finally, you've got a killer demo song that'd been floating around the internet for ages in the form of a radio rip, "It's Good for Your Health." But here it's clean and unmixed.

The presentation is nice, too, with a phat booklet containing vintage photos, labelscans, notes from Bobbito, and pretty much every article ever written about Siah and Yeshua back in the days... The Vinyl Exchange is even in there! It's a mild disappointment that this was originally meant to be a double-disc set, with instrumentals from the original EP, longer freestyles and other tracks, but the artists were against it(?!). Still, it feels pretty full and complete as it is. The only real disappointment was that it was CD only, a move Traffic pulled with a bunch of really promising double LPs they announced. But, for a CD, it's pretty essential.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Science Officer Mr. Spock Vs. Professor X of the X-Men

If there was one thing Macola Records knew how to do, it was repackage songs. If a song was released through them once, you can bet it was released at least ten subsequent times in a short amount of time. In just the span of two or three years, they issued many represses and dozens of compilation albums, all with the same 15-20 songs reshuffled over and over again. And one crew that Macola repackaged quite often was The X-Men.

The X-Men was a west coast DJ group headed by the Unknown DJ (years later, the NY DJ crew consisting of Roc Raida, Mista Sinista, etc, would claim the name... but these guys came first). There were two major X-Men 12" singles, recorded by Unknown and DJ Slip (who also went by the name The Juggernaut to fit the theme), "The X-Men" and "Revenge Of the X-Men," both in 1988. Unknown and Slip were the core, but there were also affiliate members, who either contributed or were shouted out, including DJ Battery Brain, Battlecat, and Arabian Prince, who released the third X-Men 12", "Professor X (Saga)" under the alias Professor X, in 1989.

Now, because Macola has re-released the "X-Men" and "Professor X (Saga)" tracks so many times, it's become two of their best known songs. Both have made more recent appearances, too, on budget Dr. Dre compilation albums, even though Dre had nothing to do with these records besides being in the same west coast scene at the same time. But what most people probably don't know is that "Professor X (Saga)" is actually a competing version of another, more obscure X-Men song using the same instrumental.

"Revenge Of the X-Men" is already a far less exposed song than "X-Men" and "Professor X (Saga)," but it has a very interesting B-side that you hardly ever hear about called "It's More Fun To Sample." Now "Professor X (Saga)" says it's produced by The Professor (Arabian Prince), but he's really just recycling the instrumental of "It's More Fun To Sample" from the year before.

It's More Fun To Sample" features Unknown using another alias, Spock, which, yes, fails to properly fit the X-Men theme. Perhaps that's why they remade it. But anyway, "It's More Fun To Sample"'s production credit is given to Unknown and Slip, so they must've really created the beat.

The songs are very similar in other aspects as well. Arabian Prince's raps as the Professor are absent, of course.

"Professor X! I'm here, coming from my creator,
D 2 D, D A T, Master M emulator[or something close to that];
Conceived in data planet by DJ Unknown.
DJ Slip was on the mix when I came to be known.
Professor X is a scientist who studies all the music;If a guy grabs a girl, he can surely get into this.
'Cause computers that we use are so simple to create!One, two, three, four, five, six...
Working in my laboratory, making mutant tests;Strange reactions came upon you while sitting at my desk.Clearency[sic] must be achieved before I can tell the rest...The result is a creation of the great Professor X. Professor X!"

But instead we have verses by Spock/Unknown, using the same kind of bass-heavy voice modification for his rhymes.

"Soulsonic rocked the planet, but we're here to take control.Super beings sent to rock: he's DJ Slip, I'm called Unknown.
We have heard techno attempted; and yet sadly, you have failed;
You should stick to vice, Miami. Leave the techno to LA.
DJ Slip the beat programmer of this psychedelic groove;We'll scratch the beat while syncopated samples put you in the mood.You can't resist the X-Men posse, or the dope hypnotic beat;Clap your hands to what he's doing and I'm sure you'll move your feet.You must dance or be forgotten. If you can't, then you must try.
This is X-Men law, no need to front - perpetrate and die!

Techno music's here, so use it. Hear the groove and hit the floor.While the X-Men rock the planet like Soulsonic did before.Unleash the beat like it was fire, burn your speaker cones to shreds;Cerwin Vega rocks the house, X-Men bass upside the head!"

Perhaps more importantly, the signature vocal samples from the X-Men cartoons, like "the X-Men train to improve their mutant skills," aren't here. In there place are Star Trek samples like, "analysis, Mr. Spock" and "science officer Spock, transmit now!" The other signifigant difference is that "Professor X (Saga)," strangely, ended with a keyboard solo reprising the tune of Arabian Prince's previous record, "Take You Home Girl." "It's More Fun To Sample" ends more abruptly.

So I urge any fan of that late 80's west coast style to seek out both versions and see which is your favorite. Who best rocks this beat, Spock or Professor X?