Saturday, July 30, 2011

Better Late Than Never, Right?

There's only one reason I wasn't right on top of this album with a blog post the minute it dropped - I wasn't blogging back than. But really, this is the kind of album this blog was made for. Mikey D and the LA Posse released several kick-ass singles in the late 80's. They're highly regarded now for their production by the late, great Paul C; but Mikey himself was killing it, too. But label politics saw them switching labels even between 12" releases; and the full-length album they recorded for Sleeping Bag Records never got to see the light of day. Until, finally, in 2006, MicSic Recordings finally gave it a new title, Better Late Than Never (In Memory of Paul C), and a proper CD release; and man, the wait was sure worth it.

[A quick aside: the LA Posse is not actually named for Los Angeles, but Laurelton, where Mikey is from in Queens, NY. There's no relation to the LA Posse from Cali, though interestingly, both had strong ties to LL Cool J in the late 80's - Mikey dissed him as a rival, and Big Dad and Muffla, the west coast LA Posse, produced LL's second album.]

So, yes, pretty much all the songs from the three well-known 12"s are here, B-sides included... The one exception is "Out Of Control." The B-side, "Comin' In the House," is here, but not the main track. I believe that's because "Out Of Control" is the one Mikey D and the LA Posse track not produced by Paul C. Remember, after all, Paul C wasn't just a producer on this like he was for many of hip-hop's strongest albums, this was actually his group. The LA Posse is Paul C and their DJ, Johnny Quest. Still though, that means six of the album's thirteen tracks have been released before; and the last one is more of a "shout outs" joint, though it's still pretty fresh musically. So only half the album will be "new" to listeners. But that's to be expected, because after all, this is the long-lost album those singles were meant to be from... and anyway, those songs are classics - can you ever really be mad at "My Telephone?"

This is a great album - heads would've loved it if it came out at the time, and they should love it just as much now. The production is banging, and Mikey D walks an amazingly thin line of being hard and fun at the same time ("AIDS is in effect; you ain't on my jock, you're on my rubber"). The only possible concern for this album is that maybe, with all the singles, we'd heard the all the best and the rest would just be filler. But that's definitely not the case; the "new" songs live up tot he impossible standards of the 12"s. In fact, the opening track, "Taking No Shorts," might just replace all previously released material as your favorite song from the crew.

I wonder, though, how different this album would've been had it been released when it was supposed to've come out. I mean, it obviously would've had a different title and cover, but more importantly... I'm not so sure if those singles put out on Public Records would've made it onto a Sleeping Bag album. Would it possibly have had a few more non-Paul C produced cuts instead? Was it ever fully completed, and could there be more songs recorded for this album that still haven't come out, left out for the same reason "Out Of Control" was? Sure Paul C tracks > non-Paul C tracks, but I dog "Out Of Control" and would love to find out if there was anything else left that could be released in 2011.

Regardless, did ya notice back in the first paragraph how I called this a "proper CD release?" Yeah, that's because, tragically, this was never put out on wax. But MicSic did at least meet us halfway, by putting out a 12" vinyl single of two of the exclusive album tracks, "Taking No Shorts" and "Party Time," which includes the instrumentals. So, vinyl heads had to just suck it up and buy the CD... but I bet it's one of their favorite CDs they got. And if didn't pick it up at the time, hey, better late than never. :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Buck 65, Live and In Private

These Buck 65 tour CDs are downright addictive. This one, 2008's I Dream of Love: Live and In Private, is, as its name already makes pretty clear, a live album. It's one of several tour-only CDs he sold on the road promoting his Situation album, including two I've already written about here and here*. It wasn't recorded on the road, though; it's a set played in a recording studio (hence the "in private") specifically for this disc.

So, it features a nice selection of tracks, like "Bandits," "Heather Nights" and "Roses & Bluejays." No, this is not the same live version of "Roses and Bluejays" that was on his Boy/Girl Fight! CD I wrote about earlier in the week... but you'd have to be a hardcore fan with your ear to the speaker to notice the difference. The most noticeable distinction is he ad-libs a bit at the end, singing, "Johnny, why don't you come on home;" but apart from that, they're both pretty similar and neither really stray from the original album version.

And that note there pretty much summarizes the whole album... live recordings of songs he's released before that sound very similar to - but just not quite as good as - the original album versions. When I popped this in for the first time, I was beginning to think I'd wasted my money - only the most die-hard fan, the collector who has to have every bit of memorabilia with Buck's name attached to it, would have much use for this. At least Porch featured Buck's songs filtered through another artist's style, giving us something new. This, while entirely listenable taken out of context of the rest of his catalog - they are good songs performed by a talented artist, after all - is just like a weak knock-off of the originals; a collection you'd buy from some shady street vendor if you couldn't afford the proper albums.

You might point out, hey, a few of these mixes sound pretty different from the originals - like "Pants On Fire." Sure, but fans more intimately familiar with his catalog will recognize that this is different from the version he made the video for, but it's essentially just a replay of the "countrier" version he put on This Right Here Is Buck 65. The "Phil Remix" is just a live replay of the "Philevator" remix on Boy/Girl Fight!

The only real addition is a few spoken ad-libs between songs ("alright, lovers, I got one more and I'm going to bed"). These are very brief, though, so you're really not missing anything. What's more, on one song he warns us, "I gotta be careful; this one makes me cry sometimes." As a die-hard, life-long dedicated hip-hop lover, I hate to downplay the potential emotional impact of a really good rap song, but bullshit! What phony, ostentatious drivel. It's not even the one he wrote for his mother or anything; it's just "Out of Focus." So he's saying "I go under the blouse and grope for the breast" (that's the hook) makes him cry? Honestly, these exclusive, little soundbites don't do anything for the album.

It's only when you get to the very end of the album that you get anything worth the trouble of scoring this disc. One is a medley, titled simply "Medley," of a bunch of Buck songs (including, of course, "Centaur") blended into something you at least haven't heard before. It's short (three and a half minutes), and basically takes verses and hooks from several of his hits and plays them to one, new instrumental. Unfortunately, it's not one of his better instrumentals, and the various bits and pieces don't really fit together into anything too cohesive, or match will with the new beat. It's interesting, though, and hey - at least it's new.

Finally, there's a remix of "'65 Buick," which I don't think has been released before in any capacity. It's a fun, autobiographical tune, and it sounds very different than the original version from Synesthia. Not just different, but better. Now, this is more like it! But unfortunately, it's also the last song on the album.

Now, this CD has been restocked in some online shops recently (Strange Famous, Fifth Element), so it's available if you want it. The thing you have to decide for yourself is whether you're a big enough fan to order it for just one song (and possibly the curiosity value of "Medley"). At least you're going in with more information now than I had when I paid a bit more for a second-hand copy. :/

*The fourth one is Cretin Hip-Hop, which I probably won't be bothering with, since it's just a mixCD (by Skratch Bastid). Apparently it does feature a few exclusive bits, however.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Green ReDefined

Back in February, Kaimbr and Kev Brown released their digital full-length debut, The Alexander Green Project. A few months later, ReDef Records (Damu's label, and now also the home of none other than K-Def) picked it up to give it a proper physical release. And being ReDef, they've made that physical release as awesome as possible.

First of all, they've released it in whatever format you could want. There's your basic CD, there's limited green vinyl, and even a limited green cassette! And, all three versions include an additional bonus track, "Go Green." Well... strictly speaking, "Go Green" isn't on the LP. but that's because they've gone one better, and included it on a free bonus 7" (also green) that comes with the LP; and that 7" has an exclusive B-side remix of the album track "Army Fatigue Rap," produced by Damu himself.

But let's move past the formatting, because an album could be pressed up on quintuple, extra thick colored vinyl with an autographed bonus boxed set of 12" singles in fancy picture covers, but it doesn't mean jack unless the actual music measures up to its presentation. Happily, it does.

This album is entirely produced by Kev Brown... although, I bet if I told you it was produced by Damu, most of you would buy it, because they have a similar aesthetic. You could see why ReDef picked this up as opposed to, say, Anticon Records. Like Damu, Kev comes with a serious, sample-based sound using rich soul grooves. In fact, in this case, the album is made up entirely of Al Green samples.

See, the concept is that, apparently, Kaimbr's real name is Alexander Green... and so they Kev produced this album using nothing but Al Green records. Gimmicky? Who cares; it sounds great. You'll recognize some samples from past hip-hop records, and others you won't. But even in the case of the familiar loops, they've matched them with samples you haven't heard into unique combinations and all new sound-beds. So you won't be like, "oh, that's the instrumental for so & so." It's all fresh and dope.

Lyrically, the MCs are capable. Think of that EP by K-Def and Da Capo (by the way, ReDef - another one for you to consider putting out on wax!). Nobody on the mic here is going to frighten Big Daddy Kane into finding a new day job, but they both MCs (Kev Brown also raps on this) acquit themselves respectably. Kev Brown seems to lean more towards wordplay, but his delivery is a little stiffer, whereas Kaimbr is simpler lyrically, his delivery is more smooth and natural. The important thing is that neither of them make the typical, indie mistakes of being too punchliney or anything. This is "grown man rap," as they say, you can cool out and enjoy in mixed company.

There are also a number of guest appearances. For the most part, they're not big names, but they do a good job of keeping things variant and energetic. I say "for the most part" because, surprisingly, Asher Roth of all people turns up towards the end. Thankfully, he sticks to flipping a lot of short multi-syllable rhymes as opposed to anything too corny, so he's actually fine on here.

So, to recap: the presentation is excellent. The MCing's good and the production's great. Don't let Asher Roth's name in the credits put you off. This is one of those albums you'll want to flip over and listen to again as soon as it's over. How many 2011 releases can you say that about?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tour de Force

What we have here is another of Buck 65's exclusive tour CDs. This one's entitled Boy/Girl Fight!, but it's not to be confused with Boy-Girl Fight, his essentially unreleased 2000 album. It's possible, though, that Buck might want us to confuse the two... See, this is purely speculation, but my guess is that he made this little tour CD to satisfy fans who've been asking him for years for a copy of Boy-Girl Fight, an album he perhaps wasn't entirely happy with (hence it getting shelved), and which, after all, has been released piecemeal over the years anyway, with different album tracks winding up on different projects. Sort of like what Chino XL did with Poison Pen.

The difference is, Chino recorded a bunch of new songs and gave us an ultimately poor substitute for the unreleased original. Whereas Buck included a bunch of older songs, and gave us an ultimately better album.

The 2001 Boy-Girl Fight was a short album, just 9 tracks including "Centaur," a song he'd released a few times before (it was, however, going to be the first time this particular version - the one with Steffi playing the cello on it - was included on a full-length album). It almost feels like more of an EP, especially when compared to this version, which has literally double the amount of songs on it.

So, including "Centaur," five songs didn't make it onto this 2005 tour CD. See, so they're totally different albums, with only four tracks in common: "Pack Animal," which was officially released on Tag Of the Times 3, "Style #386" and "Sketch Artist." Now, if "Style #386" sounds like a familiar title to you, that's because it's from Vertex; but like a lot of his songs from that album/era, it's been rerecorded so his voice doesn't sound as young. In fact, on this disc, it's called "Style #386 (Beefed Up)." To be clear... both versions of Boy/Girl feature this "beefed up" version.

"Sketch Artist" has had another incarnation, too. On this version it's labeled "Sketch Artist (Demo)," but it's the same on both Boy/Girl Fights. The non-demo version later found its way onto track three of Square, back when he was unhelpfully releasing his albums in large, unsegmented tracks with all the songs blended together.

And it's basically the same story again for "Wooden Matches (demo)," the stand-out track from the unreleased 2001 album... It's the song I immediately think of when I think of Boy-Girl Fight; and the one that blew my mind when I thought it wasn't ever going to get released when the album was shelved. But, thankfully, Buck re-recorded it and included it as a segment on Square, and Warner Brothers even put it out as a CD single (which I already tackled in a previous blog post).

So, that's those songs out of the way. Now, how about those fifteen songs that weren't transferred from the 2001 Boy-Girl Fight?

Well, they're not all new. The album begins and ends with two fan favorites: "Memories Of the Passed" and "Success Without College," both from the Bassments Of Bad Men compilation album. And "Double Header" is the song he contributed to Omid's Monolith LP. But then we get into some exclusive goodies!

The first is "Stricken," and it's great! It's a little bit more of the Talkin' Honky style, with slow guitars and Buck's raspy voice, but it's just one of those where everything works, from the tone to the lyrics: "I could hear the coyotes when I laid in bed, thoughts of runnin' away would invade my head. I would starve myself, never lose a pound; the pain never goes away, it just moves around." In fact, it's so good, here's a guy on deviantart claiming he wrote it! hehe "Stricken" has never been "properly" released, though it is also known as "January" on one of those mysterious mp3 collections (Climbing Up a Mountain) that float around the internet.

"Highway 101"'s another gem. I remember it running around the blogs last year as a random, unreleased track, but it's actually from this album (and, again, from that random Climbing Up a Mountain comp). It's another slow, honky track - "there's a hex on highway 101" - and again, it's better than a lot of the songs he actually gave proper, official releases.

There's a live version of "Roses and Bluejays," which is just okay. I mean, it's a great song, and it sounds good here, but the album version's a bit better, and there's not much unique to this live version. Still, I'm glad that he err'd on the side of giving us more unreleased stuff than just slapping the old original on here.

Gosh, we're just about halfway through the album... Okay, let's see. There's "Bed Of Nails," with a cool, more modern track to compliment the honkier stuff he'd been doing. "Three Swift Blows" starts with a funky spoken word poem that gradually grows into a full-blown song. "Philevator" is a remix of Buck's old stand-by "Phil," but it's a complete change in tone with grungy guitars and a super slow flow... it's like Buck's idea of chopping and screwing! lol

"Spooked" is another more or less original track that's pretty good, and "The Anthem" is another one of Buck's list songs that I'm really not too impressed by, but what're you gonna do? He just lists things for the whole song, and over the years he's done, like, 10 of these songs at least. "Bike" is an awesome ode to his... bike, with a great instrumental and background vocals that sound like they're taken from an old, French film. Finally, "Lummox" is kind of a wacky, upbeat countrified spacey instrumental, if you can imagine that.

So, all in all, this is a great collection of exclusives and unreleased songs... and even the non-exclusives are at least good choices. As a straight-through listen, honestly, this compilation is better than a lot of Buck's actual albums. According to Buck, only 200 ("maybe less") copies were made, but it's definitely worth your effort looking for it. Good shit!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Symbolic Two

The story of The Symbolic Three doesn't end with "No Show." They returned the next year on a new label, Public Records, with their new single "Extravagant Girls." And once again, they came with the same producer (Arthur Armstrong), DJ (Dr. Shock) and even the same special guest (MC Mikey D - Public Records was also the home of his singles with The LA Posse).

"Extravagant Girls" starts out with Shock and Mike talking about how materialistic girls are. Could the Symbolic Three be any better? No, actually, they're far worse - they're EXTRAVAGANT GIRLS! The concept here is to mock materialistic girls by playfully upping the absurdity level. While materialistic girls want you to buy them a new dress, the Symbolic Three want you to buy them a house and an airplane. Then Mikey D comes back to give the male counterpoint. It's nothing brilliant, but it's fun.

And like their last record, it's the B-side serious heads will probably prefer. "Bite It If You Wanna" is the fairly self-explanatory, harder flip to the more radio-friendly A-side. No Mikey D this time, just a simple beat with plenty of handclaps and constant scratches by Dr. Shock. As the song progresses, a few other, harder samples blend into the track, as well as a super cheesy xylophone-like riff. Apart from that riff, though, it's all dope and makes for a pretty rough track by '86 standards.

If you consider that these girls were putting out records while The Sequence were still together... these were easily some of the hardest girls in the game and definitely deserve more credit than they get. Okay, granted, they had a team of guys writing all their stuff; but we should at least try to distinguish between them and Super Nature.

By the way, before I sign off, I just heard today that Mikey D has a new 7" coming out on King Of the Beats with Craig G. Between that and Heat Seekers, Mikey D seems to hard on the comeback trail this year. Then again, it seems like he never really leaves, just keeps doing interesting projects slightly out of the spotlight, like these Symbolic Three records.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Symbolizing the Show

You'd have to be forgiven if you confused this record: "No Show" by The Symbolic Three, with Super Nature's "The Showstopper" (or "The Show Stoppa (Is Stupid Fresh)" as it was titled on the original 12"). Both are answer records to Doug E. Fresh & MC Ricky D's "The Show" recorded by all-female trios whose names begin with "S" making their debuts in 1985. Super Nature's the group that went on to become Salt-N-Pepa. The Symbolic Three, on the other hand, consisted of Sha Love, Money Love and Lady Lux.

Interestingly, "No Show" was released on the same label as "The Show:" Reality Records. It's also a closer, more faithful parody of "The Show." Where "Show Stoppa" takes elements of "The Show" as a jumping off point to kick their own verses over some crazy beats and synths copied from the big musical number in Revenge Of the Nerds, "No Show" follows "The Show" almost line-for-line, and beat for beat. Of course, they turn it into a diss, though, mocking the hole's in Doug's shoes ("sorry, Dougie, but your shoes are through. Through, through, throu-throu-through!") and Slick Rick "a gay fruit cake."

But when "The Show" would be over, "No Show" continues on with a second half, consisting of solo verses by the girls and Mikey D - yes, the same Mikey D from The LA Posse (the New York one) and Main Source. I think Mikey also does the human beat-boxing on the song. And DJ Dr. Shock provides some nice, sharp cuts.

The 12" also includes a shorter, Edited Verison, which excises this ending and cuts it down to only the half that apes "The Show," fading out during the human beatbox part. And there's a Dub (instrumental) version of the full-length mix on the B-side.

And "No Show" rounds out with a "Tell Off 'Bonus'," where The Three (and Mikey D) use the same drums but drop the rest of the crazy "Show" music to make a short and simple diss song directed at Doug & Rick with all new rhymes. So where "No Show" gets caught up playing all the crazy interludes and doing the singing and funny voices, "Tell Off" is more of a straight-up diss track.

But there's still more. On the B-side is the song, "We're Treacherous." While "No Show" is certainly more novel - both because it's an answer record, and because "The Show" has a lot of inherent novelty value already - "We're Treacherous" is an otherwise better, more straight-forward rap record. Once again, it features Mikey D and Dr. Shock, and everybody just comes hard on it. I mean, that's "hard" by 1985 standards... and that means the beat, too, is full of hand-claps and big, programmed drums that will probably sound pretty corny to contemporary audiences. But if you dig the 80's stuff, you'll definitely appreciate a dope, overlooked girl group showcasing their skills and coming correct.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Father MC's Doe

Last month, I mentioned a Father MC record I'd been searching for for some time. I've actually been searching for it for YEARS; and it's proven to be absolutely the hardest Father MC record to find (much harder, say, than his 12" with The First Fleet Crew, before he became famous), and one of the hardest records for me to find, period. You wouldn't think so - a 1999 12" with no unique songs or mixes from an easy-to-find album (No Secrets) on a relatively established indie label. But for whatever reason, it took me several years, and there were times I doubted it actually existed. It's still the only Father MC record not on discogs - they even added that obscure test pressing on Luke Records. Anyway, I finally got it (from a webstore in Japan) and can confirm it exists: "We Got Doe" by Father MC on Street Solid Records.

Perhaps the key reason Father MC's later records are so genuinely enjoyable is that he's not afraid to use the classics. Whatever you think about his MCing, his image, whatever else... you can't hate on a record that takes a great, tried and true break and lets it breathe. And while Father doesn't do that on all of his songs, you can be confident he'll do it at least several times of all of his albums, so good times are ensured.

That's certainly the case here. "We Got Doe," co-produced by Father and someone named Richlakes, takes one of the greatest loops in hip-hop's catalog, "Love Is the Message," and bumps it for all it's worth. It certainly doesn't break any new ground - how many times have we used this same sample used in the exact same way? - but that doesn't make it sound any less good. And, like every hip-hop song to use the song, it's still a huge upgrade on the corny vocals of the original MFSB record.

"We Got Doe" features a guest MC named Cat Eyes, who also appears on three other songs on the album... I think they might've been dating at the time. She used to have some pretty choice words for him on her myspace, but she's since cleaned that up. She now goes by the name Jayne Bond 009, and she's actually just dropped an album through Def Jam.

This 12" just has the Clean Radio Mix on the one side and the Club Mix on the flip. In this case, the Club Mix is the same as the album version, so the only difference is a few snipped curse words in Father's second verse. It's fun to note, however, that this 12" is mislabeled, and the Club Mix is on the side labeled Clean Radio Mix, and vice versa.

Lyrically, it's pretty generic. Cat Eyes neither helps nor hurts matters, as they both just spit pretty standard verses about how they've gone platinum on this album (a little 'cart before the horse,' but hey, what rapper hasn't done this?) and how they're super rich and have a lot of stuff. But their flow is fine and they sound alright... the whole track has a lot of energy - thanks to some spastic cutting on the chorus - so it's fun. Sure, other MCs have done it better; it's hard to make a case for this against Cappadonna and Raekwon's "Love Is the Message" or even "Hollywood's Message." But if there's room in your collection for more than one of these, than this one deserves a place. Maybe you'd like to blend 'em all together into one giant monster jam.

Of course, you'll never find it... or maybe I was just strangely unlucky.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Music By Spyder-D, Mikey D, Sparky D, and More?

After dabbling with mp3s, Spyder-D's label Newtroit Records has put out it's first physical release... well, technically since "Big Apple Rappin'" in 1980.  But Spyder's last album was in 2000 on Mecca Records, another label he was affiliated with.  So we'll call it eleven years.

But this isn't a new Spyder-D album, it's a compilation album showcasing the acts on his label, entitled Heat Seekers volume 1.  There's a lot of new names you won't recognize on here, but also several old school legends you most certainly will.  It's not a mixCD; none of the songs are blended together or incomplete, but the album is hosted by DJ Red Alert.  In this case, what that means is that he introduces every song, telling us who it's by - handy, because there are a lot of unknowns in the line-up, and you don't want to have to keep looking back at the back of the CD case every 3 minutes.

It opens with one of the strongest tracks, actually by one of the new artists: "Don't Worry About It" by Bobby Seals a.k.a. Doughnuts.  The production and hook - both also by Seals - are upbeat and catchy.  Seals has a lot of energy and he's even making a good point about celebrity gossip and other junk information we assail ourselves with.  Good shit.

Unfortunately, the whole album doesn't reach that high bar.  There's a lot of songs on here (22), and a lot are just boring.  Also, because it's showcasing everyone on his label, and he has a wide variety of acts, the album is kind of all over the place: straight R&B songs, street rap, pop stuff, songs which feel like they're chasing fads.  "My Crush" feels like the slower sequel to that Rebecca Black video that's all over Youtube, several of the artists here crank the autotune up to 11 and one of the female rappers on here sounds like a Kreayshawn knock-off.

But that's why God made the Skip Forward button, and no one is forcing you to include all these songs when you rip this and upload it to your ipod, so let's just talk about the interesting stuff.

Most of the other unknowns are kinda generic, so we'll skip right to the established old school artists (the whole reason any of will be buying this CD, anyway) right after this one last, interesting guy: Blaclite.  Have you ever had the perverse notion to blend horrorcore with Christian rap just to see what you'd get?  Me either, but this guy has and the results are indeed pretty bugged.  His voice and flow would sound completely natural alongside The Flatlinerz and The Headless Horsemen, and the production (by Blaclite himself) consists of strained, high-pitched organ notes over a break.  His hook is half-sung, half-deranged like ODB, but the lyrics, instead of demons killing you, is about demons being burned by his faith in Jesus.

Okay, now let's get to the artists we know...  there's a song on here by Sparky D called "Holla At Ya Girl."  This one features the girl I mentioned before, who I said sounds like a Kreayshawn knock-off (who also has her own song on here).  So, try to imagine Sparky and Kreayshawn doing a song together.  And since she's an evangelist now, Sparky also gives her lyrics a Christian bent: "to my ladies in stilettos, diamonds and pearls, as we walk through the mall, they be like, 'go on, girl!' My bible make my swagger swerve, quotin' scripture, readin' words. Go and buy a bottle of 'Holla At Your Girls!'"  It's... well, it's interesting.

Spyder's got a pretty cool song on here called "Heads Be Noddin."  Surprisingly, it's the only song produced by Spyder himself.  The go-to producer for the bulk of this album is actually Grand Creator K-Wiz, Sparky's DJ from back in the day.  Very cool to see him still around, but - focus! - this track's by Spyder, and it's cool and dark.  He's got a hook sung by Shady Grady of Parliament Funkadelic.  His lyrics are hard, his voice is that classic deep voice he's always had... I like this one.

But while Spyder sounds as good as ever, unfortunately, Mikey D fits the stereotype of an older MC today... sounding slower and tired.  "Dramacide" is a message song, which is cool in a way (I certainly don't disagree that street violence is bad), but it also seems like a que for a lower energy flow and melodramatic production.  It's okay for Mikey D completists, but everyone else can sleep at night knowing they're not missing out if they don't get this.

Of the R&B songs on here, easily the best is the one by Oran "Juice" Jones (though there's also an acapella song by a group called Kazual that shows some noticeable talent).  It's called "I'm a Pimp," and as Red Alert says, "the song you're about to here is self explanatory."  Fun stuff.

This next song must've been on deck for a while, since he passed in 2008, but there's a cool track by MC Breed and someone named Absolute Truth.  Breed sounds dope as ever.  Truth is a little corny, but at least he's enthusiastic.  Breed fans will like it, although they'd probably have preferred a Breed solo song.

Money B (yes, the Digital Underground one) has a new group out called M.A.S.K. and a song on here called "Is U Down," with a hook by Ne-Yo.  It's cool, and the production is nice, though I'd've preferred more of Money B and less of the other guys.

And that about raps up most of the album...  Trey Songz makes a cameo, and there are a couple other forgettable songs by new artists.  The album ends on a high note, however, with the "Heat Seekers Cipher," where all the rappers on this album - and a couple others who weren't on it, including the original Kidd Creole and somebody who sounds like Snaggapuss - get down on a massive, 8 1/2 minute posse cut.  Creole and Sparky come the strongest.

Ultimately, there's some cool stuff on here, but nothing great.  And even the good material gets drowned out by the mediocre stuff surrounding it.  Most people will pass this one by, and they'll be making the right decision for themselves.  I can really only recommend this CD for someone like me, who's a big enough fan of some of these old school artists that just their contributions make this a must-have.  If that's you, though, you won't be disappointed.  This isn't one of those "old school rapper makes hideously awful comeback attempt that's embarrassing to listen to" situations.  It's a respectable outing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The 50 Ways of MC Shan

I was just trawling through some old Hip-Hop Isn't Dead reviews and learned about an MC Shan song I never knew about before!  It's hard to believe, after all this time, that can still happen, but it just did.  :)  It's from 1993, and granted, once you hear what it is (and the image already gave it away, after all), your enthusiasm might wane a bit... The CD version of Snow's album, 12 Inches of Snow, has two bonus tracks including one with another MC Shan appearance called "50 Ways."

Now, Snow is not untalented.  His record's corny, and while I did enjoy "Informer" in an upbeat, no-brainer kinda way, I wouldn't otherwise listen to his stuff.  But he was cool on "Pee-Nile Reunion" and all, so I don't come out of the box hating on Snow.  There's potential for this.

Like the rest of Snow's album, it's produced by Shan... but while, by 1993, he had put down the pop music style for the more quality hip-hop styles of "Hip-Hop Roughneck" and "Don't Call It a Comeback," he was producing for a big, commercial act.  So it's more pop, yeah.  Like Kool Moe Dee's "50 Ways" before this, and Eminem's "50 Ways" just last month, the hook is a variation of Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," but where Moe Dee - and in a more altered way, Emzy - used Simon's break, too; this song just borrows the phrase for the hook.

The beat is actually pretty decent, though nothing you'll get excited about.  It's about them flexing their styles, which are a little unusual, because that's the concept - they have 50 ways to change their style.  They don't do fifty or anything, but Shan does do a different, slightly reggae-tinged style than I've heard him do on any of his own records.

Ultimately, and predictably, it's just mediocre.  But for serious MC Shan fans, hey, it's another Shan song, and he does get kinda nice here.  It's not as nearly as bad as I was prepared for it to be, or as boringly similar to other "50 Ways" (Newcleus also did a "50 Ways To Get Funky;" there've been a couple other rappers taking stabs at it as well).  It's respectably decent... for completists..

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Organized Konfusion With the Bonus Tracks

Back in the NY indie heyday of the late 90's/early 2000's, when great vinyl was getting pressed up and sold by the boatload over the internet, I remember Sandbox selling a double LP version of Organized Konfusion's self-titled debut with a whole bunch of bonus tracks on it.  I never bought it at the time, and it's always been sort of sitting in the back of my mind as a minor regret, until just recently when I picked it up from discogs.

Now, even outside of this release (which, by the way, I'm pretty sure is a bootleg, not a legit release... it certainly looks dodgy - that's not a bad scan, the labels are actually much harder to read in real life), there are already several versions of Organized Konfusion.  The original album on Hollywood BASIC was 14 songs spread over a single LP, so already it's a nice upgrade to get this album spread out onto a double LP.  If you got the CD version, it was 15 songs, because it included the original version of "Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?" from the single as a bonus track.  Interestingly, while this double LP has a whopping 23 songs on it, it does not include that other version of "Who Stole..."  And furthermore, it makes the curious decision to drop the skit "Jiminez Criqueta."  No big deal, because it's just a skit, but still.

So that means this version has 10 unique songs to it, not found on the other legit or illegitimate pressings.  They are as follows:

1) Freestyle Reality - This is actually not a freestyle, but a discussion on the art of freestyling, by OK and none other than the great Grandmaster Caz.  It's cool, though ultimately really just a skit.

2) Pharoahe Monch Freestyle - Just like the title says... a little short, but long enough for Monch to kill it acapella.

3) Prince Poetry (Written Freestyle) - Also acapella and also nice.

4) Organized Freestyle - A tight radio freestyle session.

5) O.K. Moodswing - This was an exclusive B-side to the "Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?" 12".

6) Stray Bullet - This is an odd inclusion, since it's a song off their second album. And this version isn't any different than the one on there. It just makes you wonder what it's doing here... but hey, it's a great song, so why not I guess?

7) Walk Into The Sun (Remix) - This is the remix from the "Walk Into the Sun" 12".

8) Drumstick (Bonus Beats) - The bonus beats from the "Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?" 12".  Odd they included this and not the original version.

9) Tender Verses - This is the Organized Konfusion Remix of "Tender" by Attica Blues that was released as a single in 1997 on Mo' Wax.  Good shit, and saves you the trouble of buying an otherwise crappy and expensive import release.

10) Intro Part II aka The Outro - a short instrumental sequel to "The Intro."  This is not the same beat as the "Intro," and I'm not sure where this one came from (maybe a genuine little treat from their unreleased vaults?) or why it wasn't included on past versions.  Still, it is just a short instrumental, so don't get too excited.

Ultimately, this is like a great Traffic reissue long before there were Traffic reissues.  Spreading the album over a proper double LP alone makes it a worthy upgrade over the original vinyl, and the bonus tracks just make it awesome.  Granted, there's no whole new, unheard songs... just freestyles and other rare tracks, but it's still pretty neat.  It is a shame, though, that they decided to leave off the skit and the other "Who Stole," since it kind of prevents this from being 100% definitive.  But really, neither are any great loss, and I imagine they used every inch of space they could get to squeeze all the exclusive bonus tracks, which are preferable.  I mean, if I was in charge of the project, I would've left off "Stray Bullet" to make room for those two songs, since it's readily and naturally available on their second album.  And I would've left off the Bonus Beats to to make room for the remix of "Fudge Pudge."  But, regardless of how I might've made this project even better, this is still the best version of Organized Konfusion, an already great album.