Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hip-Hop: Beyond Violence, Misogyny & Homophobia

So, the InstaRapFlix series is now dead. It had a good run of 35 entries. But now that Netflix's streaming movies are no longer free to watch, the fun and concept of the series has been defeated. But that doesn't mean I won't be reviewing any more hip-hop docs! I've always done non-Insta reviews alongside that little series, and they will be continuing as of... right now.
Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes is a short (approximately 1 hour), 2006 documentary by independent filmmaker Byron Hurt. As far as I know, he hasn't done anything else, but I bring him up first because he brings himself up first. This film is ostensibly about the issues of violence, misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop; but it's really about Byron dealing with hip-hop's issues with violence, misogyny and homophobia.

On the one hand, this is effective because it personalizes the subject matter: how does this imagery affect a listener on an individual basis? But on the other hand, it feels pretty self-indulgent - for instance, while he does attach it to his themes of masculinity, I can't help feeling like we're shown footage of him playing college football because he wants to show people he played college football. There are points in the film where I just couldn't help feeling, "who cares about you?" He just seems to spend more time - in an already short film - giving us his own back-story and feelings than delving into the more universal aspects, artist interviews, etc. Until the end, where he surprisingly drops that angle, leaving the film feeling a bit unresolved... except fortunately, we don't care anyway, so it's not a disappointment.

But it also manages to come with some surprising insight - how many treatises on misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop are insightful enough to draw its roots back all the way to the 1946-1963* construction of the Cross-Bronx expressway? One particularly compelling segment at BET's summer festival, starts with J-Hood pointing out some nearby, under-dressed women and calling them "bitches." Then Hurt calls those women right over and asks them how they felt about being called bitches. At that point, I really feel like the filmmaker's getting stuck deep into the topic.

And there are a few other compelling moments like that, where you get the sense, okay, now the we're dealing with a substantive film here, that's touching on some real issues. There's a scene where he interviews three transsexual women who confess that misogyny in hip-hop turns them on "because it's so aggressive." There's another where Busta Rhymes seems genuinely afraid to discuss homophobia and high-tails it out of the room when asked about the possibility of a gay rapper being accepted in the hip-hop community. And hearing a Def Jam executive speak with disdain and disappointment about Public Enemy's producers going over to produce Ice Cube's album was certainly eyebrow raising.

But these moments are few and far between, accomplishing a unique feat of making this film feel both way too short and way too long at the same time. Too short because we feel like he's just beginning to get to the heart of some deep matters when he moves on, ending the interview or just changing the subject. And too long because this film feels padded out with a lot generic interviews repetitively stating the obvious or expressing the most bland and common opinions.

It's really a shame that InstaRapFlix is dead, because this would have been perfect for it - a 60 minute movie with about fifteen to twenty minutes of meat, and the rest filler. Worth watching for free, but hard to justify paying $20-$25 to purchase on DVD. But if you have got that extra dough to spend, it has been released through PBS' Independent Lens documentary series and is available here.

*Well, those are the dates this film gives.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rock La Flow Is Back!

Rock La Flow is back - in spades! You may remember me gushing about the virtually unknown Milwaukee MC back in January, when Dope Folks Records put out his killer EP, The Flowgram Pt. 1. Well, I opened my front door today to find awaiting me Pt 2 - it's here! And that's not the half. A full-length Rock la Flow LP, The Ultimate, dropped the same day.

Flowgram Pt. 2 finishes up the collection of songs he recorded in '94 and '95 with his producer (who definitely deserves 50% of the credit for how great La Flow's material is) Tory Tee. I don't think I like it quite as much as the first volume, but it's definitely a worthy follow-up. There's a remix of a cut from the original EP ("Partytime") which is just as good, if not better, than the original. And the track that easily stands out as my favorite, "Illwaukee," which showcases a couple of his local brethren, Spoon and Kerse One along with Flow, and they all kill it over a nice beat perfect for passing the mic. Fans of the first entry will definitely be happy with this one, too.

But still... I'm not 100% sure of the story behind these EPs, but they sort of feel like large chunks of a not quite finished album. A kick-ass album, mind you, but still sort of incomplete in how the pieces would've all assembled together.

That's not the case at all with The Ultimate, which actually pre-dates the Flowgram EPs. These songs were recorded in 1992-93, and again are entirely produced by Tory Tee. This album was recently discovered by Dope Folks and feels like a finished album. More importantly, Rock La Flow is amazing on this, and the beats are hype. Sometimes you'll hear familiar loops or breakbeats, but they're all flipped differently or merged with other samples and turned into something fresh you've never heard before.

Man, heads would have loved this album if it came out back when it was recorded! This is one of those albums where, I've got the record spinning while I'm typing up work on the computer, and I just have to stop what I'm doing to pay close attention to the perfect blend of beats and rhymes coming from across the room. These releases are just the perfect match of an MC and producer who were each completely on top of their game at the same time. You know, one of those pairings that artists seem to manage to hit for one brief period and then spend the rest of their careers trying to recapture, like - to re-use an apt comparison - Nas when he made Illmatic.

Getting these right on the heels of Natural Elements' EP on Chopped Herring is a bit of a mind-blower. If anyone was thinking the limited game was winding down, think again. It should be pointed out, though, that Dope Folks' records don't cost the infamous "limited" prices. They're $20 each, which, for full-length LPs, is right in-line with the cost of standard new releases.

Oh, and The Ultimate comes with a phat, glossy art piece as a little bonus. I won't post a scan, so it can still be a surprise when your copies arrive in the mail. They're both limited to 300 as usual, so don't sleep.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Natural Elements - NOW We're Talking!!

Man, I have been waiting at the door for this one to arrive...!! As you may recall, I've been documenting and pining for Natural Elements' brilliant yet unreleased demo tracks (see here, mainly, but also here and here)... And now, thanks to Chopped Herring Records, six of those vintage tracks are no longer unreleased!

The Lost Demos EP Vol. 1 ("Vol. 1?" "VOLUME 1?!" That implies there will be a "Vol. 2!" Woohoo!) is just shipping now on "very limited vinyl." Specifically, that breaks down into three unique pressings: 75 copies on gold vinyl, 75 copies on white (white) vinyl, and 150 on traditional black, for a grand total of 300 EPs. And they all come in a phat sticker cover.

So what have we got here?! Let's look at it track by track:

1) I Got Your Heart - I wrote about this one in my HHC article. It's also known as "What My Crew Do To You" and features the early line-up of Voodoo, KA (instead of A-Butta) and L-Swift. Thanks to the record label, we now this was produced in 1995 by (just like you'd expect) Charlemagne.

2) Triple Team - Another one I wrote about in the HHC article, another one featuring KA instead of A-Butta, and another one produced by Charlemagne in 1995.

3) Every Day - Now here's one I've never even heard of before! According to the label, it's again from 1995 and produced by Charlemagne. Fucking nice.

4) Life Ain't Fair (Original) - Another '95 one produced by Charlemagne that I wrote about in my article. It's interesting that this specifies "Original." That's because it's completely different from the version I have a snippet of. There's no R&B chorus, and this beat is much harder, giving the song an entirely different feel.

5) Machine Gun Prayer - This one's a Mr. Voodoo solo song, produced by LDR Louie Ortiz - the same guy who produced Voodoo's later EP, Let the World Know. The year of production is said to be unknown on this one, but if it's by Mr. Ortiz, it might be a little more recent than the other material on here.

6) Puttin' In Work (Demo Tape Version) - Another song that specifies this as a specific version, implying that there are others... This one is an L-Swift solo track, and the oldest one on the EP, dating all the way back to 1993; and it's again produced by Charlemagne.

Poor A-Butta isn't on here at all. The first four tracks are so old they feature the KA version of the line-up, and then he doesn't get a solo joint. I can't complain, though, everything here is great, and KA brings a unique element - if you'll forgive the pun - to the crew that works great. A-Butta and L-Swift, after all, sorta rode in the same lane. Voodoo was complex, L made it smooth and KA came with the ruggedness. Butta and Swift were both smooth. They were also both fantastic at it, so it was all good, but it's cool to experience more of the original line-up.

You may've noticed, I haven't really addressed how good the songs are... that's because this is from Natural Elements at their prime - it goes without saying that everything on here is must-have level material. And the sound quality ranks an A+, too. You may've heard shoddy radio rips of a couple of these songs before, but you can throw them shits out now! These are the clean, clear and unabridged original recordings sounding perfect (except the L-Swift song seems like it may've been sourced from an actual cassette; but it still sounds surprisingly good) on brand new vinyl.

Now Chopped Herring as already begun taking pre-orders on their next release, and it's not Natural Elements Vol. 2. It's Grimm Teachaz, an interesting group with some dope production that got jammed up in Jive Records back in '93. But if Vol. 2 isn't their current release or even their next release, we can hopefully expect it relatively soon. So, what might we have to look forward to?

Well, my HHC article covered the nine (total) known NE tracks that have yet to be recorded; and that didn't cover solo material, which Chopped Herring is clearly open to including. So, that means 5 of the tracks I wrote about there are still pending, plus the version of "Life Ain't Fair" with Bridge. Now "Survive" was released, albeit unofficially, on the Word of Mouth EP, so we're not worried about that one. And "Supreme Domination" was on the 10 Year Anniversary album - BUT that was a CD only release, so it would still be a very welcome inclusion on any vinyl Chopped Herring was willing to put out.

And that also leaves us with the great demo tracks "Knick Knack," "Freak Freak Y'All," "My Nature." Plus we know Mr. Voodoo, at least, has a bunch more killer solo joints that haven't been released (he could have a solo EP all to himself, which would be awesome), and there's always the non-Demo Tape Version of "Puttin' In Work." And of course, there's no telling what jewels might be in their vaults that nobody at all has heard of, but could still come out and blow us away. After all, "Every Day" was certainly a new one on us. Who knows? Maybe there's even going to be a Vol. 3. I'm giddy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fresh BusDriver For the End of Summer

BusDriver's back with a new 7" single, released this past Record Store Day. It's a two track single from the Polyvinyl Record Co, a sort of indie hipster label that's taking it's first dip into hip-hop. The title is tastefully abbreviated on the cover as "ATM," but the actual full-length title is revealed on the inside record label: "Ass To Mouth."

Of course, this is BusDriver, so youths expecting a 2 Live Crew-style ditty about their favorite porn move* to shock everyone within hearing range of their school parking lot will be disappointed. But then again, it's still vulgar enough to have the phrase "ass to mouth" be the chorus, so assuming nobody's paying strict attention to the lyrics, it may be close enough.

It's actually a first-person narrative about a celebrity's fickle and ignorant fan-base who never give him a break, with the final twist being that he's as shallow and rotten as anybody in his audience. In other words, the vapid celebrity culture (the mouth) can't stop going on about the stupid shit their dumb stars (the ass) does. At least, that's how I took it.

It's a little harder to pin down the B-side, "Colour Wheel," because he sings on this one (it's as dubious as it sounds), and you can't decipher much of anything he's saying.

Both songs here are produced by Loden, a Belgium producer who 's been putting out spacey electronic music for a while now, and who probably connected with BusDriver through signing with Mush Records. Apparently, Loden will be producing the entirety of Bus's upcoming album (for which this is the opening single), which... after hearing this, I can't say I'm too against. It's all about synths, keyboards and spacey computer sounds - so I definitely suggest heads try before they buy - but I like it. It may not be a preferred style, but I don't think anyone could say that Loden isn't quite expert at playing it. Plus BusDriver's all-over-the-place vocal stylings are able to complement the crazy, rising and falling rhythms like nobody's business. I imagine the catchy chorus (is he doing all the back-up vocals, too? I bet he is) will manage to hook a lot of listeners who don't even generally give hip-hop their ear.

Now, this is limited to 1000 copies, but really... calling any hip-hop vinyl run of 1000 "limited" is a bit of a stretch. I'm sure even the producers behind a Kanye/Outkast split LP wouldn't expect to sell more than a thousand copies of wax to today's audiences. Bit I digress. "ATM" is pressed on a marbleized blue vinyl which matches nicely with the abstract imagery of the picture cover. Polyvinyl must also be commended for the inclusion of a download slip, which allows purchasers to download mp3 versions of both tracks and the cover art from their website when you enter your unique code.

So this is a nice little package, but still pretty much strictly for hardcore collectors rather than general music enthusiasts. For one, because it's a 7" after all; and they just scream novelty collectors' toys - proper releases are 12", damn it. And two, because both of these songs are slated to be on the upcoming album that any fan who's serious enough to consider buying this single will surely be picking up in a month or so when it drops anyway. So hardly essential, but a it's fun, high quality and can be had cheap. Oh, and the actual music's pretty good... at least the A-side.

*Don't bother denying it; I've seen your download history!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Searchin' for Two From the Def Connection

"Searchin' for Love" is often mistaken for a single taken off of Too Def Connection's classic'92 album, Runnin' With the Lyrics, but it's really not. This single, from 1996 on Too Def Music, is "Searchin' for Love," while the song on Savage Records album is "Searching for Love." And I'm not just being pedantic about the title's grammar, they really are completely different songs.

Oh, you've never heard of the Too Def Connection? Let me back up. Too Def Connection are MC Sav and DJ Kid Cut, an ill duo from Delaware. They're a quintessential example of "random rap," in that they're obscure but their stuff is highly sought after by collectors, mainly for the killer title track to their Runnin' With the Lyrics album, a hyperactive freestyle rampage over a hype beat, with some quick cuts and barely any hook.

But this isn't that. This is one of their love songs, which I realize nobody really goes in for. Don't worry, there's a more appealing B-side, and we'll get to that. But first let's take the lead track.

"Searching for Love" was kind of a sequel to the other love song on Runnin' With the Lyrics, "Love Is Like a Game" - note the opening lines, "Love is like a game, yeah, that's what I told to you. But at the same time, I didn't even know you. I thought you were the one for me... I musta been dreaming, some kinda fantasy." So, the girl from that last song didn't really work out, but he's not gonna let it keep him down, he's gonna keep on searching for love. Both songs feature a vocalist named Theresa Spruel on the hook, and feature Sav in a slow, spoken-style, definitely influenced by legacy of token love songs started by LL's "I Need Love." "Love" features a lot of (actually effective) keyboards, and "Searching for Love" features a deeper, richer sound... I don't recognize it, but I assume it's mainly a soul sample loop.

"Searchin' for Love," on the other hand, is quite different. For one thing, it features two MCs. Sav comes on second, but first is a somebody who's only named in the writing credits, Jerome Cephas (and no, that's not Kid Cut). Jerome's got a gruffer voice, and they're both kicking more of a flow on this one - not to mention completely new lyrics. The instrumental is also quite different, too, with a loop of bells or chimes. The whole thing feels more like a hip-hop song about love rather than those old "love raps" that felt like a whole different genre. The hook this time is sung by Stacy Savage, who I assume is a sister or cousin of MC Sav (real name: Wayne Savage). So really this song has nothing in common with the original except the basic phrase and concept of searching for love.

The B-side is "Lyrical Cypha," and this time Sav is back to flying solo, and it's much more in-line with the kind of hip-hop Too Def collectors are looking for - lyrical freestyling over a stripped down beat. It's got some keyboard stabs on it, but it's mostly just the drums and a little bass. Stacy's on the hook again here, singing a variation of Rick James' "Mary Jane:" "I'm in love with MC Sav, hip-hop is what he brings..." It's definitely not as tight as the best Too Def songs, it's a little more mellow and unfortunately Kid Cut no longer seemed to be involved; but it's pretty cool, Sav still has some rhymes and fans of mid-90's random rap won't be disappointed.

So, all in all, it's not their masterpiece, but worth picking up if you can find it cheap. Or if you already have their other, better stuff, then this certainly at least makes for another interesting piece of the puzzle.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Fresh Prince of the United Kingdom

The records by US rappers aren't just released here in the US... They're generally released by different labels in different countries all around the world at the same time. For example, while Spyder-D was released here on Telstar cassettes in the states, it was released on ZYX Records in Germany. Usually, they featured the same trick-listings and are generally just less desirable alterations of their original US counter-parts. Sometimes, they'd be a little different... like Cooltempo used to release all the Kid 'N' Play 12"s with exclusive remixes - however these remixes did little to up their long-term value, as they generally sucked.

But every once in a while, a foreign pressing manages to be preferable. As is the case with today's record: "Will 2K" by Will Smith - the UK version.

Now, like most of his post-Fresh Prince output, "Will 2K" isn't a terribly good or interesting song. It follows the Puffy/Pras formula of taking a dated major label pop hit, sampling it in a heavy-handed, uncreative way, and selling it as a new pop song to kids too young to remember the original. In this case, the TrackMasterz have used "Rock the Casbah" with ex-Jodeci man K-Ci on the hook. Nothing special there. But look on the picture cover (I took a nice, high quality photo so you can enlarge and read it), right under the song title in tiny text...

It says, "COMES WITH SO FRESH (FEATURING SLICK RICK AND BIZ MARKIE)." Your version doesn't say that, because your version just has the same song on both sides.* And, really, "So Fresh" is probably the only song most of us heads care about from Will Smith. I mean, none of the verses are amazing (in fact, when you think of what Slick Rick has shown he's capable of, it's a little disappointing), but it's just a fresh, cool-out vibe produced by Jazzy Jeff (who also provides some nice cuts), and Darren Henson.

Now, don't get too excited about this UK 12" - "So Fresh" is a Willenium album track; it's not some super rare 12" exclusive. And, if you can find a copy, there's a nice, promo-only 12" of "So Fresh" that also features the Instrumental and Acapella. That's the ideal one to won IMHO (unless you're just a "Will2K" fan - maybe you've been waiting decades for a rap version of "Rock the Casbah;" it is kinda fun, after all). But this is a nice 12" to pick up, and an easy and cheap one to order online - if you can't find that. And it's just a nice example of that rare case where the foreign 12" is preferable to the domestic.

*Or, if you have the 12" from The Netherlands, you actually get these two songs, plus two more ("Miami" and "Just Cruisin' (Remix)")!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Purple Tape... On No Limit Records

Apparently, when you crazy kids today talk about "the purple tape," you're thinking of some funky ol' Raekwon thing glued together out of left over Cella Dwellas plastic. But I'm an old school cat. When I hear "purple tape," I go back even a little further... to Sonya C's Married To the Mob.

Married To the Mob dropped in 1993 (two years before OB4CL2 if you're keeping score) on In-A-Minute Records. No Limit, at that time, was really more of an imprint that went through In-A-Minute for the distribution, 'cause they could get albums like these out on CD and (purple) tape into stores all across the country when No Limit was just up and coming.

Sonya C, it's worth noting, is really the first female rapper on No Limit. Apparently, Mia X likes to make that claim, but she didn't drop anything on No Limit until much later. And while Mia was a member of TRU for a while, Sonya is a founding member from back in the days when they were still going by their full-length name, The Real Untouchables. This is back when No Limit was representing CA before signing all those New Orleans acts; and Sonya was all over their debut album in 1992, Understanding the Criminal Mind.

And even before the TRU album, she'd appeared on Master P's very first albums, Mama's Bad Boy, Get Away Clean, The Ghetto's Trying To Kill Me... She wasn't just a member of his crew, in fact. She was his wife. Yes, that means she's also the mother of Lil Romeo and Young V. In fact, I'd just like to take a moment to point out that she named her three sons Percy Jr, Vercy and Hercey, which is downright silly.

So, anyway, what about this album? Well, since it's still in No Limit's CA days, the majority of it is produced by EA Ski & CMT, with a few tracks produced by Master P himself.

In fact, the first song (after an intro) is produced by P and it's the strongest. It sounds great because it heavily, heavily samples Betty Wright's "No Pain, No Gain" - not just the break, but the vocals and everything. They use Betty's crooning as an excellent backdrop for Sonya to slow it down and give a somber, autobiographical story about her own life. Unfortunately, on the other hand, Sonya's flow is pretty horrible on this, kicking the kind of rudimentary delivery, struggling to stay on beat, that gave No Limit such a bad name on the east coast. It almost feels like one of those stories you used to see on television where some chintzy producer would got to a halfway house in an inner city and get them all rapping as a exercise in self esteem. But damn if the music isn't effective. Couple that with how earnest Sonya sounds, and you've got an effective song that's managed to stick with me since high school - analytical criticism be damned.

The rest of the album is, thankfully, substantially harder and Sonya's flow - while never amazing - gets stronger along with it. Following a skit where a bunch of guys see Sonya and approach her on the street, "yo, Sonya, what's up?" "This what's up, mother fuckers!" she yells and it ends in machine gun sound effects. And EA Ski and CMT are acknowledged masters of gangsta rap production. There's a host of recognizable, funky samples, which help a lot - the groove of "Bitches Die In the Dope Game" is great, and the clever collection of vocal samples on the hook are really fresh. The Untouchables also drop in a couple appearances, most notably on the posse cut finale, "I Ain't To Be Fucked With," but not so many that they overshadow Sonya's solo endeavor.

Unfortunately, one downside is that this album feels like an EP they stretched out to full LP length. Half the songs on this album are skits, and one of the tightest beats on this album, "Gankers," is just an instrumental. A full-length instrumental song might fit in on a DJ Shadow album or something, but on a gangsta rap tape? It feels like the engineer just lost the vocal track. You also get two versions of the title cut, "Married To the Mob Part 1" and "Married To the Mob Part 2," but really "Part 2" is just a radio edit of "Part 1." You really only get six proper, full songs; the rest is all filler.

Bottom line, this is a dope tape if you like these kinda albums, but if you think all that No Limit-type shit is straight garbage, nothing here's gonna change your mind. These are not the kind of MCs who were ever going to elevate the art form or flex freestyle skills. But if you just want to shed your backpack and listen to some pure early 90's gangsta rap, this tape delivers. And it's purple.

P.s. - If you can't quite make out that message written underneath the Parental Advisory sticker on the album cover, it reads, "This Album is Proof, it's no honeymoon being married To The Mob. Cause Sonya C is quick to get the gat peel your cap, Miss Alcapone."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mo-Fo Nu-Sounds

(Youtube version - staunch, true and reliable - can, as ever, be found here.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Come On, Come On and Scream!

Kurtis Mantronik's always been a guy who went back and forth between hip-hop and European-style club music - even when he produced for T-La Rock and Just-Ice, they were more electronic or experimental beats than you'd expect from those guys. So, you have to be prepared to leave your comfort zone a bit, as a hip-hopper, to appreciate Mantronix; and this single is no exception. I mean, is MC Tee wearing a pink scarf there? lol And I won't even show you guys the pic on the back. But not just the superficial image, even musically he walks the line... and eventually he went so far, he left us completely. But I don't think any head who appreciates production and original, innovative hip-hop can front on Mantronix's early material that influenced even the hardest of hardrock records over the decades.

Now, "Scream" was a banger of a dance number off Mantronix's second album, Music Madness. It featured Kurtis's progressive beats, a super funky bassline, distorting breakdown, Tee's loquacious rhymes (seriously... anybody who wasn't impressed with Tee as an MC, just compare him to his replacement, Bryce Luvah) and a simple 80's keyboard melody that'll stick with you for decades. If you gave fans a heads up that you were planning to remix it for the single, they'd've screamed at you to leave it alone. It's perfect as it is; you can't make it better; just remix another track.

But they did in fact make it better.

Firstly, wisely, they kept all the instrumental elements that made "Scream" so appealing on the LP. Same drums, same bassline, and yes, that signature keyboard riff is right here. In fact, for the first twenty or thirty seconds, the differences may sound inconsequential... the funky snare gets to play solo a bit, things are rearranged. But it's all the same elements that sound the same when they finally play together. There's a little extra, almost go-go pattern added to the drums, but you barely hear it with all the other funky percussion going on.

Then a new layer of keyboard horn stabs come in, and they sound fresh. The bass is played a little softer, giving the song a lighter tone... The breakdowns are different, with a funky whistle sample, that then flips backwards. And most importantly, on this one, Kurtis get busy on the turntables! You won't believe this shit is from 1987 - it sounds like some turntablist DMC champion from the 90's got on the record via a time machine, just to spice things up. If you ever assumed his skills were all relegated behind the boards, he shows and proves here.

In fact, I was so impressed with that when I first got this record, it took me multiple listens to realize that this is a lyrical remix, too! Tee's first verse is the same, but on the Radio Version, Tee replaces his second verse with a whole new one. And on the extended Club Version, he kicks both verses from the original and the new one.

Flip it over, and you get a funky Dub Version, which is more than just a barren instrumental, but an excuse for Mantronik to play around and bug out over the beat, bringing in all new cuts and samples, and even a crazy Martian voice effect applied to one of Tee's verses. It holds up just as well to casual listens as the vocal mixes.

And finally, for the purists, this 12" concludes with the original LP Version. Just looking at the track-listing, you might not've expected anything new here at all: Club, Radio, Dub and LP Versions - "who needs it? I already got the album." But actually, this 12" is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Now the Introduction: It's Kool Chip, Bronxwood Productions

Everybody who was down with hip-hop in the 80's knows Kool Chip from his killer '89 album with DJ Chuck Chillout, Masters Of the Rhythm. And serious collectors also know him for his subsequent, and now super-rare indie follow-up in the 90's, as Dope and a Gun. But while Chuck Chillout had a high profile history, as a member of The B-Boys, and even more-so as a famed hip-hop radio host alongside (or against) Red Alert and Mr. Magic; Kool Chip has a bit of a recorded origin as well.

Before the famous duo was formed, Kool Chip came out on 4th and Broadway with his own 12", "Jazz It Up." If you've seen this and had any question of whether this is the same Kool Chip, just a few short seconds will prove that it undoubtedly is - his unique voice shouting out Bronxwood with his signature, simple but forceful delivery.

And with the same thumping, programmed drum style, this could easily have taken off Masters Of the Rhythm. That follows, as it's produced by David Burnett, who'd also worked with Chuck Chillout before - it's likely that Chuck and Chip got a lot of their production chops from this man.

Now, granted, this isn't as straight-up a hardcore anthem as most of the tracks on Masters were. It's an ode to smooth, jazzy rhythms with a female singer (Toni Smith, who's had an interesting career of collaborations - even The Fat Boys' Crushin'! - and 12" singles herself, well worth looking into) on the hook. It's certainly more in line with "No Holding Back" and "The Mic I Grip;" but it really doesn't betray Kool Chip's later established sound. It's got a little more instrumentation, which is actually pretty cool, and parts of this record actually manage to echo "Buffalo Gals," but it's still not that far removed. I could understand anyone being hesitant to pick this one up - just looking at the label, it reads like a dangerously misguided crossover attempt or something painfully cheesy - but if you're a fan, you won't be disappointed.

Now, interestingly, the label actually credits a remix by Dancin' Danny D. But that remix is not in fact on here. It's only on some UK pressings (and actually, Danny is best known for his exclusive UK remixes, from everybody to Kid 'N Play to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince) - but the remix credit is for some reason on all pressings. This original US pressing just features the main version on side A, and the dub on side B. But really, that's all you need. It's a funky little precursor to a great album.