Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Tuff Crew Ride Through the House

There aren't a lot of 12" exclusives from The Tuff Crew. After their rare, debut singles "Get Smart" and "Philly Style" - which are so old school they don't even sound like the Tuff Crew we know and love - it's pretty much a case of: if you've got the albums, you've got everything. The "My Part of Town" Remix was an exclusive for a minute when it first dropped; but a few months later, it turned up on the Crew's next album. Really, if you're after vintage remixes and exclusive B-sides, there's only one 12" single you need.

"She Rides the Pony" dropped on Soo Deff Records in 1989, the second single off their third album, Back To Wreck Shop. Kind of late in the Tuff Crew's legacy, it's already signalling the group's change in tone and direction. Rather than a bombastic ode to their hometown or their incredible DJ's turntablism, it's a sex song. Times were a-changin', and the Crew, to their detriment, was changing with them. If the hip-hop world wanted smoother, more gangsta, west coast-style rap, the Crew was gonna go there for us, which is why their next album is easily their worst.

But they hadn't gone there completely yet, we're just catching the first glimpses here. Fortunately, the beat is an incredibly funky production, and this track owes as much to The Jungle Brothers' "Jimbrowski" as it does anything from Compton (they even refer to "my Jimmy" about fifty or sixty times in the song). Unfortunately, I guess the vibe they were going for was too low-key to let DJ Too Tuff detonate the ace deuces; but it gave them a chance to prove they could make a killer track without lathering it in exultant scratching. Instead, they take possibly my favorite drum break of all time (Tommy Roe's "Sweet Pea" - most memorably used for MC Lyte's "Lyte As a Rock," but tons of great artists utilized it, from Gangstarr to Chuck Chillout, De La Soul... even, Tragedy for his best record ever), but marry it with a fast, rumbly bassline and 45 King-style horn stabs. If you can 0ver the juvenile aspect of the lyrics and the fact that there are no cuts on a Tuff Crew record, this can stand right alongside their greatest hits.

Oh, but I was talking about 12" exclusives, right? Well, okay, right after the album track "She Rides the Pony" comes the Remix. It keeps the same drums, but replaces the bassline with dominant funk guitar loop, which may've been inspired by South coast hip-hop of the time, but the Crew manage to keep it from going too far afield of the original's sound. It's also got some new stabs and horn samples - as well as keeping the horns from the original mix; making the whole thing feel more upbeat and lively. So it's a little more club oriented, but enough to alienate Tuff Crew fans, who'll surely want both mixes.

Then you've got a Dub mix of the "Pony" Remix, and another album track called "What You Don't Know." This is the one they had the video for, which makes sense, because I imagine "She Rides the Pony" would've been a tough sell to the FCC in 1989 (today, they'd probably be happy for a song so innocent; but in 1989 it was edgy). It features another funky break as its main selling point, some funky understated congos. And this time, they let Too Tuff get bust, cutting up the hook and getting busier on the breakdown. Overlord's distinctive voice dominates most of the track, but Tone Love comes in near the end to breathe some extra life into the track just as it was starting to run short. Overall, it's a pretty cool track, but doesn't quite click like their best work... it's dope, but never totally takes off.

The label apparently felt the same way. But their solution was to... hire an outside producer and turn it into a house track? Yup, and this is actually the version they used in the video. EC LaRock keeps a lot of elements from the original, including the congas, though he sometimes swaps them out for some more new jack house percussion. He also adds keyboards and some really traditional house samples for the breakdowns.

That might sound like a travesty, but it actually works. There's enough of the original track, the Crew's rapping and most importantly Too Tuff's cuts to keep the proceedings down to Earth. This is "Tuff Crew meets house," not your typical "house music tropes completely overrun whatever music it was added onto" mix. It actually gives the verses and cuts that extra kick that the original version was calling for. This song manages to make the extremely short list of house mixes that even the die-hard hip-hop purists who would normally accuse the subgenre of ruining half a decade of rap music will have to give it up for.

So, overall, you get two quality album tracks, a Dub and two exclusive remixes. Not bad for a Tuff Crew fan who's been starved for more material... Reminder for Solid Ground Records: don't leave us hanging on that Danger Zone Mobb Sqwad material!


  1. there's some evidence,the danger zone mobb sqwadd-project will be released by dope folks records very soon.announcement should be when the ill distractio ep will be shipped in 1,2 weeks.

  2. Really? That'd be awesome, though I wonder what that means for Solid Ground. Hopefully they've got something else hot lined up for us.

  3. dj too tuff announced on his facebook last december he's working with dope folks.i've asked him directly if it will be the MOBB SQWADD stuff and he answered yes...

    also check this:

    and this: