Friday, September 28, 2012

The Real Sun City Show Is On the Second Stage

Remember "Sun City?"  Okay... well, remember "We Are the World?"  "Sun City" was one of those records that came on the heels of "We Are the World," with major artists of all musical genres coming together to make a joint record for a good cause.  In the case of "Sun City," it was about ending apartheid.  There were lots of big names, including Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, Hall & Oates, George Clinton, Bonnie Raitt, etc etc. But what made "Sun City" of a lot more interest to us here at Werner's is that it featured rappers!  Melle Mel, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Cheese providing some cuts - now we're talking! And it's a lot more hip-hop with big 80's beats and producers like Keith LeBlanc.

But, still... how good is a song that features Kurtis Blow and Bonnie Raitt on the same track really going to be?  As you can imagine, the rappers had their parts, essentially drifting in a sea of sappy pop music. So, you know, it's interesting, but we heads will really want to stick with "Self Destruction" and "Close the Crack House" to get our enormously collaborative, charitable kicks.

But "Sun City" wasn't just a single - even though that's all anybody remembers - it was a whole album.  And while most of it is more of the same except a lot more underwhelming, there was a highlight. In a show of "we're just beginning to wrap our heads around the concept of political correctness in 1985," the producers of the Sun City album decided to take all of the black artists, and give them a solo song of their own. They didn't separate them by genre - the jazz, the rap, the reggae, is still all mushed together... but it's a lot more cohesive and less blandly poppy than the title track.  Finally, we didn't have Kurtis passing the mic to Bonnie.

Despite being multi-genre'd, this isn't just more cohesive, but more hip-hop.  Each MC gets a lot more time to flesh out verses, as opposed to quickly saying a short soundbite in unison with another rapper, so you can't even make out their individual voices and then clearing the stage, and this time around we get extra rappers.  Scorpio is here and holy shit, it's The Fat Boys! ...Actually, if you listen to "Sun City" real close[what? so I have a little extra free time] you can hear a super brief sound clearly made by The Fat Boys right before Run DMC's second appearance.  I'd bet you dollars to doughnuts that The Fat Boys were originally a part of this song and then cut out, perhaps because they were considered too much of a silly novelty act for the song?  Or because their manager wanted too much money?  Anyway, they're here on "Let Me See Your I.D."  Unlike this "Sun City," which I'd only recommend to completists who have to have everything guys like Melle Mel laid their voices to, this song's actually worth your time.

Still... it's not perfect. Mostly because Gil Scott Heron has about half the vocal time on this song. Pretty much between every rap verse he comes on and does a spoken word bit... not even really spoken word like Saul Williams, but like, just self-indulgent structureless rambling. It's boring, sucks the life out of the song, and it even gets kind of insipid, "you ask somebody, 'where is the third world,' they go, 'oh yeah yeah, I know! it's a disco, Go up about three blocks and take a left.' Or they might tell you the third world is a new health food restaurant. I know the first time I heard somebody talkin' about there was trouble in the middle east, i thought they were talkin' about Pittsburgh."  And that's it, then the hook comes in. But, still, here we a big, full verse by Mel, DJ Cheese providing cuts while Buff Love does a big human beatbox solo and Miles Davis blows his trumpet, Duke Bootee flexes a nice post-"Message" rhyme, Kurtis Blow, well... he was kinda off in his own world in 1985, it's pretty corny... but still, it's mostly good stuff.

Still, wouldn't it be great if there was a version that stripped away Heron's B.S.?  And, okay, now you might be thinking, "Slow your roll, dude. You're talking about Gil Scott Heron like he's Marky Mark or something."  I know, I know.  I'm not disparaging his legacy and classics like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" or "Winter In America." Granted, as a purely hip-hop head, I spin Kane and Rakim instead of Heron for my musical enjoyment; but when I listen to "Revolution," I feel it, I get it.  It's really fucking good. But his contribution here is nowhere on that level. Here he's jamming up the song like rush hour traffic.

But hey! There's actually a 12" that solves everything! Yes, "Let Me See Your I.D." was also released as a single. The A-side is just the album version, and there's also a Beat and Scratch mix on the flip. But the important part here is the Street Mix. Instrumentally, it's a bit more stripped down, which is mostly an improvement, though I do wind up missing a few nice instrumental bits from the original (Miles!). But the important thing is that they take out all the talky filler and give you just a flat out, 100% rap song. See, the important thing is now we finally have a song we can listen to in regular rotation. It's no longer a case of "well, if you sift through all the other stuff, there are some nice hip-hop nuggets that can be unearthed." This is a really good fucking hip-hop record!  This changes it from something interesting for historians to a dope song for any fan of old school rap.

Seriously, if you like stuff from 1985, get this 12"; you'll definitely be happy. And it even comes in a picture cover because it had a budget.  :)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Another Double Dose of Emskee

Diggers With Gratitude is back and clearly reaping the benefits of a good, developed relationship with Emskee.  If you don't remember, Emskee is the hardcore NJ MC from the 90's who most of us first discovered on Nick Wiz's Cellar Sounds compilations on No Sleep. DWG wound up releasing two EPs worth of unreleased material by Emskee, and later put out a 7" with Emskee's new group, the Good People (which is him and Saint).

So, following The Complex Engineer EP, with have The Complex Extras. That title seems a bit dismissive, though... like these tracks might be just half as good, and only worth the time of a die-hard fan who has to have everything. But that's not the case at all. In fact, I wanted to say that Emskee comes even harder on this latest EP release, but then I went back to Engineer and I guess it's about the same - certainly every bit as good as the previous material you've heard and in the same vein. Again, these are all early 90's tracks ('92-'94), produced by Nick Wiz and featuring DJ Slyce on the tables.

And like the previous set of Emskee EPs, this has been released with a partner, too. This time it's brand new, 2012 material, though, by The Good People. It's called the Gone for Good Album Sampler, because this is being released in conjunction with a full-length album called Gone for Good which they're putting out themselves. On CD/ mp3 only. So, this is the vinyl release of the album's highlights... you know, like Fat Beats did it with artists like Roc Marciano and Eternia, or even how No Sleep did it with Nick Wiz's Cellar Selections. Wax heads will be happy to learn they've been rewarded with a vinyl-exclusive track, though (it won't be on the Gone for Good full-length) called "Very M.A.D."

One track that ought to sound awfully familiar is "I Get Down (Like This)." That's because it's just a slightly different mix of "How I Get Down" from Nick Wiz's second volume of Cellar Sounds. That's a very welcome inclusion, because not only is it a new (new to us, that is) version, but the one on Cellar Sounds was CD-only, so we're finally getting this track on vinyl. If any more Emskee vault raiding is scheduled for the future, I'd remind the guys that "My Skills" from Cellar Sounds. vol. 1 still remains CD-only at this point, too. ;)

I was pleasantly surprised with the Good People EP. Not that I was expecting wackness, but I did expect that, for me, it would just be an after thought paired with the collection of Emskee's 90's stuff.  The production's fuller... Granted, it's less hardcore and more upbeat, which may or may not be your preference, but everything just feels more substantive. There are also a sizable amount of guests on hand here, considering this is just an EP, including J. Sands, Spectac, D-Slim (of the Sputnik Brown crew, which recently had an EP put out by DWG themselves), who actually appears on three different songs, and some guy named Brick Casey.

The Good People EP, which seems to have beaten the LP version to the open market, is limited to 350 copies... 150 of which are pressed on yellow (yellow) wax (the rest on your standard black), and the first 75 of those have been signed by Emskee and Saint. The Emskee EP is even more limited, to 175 copies only. Both come in sticker covers and come with colored press sheets - in other words, exactly the (high) standards we've come to expect from DWG.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Royal Renegades Week, Day 5 - Final Blows

So MC Madness came back with a second and final album in 1994, called Drop the Bass (Death of a Bass Head) (three guesses whose severed head he's holding on the album cover there). Ocean Records was already through, so this time he was on Isaam's own Black Eye Records (Jan Hrkach is still the mixer and engineer. and Fred Held is still at least named in the shout-outs), but broadly distributed by Ichiban, so it got much better distribution, but still not a lot of marketing.  In other words, you probably just randomly stumbled across this in music stores, and either you recognized MC Madness's name from "Dynamic Duo" or you didn't.

Now, I mentioned already that MC Boo performed the original "Drop the Bass" with DJ Magic Mike on the first Royal Posse album, right? Well, if you were thinking, "that's funny... I kinda remember MC Madness doing that," that's because Boo left the Posse early (years before everybody jumped over to Ocean), and it was one of Mike's biggest hits. So he remade it for his second album, Bass Is the Name Of the Game, with the exact same instrumental, but vocals by MC Madness instead of Boo. "Drop the Bass Part 2" was also included on Vicious Bass (which, again, was Madness, DJ Lace and Magic Mike)'s debut album. And it was even released as a single two times - originally credited to Boo and Mike, then a second time by Vicious Base.

So, what Madness has done here is re-record "Drop the Bass" again, with the same instrumental, but with new vocals by himself and no cuts by Magic Mike (or anybody else, kinda making this the worst version). He made it the title track and the single (where he named it "Drop the Bass Part 1994")... and hey, it's a good song in any version, though the older ones are definitely preferable. One interesting thing the 12" single did was include a couple remixes, including a Miami Mix and an Atlanta Mix. Less interesting is that he also included both of these versions on the album, which just feels like repetitive padding.

And that's just the tip of the repetitive padding iceberg. If "Come Get This Money Honey" sounds familiar, that's probably because it was on his last album. Hell, it was the title cut of his last album. And "Don't Touch 'Dem Dirty Hoes?" Yeah, that was on his last album and the single from that album. If you got the CD version, then there's also an instrumental called "Let the Bass Go" which is actually taken from MC Boo's album! Hell, it was even his single's B-side. That's how unrelated MC Boo was to all those fricking instrumental tracks - you could take them right off his album, stick them on somebody else's, and none's the wiser.

So, take all of that into consideration, plus the fact that a bunch of the tracks on here are just skits, and you start to recognize this as a half-assed half of an album. And, unfortunately, the remaining half is way too influenced by the fads of the time: G-funk type shit. There are a couple, generic high bpm dance tracks which are never compelling, but at least they manage to work because they're Madness's specialty. And there's a track called "Madness Is On the Mic," which is pretty hype and harks back to his best work with Magic Mike. Oh, and you know how I said I was more impressed with Boo's DJ than the DJ on Madness's first album? Well, he must've agreed, because DJ Ray Swift of Boo's Crew handles all the scratching on this album.

So, if you take it as an EP rather than an LP, it's not bad. Just a lot of fat that could've, should've been trimmed. But what about the beef? Does he continue it?

Of course he does! Look at the album title again! Most of the skits are directed at Magic... If you've come here from Day 4, you should know what "Represent What" is about, and I already told you about the skit "Madness Speaks To Ya" in Day 1. And on "Madness Is On the Mic," he throws in a few shots like "if you bought Represent, I know ya pissed." It's basically a bragging autobiography of his career, so most of it is just about his successes, but he does take a quick jab when the subject comes up, like, "Now I'm rollin' with Cheetah, or CheatYa, 'cause they're out to beat ya," "got the funk for your trunk, and dissin' that square-ass punk" and "but the scene got tired, so Mike got fired. Things just wasn't right."

But, like I've done with this post, they've mostly saved the dissing for the end.

The last song (except for the shout outs) is called "Fake Is the Name Of the Game" (a reference to the title of Mike's second album), where he rounds up his boys to make a very specific, direct response to The Royal Posse's "(OK Nigga) Here We Go." By his boys, I specifically mean Drum Major and Konyak. T. Isaam doesn't rhyme on this album at all, though he's still on board as executive producer. Drum Major is one of his new producers (along with Jolly Stompers and Booty Clappers, who might be pseudonyms, 'cause I've never heard of 'em before or since), and Konyak is MD from the last album now operating under a new alias.

They've got the song structured so that each MC retorts a verse from one of the MCs on the original: Konyak responds to Infinite J, Drum Major goes at Daddy Rae and of course Madness comes in at the end to deliver the verse we've all been waiting for at Mike. The disappointing aspect, and it's not a small one, is that the previously mentioned G-funk influence is here, and it really sucks a lot of potential energy out of what should be a fun, if trashy guilty pleasure, listening experience. But, still, it's not bad by slow gangsta rap standards, and it's got a nice reggae hook. So here we go:

Konyak's verse is the weakest. His whole point is that, unlike anybody from the Royal Posse, he's a real gangster: "while you niggas make records, I got a real record. Finger prints took 'cause real G's gettin' booked." Believe me, I understand glorifying crime and the outlaw life, but I'm not sure anybody really values getting arrested over making albums in the music business. That's like going to your high school reunion and going, "what are you? Doctor, lawyer, famous actor? Me, I don't have a job, but I'm hooked on meth and I once pawned my mother's television, so now she won't let me back in the house!" No wonder nobody from the Royal Posse felt the need to get on wax to contest these claims. Anyway, he continues, "Wanna be real, when ya don't pack steel? 'Pop pop pop' goes my glock, and it's always cocked. So don't be shocked when I drop on ya block. ...Fake ass niggas, get ya caps peeled." To be fair, Infinite J also had some phoney gun talk in his verse. Anyway, let's move on.

Anyway, Drum Major comes with something more interesting for Daddy Rae, "you say you took my nigga's job, see that's cool. 'Cause he left yo' ass workin' for Ebeneezer Scrooge." He then accuses Rae of dissing "the whole South East," which, uh, I've got all his appearances on all of the Magic Mike albums, and I don't know when he's supposed to have done that, but for argument's sake, let's just take his word for it. Anyway, apparently they have some previously unknown history together, "Surprise, nigga, a blast from your past! I tracked you through Atlanta so you had to make a dash. Maybe you don't remember me, ho, but I bet you'll never forget the day I threw ya through a window at Jellybean's, our local skating rink. Ask your momma, Gloria, about filing a Chapter 13." So yeah. He sounds pretty convincing to me.

And finally, it's Madness to talk about Mike! And it's... lame. He fucking sounds like a Shaq knock-off with his flow on this track, and he doesn't seem to have much left to say. He calls Mike's mom an alcoholic, something about his girlfriend getting an abortion and that they can't be hardcore because they did a love song once. It feels like he's grasping at straws to say anything petty he can come up with. He really should've left it at "Final Words." Listening to this song, and hell, thiis whole mess of an album was like watching him limp, defeated, off of a battlefield.

So, nobody from the Royal Posse ever bothered to respond. Ocean Records never had another release, and pretty much none of these guys ever worked again: T. Isaam, MC Boo, not even Jan Hrkach. MC Madness just barely did... he followed one of his producers, Shake G, to ICP Productions, and wound up doing a 12" single on Vision Records with Fresh Kid Ice, where he just did the hook. Kind of a shame, because Madness had a voice and presence. We had some interesting diss tracks and a handful of decent solo songs, but I wonder how much better the music would've been - for Magic Mike's camp, too - if this conflict hadn't happened. Of course, the Royal Posse members who remained loyal wound up with even less output than Ocean's roster, so I guess things aren't much happier in that parallel dimension.

It's especially sad to report that MC Madness passed in 2009, apparently in an auto accident. Magic Mike, on the other hand, is still putting out albums. His latest is mp3-only (blah) and called Beyond the Magic. Check out his website here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Royal Renegades Week, Day 4 - Royalty Strikes Back

I've been calling them Royal Renegades, but the remaining Royal Posse membership had another name for the guys who left, as evidenced by the first track of their 1994 response album, Represent: "Royal Rejects." There's only two albums billed specifically to DJ Magic Mike and the Royal Posse - the original debut in 1989 and this one. Unfortunately for the crew, it seemed like it took an upset like this for Mike to give them any substantive billing. But they're ire is definitely directed at somebody other than Mike on this project.

On first listen, this can feel like an entire album made in response to MC Madness, but it's not really. What we have in 1994's Represent is a move towards the indie 90's "lyrical" idealism, with an emphasis on wilder vocal deliveries and boom bap beats. While The Royal Posse has always had some nice, lyrical joints in the past, for some reason, this feels more like a tricky experiment for them. They killed it on tracks like "Murder In the 1st Degree," "Royal Brothers In the House," and "Royalty's Arrived," but for some reason they sound uncomfortable now. It's still a pretty solid album, but cheesy punchlines and flaky flows turn up here that I don't think would've made it onto the final product of earlier albums. It's like they let the changing times shake their confidence in making what they'd already mastered.

There are traditional staples on here, though, including a booty-referencing track "Move Them Butts" (and an additional remix if you have the CD version), which is well within their comfort zone.  In fact, it's practically "Get On It Dog Gone It part 2," even using the same main samples. Mike throws in the fifth installment of his "Feel the Bass" series, and has a nice solo track showcasing his turntablism, and another woofer-trembling instrumental track for the automotive audio set called "Ya Hear It Hummin."

But it feels like the whole album is directed at Madness because the album is full of skits (or "Preludes," as they're labeled here), pretty much one between every song, and almost all of them are about him. "You Dumb Ass" is s fake prank call making fun of Madness's "crazy, cripple-ass brother," and "A Real Nigga" is an anecdote about Madness apparently getting into bed with J-45 (a short-lived Royal Posse member who only appeared on one track on the original Vicious Base album) and trying to rub his ass on tour. Yeah, these bizarrely sexual allegations go both ways. I mean, sure, tons of MCs have called each other fags, but there seems to be a real "doth protest too much" thing going on here.  "Mind Blowin Decisions" is about how the guys who left always diss the Posse because they're obsessed with their success, and the Posse is above dissing back, which, uh... I guess was recorded before they decided what the rest of this album was going to be like?  And I'll give you three guesses what "Royal Rejects I" and "Royal Rejects II" is about.

But as far as actual, proper songs, the dissing is really confined to one track where they go all out, called "(OK Nigga) Here We Go." The bulk of the song is a duet between Daddy Rae and Infinite J, starting out with shots against their rival label, "Ocean check, and now you're finna get sunk 'cause every artist on your motherfuckin' label album stunk. Understand, that Miami shit gets old. If you accumulate their sales together, it wouldn't make gold." And then the rest of the song is pretty much completely directed at Madness.

Presumably, Daddy Rae and Infinite J are the ones going at him because they're the Posse members Madness named in "Final Words," as they feel like direct replies: "Madness, why you pissed and you wanna squab? Because the Daddy came to Orlando and took yo motherfuckin' job? Ass licker, yessa you's a mother fucker, tryin' ta play Daddy Rae short like I'm a god damned sucker. You's a ho, and you can't flow. How the hell you gonna talk about a nigga you don't even know? Callin' me a fag when you's a fuckin' has-been. You better stay with Jan and Isaam 'cause them yo last friends."

Infinite adds, "ugly motherfucker you, what were you thinkin'? Jumped in the ocean now yo' ass is steadily sinkin'." Now, a lot of their disses are kinda generic, so I'm just cutting to the choice parts. Anyway, he goes on to say, "Madness, you ain't shit. If you are what you eat, I guess you're just a bag of dicks. (Fred's got the HIV!) 'Cause he be suckin' head. (Jan's got the HIV!) 'Cause he be fuckin' Fred." Now, Jan is of course Jan Hrkach, who I explained on Day 1; but I didn't mention Fred. Fred is Fred Held, another Cheetah Records staff member who was down since the original Royal Posse album, and jumped shipped to do promotions at Ocean. For that matter, a producer named Scott Harrison went from working on Magic's stuff to these guys, too. See what I mean? This was a major split.

So the music cuts out, and it sounds like the end of a pretty hard, response/diss record that clocks in at about five minutes. But then Daddy Rae says, "so Magic Mike, break this nigga off somethin' proper," and the beat comes back on for a final verse from Magic Mike himself:

"Ok, nigga, here we go,
It's my turn, the one who you said tried to fuck you out your flow.
I heard your LP, naw it didn't groove me;
Sounds like your tracks turned to a catastrophe.
Yeah, they sucked, but you know that anyway,
Nine hundred dollar a rhyme is where your wack ass spends your pay.
And you mad 'cause I got a Benz, black;
But you still ride around in that antique Cadillac.
It doesn't take much to keep a stupid nigga happy
Toss you a couple ugly women, you think that you're the mack, G.
But we know that women ain't your style,
'Cause you like to get a quick peek at the dick once in a while.
You shouldn't've started this shit, 'cause you know me.
Did you tell your friends you sucked dick in NYC?
Yeah, you know what it feels like with a dick in your mouth;
But yo, you know that ain't what M&M is about.
Mr. Stout, you's a sucker, stupid motherfucker;
I know you like the taste of my dick so just pucker
Up for the down stroke, you know your black ass a joke:
A shitty fuckin' album, plus you dumb ass broke.
Did you tell your niggas whose dick you sucked?
You tried to call me gay, but look who got fucked.
And then you left my label with a bunch of suckers
Jan, Ton and Fred, you know them faggot motherfuckers.
You shoulda stayed where the real niggas shine,
but no, yo' ass was added to the Royal Reject line.
It's time to change the subject for a bit:
Your girl, your brother, fuck it, you ain't shit!
But yo, I ain't goin' there, they ain't the shit to me.
(Naw, fuck that!) I'm goin' there, 'cause you started, G.
You put my son in it! That shit won't pass.
I tell you what, you can lick my son's black ass!
I heard you had a kid. The legacy of ugliness continues.

I'm confused, 'cause everyone in the family looks abused.
The kid's a ghetto bastard, no father in place,
A bitch and a trick havin' a baby - what sense does that make?
Well I remember the talk we had about your girl, she must be crappy;
You said, 'she don't look that good, but, uh, she makes me happy!'
You remember that shit. I guess she looks like a mutt,
But you like mens' butts, and let's forget a woman's guts.
You call yourself a nigga. A real nigga, how you figure?
While you're on my jock, my dick is gettin' bigger and bigger.
Yo' ass is loco, you say your nigga's Go-Go;
He's a ho so, ya both go and blow each other's dough though.
Yeah, we know what your hobby is, so who you think you're foolin'?
See niggas walkin' around in Daisy Dukes, you start droolin'.
You tell your friends you sleep in bed with other men?
Grabbin' 'em on the ass, pretendin' and say you don't remember, check it.
You know how I am when I have to diss;
I bring up all of the true shit so yo' ass gets pissed.

As Daddy Rae said: you talkin' shit is makin' me rich,
But what else could you expect comin' from a stupid (beyotch!)"

"Final Words" was an unforgettable monster of a diss, but this seven and a half epic just might've topped it. You might be thinking Madness would be finished after that, but he did come back for more...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Royal Renegades Week, Day 3 - Madness Comes Back

The same year MC Boo made his Ocean Records come-back, MC Madness made his solo debut on Ocean: Come Get This $ Honey. T. Isaam is on-hand as well, as executive producer and kicking a guest verse, marking his last appearance on record ever. There are a couple other guest MCs here as well: MD, producer Shake G and his new DJ, Domain. It probably would've made more sense to for Madness to add the "And the Crew" surname to his album than MC Boo, since he has a whole, visible team here; but I guess Boo's name rhymed.

So, how is it? Not bad. Like with Boo, the production lacks the touch of Magic, but there's still some pretty solid, hard, hip-hop tracks. And while Madness was never a brilliant lyricist, he has a strong, lively presence that definitely elevates this several notches above Back To Bass-ics. It's just more enjoyable.  It certainly helps that half the tracks aren't instrumentals. I was a bit more impressed by DJ Ray Swift (perhaps partially because he was tasked with making more out of less), but Domain's additions are definitely a welcome enhancement.

The single for this one was "Booty Wave," which is a pretty typical "make ya booty wave" kinda dance track, but it's got an interesting sitar sample, a pretty full track, and Madness's energy is able to sell these kinds of songs a lot better than most. The best part, though, is easily the DJ breakdown, and a guest verse by MD, who has a much higher voice, adding some contrast. Even if you don't like these kinds of songs, you'd have to admit a lot of time was clearly put into making this one better than the average. In general, that might be what sets it apart the most from MC Boo - whereas it felt like he made a few decent songs and then called in sick to work for the rest of the album, it feels like the people making this album really cared.

The B-side to the single is also on-hand here (the 12" only offers clean and dirty mixes of the two album tracks, nothing notably exclusive): "Don't Touch Them Dirty Hoe's" (or "...Dirty Hoe's" as it's interestingly titled on the album artwork). Again, it's like the A-side, very energetic and catchy. It's got some great horns and another guest verse, this time by T. Isaam.

So, they picked two really solid, well-made dance tracks for the single, but heads today will surely prefer the harder, more traditionally hip-hop tracks. "As I Come Back" is the album's opener where Madness aggressively reclaims the mic, and "Buckin' Shots" has a surprisingly indie Philly kinda vibe to it. A definite highlight is the posse cut, "Blakk i Klan Jam" (I think the Blakk i Klan stuff was T Isaam's thing), which features some tight production, again very un-Miami. Yeah, the prerequisite Planet Patrol samples are on hand for some songs, like the title track, but they're still done well, while other tracks, like ""Nuff To Go Round" don't give away their Miami origins at all. If there's one flaw to this album, it's perhaps that he spreads himself too thin trying to cover all the bases... there's songs with west coast vibes, R&B hooks... everything that was popping off in '93. But most of it works, at least enough to pass. The CD version also features a bonus track, "Gut Patrol," which is another successful dance track with a really effective piano loop.

Now, you remember on Day 1, when I mentioned that Madness had a line calling out Magic on the opening track? Well, that's true and all. but it barely registers compared to the song "Final Words" that appears after the album's closing shout outs.

He chooses a surprisingly low-key, smooth track and a very simple delivery... like he wasn't going to come out all super hardcore "Fuck Compton" style, but didn't want anyone to miss a single syllable of what he had to say. He lays out his grievances and why he split from Cheetah and Magic, and also gets homophobic on a level only topped by G Rap's "Truly Yours:"

"'89 is when the episode started off;
I had a book full of rhymes ready to set shit off.
Looking for a chance at a record deal and
Drop a hit of fly shit and make a killin'.
I hooked up with the punk named Magic Mike;
He said, 'it\'s a new label, and shit is gonna be right.'
So I signed on the dotted line,

Not knowin' at the time that he was gazin' at my behind.
He and his partner was slime, Tom Reich,
Suckin' each other's dicks late at night.
Our first hit was 'Drop the Bass,' shit was kinda fly;
But I started havin' to ask the question: why
Wasn't I gettin' paid,
When their pockets were blowin' up like in them were hand grenades?
Was I gettin' swindled, played like a sucker
By a punk motherfucker who said, 'I love you like a brother?'
What the fuck has love got to do with this?
Come with my flow or I'm takin' it to your shit;
And that's the way it's gotta be.
You better check your bitch if you're lookin' for some pussy.
And I don't even know why you go that route,
'Cause you know you want a dick to rip that asshole out.
Perpetratin' like a man, but you ain't foolin' me,
'Cause in your heart, you're an F-A-G.
You just had a son and that makes me sad,
'Cause yo sweet ass don't make no decent dad.
I hope you don't make him a punk, too.
Is that what ya gonna do, you fuck nigga you?
Yeah, the court case is over, got my cash in stacks,
And I put your life on contract."

And that's just the first verse!  Domain's got some nice cuts for the hook, and Madness comes back, with lines for half the Royal Posse, "Infinite J and Daddy Rae, ya both gay. Smooth J Smooth, ya blood is gonna ooze. Do you get used to the smell of shit when you brown nose? Mike dissed yo' ass on 'Ain't No Doubt About It,' need I say more? [there's a skit on that album called "The Boo Boo of Rough J. Rough" where they call him "that Orlando rappin' sucker who made one 12" and is now history"] But enough about those sidekicks that ain't shit, they won't add up to a hill of beans in a conflict." And the voice they use for whenever Mike speaks would make Michael Jackson sound threatening. It's a ruthless diss that even delves well into low-blow territory, telling the world his side of the story regardless of who wanted him to remain silent.

His last line is, "you know Madness had to have final words." But you know Royalty had to respond...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Royal Renegades Week, Day 2 - MC Boo and the Crew

I almost bought this album when it was new. I was on vacation with my family, driving to Florida, and we stopped at some Southern in-between state - forget which one now - and I saw a music store specializing in rap and hip-hop in the phone book at the hotel.  Of course I made my parents swing by, and it was like this little house, full of mostly cheap mixtapes.  Behind the counter, I saw MC Boo and the Crew, and I remember asking the guy if that could possibly be McBooo from BDP. And he was just like: nah, this is just some wack Miami bass shit; you don't want that. So I left without it. It happened that one of the tapes I'd brought with me on the trip was the first DJ Magic Mike and the Royal Posse album, and in the car I'm looking at the liner notes and I see MC Boo! Well, by that point it was too late to go back and I didn't get this album until many, many years later, when I finally ordered it from Amazon as an adult, filling the little gaps in my collection.

Honestly, I wasn't missing all that much over the years. I mean, it's not bad. But you see that blurb on the front cover? "THE BEST BASS ALBUM EVER RECORDED...!" Well, yeah, it's not that.

You would think the biggest issue would be the loss of Magic's production, and yeah... the production is weaker. Still okay, but weaker. But the most disappointing aspect is MC Boo. After "We're On a Mission," I expected more from him. He's not terrible or anything, but he's just... generic. Average. Good enough to get by without embarrassing himself, but never saying anything slick or compelling or kicking a delivery that stands out at all. Same with the production.

Now, at this point you may be asking, "who is The Crew?" No, there's not another team of junior MCs on hand or anything. It seems to just be referring to his DJ, Ray Swift, T. Isaam and the Ocean Records production team. The DJ, in fact, is the real star of this album. Even though they left Magic, they still had somebody on hand who could provide some really nice cuts, which definitely breath some energy into an otherwise dull album.

Unlike MC Madness, T. Isaam, and even Jan Hrkach or DJ Lace, MC Boo hadn't been working on Mike's albums since the first one. He'd been out of the picture for a few years. So, in a way, this is a bit of a comeback for him (which he raps about on one of the strongest cuts on here, the opener "Freeze"). But it also means that he doesn't seem to share the same hostility towards Mike or Cheetah Records, so there are no diss cuts. There is one song with a line about how he "used to kick rhymes with my so-called friends," which seems like it might be a Royal Posse reference, but the song's about how he grew up as a hustling youth, so he could just be talking about kids he went to school with or something. He's basically going for a "I'll just do my thing," live and let live career move here, which is respectable. But on a generally plain, disappointing album like this, a diss or any kind of statement with stakes would've gone a long way towards making this interesting at least.

A bigger part of the problem is that, despite this being an MC Boo album, a bunch of the tracks on here are strictly instrumental, so Boo's not even involved. Frankly, that shit bores me on Mike's albums, and when your production is weaker than Mike's... yawnsville. One song features a big sax solo instead of vocals, which is interesting on paper, but in practice, it's just not enough to hold a whole song together. At least not when the rest of the track is so flat. And we get a song called "Bangle Sluts" on side 1 and "Bangle Sluts (Re-Mix)" on side 2. First of all, the song's alright I guess, but it's definitely not compelling enough to warrant two versions on the same album. Secondly, the Re-Mix is actually just the instrumental.

Amazingly - and I don't mean "amazingly" in a hyperbolic way, my mind was literally blown by this when I first heard it - one song, at the end of side one, consists of nothing but a loop of a ticking clock for several minutes. Not even a bass hum! Yet, bizarrely, it's titled "Back To the Bass." I mean, if you were looking a moment that perfectly emblematizes everything that's wrong with this album, here you go.

Again, though, don't get me wrong. If you're a Royal Posse completist, this album has moments that will at least get a pass... Some decent samples, and again, it comes to life when Ray Swift gets on the tables (primarily the DJ cut "Go Crazy"). Wisely, "Freeze" was the single, b/w a boring but passable instrumental called "Let the Bass Go," which actually doesn't have much of a deep bassline. "Kickin' Rhymes To the Rhythm" would've been a better choice, it's actually the best song on here, with a funky sample, nice drums, killer scratches, and a naturalistic emphasis on Boo's rhymes.

But things are about to heat up in Royal Renegades week, as tomorrow we unleash the Madness...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Royal Renegades Week, Day 1

On "Through the Years," a song he liked so much, he included it on at least four of his albums, DJ Magic Mike breaks down his musical history, and talks about the extensive line-up of his crew, The Royal Posse, saying:

"I started my own crew,
I called it Royal Posse, and I start with twenty-two.*
Now the posse's on - dope DJs and rappers, G;
Finally made a name, but we're only known locally.
How many obstacles do I have to face?
My only solution was to head for Miami bass.
Everything I touched was a number one pick;
But wouldn't you know, I had to get the shitty end of the stick?
But I wasn't gonna let it stop me;
Back to Orlando to unite with the Posse.
But as time passes, people change like the seasons
And most of the posse changed for the wrong reasons
Everybody ain't true, everybody ain't straight;
I had to bring the posse down from twenty-two to eight."

Now, The Royal Posse's line-up was ever-shifting (MC Madness had a skit on his second album saying he'd send you on an all expense paid trip if you could name two albums where the personnel was exactly the same), but the biggest change happened essentially all at once, when a bunch of members openly broke it off and struck out on their own, most notably his best known partner, MC Madness. They were pissed at Magic for wanting to do solo projects after Madness started to get cornier, and at Cheetah Records over payment issues (Mike was vice-president of the label, and Cheetah's president, Tom Reich, was also Mike's manager and executive produced all their stuff... so the pair probably seemed pretty inextricable to the guys, even though Mike wound up leaving Cheetah and forming Magic Records a few years later), so they went off as a unit to the freshly formed Ocean Records.

So, just who went? Well, MC Madness, of course. He released his debut solo album, Come Get This $ Honey for them in 1993, saying in his first song, "I got side-tracked by a bogus brother: DJ M&M, that punk motherfucker. Now I'm back, the game I'm gonna win." In the Special Thankx[sic.] of their biggest album together, Ain't No Doubt About It, Magic Mike wrote to Madness, "YOU'RE MY BOY TILL THE END. FUNNY HOW I CAN'T SEE THE END. DAMN SURE COULDN'T TELL THIS 4 YEARS AGO. GOD WORKS IN MYSTE-RIOUS WAYS." That was in 1992 - things sure changed quick.

Now, the only other album Ocean put out was another Royal Posse exile: MC Boo and the Crew's Back To Bass-ics (though Madness and Boo also dropped a single each off of their albums). Among other things, MC Boo is the MC on the original "Drop the Bass" on the debut DJ Magic Mike and the Royal Posse album in 1989 (where he also has the intriguing credit of being the "Rap Consultant"). Also, the liner notes are incomplete so he's not credited, but he did that incredible track, "We're On a Mission."

So that's two core rappers out. But who else left? Well, DJ Lace, the other half of Vicious Base, stepped off around this time. He went on to do a lot of stuff - both in Miami bass, and more in clubby techno kinda music - but didn't seem to get too caught up in the drama - though he did record an album with DJ Fury, the guy responsible for "Magic Dike" and all that other anti-Magic Mike stuff.  Mike dissed Fury pretty hard with "Fury Who?" on This Is How It Should Be Done.  Anyway, Lace didn't follow the guys to Ocean Records, though Madness does shout him out in the liner notes of his solo joint, suggesting who he sided with in the split; and I don't believe he ever worked with Magic or Cheetah again.  And I've just recently blogged about what Magic Mike did with the Vicious Base name years later.  Mike did diss him in the liner notes of his 20 Degrees Below Zero EP, though, for forming 2BMF with producer Beat Master Wizzy, who produced a couple early Royal Posse songs and was actually down with Vicious Base before the Royal Posse album, then left earlier on (I guess around the time Boo left). But they never recorded a Magic Mike diss or anything.

Another big drop out, though, was definitely T. Isaam. He was the new member of the crew on 1990's Bass Is the Name of the Game, and contributed to all the other albums before his parting. In fact, he was the only other Royal Posse member to get a full album with Mike: 1991's Southern Hospitality. The other core members, guys who were down for years and years, still never had the shot to put out any albums they could call their own, just verses on all of Mike's albums.  T. Isaam never put out an album of his own again, but was a major writer and producer on Madness and Boo's albums.

Also, perhaps less obvious to us hip-hop fans, but a major player to go was Jan Hrkach. Jan was a member of pretty much the only notable act on Cheetah Records besides Magic Mike (i.e. the only other ones to drop multiple releases), the techno group called Radioactive Goldfish. Jan was a big behind-the-scenes guy at Cheetah, engineering, mixing and even occasionally producing a song for Mike's albums. Well, he became president of Ocean Records... which certainly explains why Radioactive Goldfish stopped putting out records on Cheetah after 1992, and the label really became nothing but Mike's vehicle. Jan also did the mixing, engineering and some "electric bass" instrumentation on Boo's album.

Other members quietly drifted in and out of the Posse at different times, but this was the big rift. And we're gonna study it for the rest of the week.  It's been a while since I've done a "week." 8)

*Here's a fun trivia challenge: try to name all twenty-two!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Writing E Money Bags Back Into History

Early in 50 Cent's career, he wrote a song called "Ghetto Qu'ran (Forgive Me)." It's probably best remembered for being the song got him shot, because in it, he breaks down all the players, killers and victims of The Supreme Team drug dealing operation. So many names are dropped in that song, and so many of his fans probably had no idea who or what the Hell he was talking about - Hell, I don't pretend to know who all these people are myself. But one name I recognize comes up in the final lines of the last verse, "And if you watch the news, you see players in this game that lose. I'm forgetting Lefty and Jazz, Pretty Tony and Lance, Head Lou, Mel Son, Troy and E Money Bags." I only know who the last name on that list is: E Money Bags.

E Money Bags was the rap alias of Eric Smith, who released his self-titled album in 1999 on the indie Grand Imperial label. He was from Hollis, Queens, and worked with the biggest Queens cats, including Nas and Mobb Deep. He was also down with The Live Squad, who you should remember from the BQ In Full Effect EP that started off Percee-P's career. They became affiliated with 2Pac (though let's not confuse them with The Outlawz); and they even put out a final record with him and 'Pac after his murder.  Now, I'm not referring to 2Pac's murder, I mean E Money's.

E Money Bags was gunned down in July of 2001. This article from NYMinute details, "Law enforcement officials contend that Kenneth 'Supreme' McGriff ordered Eric Smith's murder to avenge the December 1999 killing of a friend, Colbert Johnson." Definitely one of those cases where a rapper's criminolgy lyrics turned out to be all too real and cost him his life.

Which brings me to this white label 12" I randomly came across: Nature featuring "Kool G" (Kool G Rap, of course). Every Kool G Rap record is worth having, so just seeing his name was enough for me to pick this one up, But... I know Nature did a couple things with G Rap, but I didn't remember this song. Of course, I didn't follow every tiny step of Nature's career... turns out G Rap was on Nature's 2008 album, Pain Killer, for example. But that's not what this is. This is some killer 90's shit. I even recognize G Rap's verse.

Remember when Sway and Tech had blown up to such a point that they had a label deal with Interscope even though they'd stopped being recording artists themselves? [Let's have a brief pause for their great, Flynamic beginnings.] They essentially commercially released a mixtape (This or That) of classics and new, original songs featuring some of the hottest artists in the game. One highlight was a little freestyle joint called "3 To the Dome" which had Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane and Chino XL spitting together, Now, Kane's verse was some dope but recycled rhymes he'd used elsewhere... makes sense, since it was just a quick freestyle for him. In fact, I was surprised Kool G hadn't recycled a verse for that song, too. But now I realize he had - it comes from this song, "Friends of Ours."

"Friends of Ours" claims to sport a Main Mix on one side and a Clean Version, but both sides are actually identical, dirty versions. And there's no production credits, which is a shame, because whoever made it did a fantastic job, flipping a killer soul sample Mood used a couple years earlier ("Karma") but speeding it up and re-doing the percussion. There's also no mention on the label of a third rapper who can be clearly heard kicking the first verse of this song. ...Well, if you read the first three paragraphs of this post, you're probably way ahead of me: the "mystery" MC is E Money Bags. This  is actually his song, a brilliant track taken from his album (which, no, doesn't seem to have any production credits either).

All the MCs come tight, with Kool G Rap of course stealing the show at the end with a brilliant verse. E Money's the weakest, with some solid bars overall, but a couple questionable lines... "who you gonna call? Toast busters" would've never made it past G Rap's quality control checks. And speaking of the Kool Genius, he came off on This Or That, but one listen to this one and you'll know this is the true home of that verse, where it sounds the best - pure killer Queens.

You know how I used to post myspace pages of rappers here, back when rappers were on myspace? Well, here's E Money Bag's. I'm not sure why E Money Bags' name was taken off this record... it could be because he has his fair share of detractors (check out this review on Amazon calling his album "snitch rap"). But history is history - it's his record no doubt, and you've got to honor the art of a great 12" like this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tommy V Isn't Dead

I got a new post for you guys - a double post even! But it isn't here. It's over on Hip Hop Isn't Dead. That's right, I'm back over there with another Reader Review (If you missed it, I did a Fresh Kid Ice review over there back in 2009). I like the short, track-by-track breakdown style he's been perfecting over there through the years, and it's really fun adopting it for a contribution. It's very different from how I normally write here; and, yes, that means I already have the bug to do another one for 'im.

Anyway, without further ado, we take a look at the classic, California 4-track era, with two (sub-) genre defining tapes from one of its most prominent and under-recognized contributors... and practically everybody else who was a part of the scene.  Right here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Put Off Listening To This Album for a Long Time...

So, this album came out in 2010, and I put off purchasing it for a long time.  Then, even after I finally found it cheap and bit the bullet, I had this CD sitting by my computer for months unplayed.   It would justs it there, staring at me with its bright, somewhat cheesy cover like, "are you gonna listen to me or what?"  And I'd put it off for another night...

Since you can see the picture clear enough, I won't milk the suspense: I'm talking about DoItAll's American DU album. I'd been a fan of The Lords Of the Underground since they first made a record name-dropping my hometown back in 1992; but just wasn't up to facing another "past his prime" disappointment. And LOTUG was already coming with a questionable batting average. And, ten years after "Funky Child," did I really want to hear anymore of that crazy, cartoon voice flow and punch-lines? This is 2012. But, finally, what pushed me over the edge was that I was curious about the Grand Daddy IU guest spot on track 14. If nothing else, he was going to kill his verse, so I might as well test the waters.

Now, this isn't DoItAll's first solo album; he released the very rare Eleventh Hour in 2003. I don't even have that, though I've heard some tracks and... eh. But I have to say, in the end, I'm glad I got American Du and have finally checked it out.

First of all, thankfully, DoItAll's coming with a more mature, relaxed steez. No silly, hyperactive, "can I slam like Bam Bam, that kid from Bedrock" raps. And while it's tempting to just say "needs some K-Def!" (which really would've gone a long way), the production by a collection of essential unknowns is actually often pretty full-bodied and interesting. Pete Rock (yay!) and Scott Storch (yeck!) drop by for one track apiece, but everything else is by cats named Jimmy Johnson, Kay Mason, Be-Life, The Real Focus, Tab, Lady Trauma, Ric Note, The Are*, Illastrate, Lexzyne, and Mel & D. I feel like he made all those names up, but I, no, I don't really believe that. It's just a bunch of tracks (this is a long album) by a bunch of unknowns.

If you're gonna give this album a go, though, I have to say, skip the first couple of tracks. There's bad spoken word poetry, talking intros, R&Bish skits and some crappy club beats. If you're feeling open-minded, you might jump in at track 4, his joint with DJ Kool, but discerning heads will want to hold out a little longer, even past Pete Rock's "Surrender," which is far descended from his best work, it's tempting to believe that there must be two Pete Rocks working in the industry - the one we all love and remember so fondly, and the new guy who's running around ruining his rep. But, sadly, no...

Anyway, wasn't I saying there's something actually good about this album? Yeah, just start in about midway through. If this were a cassette or LP, I'd say just play side 2 and forget about what's on side 1. Just... don't even think about it or question it. But starting with "Let's Go," we're into some compelling territory. It's a posse cut with Craig G, Masta Ace and Ed O G. And thankfully, they've got a good beat for 'em. They all come nice and sound really good. There are some quality scratches at the very beginning and ending by DJ Lord Jazz himself, and while they make the unfortunate decision not to use them on the hook, but have some guy named Probz do some LV-ish kinda hook, they still manage to pull it off alright.

But it's not just the guest spots (the rest include Treach, Shyheim, Mr. Cheeks and a bunch of unknowns) which are compelling. As the album progresses, DoItAll comes pretty nice over some solid tracks. "Surgeon General" and "Hi Def State of Mind" are some respectably produced reminders of why DoItAll's a name worth remembering. And "Flash Forward" is a really compelling, jazz sampled instrumental. Really, if you don't let side 1 tarnish your listening experience and listen to side 2 with fresh ears, it's a nice little record with only one annoying skit. No, it's not the an Illmatic or anything, but I'd give the second half of this album a genuine recommendation. Just make sure you don't hear the first seven tracks, or it'll ruin your opinion of the good stuff. I mean, it's at least worth giving it a spin if it's sitting there on your desk, staring you down.

*Actually, I know who The Are is; he's from K-Otix. Remember them?  I should do a blog on those cats one of these days.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Exactly WHICH Ghost Is Back, Exactly?

Sometimes I'll see an album and think: I probably won't like that very much. But I'm just so damn curious about it, I want it anyway. Well, I finally broke down and purchased one of those albums, so I figured I'd share my findings with all of you. This way you can make an informed decision, and not have to buy the album blindly to find out what it was like I did.

So, the album is The Ghost Is Back by Vicious Base featuring DJ Magic Mike. Streetbeat Records, 1997. Now, I quite liked the original Vicious Base album, so you might be wondering why I was so hesitant about this one. Well, I'll tell you.

See, Vicious Base was the duo of MC Madness and DJ Lace. They came out as Vicious Base (featuring DJ Magic Mike) before they started releasing some of their biggest hits as DJ Magic Mike and MC Madness. But, if you know the story, you know that Madness left Mike and the label (Cheetah/Magic Records) in the early 90s with a couple other members of the crew (most notably T. Isaam), and they spent the next several years writing vicious (pun sort of intended) diss records back and forth to each other, until Madness's career eventually completely evaporated. So, how then could there be a Vicious Base and DJ Magic Mike album in 1997? I was pretty certain they never made up and reuinted... and if it was just a Vicious Base album on StreetBeat, I would've thought, okay, Madness hooked back up with Lace as another venture after his solo albums didn't turn out to be such big successes. But featuring DJ Magic Mike again? Something had to be wrong with this project.

Actually, my first assumption was that it was just a compilation of past Vicious Base tracks.  But looking at the song titles, they're all new. Actually, two songs wound up getting released again, later, as bonus tracks on the Mo' Wax 3LP of The Journey in 1999.  So, just what the heck is going on here?

Well, I guess this is essentially Magic's ultimate "fuck you" to Madness. To answer the first question on everybody's mind, no, Madness isn't on here. Neither is DJ Lace. This is basically just a DJ Magic Mike solo project. I'm guessing he owned the rights to the name, and so ha ha, sorry, Madness. Vicious Base has a new record without its members.

It's also not a very good album by Magic Mike standards. I get the feeling he made this quick and cheap. It's a mostly instrumental album, and not many of them are very compelling or interesting at all. There is one vocal track, with Daddy Rae (another member of Mike's Royal Posse) and Mike rapping, but... while it's a highlight simply because it's a vocal oasis in a big instrumental desert; it's definitely one of their lesser efforts. Also, it's just a remix of a song off of 1994's Bass Bowl, and that version was much better. Mike also raps a bit on the intro and outro, which is fine but nothing to get excited over. And there's basically only one track where Mike really gets busy on the turntables: the redundantly titled, "Number #1." It's easliy the album's highlight. He also scratches a bit on "The Bass Will Go No Lower," which is the second best cut on this album.

So, yeah. This is a quick, mediocre cash grab, just like I knew it would be. But... I had to know. And now I do, and so do all of you. Not terrible, but definitely very low on the Magic Mike totem pole, for completists only.