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.  :)

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