Thursday, March 28, 2013

To Me, R&B Ended When Sexy Leroy & The Chocolate Lovelites Broke Up

Tragically, Sexy Leroy and the Chocolate Lovelites never had a music video, so we were forced to just imagine how they would've looked on stage. I always pictured them outfitted like Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate, the outrageous band that played the church in Coming To America, with Eddie Murphy playing one of his many roles as the lead vocalist. Not that they sound alike (which is a good thing, because Eddie succeeded in making his rendition of "Greatest Love Of All" as truly terrible as it was hilarious); maybe it's just the similar band names. But that's who I picture whenever I hear the Lovelites.

Of course, like Randy Watson and his band, Sexy Leroy and the Chocolate Lovelites were just silly aliases for DJ Quik (who had the curls to play Watson... see, it's not that unfounded) and his boys, 2nd II None. The world was introduced to them on DJ Quik's second album, Way 2 Fonky on Profile Records in 1992. The last thing we expected to hear was a crazy, funky throwback (way, way back) R&B group sing sing a number by themselves at the end of Quik's album. It was funny, but it was more than a skit that just ran four plus minutes. The doo-wop style back-up vocals, catchy harmonized hook and casual lounge instrumentation were surprisingly funky. It may've been a parody, but "Let Me Rip Tonite" by Sexy Leroy and the Chocolate Lovelitez (as it was spelled in the original tape's liner notes) featuring Darreyn Johnson was a surprise hit; Quik really utilized his musical talents to create a good song, disguised as a joke.

It's not exactly a complex or brilliantly clever joke... sexism in hip-hop isn't funny because it's, unfortunately, kinda the norm. But all that wildly inappropriate talk ("what you mean rape? Bitch, I been knowing you for two years and you're gonna call it rape?") coming out of the mouth of this singer who should be shouting out at your grandfather as he plays at their 50th wedding anniversary? It worked. But what really sold it was how much they committed to it. Again, it's a full, robust song that, while on some levels perfectly captures the chintzy sounds of a sad, small time band, also slyly showcases Quik's musical abilities (and his guitarist's) beyond simple beat making and becomes endlessly relistenable. And showing off his versatility is what Quik's albums were all about in this era. Tough tracks, slow g-funky tracks, purely instrumental tracks, reggae tracks, tracks with cuts and samples that could play in New York, to classic, laid back Cali party songs. So R&B was a natural inclusion. And Sexy Leroy was an infinitely preferable choice to showcasing another generic Shatasha Williams knock-off.

In 1995, Quik's next album was a real crowd pleaser, delivering full-on disses to MC Eiht and AMG while bringing back the rest of his crew. There was another "Quik's Groove" and ever-expanding jazzy instrumentation, and yes, the Lovelites returned. This time it was a real, hip-hop track showcasing everything the crew did best... tight production, fun sex verses (including Hi-C, who was born to appear on tracks like this), but with that funky lounge vibe and Lovelites on the hook. There's a little bit of humor, of course - if you've got Hi-C talking about orgies, Leroy talking out the track and the guys earnestly singing a hook that goes, "this is for the ho in you, the ho in youuuuu," it's definitely designed to have you smiling - but any pretext the last song may've had of just being an extended joke is gone. It's a full song, this time with integrated hip-hop production, and plays right alongside any of the more serious songs on the album. In fact, it's easily one of the best tracks on an album that's already set a very high standard.

And that's the last most of us heard of Sexy Leroy and the Chocolate Lovelites for... pretty much ever. But that isn't the whole story. See, before Quik signed to Profile Records and started making hits, he was making a name for himself creating underground tapes... demos, essentially. He created one known as The Red Tape, which is basically what got him signed. It features a ton of songs which were later remastered and featured on his and 2nd II None's major label debuts. Online sites all claim this is from 1987 (most are just citing each other, I'm sure), but based on the production styles and everything, that seems pretty unlikely to me. I'd guess 1989-1990. Anyway, yes, it also features a prototypical Sexy Leroy song.

And no, this isn't a raw mix of "Let Me Rip Tonite;" it's a whole new/ old song! It's called "Chocolate Lover" and it's everything a "Let Me Rip" fan could want. It's pure Lovelites style all the way, with Leroy talking to the girls in the audience ("you know, I first seen you at the Alpine swap meet. You was over there just looking so pretty, buying you some hair") as the boys "Shoo-doop, shoop, shoo-doop, wowww" in the background, and they all come together for the hook to serenade the "sweet chocolate mama."  In fact, that's the title it was released as in 2012 when a portion(?!) of the song turned up on 2nd II None's greatest hits compilation album (mp3 only), Infinite.

And that still isn't the whole story. Remember in 2007(ish), when 2nd II None's lost second album leaked? No, I'm not talking about Classic 220... They recorded an album's worth of material (at least) before that, for Profile and/ or Death Row, that never got released. Well, somebody came up with a cover for it, dubbed it The Shit, and leaked it online. “We didn’t even name the album yet,” D said in an interview with HipHopDX. “It’s shit we recorded. The shit surfaced. How, we don’t know. Ain’t no telling. The shit was hot. People wanted it and I’m glad they did put it out there. I still like some of The Shit, it’s timeless.” It also featured a fourth chapter in the Sexy Leroy saga!

It's called "If U Ain't Fuckin' (How You Gonna Get Home?)" That title should tell you all you need to know. It's more of Quik's melodic production, this time driven by a flute; and it's the first song that lets one of the other Lovelites take the lead role for a verse, besides just singing the background and chorus. That's probably because it was the first Lovelites album recorded for a 2nd II None album instead of a Quik album, so they had to get a little more of an active role. But apart from that, it's completely in line with what you'd want and expect from them.

And they might still come back again. I remember an interview a long time ago (like, ten years old) where KK was talking about he and D both putting out solo albums. He was then asked if The Lovelites might return. He said they would be appearing on both of those solo albums, plus 2nd II None's next group album, Compton Blockz... and the Lovelites would actually get their own album "next year!"  Well, none of those projects seem to have happened; but 2nd II None are still around - they dropped a song called "New Shyt" online last year. And since they used their vocals on the "Chocolate Love Outro" to Infinite just last year, I have a feeling that as long as D and KK are still doing it, there's always a good chance they'll bring out that Lovelite magic one more time.

So Sexy Leroy, Sweet Johnny Ray, Bobby Bit-O-Honey, Carmel Williams, Cinnamon Jackson... this post is dedicated to you guys.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Questionable Lyrics #2: Tough Actin' Like Tinactin

This is another long one, but I promise it's worth it. Not every Questionable Lyrics post is gonna be about biting, but...

Similar to surprise I got when I heard Monie Love repeat a Kane line from my last Questionable Lyrics entry, I had a similar feeling in the mid 90's when I heard Xzibit and Ras Kass each drop the same commercial reference on different songs... By his second album, Coolio had thoroughly crossed over. I mean, "Gangster's Paradise" was playing in the waiting room of my dentist's office.  But he had a posse cut on there, which featured Ras Kass amongst a host of others. This was early in Ras's career, too, so any appearance was exciting. Well, his verse contained the following line:

"For them niggas steppin' up with the funk, I'm packin' Tinactin."

That same year, 1995, Ras's fellow Golden State Warrior Xzibit was featured on the compilation album One Million Strong, with a song called "No Hand Outs." I made a video about it in 2007 if you want to know the story there. But the point now is that he kicked the following line:

"I ain't on the microphone actin' tough actin' like Tinactin."

Now, this wasn't so bad as the Monie/ Kane thing. While they were both making the same reference in a corny punchline, they weren't making the exact same pun like Kane and Monie (and Def IV!) did. It's one thing if different rappers both reference Keith Sweat in their songs... look at the comments of that blog post. Readers have found [nice work, guys, and thanks!] some great and fun Keith Sweat lines by other rappers. That Big L one is the best. But they're all different. They're not all specifically saying: hey, don't "Sweat" me because my name isn't Keith, nyuck nycuk! So... I noted it (I mean, these guys formed a group together, and these were early appearances for both of them, they had to have known they were both using Tinactin as a punchline), but I didn't think much of it.

Then I heard it on a Kris Kross record. It was still 1995; I was bothering to check for a Kris Kross 12" because it featured Redman. The European pressing was different than the US, with a different B-side.  And it's the European one that caught my attention. The song was a posse cut called "Live and Die For Hip Hop," which I believe later appeared on Kris Kross's Young, Rich and Dangerous album. Anyway, it was neither Kris nor Kross, but one of their guest MCs (Mr. Black?), who spoke the line:

"Smackin' those actin' tough as Tinactin."

It was back, and this time it was the same pun. If you can really call it a pun. See, "tough actin'" is the product's catchphrase.  Like McDonald's commercials always saying "I"m lovin' it," in their song, in the dialogue, printed on their bags and posters. Tinactin - which if you don't know, is an anti-fungal foot powder/ crotch ointment - uses the line "tough actin'." Look at the picture at the top of this blog and you'll see it printed right along the front of the box. It's kinda goofy to be throwing medicated foot powder references into your song lyrics (straight from the soul, no doubt). But at least Ras and X were using it differently. Xzibit was making a play on the product's tag-line, and Ras was saying he gets rid of rappers' bad funk just like Tinactin does to the funk you get on your foot. There the pun's really on "funk." Some additional creativity was involved. You could maybe say Xzibit's line was clever (though I'm not prepared to concede that); but this time it was a total bite! Fortunately, at least, this was the last time any rapper would mention it.



The Lady of Rage, 1997, on the title track of her debut album Necessary Roughness:

"Fast actin' like Tinactin, mo' deeper than the Kraken."

Defenders might say: well, at least she changed it. I don't know. Honestly, I think she just got it wrong. I think she stole the line and wasn't even familiar enough with the reference she was making to realize that it's supposed to be "tough actin'," not "fast actin'." I mean, look, I like Lady of Rage and generally respect her work. In fact, most of the lyrics to this song are pretty solid. But leaving this line in the mix is at best incredibly lazy. That's me being very generous because I'm a die-hard LA Posse fan.

Anyway, the same year, hardcore indie crew The Ruthless Bastards spit the line on their Flowmaster single, "Murder We Wrote:"

"Tough actin' like Tinactin, breakin' backs in fatigue gear."

There's something sort of charming, in a nostalgic time capsule-ish way about the line in those songs, though. It's like hearing all the MCs who bit Das EFX's "diggity diggity" gimmick; it has that ring of an innocent naivete. But now that The 90's are over, well... Ready for the rapid fire round?

In 2000, DJ Quik had a guest named Skaboobie (his career didn't seem to go very far) say it on "Did Y'all Feel That?" from his album Balance & Options on Arista:

"Tough actin' like Tinactin is how my game got you reactin'."

During the song "Talk big Shit," Dubee (no relation to Skaboobie) of Mac Dre's Cutthroat Committee says on their 2001 Thizz Entertainment album, Turf Bucanneers:

"Wicked with a fashion, tough as Tinactin."

And it's surprising what really credible MCs have used it. Take Phaorahe Monch, who dropped the following line. Lady of Rage-style, on The X-Ecutioners' 2001 single, "Y'all Know the Name" (later included on their Built From Scratch album) on LOUD:

"My beats get feet to steppin' like fast actin' Tinactin."

Foreign Exchange, "The Answer" from their 2004 album Connected on BBE:

"They tough actin' like Tinactin."

 Heiruspecs, "Dollar," from their 2004 album  A Tiger Dancing on Razor & Tie:

"Sayin' your spray is stayin' tough actin' like Tinactin."

Of course you know Chino XL had to get in on this! But actually, he doesn't say it, just a guest on his song: Crooked I on a track called "Tap Dancing" that got thrown out on mp3 and mixtapes around 2007, but never really had a proper release. Here's his line:

"Dancin' around the truth, you rappers are actin'; come out of the booth and need tough actin' Tinactin."

Grand Puba kept it going on Brand Nubian's Time's Runnin' Out album from 2007 on Sound of Dissent... He also says "fast:"

"Took your star, reactin' like fast actin' Tinactin."

MF Doom, "Ballskin" from 2009's Born Like This on Lex Records:

"And being tough actin' Tinactin, bluff jackin'."

And of course The Wu isn't above it. On "Weak Spot," from the Wu Tang Clan's last crew album in 2007, 8 Diagrams on Universal, Raekwon, the chef himself, spits:

"I'ma tap in harder than Tinactin."

Also in 2009, Lil Wayne said it on Rick Ross's Deeper Than Music Def Jam album, on the posse cut "Maybach Music 2." Though he uses the tagline, too; he at least changes up the pun a little, a la Ras Kass:

"I'm on my feet like Tough Actin' Tinactin."

As recently as 2011, Vakill thought it was a good idea to use it on the title cut of his Armor of God album with The Molemen:

"Insecure non-tough, tough actin' Tinactin types."

And in 2012, T-Pain made a video for a song called "Don't You Quit" which features the line:

"Me and my dogs go hard, and you just tough actin' Tinactinin' - Ha ha!"

For God's sake, how do you laugh at that line in 2012? I mean, even putting aside what a bad look it is to laugh at your own punchlines on your own record... does no one in your crew recognize this hacky, stolen line when you spit it in the booth? Do none of your producers pause and think, "gee, that sounds familiar..." There's no way you can think you're being witty or clever in your own head saying this line after such an incredibly long procession of other rappers saying the exact damn thing.

But it's about to get real. Because what really sparked me to write this post is that I recently stumbled upon an earlier occurrence of this line. All these years, I wasn't sure if Ras or Xzibit thought it up, but I thought one or the other started this terrible trend. But no, I just heard it in a song from 1994. Ice Cube's short lived pack of proteges, Anotha Level, had it on their sole album, On Anotha Level from Priority Records. The song is called "Level-N-Service" and Cube's on it himself, though he didn't actually kick the following line:

"I'm tough actin' like Tinactin for the feet."

This line is such a tired, worn out reference that even the originators bit it! It's a time paradox, like that episode where Dr. Who met himself!* I don't understand it. Are Merck & Co. writing these rappers checks? Or has everybody just lost their damn minds? Either way, we need to apply some serious anti-fungal juice to this Tinactin rap shit.

...And guys, if you can find more, please post 'em in the comments again. I already can't stop laughing at this list!

*I've never actually watched Dr. Who, but I think it's safe to assume that this happened at least once.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Glow-Stick Dance To EPMD

Here's something that happened about 10 years too late. Back in '89, Mantronix and EPMD were Sleeping Bag label-mates. Imagine how dope it would've been to have Kurtis Mantronik, back when he was in beat making mode for guys like Just-Ice and T La Rock, to have come up with a remix for EPMD's "Strictly Business" 12", with a new guest verse by MC Tee. But that never happened. Instead, after the surprising and irrational success of the Jason Nevins Vs. Run DMC single, where this Nivens guy made a clubby techno remix of Run DMC's "Hard Times," imitators started jumping out of the wood-work. And now that Mantronik had left Mantronix and hip-hop and was just making club music, he became one of the earliest to jump on the bandwagon with his own remix of an old school hip-hop classic.

So this came out in 1998 on Priority and Playland Records, and it's even got the same cover style as the Nevins single, with both artists logos' over solid black. There's also a second version that came out the same year on Epic Records, because this was picked up for the Blade (Wesley Snipes vs. vampires) soundtrack; but it's the exact same track-listing on both: four versions of the one remix. There's the main MBA Formula mix, a Radio Edit, the MBA Instrumental and a longer Rascal Dub. It's called the Rascal Dub because it was edited by Albert Cabrera for One Rascal Productions, so named because he's one of the original Latin Rascals gone solo. But I have no idea what the MBA is supposed to stand for.

Still, it's a fun little remix. Of course, not a patch on the original; but it also keeps pretty much everything from the original: the chunky piano notes, the Bob Marley vocal sample, etc. It speeds it all up and lays it over a high bpm dance track... and their flows sound good over a faster track. Plus Mantronik actually uses the turntables and cuts up the acapella a little.  He doesn't really cut loose and go all Skratch Picklz on us (which would've been really cool) or anything; but having his cuts on top of K La Boss's, over the faster, thumping track is actually pretty catchy.

Really, apart from speeding it up and adding a little bassy keyboards and some light, spacey percussion bits; he's not doing much remixing it all. If he put this on a mix-tape, you wouldn't really label it a remix, you'd just say he sped it up to blend in with the other tracks. I don't know if Mantronik quits his original keyboard riff right after the introduction, or if they just get completely drowned out by the original version's bassline; but either way, it's essentially just the song sped up with a little added flair. You can't really get impressed by it as an artistic achievement; but it's an enjoyable listen nonetheless. And let's face it, if were at the club in 1998, this is something you could request - unless the DJ was specifically playing a hip-hop set, he'd never slow it down to put on the original. But with this record, your girl could do her glow-stick dance while you get to hear Parrish Smith lay down the law on biting (relationships are all about compromise, you know). So artistic achievement, no; but it provides a genuine service, which is more than you can say about most of the crap these labels come out with. I'll approve it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rodney, Joe and Pookie

Here's an underrated little effort from the west coast: the debut (and only) single by Tha Hitmen, off their debut (and only) album, Here Come tha Hitmen. This one's from 1994 on Psychotic Records, and it's a really an undercover Rodney O & Joe Cooley project. The group had a nice run of hit records on rotating record labels (Egyptian Empire, Atlantic, Nastymix); but ultimately they kinda drifted down to smaller, more indie material. General Jeff left the group, and they went on to release their openly bitter F--k New York record. And I guess at time it was decided that was about it for Rodney O & Joe Cooley, and if they were going to stay in the game, changes needed to be made. So they added a new guy to the roster, amusingly named Pookie Duke, and called themselves tha Hitmen. Afterwards, they parted ways with Pookie and went back to releasing obscure, indie projects as Rodney O & Joe Cooley (and Rodney also threw a solo album in there). But for one brief moment, they were tha Hitmen.

The changes were really, mostly superficial. Yeah, they had a new name and a new member; but apart from having a different voice on most of the tracks, their album sounded just like the Rodney O & Joe Cooley albums they released before and after this one. It's still all produced by Joe Cooley, using the same classic west coast styles, and the guys had the same deliveries. Pookie Duke comes off gruffer than General Jeff, but he's not exactly Ganksta NIP; and he basically fills the exact same role the General did. But that's just fine, because Rodney O & Joe Cooley albums are always good times.

The hook is interesting, because it's the guys doing an acapella rendition of Zapp's "Playin' Kinda Ruff." Yes, that means the music stops every time they come to the chorus. It mostly works, although they do lose a little momentum each time it happens. Most of the rest of the track is a heavy-handed use of another Zapp record with the misspelled word "ruff" in the title, "So Ruff, So Ruff." It's an upbeat track (it's even got some vocoder in the loop), with the guys spitting energetic fast verses over it; but the lyrics are surprisingly dark: "if you're sellin' dope you better have a master plan; watch your back because they're straight kidnappin'. Catch a fool layin' up in his [??], booty naked, shove a gun in that mouth, son; beat 'im down, peel his cap and then take the dope. They got the goods now they bailin' out the back do'. Pop goes the glock on the next block; I hear sirens so that means somebody got shot. Or could it be the gang bangers bustin' at the cops? I don't know 'cause they have the street blocked off."

Then the B-side is a Joe Cooley solo track, simply titled "J.O.E.," with Joe on the mic, behind the boards, and... not on the tables? Yeah, that's the only disappointing thing about both songs on this 12", none of Joe Cooley's world champion cuts. Joe's MCing is nothing to get excited about, but he's able to keep a song afloat, at least. And fortunately, the instrumental is excellent: a shifting, dark yet funky track, alternating between sample sets from a soulful Al Green track (the back cover credits the sample, but says it's "Love and Happiness," when really it's "Here I Am," the same loop The UMC's borrowed for "Any Way the Wind Blows"), and the most gangsta-sounding breakdown of The Ohio Players' "Funky Worm." Again, it's surprisingly hard for these guys, with Joe cursing up a storm, and it's even got a 90's shout chorus. The somewhat ironic highlight is when he (over)shares with us that he calls his penis, "Russell the Love Muscle."

So, it's just the two songs (both from the album), plus their instrumentals. "Sho Gettin' Ruff" is labeled as being a Radio version; but I don't think it's any different than what's on the album - I think they're just letting you know it's radio friendly because there never were any curses on that track.

This one isn't going to be anybody's favorite record; but it's really a nice single with refreshingly high replay value. It'll probably be even more appreciated now that they don't make hip-hop like this anymore; but even at the time, this was quite enjoyable if you were one of the few who were up on this. I wonder whatever happened to Pookie Duke.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Last Nite's Dope

Here's a release from my period of having to buy everything on Young Black Brotha Records. It came from discovering Mac Dre when his What's Really Going On? EP. That was actually on Strictly Business Records, but that was essentially the same label, which gracefully morphed into YBBR. Mac Dre followed up What's Really Going On? with a long full-length that featured some tracks from What's, called Young Black Brotha; and then before you knew it, that Young Black Brotha was the label, with the same roster and owner. So, on top of fiending to get all Mac Dre's other stuff, my friends and I were getting releases by Mac Mall and Ray Luv just by virtue of their being on the same label. The blind buying paid off, largely thanks to the fact that they all featured the music of producer Khayree, who was also said label owner.

Now, "Last Nite" was kind of the mainstream debut of Ray Luv in 1994. He'd already had an earlier, rarer EP on Strictly Business, but this was his first single on YBBR, set to introduce him to world at large. It featured a track from his upcoming YBBR full-length debut, Forever Hustlin', and one from his debut EP, Who Can Be Trusted?

This was really the big push for Ray - they even got 2Pac to direct the video for it. And the lyrics are all about establishing just who Ray Luv is. Sure, ostensibly, it's a laid back cut about "last night," a smooth, universally relate-able song where we reflect on the party and drama of the previous night. But Ray's craftily using that framework to lay the groundwork of his own identity: "Last night, somethin' about the sky being overcast, and the doja had me thinking bout the past, let me see, when was all cool? April fifteenth, nineteen seventy-two. That's when Izza gave birth to me, and life gave the whole damn Earth to me..."

See? Just two sentences in and he's already spilling his origin story. And when he's not telling us that, he's laying down his ethos... and at the same time, expertly dropping in atmospheric portrayal of what life's become today; so you can bob your head to a descriptive account of an authentic kick back without even realizing you're being told anything of substance. You can just take it completely on surface level, as a slightly less hedonistic version of DJ Quik's "Tonite" (I suspect the similar misspelling may have been an intentional association), and it works perfectly thanks to the subtle yet lush musical backdrop by Khayree, one of the most under-appreciated masters of the kind of G-funk that didn't rely on heavy-handed P-funk samples, but just smooth instrumentation. There's a simple - unimpressive but effective - hook sung by Steffany Miller; but it's really all about track. As the liner notes make a point of saying, "No Samples Nuttin But Real Black Music."

The song from his old EP is "Smokin Indo." A short and funky little first-person story that quickly turns into a gangstas and guns-style tale before concluding with a surprisingly strong message about "the result of black on black violence," when Ray himself gets shot and killed. Ray Luv later remade this song into a fuller track (the original is just a single verse) called "Still Smokin' Indo;" but there's something more compelling about this rawer, short version.

But still, if you've got Ray Luv's albums, you've got those songs, right? Wouldn't an exclusive B-side be just the thing? Well, that's on here, too! It's called "Mo Careful," and it's an even harder track, with a (small) appearance by Mac Dre. It's still got some Dre-style whistling keyboards in the background; but the real driving force here are some big, "Atomic Dog"-type drums and tough scratches. Yeah, these guys had scratches; DJ Cee was a key member of the YBBR family; and he lent them some serious hip-hop authenticity - and just good music. He was killed (apparently in a tragic case of mistaken identity - see here) in 1995. And while Khayree has certainly able to keep pumping out quality music throughout the years since, and of course Mac Dre's biggest years were still ahead of him; YBBR never quite had the same feel after the his loss.

The A-side concludes with "Mo Dope On da Way," a skit detailing future releases on YBBR. It's interesting to note that the track and the liner notes announce Ray's upcoming album as Nuttin Move But da Money, rather than the title it actually became. Anyway, as you see, it's a pretty full single; and it's also got the instrumentals on the flip (even for the skit), which is nice because there's a reason producer Khayree gets credit right up there on the front picture cover. Not that Ray Luv doesn't hold up his end - he certainly does, with smooth flows that merge seamlessly into the grooves. But it's all thanks to the beautiful production that kids like me could safely buy anything on his label before even knowing who the artists were.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Questionable Lyrics #1: Sweatin' Keith

Yeah, I'm startin' a new thing on this blog.  'Cause I think it'll be fun, and this blog could stand a little freshening up, I think. I'm not gonna explain it; I think you'll catch on as soon as we begin:

So, Monie Love's "Monie In the Middle" is a great, early pop rap record. Lyrically, it's like the female version of Young MC's "Principal's Office," a school-based narrative perfectly suited for mainstream, middle-class kids. Hell, acts like Souljah Boy and Lil Mama are still doing music videos just like it. But the production is incredible, some real hip-hop shit, and the concept is more universally relatable than Young's - the hallmark of a good pop song. Who can't relate to the dilemma of being caught in a romantic... straight line, where someone likes you but you don't like them because you're too busy liking someone else who doesn't like you. It's the story of everybody's life. And who can forget the memorable like where she disses the guy who likes her,

"My name's not Keith, so stop sweatin' me."

For all my millennial readers, Keith Sweat was an R&B superstar in the late 80s.

It's not really clever; it's just catchy. Quick, cute, immediately memorable and just begging to be repeated. Of course, if you were familiar with more hip-hop than the just the crossover stuff MTV carried over to your door, you probably also remember Big Daddy Kane's "Another Victory" from around that same time. Here, he's rhyming on a far more serious topic: racial profiling, before that even became a phrase. The second verse is a quick narrative about being pulled over by a cop because he's driving a nice car: "the first thing they ask me is, 'where'd you steal her?' And then they assume that I'm a drug dealer." With completely justified righteous indignation he says to the nation's police:

"My name ain't Keith, so could you please stop sweatin' me?"

This blew my mind as a kid. It's one thing to be able to point to two generic love songs that both have the line, "baby, I love you." But this decidedly cheesy pun on Keith Sweat's name was a unique and distinctive line. Well, distinctive... but not unique, because it was in two different songs by two different rappers. I mean, you hear rappers talking about biters all the time, but I didn't really expect two major label artists to be throwing the same punchlines on their internationally distributed releases.

Well, "Monie In the Middle" the single, and the Down To Earth album it was featured on, both dropped in 1990. And Big Daddy Kane released "Another Victory" on his 1989 album, It's a Big Daddy Thing. So Kane came first. And again in 1990, Scrap Lover recycled a variation of the line on BDK's third album, Taste of Chocolate, saying:

"Save the sweat for Keith and the beef for Charlie."

This was on the 1990 posse cut, "Down the Line," which also featured Scoob Lover, Mister Cee (on the mic!), Ant Live and Little Daddy Shane. It's not quite the same pun, but maybe having his dancer call that reference back was Kane's way of reclaiming the line from Monie. It was his first, and he was taking it back. I guess Monie's just a big ol' biter, huh? It seems pretty cut and dry... except for one thing. The following line appears in another song:

"Not rhymin' 'cause you're lettin' me, or that you threaten me... yo I'm not Keith Sweat, boy, stop sweatin' me!"

And that song came out in 1988! It's "We Don't Play" by Dev IV, a highly underrated crew who, despite being on Rap-A-Lot Records, were straight out of Brooklyn. Nice and Hard, their album which features this song, has incredible production and perfect deliveries. Sometimes their subject matter was a little wonky ("School Boy Crush," "Obsession"), but when they were on, they were on fire; and even when they were off, they were displaying talent out the ass. And, um... I guess Kane bit them?

I find that hard to believe, too; but there's no arguing the chronology. And you might say, yeah, but that's just a silly thing everybody was saying on the streets, in the schoolyards... Not a major thing, but something they all probably picked up individually. Well, maybe. I kinda remember that, but I also remember everyone I knew had picked it up from the records (mainly "Monie"), not the other way around.

I don't think there will be any earlier examples to find... Keith Sweat didn't really break until 1987, after all. If there are any more examples of this line floating around hip-hop, please post 'em in the comments. And what is it about this weird, little pop culture pun? Such a silly line, with a quirky appeal. Gucci Mane even brought it back it in 2010 on the song "You Know What It Is," saying:

"Smokin' weed in a leaf; bitches sweat me like I'm Keith."

A man after my own heart.  I always figured, if I were to record a rap song [don't worry, I never will], I'd have to bring that line back; so it's great to see that somebody's done it for me. By the way, I should clarify that Gucci actually has two songs named "You Know What It Is." One features Young Joc and is on his earlier The Movie: Gangsta Grillz mixtape from 2008. But the one with this line features Waka Flocka Flame and is off his subsequent Mr. Zone 6 mixtape. Except for having the same title, the two songs are totally different, with completely different verses, hooks and instrumentals. And only this one explicitly breaks down whether Gucci is in fact R&B legend Keith Sweat, and if he should therefore be sweated as such. So, say what you want about Gucci, but that's one of the realest, most authentic... cases of biting ever.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Buck! Buck! Buck! part 2

...And we're back. And it's still 2001 and. Josh Martinez & Low Pressure Records have put out his second version of Buck Up Princess, now sub-titled The Touring CD. It's got a pretty memorable cover of Josh in a mud pit (this photo appears on the inside booklet of the final album), and a black and white back cover with some funky artwork.

This version is only eleven songs long, the shortest of all of them. We no longer have any songs by completely unrelated artists; it's all Josh, building towards the album proper. "Rip Rap," "Theories," "BC Trees," "Nightmare," "Rainy Day" and "Women Loving Women" all return from the previous version, albeit with slightly altered spellings "Nightmare" is "Nightmarezzzz..." and "Sushi/Rip Rap" is now "RAP (r.i.p.?)." Even "Nova Scotia Baby" is back. Oh, and these are still the "demo" versions, by the way, though a couple songs (like "Nightmare") never really differ.

So those songs were carried over, others were taken away... that leaves us with four new songs. Or at least, four new titles. "The Long Way Home" turns out to be the song we now know as "Walk In the Park," though again, it's an early recording of it, missing Josh's opening chatter and the brief turntabelism by Scratch Bastard at the finish. And "Munks Inna Bunka" is actually "End Of the World," which I wrote about in part 1.

That means there's only two new songs. First we have "Never Say Die" featuring Hanni Hotstepper.: actually Logic from The Aboriginals using a silly name.  It's a pretty smart, back-and-forth duet with a funky guitar loop, even better than a couple songs that wind up making it to the final version. And finally we have "Another DAY, Another DOLLAR," produced by Logic. Now, you may recall the final album has two mixes of this song, one titled "Another Day," which opens the album, and then "Another Dollar," which is the last song. Well, this is "Another Dollar" - for some reason, Logic uses another alias - Cills - on there, but it's him again and the same track. And yes, it's another "missing the scratches demo" version.

So originally, this disc hit us with two new songs.; they were the selling points for fans to buy this CD  But now that time's passed and more versions have been released, there's really no exclusive music on this version, making this the least desirable in the series today. You don't need this in your collection unless you're a diehard completist.  But, uh.... no, I still won't sell you mine  :P

Now we enter 2002. Josh is still promising us that his new album is just around the corner, but in the meantime, he's got some more rough drafts we can buy to tide ourselves over. He released Buck Up Princess!!! (The Touring CD Vol. 2) on Low Pressure and then released it again as Buck Up Princess, Volume: Whatever on Good Luck Records. These CDs have exactly the same, identical track-listings. So that's how I came up with a half when I said there was 4.5 versions of Buck Up Princess. I just can't bring myself to call these two separate versions, and even I couldn't bring myself to purchase both.

So this one has essentially the same cover as The Touring CD, though if you notice the fonts are different, and of course the subtitle is, too. The back cover and CD itself are completely different, though, so they're easier to tell apart that way. Ten of the eleven songs from the last CD are on this one(!) - "Nova Scotia Baby" has finally been retired and "Never Say Die" has been retitled "These Pillllls!" But this album's longer, clocking in at 16 tracks, meaning we get 6 new songs.

So, what's new? "Hard Fall," "Uphill Climb," "Forged," "Blaze of Grey," One More Coffee" and "Deep End." All of those are also on the final retail version, and they aren't really "demo" versions. A couple songs, like "Uphill Climb," do feature some additional vocal samples at the beginnings and ends, but it's hard to say whether they're updates to the songs or just skits between the tracks that get blended in (the final version of the album uses a lot of snippets from movies). So in 2002 it was another six new songs to compel you to buy this next CD; but looking back on it now, it's not adding much. "These Pillllls!" never made it onto the final version, so you'll want to get one of the "mud pit covers" for that exclusive track. That paired with the demo versions (though the differences are just academic, not preferable) make them version reasonably collectible. I'd recommend either one - not both - for the dedicated fan, but no one else.

And finally, in 2003, the actual finished album dropped. And god damn is it good. It's got the new, final mixes of just about everything we've heard before, plus a couple additional tracks: "Hobo's Lullaby," "Bermuda Shorts" and the new version of "Another Day" that's even better than the old one (which is also here, anyway). This is indisputably the best version, and as I've said, the best album Josh has ever done. The production is fantastic, and Josh is on fire with both his flows and his song-writing. If you just swapped out a couple songs from other projects with the weakest three or four from here, Buck Up Princess would be a greatest hits collection all by itself. It was a slow and tortured journey, but the destination was surely worth it in the end.

I do have a few last notes, though, before I leave you. First of all, the track-listing on the final version is all screwed up: "Nightmare" is listed as "Blaze of Grey," "Uphill Climb" is listed as "Deep End;" and if you notice, the numbers jump from 5 to 8. This has only added to the confusion over what songs are and aren't unique to each version over the years. Then, the other thing I have to say, is that not only did most of this album get released years earlier on these tour CD versions (and label samplers) I've been talking about, but Josh had released many of these songs on other projects as well. There were two EPs: Rumble Pie (2002) and The Good Life (earlier in 2003), which were full  of Buck Up Princess songs, too. I think the man set some kind of record for selling the same songs to his fans the most amount of times. It was seriously ridiculous; and it's only because the album is so good that I've forgiven him.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Buck! Buck! Buck! part 1

Somebody recently tweeted me a question about one of the many, varying versions of Josh Martinez's Buck Up Princess album, which made me realize what an ideal blog post this album makes, what with all its obscure, different versions. There's a couple listed on discogs, and a couple others will turn up if you google around enough... Well, I think I have them all.  It's really hard to confirm that, though, considering how rare and unknown some versions are. See, for years before the main, commercial version of the album was released, Josh used to put out "rough versions" on the indie tip.* These were made to sell at his shows on the road and online, where the rest of us could snag them if we were quick and on the ball enough.

Buck Up Princess is, to my mind, Josh's best album; and one of the time period's best (and most under-valued) hip-hop albums all around. It had better be pretty f'ing good, after all, for me to have kept buying it over the years. But thanks to the fact that I did, I'm now in a position to break down every single version, compare them, and see what's special and unique about each one. Ready? By my count, there are... four and a half.

We begin in 2001, with this very homemade edition on Low Pressure Records, the precursor to Camobear. It's a hand-written CDR that comes in a slimline jewel case, and the artwork is a simple, black and white print out, folded in half to give cover and interior artwork, wherein the old Charles Atlas comic book ad meets airplane safety instructions.  All of these are strictly CD releases. by the way, except the final LP, which came out on both CD and wax. This version is fifteen tracks long, and you can see the complete track-listing for this and all the iterations on my Maxwell page. But as a short summation, this is the most removed from the final retail album of any version, not just chronologically, but content-wise.

This Buck includes some songs that had been previously released by Josh and Low Pressure, on sampler compilations and such, and a bunch of songs I suspect weren't ever intended to actually be on the official Buck Up Princess album. "Theories," for example, is credited both here and on its earlier sampler appearance as being by InkOps featuring Josh Martinez. I'd bet you two dollars that it was initially planned to be on InkOps' Low Pressure album that never wound up coming out. So it was stuck on here along with some other random tracks - a couple of these don't even feature Josh! - but slowly became an integral Princess element, lasting through every tour CD and eventually landing on the real album.

The track-listing is a bit screwy. "Rainy Day" and "Energy Crisis" (a duet with mcenroe that's didn't make it to the final version of Buck) have their titles swapped. One entry is left blank - they don't give a title for it - but we know from later versions that it's "Walk In the Park." And did I mention songs on here that aren't even by Josh? Yeah, there's a couple Governor Bolts songs on here that were never otherwise released, a Kaboom (of InkOps) song from his first album, and a DJ Moves-produced instrumental called "Boy Sex With Knowself."  I'll guess that it's maybe an instrumental version of a track off one of Knowself's albums; but I don't have those, so I'm not sure. There's also a song by Stubs, Seriph and B-Side... whoever those guys are, and a weird, instrumental/ skit called "Nova Scotia Baby."

It's important to note, too, that some of these songs are essentially early "demo" versions of the better known versions on the final Buck Up. At first glance "Sushi" sounds like an exclusive; but it's actually an early version of "Rip Rap" under an alternate title. The instrumental and lyrics are the same, but they seem to have been re-recorded a little cleaner for the later version. Josh's adlibs before he starts rapping are completely different, and this early version doesn't have the scratching at the end. "Rainy Day" is also missing the scratches from the later version, but instead has an exclusive outro with Pip Skid talking about healthcare. "Nightmare" is missing the scratch breakdown (sensing a trend here?) and the opening vocal sample. And "Walk In the Park" is missing, yes, the scratches... but it also doesn't have the distinct echo effect on Josh's vocals, making it sound decidedly more ordinary.

Finally, there's "End Of the World," a Josh solo song (produced by Moves) that never made it to the final version of Buck Up Princess. Josh raps a literal narration about the end of the world over a dramatic, low-key instrumental (with some cool cuts, presumably by Moves). "I nearly died that day when I was carried underground; thinkin' fightin' why can't I follow all these people I've seen fallin' down?" Although I wouldn't rank among my favorites, it's a good song. I suspect it may've been removed from later versions simply because of the darker tone.

So ultimately, only seven songs from the final version (which has 17 total) are on this early disc. That means there are eight "exclusive" songs, though many of those appeared on other releases, and again, several don't even feature Josh. This feels like half a Buck Up Princess album and half a Low Pressure sampler. A pretty neat collectors' item for the serous fan, for sure.

And golly, that was long... and we only covered the first disc. Looks like this is gonna have to be a two-parter.

*This isn't the first time he'd done this. There are at least three incarnations of his previous album as well.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Father MC World!

(Take a journey with Werner into the world of Father MC and his... mostly debut single, "Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated."  I get a bit silly on this one; see it before I think better of the whole endeavor and delete it! Oh, and the Youtube version is here.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spittin' Game In the Vegetable Garden

So, I've done a couple posts on Z-Man's side projects on this blog; but, to varying degrees, none of them have really been to his strengths. The Motel Crew, that pink 12" with Automator... And the One Block Radius stuff was especially disappointing. Through it all, it was still evident that this was a really great MC; but they just didn't hold a candle to his regular stuff. It was frustrating to see him experimenting with different genres or artists who weren't on his level, because it just felt like it was all wasting time he could've spent doing a real, dope album just by himself. Well, here's a Z-Man side project that happily breaks that trend; a side project that's just as good as any solo releases, albeit a little bit weirder.

It's called The Vegetable and the Ferret, and it's a collaborative album with White Mic of Bored Stiff, an underground San Francisco crew that dates as far back as Z himself. It's a limited edition cassette available pressed in Finland, for some reason; but since most copies were surely sold online or at shows, that doesn't make much difference in the long run. Only 100 hand-numbered copies were pressed (mine's #37), so that makes this harder to find than its country of origin.

There are no production credits on here, but whoever did what did it right. The tracks are really funky and thumpin'; just like the best of the indie, west coast underground scene from back in the 90s. And lyrically, it's just as refreshingly sick. One song is a surprisingly sincere examination of their roles in underground hip-hop, at once complaining that nobody supports the real, credible MCs, while at the same time not buying the tapes of their fellow artists themselves. Then another song is a bugged out extended metaphor about vegetables in a garden:

"Check it, ok;
The vegetable wasn't genetically modified;
He was organically grown

Without the pesticide.
I could testify:
His plant life wasn't the easiest,
He was a whole different strain
Around a gang of devious
Hedonists; mischievous,
Weavin' through the garden,
Hustlin' that sweet cream,
Not one fiend starvin'.
Rats and raccoons
Plottin' on how to rob 'em
For every little bit he had
Kill 'em than gobble 'em
Up, everything but
His big golden heart
He was known for;
What he built they try to pick apart.
But that's the homeboy,
Sippin' corn whiskey with the crows
Talkin' shit, cappin',
Blowin' broccoli smoke;
Talkin' to these folks like they relatives,
'Fuck the competitors,'
Goin' through his big lettuce head
It's Brussel Sprout
Lookin' out for the fat-faced farmer.
And these chocolate chickens
Tryin' to be his baby's momma;
But a really, really jealous rooster
On the barn top
I got beef wit',
Fuck him up and bare - why not?
Hot like a pot of grits
Killin' watermelons,
Duckin' buckshots,
Blood hounds tryin' to get rid of
The buh-buh-booty.
Me and vegetable have so much in common;
We're smarter than they think
And bigger than this garden."

And that's just one verse! I mean, the rhyme scheme is pure Kool G Rap, and the delivery is classic Z spittin' game, just a little bit slower over a track that's oddly mellow and smooth, with whistling and birds chirping over a cool bassline. It's totally crazy and wonderful. The whole tape's vibrant and lively, with crazy sound bites between the songs; it would fit right at home on Beneath the Surface, though its sound actually reminds me a lot of old Raw Produce.

There's a number of guests, including several appearances by other Bored Stiff members. There's also Akil (of Jurassic 5) and a couple names I don't recognize. There's not so many that it ever feels like White and Z have lost the wheel; and they all feel right at home on this production with their mates. Really, everything just works. Every time it starts to too crazy, they bring it down to Earth. And well before things get dry or generic, they get creative again. If you remember fiending for those ill 4-track tapes they don't make anymore, this is exactly what you've been missing.

You can find this on mp3 everyplace, and the label will sell you CD-Rs which is better, but this feels absolutely designed for cassette; so if you can find a copy (I got mine from accesshiphop), I urge you to listen to it the right way. Otherwise I'm sure it would still be fresh; but the charm and the magic would still be diluted. White Mic has gone on to release two more solo tapes on this label (Hiss Tapes... though their sound quality is actually quite clean and well mastered). And while I really picked this one out because of Z-Man, after this tape, I'm gonna have to check for those others and look at some of those other tapes. I'll need something to tide me over while I wait anxiously for a sequel.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Master Ace From the Parallel Dimension

Anybody who grew up in hip-hop has to have a lot of "what if" scenarios running around in their head... What if Ice Cube had never lefr NWA? What kind of records would they have made after 100 Miles & Runnin'? What if The Beastie Boys stayed with Def Jam and Rick Rubin? What if The DOC had never lost his voice? What would a new Biggie record be like in 2013? You know he'd be making millions just ghost writing for Nicki Minaj alone. Or what if Duval Clear never moved to Delicious Vinyl and went from being Master Ace and Action³ to Masta Ace Inc? How would that have sounded?

Well, thanks to Chopped Herring Records, we can finally get a glimpse into that last alternate reality. Shelf Life vol. 1 is an EP worth of tracks (mostly) recorded for his second Cold Chillin' Warner Bros album that never happened. Their website tells the story, "sales were dipping slightly and Warner Brothers, who were responsible for Cold Chillin's distribution, in true management consulting style came in and started making cuts. Literally cuts were made - a line (not a figurative line an actual line) was drawn (probably with some kind of square/un-hip fountain pen or possibly a quill!) between the keepers and the ones who had to go! Ace was the first name under the line. Above the line were the usual (and entirely guilty) higher selling suspects: Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane and below were the new signings and Ace. Ace was offered the chance to drop his second album on Prism but declined - why downgrade?. It was at this point his manager began shipping his talents to other labels and it wasn't that long before Delicious Vinyl bit. Unfortunately all his work for the second album was not part of the new deal so had to be discarded at the time." And so yes, Chopped Herring has just un-discarded it for us.

To be honest, I've always been a bit on the fence about Ace's Delicious Vinyl years. I mean, sure, who couldn't love "Saturday Night Live," the introduction of Lord Digga, "Jeep Ass Nigga," that crazy cut with the Cella Dwellas, and all the great highlights? But still... the experiments with production style and flows, some of the more extreme concept songs... sometimes he started to get a little weird; and to be honest, I just wasn't ready to let Juice Crew-era Ace go. And, now granted. You can't put everything on Delicious Vinyl and leaving Marley's nest... a lot of his musical evolution probably would've taken place no matter where he was at. And again. the changes weren't all bad... one of the most exciting aspects of Ace is how he's proven himself able to not only adapt but be a stand-out MC in all different eras. But some of those shifts were frustrating, and that theoretical Cold Chillin' MastER Ace has always been in the back of my mind.

And now, holy shit, he's on my turntables! It's not totally Take a Look Around sounding, though... The production on that album was all Marley (and a couple songs by Mister Cee), and this material is mostly self-produced, just like a lot of Ace's Delicious Vinyl stuff.  Like I said, a lot of his musical evolution was gonna happen regardless. But it does certainly bridge that gap. Also, the stuff here sounds more raw, but I'm not sure how much of that is due him being to a different creative head space, and how much of it is just these tracks not being fully polished, final versions meant for the public. Some of these might be rough versions he planned to re-record or who knows what. Certainly the sound quality suggests these aren't fully mastered reels a big budget label would've put out.

How much that's a plus or minus will probably depend on your own taste, but I think that raw feel definitely works in the favor of the opening track, "Kick It On the One." It's just an ill, hardcore freestyle track with Ace trading rhymes back and forth with a very young sounding Paula Perry. Her voice doesn't sound fully developed yet here, but that doesn't hurt the track at all. It's a killer and would've been a highlight on any Ace album.

Speaking of young sounding, the next song features the EP's only other guest, Sha Stimuli. Then known as Kid Dynamite, I don't know just how young he was; but he sounds like he easily qualifies as "kid rapper." That doesn't spoil anything, though, as "Hell Up In Harlem" is a hot track and a radical political salvo. ...It also doesn't seem to be at all faithful to premise of Larry Cohen's original Hell Up In Harlem film, but who cares? It's dope.

There's a couple other unreleased tracks (including two surprisingly produced by Delite of Stetsasonic), and an original, unheard early version of "Jack B, Nimble," which was an album track on Slaughtahouse.  Some of the elements are the same, including the fresh "Jack of Spades" cuts on the hook; but this one is definitely higher energy, matching the frenetic energy of the story, Jack on the run. I like it better.

And finally, I said this EP was "mostly" recorded for Ace's second, shelved album, right? That's because the last track is an instrumental for "Ace Iz Wild." That was a Marley-produced cut from his first album that was never put out as a single or any other method that would've given us the instrumental version. So here it is now, for the first time. Personally, "Ace Iz Wild" was never one of my favorites... when I used to listen to Take a Look Around back in the day, I'd often flip the tape over after "Four Minus Three" to skip it. I mean, it was good, but the hook was goofy and it just never quite caught on with me like the rest of the album. And unfortunately, that hook is included on instrumental track. But, still, I know a lot of heads will be happy to finally get their hands on it, so I'm happy to see it here. Just not as happy as I am to see the parallel dimension Master Ace material.

Now, who's going to release the record telling us what we would've gotten if Queen Latifah stayed with DJ Mark the 45 King?